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December 2014

News

The Villager: Mom-and-pop shops: Are they too small to save?

December 18, 2014

From left, Councilmembers Corey Johnson, Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez all support the S.B.J.S.A. bill.

From left, Councilmembers Corey Johnson, Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez all support the S.B.J.S.A. bill.

BY SHARON WOOLUMS  |   Government is quick to act to save big business, even in cases when the latter’s own greed is the cause of its demise. Government’s justification for immediate solutions — for using taxpayer money to save big business — to maximize these companies’ profits is that they are “too big to fail” and vital to our economy. Meanwhile, long-established, healthy small businesses are forced to close in record numbers. Are they too small to save?

As the number-one employer of resident New Yorkers for more than 26 straight years, small businesses are not small when it comes to jobs. They are the number-one pathway for social mobility for low-income families, and their impact is not small when it comes to helping provide neighborhood stability that gives character to a community.

And these small merchants are not small in courage when they go into neighborhoods that others have abandoned, risking their lives, savings and futures by investing in that community.

‘Today, small businesses have zero confidence that government will stand up to big real estate.’  — Sung Soo Kim

More important, they are not small in establishing New York City as the gateway to America for more than 400 years, the city of entrepreneurs and dreamers hoping to invest in the American Dream.

They are indeed the “backbone of our  economy and engine for job creation,” as every elected official’s campaign literature tells us. When then have so many of our politicians remained silent about finding solutions to stopping these businesses’ closings and saving jobs?

The answer may be simple: Small businesses are small when it comes to campaign contributions. With big real estate PACs contributing huge amounts to candidates who continue making the real estate industry the number-one priority in New York City, landlords are not small at election time. No candidate made the closing of neighborhood businesses and the loss of jobs a serious issue in the last election. In fact, some claimed the number-one problem was “excessive tickets and lack of affordable loans.” Facing a crisis and going extinct, no small business would say they are going out because of fines from tickets.

Our unresponsive elected officials have turned a blind eye to the most obvious problem facing us today. Small businesses cannot compete with big banks and big franchises able to pay exorbitant rents. Will it take the Village streets filled with empty stores looking like a Detroit shopping strip, and the middle class forced out due to high costs for our elected officials to exert their political will and finally do something to stop the closings?

The community response to my recent Sept. 11 talking point (“There’s only one way to save our small businesses”) — the fifth of that series on this issue — was overwhelming. However, many felt that our elected officials’ silence over this crisis is deafening. They feel the crisis is now, that there is no time to speculate. The cash flow into campaign coffers must never drown out the candidates’ desire to hear those desperate to save their communities. A basic tenet of democracy is that voters have a right to know the position of their elected officials on this urgent need to act. So, for this current column, I asked our local politicians to comment.

Responding to their comments is Mr. Sung Soo Kim. He has been in the trenches on this issue for 30 years, and here will assist in giving a fair and accurate evaluation of their comments. As founder of the Korean American Small Business Service Center, first chairperson of Mayor Dinkins’s and Giuliani’s Small Business Advisory Committee, and co-founder of the Small Business Congress, Kim created the first Small Business Bill of Rights in New York City.

Councilmember Corey Johnson: “It is critical for the City Council to take an active role in combating the continuing demise of local businesses due to ever-rising rents. In many neighborhoods, small businesses have fallen victim to the very revitalization and growth they helped germinate. It is an unfortunate reality that true commercial rent control remains outside the purview of the Council, and so instead we must look to other creative strategies to ensure that price-gouging does not persist.

“Proposals to create a mechanism for landlords and commercial tenants to mediate disputes over lease renewals are a salve but not a solution. Commercial rent control enacted by the New York State Legislature enjoyed a successful 18-year run in the mid-century before it sunset, and should be resurrected for the preservation of our communities.”

Sung Soo Kim’s response: “I commend Councilmember Johnson on publicly declaring rising rents the cause of the ‘demise’ of local businesses. Too many elected officials and governmental agencies refuse to recognize this undeniable fact, but I totally disagree with his assessment that “proposals to create a mechanism for landlord and commercial tenants to mediate disputes over lease renewals are a salve not a solution.’

