Monthly Archives

February 2017


Curbed New York: Manhattan’s affordable grocery stores could benefit from proposed tax breaks

February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

New York city’s grocery stores have been dwindling away over time, especially many of the smaller chains. Whether it’s due to being priced out, unable to compete with larger chains, or giving way to residential developments, the quest to find an affordable grocer is becoming increasingly difficult. Realizing the crisis at hand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilman Corey Johnson have proposed a bill that could help keep Manhattan grocery markets in business.

At a recent City Council meeting, Brewer and Johnson introduced a bill that would exempt supermarkets from the city’s commercial rent tax, currently imposed on businesses that pay $250,000 or more in rent per year, reports DNAinfo. Supermarkets deemed “affordable” would have to meet other requirements before being able to reap benefits of the bill that include measuring more than 3,500 square feet in size with at least 500 square feet being devoted to fresh produce, accepting SNAP benefits, and having pharmacy sales that account for less than half of profits.

“We’ve seen too many neighborhood supermarkets threatened with closure in the last few years, and we’ve been to too many rallies to try to keep them open,” said Brewer in a statement.

If the bill is successful, over 130 supermarkets could qualify if they fit the script. “The proposal… would give our neighborhood supermarkets a fighting chance for survival,” declared Johnson.

Since we last mapped the city’s disappearing grocery stores, dozens more have also made their departure, not just in Manhattan but across the boroughs as well. New York City grocery chain D’Agostino almost ended its 84-year run but was saved by a joint venture with Gristedes store owners, though several of its stores were shut down and just nine of 26 remain in business . However, a Key Food in Crown Heights wasn’t so lucky; its on its way towards becoming a nine-story residential tower with 37 apartments.


The Villager: ‘We won’t go backward!’ Gays rally vs. travel ban

February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017

L.G.B.T.Q. people have protested and celebrated outside the Stonewall Inn since the Rebellion in 1969. But on Sat., Feb. 4, in subfreezing temperatures, thousands filled the streets of Stonewall Place to condemn President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations — standing up for Islamic people within and outside the community who have been singled out for persecution by the new administration.

“L.G.B.T.Q. people have been fighting oppression for time immemorial,” said openly gay Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents the Village and Chelsea. “So, when we see an administration come after vulnerable communities,” Johnson said, “we feel it deeply and personally. We are declaring with one voice that we are in this together.”

Johnson was one of the lead organizers of the protest, endorsed by more than 60 groups and scores of elected officials.

Jamila Hammami, executive director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, said, “I am not a single-issue person. We are under surveillance. We worry about bombings. We worry about Islamophobia in our own community.”

But on this frigid afternoon, there was solidarity with causes from justice for Palestinians to the plight of Syrian refugees.

“We need to show up everywhere, said Debbie Almontaser, president of the board of the Muslim Community Network. “We cannot do it without you, and you cannot do it without us.”

“They don’t know us,” former Council Speaker Chris Quinn said of the new Washington regime. “We never leave a brother or sister behind.”

Ishalaa Ortega of Immigration Equality, a transgender woman of color from Mexico, talked about how her life was at risk in her country of birth because of her gender identity, and how reading about the Stonewall Rebellion at age 12 gave her hope.

“Until Jan. 20, the world called this the country of freedom,” she said. “The asylum process was a painful journey. But we are here to stay!”

Actor Cynthia Nixon ridiculed reports that Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were somehow protecting L.G.B.T.Q. rights in the White House.

“They couldn’t even get the president to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” she said, in discussing news reports that the president’s son-in-law, a top White House adviser, and daughter played a behind-the-scenes role in keeping him from rescinding a 2014 executive order from President Barack Obama requiring contractors doing business with the federal government to provide sexual-orientation and gender-identity employee nondiscrimination protections.

Though Trump for now is allowing that order to stand, he and the Republicans are eliminating the office in the Department of Labor that enforces it, and there is widespread anticipation that a “religious freedom” order allowing anti-L.G.B.T.Q. discrimination by federal employees and contractors citing their religious beliefs is forthcoming. Legislative efforts championed by congressional Republicans would go even further, allowing broad religious opt-outs from nondiscrimination laws throughout society.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Lambda Legal, said, “Lambda is preparing to sue” the moment an anti-L.G.B.T.Q. “religious freedom” order is issued or the anti-L.G.B.T.Q. First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) is enacted by Congress.

The crowd was filled with veteran activists and some first-time protesters. Three young men stood at the front of the barricades by the stage for more than three hours, having left their homes without their hats.

