Archive for December, 2005

Why Did A Las Vegas Tanning Salon Get A 9/11 Relief Loan?
December 30th, 2005

An editorial in the New York Post
, reacting to a recent report and to accounts by its own reporters, blasts a federal program created to aid “small businesses adversely affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks” for giving loans to such unlikely 9/11 victims as a tanning salon in Las Vegas, which received a loan of $500,000 from the Small Business Administration’s STAR (Supplemental Terrorist Activity Relief) program. Meanwhile, downtown Manhattan businesses directly affected by the attack, such as the restaurant Steamers Landing, were turned down for one of the 7,000 loans given out by the program, which now no longer exists.

“Let’s remember: It was New York City that was attacked,” the Post concludes. “What possible rationale can there be for dumping cash on a tanning salon in Nevada?”

By on December 30, 2005, 8:18 pm
In category: Gotham City,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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Police Surveillance -- Political Spying?
December 30th, 2005

Christopher Dunn and Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union say in a guest editorial in the Daily News that recent disclosures of police officers working undercover during various demonstrations, such as the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride, should prompt the City Council to hold hearings. “It came as no surprise that Police Department officials once again have gone too far when it comes to monitoring political activity,” they write, citing such past police actions as the ” secret protester-interrogation program” and the videotaping of protesters during the Republican National Convention.

An editorial in the Daily News harshly attacks its own guest columnists: “So filled is the piece with unsupported assertions that would have made Joe McCarthy blush, we thought long and hard about running it. But unmasking the combination of naivete and zealotry that makes Dunn and Lieberman so dangerous as legal advocates seemed important before they further propagate their paranoia.”

By on December 30, 2005, 10:57 am
In category: Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Law | 10 Comments »

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The Dailies Weigh In On The Transit Deal
December 29th, 2005

Four of New York’s English-language metropolitan daily newspapers weigh in on the transit deal that was anounced late Tuesday night, December 27th, a 37-month pact that calls for raises of three percent, then four percent and finally 3.5 percent over the next three years, institutes premiums for health care insurance for the first time, keeps the pension benefits more or less intact, and indeed offers a refund to transit workers for previous contributions they made to their pension. (For details, check out Gotham Gazette’s transportation links in the news.)

The New York Times makes three points — the strike was unnecessary, since the deal is not that much different from the one on the table before the walkout; the union is right to complain about the fact that one-half of the workers are subject to disciplinary action in a given year, some of it “shockingly petty”; there should be a new approach to transit negotiations (and the editorial gives a particular dig to Governor George Pataki for empty “public chest-thumping “) The Times also writes: “It’s regrettable that workers who make an average of $55,000 a year will each face strike fines of about $1,000 – money many won’t recoup – particularly when the strike revolved around benefits for future workers, not themselves.”

The Daily News and the New York Post object to the pension contribution refund to the transit workers. The Daily News writes: “By agreeing to drain $110 million of the MTA’s surplus – you remember, money that was spoken for because the agency projects a deficit of $1 billion in a couple of years – Chairman Peter Kalikow diminished a solid breakthrough on health care costs.”

The New York Post writes: “At a time when public pension-fund solvency is a critical and growing problem, it’s difficult to fathom why the MTA bought into the scheme Gov. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno can deep-six the proposed pension change — and they should do just that.”

Newsday writes: “The union concession on health care is a significant precedent but the final judgment will have to await the actual figures. The crucial pension issue will have to be part of future negotiations.”

By on December 29, 2005, 10:35 am
In category: Gotham City,Public Finance,Transportation | Comments Off on The Dailies Weigh In On The Transit Deal

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Northeast CO2 Pact Mild, But At Least It's Something
December 28th, 2005

Last Tuesday, 7 Northeast states, including New York, signed a pact on greenhouse gas emissions, agreeing to a 10 percent reduction by 2019.

The Times editorial board calls the plan modest, but considers it “a timely antidote for the administration’s dispiriting performance at the recent global warming conference in Montreal,” and call its existence encouraging for Congressional supporters of a national plan.

The Poughkeepsie Journal, in an editorial that takes a broad look at the issue, says that while the carbon reductions are not steep enough, the pact is a good start.