“What Johnson is referring to as ‘not a solution’ is the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (S.B.J.S.A.), which has been bottled up in a Council committee for the past four years, and denied a vote by the full City Council for 28 years. Since the bill has never been enacted into law, how can Johnson presume it will not be a solution to stopping the closing of small businesses upon lease renewal?

“The statements from our business community over the decades make clear that they strongly believe this bill is the only real solution to keeping them in business and saving New Yorkers’ jobs. From the original bill’s first June 1986 public Council hearing till the last, in June 2009, every legitimate New York City business organization and advocacy group, including arts and nonprofit organizations, has testified that this bill, based upon giving rights to the commercial tenant and arbitration if the parties fail to reach agreement, was the best solution to stopping the closing of established businesses.

“Not just the businesses believed this: At the June 29, 2009, hearing on the bill, then-chairperson of the Committee on Small Business, David Yassky, said: ‘I believe that we absolutely have to do something period…before our small businesses disappear… . It’s not an option to do nothing… . If it’s not going to be this bill, then I want to hear what the alternatives for how we’re going to help small businesses in this difficult time… . We have to have some solutions to offer.’

“After hearing all testimony and recommendations, Chairman Yassky and every member of his Small Business Committee sponsored the S.B.J.S.A. as being the best solution to stopping the closings.

“Johnson is misguided in recommending that commercial rent control be brought back to save small businesses. In the 1980s the reinstatement of the successful commercial rent control law was considered by then-Assemblymember Jerrold Nadler and then-Councilmember Ruth Messinger, who introduced ‘commercial rent control’ legislation both in the state Assembly and City Council. The city’s business community instead unanimously supported an arbitration bill. 

“After listening to the arguments from the small business advocates, both Nadler and Messinger dropped their ‘commercial rent control’ bills in favor of adopting arbitration legislation. The reason: arbitration has evolved into being universally accepted as the best resolution dispute process available.

“The small business community trusted the elected officials who first introduced the bill to stand up to the real estate speculators and treat the businesses fairly. The creators of the commercial rent control bill were Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, recognized as our greatest mayor, and Governor Thomas Dewey, a former Manhattan district attorney who built a reputation on cleaning up corruption and crime in New York City.

“Both LaGuardia and Dewey were Republicans who were opposed to the corrupt Democratic political machine run by Tammany Hall. They built reputations that the people’s jobs came first, not the political bosses. Today, small businesses have zero confidence that government will stand up to big real estate and stand behind the small business owners and their workers.

“Seeing the huge campaign contributions made by real estate PACs gives small business owners little confidence that their government can be trusted to stand up to the powerful real estate industry’s influence and pass legislation to protect them, as did LaGuardia and Dewey.

“My recommendation to Councilmember Johnson: Log onto savenycjobs.org and read the intent of the S.B.J.S.A. legislation. Copy the summary of what the bill will do and give it to other legislators who are concerned about the fate of small businesses. Take copies to the owners of your districts’ small businesses, and ask them if this would be a solution to the crisis they face.”

Before finalizing this article for publication, I went online to check the latest sponsorship of the S.B.J.S.A. In turns out that on Nov. 25 Johnson signed onto the measure, the same bill he previously said he could not support because he felt it was “a salve but not a solution.” 

So I gave Johnson an opportunity to answer: “What changed your mind?”

Johnson: “I continue to feel that proposals like Intro 402 are a salve not a solution. But given the rapid erosion of our small businesses, we must embrace measures like these for the benefits they provide.”

Sung Soo Kim’s response: “The mark of leadership is how an elected official deals with a crisis facing his or her community. Will they stand behind the community against political pressures or special interests’ influence and do the right thing? 

“If Councilmember Johnson feels the S.B.J.S.A. is not the best solution, he should never have sponsored the bill — and he should withdraw his name from the bill! The small business owners in his district and their loyal customers deserve real solutions to their problems. This is why the majority voted for Johnson — to be independent and fight for real solutions.

