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7/25/08 Affairs and Appointments

7/25/08 Affairs and Appointments

New York City

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9/11 Recovery
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2009 Mayoral Campaign Preview

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Entertainment Item of the Week: Second Stage Will Set Up a Broadway Shop at Helen Hayes

From Robin Pogrebin of the New York Times:

Second Stage Theater, a nonprofit Off Broadway company, has had plenty of experience transferring hit productions to Broadway, like the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” But now Second Stage is coming to stay. The company plans to announce on Friday that it has acquired the right to purchase the historic Helen Hayes Theater on West 44th Street for an undisclosed price, with programming to begin there in 2010.

Second Stage will raise $35 million to buy and renovate the theater, the company’s founding director, Carole Rothman, said. The Helen Hayes is likely to be renamed.

Continue reading about Second Stage’s move here.

Local Elected Officials Endorse “Hardship Exemption” for St. Vincent

At Landmarks Hearing, Quinn, Nadler, Stringer, and Duane Testify in Favor of Allowing St. Vincent to Demolish the O’Toole Building to Make Way for a New Hospital

From Kara Bindrim in Crain’s New York Business(article here):

Several crucial elected officials gave their support Tuesday to Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers’ plan to tear down the O’Toole Building to make way for an $835 million, 21-story hospital tower.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York state Sen. Tom Duane and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) all came out in favor of Saint Vincent’s application for a hardship exemption to demolish the building, voicing their support during a hearing with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“St. Vincent’s has made a compelling argument that the proposed hospital building offers the most efficient way to fulfill its mission,” Sen. Duane said in his testimony Tuesday, calling the demolition “the only financially feasible option, although a regrettable option.”

“The application materials make it clear that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find any location as suitable as the O’Toole site for the hospital’s modernization,” Mr. Stringer said in his testimony. The borough president also reiterated concerns over “density, shadows, and traffic” that he says will need to be addressed after the Commission’s decision.

In addition, some 100 people staged a demonstration in favor of the hospital’s plan outside the hearing Tuesday, which took place at New York University Law School in Greenwich Village. The Commission, which says it has yet to make a final decision, heard testimony from groups that included Saint Vincent and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which opposes the demolition.

Saint Vincent applied for the exemption after the Commission ruled against its initial proposal, saying the O’Toole building is an important example of modern architecture. To receive its exemption, Saint Vincent must prove the building is either physically or financially preventing it from carrying out its mission. The organization says renovating the existing hospital would be a 15-year, $1.6 billion endeavor, and argues that constructing a new facility makes more financial sense.

Precedent would agree. Since 1965, 17 nonprofits have applied for hardship exemptions. Two applications were withdrawn, but 12 of the remaining 15 were approved. Tuesday’s hearing is the first of its kind in nearly two decades.

Still, the Greenwich Village Society and other community groups remain firmly against the plan.

“I think there are very serious doubts about whether or not St. Vincent’s has really shown there are no viable alternatives,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society.

Saint Vincent’s development plan also calls for the sale of eight buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue, between West 12th and 13th streets, to the Rudin family for $310 million. That money would be used to construct the new hospital but in May, several commissioners denounced the proposal, saying the Rudin family’s plan to demolish the buildings to construct a residential tower was “inappropriate.”

Saint Vincent later revised its proposal, offering to preserve several buildings and reduce the height and bulk of others.

From Peter Kiefer of the New York Sun:

A number of local elected officials squared off against a pair of celebrity Greenwich Village residents in the ongoing debate over the construction of a new St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The City Council speaker, Christine Quinn; the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer; state Senator Thomas Duane, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler all officially endorsed plans for a new 299-foot tall hospital that would require the demolition of the O’Toole Building at 12th Street and Seventh Avenue.

At a public hearing yesterday the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission heard opposing arguments about the hospital’s “hardship exemption” case, in which hospital administrators must convince the commission that maintaining the O’Toole Building they own interferes with the hospital’s ability to carry out their charitable purpose.