By on December 28, 2005, 5:46 pm
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Transit Contract Agreement
December 28th, 2005

The new transit contract approved by the executive board of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 last night “seems to underscore the utter inanity of the strike,” argues an editorial in The New York Post, the only one of the city-wide English-language NYC dailies to weigh in on the new agreement today. “Workers will get about the same, give or take, as they were offered before they walked out — including a raise of about 11 percent over three years. Indeed, it’s conceivable that they could have done better had union boss Roger Toussaint & Co. remained at the table — instead of pitching a fit and shutting down New York for three days during the most economically sensitive week of the year.”

Reality-Based Educator does not like the agreement: “…if I were a TWU member who had gone out on strike for three days and lost six days pay plus taxes, I would not be happyI would be storming TWU headquarters and demanding Roger Toussaint’s resignation.”

Alexander Benjamins Hamilton of the group blog Left Behinds writes: “The MTA dropped its pension demands (which were what made the talks fall apart) and the union accepted a small portion of the cost of health insurance. The union stays intact, the trains keep running. Have we all stopped caring about this already?

“I hope not. I hope it matters to the city in the long run that its most radical union kicked its most corrupt public agency in the teeth. I hope we end up with transparency at the MTA and a revision of the Taylor Law to prevent public agencies from dragging their feet”

Before the agreement was announced, Wayne Barrett in the Village Voice took Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for the way he changed his conduct and tone during the strike, including his calling the union leadership “thuggish.”

“We don’t need a mayor to be mad for us,” Barrett wrote. “We can do that ourselves. We need a mayor to be practical, conciliatory, and competent, averting disasters rather than exacerbating them. That’s who Mike Bloomberg was and hopefully will be again. There is no rationale for treating striking public employees as if they are terrorists and refusing to negotiate with them, as Bloomberg and Pataki opined, contrary to what both were actually doing and what every mayor and governor before them actually did.”

For details on the tentative agreement, see Gotham Gazette’s transportation links in the news.

By on December 28, 2005, 7:49 am
In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Loving New York (In A Hateful Kind Of Way)
December 27th, 2005

New York Magazine’s “123 Reasons To Love New York” pictures a city that offers opportunity and quality and excess and a lot of celebrities, some of whom offer the magazine some quirky reasons to love New York:

Edie Falco (Carmen in The Sopranos) loves New York for its dog runs. Model Christy Turlington loves the noise (“I’d miss sirens if I couldn’t hear them”). Author Erica Jong likes it through process of elimination (” it’s not a company town like L.A., it’s not provincial like Paris, and it’s not snobby like London”). Actor Michael J. Fox loves New Yorkers because they’re so “grumpy.” Self-help author Deepak Chopra seems to like it because it’s so easy to meet (other) celebrities. Actor Matt Dillon’s comments might be the most on-target: “I’m a New Yorker. We don’t talk about the things we love. We complain about the things we’re pissed off about. ”

Gawker, no longer having Radar Magazine to kick around, decided to be playfully hateful about New York Magazine’s silly feature, providing its own 123 reasons. Much of this second list, in its very attempt to be (nasty) insider, shows the gossipy blog’s anxious New York-newcomer status, but some of it (Wonkster hates to admit) is funny:

14. Because you can live in the same place for 10 years and never have to see or meet your neighbors

23. Because the transit strike keeps us from really working.

32. Because it only takes $30 million to launch and burn a magazine. (They couldn’t help one last dig at Radar)

54. Because our pigeons have rabies.

77. Because if you want a cat, you can walk into any deli and just steal one.

98. Because we don’t stand in line, we stand on it.

By on December 27, 2005, 8:44 am
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Post To Times: Stop Toying With Treason
December 27th, 2005

An editorial in the New York Post today criticizes the New York Times for three recent articles that, the Post says, “place in unnecessary danger the lives of U.S. citizens.” Entitled “The Gray Lady Toys With Treason,” the Post editorial cites Times articles on National Security Agency domestic surveillance, the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of a charter airline company as a front, and the use of plainclothes New York police officers to infiltrate such city gatherings as the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride/protest.

By on December 27, 2005, 8:19 am
In category: Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Another Landmark Battle In Chelsea
December 27th, 2005

Earlier this month, the actor Sam Waterston of “Law and Order” fame wrote an editorial in the New York Times supporting the plan by the General Theological Seminary to raze “Sherrill Hall, an ugly, dilapidated, nonhistoric building on Ninth Avenue” and put in its place a 17-story tower, in partnership with a private developer, which would help pay for the restoration “of its older, landmark buildings” — buildings conceived (on land owned) by Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas” (hence the timing of the essay’s publication.)

