Blaming Mayor de Blasio and his allies, 2017 candidates say small businesses face commercial rent crisis

Democratic Party primary mayoral candidate Sal Albanese makes a campaign promise to pass commercial rent regulation protections for small businesses within his first year in office, if he is elected mayor.

Steven Barrison, at the podium at left, said that small businesses were the backbone of the New York City economy.  Source :  Louis Flores/Progress Queens

Steven Barrison, at the podium at left, said that small businesses were the backbone of the New York City economy.  Source :  Louis Flores/Progress Queens

By LOUIS FLORES

In recent year, residential tenants living in rent-regulated apartments in New York City have faced annual rent increases of one to eight percent upon lease renewal, but many entrepreneurs operating small businesses with no protection of rent regulations have faced rent increases of up to 1 000 per cent. upon their lease renewal. The spectre of such a contrast was invoked by Steven Barrison, an attorney who acts as spokesperson for the Small Business Congress, a group of small businesses advocating for enactment of rent regulation protections for small businesses in New York City.

As a press conference last Wednesday officiated by Mr. Barrison, several speakers described small businesses as the "backbone" of the New York City economy. Notwithstanding, the speakers faulted the influence that real estate developers and commercial landlords exert over Municipal politics as the reason that enactment of rent regulation protections for small business has failed to pass the New York City Council.

Speaking at the Reception House, a banquet hall in Flushing, Queens, Democratic Party primary mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, a former New York City Councilmember, charged that Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) was able to block passage of small business rent regulations with the help of his political allies in the Municipal legislature. The Municipal legislature is headed by Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), who is speaker of the New York City Council. Councilmember Mark-Viverito won the speakership campaign in January 2014 withinvaluable assistance from Mayor de Blasio, according to several press reports.

"We know where de Blasio's heart is : it's with REBNY," said Mr. Albanese, referring to the Real Estate Board of New York, a notorious lobbying group of large real estate developers and landlords. Mr. Albanese said that, "de Blasio has covered up the crisis" facing small businesses, Mr. Albanese said, adding of Mayor de Blasio, "He talks about fines, but he won't talk about rent increases." Mr. Albanese noted that when Mayor de Blasio served as a Municipal legislator he reportedly supported passage of small business rent regulation protections, a position Mayor de Blasio abandoned once he became mayor. During his remarks, Mr. Albanese made a campaign promise to seek passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or SBJSA, draft legislation that would enact rent regulation protections for small businesses, in his first year of office were he elected mayor.

Advance questions submitted to the City Hall press office were not answered for this report. The spokesperson in the City Hall press office for community and ethnic media is Jessica Ramos.

Democratic Party primary public advocate candidate David Eisenbach, an attorney, called for a freeze on evictions of small businesses and accused Public Advocate Letitia James (D-New York City) of having flipped-flopped on the SBJSA when she campaigned four years ago for her current office. Instead of following through on her previously-expressed support for small business rent protections, Public Advocate James now uses REBNY's talking points to describe draft small business rent regulations as having legal issues and possibly being unconstitutional, Mr. Eisenbach said, talking points that Mr. Eisenbach refuted.

Sung Soo Kim, centre, an advocate for the commercial rent regulation protections for small businesses, said he blamed politicians for failing to provide economic justice to small business owners facing relentless rent increases from commercial landlords.  Source :  Louis Flores/Progress Queens

Sung Soo Kim, centre, an advocate for the commercial rent regulation protections for small businesses, said he blamed politicians for failing to provide economic justice to small business owners facing relentless rent increases from commercial landlords.  Source :  Louis Flores/Progress Queens

A representative of the office of Public Advocate James did not answer requests for comment for this report.

The press conference was focused on the impact of evictions of small businesses owned by the immigrant community. Speaking on behalf of small business owners was Sung Soo Kim. "I blame politicians," Mr. Kim said, of the failure to enact basic rent regulation protections for small businesses. "Real estate is creating wealth through speculation," Mr. Kim said, adding that small business owners were working hard but were not being treated fairly by commercial landlords, demanding that, "We should be treated like human beings."

Several speakers said that thousands of small businesses were forced to close each year due to unaffordable rent increases being demanded by commercial landlords upon lease renewal. Every small business that closed eliminated many jobs, and supporters of the SBJSA said that several hundred thousand jobs have been lost due to the epidemic of small business closures under Mayor de Blasio's first term in office.

Municipal laws and public policy under the de Blasio administration have promoted relentless real estate development. Mayor de Blasio, who has reportedly targeted the real estate industry for solicitations for contributions to the nonprofit lobbying arm he once operated as an extension of the Mayor's Office, was the subject of a wide-ranging, Federal investigation to determine whether his administration was providing official acts to Big Business interests, including real estate developers, in exchange for having received political contributions, according to several press reports. To the detriment of citizens, that Federal investigation was closed without the filing of any corruption charges.

Notwithsanding, some advocates for the SBJSA have alleged that there is a culture of corruption at the New York City Council and at City Hall, which explains why the SBJSA has been unable to advance, despite so many elected officials self-identifying as "progressive."