Continue hereto finish Suncoverage of the Landmarks hearing on St. Vincent’s hardship application.

(Photo: Buck Ennis)

Four finalists Selected for Starrett City

Bidders vie for 46-tower complex located across 140 acres near Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn

From Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business:

The owners of Starrett City have selected four finalists from a group of eight bidders as the process of choosing a new owner for the largest federally subsidized housing complex in the country moves forward.

The finalists include: the Rev. Floyd Flake’s Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, which teamed up with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; the NHP Foundation, which teamed up with The Related Companies; a group that includes the Cogsville Group, The Housing Partnership Development Corporation, the Clarrett Group and the Christian Cultural Center; and a final bidder that includes Westbrook Partners, the Central Labor Council, Phipps Housing, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Provident Resources Group.

“We are in the playoffs,” said Ghebre Sela1ssie Mehreteab, chief executive of the NHP Foundation. “Now comes the Super Bowl.”

Bids were expected to range between $600 million and $1 billion.

Mr. Mehreteab said the finalists will now have an opportunity to give their best and final offer.

“This is central for to our mission, which is providing quality and affordable housing for low and moderate income families,” he said.

Continue reading Mr. Massey’s article here.

(Photo: AP Images)

M.T.A. Says It Plans to Seek a Second Fare Increase, This One in 2011

From the New York Times’ Ray Rivera:

As bad as the news coming out of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been lately, it got a little worse on Wednesday. The authority, which had already announced plans to raise fares and tolls in July 2009, now says it wants to increase them again in early 2011.

The proposed increases, which have come under sharp criticism by the mayor and governor, were included in the authority’s 2009 preliminary budget, which authority officials unveiled during a contentious two-hour board meeting at their Midtown headquarters. The agency’s 17-member board must vote on the plan by December.

How much transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls would rise will not be determined until the final plan is approved. The authority is seeking to increase revenues from those sources by 8 percent next July, and an additional 5 percent in early 2011. Fares and tolls were also raised in March, meaning that the new plan would lead to three fare and toll increases in about three years.

At the same time, authority officials made clear that the budget proposal could be altered significantly based on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the governor to study the authority’s finances. The committee, headed by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the authority’s board, is expected to release its recommendations by early December.

Speaking before a packed hearing room, authority officials made no attempt to conceal what they consider to be the agency’s worst fiscal situation since the economic downturn that followed 9/11. When fares went up in March, the authority’s plan was not to have another fare increase until January 2010, with future increases every two years thereafter.

Continue hereto finish Mr. Rivera’s article on the MTA’s financial woes.

New York State Financial Control Board for the City of New York (FCB) Urges City to Rescind 7% Cut in Property Taxes

(Read herea brief history of the FCB’s creation and duties)

From Adam Lisberg of the Daily News (article here):

New York must rescind its 7% property tax cut next year in order to keep the city from drowning in red ink, the city’s fiscal watchdog warned Tuesday.

Eliminating the cut will raise more than $1 billion extra in each of the next three years, which would still leave the city with a $12.6 billion budget gap over those three years, the state Financial Control Board said in its review of the city’s fiscal plan.

The tax break for homeowners was extended last month for another year at the City Council’s insistence despite misgivings from Mayor Bloomberg, who said the city desperately needs that money as the economy sours and tax collections plummet.

Bloomberg’s early-edition budget for the next three years assumes the Council will agree to eliminate the tax break. The control board, a relic of the city’s near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, said the Council needs to agree.

“With the city-centered financial services industry in the midst of a significant downsizing, the economic downturn being faced by the city is likely to be more severe here than for the nation,” the board said.

“We believe that risks of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion exist to the financial plan until the City Council approves the mayor’s plan to increase property taxes by 7%,” it said. “Furthermore, recent negative economic news and the severe downturn of the stock market have caused us to become increasingly pessimistic regarding the city’s tax revenue plan.”

Both Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn agreed Tuesday that the sinking economy will take a toll on New York.

“If you take a look at the national economy and the local economy, we’re probably going to have to make more attempts to reduce our expenses while hopefully maintaining services,” Bloomberg said.