“Why can’t he work with the small business advocates to recommend changes to the bill that would make it a real solution to stopping the closing of small businesses? Are there no compromises possible with Intro 402 that would make it work better for his businesses? 

“This bill, S.B.J.S.A., is very simple, it gives rights to the business owners when their leases expire. The real estate lobby does not want to give any rights to the business owners and wants only the landlords to have all the rights to determine all the terms of the new leases.”

Councilmember Margaret Chin: “I am deeply concerned about the difficulties faced by the valuable small businesses that make our community great. Since ever-rising rents contribute to the closure of so many small businesses, I continue to co-sponsor the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would create fair rent negotiations and help save many of these beloved stores.”

Sung Soo Kim’s response: More than 20 years ago, I represented the Korean businesses in fighting to stop rent gouging. Margaret Chin was the advocate and voice fighting for economic equality for the Chinese community. Ms. Chin never missed an opportunity to speak with conviction and compassion on the need to protect small businesses and the jobs they created because of the importance of jobs to an immigrant family’s future.

“In 2011, because of her long history as an effective advocate, now-Councilmember Chin was named prime sponsor of the S.B.J.S.A. and entrusted with the responsibility of gaining a vote on it by the full Council. Now with Chin as a co-sponsor of the bill, the small business community hopes she will bring to the Council’s Progressive Caucus her vast knowledge of the crisis faced by our city’s immigrant businesses and the disgraceful anti-democratic treatment they received from our government when they sought economic justice in the City Council. It is inconceivable, that any ‘progressive’ councilmember — after learning of the many immigrant owners routinely extorted for cash by unscrupulous landlords under the threat of losing their businesses — would purposely not take any action to stop this appalling act.”

Councilmember Rosie Mendez, our other Downtown Council rep, has also recently signed on as a sponsor to the latest version of the S.B.J.S.A. However, she did not respond to requests for comment for this column, saying she was “too busy to comment at this time.”

Sung Koo Kim’s response: “Twenty years ago, the most active fighters for our cause came from the Village representatives, Councilmembers Miriam Friedlander and Carol Greitzer. Having the courage to stand up to the powerful speaker of the City Council, Peter Vallone, who led the fight to defeat the original arbitration bill, they could not be silenced in standing up for the small businesses, the art community and the spirit and the unique character of the Village and Lower East Side.

“The S.B.J.S.A. today was the same bill Mendez’s predecessor, Margarita Lopez, introduced as prime sponsor in 2005. Lopez had renamed the bill the Jobs Security Act because she knew this bill would determine the future of many New Yorkers’ jobs. Mendez has been a co-sponsor of this bill twice before, and has again signed onto it as a sponsor.

“Now that the problem is worse, Villagers are demanding that elected officials make a loud noise and call to stop these closings before we lose all our small businesses. Hopefully, Mendez will listen to her constituents and remember the populist action taken by true progressive legislators, like former Councilmembers Friedlander, Greitzer and Lopez.”

In this, The Villager’s sixth column on this topic, we move past the explanations — to the solution. Something has broken — it needs fixing. Doing nothing has made the crisis worse. 

This is not some Republican enclave! This is the Village, with its progressive Democratic political clubs and ideals! Has the meaning of “progressive” changed? Has the ideal become merely a myth, an illusion, a quaint relic of the past — just as our Village is becoming?

Countries yearn for democracy. They fight and die for it. Yet we delude ourselves by thinking that, if we complain and moan long and hard enough, change will magically happen.

But with democracy comes responsibility. We have a process in place. In one of my previous columns on this issue last year, I called it THE litmus test for the election of progressive candidates. Sadly, once elected, however, many “progressives” become followers of the political machine. That’s why it is our responsibility to encourage them to comment. 

Voters must act by all means possible: e-mail, tweet, phone, Facebook, petition and write letters to the editor. It takes 26 City Council votes to follow the will of the people and pass legislation that will save our small businesses. As for the Village — and the rest of New York — if this crisis does not end now, we won’t recognize this unique place we call home.

