Andrew Berman speaks at the general meeting as Judy Richheimer, CRDC's VP, looks on.
The Coming Tsunami of Upscale Development
By Donathan Salkaln
If the future threat of another Superstorm isn't enough, our city might be facing a tsunami of market rate and luxury housing, according to Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Historical Society for Preservation Society, in addressing the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club's February 18th general meeting at Hudson Guild's Elliott Center.
"If you want to know the effect of our Mayor's proposed rezoning plan for affordable housing, you can just look out the window," Berman said, comparing Mayor De Blasio's Zoning for Quality & Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) proposals, currently before the NYC Council, to when NYC rezoned West Chelsea and Hudson yards, as well as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, in 2005. "The new zoning laws back then allowed residential development where no residential was allowed and significant up-zoning, with incentives that included affordable housing," Berman told attendees. "The developers did include affordable housing and according to NYC records, 25% of the units created were affordable while 75% of them are ridiculously expensive and we all know what the overall impact has been. If you look at what has become of these neighborhoods in the past ten years, they are probably among the most rapidly gentrifying most increasingly un-affordable neighborhoods anywhere in New York City!"
Berman gave the attendees a math lesson of the Mayor's plans which reminded me of a pyramid scheme for developers: "If there's an empty lot and the current zoning would allow a developer to build a 100 units of market rate or luxury unit building," Berman reported, "the Mayor's plan will offer the developer to build an additional 100 units on that plot of land, but with the requirement that 50 of those additional units be affordable." He adds, "Think about the profound effect of the tsunami of additional market rate units will have on the neighborhood. It will dramatically change the way they look and feel"
A New Yorker might want to consider more math: According to Mayor De Blasio's goal of 200,000 affordable housing in ten years, it will bring with it 600,000 more market rate and luxury units, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of high-end units built where developers don't opt for his up-zone plan. The City will get well over a million new upper-end units while watching our communities get dug up and the price of living draining our wallet. Just think about all the chains, banks, and high-end stores that will mow us down as they follow their migration chasing wealth.
Judy Richheimer, CRDC's Program Director and Vice President, pointed out that she had invited the Mayor's Administration to participate in discussion of these new zoning changes, but they chose not to attend.
Berman, who has served on many affordable housing boards, including Tenants & Neighbors, Housing Conservation Coordinators, and CB 4 Affordable Housing Oversight Task Force, did acknowledge that, since 2005, more affordable housing was built in Chelsea, Hudson Yards and Greenpoint than any other neighborhoods in New York City, but stressed the consequences of such plans. His solution would make affordable housing a requirement of all development across-the-board, "without sacrificing the rules and regulations that we fought hard for, that are far from perfect, but do some good in maintaining a balance regarding new developments and making sure they they don't overwhelm our neighborhoods."
Another Developer-Friendly Bill Before City Council
When it comes to fighting for architectural history as part of NYC's landscape, no one has more heart and commitment than Andrew Berman. And Berman again warned the meeting of another bill (int 0775) before the city council that is very slanted in the developers favor. It calls for establishment of a 1 to 2 year period of time for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take action on any item calendared for consideration of landmark status. Berman said such a new law is not practicable as the Landmark Commission's resources are very limited and, adding to the dilemma, owners of properties under consideration of landmark status, are requesting so much more additional information hat the process gets drawn out, beyond the resistance to development.
"In it fifty years of the commission's existence, it has considered around 35,000 different sites that have been either designated or not designated," Berman begins. "Had this "do or die deadline" of new system had been in place for the last fifty years, only half of the buildings and neighborhoods would have been designated landmarked. This includes some of our most beloved landmarks such as as Rockefeller Center, the Woolworth Building, and Grand Central Terminal." He said.
Jerrold Nadler, Again, Goes to Battle Over the Iran Deal
In addition to the meeting's general program agenda was the club's federal endorsement elections. Both Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler of the 10th Congressional District and Carolyn Maloney of the 12th Congressional District, came to the evenings festivities, seeking CRDC's support in their re-election bids. There was much urgency in Nadler's message.
For the first time in 20 years, Jerrold Nadler, will have an opponent, come this June's Federal Democratic Primary Election. Nadler, who represents the largest Jewish and Orthodox district in the country, is expecting to be opposed in the primary due to his backing of the Iran deal. A very angry portion of his 10th congressional district, mostly located in Brooklyn, which has historically added up to 20% of the districts votes will be campaigning hard for his demise. Because of past weak turn-outs in June, he is afraid his very angry and determined constituency will skew the election in favor of his opponent. "We're going to need to double or triple the turnout in Chelsea, the Village and the Upper West Side," Nadler said, calling for the democratic club's to get 5 to 6 times the usual number of petition signatures, while using the effort as an organizing opportunity to get the vote out.
Nadler Gets More Money for Transportation
Nadler, a ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, gave the club a "roads & rails" report on Washington. "We enacted, for the first time since 2005, a major transportation bill," He said, with pride. "Because of the Republican's insistence of no new revenues or taxes, the spending on highways, bridges, roads, tunnels, and mass transit has been at a very inadequate level of $34 billion a year. We had to increase that. There's a $3 trillion backlog." Nadler managed to broker a deal that shortened the life of new bill from six years to five, thus increasing appropriations to $60 billion a year. Nadler also wrote and got passed an amendment to the bill concerning the gas tax, also called the Highway Trust Fund, where 80% goes to highways and bridges and 20% goes mass transit. Due to the low cost of gas that has depressed the revenue stream, Republicans wanted to eliminate the 20% mass transit guarantee and have all the money go to highways. Nadler fought that idea by putting together a coalition of Democrats and suburban Republicans and had the bill retain the mass transit money.
He also got significant money for Amtrak and managed to add $6.5 billion dollars in much needed funding for rail freight improvements.
Lochner or Lochness Monster
Nadler, who is senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, is very leery of the open seat on the Supreme Court. "God forbid we elect a Republican president. To me. this may be the most important issue." He warned that for the next thirty to forty years we might have five justices who might throw out economic regulation and bring the country back to the Lochner Era (1990's till 1937). He pointed out that the Lochner case was brought up by four members of the Supreme Court during discussion of the recent Obama Care case. Lochner would strip many economic powers from Congress, the Senate and the President.
No Primary Opponent for US Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
Carolyn Maloney, representing the 12th Congressional District, reported, with much relief, that her opponent in the Democratic Primary had dropped out of the race that very evening. She looked forward to running unopposed and related to those at the CRDC general meeting a few of her many congressional highlights.
Maloney spoke of how she and Jerrold Nadler worked hard to get the 9/11 Memorial Bill to pass in Congress this past February 10th. Said Maloney, "It gives healthcare and compensation to the men and women who rushed down to ground zero and risk their lives to save others. It's in a billion-dollar program and we worked on this thing for 14 years. I'm thrilled that it was signed into law."
Maloney also spoke of her past congressional accomplishments. One of the first bills President Obama signed in the law, was Maloney's Credit Card Bill of Rights. "According to the Pew Charitable Trust, this bill, by cutting out abusive practices by financial institutions, saved consumers $10 billion a year. NYU and Columbia more recently did a study and found the bill saved consumers $16 billion a year," Said Maloney. "I call it the Maloney stimulus package, because it puts the money in consumers hands." In all, Maloney has authored over 60 bills. "One of the reasons I'm running for office is a want to continue working for the community and helping people." Two of the largest construction projects in the country are in her district, the Second Avenue Subway, and the other is the East Side Access project. Maloney has also secured funding for the L train. She said, "This project will totally modernize it, rebuilding the damage from Sandy and the 100 years of wear and tear," Maloney has also procured money to go toward a high speed rail between New York and Boston.