A 2015 e-mail to Councilmember Margaret Chin from Paul Leonard, her chief of staff, was redacted before it was released to Progress Queens in response to a FOIL Request. The redacted e-mail was one of the few internal records of the New York City Council thus far released to Progress Queens in response to several FOIL Requests filed, seeking records about the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or SBJSA, draft legislation that would enact rent regulation protections for small businesses in New York City. Progress Queens later obtained an e-mail that was represented to be the redacted document, indicating that under the redacted black mark was the phrase, "fyi," attaching a forward of an e-mail from advocates lobbying in support of the SBJSA. Source : New York City/Public Domain

A 2015 e-mail to Councilmember Margaret Chin from Paul Leonard, her chief of staff, was redacted before it was released to Progress Queens in response to a FOIL Request. The redacted e-mail was one of the few internal records of the New York City Council thus far released to Progress Queens in response to several FOIL Requests filed, seeking records about the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or SBJSA, draft legislation that would enact rent regulation protections for small businesses in New York City. Progress Queens later obtained an e-mail that was represented to be the redacted document, indicating that under the redacted black mark was the phrase, "fyi," attaching a forward of an e-mail from advocates lobbying in support of the SBJSA. Source : New York City/Public Domain

Several requests were filed by Progress Queens under the State's Freedom of Information Law, seeking Government records about the SBJSA from several public officials. The Office of Mayor de Blasio has thus far not released any records and has conveniently postponed the potential release of records, if any, until after the November general election, informing Progress Queens in an e-mail communication that, " You can expect a response on or about Friday, November 17, 2017. " The office of Borough President Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) has not released any records. The New York City Council has released at least some records made in response to requests for documents from Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Councilmembers Julissa Ferreras Copeland (D-Corona), David Greenfrield (D-Borough Park), and Margaret Chin (D-Chinatown). However, those records were largely comprised of documents showing a brief lobbying campaign by supporters of the SBJSA, seeking action around draft legislation for small business rent regulations. Notably, some documents were redacted, as was a brief, internal New York City Council e-mail to Councilmember Chin from Paul Leonard, her chief of staff. Progress Queens later obtained an e-mail represented to be the original of the redacted document. In a statement issued to Progress Queens about the SBJSA, Mr. Leonard stated, in relevant part, that Councilmember Chin "is of course in favor of the bill and is advocating for a hearing on the legislation. Hearing dates at the Council are set by chairs of relevant committees," referring to Councilmember Cornegy, Jr.

Separately, a records officer for the New York City Council has stated that no records about SBJSA existed for Carlos Beato, a former lobbyist with a firm with close ties to Council Speaker Mark-Viverito. Mr. Beato was appointed to deputy general counsel of the New York City Council by Council Speaker Mark-Viverito in 2014. The New York City Council has yet to respond to open records requests for Councilmember Robert Cornegy, Jr. (D- Bedford Stuyvesant), Matt Gewolb, and Robert Newman. Councilmember Cornegy chairs the New York City Council committee on small businesses. (A late press inquiry was made to Councilmember Cornegy, Jr. ; should an interview take place, the outcome of that interview will be included in this report.) Mr. Gewolb replaced Mr. Newman as legislative director of the New York City Council in 2014, with Mr. Newman taking on the role of special counsel to the New York City Council. All are in a position to have discretion over advance talks in respect of legislation to enact rent regulation protections for small businesses.

The uneven responses by several Municipal offices comes after the de Blasio administration was shown, in 2015, to be micromanaging right out of City Hall all politically-sensitive FOIL Requests that could reflect on the Mayor's Office, according to a report published by The Associated Press.

Not even in the face of the reported crisis facing small businesses or in response to a brief lobbying campaign did key Municipal leaders ever take action to advance draft legislation for small business rent regulations, based on the FOIL Responses provided to Progress Queens.

At a speech in 2015 at New York Law School, then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described conditions in the State Legislature that he said were unfavourable to reform and accountability, speaking of legislative leaders, in relevant part, by noting that "[Y]ou don't tolerate dissent, because you don't have to. You don't favour change or foster reform, because you don't have to, and because the status quo always benefits you." Under such conditions, then U.S. Attorney Bharara mentioned some causes of a political culture amongst elected officials, who placed citizens seeking changes in the laws and in public policies that would usher in reform at a disadvantage. "We have the issue of money [in politics]. We have the issue of the dynamic of concentration of power." Although then U.S. Attorney was speaking generally of the legislators in the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate, he could have very easily had been referring to the dynamic within the New York City Council, according to the sentiments of some Government reform activists.

Since former U.S. Attorney Bharara's successor, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, closed a wide-ranging, Federal investigation into the role of money in politics in the Municipal Government, advocates for political reform reportedly felt betrayed by the decision by the Federal prosecutors' office to not press corruption charges during an election year, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. For this report, the U.S. Attorney's Office headed by Acting U.S. Attorney Kim did not answer advanced questions submitted to his press office. Because voters have been unable to form a broad-ranging coälition working in solidarity with each other to vote out of office incumbent elected officials acting in lockstep against reform, a failure that is buoyed by political operatives loyal to incumbents, the move by the Federal prosecutors' office had the effect of immediately benefiting the sagging political fortunes of Mayor de Blasio and his allies in the New York City Council at the expense of the New Yorkers advocating for social and economic justice.

The Democratic Party primary is scheduled for Tuesday, 12 September.

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