By WILLIAM NEUMAN
April 19, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support on Wednesday to a series of initiatives to cut tobacco use, proposing to raise the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City to $13 and vowing to sharply reduce, over time, the number of stores that may sell tobacco products.
Raising the minimum price of a pack to $13, from the current $10.50 minimum, would make New York the most expensive place in the nation to buy cigarettes, city officials said.
The goal, Mr. de Blasio said, is to persuade or coerce 160,000 of the 900,000 New York City residents who smoke to stop doing so by 2020.
In pushing the anti-tobacco measures, the mayor, more than three years into his term, has come to embrace a major public health movement that was closely associated with his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who made the city a leader in efforts to reduce tobacco use.
Many of the initiatives had been on Mr. de Blasio’s desk for well over a year before he took action, to the consternation of public health and antismoking activists who feared that the city was failing to build on earlier gains.
The proposed initiatives would also set minimum prices and create taxes on other types of tobacco products, like smokeless tobacco and small cigars.
About 12,000 New Yorkers a year die from smoking-related illnesses, officials said.
“What we’re here today talking about is saving lives,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, who appeared with the mayor at a news conference at the Midtown Manhattan offices of the American Heart Association. “We want to make it easier to quit and harder to smoke.”
In 2002, when Mr. Bloomberg took office, 21.5 percent of adult New Yorkers smoked, according to the Health Department. As Mr. Bloomberg banned smoking in bars and restaurants and set a minimum price for cigarettes, the rate fell to 14 percent by 2012, and it has fluctuated since.
“The single most effective way to reduce smoking, especially among kids, is to raise the price,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, a director of advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Mr. de Blasio said his program consisted of several measures that would be considered as legislation by the City Council.
One measure would, over time, significantly reduce the number of stores allowed to sell tobacco products.
Under a bill introduced in the council this month, the number of licenses issued to retailers to sell tobacco products in each of the city’s 59 community board districts would be set at half the current level. The reduction would be achieved gradually through attrition, because current license holders would be allowed to retain and renew their licenses.
There are about 9,000 stores or other locations licensed to sell tobacco products in the city. Dr. Bassett, the health commissioner, said the number was expected to drop below 6,000 over 10 years.
Philadelphia and San Francisco have put in place similar licensing restrictions.
A study by the American Cancer Society found that as of October, 8,992 retail outlets were licensed to sell tobacco in New York. About a third of those were within 500 feet of a school.
Other studies have shown that tobacco sellers are disproportionately concentrated in poor neighborhoods.
Another proposal would prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco products. Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, said about 550 pharmacies currently sold cigarettes and other tobacco products.
As part of the package, the sellers of electronic cigarettes would be required for the first time to obtain licenses; after an initial period, no new licenses would be issued. Another initiative would require landlords to disclose rules on tobacco use in apartment buildings; if prospective tenants prefer smoke-free buildings, city officials hope that could provide an incentive for landlords to bar cigarette smoking in apartments.
Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat who is the chairman of the City Council health committee, said that he had long struggled with addiction and that while he had quit drinking and taking drugs, he could not break his tobacco habit.
“It was easier to quit drinking and using illegal drugs than it is to quit smoking,” he said.
Health officials presented Mr. de Blasio with a similar package of measures in the second half of 2015. In March 2016, he said in a television interview that he would unveil anti-tobacco initiatives within weeks. More than a year passed before his announcement on Wednesday.
“Since we came in, I’ve focused on opening up whole new veins in the fight for health and safety,” Mr. de Blasio said of the delay, citing initiatives to increase mental health services, reduce traffic fatalities and fight crime.
“We were balancing a lot of factors,” he added. “It was a question of sequencing everything.”
Asked when the City Council would pass the bills, Mr. de Blasio said, “The sooner the better.”
By WINNIE MCCROY
April 19, 2017
As rents continue to skyrocket in the Chelsea area, some landlords are going to extreme lengths to ditch existing tenants, spruce up their units, and rent them at much higher rates as “luxury apartments.” But tenants who want to remain in their homes are becoming increasingly savvy, reaching out to the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) and their elected officials at the first sign of violations.
For Kelly Maurer and Jordan Lage, longtime residents at 311 W. 21st St., the last straw came earlier this month, when their 12-year-old daughter was hit in the head during softball practice. After taking her to the emergency room, they returned to a home that had no gas to cook her dinner, no hot water for her to take a bath, and no heat.
“That was when I said to myself, ‘Enough!’ We have lived in this building for 18 years and it’s our home,” said Maurer. “But all of the renters who were not regulated have been pushed out, our gas has been off for over a year, no maintenance is being done except trash removal, and we often have no heat or hot water.”
Following a gas leak, Con Edison cut off the gas in February 2016. The building’s owner, Sidney Rubell, secured permits from the DOB on May 23, 2016 for construction on the gas system in the five-story building. But in August 2016, Rubell sold the building to a new landlord: New York City Management Corporation.