Maloney, who chairs the Joint Economic Committee for the Democrats in Congress, gave the group an over-view of the last eight years in Washington. "When President Obama took office we were shedding over 800,000 jobs a month. Under his leadership we have create over 14 million jobs, we have cut the deficit, unemployment has been halved —it's not enough and we need to do more, but we are certainly moving in the right direction."
In a lighter moment, Maloney was very happy to announce that "the Governor, Mayor, and the Chinese government have all agreed that New York City should have two great pandas. "After working hard on responding to the 9/11, the financial crisis, and then Sandy, it's time now for something that makes people happy. Pandas!" She concluded.
The CRDC not only voted to endorse both Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney for Congress, but also voted for approval of a resolution to provide free legal aid to residents facing eviction.
SPECIAL THANKS goes to State Committee Woman, Francine Haselkorn in supplying a nice spread of refreshments. A big cheer also goes to both CRDC President David Warren and District Leader Steven Skyles-Mulligan for helping Judy Richheimer with the evening's program. A big applause for CRDC Treasurer Brent English and others that helped with the ballots. Also in attendance was former NY State Senator Tom Duane and District Leader Sylvia Di Pietro.
NY City Councilmember Mark Levine explains his Bill 214 to CRDC
From Housing Court to the Streets
By DONATHAN SALKALN
As the number of existing affordable housing units in New York City continues its downward spiral toward homelessness, politicians and civic brain-trusts have come together in supporting a law to stem the flow. And, although, it seems much of the dyke has emptied, Bill 214 before the City Council, will give tenants facing eviction free legal counsel in the city's civil courts. This law will have a profound effect in retaining our city's remaining affordable housing, while protecting the tenants of future affordable units that are being built, that are in blueprint, or even in the Mayor's dreams.
"The present situation in housing court doesn't meet any reasonable standard of justice,” said NY City Councilmember Mark Levine, the bill’s sponsor, speaking at this past November’s CRDC Community Forum called “Access to Civil Court” at the Hudson Guild’s Elliott Center. “In the criminal arena everybody gets their attorney. In housing court there is no right to counsel,” said Levine. “And close to 90% of NYC tenants are on their own. On the other side, the landlords almost always have an attorney,” said Levine, adding that many unscrupulous landlords press for eviction even when they have no leg to stand on, and often drop their case when the tenant shows up with an attorney.
“The system is now approaching 30,000 tenant evictions a year, with maybe tens of thousands of additional instances where the tenants, under duress, leave their apartments midway during court proceedings,” Levin said, explaining that his bill would level the playing field between landlords and tenants by giving tenants free legal counsel.
Reasons for tenants walking away during the court proceedings include buyouts, immigration document fears, and even the over-all trauma of a date in a court room that includes pat downs at the entrance, suits, guards with guns, elite chatter in English, judges, stenographers, marble, mahogany wood, and nearby jails, etc, ect. Levine related instances where presiding judges wanted to calm down a tenant in court and tell them that the landlord was so—wrong, but couldn’t, as judges have to remain impartial, by law.
“The homeless crisis in New York City is very much an eviction crisis,” Councilmember Levine continued, “Record numbers, up to 58,000 New Yorkers, are filling up our homeless shelters a night, two thirds of which are families and 40% are children. The number one reason why they are all are winding up in homeless shelters is eviction. And if we can give tenants a fair shake in housing court and reduce eviction, we can make a serious dent in the homeless crisis.”
Access to US Civil Court Lags Behind Other Developed Nations
Also promoting the-right-to-counsel in NYC’s housing court was Andrew Shearer, NYU Law professor and Policy Director, Impact Center for Public Interest Law. He told the group that in 1963 the United States Supreme Court ruled that if someone was on trial and facing the possible loss of liberty, they were entitled to have the court to appoint counsel for them at no cost. “The Supreme Court had recognized the difficulty of navigating the courts without the expertise of an attorney,” Shearer said. “The expectation from the ruling was that it would eventually provide full access in civil matters in addition to criminal matters, but it never happened. In civil matters we essentially have a pay to play.”
Shearer pointed out that most of the developed world has a-right-to-counsel in civil matters, including most of the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. According to the study by the World Justice Project of 99 countries ranked for providing access to justice, United States was ranked sixty-fifth.
“The American Bar Association is very supportive to the right to counsel and in 2006 it passed a resolution that said that States should move toward a-right-to-counsel in matters of fundamental human needs who would include housing, safety, health, and child custody,” Shearer said.
The Nuts and Bolts of Civil Court
Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director at Center for Justice & Democracy, and legal expert that often appears on WBAI, CNN, ABC, and Fox News gave the group an overview of Civil Court. “The Revolutionary War was fought over the right to a civil jury trial. We enshrined that right in the seventh amendment to the US Constitution.” Doroshow said, “The Civil Court is one of the only places in our government system where one can go up against a big company and hold them accountable.”
A civil action begins when a party to a dispute files a complaint in which they have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, and demands a legal or equitable remedy.
Finding a lawyer: Law firms flood the airways with advertisements for free consultation. Doroshow adds that ""if you‘re hurt and you want to find an attorney, you can go to the New York [State] Bar Association or the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, both of which have resources to help you."
Contingency fee: "If you find an attorney to take your case this country has a contingency fee system which doesn't exist in most countries. Only if the lawyer wins the case do you pay the lawyer and his fee comes out of the judgment. This system screens out frivolous lawsuits because lawyers will not take a case that they don't think they will win.
Compensation: if you are hurt due to negligence you can sue for compensation. For example: a child was injured in a negligent birth and now has cerebral palsy, and the parents were able to settle with the negligent hospital and they got a certain amount of money to take care of that child.
Deterrence: the system functions to deter big corporations for repeating negligence when there are continual multiple claims practice guidelines are put in place. An example: anesthesiologists were being hit with multitudes of claims for negligence where people are being extremely hurt by bad practices. In order to stop these claims, they came up with practice guidelines to change completely the way anesthesiologists practice. The result was a tremendous drop in claims, anesthesiologists' insurance rates went way down, and fewer patients got hurt.
Disclosure of information: During the preliminary process there is a portion called discovery where both sides of a case finds out information concerning the other side's case. For example: "In a Ford Pinto case years ago, a fuel tank that was exploding when the Pinto car model was rear-ended. During discovery of the design flaw, documentation was found was found that Ford had made a cost benefit analysis to pay liability claims for burn deaths rather than spend $.11 a car to fix the fuel tank design."
Small Claims Court
State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who wrote the book the "Small Claims Manual" gave instructions in how one would best represent themselves in small claim cases. “Unlike most law suits where you have a claimant and a defendant, In small claims court it's just the claimant since you are the claimant,” Engoron explained. “Small claims court is inexpensive and easy use. You don't need money to bring a small claim. They are lawsuits for up to $5000. If you want to sue for $25,000 you go to civil court case. You don't need a lawyer.
Small claims court is open Thursday evenings and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings and interpreters are available if needed. The fee is $15. “If you’re sued you can counter sue, if you feel the other side is responsible,” Engoron said, giving examples of small claims: “You put down money for apartment and you never get the money back, you got bitten by a dog, you brought laundry to the dry cleaner and it got destroyed, or your car was hit."
