Monthly Archives

June 2016


Wall Street Journal: At Gay Pride Parade, Creating Order Out of Chaos

June 25, 2016

June 25, 2016

Julian Sanjivan had already closed registration for this year’s New York City gay-pride march when 49 people were killed in the mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub.

Suddenly, Mr. Sanjivan, director of the Manhattan event, was fielding requests from organizations who wanted to join in on Sunday. He reopened the roster and made the last-minute changes.

“We said, look, this is important, and we understand,” he said in an interview this week. “We didn’t have the heart to say no.”

Now Mr. Sanjivan, 34 years old and directing the march for the first time, is manning an event expected to be the biggest in its history. More than 400 groups are marching, and the New York Police Department expects more than 1.6 million people to attend, along with a record police presence in light of the Orlando massacre.

While Mr. Sanjivan, who is unpaid, and his colleagues at the Heritage of Pride nonprofit who plan the march see their jobs as a labor of love, it is indeed labor.

In the frenzied final days before the event, he has worried over everything from coordinating security with the NYPD to a back-and-forth with Hillary Clinton’s campaign over the presidential candidate’s potential attendance to minutiae such as the distance, in feet, between organizations lined up for march’s kickoff on Fifth Avenue.

“I’m trying to avoid a logistical nightmare as much as possible,” Mr. Sanjivan told fellow organizers in a meeting last week, to nervous laughter.

Balancing the work with his full-time job at a startup, he has responded to emails at 4 a.m. and bounced between meetings fueled by little more than sugary iced coffee.

“A lot of people think there’s a hidden city agency that plans this,” said David Studinski, a Heritage of Pride co-chairman and former march director. “There isn’t.”

Organizing the gay-pride march marks a remarkable life change for Mr. Sanjivay.

Born in Malaysia, he said he faced discrimination and sexual violence there. He worked with a nonprofit helping people with HIV/AIDS until about four years ago, when he was selected for a U.S. State Department-sponsored program for community leaders and moved to Manhattan, his first time in the U.S.

He initially found the city’s pockets of poverty and homelessness “completely overwhelming” and more “in your face” than in Malaysia, but he was relieved by the more tolerant environment for gay people.

After the fellowship ended, Mr. Sanjivan sought asylum in the U.S., but he struggled to find work during the legal process. He lived off savings and teetered on the brink of homelessness, he said. “It was a very depressed time.”

He began volunteering with Heritage of Pride, which was founded in 1984 and based in Greenwich Village. He was the “heir apparent,” Mr. Studinski said, for the job of march director, which is elected by a Heritage of Pride committee.

The position takes vision, time and an ability to work with a wide range of constituencies, including volunteers, public officials and those who, as Mr. Studinski put it, “don’t always understand where you’re coming from.”

Mr. Sanjivan was granted asylum in the U.S. last year, he said. For the past year, he has balanced his responsibilities for the march with his day job at BubbleBall, a startup selling and renting inflatable balls that can fit a person inside, for something like bumper-cars without the cars.

Heritage of Pride’s media director, James Fallarino, said Mr. Sanjivan has brought to the march “an eye for identifying folks who represent the continued fight for equality.”

Mr. Sanjivan had a hand in recruiting a delegation from the National Basketball Association as well as one of this year’s grand marshals: Subhi Nahas, a gay-rights advocate and U.S. refugee from Syria who testified last year before the United Nations on violence against gay and transgender people in Islamic State-controlled territory.

Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse, the Orlando nightclub where the shooting occurred, and its entertainment manager, Neema Bahrami, will ride atop the lead float on Sunday. The parade is expected to draw its biggest crowds to date, both marching and cheering from the sides.

“This year, there is going to be sorrow, and there’s going to be defiance in the face of what happened in Orlando,” said Greenwich Village Councilman Corey Johnson, another march participant.

Mr. Sanjivan said the experience has been emotional for him, but in the last few days before the parade, he was more focused on logistics. On Tuesday, at a meeting with his co-organizers, they in the Village checked the weekend forecast with Siri—“sunny and hot”—and worried the volume of tweets on Sunday might cause service outages. “Do we know anyone at Twitter?” one attendee asked. “Are they marching?”

They also shared advice for the big day: Be vigilant around strangers. Use the two-way radios if needed. Last but not least: If organizers and volunteers must cut up their official march T-shirts for stylistic reasons, please keep the sponsor list visible.


NEW YORK TIMES: Cuomo Expands H.I.V. Benefits in New York City

June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016

Thousands of New York City residents who are H.I.V.-positive will become eligible for public assistance for housing, transportation and food under a significant expansion of a state program that some activists had feared was being delayed.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Thursday that low-income city residents who are H.I.V.-positive but asymptomatic would get the same assistance as low-income residents who show symptoms. About 6,500 to 7,000 additional people are expected to benefit from the expansion of the program, known as the H.I.V./AIDS Services Administration, or HASA, which now helps about 32,000 people.

The announcement came after what some advocates described as a series of broken promises by Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, to expand the program, fully administer a plan meant to end H.I.V. and AIDS in New York by 2020 and finance that plan. Jeremy Saunders, an executive director of VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit focused on helping low-income people with H.I.V. and AIDS, said activists had been frustrated by Mr. Cuomo’s failure to move forward on the expansion more quickly.