The DOB said they issued a Stop Work Order on the gas line job on December 19, 2016, after the contractor listed on the permit withdrew from the job. The order was rescinded on March 9, 2017, after the owners hired a new contractor to supersede the original permit holder. By that point, the building’s residents had been without cooking gas for a year.
In June 2016, Canadian transplant Alison Moore moved into the building after marrying her high school sweetheart, Dwight, who has lived there since 1994. She said she was struck by its condition, but made the best of it by purchasing an electric skillet, kettle, rice cooker, and Keurig to “try and round out our ability to cook for ourselves.”
RESIDENTS’ OPTIMISM WANES | Lage, who called while on business in China just to share his story, said that initially, representatives from NYC Management Corp. assured him that they wanted to come in and do renovations to make the building nicer for everyone. But over time, that didn’t seem to be the case.
“As it turns out, they were being disingenuous,” said Lage. “They didn’t come out and say they were trying to get as many people as possible out of the building so they could renovate these into luxury duplexes and jack up the rent, but that’s what has become clear to the tenants that still remain.”
Other tenants told him that the landlord sent workers to their apartments, ostensibly to replace the gas lines. But they were disconcerted when workers who didn’t appear to be from the gas company arrived to measure their entire apartment with 3D-imaging scanning machines.
Lage said they later discovered those workers were from the property management firm Archidata. Tenants were advised by the DOB that if the landlord insisted the measurements were necessary, they should instruct him to “get it in writing from the DOB, then you come down to us and verify it.”
“That had nothing to do with replacing the gas lines,” said Lage angrily. “It all points to one thing, which is that they want to get as many people out as they legally can. They want to attract people of higher socioeconomic strata that Kelly and I.”
Moore recalls allowing these so-called “gas inspectors” into her apartment, saying, “A woman in high heels and a fur coat showed up with a team of three very young workers, and wanted to walk through my whole apartment with their 3D device. I tend to be very trusting that people are abiding by the law, but I’d never seen this scale of rampant deception and lying. It turns out they came to measure our spaces. They weren’t gas repair people, and no gas line repairs were ever made.”
By then, Lage and his wife had spoken with folks at City Hall, the DOB, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) about the lack of gas, but were advised to either take their new landlord to Housing Court over the lack of services or ask for a rent reduction.
A spokesperson at HPD told Chelsea Now, “HPD is aware of maintenance concerns in this building and continues to closely monitor the situation. HPD issued violations for lack of heat and hot water, which were subsequently remedied by the owner and verified by HPD as resolved. HPD has a pending lawsuit against the owner seeking to compel the owner to resolve all other violations, including the outstanding problems with the lack of cooking gas.”
PATTERN OF HARASSMENT? | Although no real construction has begun at 311 W. 21st St., tenants say they are already experiencing some of the early stages of what has become known as “construction as harassment” (as noted by Chelsea Now in April 2016).
Maurer said that neighbors have become accustomed to calling 311 every week to complain about random shutdowns of the building’s heat and hot water. Moore said her husband had gotten used to taking cold showers every morning. Health issues prevent her from doing the same, so bathing has been confined to the times when there is hot water available.
“Every time they do it, we call 311 and complain, and they jump through hoops to file a report and fix it,” said Moore. “The building turns it on long enough for the complaint to go away, but the next day they turn it off again.”
Moore said the apartments are often freezing during the night, compelling her and Dwight to each sleep wearing hoodies and two pairs of socks. Several tenants reported getting sick from the lack of heat.
“But the most difficult thing is that we no longer have a front door buzzer,” said Moore. “There’s no way to communicate with people at the door. We can hear them buzz, but we often have to run down five flights to let them in.”
Residents later discovered that the landlord had applied for a permit with the DOB, claiming the building was unoccupied with no rent-stabilized or rent-controlled tenants, and no need for tenant protection. That’s when they knew it was time to take things to the next level.
DOB REJECTS LANDLORD’S PERMIT | At their wit’s end, tenants finally reached out to Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office and described the situation. Maurer said she was stunned to receive a return call in 15 minutes. Johnson’s office worked to get the original owners’ name off the permit. But soon after, NYC Management had their names put on the same permit. Maurer went back to Johnson’s office, and they got the DOB to revoke that particular permit.
“My office has met with the tenants at 311 West 21st Street and we have engaged the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development on this property,” Johnson told Chelsea Now. “Earlier this month, DOB conducted a special audit for falsifying their work permit, which said that this building was unoccupied and did not have rent-regulated tenants living in the building. DOB has disapproved their work permit and we will continue to work with city agencies and the tenants living in this building to ensure they are safe and are able to remain in their homes.”
A representative at the DOB said they conducted an audit of 311 W. 21st St. on March 31, and it failed. The landlord was cited for falsification of PW1 (Plan/Work) occupancy and stabilization, the need for tenant protections on a work permit, and was found in violation of “energy compliance regulations.”
They were given a notice to revoke that permit. A few days later, Maurer discovered via the DOB website that NYC Management Corp. had resubmitted an application for another permit, again alleging that the building was unoccupied with no rent-stabilized or rent-controlled tenants, and no need for tenant protections.