“If you sue the city (common example: tripping on a raised sidewalk) you have to give notice of the claim to the city within 90 days of the incident." Engoron continued. "You should also bring witnesses to all your court dates. It is up to you to prove your case. You might be asked to appear before an arbitrator, instead of a judge, because of all the backlog." If you choose an arbitrator you will not have the option of appeal.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Councilmember Mark Levine expressed his dismay that Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals was being forced to retire due to age limits. "Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Lippman has been an incredible advocate for establishing right-to-counsel in Civil Court. If there was ever an argument for doing away with age-limits, that's it," said Levine. Others echoed that.
SPECIAL THANKS to CRDC's Executive VP and Program Director, Judy Richheimer, for organizing and chairing the event. And thanks to CRDC VP Evelyn Suarez with her spread of refreshments and fruit.
A resolution for The-Right-To-Counsel in NYC's Civil Housing Court was passed by the CRDC in February, 2016.
"Say Cheese Steak:" From left, Mindy mugs with former NY State Senator Tom Duane, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, and former Council President Christine Quinn
(NOTE: The Chelsea Reform Democratic Club's presidential endorsement election on January 21st resulted with no winner. This article doesn't reflect the views of CRDC, but does highlight the passion of one of our members in the quest for progressive reform)
By Mindy Rosier
As as a proud alternate delegate for Bernie Sanders, I recently traveled over to Philadelphia for the DNC. This was my first time at a convention and I was quite excited. I stayed at the Loews Hotel with my fellow NY delegation as well as Virginia’s delegation down the block from Philly’s City Hall. Was it worth $450 per night before taxes? I would say no, but I did have one hell of a view from the 29th floor. I was happy to see fellow CRDC local electeds Sen Brad Hoylman, Councilman Corey Johnson, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried almost right away upon my arrival. At first I felt very welcome but that was not the overall feeling I got. You all know me, and I try to be friendly with everyone even if we are on opposite side about things, but there were those on the Hillary side that made so many of us feel unwelcome. Why? Maybe because we are the radicals, the troublemakers, the opposition, or who knows what?. While there were those dressed in very expensive clothes with their noses in the air, I remained me, the tattooed special education teacher, activist, organizer born and raised in Brooklyn intent to fulfill my duty as a representative of NY for Bernie Sanders.
Each morning I waited on line for my credentials, had my breakfast, attended our NY Bernie delegation meetings and prepared for my day. Did everything go as planned? Of course not starting from day one. The Bernie campaign announced to us originally that he was going to meet with us delegates at 2pm and then we could head on over to Wells Fargo for the convention. Initially that worked out perfect as I was going to attend the NEA/AFT meetings with a few other NY teacher delegates. Morning of, the meeting time was changed to 12:30, so we basically picked up our NEA/AFT swag, choked down some food and hightailed it to the Convention Center. We arrived there early and despite that, the two lines created were enormous. Of course the line I was on barely moved and after over an hour, it was announced that there was no more room and that we were not going to be allowed to see Bernie speak. How does this happen? It wasn't a guess as to how many would show up. There was an exact number of Bernie delegates yet the room he was given couldn't accommodate us all. Of course we were all upset, but thank goodness for live streaming because that was how I caught his speech. He did give a moving speech and I'm sure you heard about the boo’s. There were still so many who were just not ready to hear or unwilling to hear about his support for Hillary. I get it, I understand it, but I wouldn’t have booed. This was the reality. I understood why Bernie endorsed her. He did not quit, he agreed to work with her. If he just conceded, he would not have been able to be a part of the most progressive platform now in history. Everything he has ever done in this election was for all of us and up until the end, he was a man of his word.
Fast forwarding to Monday night’s convention, I could not get a seat on the floor. As an alternate, there were no guarantees of that so I settled for a nosebleed seat above. Throughout the evening of speeches I heard boo’s so many times. People back home contacted me asking them to stop. From where I was, I couldn't and they wouldn't listen to little ole me anyway. Bernie delegates were angry, still are, and they are listening to speech after speech all praising Hillary. I get it. After awhile it got to me too, but as I said earlier, I did not boo.
Bernie Sanders had the top slot being the last speaker. When he came out, all of a sudden I got so emotional. It surprised me. As tears were running down my face and I'm watching how for over three minutes people were cheering him on, I came to realize why I was crying. I was saying goodbye. For over a year, I worked like crazy to help make his presidency happen and now it's coming to an end. I had this whole deep conversation in my head and I came to the conclusion that I was only saying goodbye to THIS chapter but not to the movement we started and was a part of. A new chapter will begin as there is still so much work still to do and I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Tuesday morning's breakfast featured many elected speakers including Gov. Cuomo. I had a brilliant idea that I actually pulled it off. As a teacher and unionist, I have a YUGE beef with Cuomo and over the last few years I made no secret about it via rallies, protests, articles I wrote, social media, etc. So I went up to him and asked to take a picture with him which he happily obliged. Then I introduced myself and filled him in very briefly about what I've done against him. His demeanor completely changed. His smile faded and he looked so uncomfortable. Without saying a word, he turned and walked away. This was totally satisfying to me and it so made my day. It was the same satisfying feeling, when I finally had the opportunity to say “thank you” to Eva Moskowitz. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be the force to reckon with today.
Tuesday was also the only day I was able to get onto the floor, second row, slightly off to the middle. They were great seats. The first item on the agenda for Tuesday was the roll call. I knew there wasn't going to be some miracle. Hillary had the numbers but it was still hard to hear. There were emotional moments like when Bernie Sanders' brother spoke and gave his vote and when Bernie himself spoke for Vermont. Although it was obvious to see how difficult it was for him, he suspended the votes and conceded to Hillary Clinton. Almost immediately many delegates stormed out. This was the last thing they wanted to hear. Once again, I wasn't happy about it either, but I understood. I did not walk out right away but I did leave shortly thereafter. I just couldn't bear to hear hours more of all pro Hillary speeches. I'm sorry, I just couldn't.
On Wednesday after another speech laden breakfast, I needed a break. Since Saturday I was nonstop. Over that past weekend I was at a conference in Albany and when it was finished, I headed straight to Philadelphia. I needed some relaxing moments to myself. I walked down to a NYC Village like area, did a little shopping and ate a cheesesteak at Jim's. I had to. After my several hour excursion, I took advantage of my empty hotel room and watched the speeches from there. Much later on that night, I went out with friends to watch live music at a local dive bar. Wednesday was exactly what I needed.
Now it's Thursday and ANOTHER elected speech laden breakfast and it was also the last day of the convention. The NY Delegation gave out tickets to see Lenny Kravitz and Lady Gaga in Camden that afternoon. I went and had an awesome time. I even took a picture with cut out of a Rocky themed democratic donkey. A bus was provided to bring us back to Wells Fargo. I got there a little after 5. Gavel time was at 4:30. Not only could I not get on the floor, but I couldn't even get in upstairs. I spent hours, wandering the hallways and watching the speeches on the TV's. I gave some interviews and I even filmed a brief segment for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee which unfortunately did not make it to airing. When all was said and done, a space was provided for us at Xfinity for a post Bernie delegate party. A much needed, letting our hair down event to soak up everything and to hang out with each other from all the different states.
When we left this party, it was already late. I had been checked out of my hotel since that morning and I had a 5:15am train in a few hours. I hung out at our hotel and spoke to many people. Even got badgered by these young preppy looking Hillary supporters demanding I tell them of a conversation I had with a VA Bernie delegate. At another point, the VA Governor Terry McAuliffe came to the lobby, very obviously drunk, and made some TPP comments he probably shouldn't be making. Others in the lobby were eating it up, taking pictures, etc.