Chelsea residents write letters in response this week, offering a different view. Eric Marcus writes that Sherrill Hall is in fact worth preserving
“If the structure is dilapidated (something of an overstatement), the seminary has only itself to blame.” Jean Hebb writes that the seminary’s proposed new tower violates the spirit and legacy of Clement Clarke Moore who “envisioned the seminary block as the heart of a low-rise community of harmonious dwellings.” Chelsea residents have fought to maintain “Moore’s vision” and find it alarming that the seminary “would break ranks with its neighbors and provide a basis for future challenges to the Moore legacy.”

By on December 27, 2005, 7:43 am
In category: Land Use | Comments Off on Another Landmark Battle In Chelsea

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Lessons Learned About NYC (Again) From Transit Strike
December 26th, 2005

In her NY Times column (available in full only to Times Select customers), entitled “City Can Learn Quite A Lot In 60 Hours,” Joyce Purnick lays out lessons, some meant to be whimsical (such as that the Brooklyn Bridge “is still the reigning symbol of New York” despite the third version of “King Kong”), some knowingly cynical (“Ignore the public pronouncements of politicians and union leaders during a strike — inevitable exercises in disinformation” and “If there is a way to inject race into a dispute in this city, it will be injected”), others prescriptive (“Forbidding truck deliveries during the commuter rush, limiting cars in Midtown and sharing taxis are great ideas, strike or no strike. How about it, Mr. Mayor?”). Also — New Yorkers are resourceful and can get through anything.

For a look at the issues that came out of the transit strike but are likely long to outlast it, see Gotham Gazette’s Issue of the Week, “Three Days In December”

By on December 26, 2005, 5:01 am
In category: Transportation | Comments Off on Lessons Learned About NYC (Again) From Transit Strike

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The Problem With Pensions
December 25th, 2005

With the end to the transit strike, an editorial in the New York Times expresses the hope that an issue “of growing concern all across America” will now be addressed “in a calm and rational way” — the problem with pensions . Pensions “are increasingly at risk and increasingly self-funded” in the private sector, and they are (as Steven Greenhouse pointed out in a news article in the Times yesterday Transit Strike Reflects Nationwide Pension Woes) “a problem confronting cities, counties and states nationwide, causing many budgetary experts to predict a wave of painful fights over efforts to scale back government retirement programs.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in “shaky financial shape,” can no longer ignore “the long-term costs of benefits that Americans long took for granted,” today’s editorial says.

“No one is suggesting that transit workers be denied the pensions they’ve earned. But if they won’t contribute more to finance them, then the unions will have to help to make up the difference in some other way — through increased productivity, or through greater worker contributions to the union’s generous health care benefits, which the workers now get for free. ”

By on December 25, 2005, 12:00 pm
In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Who Won? Who Lost? Who's To Blame? What Does it Mean?
December 23rd, 2005

A roundup of the editorials on the transit strike in the daily papers:

New York Times lauds the End of a Senseless Strike: “If winners emerge, they almost certainly won’t be the transit workers. The strike was a senseless move; when the workers voted to authorize a strike, they probably never believed it would happen.”

The New York Daily News (60 Hours Later, No Winners): “As the subways and buses begin to roll and life returns to normal, the sad truth is that in this strike everyone lost – the workers, the union, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city’s businesses and, most of all, you, the vast army of New Yorkers whose lives were needlessly disrupted.”

The New York Post writes an open letter to union head Roger Toussaint: “This morning, as you embark on a new round of contract talks, your bargaining position is exactly the same as it was Monday night — when you saw fit to use your members (and the entire city) as pawns in some pointless power play.”

Newsday writes that the real battle has yet to come: “The New York City strike is a jolting wake-up call. The state has set aside billions to meet future pension costs and will need billions more in the decades ahead. Workers as well as governments must work together to soften the pain of an unavoidable demographic and fiscal crunch.”

The New York Sun decided that maybe the strike should continue if it would mean wresting concessions from the union: “New Yorkers would be prepared to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for all of 2006, we’d warrant, rather than get saddled with a deal that is not fair and right.”

By on December 23, 2005, 7:44 am
In category: Transportation | 5 Comments »

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Manhattan Businesses Respond to the Strike
December 22nd, 2005

Forty percent of Manhattan service, retail and restaurant business owners were “extremely impacted” by the transit strike, and 26 percent were “moderately impacted,” according to a survey by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

17 percent felt the strike “extremely impacted” their bottom line negatively; 19 percent felt a “moderate impact.”