The DOB said the permit application was denied on April 7 during the scheduled exam plan, noting that they will continue to closely monitor this property to ensure the safety of the tenants.
As Johnson noted, “Tenants have a right to be safe in their homes, and landlords must abide by the law when filing for work permits. Unfortunately, with real estate prices at record highs and a desire to expedite construction activities, some bad actors will stop at nothing to force tenants out of their rent-regulated units by refusing their tenants the required protection plans.”
Maurer admitted that after attending a community meeting hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, she had met many people whose situations were even worse than theirs. But, she said, “Why should we wait for horrible things to happen here? I’m the mother of a 12-year-old, and I don’t want to wait until there’s lead dust flying through the air. It is very frightening.”
In the face of mounting cases like this, elected officials have begun fighting back. City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s “Intro No. 1523” seeks to create a new office of Tenant Advocate at the DOB. And Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s new legislation, proposed on April 12, would strengthen existing tenant harassment laws, and make it easier to prosecute landlords who force rent-regulated tenants to vacate.
“Look, we understand that the building has been purchased, and they have the right to do construction, but they have to do it legally,” said Maurer. “When we’re dealing constantly with false work permits, it’s hard to believe anything else they say. They are working from the point of view of ‘you don’t exist, your homes don’t exist, and therefore we don’t have to protect you.’ ”
New York City Management Corp. did not respond to Chelsea Now’s repeated requests for comment.
By ALLEGRA HOBBS
April 18, 2017
HUDSON SQUARE — The long-awaited transformation of Hudson Square Plaza into a tree-lined park with plenty of seating is officially underway — and community members can look forward to swivel seats and moonlight-imitating night lighting by fall 2018.
The New York City Parks Department officials and Hudson Square Connection on Tuesday broke ground at the triangular plaza at Spring Street and Sixth Avenue, re-dubbed Spring Street Park, signaling the start of the $6 million makeover of the half-acre space aimed at increasing open space in the area.
The design from Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects will include swivel chairs inspired by seating in European parks, said the president of Hudson Square Connection, plus some special light posts to create the “dappling” affect of moonlight through the park’s trees.
“We have swivel seats that are coming in — they have them in parks in Paris and Barcelona, and they’re really social,” said Ellen Baer, noting the swivel chairs will be a first for city open space. “They’re very unusual, and you’ll see them here for the first time in a New York park.”
The “moonlighting” posts will also be a first for New York City, according to designer Signe Nielsen — just as sunlight filtering through tree branches casts a serene shadow during the day, the moonlight lamps will have the same affect at night at the park’s entrance.
“The idea of moonlighting is that you don’t see a lot of fixtures and it comes like moonlight,” said Nielsen. “It’s just a regular light fixture, but it’s really tall. The idea is it’ll hopefully cast a beautiful shadow on the ground.”
The renovated park’s benches will also come with “under bench” lighting, said Baer.
The park will feature anti-flooding infrastructure allowing the absorption of 1,140 percent more storm water.
The monument to General Jose Artigas will be moved to a more central location in the plaza, according to the Parks Department.
BY DAVID COLON
April 13, 2017
It’s almost Tax Day in America, which means that citizens across our great nation are doing everything they can to not be hit with a devastating Write-off by Irwin R. Schyster. It also means that President Trump’s taxes are in the news again. In advance of marches that will be held nationwide this weekend to demand that the president release his tax returns, one City Council member is working on a bill that he says would force Trump to release his tax returns to the public.
Council Member Corey Johnson told the News that he’s planning on introducing a bill that would regulate any “non-public benefit organizations that have concessions that generate $0 in ‘approximate gross revenue received'” and would require any person named in said entity in a concession agreement to show their tax returns. In plain English, the bill is specifically worded in such a way that it would only apply to Trump Ferry Point LLC, and would thus require Trump, or anyone else with their name on the LLC, to release his tax returns every year that Trump Ferry Point LLC has had a contract to run the controversial city-funded Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
“If you’re benefiting from lucrative City contracts, you owe the public a high degree of transparency,” Johnson said in a statement announcing his plans for the bill. “When you’re profiting from a City contract that doesn’t return a dollar back to the City and your name is branded all over the property, transparency is vital. Donald J. Trump has made millions of dollars off City contracts, yet his finances are a complete mystery. We need to pull back the curtain on Donald Trump’s tax secrets. The choice should be simple: make your returns public or relinquish your contracts with the City of New York.”
In the statement, Johnson claimed the the Trump Organization was one of the few companies in the city with a concessions contract that doesn’t provide any revenue to the city, which “means that the Trump Organization is paying nothing to the City for the privilege of operating a private golf course on public property in the Bronx.” While the bill isn’t finished yet, Johnson told the News that he hopes to introduce it next month.
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization referred us to the White House for comment. We will update this story if they respond.