Now it was time to go. I said goodbye to my new friends,and bid my au revoir’s to my comrades and headed off to the train station. I slept for maybe a half hour on the train. When I got back to NYC, I raced home to drop off my stuff and then headed back uptown for work. I was still in the same clothes and was woefully exhausted. I didn't care, it was worth it and so many of my co-workers seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about my week and asked me tons of questions.
I will end with this, we are facing a scary possibility of a Trump presidency. I certainly do not want this. A lot can change from now until November but for now I am sticking with my Democratic Party as unhappy as I am with it. This past year has been such a farce for so many reasons and I am sure many will disagree with me and that’s OK for there are so many who do agree with me. Bottom line is that we must beat Trump. Hillary Clinton said many things in her speech that we will hold her accountable for. My organizing for the Bernie Sanders movement will continue. As I said earlier, there is still so much work to do and I will continue to represent my beloved state of New York.
On to my next chapter! #StillBerning…..
Much More Reform Needed
If $15/hr Minimum Wage Is To Succeed
BY DONATHAN SALKALN
"I have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a two-year-old. When they're able to work, they're going to work for $15 an hour —We need the money!" NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer said, grinning in response to a question by Chelsea Reform Democratic Club member Raanan Geberer, who had suggested that a lower-than-$15 minimum wage for teenage-summer-jobs may be a good idea. The exchange took place late in a public forum called "The Fight for Fifteen Continues," sponsored by CRDC and the Village Independent Democrats, held October 15th, at Hudson Guild's Fulton Center.
That moment was special and nostalgic for me. Years ago Stringer introduced to CRDC his tiny first born. At that time, he was Manhattan borough president, a proud father, and among the first of public officials to strongly advocate against the use of Stop and Frisk. Along with an adorable baby, Stringer brought with him alarming statistics citing that police in Chelsea were stopping black and Hispanic youth at an inordinate rate. He has continued to champion reforms that lead to bettering the lives of everyday New Yorkers. Today, as NYC comptroller, Stringer is like a surgeon-general in caring for our city’s financial pulse. His office sifts through a mother lode of constantly flowing information and he uses their findings to promote many important reform initiatives.
At the forum Stringer principally advocated for increasing the minimum wage to $15-an-hour for everyone, not just fast food workers. In addition, he brought to our attention the city's poor record on supporting minority-owned businesses, the lack of diversity on large corporate boards, and how we can stop Wall Street from its current practice of gaming New York City’s pension fund. Other speakers at the forum were Steve Barrison, Esq., spokesman for the Small Business Congress (SBC) and Charles Houston, executive director, Queens Center for Progress, Moderating was VID President Nadine Hoffmann.
“I don't know a soul in this city who can live on $8.75 an hour, it's totally a slave wage, and we have to own up to it," said Scott Stringer. "Make no mistake; raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour would have a profound effect on the people of New York City. It would lift people out of poverty. According to a study we did in the comptroller’s office, it would pump $10 billion into the hands of 1.5 million New Yorkers.” He added, "While people would argue it would constrict jobs, study after study shows that, when you raise the wage, you actually expand opportunity. It would generate so much economic activity. But we can not just think in terms of the wage,” Stringer continued. “We have to build upon it, in order to create a just society.
Stringer pled the case of the city’s mom-and-pop stores. “When a business opens, every politician wants to cut the ribbon and congratulate that business owner. After the ribbon is cut and the business is open, then the city harasses the business out of existence, whether it's the landlord or city agencies, and that has to stop." His office created the "Red Tape Commission," promoting the city as a partner rather than an obstacle to small businesses.
“We also have to recognize that we have thousands of women and minority-owned businesses around this city that are truly struggling," Stringer said. He cited another of his studies, which found that of the $14 billion spent by NYC each year on goods and services only 5.3% of that money went to women-and-minority-owned businesses. “We are never going to level the playing field unless we use the power of procurement in our city. This is fundamental in linking the minimum wage with moving actual dollars into small businesses.” In an effort to do that, Comptroller Stringer introduced "Making the Grade," a report card that grades city agencies. “We are holding the city administration -- with all their good intentions -- we are grading these agencies based on how much they spend with women-and-minority-owned businesses." Last year his program gave NYC government a grade of D; this year city government earned a D+.
Another Stringer initiative is driven by the ideals of income equality and endeavors to bring diversity to boards of America’s largest companies. The comptroller exclaimed, “Right now these boards are too Male, too Pale, and, I hate to say it, too Stale." In regard to that observation, Stringer’s "Boardroom Accountability Project" would give long-term shareholders the right to nominate their own directors at 75 U.S. companies. He has mobilized pensions funds from California to New York, with the combined power of a trillion dollars plus, in pushing forward his proxy resolution demands of diversity on boards.
Stringer’s most striking investigation focused on Wall Street handling of NYC’s Pension Fund investments in stocks and bonds. Another of his studies found that, over 10 years, Wall Street's money managers increased the value of investments by $2.4 billion while reaping fees of $2.0 Billion. "They've been laughing all the way to the bank." Stringer said. On behalf of city workers and over 700,000 retirees, he is negotiating a new contract with Wall Street brokerage firms.
Steve Barrison, a lawyer with over thirty years representing small business in lease renewal, stressed the need to do more than just raise the wage. "If you do that first and do not save mom-and-pop stores now when they are at crises level, you will create situations where those that hang on, will reduce the number of employees to just make the minimum wage or make them part time. He added, “The only real solution to save our city’s small businesses and the jobs they create is to give rights to tenants to allow them to negotiate fair lease terms which would give them a reasonable return on their investment.”
Toward that end, Barrsion has been promoting the "The Small Business Jobs Survival Act," a Council bill that, if passed, would force arbitration when landlords and City’s 185,000 small businesses, along with their employees, can't agree on terms of lease renewal. Among other reforms, the law would give tenants a minimum ten-year lease, instead of the short-term leases we see today. Until the bill is passed, landlords will continue exploiting commercial tenants in ways legal -- seeking a sky’s-the-limit increase in rent, illegal -- extorting “under the table” money from commercial tenants seeking rent renewal, and somewhere in-between --working deals behind tenants’ backs with a goal of taking over successful businesses. Barrison noted two organizations, Take Back NYC, and Save NYC Jobs. that are promoting ‘The Small Business Jobs Survival Act’ across the five boroughs and said that the Act is closing in with a majority backing of NYC Council members.
In response to CRDC VP David Warren’s question about the legality of commercial rent control, Barrison imparted some history. "The city had commercial rent control for 18 years, between 1945 to 1963 [under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia]. The exact scenario happened then that's happening now, with real estate speculation and the rents going crazy and throwing people out. Commercial rent control was constitutional because the government has the right to protect the general welfare of the people.” He added that the Small Business Jobs Survival Act does not call for commercial rent control. "Arbitration brings fairness to the process. Right now the tenants have zero rights."
Charles Houston, Queens Center for Progress, a 600-person agency that provides services to children and adults with developmental disabilities, brought up the unfortunate consequences of the $15-an-hour minimum wage. “When the wage board considered the increase for fast food workers they weren’t thinking about the staffs of non-profits. Places like McDonald's and other corporations can raise the price of a product or service,” explained Houston. “We can not raise the cost of the services that we provide. Our reimbursement is set by the State of New York. While we support the minimum wage what we need to have happen is the government needs to be part of the solution.”
Houston also voiced concern over his agencies job training and placement program where people with developmental disability, who want to work and contribute to society, currently have positions at fast food restaurants, Home Depot, Stop & Shop, and Target. He was told by one manager that if they are forced to pay $15 an hour they won’t be able to hire his people anymore. They said that workers will need to multi-task at a high level.
