NEWS AND ISSUES
January 2012 Community Report
The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:
Supporting Governor Cuomo's Progressive 2012 Legislative Agenda
In his January 4 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo laid out a largely progressive agenda for 2012. There are many areas where the Governor's stated priorities and my own align:
- I strongly support the Governor's call for campaign finance reform, including public financing and lower contribution limits; this is absolutely crucial in our fight against Upstate Republican senators, fueled by the contributions of rich landlords, who consistently advocate for and push legislation to dismantle the rent regulations that are so important to our communities yet have no impact on their own constituents. This cynical and harmful game will continue until we tighten our campaign finance laws.
- I appreciate the Governor's support for rent regulations and his commitment to establish a Tenant Protection Unit within the NYS Dept. of Homes and Community Renewal; we also have to work hard this session to repeal vacancy destabilization, end the owner-use eviction loophole, reform the MCI program, pass my Rent Board Reform Bill, which among many other provisions would end the Maximum Base Rent system for adjusting rents in units subject to the city rent control law, and so much more to preserve our stock of affordable housing.
- I have long called for the establishment of an Independent Redistricting Commission to ensure fair and representative elections and I was pleased to hear the Governor reiterate his demand for this to occur.
- I am grateful for the Governor's reiterated call for a New York State Health Insurance Exchange (please see the item below). This past June, with no explanation, the Health Exchange bill was pulled from the Senate floor by the Republican Majority moments before the final vote. We need comprehensive affordable health care for all and I will once again introduce legislation that would create a publicly financed health insurance program for all New Yorkers.
- I also applaud Governor Cuomo's plans to fight child hunger and, in particular, his call for an end to fingerprinting food stamp applicants and other cruel, unnecessary and stigmatizing barriers.
- I appreciated his pledge to fight for passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which would affirmatively state for the first time in State law that a woman has the right to control her own reproductive health; ensure that a woman will be able to seek abortion care if her health is endangered; treat the regulation of abortion as an issue of public health and medical practice, rather than as a potential crime; and guarantee everyone the right to use or refuse contraception.
Of course, there are points on which I respectfully disagree with the Governor, including his call for the expansion of New York State's DNA databank to include any person convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. The pitfalls of adding an abundance of new DNA profiles to the State's database go far beyond legitimate concerns about the civil liberties of convicted criminals or innocent persons falsely accused. There are critical questions about the costs of collecting and logging significantly more profiles, the capacity of State crime labs to process additional samples, the ability of DNA technicians and police officers to properly handle this additional genetic material and even about effectiveness.
And I will continue to fight for passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, legislation enabling victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue truth and justice, a ban on hydrofracking, an end to the Maximum Base Rent adjustment for rent controlled tenants, extension of the millionaire tax, and other personal legislative priorities.
As the 2012 Legislative Session progresses, I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and my colleagues in both houses of the legislature and both sides of the aisle on these important goals.
Calling for Bi-partisan Action on a New York State Insurance Exchange
As you may know, the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires each state to establish, by 2014, a health insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses can purchase affordable health insurance plans. By delaying the establishment of its health insurance exchange, New York risks losing tens of millions of dollars in much needed federal money that would allow over one million individually uninsured New Yorkers and small business employees to have health insurance coverage and regular access to health care. Furthermore, if we do not create our own exchange, the federal government will step in and do it for us. There is no question New York would be better served by setting up its own exchange based on what New Yorkers need. Last June, insurance exchange legislation passed the New York State Assembly but it stalled in the Republican-led State Senate. In his 2012 State of the State message, Governor Cuomo called for the passage of exchange legislation this Session and on January 10, I was joined by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson and Senator Neil Breslin in calling on Senator Majority Leader Dean Skelos to make bi-partisan passage of this important legislation our Senate priority. Please see a .pdf of our letter here.
Participating in the ST-PCV Tenants Association's Telephone Town Hall
On Sunday, December 18, I participated in a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village (ST-PCV) Tenants Association (TA) Telephone Town Hall. The hour and fifteen minute event focused on residents' questions about the TA's recently announced proposal to partner with Brookfield Asset Management on a tenant-led, non-eviction conversion plan that would protect current residents and help preserve the middle-class character of this historic community. Nearly 25 questions were answered by Meredith Kane from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Alex Rubin from Moelis & Co.; Jonathan Moore from Brookfield Asset Management; TA President Al Doyle; New York City Councilmember Dan Garodnick; New York State Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and myself. The call was kicked off by New York's senior U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.