Ryker Allen, 19, said, “I have to be here. I’m Mexican and queer. I’m here for my immigrant mother who came here illegally.”

J.D. Moran, 24, of Brooklyn, said, “I want to be a body and a voice and show my love for all communities who are hurting.”

Ryan Duffin, 22, an immigrant from Canada, said, “I don’t know what is coming next. I have the privilege of white skin. I want to be here for all of my friends who are from places like Iran and Libya.”

Sam, 43, said, “I got married in 2014. We need to preserve the progress we’ve made. Trump was groomed by the most evil person on the planet, Roy Cohn.”

Joe Ameen, 33, of Bayonne, N.J., said, “There’s a new reality. But we have to march to make it clear to the establishment we are not going backwards.”

Ameen’s fiancé, Alexander Esau, 26, said, “As a black gay man, I have very few liberties I can claim and very few I can afford to lose under this presidency.”

Keri Willis, 33, a city public school teacher from North Massapequa on Long Island, said she has gay and immigrant students.

“Things are changing so fast,” she said. “Someone has to speak up for them.”

Jay Russell of Washington Heights has joined an L.G.B.T.Q. neighborhood group called Outwood for residents of Upper Manhattan. A veteran of ACT UP, he said, “I’m feeling frustrated and sad and like the world is turned upside down and every day is worse than before. I wanted to be with people who felt similarly.”

Chad Miller, also with Outwood, said this social group is taking on advocacy efforts now, as well.

Jordan Schaps, 68, who lives on Perry St. in the Village, just blocks from the Stonewall, said, “We’ve got to get moving.”

Schaps said he has greatly increased his donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. A former longtime photo editor at New York magazine, he said, “I’ve got five friends getting together” to see what actions they can take as leaders in the photography field.

“Protesting on Facebook is not enough,” Schaps added.

Political leaders were out in force, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, openly gay Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, and, representing the mayor, Carmelyn Malalis, the openly lesbian Human Rights Commissioner.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s openly gay counsel, Alphonso David, said, “The governor will stand by you shoulder-to-shoulder to make sure every individual right is protected.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, “We’re taking America back,” and was emphatic about not returning to “the days of back-alley abortions.”

But while the governor is for these things, he is unwilling to take New York State’s Senate back from Republican leadership enabled by rogue Democrats, despite the fact that a Democratic majority was once again elected to the state Senate this past November. The defection of Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn keeps Republicans in the leadership, and separate deals with the growing Independent Democratic Conference (I.D.C.), led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, gives that faction leadership perks while freezing the majority of Democratic senators out.

With Republicans controlling the state Senate agenda, attempts by the Democratic-led Assembly to codify certain reproductive rights and transgender rights and to enact Chelsea Assemblymember Dick Gottfried’s universal health insurance bill — things that would cushion the blow of Republican assaults from Washington — have gone nowhere.

The Trump ascendancy puts added pressure on the disloyal Democrats, as new I.D.C. member José Peralta of Queens found out when he was protested against by his constituents at a town hall meeting this past week. Out gay Councilmember Danny Dromm of Queens said he was “extremely disappointed” in Peralta.

“He should step down immediately,” Dromm said.

While city and state officials are making promises of never going back, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she is not confident that all of the proposed Republican cuts in Washington can be made up by New York.

“We receive $8 billion in food stamps here,” she said. She added that she is also alarmed about massive federal cuts to affordable housing monies that have gone to the New York City Housing Authority and into Section 8 funding.

“We should have affordable healthcare for everyone,” Marjorie Hill, the former C.E.O. of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and now head of the Joseph Addabbo Family Health Center in Far Rockaway, told this reporter. “We cannot have government turn back the clock.”

Before taking the stage, the U.S. Senate’s minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said, “The people are so aroused, the administration is becoming afraid.”

He said he believed the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would fail and that Betsy DeVos would not be confirmed as secretary of Education. So far, however, he is wrong on the second count, as DeVos was confirmed this week.

Schumer was met with cheers, as well as some vigorous boos from activists outraged at his votes confirming some of Trump’s nominees. He gamely led the crowd in a chant of “Dump Trump!” and said, “I stand with you. We are going to make sure the Supreme Court does not turn the clock back.”

There have been several large protests outside Schumer’s Prospect Park West home in Park Slope, including by the Rise & Resist L.G.B.T.Q. group. How does that make him feel?

“Good,” he said. “The energy is good.” Schumer claimed not to be concerned about “a few brickbats.”