Also in attendance was State Senator Brad Hoylman. As a ranking member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, he spoke with urgency, of trying to force the State and General Electric not to dismantle the dredging equipment that has been removing PCB’s from the Hudson River. Between 1947 and 1977, GE had dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCB's into the river from it’s manufacturing plants north of Albany. Said Hoylman “Studies have shown that GE has only completed 65% of the work. Once they dismantle this dredging equipment, it will cost us tens of millions of dollars to restore it.” He urged everyone to visit the below website and sign the petition:
In summary, I couldn’t help but notice that the program was all Male, all Pale but I'm happy to say, not-at-all Stale. A special thanks to the VID President Nadine Hoffmann, CRDC Exec. VP & Program Director, Judy Richheimer, CRDC Member and Program Coordinator Lisa Nearier, CRDC VP Evelyn Suarez and all the help from the folks at the Village Independent Democrats.
An Impaired Medical Marijuana Bill
BY DONATHAN SALKALN
For what seemed like a half century, New York was a blue state with a black stain. Until 2010, when Governor Patterson uprooted the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the state had the most draconian solution to the 'war on drugs' —throw them all in prison. Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York has since adopted a more humane rather than criminal approach, yet all drugs are still scheduled crimes. The use of Marijuana, a plant which medical value increases with each passing study, is still viewed by many New York State electeds as a "Gateway Drug.' And, although, last year's states legislative leaders finally agreed on Chelsea Assemblymember Richard Gottfried's Medical Marijuana Bill (that he first authored in 1996), many find the compromised bill gutted, restrictive, and some say, won't even be effective.
At the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club's September 17th Public Forum, "Marijuana Legislation In New York State," a large assembly was introduced to astonishing news about the medical powers of cannabis, as well as updates on current and future Albany legislation and a census of other states with marijuana medical and recreational usage. Held at the Hudson Guild's Elliott Center, participants on the panel were Gottfried (writer of the current law and sponsor of another two), Dr. Julie Netherland, Deputy State Director, New York / Drug Policy Alliance, State Senator Liz Kruger (sponsor of a bill for recreational use), and, on the national platform, Chris Goldstein, a radio personality and national advocate for marijuana law reform. The program's chair and moderator was CRDC Exec. Committee member and Marijuana advocate, Lisa Padilla with help from CRDC member and advocate, Allison Klein, and CRDC's VP and Program Director, Judy Richheimer.
For many New Yorkers, Medical Marijuana becoming a law was relatively sudden, while for others, it was a long battle. "Starting in 2013," began N.Y. Assemblymember Gottfried, "the public became aware there was a variety of marijuana, specifically CBD (an oil extract from the plant), that could make a miraculous difference in the lives of young children who had serious forms of epilepsy. In many of the children, the drug's use was able to reduce the dozens of massive seizures everyday to virtually none, enabling children to live normal lives."
Along with Gottfried's help, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), formed a lobbying coalition called Compassionate Care In New York (CCNY), with near 3,000 patients, families and care givers, 250 medical providers and seventy organizations. As DPA's Julie Netherland, explained, their mission "is to provide a voice for patients and their families. Our primary concern is making sure that patients have safe and legal access to medicine that might help them."
The lobbying effort of bringing actual patients to Albany slowly eroded the myth, as Netherland put it, "that people support medical marijuana because they just want to get high." The hundreds of meetings and demonstrations (including a float in a state senator's upstate town) resulted in both the State Senate and Assembly's approval. Then the bill ran into the 'stoned' wall of Governor Cuomo. His critical stand and threat of veto led to drastic compromises in which he slashed the number of allowable illnesses, applied excessive restrictions that included a small number of dispensaries and also instituted bans, such as the smoking or eating of the drug. The Governor, in the midst of a state-wide resurgence of heroin use, was wary of allowing medical marijuana to be easily available. Instead, he made it very hard to get.
The medical marijuana bill takes effect this coming January and includes treatment for AIDS, Cancer, Epilepsy, and some serious degenerative diseases. Left out are those New Yorkers suffering from Alzheimer's, Crohn's Disease, Traumatic Brain Injury, Dystonia Wasting Syndrome, PTSD, Rheumatic Arthritis, and Lupus. Stated Gottfried, "Frankly, It was up to me, the bill would not specify conditions. The law doesn't specify the conditions for taking morphine or Hydrocodone or anything else."
As Chair of Health for the NYS assembly, Gottfried is pushing an emergency bill to get immediate medical marijuana for epileptic children, as four have died since the law was passed but not implemented. He is also advancing another bill that would reinstate medical conditions and remove many restrictions of the current law (A 07476).
Both Gottfried and Netherland were very critical of only twenty Medical Marijuana dispensaries and the extreme rules surrounding them. Gottfried was opposed to the restrictions prohibiting anyone from entering a dispensary unless they are a patient or a patient's caretaker (forget about stopping by to get information). Netherland pointed out, with only twenty outlets in a state with 20 million people in 54,000 square miles, the bill will leave many patients with long trips. She also panned regulations limiting the variety of marijuana strains as well as the dosages defined as only oils and extracts. Also, medical marijuana is very expensive ($500 an ounce in NJ), and it's healing powers have not been embraced by the nation's insurance companies. Without insurance, the bill further eliminates additional New York patients. Said Netherland, "The last thing we want is a medical marijuana system that only serves the affluent."
Chris Goldstein, who had served as director of NORML.org / NJ, gave an assessment of how Medical Marijuana Law is faring under Governor Chris Christie. "In 2010 New Jersey's legislature said there would be 100,000 registered patients. But hurdle after hurdle of regulations put in front of patients and doctors means that there are only 4,200 registered patients in New Jersey today. There were six facilities licensed. Only three are open." He added, "The idea that patients will buy into a restrictive program is a real fantasy. The only way to get medical marijuana is to get rid of prohibition."
Goldstein took older attendees down memory lane, citing a familiar figure, President Richard Nixon. He fingered Nixon in creating the Controlled Substances Act that classified marijuana as a Schedule One offense, lumping it along with heroin as a drug with high potential for abuse and no medical value. In reviewing President Nixon's oval office tape recordings (not erased), Goldstein heard Nixon take a copy of the National Commission's study called 'Marihauna: Signal of Misunderstanding' (online), and throw it in the garbage while verbally trashing Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer, Nixon's commission appointed chairman. Summarized Goldstein, "We need to follow Shafer's original recommendation to remove Marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act completely. We need to 'De-Schedule' it. The war on drugs —with arrests primarily for marijuana possession— has become a war on people."
DPA's Netherland expounded on the injustice of the marijuana law. "The reason we spend so much time on marijuana policy reform," She says, "comes out of a commitment to social and racial justice. In New York City alone, in the past twenty years, 600,000 people have been arrested for marijuana possession. Eighty-four percent of those are black and Latino. We also know that our marijuana policies have really hurt patients who could benefit from medical marijuana but have been faced with either breaking the law or suffering needlessly."
"I believe in the end of prohibition" said an adamant State Senator Liz Kruger, "This country has gotten completely off course in it's hysteria about marijuana which has proved to be less dangerous for recreational purposes than alcohol or tobacco. We spend an enormous amount of resources and cost of law enforcement to just picking up people for low level personal marijuana use. I could come up with a hundred better uses for that government money."