News

Chelsea Now: Rally Calls For Interest in Bank’s ‘Bad Landlord’ Loans

December 18, 2014

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  | The chill in the morning air matched the cold shoulder that Signature Bank tried to give protestors — tenants and elected officials fed up with their lending to landlords who intimidate and harass — on December 15, when a representative threatened to call the police.

The representative did not give his name, but told the group that they could not rally on Signature’s property, the sidewalk in front of its corporate headquarters at 565 Fifth Ave. near 46th St. in Midtown.

“It may be your property, but it’s a public sidewalk,” Assemblymember Richard Gottfried said he told him.

After the kerfuffle, Gottfried, Councilmember Corey Johnson, tenants of 222-224 W. 21st St. and 457 15th St. in Park Slope marched, chanted and held signs that condemned the bank’s lending practices. State Senator Brad Hoylman also joined later.

A man, security for the bank, stood watchful the entire rally.

Signature Bank has funded projects of Slate Property Group, a relatively new real estate venture that bought 222-224 W. 21st St. in Chelsea earlier this year. After Slate took over the building, tenants were served eviction notices and extensive construction began.

Dust flew, services such as water and gas were disrupted, a water pipe burst and flooded a closet, bed bugs abounded, storage was taken away, the front door was left open, and locks were changed without proper notification. W. 21st St. resident Cher Elyse Carden told Chelsea Now, which has reported extensively on Slate’s treatment of its tenants. A rally was held in August on the steps of her building, to protest Slate’s tactics.

The tenants still do not have gas, a service that was shut off Aug. 25, said Carden.

“I wake up every day with a deep sense of uncertainty,” she told the crowd at the rally. “It’s not fair to have to live like this.”

Carden, a cancer survivor, told Chelsea Now when she gave a tour of the building in November, that the construction and upheaval has caused sneezing, coughing, a lot of pain and inflammation.

“I used to walk with pepper spray up and down the stairs,” she said because of the building’s security issues.

Out of the 23 original tenants that were in the building, only four remain, said Andrew Rai, another tenant — who noted that tenants have been harassed and intimidated to move out, and their lives have been disrupted. There wasn’t a buzzer for at least two and a half months — and the constant construction, with its earsplitting noise, drove some tenants away, he said.

“Today is about standing up for tenants, long-term residents in Chelsea who have been really raked over the coals. Anyone who would have to live through the experience that these folks have lived through would be out here as well on a cold December morning,” Johnson told Chelsea Now.

Johnson said the rally was about solidarity with tenants in Chelsea and sending a message to the bank that it is working with bad actors “that are really hurting people.”

“Enough is enough. Signature should stop doing business with Slate and these companies,” he told those gathered.

Chelsea Now asked a Signature Bank spokesperson about the representative and the rally and was told that the bank “cannot comment on client matters.”

Public advocate Letitia James recently released her 100 Worst Landlord list and is also investigating the banks that lend to them. The Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development has been looking into this issue, and Signature Bank is on its list.

Chants of “Shame on Signature,” “Hold Banks Accountable,” “Save Affordable Housing” and “Save Our Homes” were heard while protesters walked back and forth in front of the bank. They held brightly colored signs with slogans like “Protect Tenant Rights,” “Landlord Intimidation Must Stop,” and “Signature Banks Lends To Bad Landlords.”

Slate bought the building at 457 15th St. in Park Slope in October and residents reached out the Chelsea tenants, said Theodore Brooke, who has lived there for 14 years.

Brooke said that they were notified of the sale with a flyer that was stuffed in their mailbox. A video camera was put in the lobby and Slate has been requesting information from residents, said Brooke.

“We’ve been working with the tenants to try to save their homes and bring the buildings under rent stabilization as it should be,” said Gottfried. “We’re here to appeal to the bank as the mortgage holder that they have got a responsibility here. They have power and influence to have this landlord do the right thing and protect these homes and protect the community that the bank is an investor in.”