Advocates were preparing to pressure Mr. Cuomo just before New York City’s annual gay pride parade and festival this weekend. “We are thankful to the governor that he has finally taken this step forward after a hard-fought campaign,” Mr. Saunders said.

Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, said that Mr. Cuomo had always been committed to expanding the HASA program’s benefits, but that he had had to find a way around a reluctant State Legislature. To broaden the program, Mr. Cuomo is simply modifying a longstanding social services policy that made a distinction between people who showed symptoms and those who did not, Mr. David said. “The governor took a very creative and important approach to provide services to all people who are living with H.I.V.,” he said.

The governor’s office said that the new policy would take effect in 60 days. But city officials are still awaiting the language, said Steven Banks, the city’s Social Services commissioner. “We added money to our budget a number of months ago to extend HASA to all clients with H.I.V., and we look forward to seeing the details of this new program so that we can make sure that it covers all the New York City residents with H.I.V. we have identified in need, and also provides the necessary resources,” Mr. Banks said in an interview.

Mr. Banks said the city had estimated that it would spend about $52 million in the first year of the program’s expansion and $89 million a year after that. Mr. David said the state had estimated its contribution would be about $31 million a year.

Under the program, the city’s Human Resources Administration helps participants who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing by reimbursing them the difference. They also get money for transportation and food.

Advocates say that housing assistance is an effective way to help keep people with H.I.V. or AIDS from becoming homeless and from spreading the virus. “When people have a home, they are taking their medicine,” Mr. Saunders said.

Corey Johnson, a City Council member who is H.I.V.-positive, said that thousands of New Yorkers had not been getting help because “they weren’t sick enough.”

“This is going to help a lot of poor people,” Mr. Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, said. He added that wealthy, white men often received better services than low-income, black women. “H.I.V. has really become a disease about poverty.”

Mr. Johnson praised Mr. Cuomo, though he said there had been disappointment when there was little obvious action after the governor announced his plans for the expansion, among other initiatives, on November 30, in recognition of World AIDS Day. “My understanding is that there wasn’t much appetite,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to the State Legislature. “The governor’s office was working hard.”

Kelsey Louie, chief executive of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said in a statement that his group was looking forward to helping the governor expand the HASA program. “The country and the world are watching what we are doing in New York,” he said, “and gratefully they see action on the part of our executive when our legislature falls short.”

The governor is likely to continue to feel pressure as advocates seek to bolster services outside New York City. “Advocates are always going to push the governor, but we view him as a friend,” said Anthony Hayes, vice president of public affairs and policy for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “There can always be more money and it can always happen faster.”


NEW YORK BUSINESS JOURNAL: Obama gives Stonewall national monument status

June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016

The Stonewall Inn has stood witness to countless events of pride and pain, of joy and sorrow, with plenty of dancing and drinking to keep it all going. Today, it gets another distinction as it becomes the anchor for the first national monument dedicated to the struggle for gay rights.

President Barack Obama declared the bar on Christopher Street in the West Village, where 47 years ago police mounted a raid and a diverse group of LGBT patrons fought back, and its surrounding area to be a protected National Park Service spot. The actual monument covers a 7.7-acre area that includes the bar, which remains a private business, as well as a broader section around Christopher Street and 7th Avenue, which was the heart of the city’s gay community for decades.

“They stood up and spoke out,” Obama said of those who fought back against the New York Police Department on June 28, 1969. “The riots became protests, the protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.”

The White House issued a video message (see above) that will be shown on Times Square video screens on Saturday. The next day, a million people or more are expected to take part in the annual gay pride parade in Manhattan.

LGBT leaders and city officials praised Obama’s decision.

“This is a profound achievement for the LGBTQ community that will be felt around the world,” City Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea and is openly gay, said. “Because of this momentous designation, the struggle for equality that our community has waged for generations will be further cemented in our nation’s history.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer called the Stonewall Rebellion “a tipping point in history where we know, with absolute clarity, that everything changed.”

And Rep. Jared Nadler, the Democratic congressman from New York who helped lead the effort to get Stonewall become part of the National Park Service, equated what happened at Stonewall with the historic role Selma, Alabama has in the fight for racial justice or Seneca Falls did for women’s rights. “We are faced with painful reminders daily of how much further we must go to achieve true equality and tolerance for the LGBT community, but honoring and preserving the stories of all of the diverse participants in Stonewall in our National Park System is a clear symbol of how far we have come,” Nadler said.


DNA INFO: Canoe-Shaped Public Seating Area Opens Next to Hell’s Kitchen Intersection

June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016

HELL’S KITCHEN — A public plaza has replaced a former parking lot next to a Hell’s Kitchen intersection.

“The Canoe” — a public space with umbrella-topped tables, chairs, benches and greenery west of Ninth Avenue at West 36th Street — marked its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

The name was easy to choose, Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance executive director Robert Benfatto explained.

“It looks like a canoe,” he said.

Councilman Corey Johnson allocated $22,000 for the plaza, as part of a City Council initiative supporting emerging Business Improvement Districts like HY/HKA, he said at the ceremony.

