Monday, August 27, 2012

Taxi Trouble Highlights Stringer Leadership

After NY courts blocked Mayor Bloomberg's plan for establishing taxi service within NYC's outer boroughs, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's mature and even-handed recommendations for how to address the taxi issue are gaining support

Bloomberg Blocked

The plan pushed forward by Mayor Bloomberg to sell taxi medallions for use in the outer boroughs was blocked by Judge Arthur Engoron. The key reason for the court action was Mayor Bloomberg's decision to by-pass the New York City Council as he sought to implement his plan. Judge Engoron determined that Bloomberg had an obligation to get the approval of the city council in order to move his plan forward.

New York Observer Says It All

The New York Observer crystallized both the challenges that result from the court's action and the proper path forward, as led by the vision of Scott Stringer:

"Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has a novel idea to help settle not just a dispute over livery service outside of Manhattan, but a sudden chasm in the city’s budget. Mr. Stringer suggests that the parties involved put their heads together and devise a solution acceptable to everyone.
Right now, that’s the best course of action.

A state Supreme Court justice recently threw out a state law that would have allowed the expansion of street hails to the outer boroughs and northern Manhattan, areas that have been underserved by the yellow cab industry. The judge ruled that the city illegally circumvented the City Council’s authority when it went to Albany for approval. The yellow cab industry has lots of friends on the Council, so the measure stood little chance for approval there.

So now the law is dead. But there’s more to it. Another clause in the legislation authorized the city to sell 2,000 more medallions for handicapped-accessible yellow taxis. The city figured it would make about $1 billion from the medallion sale—and that revenue is included in this year’s budget. The Mayor has warned that without that billion dollars, he’ll have to lay off hundreds of workers and cut services to close the gap. So his corporation counsel’s office has vowed to appeal the judge’s decision.

Mr. Stringer, a contender to succeed Mr. Bloomberg in next year’s mayoral election, noted that appeals process is bound to take many months, with an uncertain result. Rather than continue to contest the issue in court, he said, why not get the administration, the Council and the industry together and hash out a solution that everybody can live with, even if it isn’t perfect?

There are times when politicians—the best of them, anyway—are obliged to stand and fight for what they believe. This isn’t one of those times. The city needs a billion dollars. Residents of the outer boroughs want access to hail-service livery cabs. The industry wants some protections. The Council very likely will settle for whatever deal the industry can cut with the administration.

Matters of graver importance have been worked out by reasonable people in the past. There should be no reason why this one can’t be sorted out outside of a courtroom. While the city has every right to appeal the decision, it also needs a quick solution.

That will come not through courtroom argument, but through skilled political negotiation."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bloomberg Crony Connection at Tavern on the Green

Last week, we learned that Tavern on the Green, which is in our city's Central Park, was awarded to the brother-in-law of Mayor Bloomberg's campaign manager.

Tavern on the Green

In 1934, during the era of Robert Moses, Tavern on the Green began its life as a restaurant, and the restaurant thrived and grew until its operator's license was not renewed in 2009.

New Operator

Last week, New York City chose as the new operator of Tavern on the Green a Philadelphia-based company that currently manages a 70-seat restaurant. But, Tavern on the Green had 800 seats, and the new restaurant is planned for 600 seats.

As stated in the NY Times: Stephen Starr, who operates large restaurants in Philadelphia, New York and Florida, said he was surprised by the city’s choice of the operator of a small bistro. “It’s a daunting task, to go from 70 to 600 seats, but you never know,” he said. “Rocky beat Apollo Creed in the end.”       

Bloomberg Crony Connection

In an unfortunate twist, the new operator of Tavern on the Green is not only a small operator with only 70 seats under management, the new operator seems to be closely connected to Mayor Bloomberg. The owner of the new operator is the brother-in-law of Mayor Bloomberg's campaign manager.

"The winning out-of-town bidders who nabbed the right to run Tavern on the Green have never operated in New York — but they have family ties to one of Mayor Bloomberg’s top confidants.

One of the owners is the brother-in-law of former Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey.

Officials confirmed yesterday that Jim Caiola, who runs the Philadelphia-based Emerald Green Group with partner David Salama, is the brother of Sheekey’s wife, Robin. The relationship was not disclosed when the Parks Department announced Thursday that Emerald Green had beaten out three other groups competing for the 20-year lease on one of the nation’s most storied eateries, located in Central Park.
“Off the record, I’m speechless,” said a source who works for a rival bidder. City officials insisted everything was conducted on the up-and-up and without favoritism. “They won on the merits, and the entire process was handled by the book,” said mayoral spokesman Marc LaVorgna.

Sheekey left city government two years ago, but continues to have close ties to the mayor and the administration as an executive at Bloomberg LP, the mayor’s information-services company. As top political adviser, Sheekey led two of Hizzoner’s election campaigns and was the driving force behind Bloomberg’s presidential flirtation in 2007."