BY LESLEY SUSSMAN
April 13, 2017
Mount Sinai Beth Israel officials at their latest community forum on the proposed downsizing and relocation of the historic Beth Israel Hospital, once again heard local residents and public officials express fear and loathing — along with some moments of fire and fury — over the plans for the 128-year-old medical facility.
Beth Israel will abandon its present location, at E. 16th St. and First Ave., in four years and move into a new, scaled-down version at E. 14th St. and Second Ave. on part of the site of its New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.
The 799-bed hospital — including 150 behavioral-health beds — has already begun “phase one” of its $500 million plan to rebuild Beth Israel Hospital and create a new Mount Sinai Downtown Healthcare Network. Some services will be relocated within the Downtown network, except for the most complex cases and delivery of babies, which will be cared for in other hospitals within the network.
At the Thursday night forum at 10 Union Square, Dr. Jeremy Boal, the recently appointed president of the Mount Sinai Downtown Healthcare Network, tried to paint a rosy picture of things to come for Beth Israel. But it was not applause that greeted his remarks.
Instead, what the hospital’s chief executive heard were local residents and political representatives expressing anger and concern about the hospital’s dramatic loss of beds under the new plan and its reluctance to conduct a community-needs assessment with a task force of local residents. The number of beds at the new facility will be reduced to 70. (Currently, about 450 beds at Beth Israel are used on a daily basis — including 300 general inpatient beds and, again, the 150 behavioral health beds.)
Boal told the audience there “simply was no time” now to conduct such an assessment because the hospital is in critical financial condition. He said the medical facility has been on a financial life support for years, losing $250 million since 2012.
“We’re committed 100 percent to working with the community,” he said, “but we’re losing millions at this site, and if we stop work on our plans now to conduct such an assessment, we’ll be buried under a financial avalanche.
“There are other ways to move forward on this that will involve the community,” he continued. “We’re committed to going to various community boards and to continue to have conversations with community leaders.
“Our first goal was to rebuild the hospital because it has become outmoded and in bad disrepair,” he added. “But that would cost us a billion dollars to do, so and we can’t afford that. And it would become obsolete by the time we finished, anyway.
“We’ve had a 10 percent annual decrease in patient admissions since 2012,” Boal continued, “and the rate of overall empty beds continues to increase. So we feel that there’s a greater need to build more ambulatory services in order to better address the needs of the community. We want to build a multi-campus healthcare system below 34th St. and across Manhattan from river to river.”
Boal said that the current plan for the new Beth Israel building calls for completing its construction by 2017. After that, the existing complex in Gramercy will be sold, with all the proceeds helping to offset the costs of the change.
Boal also told the audience that, in addition to an expanded state-of-the-art emergency room at the future location, the hospital will beef up its outpatient facilities at three major sites with more than 35 operating and procedure rooms. He said there will also be 16 different physician-practice locations with more than 600 doctors, and that there will be “enhanced behavioral health services” at the Beth Israel Bernstein Building, located between E. 16th and E. 15th Sts. on Nathan D. Perlman Place.
The hospital chief executive also promised that at no time will there be “any cutoff of services” and that, in fact, there will even be an increase in some services, such as a major expansion of walk-in services, like primary and specialty care. He also said that if, for some reason, there are not enough beds at the new 70-bed facility to accommodate community needs, “We can always add four more floors of beds.” The new building will be constructed to allow more floors to be added atop it, if necessary.
Boal’s statement, however, did not sit well with Councilmember Corey Johnson, who said it was vital that a community-needs assessment be done.
“There’s a need for the community to have more information about your plans,” Johnson told Boal. “The community needs to better understand what’s happening. There’s a lot of anxiety among my constituents that our hospitals are being chipped away.”
Johnson also said that a promise of future beds — if needed — was not adequate.
“Build those four stories with additional beds now,” the councilmember said, “and don’t wait to see if they’re needed in the future.”
Jamie Rogers, chairperson of Community Board 3, also voiced disappointment that the hospital would not undertake a hands-on community needs assessment before proceeding any further with its redevelopment plans.
“What we want is a lot more information,” Rogers told the hospital honcho. “We want to talk to you about things like local hiring, transportation and construction noise, along with other local issues.”
Rogers later told The Villager that he was dissatisfied with Boal’s remarks.
“The hospital needs to do a better job of involving the community,” he said. “The hospital is unwilling and unable to sit down with a working group of stakeholders, so that we can provide the feedback that our community desperately wants to give about the health needs of the community and the impact this transformation is going to have on our already impacted neighborhood from outside forces, such as gentrification.”
Another critical voice was that of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“I think we still need to be a better partner with your plans,” she told Boal. “Healthcare is the number one issue for many families in this area. What we need is a real survey, so that the data can be shared with the community to help make the future plans, so that everybody feels comfortable.”
However, Boal told Brewer, “We’re committed to doing in-depth work to make sure that we know what the community’s needs are and to make sure we’re addressing them. We already have an extensive amount of data from various studies about the community’s health needs.”