For years, police used the space as a parking lot for their cruisers, Johnson and Benfatto said.

The plaza opens several years after Community Board 4, HY/HKA and other organizations began working to reclaim the area for public use.

The space, which is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, will eventually showcase a public art sculpture, Benfatto said.

“The first day we put [the chairs and tables] out, we had 10 people sitting at them. It was as if they were always there,” he said. “We hope people use it — to eat, to relax.”


THE VILLAGER: R.G.B. must vote for a rent rollback this time

June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016

On Tuesday, 20 members of the New York City Council wrote to the Rent Guidelines Board, urging them to support a rent rollback at their final vote this Mon., June 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Great Hall of The Cooper Union in the East Village.

We were glad to see that among the letter’s 20 signers were all of the local councilmembers in The Villager’s coverage area, Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez and Dan Garodnick.

We’re heartened by this strong outpouring of support for a rent rollback — and not just a rent freeze. Because by now, as well all know, so many New Yorkers are, by definition, “rent burdened,” meaning they are paying far too much of their monthly income toward their rent. And this reality cuts right to the heart of the city’s affordability crisis: In short, as former mayoral candidate and East Villager Jimmy McMillan put it so well, the rent is too damn high.

And this isn’t just opinion, the rent really is too damn high. It’s backed up by the data. Three, four and five years ago — even during the depths of the financial crisis — the R.G.B. repeatedly rubber-stamped rent increases based on exaggerated projections of landlords’ operating expenses.

But now, under progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio and an R.G.B. composed entirely of his appointees, the board has been taking a hard look at the data and finding that rent increases aren’t warranted. For example, this past year, even though property taxes went up, fuel costs actually dropped steeply, lowering landlords’ operating expenses.

In fact, because of the unjustified increases that landlords had been receiving over the years, what is now warranted is not just freezing rents, but lowering them — as in, a rent rollback.

In May, the R.G.B. set a preliminary range for its recommendations on how it would vote, which has then been followed by a series of public hearings around town to gather input from the public.

The board’s proposed recommendations this year call for 1-year increases for rent-regulated apartments to be somewhere in the range of between 0 percent to 2 percent and 2-year leases to be between 0.5 percent to 3.5 percent. In fact, these are the same as last year’s recommendations, which resulted in a historic rent freeze for one-year renewals and a 2 percent increase for two-year renewals.

Last year was the first rent freeze in the nearly 50-year history of the R.G.B. The year before, the board recommended a 1 percent increase for one-year renewals, which was the lowest ever at that point.

Monday’s vote will impact the city’s 1 million rent-stabilized apartments, which house close to 3 million New Yorkers, or nearly 36 percent of the city’s entire population.

De Blasio has, thankfully, made the affordability crisis an absolute cornerstone of his administration, and he pledged when campaigning to have a rent freeze. It’s long overdue after 20 years of mayors — Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg — who were unsympathetic to the plight of New York City renters. At the same time, the state Senate, led by Upstate G.O.P. members, has pushed laws over the past two decades that have severely eroded rent protections in New York City, such as adding vacancy decontrol and luxury decontrol caps — points at which, when a rent reaches a certain level, apartments can be removed from rent regulation. In short, the city is hemorrhaging affordable units due to these anti-tenant measures.

To his credit, Harvey Epstein, a former chairperson of Community Board 3 who is now on the R.G.B., along with the board’s other tenant representative, did recommend a rent rollback, of -4 percent for one-year lease renewals and -2 for two-year renewals. Meanwhile, the board’s two landlord representatives, not surprisingly, voted against a rent freeze. However, a majority of the board — its remaining five members, including its chairperson — voted for the current proposed recommended ranges.

Meanwhile, Met Council on Housing, a leading tenant advocacy organization, says what is justified by the numbers is actually a far steeper rollback — as much as one-third of current rents.

Some say, though, it’s unlikely that the R.G.B. will vote for a rent rollback — that the recommended ranges determine their final vote. But then what are the public hearings for? In short, the R.G.B. is not bound by their preliminary recommendations.

More to the point, the New York City Rent Stabilization Law of 1969 was enacted specifically because of “sharp increases” in rents that were jeopardizing New Yorkers’ right simply to enjoy a tolerable standard of living.

Specifically, the 1969 act was passed “to prevent exactions of unjust, unreasonable and oppressive rents and rental agreements and to forestall profiteering, speculation and other disruptive practices tending to produce threats to the public health, safety and general welfare.”

With so many city residents paying more than 30 percent of their rent — the state’s official definition of “rent burdened” — it is high time to rectify the situation. Landlords are currently making 40 cents profit on every dollar of rental income. That is far more profit than most businesses make. Meanwhile, tenants are suffering tremendously as a result of unaffordable rents that are eating up too much of their income, leaving them unable to save anything or barely afford anything else. A rent freeze is great. But nothing less than a rent rollback is what lower- and middle-class New Yorkers desperately need to restore the baseline quality of life that they have lost in a city that increasingly is geared toward the needs of the wealthy elite.

The R.G.B. will hear it loud and clear — “Roll-back! Roll-back!” — from tenants at Cooper Union on Monday. The call will be even more thunderous than last year. The board must heed them.