In addition to answering questions, I voiced my continued support for tenants? rights and for maintaining ST-PCV as a haven for middle-class New Yorkers. I will continue to work with my colleagues in government, the TA and stakeholders as the conversion plan evolves.
Helping Stein Senior Center Transition to a New Home
As you may be aware, Stein Senior Center's lease at 340 East 24th Street expired at the end of 2011. It is very important to me and your other local elected officials that the center has a smooth and successful transition to its new home in the community at the Uniformed Firefighters Association building at 204 East 23rd Street. Until that space is renovated, Stein Senior Center plans to operate out of the East End Temple, located at 245 East 17th Street. In this temporary home, the center is now serving lunch daily and continues to provide activities including belly dancing, Tai Chi, knitting, meditation, yoga, Spanish, and folk dancing. It is important to note that the center's hours of operation have been adjusted to accommodate the East End Temple's afternoon programs; the center will be open Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 2:00pm.
I will continue to work with Stein Senior Center's leadership, the New York City Department for the Aging and my colleagues in government to ensure that our beloved senior center may move into its new permanent space as quickly as possible and is able to serve our community's elderly for years to come.
Testifying before the City Council in Support of Storm Surge Barriers
On December 16, I was joined by Assembly Member Dick Gottfried in submitting joint testimony at a New York City Council oversight hearing on "Climate Change Impacts and Mitigation Measures in New York City." In our testimony, we referenced a report that was issued by the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force which recognized that exceptional measures such as storm-surge barriers may be necessary to protect New York City's coastal infrastructure and communities. We noted that the City's experience this past August when Hurricane Irene bore down our shores only underscores the urgent need for such measures to be implemented. We urged the New York City Council to heed those recommendations as it evaluates mitigation measures the City should take to prepare for climate change. Please see our testimony here.
Inviting Neighbors to a CB4 SLA Forum on January 19
At a recent block association meeting, I heard numerous concerns relating to the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA). In response, I am holding a CB4 SLA Forum at which representatives from the SLA and various other City agencies, including the NYPD, will be available to answer questions and shed light on bar and nightlife issues. I am pleased that CB4 has agreed to co-sponsor this event with me. I encourage all to attend at 6 p.m. on January 19 at Local 802, 322 West 48th Street. For more information please contact Sarah Meier-Zimbler in my office at 212-633-8052.
Announcing Progress at Alice's Garden
For nearly a year, I have been facilitating negotiations between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) and community organizations to ensure that Alice's Garden, a small strip of Port Authority-owned green space between 33rd and 34th Streets and 9th and 10th Avenues, becomes a community garden. I am pleased to announce that at the end of December, my office received a preliminary lease agreement from the Port Authority. I am hopeful that a final lease will be signed this winter so that the garden will be open to the public this spring. After many community Clean-Up Days this past spring and summer, the garden, with its newly installed brick path, will be a wonderful, much-needed community green space for all to enjoy. I encourage anyone who would like more information, or to become involved in the garden, to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remembering Mary Spink
I was saddened to learn that earlier this month, Manhattan Community Board 3 member and longtime community activist Mary Spink passed away. As you all know, Mary was a tireless advocate for her community, volunteering for and serving on the boards of many local organizations including the Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union and the Lower Eastside Girls Club. She was also known for her dedication to preserving and expanding affordable housing in CB3, a passion that she fulfilled in her role as Executive Director of the Lower East Side People's Mutual Housing Association. Last year, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron chose her to receive the Senate's Woman of Distinction Award. Mary will be greatly missed, and I offer my condolences to her family and all who loved her.
Announcing Volunteer Opportunities for Older Adults
The Advocacy, Counseling and Entitlement Services Project of the Community Service Society is seeking individuals age 55+ to serve as volunteer public benefit counselors dedicated to helping financially disadvantaged people. Volunteers will directly assist low-income families, older adults and individuals with disabilities with completing applications and resolving problems with their benefits. No prior benefit experience is required. The training program begins on April 3, 2012. For information, please contact Edwina Osborne at (212) 614-5412 or Germania Collado at (212) 614-5467.