Boal added that one of the results of the various community-needs studies the hospital has already conducted will be the creation of an urgent-care walk-in center at its Union Square East location, which, Boal noted, would make it “the largest such free-standing medical facility in the city.”
He further explained that, also as a result of studies the hospital has already made, a second M.R.I. unit will also be established at the Union Square site, along with the opening of three nearby sites with 35 operating and procedure rooms where surgeries will be able to be performed
Other expanded programs, he said, will be enhanced behavioral-health services at the Beth Israel Bernstein Building and an expanded visiting-doctors home-visit program that will give emergency-room patients the option of remaining in the E.R. after treatment or returning home.
Also expressing concern about the future downsizing and relocation of the hospital was state Senator Brad Hoylman.
“You ask the community what it needs,” Hoylman told Boal. “The community boards want to sit down with you and tell you about their needs.”
But Boal, once again, deflected the request, saying, “We always welcome dialogue but this is not the time to do a needs assessment.”
The Mount Sinai Healthcare Network president also responded to a slew of other questions from the audience, ranging from the possible use of the soon-to-be-sold hospital property for affordable housing to whether the hospital’s new proposed outreach programs and ambulatory sites would accept Medicaid.
“Our commitment to Medicaid patients and those with no insurance will continue,” Boal vowed. “While we fully support the concept of affordable housing, we do not know who the new buyer will be of our old hospital site and what his plans will be. Right now, our primary mission is to provide the best health services to our community. We’ve got to make sure that we optimize our health services.”
Boal was also sharply criticized by one unidentified local resident who said that the hospital was deceiving the community about its loss of revenue due to declining patient admissions.
The audience member charged that the financial losses were the results of cuts in services the hospital is now undertaking, such as the elimination of 20 inpatient pediatric beds, the shutdown of the cardiac-surgery operating room and the elimination of several neonatal intensive-care unit beds which, he said, were at one time bringing in millions of dollars of revenue.
The hospital leader called those charges untrue and said that, if not for the fact that Beth Israel is part of the Mount Sinai Medical Network, which operates six other medical campuses throughout the city, Beth Israel would have to declare bankruptcy because of plummeting revenue.
Local resident Samuel Vegas, a current outpatient at the hospital, angrily told Boal, “Your financial concerns seem to outweigh community concerns. I’m scared about the future of the hospital.”
Boal tried to reassure everyone that the hospital’s goal is to provide quality healthcare.
“We know that the community is anxious and scared,” he said, “but our mission will always be to provide the best medical services to everyone who lives here.”
The proposed hospital closing adds Beth Israel to a list of 19 other hospitals in the city that have either closed or overhauled how they operate since 2000, a reduction in services that has hit Lower Manhattan especially hard. Notably, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village closed in 2010. The decision about Beth Israel also reflects broader trends at a time when many hospitals across the country are also struggling financially.
After the meeting, a Mount Sinai spokesperson noted that, as mandatory under the law, the health system, in fact, will be doing a community-needs assessment that will be concluded this fall. Apparently, however, this is not exactly the same type of comprehensive outreach to the community that local politicians were demanding at the forum.
In addition, he issued the following statement: “In anticipation of investing more than $500 million into transforming our Downtown multi-facility campus, we assessed past and current utilization of Mount Sinai Beth Israel, and also analyzed larger trends in healthcare, where we are seeing a significant move from hospital-based delivery of care to ambulatory-based settings. We believe that our plan to dramatically expand and upgrade care for the community in non-hospital settings, coupled with a new inpatient hospital, is the right plan for the Downtown community.
“Throughout this process, we have engaged, and will continue to closely engage, with our local community leaders and elected officials to understand and address any questions or concerns. We welcome any and all feedback and encourage the dialogue to continue.”
By LAURA FIGUEROA
April 12, 2017
President Donald Trump would be required to release his tax returns to New York City officials, under proposed legislation that would make the documents mandatory for his namesake company to continue operating a golf course on city-owned property in the Bronx.
City Councilman Corey Johnson announced Wednesday he will introduce a measure to the council aimed at forcing Trump to disclose his tax returns.
The Manhattan Democrat’s proposal would require a narrowly defined group of city concession contractors to disclose the tax documents of their executives in order to remain eligible for city contracts. The measure would apply to concession operators who pay no money to the city and also are “named” in the title of their company.
The Trump Organization, the president’s hospitality and real estate company that operates the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, is the only city vendor that currently meets those specifications, Johnson said.
In 2010, The Trump Organization signed a 20-year-lease with the city to run the Ferry Point golf course. Under the agreement, the company does not have to provide the city with any payments for the first four years the golf course is open, but must provide the city with a percentage of its profits ranging from 7 to 10 percent annually for the remainder of the contract.
The Trump-branded golf course opened in 2015 and made more than $8 million in profits in its first year, according to city records.
“When you’re profiting from a city contract that doesn’t return a dollar back to the city and your name is branded all over the property, transparency is vital,” said Johnson. “Donald J. Trump has made millions of dollars off city contracts, yet his finances are a complete mystery.”