A rent rollback is the only way to keep New York from spiraling further into unaffordability. We are all suffering under unjustifiedly high rents. The R.G.B. must help start to end the suffering, and must follow the law of 1969 — roll back rents and protect tenants’ right to live without the crushing burden of excessively high rents. Roll-back! Roll-back!


The Villager: Underground Railroad’s spirit keeps on chugging Downtown

June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016

Two events last week hearkened back to the days when New York was a station on the Underground Railroad and a center of the abolitionist movement that led up to the Civil War.

One of those events was a reunion in Greenwich Village of the descendants of Sydney Howard Gay, the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard weekly newspaper, and of Louis Napoleon, a free man of color who conducted hundreds of fugitives from slavery through New York City to freedom in Canada and elsewhere.

The June 14 reunion at the home of Otis Kidwell Burger, great-great-granddaughter of Gay, was organized by Don Papson, co-author of “Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City: Sidney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives.” Attending the reunion was Angela Terrell, great-great-granddaughter of Louis Napoleon on her mother’s side.

Napoleon, born in 1800 and who signed his name with an X, nevertheless was instrumental in filing writs of habeas corpus in New York courts to enable fugitives from slavery to escape the clutches of slave catchers.

The other event was the June 18 rally by Chelsea activists and local officials to preserve the Hopper-Gibbons House, at 339 W. 29th St., Manhattan’s only remaining Underground Railroad site.

Demonstrators at the rally demanded that the owner of the 1846 building, Tony Mamounas, remove the fifth floor that he and his late brother illegally added in 2009. The building had been landmarked as part of the LaMartine Place Historic District.

Preservationists won a court order to remove the fifth floor and the ruling was upheld on appeal in February 2015.

“Still, after seven years, nothing has happened,” said Fern Luskin, an art history lecturer at LaGuardia Community College and a leader of Friends of the Hopper-Gibbons Underground Railroad Site. Luskin noted that Mamounas has lost the right to appeal further, but the Department of Buildings has failed to enforce the order to remove the addition.

What’s worse, the owner recently applied to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission with new plans to legalize the addition, according to Kelly Carroll, of the Historic Districts Council.

“The persisting presence of the illegal fifth floor is an affront to our history, our culture and the law,” Carroll said.

Preservationists especially resent the illegal fifth floor because the house was under siege during the Draft Riots of July 1863. The Hopper-Gibbons family climbed to the roof of the four-story building and fled east from rooftop to rooftop to Eighth Ave., where friends had a carriage waiting to take them to safety.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told the rally that she had just come from a Juneteenth celebration in Harlem. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when federal troops landed in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and that all former slaves were free with rights equal to their former masters.

“This building is part of our history and we don’t want to forget our history,” said Brewer, who remembered voting for the LaMartine Place Historic District when she was a city councilmember in 2009.

Lesley Doyel spoke for Save Chelsea and the Council of Chelsea Block Associations.

“We are all stunned that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing the scofflaw owner of this building with the opportunity to present new legalization plans for 339 W. 29th St.,” she said.

City Councilmember Corey Johnson and aides to state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried also called for the removal of the illegal fifth story of the Hopper-Gibbons house.

“Why isn’t this guy in jail?” Johnson asked of Mamounas, adding that L.P.C. must not “reward bad behavior.”

“Enough is enough,” he declared. “The city needs to come down with its full force of power and law [now] to stop this from happening in the future.”

Pat Waldo, a tour guide who is studying historic preservation at Pratt, said that the house’s history in the Draft Riots provides a symbolic warning during the “rise of Fuhrer Trump,” as he put it, of “how white working-class fears can be provoked in ugly and deadly ways. Now, more than ever,” he said, “it’s important for us to examine that connection.”

Don Papson’s book about the Underground Railroad in New York City narrates the link between the families of Sydney Howard Gay and James S. Gibbons, owner of the house at 339 W. 29th St. Gibbons’s wife was Abby Hopper, the daughter of Isaac Hopper, a Quaker abolitionist known as “The Father of the Underground Railroad.”

Gay’s wife, Elizabeth Neall, was the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia Quaker and abolitionist Daniel Neall.

The Gay and Gibbons families were close in the tight little community of abolitionists and free people of color in a mostly hostile New York City.

At the time of the Draft Riots, Gay, who had given up the National Anti-Slavery Standard, was managing editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. The angry mob besieged the Tribune because Greeley, although not a supporter of President Lincoln, had come out in favor of the draft, with the option of allowing draftees to opt out by either providing a substitute to serve for them or paying $300. Gay, contrary to Greeley’s orders, brought arms into the Tribune office to hold off the mob.

Greeley was also a friend of James Gibbons and a frequent visitor to his house at what is now 339 W. 29th St. Among the Draft Riots mob that attacked the house were men who egged them on shouting, “Greeley! Gibbons! Greeley! Gibbons!”

The close association of Louis Napoleon and Gay is first documented, according to the book, in October 1846 in connection with George Kirk, who fled slavery as a stowaway on a ship from Savannah, Georgia.

Napoleon and Elias Smith, a journalist with Gay’s Anti-Slavery Standard, conducted Kirk to court to prevent his return to Savannah.