His mixed reception is an indication that the resistance to Trump is being driven and led by grassroots activists and not the politicians, as demonstrated at the massive Women’s Marches in New York, Washington and around the world the day after the inauguration and by the flood of protesters at U.S. airports immediately after Trump issued his anti-Muslim executive order.

“You are the conscience of this nation,” author, journalist, and activist William Rivers Pitt wrote on this weekend. “You are the flour and the yeast and the heat and the rising bread. You stand between what I see at night and what I know at dawn. You’re it, you’re everything. The Democrats won’t save us, nor will the Greens or the Libertarians. And, like Diogenes, I despair of finding an honest Republican in the daylight. Instead, I found you, and you found each other, and this cannot stop.”

Cynthia Nixon urged the crowd to carefully preserve their energies for a fight likely to last at least four years.

“We cannot be here 24 hours a day,” she said. “Our rage will consume us. We are in this for the long haul. Take care of yourself because you are our most valuable resource. We have to keep coming out.”


Chelsea Now: Seminar Says: In Case of Emergency, Break Out Your Plan

February 8, 2017

February 8, 2017

Locals got a crash course on fire safety and emergency preparedness courtesy the fire department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) on Monday night. Residents learned how to prepare themselves for either a fire or a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Sandy, as well as how to handle themselves in emergency situations.

Councilmember Corey Johnson, who sponsored the event as part of his “Let’s Talk” series, opened with remarks, then handed the mic off to FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala, who gave the crowd of around 100 people the lowdown on what some of the main fire safety issues people face.

One of his most important points was that the construction of your building changes what you should do in the case of a fire. If you live in a non-fireproof building (typically under 75 feet), you’ll want to look for your traditional ways out — fire escapes and stairwells. But if you live in a modern building above 75 feet, it’s going to be fireproof, so you want to stay in your apartment and close the door, he said (see for details).

“Do not leave your apartment,” Gala said. If you have no smoke or no fire in your apartment, stay in your apartment and call 911.”

If there is smoke coming in through the cracks around the door, stuff them with towels or seal them with tape.

Those high-rise buildings must have two stairwells. The FDNY will use one of them to evacuate, and one of them to “attack” the fire. The latter will have opened doors and so it can fill with smoke, but you won’t necessarily know which one is which. Gala said that many times firefighters find people passed out in their attack stairwells from smoke because they were trying to get out of the building.

Penn South resident Donna Lamb said she had no idea that she was supposed to stay in her apartment in her fireproof building.

“I didn’t know how important it is to stay in my apartment and wait until they tell you what stairwell they want you to evacuate out of. Just that alone was completely new knowledge for me,” she said. “I thought the whole idea was to get out by any means necessary.”

All Housing Authority buildings are fireproof — and generally speaking, buildings with fire escapes are not fireproof.

OEM Deputy Commissioner of Operations Frank McCarton followed Gala with some preparedness pointers. He suggested everyone pack a small bag with some emergency essentials, including a flashlight, a radio, medications (if necessary), toothpaste, batteries, and a facemask among other items. Click here for more info on compiling a “Go Bag.”

McCarton also suggested you create a plan with your family and know your neighbors, because they might need help in an evacuation scenario too. And, as he put it, “If we ask you leave, leave.”

FDNY Lieutenant Michael Kozo followed with some more detailed home fire safety tips. Electrical fires are the biggest cause of fire-related deaths in the city, he said. To prevent them, you should turn off space heaters and electric blankets when you go to bed.

You should use surge protected power strips, because unprotected strips can melt when too much is plugged in. Similarly, “you get what you pay for” with extension cords — go for a gauge with a low number (which indicates a thicker wire) and cords with thicker insulation. They should only be used temporarily.

If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, keep some baking soda in your kitchen outside the refrigerator and someplace you can reach in the case of a stovetop grease fire, which you absolutely cannot put out with water, unless you want to see some deadly fireworks.

Kozo suggested getting one combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector for each floor of your home, and one smoke detector for each bedroom. New detectors don’t have replaceable batteries anymore, they have integrated batteries that last about 7-10 years, so you just test them once per month.

He also said candles need to go out when you leave a room and suggested moving to electric candles if you’re the forgetful type.

“If you constantly find yourself a half hour away from your apartment asking yourself if you blew that candle out, its probably time to go with electric candles,” Kozo said.

They ended the talk with a question and answer session moderated by Johnson. The councilmember said his biggest takeaway was about preparedness.

