Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried
242 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212-807-7900, E-mail: GottfrR@nysa.us

Assembly Member Dick Gottfried
Community Update from
Assembly Member
Dick Gottfried
December 2011


Support for NYC
“Living Wage” Bill

New York City spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to subsidize development projects, but too often this does not result in the creation of jobs that pay a living wage. Particularly now when, in our district, major developments with massive public support are slated for the Eastern and Western Rail Yards, it is critical to ensure that the thousands of jobs that will be created do as much as possible for New Yorkers in these difficult economic times.

The Living Wage bill (Intro. 251-A) being considered by the City Council will go a long way in achieving fairness for working New Yorkers by guaranteeing that those employed by developers and their contractors at major, publicly-subsidized developments earn wages over $10 per hour (indexed to inflation), and provide for additional wages when health benefits are not provided. Small businesses, some affordable housing developments, and developments for manufacturing uses are exempt from these conditions under the amended bill.

Sales personnel are generally underpaid, regardless of the price of the commodities they sell in the stores they work for, and retailers choose their locations based on what the local market can bear. Stores and other businesses get enormous economic benefit from being located in publicly-subsidized developments. Their employees ought to share in that benefit.

With hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers struggling to survive on low wages, the time for a living wage has come. More than 140 cities across the country have instituted living wage ordinances, and New York should be leading the way, not dragging its feet behind.

photo

Rally for Workers at HarperCollins Publishing

Across the state and country, organized labor is under attack. Other states have passed laws to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. We haven’t done that in New York, but large corporations are trying to take away workers’ rights.

State Senator Liz Krueger and I joined UAW Local 2110 at HarperCollins (a Rupert Murdoch NewsCorp subsidiary) to protest cuts in their health coverage, collective bargaining, and gutting of the seniority system. The publishing industry has taken a hit with the soured economy and the need to adjust to the move to e-books. But this should not be an excuse for hurting working people, especially in the billionaire-Murdoch empire.


Reforming Albany

We’re sick of the scandals that plague federal, state, and local government. I believe that a number of measures can make a real difference in New York State.

This year, the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo passed the Public Integrity and Reform Act of 2011. This long-overdue new law strengthens ethics rules for public officials. Its provisions include:

To read this bill or its sponsor memo, you can look it up on http://public.leginfo.ny.us (type in “a8301”).

There is still more work to be done, including campaign finance reform and independent redistricting. I believe that the Assembly can and should be a leader on these issues.

Hell’s Kitchen DOT Traffic Study

Hell’s Kitchen traffic, created largely by the Lincoln Tunnel and Port Authority Bus Terminal, is a danger to the community in many ways. The growth in population and business on the West Side has added foot traffic, requiring new safety improvements. After nearly four years, the NYC Dept. of Transportation released its findings and recommendations.

The study area covered W. 34th St. to W. 55th St., Eighth Ave. to the Hudson River. Here are a few of the safety improvements put into place by DOT, largely in response to community activism:

Going forward, I will continue to work for: a greening of the “canoe” at 36th Street between Ninth and Dyer Aves., the implementation of specific safety measures as bike paths make their way north, and review of all requests made by the community to determine viability. This project has been a long time coming and I am pleased with the outcome so far. It is important that we continue to work towards making our neighborhoods safer and more livable.

Assisting Tenants at 10 W. 65 St.

In August, the tenants at 10 West 65th Street had an emergency gas outage. The building, now owned by Touro College, is occupied by a mix of Touro students and long-time Rent-Stabilized tenants.

The tenants were without cooking gas for 49 days and had to purchase many of their meals from restaurants. The tenants were not getting adequate compensation from Touro. I worked with the other local elected officials and Community Board 7, and we won a more equitable settlement for the tenants.

If you or your tenant association needs help with your landlord, please contact my community office at 212-807-7900, GottfriedR@assembly.state.ny.us.

Working to Reduce Overcrowding at PS 116

Overcrowding in our schools is a growing problem, especially in Manhattan. Skyrocketing development means more school-age children in public school classrooms. On the East Side, the proposed PS 281 would be a help to alleviate overcrowding especially at PS 116, but the school is not slated to open until 2013 and overcrowding is an issue today.