On Oct. 23, 200 black men gathered in New York City at City Hall Park to support Kirk’s bid for freedom. At one point, Kirk hid in the Standard office and was spirited out in a box. He was recaptured but freed after a trial in front of a sympathetic judge.

Gay and others hired John Jay, the son of one of the Founding Fathers, to defend Kirk, who continued on to Boston.

Papson’s book is based on the 79 boxes of Gay’s papers in Columbia University’s Butler Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

The trove of documents was sold to the library 50 years ago by the mother of Otis Kidwell Burger, who hosted the June 14 reunion at her Bethune St. home.

Sydney Howard Gay, born in 1814, died in 1888. He was buried in Hingham, Massachusetts, the town where he was born. His wife died in 1907 and is buried beside him.

Louis Napoleon died in Brooklyn in 1881, three days short of his 81st birthday. He was survived by his third wife and was buried in Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, but the exact location is not known.

Although filled out years after the end of slavery, his death certificate lists his occupation as “Under Ground R.R. Agt.”


The Villager: Brave officer’s name now flies proudly over Village

June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016

The officers, about 30 of them, were lined up two abreast, those with gold shields in the front. They were out and they were proud. Standing to the left of the seating area set up on Washington Place and Sixth Ave., these New York Police Department officers were celebrating, along with family, other officers and V.I.P.s, the co-naming of this stretch of Washington Place as Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane Way.

Thirty-five years ago, at a contentious City Council hearing on a bill for gay rights, Sergeant Cochrane announced that he was gay. It was 1981, and Pat Burns, the vice president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, spoke against the bill at the hearing. Burns testified that he didn’t know any officers who were openly gay. It was at that point that Cochrane stood up and came out as a gay member of the N.Y.P.D.

In opening remarks at Village ceremony last Friday, Police Chief of Department James O’Neill said, “Charlie had come out as a gay cop during a time when gay cops were afraid of losing their jobs and being physically harmed.”

The first meeting for gay cops — members of Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL — was held in the St. Joseph’s Church basement, right at that intersection, which is why Washington Place was picked to honor Cochrane.

Detective Brian Downey, the current president of GOAL, spoke movingly of the pioneering sergeant.

“Today is a celebration, a celebration of a great man, a celebration of a man who exhibited great courage,” he said.

Cochrane died of cancer in 2008.

A color guard started off the ceremony, with the rainbow pride flag, a symbol of the L.G.B.T. community, flying alongside the N.Y.P.D. and American banners.

Councilmember Corey Johnson spoke at the dedication as did Cochrane’s sisters Mary Anne Cochrane Dundresh and Nancy Cochrane Akgun. The sisters were presented with a painting of Sergeant Cochrane done by a fellow N.Y.P.D. officer.

Following the unveiling of the new sign, Borough President Gale Brewer and journalist Andy Humm compared notes. They were both at that City Council meeting when Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane came out.


THE ADVOCATE: Out NYC Councilman Blasts Hypocrisy of ‘Gays for Trump’

June 22, 2016

JUNE 22, 2016

Which presidential candidate is the best choice for LGBT people? Corey Johnson, a gay man who sits on the New York City Council, clashed with Christopher R. Barron, founder of GOProud, on this topic in a televised CNN interview Tuesday night.

Barron is behind Gays for Trump, a campaign that hopes to marshall LGBT support for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s White House bid.

“I know the left wants to scare gay people into not even thinking about voting for Donald Trump,” Barron told CNN’s Don Lemon Tuesday night, explaining his support for the billionaire businessman. “If you want people to have equal rights and dignity, then talk about combatting radical Islam.”

But as Johnson pointed out, Barron’s support of Trump differs markedly from his prior statements on the businessman. On Twitter, the gay conservative once referred to Trump as a “sociopath.”

Barron expounded on those views in a March editorial for The Guardian, in which he wrote that Trump has “torn [the GOP] apart.”

“Trump has played to the political cheap seats,” Barron wrote earlier this year. “Instead of offering Republicans a positive vision for the future, he chose to play on some of our most base fears.” He later added: “He has allowed his campaign to play footsy with xenophobes, white nationalists and unreconstructed bigots.”

Barron, who urged Trump to run before he announced his campaign for president last July, previously told CNN he regretted that encouragement.

“He has unleashed forces with the conservative movement that we will be dealing with for years and years to come,” Barron told the network in March. “If I would have known what I know now, I would have found somebody else.”

On that point, Johnson agreed in Tuesday’s discussion.

Although Trump has marketed himself as “the champion of the LGBT community,” as Johnson argued, the likely GOP candidate has consistently aligned himself with some of the most extreme voices in the Republican Party.

“He met today in New York with a thousand evangelical leaders — a who’s who of the antigay right — people who have made a professional career of demonizing and denigrating gay people,” Johnson said. The same day, Trump announced his Evangelical Advisory Board, which includes noted antigay figures like Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

“Donald Trump is against marriage equality,” Johnson continued Tuesday. “Donald Trump says he wants to remake the Supreme Court and make it even more conservative. Donald Trump has never been there for the gay community — he is a megalomaniacal, arrogant crazy person.”