“I think the biggest point to make is that you have to have a plan and you have to know your plan ahead of time,” Johnson said. “And you have to have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; those are two things that are the biggest lifesavers if, in fact, a fire hits your building or apartment.”

Johnson also said his office could help coordinate with local groups and companies if they wanted to bring in city fire safety and preparedness experts for talks in the district. Contact his office at 212-564-7757 or by email at


The New Yorker: The Loving, Warlike Unity of Gay Americans Against Trump

February 6, 2017

February 6, 2017

“We have faced institutional oppression for as long as society has existed,” Corey Johnson, a young, gay New York City Council member, said on Saturday afternoon. “Progress is not guaranteed.” He was speaking to the several thousand demonstrators who had gathered outside Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay-rights movement. The last time such a large crowd converged on that spot, in June, it was to mourn: forty-nine men and women, many of them college-aged Latinos, had just been murdered at Pulse, a gay night club in downtown Orlando; the whole nation seemed to join in solidarity with its vulnerable citizens, even if Donald Trump, seizing on the shooter’s apparent allegiance to isis, tweeted that the murders proved him “right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Now, with Trump’s brand of hateful opportunism given the full force of law, the community came together again, to steel itself against threats to come and to protest the progress that has already been rolled back. As Johnson put it, referring to Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration ban, “We will treat injustices done against our neighbors as if they had been done against us.”

After more than a decade in which leading L.G.B.T.Q. organizations focused their fight on same-sex marriage, a right held most dearly by affluent whites, Trump’s ascension is driving the gay-rights movement to embrace its greatest natural strength: its extension across lines of race and class. Zeke Stokes, a vice-president at glaad, told me, “Our top priority is to make sure that we are locking arms with other parts of the progressive movement,” and Hari Nef, the trans actress and model, led her remarks at the rally with the legend of Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who is said to have thrown the shot glass that started the Stonewall riots. Thus, although the event featured many colorfully worded signs—“hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned”; “rise up faggot”; “i want dicks in my 👄, not running my country”—the one that best captured the spirit of the day, and the great diversity of the crowd and speakers, was the simplest: “&.” “They don’t know that we are Muslims, we are women, we are transgender, we are Mexican,” Carmelyn Malalis, the city’s commissioner on human rights, told the crowd. “They don’t know that we are united and never leave a brother or sister behind. Not ever.”

Such unity, loving and warlike, is the only defense against an Administration whose treatment of the vulnerable seems, like its whole agenda, to combine pernicious intentions with minimal planning. After Johnson’s speech, as the wind chill began to outmatch the sun, he told me about the origins of the rally: the weekend before, he’d put out a call on Facebook, in response to reports that Trump was poised to revoke Obama’s anti-discrimination protections for L.G.B.T.Q. federal contractors. Then, last Tuesday, the White House appeared to change course, releasing a statement that championed Trump as “respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.” (Reportedly, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump had intervened.) After the reversal, word of the rally spread virally, Johnson said—a way of calling “total bullshit” on an Administration that includes Mike Pence, one of America’s leading homophobes. Johnson pointed to the leaked version of an executive order on “religious freedom,” which would allow almost any organization to exempt itself from federal regulations protecting same-sex marriage, transgender identity, abortion, and contraception. “That is a license to discriminate,” Johnson said.

The left is sometimes ridiculed for its factionalism—its thicket of nonprofit support systems, its acronym for every gradation of identity. But when you shake one part of that structure, you learn how durably it is fastened to all the others. Many of the speakers at the rally testified to how this crisscrossing can manifest on a personal level. A magnificent testimonial came from Olympia Perez, of the Audre Lorde Project, which advocates for queer people of color: “I cannot divide the pieces of me that are Dominican, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and South Asian from the parts of me that are trans, a woman, and a fuckin’ New Yorker.” The crowd roared as Perez, her long black hair framing her face, read a battle cry from Assata Shakur, a Black Panther who went into exile after killing a New Jersey State Trooper. “It is our duty to fight,” she said. “It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The nationwide uprisings of the past weeks—from the Women’s March to the resistance to the immigration ban—have reminded us that, although the people’s power can be gathered by revanchist right-wingers and finance-friendly Democrats, it belongs ultimately to the people themselves. Neither Governor Cuomo nor Mayor de Blasio attended the rally on Saturday, but Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, seemed to have absorbed the message of the protesters who mobbed his Brooklyn brownstone the week before, demanding total opposition to the new Administration: he led the crowd in a brief recitation of “dump Trump” and promised to defeat both Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and Neil Gorsuch, his appointee to the Supreme Court. “Stop protecting Trump Tower!” someone shouted at Scott Stringer, the city comptroller. The pest, an Irish-born actor by the name of Donal (not Donald) Brophy, told me, “I think it’s unfair for our tax dollars to be used to protect the so-called First Family.” When I asked why he’d used the word “so-called”—Trump’s word, in a tweet from early that morning, for the judge who stayed the immigration ban—he said that the Electoral College system was disenfranchising coastal Americans. “We are the majority, and we’re constantly under attack.”