Quinn, meanwhile, refused to rule out making further cuts or raising taxes in the next several months.

“We’ll do everything we can not to raise taxes, but at the end of the day, the economy might be so bad that we’re just going to have to consider every option,” Quinn said. “I don’t think we can rule anything out.”

From the NYS Financial Control Board July 2008 Report (here, via New York Civic):
The Financial Control Board Staff’s report on the FYs 2009-2012 Financial Plan finds that the city has presented a balanced budget for FY 2009.  With the city-centered financial services industry in the midst of a significant downsizing, the economic downturn being faced by the city is likely to be more severe here than for the nation.

Fortunately, the city accumulated a surplus of $6.6 billion in FY 2008 that it used to prepay $3 billion of FY 2009 debt service expenses as well as $960 million of subsidies and retiree health benefits.  Additionally, the city provided a grant of $546 million to the New York City Transitional Finance Authority in FY 2008 that it applied to its FY 2009 debt service payment, which freed up an equivalent amount of personal income tax for the city to use to balance its budget.  The remainder of the surplus is being used to shrink the FYs 2010 and 2011 budget deficits.

While the city has presented a balanced budget, our analysis indicates that there is a $334 million risk to the budget.  Such a risk is manageable for the city particularly at this early stage of the fiscal year when the city still has a general reserve of $300 million, among other options.  However, the risks to the outyears of the plan are much larger and, when combined with already identified budget gaps, require immediate attention if the city is to achieve budget balance in the outyears.  The city should consider, as they successfully did in FY 2008, taking actions during FY 2009 to either raise revenues or reduce expenditures, to build up a surplus to help balance FY 2010.

To narrow the budget gap projected for FY 2010, which increased due to the recent arbitration award concerning police salaries and the expectation that other uniformed services will reopen their negotiations, the city has applied $2.4 billion of surplus resources from FY 2008 to reduce FY 2010 expenses.  Additionally, the Mayor has proposed eliminating the seven percent property tax cut and has in fact augmented tax revenue by $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion in each of FYs 2010-12 to reflect this proposal.  Despite these actions, the city estimates budget gaps of $2.3 billion for FY 2010, $5.2 billion for FY 2011 and $5.1 billion for FY 2012. 

We project, however, that the gaps could be larger by as much as $2 billion in FY 2010 and $2.4 billion in each of FYs 2011 and 2012, producing budget deficits totaling $4.3 billion in FY 2010 and $7.5 billion in each of FYs 2011-12.  We believe that risks of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion exist to the financial plan until the city council approves the Mayor’s plan to increase property taxes by seven percent. 

urthermore, recent negative economic news and the severe downturn of the stock market have caused us to become increasingly pessimistic regarding the city’s tax revenue plan.  We expect that the nonproperty taxes will fall below the city’s collection targets by $400 million in FY 2009, $425 million in FY 2010, and $200 million in each of FYs 2011-12.  These reductions are in addition to our expectation that there will be a $200 million property tax shortfall in each of FYs 2010-2012, due to weak assessment growth. 

Federal Government to Supply $30 Million to Treat Illnesses of Residents, Students Related to 9/11

The Centers for Disease Control will distribute the money to as many as three hospitals or clinics, based on the grant applications they receive

From the Associated Press, via Crain’s New York Business(here):

Federal officials said Thursday they will give $30 million to offer health services to New York residents and students affected by the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control announced it would distribute the money to as many as three hospitals or clinics, based on the grant applications they receive.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, thousands of Ground Zero recovery workers have complained they were sickened by exposure to toxic debris. At the same time, New York elected officials have charged the Bush administration with not doing enough to track and treat those illnesses or the needs of non-recovery workers, such as the people who lived and went to school in lower Manhattan near the disaster site.  CDC Director Julie Gerberding said the agency has “never done anything like this.”  The $30 million effort to treat residents and students is “our good faith estimate and if we’re wrong we will adjust,” she said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat whose district includes the World Trade Center site, said he and other lawmakers “fought tooth and nail to see that these people were provided with the care they need. As we approach the seventh anniversary of 9/11, I am relieved that the Bush administration has given up their stall tactics and finally begun to release this funding.”