Barron has faced criticism for his views in the past.

The former head of GOProud, which disbanded in 2014, has previously compared GLAAD to a terrorist organization and pyromaniacs. Barron also has a history of defending right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who proposed Disown Your Son Day in 2012 as an alternative to National Coming Out Day, praising her as a “strong ally of gay conservatives.”


City Limits: Fewer Hospitals, More Worries: What Medical Mergers Mean for Healthcare in NYC

June 22, 2016

June 22, 2016

These days the Mount Sinai Health System (MSHS) name and logo are omnipresent in Manhattan with a few outposts in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Appended to pre-existing hospital and health-care facility signs – New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital, many dozens of group medical practices, urgent-care centers, testing labs, and diagnostic and imaging centers – they are the outward manifestation of New York’s (and the country’s) rapidly changing health-care delivery environment. But the changes go far beyond mere names and signage; they represent the corporatization of one of our most basic services.

One recent change, the announcement in late May that MSHS will close or significantly downsize its Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital over the next four years, has sent a shockwave through lower Manhattan. Neighborhoods such as Chelsea and the West Village, which are still reeling from the health-services void left by the closing of St. Vincent’s hospital in 2010, will now have additional challenges as geography coupled with Manhattan traffic result in longer—perhaps life-threateningly long—trips to emergency rooms attached to far-away full-service hospitals.

The loss of Beth Israel means there will be no full-service hospital between the financial district’s New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital, and the private NYU/Langone and public Bellevue Hospital in the east 30s or Mount Sinai West in the west 50s. It has local residents and politicians shaking their heads and demanding answers.

Yet this is not merely the tale of a business decision, although that’s part of it. One look at the locations of closed hospitals – generally outside Manhattan in poor, ethnically diverse parts of town – tells a story of New York’s haves and have nots. While some hospitals, like Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge Hospital and Queens’ Little Neck Hospital, have been converted to nursing homes or senior housing to meet changing demographic needs, many more are now either co-op apartments or have been demolished completely. Brooklyn’s recently shuttered Long Island College Hospital is in limbo. The result is fewer hospitals, and in particular fewer independent hospitals to serve a growing population.

Among the questions raised by local lawmakers as a result of the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital and now Beth Israel is this: Just who is seeing to the health-care needs of the many different communities that make up New York City?

“In the past decade, 13 major hospitals have closed in New York City, and the closings have had a tremendous detrimental impact on local communities who rely on these safety-net providers,” said City Council Member Corey Johnson, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee and whose 3rd Council District covers the West Village and Chelsea, in a telephone interview with City Limits. “Government at all levels needs to be making decisions that look out for Americans and New Yorkers. We can’t be driven by profit and that’s the horrible—in some instances amoral—guiding force here. St. Vincent’s served the poor on the entire west side of Manhattan. Beth Israel absorbed that patient load.”

Liz Solomon’s mother lived in the same building on 11th street for 70 years. In 2007, at the age of 90, she fell and had to be taken to the hospital. “She was in intense pain,” recalls Solomon, who, like EMS, was summoned by her mother’s medical alert device. Solomon has relived the short ambulance ride to the now closed St. Vincent’s many times. “It was 5 p.m. on a Friday and a traffic-on-steroids nightmare. It’s horrible to imagine how much additional pain my mother would have had to endure had she had been forced to go across town to Beth Israel. And now what? Bellevue? Roosevelt? Or whatever they call it now?”

A land of giants

The looming closure of Beth Israel is only the latest in a long series of earthquakes and aftershocks that have shaken New York’s massive systems of private and public healthcare.

MSHS, which includes Mount Sinai Hospital and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), began expansion beyond its main Yorkville campus in 1999 with the purchase of Astoria General Hospital in Queens, which it renamed Mount Sinai Queens. In 2013 MSHS put the kibosh on a deal between the financially strapped Continuum Health Services – owner of Beth Israel, the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, Long Island College Hospital, and the Brooklyn Hospital Center – and NYU/Langone Medical Center by making its own preemptive deal. Mount Sinai could have suffered mightily if NYU/Langone had gained the upper hand and won the title of New York City’s largest health-care provider.

Long-time man about the city Stanley Brezenhoff was the Chairman and CEO of Continuum Heath Partners who struck the deal with MSHS. Tony Shorris was Chief of Staff at NYU/Langone who handled negotiations with Continuum before MSHS stepped in at the last minute and derailed the deal. Shorris, now Mayor de Blasio’s first deputy mayor and Brezenhoff, now Chairman of the New York City Board of Corrections, worked together at the Port Authority

But MSHS is not the only medical colossus in town.

The New York Presbyterian system, affiliated with Columbia University, includes the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University Medical Center, Weill-Cornell Medical Center, Weill-Cornell Medicine, the Allen Hospital, the Morgan-Stanley Children’s Hospital, Lower Manhattan Hospital, Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor, New York Presbyterian Queens in Flushing, New York Presbyterian Westchester in White Plains, and dozens of affiliated physician specialty practices and community health organizations.

NYU Langone Medical Center, affiliated with New York University, includes NYU School of Medicine, Tisch Hospital, the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, the Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Brooklyn’s NYU Lutheran Medical Center. Also under its umbrella are more than thirty ambulatory facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island along with scores of affiliated medical practices and testing and diagnostic facilities.