As the rally disbanded, I found myself sucked into a knot of people near Seventh Avenue. Some two dozen police officers had formed a circle around a group of five protesters. It seemed that they had refused to move out of the street, which was being opened to traffic, and now they linked arms tightly as they chanted, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” A few cops moved in, taking hold of shoulders and arms and torsos, and a slow-motion struggle commenced. Along the border of the circle, a hundred cell-phone videos were being filmed, and, after the last protester was pushed into a patrol car, the crowd took up their chant.


Washington Square News: LGBT Members and Allies Protest Trump’s Cabinet Picks at Stonewall

February 6, 2017

February 6, 2017

The biting cold could not stop the LGBT community and their supporters from waving kaleidoscopic flags in the sky, punctuating this otherwise grey day with rainbows.

Adorned in colorful banners, the Stonewall Inn was surrounded by protestors from the Pro-LGBT Rally organized by New York City Council member Corey Johnson. The Greenwich Village gay bar was recognized as a National Historic Landmark after it was the site of the violent clash between the police and the LGBT community which sparked the Gay Right Movement in 1969. Once again, this establishment is serving as a rallying point for the LGBT community.

Johnson encouraged protesters to stand in solidarity with other populations made vulnerable by Trump’s controversial policies. He also encouraged the thousands of protesters to speak out against Trump’s anti-LGBT nominees nominees and appointees. His picks include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has supported a number of conservative Christian groups against LGBTQ marriage, and chief of staff Reince Priebus, who spearheaded a platform that called for the repeal of same-sex marriage and other discriminatory actions.

“We stand in solidarity with every immigrant, asylum seeker, refugee and every person impacted by Donald Trump’s illegal, immoral, unconstitutional and un-American executive orders,” Johnson said to the crowd.  “We will also speak out against Trump’s selection of the most anti-LGBT nominees and appointees in modern history.”

During the rally, Johnson recalled the actions taken at Stonewall decades earlier to empower protesters. He said that people should review the lesson taught to them by Stonewell that progress does not come easily.

“They fought for this,” Johnson said. “They took to the streets and now it’s our time. It is our job to make sure that progress continues and that we push back against this demagogic, pathological liar in the White House.”

Executive Director and Imam for the Islamic Center Khalid Latif, discussed the recent hate crimes on NYU’s campus and around the city, specifically the swastikas found on NYC playgrounds and NYU dorms.

“Swastikas represent the darkest potential of humanity to me — an attack on any of us, is an attack on all of us,” Latif said. “You do not need to be black to stand up for black lives. You do not need to be LGBT to stand up for LGBT rights. You do not need to be a woman to stand up for women’s rights.”

Omar Sharif Jr., an Egyptian-Canadian actor and gay activist who currently lives in the United States, told the story of how he was forced to leave his home in Egypt after he came out and received death threats.

“That’s who refugees really are,” Sharif said. “We aren’t facts, figures and statistics— we’re not a moral or ethical debate. When we leave our countries, when we flee for security, it’s not with malice in our hearts it’s looking up, not to the stars, but to the stars and stripes.”

Sharif also said that the United States has been a beacon of liberty, hope, justice and freedom to many people over the years.

“Don’t back down, resist!” Sharif said.


Democracy Now: “Resist, Resist, Resist”: Thousands Protest Trump in Solidarity with LGBT Community at Stonewall in NYC

February 6, 2017


On Saturday, thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators supporting the LGBT community held a rally in front of the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s West Village. The site was recently designated by the Obama administration as a national monument for its historic role in the long fight for gay rights. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn. The people inside, led by transgender patrons, fought back. The ensuing riot launched the modern gay and lesbian rights movement. New York City elected officials, activists and celebrities spoke at Saturday’s event. We hear voices from the rally, including the first openly gay New York City Council member, Corey Johnson, as well as actress and model Hari Nef, actor Omar Sharif Jr. and transgender Mexican activist Ishalaa Ortega.