Withdrawal of Merrill Lynch Complicates WTC Construction Deadlines

From Erik Engquist of Crain’s New York Business(here):

While Merrill Lynch & Co.’s decision not to move to Ground Zero makes it extremely difficult for developer Larry Silverstein to meet construction deadlines, it also is highly unlikely that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will seek to penalize him.

Mr. Silverstein’s three proposed towers, totaling about 7 million square feet, are due in 2013—a date that will be tough to meet, given Merrill’s withdrawal, the economic downturn and massive job cuts by financial companies that are prospective tenants. But he and the Port Authority, which owns the site, are on good terms at the moment and facing many of the same struggles.

“They’re all in the same boat,” says Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group of which Silverstein Properties is a member. “I can’t imagine a scenario where there’s a default.”

Observers point out that that Mr. Silverstein’s troubles in finding tenants for his towers stem in part from delays in public projects on the site. Businesses don’t want to locate in a construction zone with an unfinished transportation network.

Unfortunately for the developer, his agreements with the Port Authority don’t allow for his deadlines to be pushed back unless, for example, the PATH station project between his Tower Two and Tower Three impedes their construction.

However, observers say Mr. Silverstein could make a public case—if not a legal one—on the grounds that if the government could not meet its deadlines, neither should he have to.

“That’s the question that Silverstein is going to raise from a public relations standpoint,” one official says.

Councilmembers Gather to Mark Start of Plastic Bag Recycling Law

Members also call onAlbany to amend proposed State Legislation which would weaken City’s Plastic Bag Recycling Law 

From the City Council’s press release:

NEW YORK, NY – Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Sanitation and Solid Waste Committee Chair, Michael McMahon, Environmental Protection Chair Jim Gennaro, Public Safety Chair, Peter F. Vallone Jr., and environmental advocates announced the plastic bag recycling law, passed earlier this year, will go into effect tomorrow. 

The law applies to stores in the City that use plastic bags and occupy 5,000 square feet or more or stores which have more than five braches operating throughout the five boroughs. It will also require store operators to provide an easily accessible collection bin for plastic bags in visible locations. In addition, the stores will be required to use plastic bags that display the words “Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling” or a similar message as well as make reusable bags available for purchase. The stores must submit annual reports to the Department of Sanitation on the amount and weight of collected plastic bags.

“Today is a great day for all New Yorkers in taking responsibility for the environment,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.  “As this new law goes into effect, all New Yorkers will be able to do their part in reducing our carbon footprint and in ensuring that our waste is being put to good use. I want to thank my colleagues at the Council, the administration and advocates for their support and for working so hard to make this law a reality. Our efforts will be felt for many generations to come.”

“This is another step in City Council’s continuing effort to recycle as much of the city’s waste stream as possible,” said Council Member Michael McMahon, Chair of Sanitation and Solid Waste Committee. “We know that plastic bags and plastic film that didn’t exist 15 years ago in our waste stream now accounts as much for 4% to 5% of what we dispose of in landfills.  This new law will make is easy for New Yorkers to bring their personal excess of plastic bags and plastic film to local supermarkets drugstores or department stores that distribute plastic bags to their consumers.  Of course we should try to use reusable bags whenever possible, but now we have an alternative to disposing of the bags in the trash.” 

Americans use an estimated 84 billion plastic bags annually, approximately one billion of them right here in New York City.  The production of plastic bags worldwide uses over 12 million barrels of oil per year, causing other environmental damage.

“The City Council usually tries to create legislation that will leave its mark on New York City. Today we implement one that helps ensure we do not,” said Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., Chair of the Public Safety Committee “This law strikes a balance between conscience and convenience by allowing New Yorkers an outlet they need to protect our environment.”

“Plastic bags clogging our landfill and catch basins are an environmental scourge that only legislation like this can have a real effect upon”, said Councilman James F. Gennaro, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee.