And Staten Island is served by Staten Island University Hospital, an affiliate of the Northwell Health System. Bronx residents rely on service provided by Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, Montefiore Medical Center, and the St. Barnabas Health System.

Of the three major Manhattan-centric power players, MSHS is the only one not part of a college or university.

But why do patients and consumers need to know something about this confusing organizational structure? “Just let me get my check up, have my flu shot, treat my diabetes, get the kids immunized, have my parents screened for dementia,” you say. “I have enough trouble understanding my health insurance policy. And why does it matter that all our hospitals are run by one or just a few companies?”

Here’s why: Although hospital mergers are not new, such broad consolidation into city-wide and regional systems is. Patients and doctors are not happy and entire sections of town have been left without adequate health services. Some who study the business of health care aren’t happy either because consolidation, or corporatization as some critics label it, is creating disturbances in the way primary, specialty, and hospital care is dispensed and to whom.

Continuum’s Long Island College Hospital was not part of the Continuum-MSHS deal and was closed in 2013. Plans and promises to replace it with another health-care services facility for Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill and surrounding area have yet to materialize. Meanwhile, Lenox Health Greenwich Village, the stand-alone emergency facility that is now housed in one of St. Vincent’s former buildings, has been criticized for charging high prices for very routine care. The facility is part of the Northwell Health System (formerly North Shore – Long Island Jewish Health System) and those who need hospitalization will be transferred to its Manhattan affiliate Lenox Hill Hospital on 77th and Lexington unless otherwise specified. (St. Vincent’s hospital itself has been replaced by the residential Greenwich Lane. Price of apartments? Don’t ask!).

Bigger is … well, bigger.

Proponents of hospital consolidation maintain that multi-hospital and multi-practice systems provide patients with unprecedented access to the best care by combining everything under one umbrella. It is, they say, a necessary remedy to rising costs, sicker and aging populations, and the cost-cutting, efficiency, and patient-outcome demands of the Affordable Care Act. They cite the anticipated positive effects on both patient care and the bottom line.

In a press release issued about the changes coming to Beth Israel, Dr. Ken Davis, president and CEO of MSHS said: “For several years, we have been transforming the Mount Sinai Health System toward a new model of care, where we focus on keeping entire communities healthy and out of the hospital, and Mount Sinai Downtown is a dramatic next step that will enable us to improve access and increase quality by providing care for residents of downtown Manhattan where they live and work.”

Advances in medicine do drive some of the rationale for eliminating hospital beds. For example, a friend of the author’s had an open-heart, triple bypass operation earlier this year at Weill-Cornell Medical Center and was home fending for himself in less than a week. That wouldn’t have been the case even 15 years ago. But while technical advances mean that at least some medically-necessary hospital stays are shorter or can be eliminated altogether, or that some surgery can be performed in so-called ambulatory surgical units, it doesn’t mean the need for primary and even secondary care doesn’t exist on an even greater scale. In fact it makes it even more important. Yet the business model at the heart of consolidation is the very thing that is forcing doctors to choose specialties rather than primary care.

Indeed, studies reported in professional journals such as Medical Economics and Modern Healthcare, by health-care focused foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, and news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, do not support the “bigger is better” mantra. They show that hospital consolidation may actually increase costs as services get shifted from individual doctors’ offices to multi-specialty hospital-based outpatient departments. A report published by the Conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute also demonstrates that consolidation stifles competition and isn’t necessarily a barometer of good patient outcomes. Gone are options for what the doctor considers the best patient care or for choice by either party.

Professor Leonard Rodberg, Chairman of the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College (CUNY), notes that studies show the argument for an increase in efficiency is false—that costs go up. “Hospital consolidation just gives hospitals and their computer systems more power over physicians, reduces contact between doctors, patients, and colleagues, and adds to the alienation felt by primary-care doctors,” says Rodberg. “Bigness for bigness sake doesn’t improve patient care. Primary care, the all-important entry point to regular and preventive care is becoming inadequate, and all the financial models lead medical students to choose specialty rather than primary care. Primary care doctors spend twice as much time and money to meet the requirements of the new systems, and it harms the quality of their work because it’s not inner directed,” he says. “Also, less time with a patient means you miss patient signals.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan says one of the reasons for “accelerating hospital consolidation is the need for providers to have enough market clout to bargain with increasingly consolidated insurers. Hospitals can’t group together the way workers in a union do because that would be an anti-trust violation. But they’ve discovered that if they’re part of a larger entity they have more bargaining clout. Otherwise you have situations like St. Vincent’s.” Gottfried noted that St. Vincent’s tried to form a network with other Catholic hospitals around city, but when those hospitals went belly up, St. Vincent’s was saddled with their debt. That situation was made worse when the network collapsed and they were only hospital in Manhattan that was not part of a network. As a result they couldn’t get good insurance deals and commercial health insurers were paying them less than Medicaid.”