The Trump Organization did not return an email seeking comment.
Trump has long resisted calls to disclose his tax returns as typically done by past presidents and White House candidates. His 1995 and 2005 tax filings were leaked to the media, but government watchdog groups have been demanding he release recent documents in the interest of transparency.
BY WINNIE MCCROY
April 12, 2017
New Yorkers are standing up against hate crime, with Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen eager to designate their area as a “hate-free” zone. Responding to the March 20 domestic terrorism slaying of Timothy Caughman by white supremacist James Harris Jackson, community members sought to send a message to elected officials in Washington, DC, and the rest of the country: New York City will not tolerate hate.
So, at the April 5 Community Board 4 (CB4) full board meeting at Mt. Sinai West (1000 10th Ave.), the Board unanimously voted to approve a letter to the NYC District Attorney Cy Vance and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill regarding hate crimes and terrorism. They thanked the men for their swift arrest of Jackson, and asked what strategies were in place to prevent future acts of terrorism in their community. They also expressed concern that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had refused to condemn the murder “as a white supremacist hate crime and terrorist act,” as Mayor Bill de Blasio has done.
“He was attacked because of who he was, plain and simple. And don’t think for a moment it was an attack on one stray man, because it was an attack on all of us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at Caughman’s April 1 funeral. “It was a racist attack. It was an act of domestic terrorism; we have to call it what it is. But it was also an attack on all of us, because this city stands for something. So, it’s no surprise that evil came calling here.”
Meant to address this “evil,” the letter ended with a call to “find ways to prevent assassinations of innocent people on the sidewalks of our Midtown community by violent extremists of all stripes.”
Calling it a “masterful letter,” CB4 Chair Delores Rubin said it had generated a very fruitful conversation within the Executive Committee about how none are immune to hate, adding, “someone lost their life because someone did not like that they were black. We would hope we were at an age where we didn’t have to see that.”
“I felt this was very important, because this man was a member of our community who was stabbed by a sword so big it went right through his back,” said the letter’s author, CB4 Member JD Noland. “It was murder by an act of terror; a terrorist act in our neighborhood by a man who came up from Baltimore specifically to kill black people. He was a member of a white supremacist group who went on websites just like Dylann Roof, who killed those nine parishioners in a church in South Carolina.”
Noland said the board should speak out not only because Caughman was a member of the community, but because Jackson came to New York City because it is the media center of the country, and he thought he could get more publicity for his crime.
“This was an attack on diversity by a man who came up here to kill black people, and it’s important that we say that,” said Noland. “If he had come up here to kill white women, they would not characterize it as an ‘attack on diversity.’ But it is important for us to speak up for our lost community member to the White House, who of course won’t respond. When Sean Spicer was asked, he would not call the attack an act of terror.”
City Councilmember and former CB4 Chair Corey Johnson stopped by the meeting to speak about standing up to hate crimes like this.
“The world seems crazier every day, and hearing about this kind of hatred is a nightmare for some of us,” said Johnson. “But the silver lining to this is that New York and the West Side are one of the biggest epicenters of the resistance, fighting anti-democratic actions. I am proud to represent a district with such activism, that is engaged, organized, and fighting back. I ask all of you to keep doing that.”
“One big lesson to take from this election is that democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Johnson. “Civic participation is required, not just posting on Facebook. You need to be out there door knocking, phone banking, educating friends and neighbors, and working to make sure elected officials aren’t just serving the wealthy — or the Russians.”
The Chelsea Now Police Blotter of March 30 covered the fatal stabbing of the 66-year-old African American New Yorker, stabbed at 11:25 p.m. near the corner of W. 36th St. and Ninth Ave. Jackson plunged a 26-inch sword through Caughman’s chest, puncturing vital organs. The 28-year-old Baltimore resident later turned himself in at the Times Square subway station, telling police that he came to New York City for the “express purpose of killing black men.”
On Thurs., March 23, Jackson was arraigned for murder as a hate crime, and later charged with murder as an act of terror, in addition to assorted weapons-related charges.
The attack is part of a surge in hate crimes in New York City, and around the country, since Donald Trump was elected to the presidency. A Dec. 1, 2016 article in Chelsea Now (“Tracking, Reporting, and Responding to Hate Crimes”) noted that the NYPD had logged 25 percent more bias crimes that year than in the year before, rising from 260 to 350 — the worst in the past eight years.
Rebecca Teitel, producer/director of the film “Hate in America: Stories From the Files of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” told the audience at a Jan. 29, 2017 Town Hall sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman that, in the recent political climate, “It’s really unlikely you’re going to get the Department of Justice investigating hate crimes.”
However, the spike in hate crimes did prompt Governor Andrew Cuomo to create a New York State Hate Crimes Unit comprised of investigators trained as “bias crime specialists” that will assist local district attorneys to prosecute hate crimes. And now, citizens are eager to team up with legislators to designate the West Side a “hate-free zone.”
“I want us to ask the DA and NYPD what can be put in place in the center of Manhattan to protect the community,” said Noland.