Almost seven in ten business owners surved blamed the union for the strike.

By on December 22, 2005, 4:32 pm
In category: Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Bloomberg's Statement on End of Strike
December 22nd, 2005

“Good afternoon to everyone. I am pleased that the TWU Executive Board has followed the recommendation of its leadership and the New York State mediators and voted to return to work.

“Based on that vote, the New York City Transit Authority is asking its workers to report to their next shift at 4pm. Keep in mind, we have an enormous mass transit system and it can’t be turned on with the flip of the switch. There are a lot of logistics that need to be dealt with in order to get the subways and buses moving again. The Transit Authority will need between 10 and 18 hours after workers show up to get the system up to full capacity but we would expect buses to be running later this evening and hopefully, most subways in the morning.

“We will know later this afternoon what type of worker turnout there is. If it’s big enough to get the system up and running, we hope to end the City’s contingency plan at midnight tonight.

“As for this morning, rush hour was marred by a serious injury. An off-duty Firefighter was hit by a bus in midtown as he biked to work. He was taken to New York Hospital. His condition is grave, and I ask all New Yorkers to say a prayer for him.

“Other than that accident, the rush was similar in numbers to yesterday’s numbers. There were slightly more cars and more people per car on the East River crossings.

“911 call volume is slightly higher than normal but response times are holding steady. School attendance today is slightly higher than yesterday.

“On the economic front, the news continues to be negative. I was in Brooklyn this morning where I met with some members of our business community and heard firsthand how difficult the strike has been for them.

“As I said yesterday, the New York Blood Center is in a state of emergency and desperately needs donors. You can get information through 311 or by visiting and I encourage everyone to help.

“On a brighter note, it’s a great time of year in New York City. We have a lot of tourists; people are enjoying our great Broadway shows; Christmas is on Sunday; and there’s still plenty of time for people to shop, see the tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skate in Central Park, and enjoy the holiday season here in the greatest City in the world.

“Many of our cultural institutions, in response to the current situation, are offering discounts on tickets or gift shop purchases to patrons who present a Metrocard. Participants include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Theaterworks/USA, the Brooklyn Museum, Repertorio Espagnol, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Whitney Museum. A list of all organizations participating in the Metrocard Cultural Discount Program can be found on the Department of Cultural Affairs website:

“When the subways and buses start running again, things will get back to normal, our economy will get back on track, and I hope we can salvage the rest of the week.

“One thing is clear: This was a big test for this city and I think it passed with flying colors. It wasn’t easy, and certainly serious economic harm was inflicted, but we did what we had to do to keep this City running and running safely. Public safety was our first priority and it never was in jeopardy.

“I would like to thank the Office of Emergency Management for developing a very effective contingency plan, as well as our Department of Transportation, Police Department, Fire Department and other city agencies for doing whatever was needed to make this City work.”

By on December 22, 2005, 4:16 pm
In category: Transportation | Comments Off on Bloomberg's Statement on End of Strike

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Union Votes to End Strike!
December 22nd, 2005

The Transport Workers Union has called off its strike. The union’s executive board gave the final okay for a back to work order, Newsday reports.

It is still unclear when transit service will resume, though it will take at least twelve hours.

As workers will return to their jobs, negotiations will continue.

By on December 22, 2005, 2:55 pm
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Strike "Likely" To Be Over By Tomorrow Morning
December 22nd, 2005

“The trains are likely to be running by tomorrow morning,” says Brian Lehrer of WNYC. No official timetable has been set.

By on December 22, 2005, 11:44 am
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Transit Strike Breakthrough!
December 22nd, 2005

Transport Workers Union officials are recommending that employees go back to work as the union and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials continue negotiating a new contract, according to state mediators. There is some confusion about what exactly this means, with different media outlets reporting different things. Everyone considers this a positive step, but it is still unclear when service will resume.

According to the New York Times, there is a tentative agreement that “would allow Gov. George E. Pataki to save face because the final negotiations would not take place until the strikers return to work, the people said, and it would apparently allow the union’s president, Roger Toussaint, to save face because, they believe, the authority’s pension demands – which are at the crux of the deadlock – have been significantly scaled back.”