Betsy Eichel, an organizer with nonprofit Housing Conservation Coordinators (HHC), said her organization is trying to ensure that the Chelsea tenants can stay in their apartments.

Initially, she said, Slate tried to evict all residents.

“They were largely successful with that,” said Eichel. “They were able to get a lot of people to leave.”

A lawyer with HHC filed what is called an HP, or housing part, in housing court in Manhattan, to compel Slate to turn the gas back on. They have until the end of the month to do so or they will be fined, said Eichel in a phone interview later.

At one time, the building was rent stabilized but is no longer, said Eichel, and so Slate is not obligated to renew anyone’s lease. Slate did sue the tenants to evict them, she said, but the tenants beat that and can stay.

Hoylman said that he would like to see stronger provision protecting tenants from landlord harassment, providing them with legal council, and making certain that landlords don’t take tenants to housing court on baseless charges. There are a number of bills on the table, he said, but the climate in Albany is challenging as Republicans now formally control the state senate.

“The community and government officials need to start putting pressure on irresponsible lending by banks to real estate speculators who are promising high returns to investors that result in harassment, baseless legal actions and other tactics to force rent regulated tenants out of their homes,” said Hoylman. “And this is happening on 21st Street, and frankly, all across the city.”

“It’s not just an individual issue, it’s a very broad issue,” said Rai, who was born and raised in Chelsea and has seen the neighborhood change. “For me, this fight is more for the future generations and what kind of example we want to set in terms of society for our children and our grandchildren. Do we set up a mentality of apartheid? This is social apartheid.”

News

Chelsea Now: ‘Let’s Talk!’ Forum Ponders Bike Safety Strategies

December 18, 2014

Dec18_Bike_Panel

Photo by Zach Williams
L to R: Transportation Alternatives organizer Thomas DeVito, 10th Precinct Deputy Inspector Michele Irizarry and DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione joined Councilmember Corey Johnson for a “Let’s Talk!” event focused on bike safety.

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  Seniors who attended a bike safety forum on Dec. 8 were quick to indicate their desire for increased scrutiny of cyclists, as efforts continue to improve traffic safety in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

Several dozen attended the forum, hosted by Councilmember Corey Johnson as part of his “Let’s Talk!” series. The event featured representatives from the city Department of Transportation (DOT), the NYPD and the traffic safety group Transportation Alternatives. The panel answered questions submitted by the audience.

As the first year of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero moves toward conclusion, topics such as enforcing existing traffic laws, improving safe street infrastructure and addressing the role government should play remain top concerns for the local residents in attendance.

Cars are the biggest cause of traffic accidents, according to Johnson — but he noted in his opening remarks that more needs to be done to lessen risky cycling behavior, especially three particular practices.

“I see all the time cyclists, both recreational and people on delivery bikes, running red lights, not yielding, riding on sidewalks,” he said to applause.

Commercial cyclists were of particular concern for many in the audience. Restaurants who utilize them for food delivery must provide a safety vest with the business name and an identifying number, noted DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione who added that the business must pay the fine for failure to do so. However moving violations, for example running a red light, are the responsibility of commercial cyclists themselves.

The NYPD’s 10th Precinct deploys a traffic safety team every weekday to enforce laws against such behavior, according to Deputy Inspector Michele Irizarry, who did not offer further specific numbers on the ticketing of cyclists. Some people in the audience expressed support meanwhile for city licenses for cyclists, as well as a law requiring adults to wear helmets.

Thomas DeVito, Manhattan organizer for Transportation Alternatives (transalt.org), said that in other cities where such laws were implemented, bicycle ridership numbers decrease — resulting in a greater danger of injury for those remaining. “They change their behavior in an environment where there are a lot of cyclists. They will drive slower,” he said of automobile drivers.

About 1.6 percent of New Yorkers currently ride bikes, DeVito noted, double the rate of five years ago. Reversing this trend could undermine the Vision Zero goal of increasing this percentage to six percent, according to DeVito.