Maarten de Kadt spoke about the impassioned nature of the letter, and while he didn’t offer an amendment against hate, he did note that it was a prime opportunity to position CB4 as an organization that “declares ourselves to be against hate, in an area that hates hate.”
After voting unanimously to send the letter to the DA and NYPD, CB4 Chair members echoed the calls to designate their area as a “hate-free zone,” with Rubin noting that the board would have conversation at an upcoming Arts, Culture, Education and Street Life Committee (ACES) on the proposed adoption of making the West Side a “hate-free zone” on April 17.
The next full board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wed., May 3 in the Dan Carpenter Room at Hudson Guild (441 W. 26 St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.). Visit nyc.gov/mcb4.
BY WINNIE MCCROY
April 12, 2017
Community members gathered at Mount Sinai West (1000 10th Ave.) on Wed., April 5 for the monthly full board meeting of Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4). Despite a busy agenda, many were there to testify against granting a liquor license to a new business not to the liking of residents at London Terrace Towers (a co-op) and London Terrace Gardens (rental buildings). The Board also examined the progress of the new Chelsea Health Center, and bade a fond farewell to exiting members.
“This is a bittersweet meeting because it marks the end of several people’s time serving on the Board,” said CB4 Chair Delores Rubin. “Tonight we are honoring Walker Mankoff. We appreciate his decades of work as a former chair. Also, Sarah Desmond is leaving, and Ambur Nicosia, who remains a voice in education. Big thanks to all.”
City Councilmember Corey Johnson arrived, framed Proclamations in hand, to declare April 5 a Manhattan “Appreciation Day” for Walter Mankoff and Sarah Desmond.
Mankoff was grateful, sharing reasons he believed CB4 was great, including that they “favor worthwhile ideas and programs, follow proper procedure, do research to support their arguments with facts, and come up with real creative solutions. They compromise when we need to negotiate, be sure localized solutions don’t hurt the whole board, involve the community, listen respectfully, work with other boards, and share the work. These are a few things that made our board great; remember them and use them going forward.”
Desmond, who has spent 24 years working with Housing Conservation Coordinators and 14 on CB4, called her service, “some really remarkable years in which we accomplished amazing things,” adding, “I will miss all the characters on the West Side.”
CHELSEA HEALTH CENTER REVAMP ON TARGET | CB4 shared an update on the Chelsea Health Center at Ninth Ave. and W. 29th St., which, which they noted was “almost complete.” In a letter to New York State Department of Health (DOH), CB4 stressed that “in its last full year of operation, the clinic had over 19,000 patient visits” and “visits to its sexual health clinic represented almost a quarter of the New York City total.”
CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine said that CB4’s Burt Lazarin and Maria Ortiz toured the site, and although the planned community space was “a little smaller than we thought it would be,” it looked great.
“We have little concern that the state DOH will work very well with the city to get this opened on deadline,” said Bodine. “We don’t want to get caught up with a minor snag and then not get another review for three months, so we are taking a proactive approach to start the ball rolling on state licensing.”
They urged project managers to work with the DOH and the NYC Economic Development Corporation to “expedite this process so the clinic can reopen on time and again serve the healthcare needs of our community.”
CB4 SAYS NO MORE RUBBER-STAMPING LIQUOR LICENSES | Nearly a dozen residents from London Terrace Towers and London Terrace Gardens testified during the public session, requesting that CB4 not recommend the granting of a liquor license to a restaurant at nearby 461–463 W. 23rd St. Calling applicant Emil Stefkov a “bad actor,” residents cited his poor record of relations with neighbors, his loss of liquor license, and problems of noise, trash, and cigarette smoke.
In an April 5 letter to the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), CB4’s Business Licenses & Permits (BLP) Committee recommended denying a liquor license to Stefkov as “contrary to the public interest,” citing “the cavalier attitude that this applicant has shown toward the community and its concerns.”
Tenants rejected the request to add eight outdoor tables in an area where two were already seen as problematic, with late weekend closing hours and loud music being concerns. The BLP said 30 people testified against this at their March 21 meeting at Yotel, with only Stefkof speaking in support.
“Thank you for rejecting [the liquor license for] 461 West 23rd Street,” said Andy Humm. “The applicant has a bad track record, and as head of the London Terrace Tenants Association, I hope the full board will reject this application.”
Humm was joined by several neighbors, including London Terrace board member Lloyd Van Praagh, who said he had a fiduciary duty to “think about how much this is going to cost us to control or evict this operator, while a tremendous number of homeowners and renters suffer over a protracted length of time.”
Longtime London Terrace Gardens residents Adrienne and Frank Fallino said past operators, including Barchetta and La Traviata, had served up a “clatter of dishes, smoking, fights, laughing and loud talking.”
“It was a terrible hardship. And this new applicant has a track record,” said Frank Fallino. “We are not unreasonable; it’s not like we don’t want a restaurant there. We just don’t want a disturbance.”