Kruger is the sponsor of a NYS Senate bill, called "Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act" (S 1747; Krueger / A 3089A; People-Stokes), in response to the fact that prohibition has encouraged the growth of an underground industry that makes it much easier for minors to obtain marijuana (apps) than buying liquor and cigarettes. Kruger wants to bring the underground above ground. "Tax and regulation could bring revenue to the state, create real jobs in our economy, create agricultural opportunities in Upstate NY and we could finally legalize the growing of hemp for all kinds of non-drug related products."
As for the myth of Marijuana being a gateway drug, Moderator Lisa Padilla took a stand behind statistics that prove contrary. "In the states where marijuana has been legalized there has been a significant decrease —twenty percent or more —of opioid overdoses and deaths." She said.
In the Q&A meeting's segment, CRDC’s Lisa Nearier, who had worked with the American Cancer Society, asked about the differences between smoking marijuana or tobacco, since "tobacco is so dangerous." Padilla took the question first, and explained that there are a lot of carcinogens added to the tobacco leaf in preparation for the cigarettes, whereas marijuana is organic and pesticide and nicotine free. Gottfried added, “Nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug. I don’t think anybody would smoke the quantity of marijuana that many people smoke of tobacco." Kruger let the group know that, unlike tobacco, her law would ban the smoking of marijuana in public and also predicted that her bill would become law in less time than it took Gottfried's Medical Marijuana bill (close to 20 years).
CRDC Corresponding Secretary Linda Longstreet's concern of synthetic marijuana got Padilla a bit frustrated. ‘It is disappointing that they use the term 'synthetic marijuana,' for K2, Spice, and Molly, as it has nothing to do with Marijuana at all.” She feels the label by authorities is a subliminal message that promotes a policy that marijuana is bad.
Michael Zaytsev of HighNY.com asked Goldstein of how their members can bring marijuana reform into the national conversation during the current presidential campaign. While Goldstein pointed out that that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have indicated that if elected, they will look the other way, just as the Obama administration has, Goldstein warns, "God forbid a vast change in administration, with a change in the US Attorney General's Office or with an even bigger change within the DEA. State reform is very fragile, like a soap bubble." He added that candidates will be seeking your vote and will be accessible. "This is one of the turning points. We have to demand 'De-Scheduling."
Big thanks to CRDC's Evelyn Suarez, Tony Setteducate, and Carol Demech in their help with the door and food.
Gottfried addresses the CRDC on the many advantages of a single payer plan.
CRDC Hears Strong Argument for NY Health Act
BY DONATHAN SALKALN
Reprinted from ChelseaNow
Life seems to revolve around insurance companies. They’re everywhere. After Sandy, this writer even had nightmares about them. That’s what made New York State Assembly’s Chair, Committee on Health, Richard Gottfried’s “Single-Payer” discussion with the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC) so intriguing — a plan that will eliminate health care insurance companies, with their costs and profits, from the family budget.
The meeting, moderated by CRDC’s Executive Board member, Joel Vatsky, was held at Chelsea’s Elliott Center on the cold evening of February 19. It had passionate and sometimes heated exchanges on the pros and cons of Assemblymember Gottfried’s “Single-Payer” health care bill: New York Health, A7860. The bill would form a single public agency that would organize health care financing. It largely reflects the universal health care that Canada has used for the past 45 years. And, according to the World Bank, since then, the average Canadian’s life span has expanded to 2.5 years longer than the average American life (Can: 81.24 yrs., USA: 78.74 yrs.).
“If you want to find a country that rations care according to wealth, if you want to find a country where people have to go without health care in the midst of enormous wealth, if you want to find a country where people go bankrupt trying to keep themselves healthy, you’re living in it. And I want to change that!” declared Gottfried. “Last year, due to high deductibles, one third of American households who had health care coverage had someone in their family go without it, for financial reasons. And for two thirds of them, it was for a serious condition,” he stated, adding, “Healthcare is the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.”
Gottfried detailed how his New York Health would be less expensive, while including more coverage. “Today, whether you’re the multi-million dollar CEO of the company, or the lowest paid receptionist or janitor, the insurance company wants the same health care premium. If you’re at the top of the income range, instead of it being 25 percent of your household income (NYS medium households), it is more likely to be one or two percent.” The New York Health plan, Gottfried continued, “is to be funded by assessments, progressively graduated based on payroll and non-payroll taxable income.” He also noted that the costs will be brought further down by the elimination of insurance company administration costs, the costs of providers that have to hire a lot of people to deal with insurance companies, and insurance company profit. Gottfried surmised, “The reason the plan will work pretty well, is the same reason suburban schools work pretty well. People with wealth and influence will be using the system and they will make sure that the system works well. The rest of us will benefit.”
An audience member asked, “Wasn’t the Affordable Health Care Act supposed to solve all this?” — to which Gottfried responded, “Under the Affordable Care Act, while the marketplace is inducing the insurance companies to lower their premiums, they are both jacking up the deductible, the amount that you have to pay before the insurance company pays a nickel, and cutting back on what they spend, by having very limited provider networks with providers who are willing to work, at the minimal amounts that the insurance company is offering.”
Several in the group wanted to know how the plan would impact those now covered by NYS employee unions and those that now qualify for Medicare, but will have to continue to pay, if they have taxable income. Gottfried responded: “Anything that is now covered by Medicaid, Medicare, by state insurance mandates or any benefits available to state public employees, plus anything the plan chooses to add, would be available to every New Yorker.” He went on to state, “Those covered by Medicare are going to have better coverage and spend less out of pocket than they now do. They’ll have more choice of doctors, no co-pays, no deductibles, no out of network charges, and no premiums for supplemental policies. Long term coverage won’t kick in until we devise a plan for that, but for everything else, that’s it.”
In adding yet another government agency to New York, State Committeewoman Francine Hasselkorn asked Gottfried “What are the start-up costs and which entity would be created to do this?” Gottfried said that the Health Department would administer it, noting, “The administration costs would be in the three percent range, maybe lower based on what traditional Medicare spends on administration. For start up costs, an awful lot of machinery is already up and running in the state, as it pays bills under the Medicaid program.”
District Leader Sylvia DiPietro was very concerned about the possible fleeing of wealth and doctors. She warned, “Under this system we will have a flight of quality doctors from the state and will have lines around the block just to see an average doctor.” DiPietro continued, by asking, “How do you tell a quality doctor that they’ll get the same amount of money as a much less experienced doctor, and how do you stop them and the people that can afford it now from fleeing the state, when it’s mandatory?” Gottfried countered, “Today, insurance companies pay doctors whatever they please. If doctors flee New York they will find themselves in the hands of insurance companies that will pay them what the insurance company wants to pay. If the doctors are out of network that will be zero.”
Gottfried was the first to admit that the Canadian plan had its flaws, that it needed tweaking, and is open to suggestions for his plan. CRDC Executive Board member Carol Demech reflected on her years of living in Vancouver. She recounted a story of how she was told that she might have kidney cancer and then informed that she would have to wait three months for a kidney exam. She also spoke of an injured teenager who would have to wait a year for an MRI, and chose instead to go to Seattle.
Another member cited the extremely high cost of malpractice insurance for US doctors. Due to tort laws, Canadian doctors pay one tenth of the malpractice insurance of their USA counterparts. Gottfried responded that there are no tort reforms included in his bill.
Most heartfelt was CRDC’s Executive VP Judy Richheimer’s conversation with a Canadian doctor concerning a Stage 4 cancer that her partner died from, here in New York. The doctor told her that in Canada they never see patients presenting at Stage 4, because the patients have been in the system too long. Richheimer concluded, “It is definitely cheaper and with better outcomes to treat someone when they’re precancerous, or a little bit cancerous.”