Last month, I joined City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Liz Krueger, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh urging City School Chancellor Dennis Walcott to proceed with a process known as “incubation,” which would permit two Kindergarten classes to begin before the PS 281’s official opening. Community Board 5 and 6 both support this plan, as it will surely help to ease overcrowding. The City Dept. of Education is reviewing our proposal.

Illegal Hotel Update

Illegal hotels are units that are supposed to be apartments but are illegally used as transient hotel rooms. Illegal hotels take available apartments from an already tight housing market, and disrupt the lives of the residents who still live in the building.

State Senator Liz Krueger and I won an important victory for tenants when we passed the new Illegal Hotel Law, which makes the law clear that residential units are for residential, not transient use. It was proposed by the New York City administration and went into effect on May 1, 2011.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement has been actively using the new law to crack down on illegal operators.

If there is an illegal hotel problem in your building, contact Eliyanna Kaiser in my community office at 212-807-7900, or GottfriedR@assembly.state.ny.us.

The Impact of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Part of my job is defending free speech and advancing social justice. In October, I joined thousands of others to protest the City’s decision to oust the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park. I support U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s call for a federal investigation of the police raid that emptied the site on Nov. 15.

A lot of people are asking: What is the “Occupy” movement all about? I think we have a fundamental choice: (1) We can keep undermining the American dream by cutting education for our children, undermining health care, and increasing unemployment by laying off workers who do all sorts of public service work. (2) Or we can ask the top 1% wealthiest among us to pay a slightly larger slice of their extraordinary wealth to benefit the whole community. I favor the second option.

I agree with billionaire Warren Buffett: “Our leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’ But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched. I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.”

I think John F. Kennedy had it right: “Of those to whom much is given, much is required.”

Let’s keep fighting for the 99%.

Rent Laws Renewed and Strengthened

In June, the State Legislature approved a renewal of the Rent Stabilization Law, which strengthened tenant protections for the first time since 1993. The legislation raises the vacancy deregulation threshold from $2,000 to $2,500, and increases the income threshold for “high income” deregulation from $175,000 to $200,000. This change will preserve more of the city’s affordable housing stock by making it more difficult to deregulate units.

In parts of the city where stabilized rents are approaching or surpassing $2,000, such as our community, long-time residents will be protected from steep rent increases. While it’s good that the thresholds were raised, this only gives temporary security to many tenants. Vacancy deregulation and upper income deregulation should be repealed.

The new law also reduces the rent increase allowed for Major Capital Improvements in buildings with more than 35 units from 1/40 to 1/60 of the rent.

In previous years, when Rent Stabilization was up for renewal, the anti-tenant position of the State Senate always meant that renewal of the law was combined with changes that weakened the law. This year, the Assembly’s strong support of the law was backed by Governor Cuomo, and the result was some improvements and no “give-backs.”


Redistricting

“Redistricting” is necessary every ten years because after the census, districts for Congress, the State Legislature and the City Council have to be redrawn to make sure they have equal population. I support an open, independent, and transparent process for redistricting. Communities should be kept together as much as possible, and district lines should not be drawn for political purposes. Under the Federal Voting Rights Act, New York’s districts must maximize the voting strength of minority communities.

I signed on to legislation introduced by Governor Cuomo, Senator Gianaris and Assembly Speaker Silver (A.5388), which would create an independent redistricting commission, with an open public process and fair districting criteria, for determining New York State Assembly, Senate and Congressional districts. The proposed five-member commission would have a process intended to promote independence and geographical and ethnic diversity of the members and would have to follow specific criteria when drawing the districts. However, as of now this concept is not being adopted.

New York State law now requires that we count prison inmates as being from their home district, not where they are in prison. That makes sense. They do not vote when in prison, but will be voters when released. The State Senate is pushing to repeal that law before the new districts are drawn.

Tenants Forced Out Through Landlord Loophole

photo
At the rally for the tenants at 221 W. 16 St., joining me were Fulton Houses tenant leader Miguel Acevedo (second from left), City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Sen. Tom Duane, and Community Board 4 chair Corey Johnson (right).