Transportation Alternatives has played a prominent role in advocating for broader adaptation of Complete Streets, a design which designates separate lanes for pedestrians, cars and bikes. The traffic medians which divide bike lanes from space for automobiles also boost pedestrian safety by providing space for pedestrians who are crossing the street, according to DeVito.

“I’d like to emphasize that it’s not just bike lanes. All of these streets have all the sorts of amenities to them that benefit every single New Yorker, including drivers,” he said of Complete Streets such as Ninth Ave.

According to the DOT report “Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets,” total injuries to people on Ninth Ave. fell by 58 percent following its redesign as a complete street.

Traffic flow can actually increase overall by slowing down some drivers, the report notes by citing that median speeds on Union Square North increased by 14 percent following a redesign.

Despite such successes, some streets are easier to convert than others, according to Forgione.

The number of protected bike lanes is reaching a limit within the Community Board Four (CB4) area, said Forgione, though she added that CB4 has requested that the DOT examine the feasibility of additional bike routes in the area. Asked whether crosstown routes could gain protected bike lanes, she said such an effort would be more complicated than it was on Ninth Ave.

Creating a protected bike lane there was relatively easy because a small amount of space could be appropriated from each traffic lane, as well as parking space, thus maintaining the original traffic capacity of the thoroughfare. Such a strategy is more difficult on narrower crosstown routes, said Forgione.

The NYPD has faced criticism in recent months for department vehicles parked in bike lanes, especially as officers ticket nearby cyclists for moving violations during ticketing blitzes. However, Irizarry said that police do not mean to exacerbate congestion when asked by an audience member how NYPD can do this with “impunity.”

“I’m sure there are instances when that happens. I don’t know if impunity is the right word,” she said.

Officers in her precinct often must decide whether to park in a bike lane or risk arriving late at emergencies such as robberies and domestic violence situations, Irizarry added.

The precinct is also struggling to reach adequate staffing levels, she said. The next class of new officers from the police academy will only replace about a half-dozen outgoing officers rather than add additional enforcement muscle, she said. Ongoing protests against police brutality both within the local community and throughout the city have also strained resources in the 10th Precinct, according to Irizarry. Furthermore, the holiday season diverts officers who are needed to keep an eye on the large volumes of tourists visiting the city as well as the pickpockets and other criminals who target them.

Dec18_Bike_Audience

Photo by Zach Williams
Residents attending the Dec. 8 “Let’s Talk!” bike safety forum were particularly concerned about cyclists who run red lights, don’t yield and ride on the sidewalk.

“Now our officers are being pulled in every direction,” she said.

Johnson said that a new effort is underway within the city council to add 1,000 new police officers to the NYPD. A similar measure did not pass this year, he said. In the meantime, Irizarry said auxiliary police officers can help with public outreach (though they cannot issue tickets).

Educating the public was a strategy touted by each of the panelists. Vision Zero supporters have said in recent months that a culture shift is necessary in order to truly realize the plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in New York City. Seemingly minor traffic offenses such as failing to yield to pedestrians, jaywalking and cyclists running red lights are major factors in many traffic accidents.

“All of us have a responsibility to make our streets safer,” said Irizarry. “We can’t put the blame on one sect of people that are riding bicycles. We can’t put the blame on vehicles.”

As she mentioned a third group’s role, audience members chuckled in self-awareness.

“I see pedestrians all the time who are crossing when the light clearly says ‘Don’t Walk,’” she said.

News

The Real Deal: New bill aims to ban hotel owners from going condo

December 18, 2014

From left: Park Lane Hotel, Corey Johnson and the Beekman Hotel and Condominiums

A new bill being introduced to the City Council would prohibit hotel owners from turning their buildings into luxury condominium towers.

The measure would apply to those who own hotels with more than 150 rooms and would prevent them from turning more than 20 percent of the units into apartments. The ban would cover more than 100 buildings in the city.

Council member Corey Johnson is sponsoring the measure, the New York Daily News reported.

In the last 11 years, 3,600 rooms at 14 properties have gone condo.