Well past the meeting’s cut-off time, the CRDC voted to endorse and promote Richard Gottfried’s New York Health Bill (New York Health, A7860), then bundled up so as to not catch pneumonia, and went home.
The Meeting's Program Director: CRDC Execcutive Board Member: Joel Vatsky
Welcome Table and Door: CRDC President Michael Schreiber, CRDC Treasurer and Honorable Paul Groncki
Refreshments: CRDC VP Evelyn Suarez
Zoning for Quality and Affordability' could transform heart of Chelsea
Zoning Changes Made in Haste
Makes For Bad Government
BY PAMELA WOLFF
Reprinted from Chelsea Now
Sixteen years ago, the Chelsea Plan became a reality. It took years of grinding effort to accomplish. The idea began with Rowena Doyel, founder of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, and Ed Kirkland, Chair of Community Board 4’s Chelsea Planning and Preservation Committee (now called the Chelsea Land Use Committee), and the originator of the (now-disbanded) Landmarks Committee. Tom Duane, then a CB4 member and Co-chair with Kirkland, was tireless in his efforts to guide the Plan to success.
It was Kirkland who had the vision to realize the possibility that CB4 could initiate a plan, present it to government agencies, and then fight like hell to get it adopted. This was the same proactive tact taken a decade earlier by Bob Trentlyon that ultimately resulted in the Chelsea Waterside Park. These men are giants in the Chelsea community.
The Chelsea Plan was a brilliant concept, but contained a bucket-full of compromises — deals with the devil. The idea was to retain the low-rise tranquility and historic character of Central Chelsea, roughly defined as from 14th to 26th Sts., from Seventh Ave. to 10th Ave., with some carve-outs. Essentially, the Plan limits building height within the area to 75 feet, on both the side streets and the avenues.
The giveaway was the manufacturing areas from Fifth Ave. to Seventh Ave. The mostly small loft buildings were either converted to million dollar residences or demolished and replaced by residential condominium Goliaths with much more generous limits on height. The same happened in the area west of 10th Ave., now the Special West Chelsea Historic District.
It has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Central Chelsea has kept its open sky and sense of neighborhood, of home. East and west of us, however, have become towering walls of condominiums filled with people who are either dazzlingly wealthy or living on Ritz Crackers to pay the rent.
Now we are faced with a crisis in housing for the ordinary among us. Our Mayor, with the best of intentions, has proposed to eviscerate the Chelsea Plan, and all the other hard-won zoning victories everywhere in our city in the name of creating development opportunities from which we might or might not squeeze out some units of questionably affordable housing. The Plan seems to be a blanket, one-size-fits-all, rezoning for the entire city.
Meanwhile Chelsea, like many other neighborhoods, is losing the very buildings that have been the traditional haven of the middle and working classes.
These buildings — mostly five-story, old-law tenements with 30 or 40 rent regulated apartments, built around the turn of the 20th century and earlier — are under assault by real estate developers. They pay big bucks, get huge construction loans, and set about throwing people out any way they can, as fast as they can, in order to do shoddy renovations, increase the number of units, and get them leased out fast at market rates.
So far, none of these conversions offer ANY affordable units, including the ones that have managed to dislodge stabilized or controlled tenants.
The proposed zoning changes will create an even greater incentive to exploit these little sitting ducks. This does not make sense.
I hope that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council, in the noblest of efforts to find ways to house the population that most makes this city viable, find ways to compromise as was done the first time around.
What concerns me most is the speed with which this plan is being pushed. “Zoning for Quality and Affordability’” is a deceptive title. We all need more time to digest what the real impact of the mayor’s plan will be on our lives. Zoning changes made in haste makes for bad government.
Pamela Wolff is a member of CRDC, and public member, CB4
Above: Penny Mintz, Esq. speaks to CRDC meeting of the inequalities of Citizens United. On the front page of website: Sally Swisher talks of the Big Apple Coffee Club's boycott.
A NYC Coffee Party
Battles Citizens United
BY DONATHAN SALKALN
Rarely has a Supreme Court decision indirectly affected middle class and low income Americans more than that of Citizens United. The ruling has created corporate and wealth driven Super PACs, which have, in turn, changed the political landscape into one-sided, mud-slinging and multi-media beat-downs of opposing candidates... more often than not, Democrats.
The Chelsea Reform Democratic Club's April meeting at the Elliott Community Center listened to a battle-tested group called the Big Apple Coffee Party, who are entrenched in their fifth year of advocating the inequalities and injustices of the Citizens United. The 2010 Supreme Court ruling, in essence, now allows unlimited antes at the political poker table. Special interests with big stacks of money have since taken up all the table's seats, leaving the average Joe (and Jeanine) out in the parking lot.
"The Supreme Court came to a decision that fundamentally altered campaign financing and the peoples ability to control corporate influences of elected officials," said Penny Mintz, Esq, one of three Big Apple representatives that spoke. "We want to stem the corruption that results when corporations are able to spend all this money to essentially buy candidates."
With little hope of a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United (it requires a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress), or an act by the Supreme Court in admitting to their own mistake ("It's not going to happen in our lifetime," says Mintz) the Big Apple Coffee Party has waged their campaign on the streets. Armed with 'Don't do Koch' fliers promoting the boycott of products made by the Koch brother's company, Georgia Pacific, coffee party activists engage shoppers outside of supermarkets. Their strategy has been to disband Citizens United, one citizen at a time. It doesn't hurt that at a quick glance, their hand-out flyer appears as a sheet of store coupons. Says Sally Swisher, a founding member of Big Apple, "The flyering not only works toward getting money out of politics, it opens discussion and demonstrates what democracy can and should be." Big Apple has even coordinated a simultaneous supermarket flyering campaign in 10 states, teaming up with other coffee partys and sympathetic groups. "It was the most exciting thing." relates Swisher.
Although the Coffee Party can trace their roots to coffee houses in pre-revolutionary times, back when the East India Company was selling highly taxed British tea, the Big Apple Coffee Party activists are not drinking mugs of java, followed by loading muskets. Says Jonathan Riess, 25 year 'money veteran' as a Wall Street global investment manager, "We are committed to diversity and civil discourse, acting independently of political parties, corporations and political lobbying networks." Big Apple meets every second Thursday at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (86th & West End Ave) where they organize and strategize, while also discussing related issues, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the impact that mega-foundations have on the democracy.
During the presentation, the meetings moderator, CRDC Ecec. VP Judy Richheimer had to check the refreshment table to see if any boycott products were on display. Thankfully not!
For a list of boycott products and flyer's for printing, visit:
http://www.dontdokoch.org/ or: http://bigapplecoffeeparty.com/
The Meeting's Program Director: CRDC Exec VP Judy Richheimer
Welcome Table and Door: CRDC President Michael Schreiber, CRDC Treasurer Paul Groncki
Refreshments: CRDC VP Evelyn Suarez (She didn't buy boycotted goods).
Honorables present: Democratic Committeewoman, Francine Haselkorn; District Leader Steven Skyles-Mulligan.
At the Back Label Wine Merchants Retirement Party, from left in left photo: CRDC Exec. V.P. Judy Richheimer, Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer, Honoree and former District Leader Mary Dorman, Esq, CRDC President Michael Schreiber, NY City Councilmember Corey Johnson, honoree and former District Leader Tom Shuler, and NYS Assemblymember Deborah Glick. Photo right: Appointed District Leaders Steven Skyles-Mulligan and Sylvia DiPietro, Esq.