This type of "inside job" is unsurprising for the Bloomberg Administration, but we should not accept it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

NYC Olympics Would Be Starting Now

NYC sought to host this year's Olympics. If that effort had succeeded, the 2012 Olympics would be commencing in our city now.

NYC 2012 Olympic Bid

Soon after his first election, Mayor Bloomberg and his advisors began pushing the concept of the 2012 Olympics being held in NYC. Baseball was to be played at Yankee Stadium, and basketball was to be played at Madison Square Garden. The city was to be transformed by $3.2 billion of investment that included the building of a new football stadium in Manhattan and a beautiful Olympic Village across from the UN in Queens.

In the end, while NYC was chosen as the top US proposal for the 2012 Olympics, London was chosen to host the games this year.

Victory Through Defeat?

While New Yorkers were disappointed to lose to London, many believe that losing the bid was a blessing in disguise. There are even some key opportunities growing directly out of that defeat.

As stated in the Guardian:

Seven years later, when our economy has wobbled but our mayor is somehow still standing, it's clear even to those in thrall to the gods of sport and real estate that losing the Games was a great mercy. The sensible parts of the NYC 2012 bid have been implemented anyway, such as the extension of the 7 subway line, ferry service along the East River, and the re-zoning of a neglected industrial site along the Hudson. The elevated park known as the High Line was slated for demolition before the 2012 bid; it's since become Manhattan's most successful urban redevelopment in decades.

At the same time, New York has dodged the white elephants that, as Athenians and Beijingers know, start crumbling days after the closing ceremony. Manhattan was spared a giant $2bn stadium on the west side, though Brooklyn was not so lucky, and the big facility for badminton and judo lives on only in dreams. New Yorkers are free to buy Pepsi instead of Coke anywhere they please – though soon, if the mayor has his way, only in 16-ounce cups.

Now, as the American press looks pitifully on London for its insufficient transportation system or absurd brand-exclusivity police, I can only look and say: don't laugh, it could have been us. It's not easy to watch London, a city I love tremendously, brought low by the Olympic gentry, the carnivorous corporations, and the timid governments that obey their commands. (If even the Chinese Communist party couldn't stand up to them, what chance did Britain have?) But the one good thing that could result from these desperate Games would be to wake everyone up to the economic, social and urban devastation that these spectacles cause.

And yet, people are starting to talk about New York 2024. You'd think we'd learn.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Slowing Stop and Frisk

After repeated increases, the number of stop and frisk incidents declined 25% in the second quarter of 2012 compared with 2011. The reasons for the decline are many.


Ever since Bloomberg became Mayor, the tactic of stopping and frisking innocent New Yorkers has become an obsession for NYC law enforcement. The number of stops has risen from less than 100,000 in the pre-Bloomberg era to nearly 700,000 last year. Nearly 90% of those stopped are Black or Hispanic, but white residents who are stopped are more than twice as likely to be carrying illegal weapons or drugs. More than 90% of those stopped are not issued a summons or arrested. Even in low-crime neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are stopped in far larger number than their population would suggest appropriate. These stops are a terrorist tactic adopted by Mayor Bloomberg and used as the primary law enforcement approach by the NYPD.

Recently, a federal judge certified a class action suit against NYC based on the stop and frisk abuses, and a silent march was held in June on Father's Day to protest the tactic and to seek its end.

Declining Abuse

The protest and the class action suit seem to be having an impact on law enforcement tactics.

In the months, of April, May, and June of 2012, NYPD officers conducted 25% less stops than in the same period in 2011. But, the number of stops was still a sky-high 133,000. We cannot accept these outrageous tactics. The 25% decline is not nearly enough. NYC is still on pace to have more than 600,000 stops in 2012, and such a performance would reinforce the need for the Mayor and the police commissioner to resign.

The NYPD is claiming that the decline in stop and frisk incidents is a result of changes in the NYPD's placement of rookies. The NYPD states that rookies have been placed in high crime areas and told to stop any suspicious people and that rookies are now being placed elsewhere. The approach of making rookies the engine of the stop and frisk abuses is itself outrageous. They learn, early in their careers, to abuse residents of color and to over-emphasize stopping innocent people rather than identifying criminals or reducing crime.

Letitia James, a critic of stop-and-frisk, isn't buying the NYPD's rationale. "I reject their reason for the reduction in stop and frisks. The reduction in stop and frisks is directly related to the criticism of the practice, of the abuse of the practice."

Officers tell WNYC that the 2nd quarter drop was expected, due to a reluctance by cops to conduct stops under growing controversy about the tactic.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said it was encouraged by the data. “This reduction is a good start, but much more needs to be done to rebuild community trust and protect New Yorkers from illegal and racially biased street stops,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
Let's hope that the "much more" Donna Lieberman wishes for will come in short order.