Hotel owners who do want to convert their properties would have to apply for a waiver from a board. That panel has yet to be created. [NYDN] — Claire Moses

News

Crain’s NY: Single-payer health care bill gets wide support

December 16, 2014

Council member Corey Johnson and Raging Grannies face off against insurance brokers at daylong hearing.

BY

The Affordable Care Act has made an unwieldy system of health insurance even more complicated, and should be replaced with a centralized, tax-funded health care system.

That was the prevailing view at Tuesday’s all-day hearing on the New York Health Act, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried’s bill to create statewide single-payer health insurance that stands almost no chance of passing in the state Senate.

The handful of insurance representatives who testified for a wait-and-see approach followed their speeches with a swift exit, often to the tune of hisses and groans from patients, health care workers and unions in the audience who far outnumbered them.

“No one advancement is big enough to bend the cost curve in itself,” said Lawrence Thaul, president of Millennium Financial, an insurance brokerage. “It took many years to improve Medicare. Let us not be shortsighted and impatient—and you’ve been anything but that, chair,” he hastily added to Mr. Gottfried, who chaired the hearing.

Mr. Gottfried, who heads the Assembly’s committee on health, has carried a version of his single-payer legislation since 1999.

Many doctors and health care workers bemoaned the amount of time spent billing and collecting payment for medical care.

“I employ 24 separate billing people,” said Dr. Neil Calman, president of the Institute for Family Health, “each of whom develops a relationship with one or two paying companies.” Dr. Donald Moore, who recently stopped accepting commercial health insurance, said he used to spend the equivalent of three to four weeks every year billing for his work.

But without this back-and-forth between providers and insurance companies to drive down providers’ charges, health care would cost even more, argued insurance executives.

“Price controls would not work because there would be no one on whom to shift the excess costs,” said Craig Hasday, the legislative chair of the New York State Association of Health Underwriters. “Over time, the issue of affordability will return, but as a tax issue.”

Proponents of the bill included speakers from the nurses’ union and other organized labor groups, Green Party activists and even eight elderly activists who called themselves the Raging Grannies. The grannies, decked in flowers, sang songs supporting the bill to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Councilman Corey Johnson spoke about the inconvenience of getting his prescriptions even under the City Council’s generous health plan. Even the mayor’s office weighed in, writing in a letter that “a single-payer system merits serious consideration because of its financial benefits for the city.”

This iteration of the New York Health Act comes at a time when providers and insurers increasingly are turning to population health management and ever-larger systems as a way of controlling costs. One of the state’s largest Medicaid reform attempts to date, the $8 billion DSRIP waiver, asks hospitals, community providers and insurance companies to collaborate to reduce hospital admissions.

For Dr. Hemant Sindhu, a resident at Brookdale Hospital, Medicaid reform is single-payer in miniature.

“There is no doubt,” he said, “that having a unified payment system allowed to rapid transformation and improvement of health care.”

News

Latin Post: New York City Council Approves LGBT Bill in Support of Transgender People Wanting to Change Their Sex

December 10, 2014
NYC Council Member Corey Johnson

Corey Johnson introduced a bill that allows transgender people to change their birth certificate gender without having a surgery previously. The bill passed on Monday. (Photo : Blabbeando/Twitter)

On Monday, the New York City Council approved a bill that would allow transgender people to change their gender on birth certificates without previous medical transitioning. The bill would grant greater freedoms of identity to transgender people in the city.

The bill approved by the council would change the current requirement, which dates back to the 1970s, of proof that the person has transitioned to a different gender before asking to change their documents, according to MSNBC. States including California, Oregon, Vermont and Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia, have also removed the requirement for proof. The bill passed with a 39-4 vote with three abstentions.

Introduced by gay councilman Corey Johnson, the bill is expected to be signed into law by Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio. According to The Associated Press, the law will go into effect 45 days after being signed into law.

“This bill will help affirm the basic human rights of transgender New Yorkers and will go a long way in addressing disparities faced by transgender individuals,” Democratic Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.

In a statement following the vote, the City Council explained the previous requirement “effectively bars the vast majority of transgender New Yorkers who do not have sex reassignment surgery from amending their birth certificates.”