Carolyn Dobbs echoed this sentiment, saying, “A restaurant can add a lot to our neighborhood, but when you operate outside the law or are loud, it’s a nuisance. Mankoff said to support my argument with numbers, so here are some: Zero is for DOB permits they got for building their bar and bathroom. One is for liquor licenses cancelled. Two is Community Boards with whom he’s had terrible relations. Five is for ECB [Environmental Control Board] violations for illegal benches, and 52 are the number of 311 complaints in one year for loud music. We have real concerns he won’t operate within the parameters of the law with this place, either.”
London Terrace Towers resident Ann Northrop bemoaned having to “go down this road again.” She then read a statement from London Terrace Gardens resident Inge Ivchenko, which said that while neighbors would welcome “a nice vegetarian restaurant with beer and wine and no sidewalk cafe,” the owner’s insistence on late hours, a liquor license, and outdoor seating seemed to indicate the business was “a front for a late-night lounge or club with smoking and loitering, as Emil has done in other places. He’s been a bad actor in the past. If he shows he is a friend to the neighborhood, we can loosen some restrictions, but we have been down this road and been burnt before.”
London Terrace Towers resident Harry Hines spelled out the crux of the situation. Many community members were concerned that the SLA was “rubber-stamping” liquor licenses for business owners who were clearly not good operators.
“We understand that a liquor license is a valuable thing, but it’s not a right that anyone has to have, it’s a privilege that the city gives,” he said. “If someone with such a bad record can succeed in getting one, what’s the point of even having hearings about it?”
The full membership of CB4 voted to recommend denial of the new liquor license for Maldon, LLC, further stipulating that if the SLA considered granting the license, it would be under the stipulations that the restaurant closed at 11 p.m. daily, played background music only, and had no sidewalk cafe.
UPDATE: As we were going to press with this article, Andy Humm told us via email: “The applicant we were opposing, Emil Stefkov of Maldon LLC, does not ‘plan’ to go forward with his application to the SLA according to his attorney. We are now dealing with a new applicant for the same space, Marco Britti, and have met with him and we are in the process of formulating our stance towards him as he goes before the BLP on Tues., April 18 at the Yotel.”
The next full board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wed., May 3 in the Dan Carpenter Room at Hudson Guild (441 W. 26 St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.). Visit nyc.gov/mcb4.
By JILLIAN JORGENSEN
Wednesday, April 12
Just in time for Tax Day — and protests of President Trump that are planned to accompany it — one city councilman is hoping to use Trump’s city golf course as leverage to get a look at his tax returns.
Councilman Corey Johnson plans to introduce legislation that would require a very specific subset of vendors with contracts for city concessions to turn over the “personal tax returns of any individual named in the entity.”
How specific is it? It only applies to one vendor: Trump Ferry Point LLC, the company behind Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, the massively expensive municipal golf course in the Bronx that Trump’s ompany now runs.
“He’s making tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars off of city property with his name emblazoned all over it,” Johnson (D-Manhattan) said, “and this is a leverage point to try to peek into his tax returns.”
Trump refused to release his tax returns while running for President, brushing off decades of political norms that saw candidates turn them over for the inspection of the press and the public.
While some pages of past returns have since leaked, activists are continuing to ask for full disclosure — a request that will be highlighted at Tax Day marches planned for this weekend.
This wouldn’t be the first bit of local legislation aimed at getting to Trump’s tax returns.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) introduced the Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public, or TRUMP, Act, which would require anyone running for president on a ballot in New York to turn over their tax returns. Many other states have since introduced similar legislation.
But Johnson’s bill, which is still being drafted and would likely be introduced next month, is exceedingly narrowly tailored in an effort to avoid having it apply to anyone with city concessions contracts outside the Trump family.
It applies only to non-public benefit organizations that have concessions that generate $0 in “approximate gross revenue received” — a small group of companies that includes Trump Ferry Point LLC, since the company isn’t required to remit licensing fees to the city for the golf course until 2019.
The legislation would require the disclosure “the personal tax returns of any individual named in the entity entering into the concession agreement” — and Trump Ferry Point is the only vendor with an individual name in it.
If passed, the law would mean any one of those individuals — in this case, Donald Trump or his relatives at the company — would have to release their tax returns annually, as long as the company doesn’t provide the city profit, and as part of Vendex questionnaires, filed every three years.
Johnson admitted the Council typically doesn’t make laws aimed at a single person.
“But what I have a bigger problem with is the fact that the President of the United States has refused to make his tax returns public so Americans know what his business dealings and interests are,” Johnson said. “He’s someone who has talked about being able to exploit loopholes in the tax code, so this is a way to try to understand what loopholes he’s exploiting.”
Trump’s concessions with the city have come under scrutiny before, with local elected officials making noise about reviewing the contracts following the then-candidates comments about Mexicans in his kick-off speech.
But Trump argued that would be a violation of his freedom of speech, and the city eventually determined it had no legal way to back out of its deals with Trump at the golf course, as well as a carousel and Wollman Rink in Central Park.
A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.