Apparently, the MTA will not take its pension offer off the table — which the union has described as a requirement of returning to work. But the authority has said it will look for savings in other places like health care, according to WNYC.

The two sides have agreed to a media blackout as negotiations continue.

Meanwhile, Roger Toussaint and several other union officials are due in court to face contempt charges this afternoon.

By on December 22, 2005, 11:14 am
In category: Transportation | 3 Comments »

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On Watching King Kong During The Transit Strike
December 22nd, 2005

Nobody takes the bus or the subway in the New York of the new “King Kong.” There are a few trolleys, but everybody travels mostly by car and cab, by ship and – in the beautiful blonde’s case – by ape.

There is something even less likely: When Adrian Brody dashes through Times Square to try to rescue Naomi Watts from the rampaging Kong (or is it to rescue both of them?), he hails a cab.

“It’s all yours buddy,” the cabdriver says, opening the door for Brody and running out.

By on December 22, 2005, 10:41 am
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Looking on the Bright Side
December 22nd, 2005

As the transit strike enters its third day, the New York Sun has commissioned a team of writers to find its silver lining:

Russell Berman talks to bike shops and advocates, and finds that the strike has led to a biker boom. Sales have spiked, and bike riding is up 500 percent, according to Transportation Alternatives. Yesterday, the Brooklyn Bridge had eight times as many bike riders as it normally sees this time of year.

All this exercise, writes Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health, is doing New Yorkers well. “The point should not be lost: It’s not a bad idea to squeeze some heart-healthy activity into a harried day instead of just swiping a Metro-Card before and after work,” writes Stier, who walked to work Tuesday, rollerbladed on Wednesday, and is considering biking if the strike continues.

Harris Silver of pedestrian advocacy group Citystreets writes that the traffic restrictions have been successful — and that they should be continued in some form after the strike ends:

“Because this strike is teaching us that we are dependent on mass transit, not cars, to travel in and around Gotham, we now have the freedom to rethink our outmoded policies of giving every inch of public space for the exclusive use of private automobiles,” he writes.

Silver would like to see the city continue requiring carpooling to get into Manhattan, while helping establish ride sharing programs. Fifth Avenue can’t be kept closed forever, he writes, but the city should consider closing off one lane on each avenue for emergency vehicles, and then letting bikers and rollerbladers use it as a way to commute without battling automobile traffic.

Pushing such reforms, he believes, “could very well be the legacy opportunity that the Bloomberg administration is searching for.”

By on December 22, 2005, 10:11 am
In category: Transportation | 3 Comments »

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Mr. Bloomberg, You Are No Ed Koch
December 22nd, 2005

In the Village Voice blog Power Plays, Wayne Barrett argues that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s insistence that there will be no new negotiations until transit workers go back on the job will only prolong the strike.

By contrast, in 1980 Mayor Ed Koch urged both sides to stay at the table. “Ironically, Mayor Bloomberg has consciously adopted the style and rhetoric of Brooklyn Bridge Koch in the current strike,” Barrett writes, “while rejecting the Koch talk-at-all-times position that ultimately resolved it.”

Also on the blog, Tom Robbins says that the rift between Bloomberg and the TWU has its history in the West Side Stadium. The TWU not only opposed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to sell land it owned for the stadium at a below-market price, it also was one of the few unions to back Freddy Ferrer.

By on December 22, 2005, 9:49 am
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Pension Tension
December 22nd, 2005

The Daily News runs two guest opinions on its editorial page today, one supporting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s call for “pension reform,” the other supporting the Transport Workers Union’s condemnation of attempted changes in their pension benefits.

Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission argues that the pensions are too costly, and they are no longer needed to attract good workers because of the relatively high wages. “The savings in the next few years may be tens of millions, but in the longer run, recurring savings can be in the hundreds of millions annually” — which could affect future fare increases.

James A Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute argues that the transit workers’ pension benefits are not the reason for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s huge budget gaps —- the reason is Governor George Pataki’s tax cuts, “forcing the MTA to borrow much more than it had in the past” —- and that the workers’ current benefits are both fair and right. They are fair because the MTA gave those benefits to management: “The cost to the MTA for extending this benefit to top management dwarfs the savings the MTA would see if it got its way with the TWU.” They are right because they should not be sacrificed when both real wages and living standards for workers are in decline.

By on December 22, 2005, 9:35 am
In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 5 Comments »

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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