It’s true that hospitals are not the only ones in the health-care business who are merging. According to Families USA, a consumer health-care advocacy group, “last July, four insurance giants announced proposed mergers. Anthem is proposing to purchase Cigna, and Aetna to purchase Humana. A merged Anthem-Cigna would cover 53 million people, and a merged Aetna-Humana would cover more than 33 million people. Together, these merged companies, along with United Health Group’s approximately46 million insured consumers, would concentrate the coverage of 132 million lives in just three companies. These proposed mergers come at a time when the vast majority of commercial health insurance markets are already highly concentrated, and when the Medicare Advantage markets (in which all of the merging companies also participate) are also highly concentrated.”

The doctors aren’t in

Private-practice doctors affiliated with, but not practicing at the component hospitals of various systems in New York say they are seeing even more red tape than before, not only for themselves and their staff, but for patients. Many are worried about the overall impact on their patients. (Those affiliated with Mount Sinai, NYU/Langone, and NY Presbyterian interviewed for this article would agree only to speak on background because they feared professional repercussions.)

Of the seven physicians interviewed, four primary-care doctors (three in Manhattan and one in Queens), and three Manhattan specialists (an ear, nose, and throat doctor, a cardiologist, and a rheumatologist), all said they felt constrained and caught in a downward spiral that continues to erode the delicate doctor-patient relationship by adding even more layers to an already bloated system.

One cardiologist talked about the hoops he has to jump through just to act as a patient advocate when additional specialty care and further tests are needed. He added that the more time he has to spend navigating the bureaucracy, the less time he can spend with or on behalf of a patient. A primary-care doctor in Queens noted that his hospital’s bureaucracy looked upon their other borough facilities as a backwater. And one ear, nose, and throat specialist said that a patient’s interests may lie beyond what is available within a single, albeit large and comprehensive system.

Critics also point out that the reputation of the main hospital brand (Mount Sinai, NYU/Langone, and NY Presbyterian) is no guarantee that practitioners at component hospitals are of equal caliber.

Dr. Oliver Fein, an internist affiliated with NY Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell, says “the upside for patients may be the ability to transfer between component institutions and more access to quaternary care,” meaning experimental medicine or uncommon diagnostic or surgical procedures.

“Networks of physicians and services are narrower and there are (geographic) communities that are not getting into those networks,” Fein adds, as hospitals jettison services in poor neighborhoods because they aren’t profitable.

“One major concern,” says Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a primary-care physician, professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and a spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) “is that the poor are being completely shut out of the healthcare system.” Dr. Woolhandler notes that Medicaid and private patients are seen in segregated settings in private hospitals and the uninsured are not welcome at all.

Dealing with the still-uninsured

Such segregation combined with the inability of the uninsured to access care in a private hospital means that the loss or merger of hospitals puts greater strain on the city’s public hospitals. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was supposed to address many of these problems, but has actually made things worse in New York City. “One out of 12 patients in Manhattan alone is still uninsured,” Dr. Woohandler said.

Through a program known as Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH), the United-States government provides some reimbursement to hospitals that treat indigent patients. DSH payments to New York City’s public hospitals were removed when the ACA went into effect on the assumption that the expansion of Medicaid, along with the ability to buy insurance on New York’s Health Exchange would drastically reduce the number of uninsured. But as Mayor Bill de Blasio pointed out at a press conference when he presented his budget at the end of April, the ACA means the city now gets less money to reimburse hospitals for the care they provide to the uninsured because undocumented immigrants, for whom the public hospital system is the only real source of care, were never factored into the equation. “The federal government does not recognize the existence of undocumented people, and we end up paying,” de Blasio said.

City hospitals do get reimbursed for patients covered by Medicaid, but that payment can take years to be collected. “Really neat trick, to owe us money and not pay us money,” said the mayor.

The need for better access to primary care is a reason Gottfried has sponsored a bill to create a single-payer health insurance system for New York State. The Assemblymember argues that primary and preventive care have a lot to do with how long we live. “Yes, we need the high-tech stuff, but if the result is the withdrawal of resources from primary and preventive care, that seriously undermines the health care system.”

Is there a cure?

A new report by patients rights watchdog MergerWatch grades each state on its hospital oversight laws and the way it protects community access to health care. According to their website “a robust Certificate of Need (CON) Law ensures that the affected community is notified about a proposed hospital merger and has an opportunity to comment, and requires state regulators to consider those comments and the potential impact on patients’ access to care if the merger were approved.” Lois Uttley of MergerWatch has “concerns about the way New York’s system fails to take consumers into account and doesn’t hold public hearings in the communities affected by consolidation.” With the current system in New York consumers first have to understand the state’s very complicated oversight system, and then figure out way to get on the agenda.

Chuck Bell, Programs Director for the Yonkers-based Consumers Union told City Limits in a series of emails “that it’s very, very difficult to undo a merger once it has happened – you can’t unscramble the egg. And, relatively few transactions get the detailed scrutiny they need.”

Bell emphasized the need for “ongoing public and regulatory oversight…and reducing barriers to entry for new potential competitors and service providers. “It’s really important that community activists speak out…hold health providers accountable on better population health, better consumer experience of care, provided at lower total cost, for all people in all neighborhoods. If consolidation of ownership becomes a barrier in any of those areas, we should blow the whistle and address it head on.”