Transgender advocacy groups greeted the Council’s decision with praise, according to the Advocate.

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sued the city in 2011 over three transgender people who could not change their documents, welcomed the vote.

“We are thrilled by the passage of this legislation,” TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman said in a statement. “Today’s action will dramatically improve the lives of transgender people born in New York City. We thank Councilmember Johnson, the City Council and the Board of Health for taking action. The city’s policy served only to harm transgender people and they moved to change it. We also thank the many activists and advocates who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the city’s harmful policy will be changed.”

News

NY Daily News: Proposed bill to make changing gender on New York City birth certificates easier passes city panel

December 6, 2014

The legislation would let anyone change the gender on their birth certificate provided they have documentation from a broad list of providers — including doctors, nurses, and therapists — that they identify with a different gender.

'These measures will transform the lives of transgendered people,' said Health Chair Corey Johnson.MARK LENNIHAN/AP

‘These measures will transform the lives of transgendered people,’ said Health Chair Corey Johnson.

Proposed legislation that would make it easier to change the gender on New York City birth certificates passed an important hurdle Friday.

The Council’s Health Committee unanimously approved the bill, paving the way for the full Council vote on Monday.

The legislation would let anyone change the gender on their birth certificate provided they have documentation from a broad list of providers — including doctors, nurses, and therapists — that they identify with a different gender.

Previously, the city required proof of surgery or procedures like hormone therapy to change a gender on a birth certificate.

“These measures will transform the lives of transgendered people,” said Health Chair Corey Johnson.

Some 40% of transgendered people face discrimination because of documents that don’t match their new gender, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

News

NY Observer: Pols Push Bill Banning Businesses From Inquiring About Convictions

December 3, 2014

By

Councilman Jumaane Williams, right, rallies with Councilman Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilman Andy King (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Elected officials rallied with union leaders and community groups outside City Hall today to promote a bill that would prevent employers from inquiring early in the hiring process about potential employees’ criminal backgrounds—which the law’s proponents allege leads to discrimination and recidivism.

The bill’s sponsors, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson and Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres joined with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and supporting Councilman Andy King of the Bronx and Danny Dromm of Queens. Also on the scene were activists from 32BJ SEIU and VOCAL-NY—all arguing in favor of the “Fair Chance Act,” which would prevent private employers from asking if job applicants have past convictions, and instead force them to leave background checks until after they have extended a conditional offer of employment.

“This bill will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those who have become stigmatized because of a previous conviction, will be able to compete for jobs for which they qualify. As a matter of fact, if there are some people who need employment more than some others, it might be those who have just come home,” said Mr. Williams, arguing that inability to obtain a job can lead to repeat offenses. “These are the same people who are often stigmatized and discriminated against and are being pushed to have a cycle that we want, that we need to break.”

Mr. Williams and his colleagues noted that laws are already in place outlawing discrimination based on criminal history except in select circumstances, which the new bill would not impact, and that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an executive order requiring for city agencies a similar policy to what the Fair Chance Act would mandate for private enterprise. They claimed that many employers are currently able to unfairly and illegally discard the resumes of those who check a box on job applications indicating they have a criminal history.

“All New Yorkers should be considered for jobs solely based on their qualifications,” said Ms. Brewer, who first proposed the bill last session as a Manhattan councilwoman, taking aim at those who might claim that the bill could endanger the public. “All state and federal laws that exist now will continue to exist. We will not have pedophiles working in schools, or people who rob banks working in security. So stop thinking that’s an impediment. It’s not!”

She also claimed that business leaders she had spoken to supported the Fair Chance Act.

Mr. Torres was one of several of those present to connect the law to longstanding claims that nonwhites face discrimination in the courts and from law enforcement

“I feel there’s a critical connection between the struggle for fairness in the job market and the struggle for police reform, which is not only unfolding here in New York City but across the country,” Mr. Torres said. “It’s about our criminal justice system, about the fundamental unfairness of a criminal justice system that denies a fair chance to communities of color.”