Chelsea’s Democratic Political Machine
Loses Two Ace Mechanics
75th Assembly District Leaders Tom Schuler and Mary Dorman, Esq. retire after a decade plus, of hard work
by Donathan Salkaln
Much the way energy comes into our city’s homes, only noticed by a wall socket, light switch, or the flick of stove's knob, so is the infrastructure of our city's political machine mostly hidden from the general public view. And, although 'power and gas' can be compared to politics, Chelsea’s political engine hasn’t had ethical backfires, both for Elected Officials and Judges, nor has it been misdirected with bridges to nowhere (the HighLine was not misdirected). The Chelsea political infrastructure has not allowed it, as it is bolstered by strong political clubs and strengthened by Community Board that reflects a part of the city that is committed to caring and sensitive to all things wrong. At the controls, fueling, and maintaining this machine are unpaid elected District Leaders that make sure that their candidates and electeds run on all cylinders.
From within a dark and dank basement of the Chelsea Reform Democrat Club on West 20th street, buried from public view (unless you’re there to fix the furnace or exterminate vermin), is where District Leaders Tom Schuler (DL male) and Mary Dorman (DL female) spent much of their time the last ten years. District Leader’s duties include organizing the petitions and leafleting for candidates (block by block, door to door), staffing and supervising all polling sites for both primary and general elections, encouraging candidates for other party positions (including county committee) and pressing elected officials and government agencies to address the needs of the community. Both Schuler and Dorman, who's retirements were recently honored by the CRDC at Back Label Wine Merchants (111 West 20th Street), did that, and so much more.
Historically, Chelsea’s District Leaders have never been in need of volunteers, as waves of injustices, not only locally, but also in the City, and Country have always swept a bevy of activists down the steps to the club’s headquarters. Causes have included affordable housing, rent regulations, LGBT and DOMA rights, opposition to the Iraq War, global warming, education, prison reform, the right to Social Security, St. Vincents Hospital’s closure, Single-Payer Health Act, the BRC, Occupy Wall Street, Fracking, the expansions of Chelsea Market and General Theology Seminary, the Gibbons House, Living-Wage, and even saving Chelsea’s Western Beef. Both District Leaders Schuler and Dorman had their hands full while working hard on campaigns that have resulted in a diverse judicial bench and elected that now reflect many ethnicity's, religions, gender equality and LGBTs.
Come election season Tom Schuler was like a General, scouring complex district maps for votes, examining neighborhood voting records and directing an army of volunteers in getting those votes secured. He and Mary Dorman would also set up petitioning tables outside Chelsea’s supermarkets, Post Offices and along Chelsea’s street fairs. And many, that they helped get elected, have gone on to become distinguished political leaders and notable judges.
“I loved campaigning, I loved petitioning on the street corner, standing at a subway station, and yes, even stuffing a building.” Schuler relates, “I always tell people ‘you really have not lived unless you have been thrown out of a building for trying to stuff campaign literature under someone’s door.’ In fact I still see one particular doorman walking in Chelsea who threw me out of a building during Mario Cuomo’s 1994 campaign.”
Schuler moved to Chelsea in 1992 by way of Westchester County where, for four years, he was a junior high school social studies teacher and since has been a stalwart activist with the CRDC club. “My philosophy is that our government, should be honest, independent, accessible and open,” says Schuler. “Over the many years I have supported and worked for candidates who I believe advocate for these ideals. I look back and am very proud to have supported people like Chuck Schumer, Eric Schneiderman, Chris Quinn, and Supreme Court Justice Judge Paul Feinman, Tom Duane, Scott Stringer, Brad Hoylman, Gale Brewer, Liz Holtzman, Bill Thompson, Jerry Nadler, Rosie Mendez, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama, and numerous civil and supreme court judges.
His calling often took him on the road, campaigning with others for Democratic Candidates in the thick of close races. Schuler recalls a memorable day upstate, “We organized a bus to take volunteers to the Hudson Valley to campaign for Senator Kristen Gillibrand in her first run for Congress. I was canvassing with Senator Brad Hoylman (we were both young District Leaders then). As we approached one house, we are attacked by several dogs, needless to say, we did move from there quickly.”
It’s tough to turn the motor off. Schuler intends to continue to advocate in “preserving the neighborhood character of Chelsea, our low rise buildings and its affordability and the mom and pop shops that line the Avenues and some of the side street, ensuring the continuation of rent regulations so young people and seniors can remain in their homes and keep Chelsea the diverse and inter-generational neighborhood it has long been.”
MARY DORMAN, Esq
Before becoming District Leader, Mary Dorman, as a young lawyer in the 80’s, learned the art of negotiating in representing Chelsea’s business’ in Chelsea (Camouflage, the newsstand ownership where El Cid is currently). Later in the 90’s, as co-chair of Quality of Life Committee for the CB 4, she worked the other side —resolving problems that neighboring residences had with business’(remember Krispy Crème’s strong aroma, and all those discos). When she became district leader in 2004, she had already latched onto other important local issues such as the local schools, the elderly, and affordable housing.
Dorman credits Schuler for their sinergized relationship. “Tom Schuler was invaluable. He already had a rapport with Chelsea’s elected officials and knowledge of voting and elections and was dedicated to voter participation. I strove to be a connection between our constituency and elected officials City, County, and Statewide.
Although she is a proven mediator, and always looks good in black, Dorman has never run for Judgeship. Instead, she’s burned a trail across the civil rights landscape representing hundreds of demonstrators charged with civil disobedience for such groups as ACT UP, WAC, and members of the Irish Lesbian and Gays Organization (they finally marched this past St. Patrick’s Day). She also won landmark cases that included Mannion vs. Coors Brewing Company, in which she successfully represented a photographer against the beer giant for copy infringement resulting in a significant jury award, Connors vs. NYPD, resulting in a million dollar jury award for discrimination, and Wasserstrom vs. the United Nations, the first case in which the U.N.’s Dispute Tribunal found a whistle-blower had been retaliated against by the U.N.
But what makes Dorman so special is there’s no off switch in caring for others. She relates a story where she used all her connections as a District Leader in the most humane manner: “I was in a bodega on 9th avenue buying milk the day after Superstorm Sandy hit NYC. There were three girls with their coats on playing quietly in the store. I asked how they were, they “cold...” and I learned they lived in Fulton Housing and had no heat. With the help of the CRDC, I organized an emergency meeting of community leaders and electeds the next morning. We agreed to a plan to aid our neighbors in Fulton Housing and as word spread, hundreds of people showed that afternoon, divided in teams and went door to door, floor by floor to make sure tenants had blankets medication, flashlights, food, water and pet food. Our effort was much appreciated by the residents."
A veteran of Chelsea politics and ten-year president of CRDC, Steven Skyles-Mulligan been selected by the Democratic County Committee as the new male District Leader. “I don’t like to say I’m replacing Tom; I don’t think anyone can,” he says. “In the decade-plus that I worked with him, I never knew anyone’s political instincts to be sharper or practical knowledge of the system to be deeper. It’s both a great honor and a challenge to have been chosen as Tom’s successor.”
Sylvia DiPietro, Esq
Selected tor replace Mary Dorman is Sylvia DiPietro, Esq., a former member of Community Board 5 (Bryant Park to Central Park) and former 75th District State Committee Woman. Among many posts, she is a devoted estate and guardianship litigator, Chair of the Trusts and Estates Continuing Legal Education Section of the New York State Bar Association, a very active board member of the New York County Lawyers Association, and past Adjunct Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School where she taught a course in Elder and Guardianship Law. DiPietro says, “Mary Dorman has been a outstanding mentor and role model as I aspire to follow in her footsteps as the new District Leader. "
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