In early November, my office was notified that tenants in five apartments at 221 W. 16 St. were being evicted from their long-time homes by the owner of the building under the “owner occupancy” loophole.

The rent laws allow a landlord to evict most tenants on grounds that the landlord wants to use the apartment for “personal use.” A landlord can evict as many tenants in a building as he or she wants based on this claim. It is a major loophole that has taken thousands of apartments away from tenants and rent protection.

My office, along with State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, quickly organized a press conference and rally appealing to the landlord to halt the evictions. Unfortunately, we were brought into the case very late, and we could not stop the evictions.

The case had been in court for nearly six years. If the local elected officials had found out sooner, there may have been more that could have been achieved. For example, these tenants received no compensation for being forced from their homes.

Bills pending in Albany seek to end this loophole. Assembly Housing Committee chair Vito Lopez and Senators Daniel Squadron and Adriano Espaillat have bills to require a landlord to show a compelling, immediate need for the housing, and limit the landlord to only one unit for personal use, among other restrictions. My bill would repeal the “personal use” loophole entirely.

Landlords who try to use this provision usually have owned the building for much less time than the families they are evicting have lived there. I believe the law should protect people’s right to their homes.

If your landlord is creating problems for you, please do not hesitate to call my community office at 212-807-7900, GottfriedR@assembly.state.ny.us.


“Fracking” Update

Natural gas drilling companies are eager to begin horizontal hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations in many upstate New York areas, including areas that provide the drinking water for New York City. Fracking injects huge amounts of water laced with toxic chemicals, under high pressure, underground to break up the rock and release natural gas. These toxic fluids may migrate for miles underground and pollute the environment, especially our water supply. There have been numerous cases around the country of water supplies being contaminated by fracking.

The Assembly Committee on Health, which I chair, co-sponsored a hearing with the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation to study the effects of fracking on public health. The scientific testimony we received made a compelling case against fracking – especially horizontal fracking. After the hearing, Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chair Robert Sweeney and I wrote to Governor Cuomo, urging that the State Dept. of Health have a more prominent role in the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on fracking.

The Assembly passed a bill A. 7400 (Sweeney) to extend the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York State until June 1, 2012. Unfortunately, the State Senate did not take it up. There are many anti-fracking bills the Assembly has passed.

At the end of June, Gov. Cuomo partially lifted the moratorium. Fracking would still be prohibited in areas near the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. However, other parts of the state will no longer be protected.

I also signed on to a letter spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group, calling on the Federal Department of Energy to appoint environmental advocates to its advisory board on natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing.

The environment and health and well-being of New Yorkers go hand in hand. Detrimental environmental conditions unfold across the world, and many could have been prevented if the information presented from the beginning was accepted. In November, I testified before the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. I urged them to stand up to their name and not allow hydrofracking anywhere in New York state.


I Didn’t Grow Up to Be a Fireman, but ...
photo

In August, I attended a training hosted by the Fire Department and the firefighter unions on Randalls Island. We spent most of the time wearing about 80 pounds of gear – helmet, protective coat, oxygen tank and mask, steel-sole boots – and carrying axes and other equipment, dragging a hose up and down stairs, into rooms with flames and smoke. We got a small taste of what our firefighters go through, especially with staff cutbacks. I’m more impressed with them than ever! I was joined by fellow elected officials, Council Members Dan Garodnick (left) and Jumaane Williams (center). In the photo on the right, you can hardly see anything – neither could we! The tall one is Williams; of the other two, I don’t know which one is me or Garodnick.


KEEP UP TO DATE ON ALBANY AND COMMUNITY ISSUES

Please print, fill out, and return this coupon to: Assembly Member Dick Gottfried’s Community Office
242 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001. Email: GottfrR@assembly.state.ny.us

Name_______________________________________________ Home Phone _______________________

Address _______________________________________________________________________________

City _______________________________________________,State __________ Zip_________________

E-mail ________________________________________ Work Phone ______________________________