Continue reading the press release here.

Mayor Bloomberg Signs Executive Order 120 Requiring Citywide Language Access

Agencies to Provide Services in Top Six Languages Spoken in New York including Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian, and French Creole

From the Mayor’s press release:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today signed the City’s first Language Access Executive Order, establishing a uniform policy and standards for translation and interpretation services for City agencies that have direct interaction with New Yorkers. Executive Order 120 requires every such City agency to provide language assistance in the top six languages spoken by New Yorkers. To ensure that limited-English-proficient residents have meaningful access to City programs, services and activities, the City’s new Customer Service Group, housed within the Mayor’s Office of Operations, will work closely with the Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs to facilitate the application and oversee compliance with the executive order by each agency….

“For the 1.8 million New Yorkers with limited English proficiency, interacting with government all too often can be a challenge,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “All New Yorkers should have the same access to the same services and the same opportunities. This Executive Order will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most inclusive municipal government in the nation.”

“Thanks to this Executive Order, New Yorkers will now more easily be able to communicate and receive services at all City agencies, not just the few that currently have language access programs,” said Council Speaker Quinn.  “I want to thank all who worked on this issue, including Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman and Council Member Rosie Mendez, for collaborating on this Executive Order that will directly impact thousands of New Yorkers.”

Nearly one-half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home, and 25 percent of City residents do not speak English as their primary language. New York City residents who have difficulty speaking, reading, writing or understanding English will now have better access to City government information and services in their language.

Executive Order 120 requires that City agencies provide interpretation services, including the use of telephonic interpretation, oral or written translation services, and translation of essential public documents into the most commonly spoken languages including Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and French Creole. Each agency will designate a Language Access Coordinator who will work to develop a Language Access policy and implementation plan. 

Read the full press release here.

Read the text of Executive Order 120 here.

Quinnipiac Poll Find New York Yorkers Preferring Bloomberg to Other Candidates in 2009, but Also Intent on Maintaining Term Limits

From the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute press release:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets a sky-high 71 – 22 percent approval rating and leads the list of 2009 mayoral candidates, but New York City voters oppose 56 – 38 percent extending term limits so Mayor Bloomberg can serve four more years, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

When New York City voters are asked by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll whom they would like to see elected Mayor in 2009:

  • 38 percent name Bloomberg;
  • 12 percent pick Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly;
  • 11 percent choose Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz;
  • 10 percent name U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner;
  • 7 percent want City Comptroller William Thompson;
  • 7 percent pick City Council Speaker Christine Quinn;
  • 4 percent name Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Looking at the issue of term limits, 55 percent of voters say changing the rules in the middle of the game is unfair, while 40 percent say Bloomberg deserves four more years to finish his work as Mayor.

By a 71 – 23 percent margin, New Yorkers support the basic concept of term limits. Support is consistent among all groups. Voters oppose 65 – 32 percent extending the current two-term or eight-year limit so city officials could serve a third term.

“New York City voters sure like Mayor Mike, and they’d love to keep him around for four more years, but not enough to change the two- term limit in the City Charter,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“Should Bloomberg be allowed to finish what he’s started, or would changing the rules be unfair? ‘Unfair,’ say more than half New Yorkers.”

Read the full Quinnipiac poll results here.

At Crain’s Breakfast Forum, Congressman Weiner Releases Plan to “Keep New York the Capital of the Middle Class”

Discusses Tax and Education Reforms to Spur Job Growth in the Outer Boroughs

Read hereCrain’s Erik Engquist’s review of Congressman Weiner’s speech

Watch here videoof Congressman Weiner discussing his support for large-scale development projects.

NYS Public Integrity Commission Charges Four Spitzer Administration Officials with Misconduct in Seeking Bruno Travel Records

From the Associated Press, via Crain’s New York Business:

The state Public Integrity Commission on Thursday charged four former state officials with misusing state police to discredit a political foe of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the first charges to come out of the year-old scandal that paralyzed state government.

The commission found former Spitzer aides Darren Dopp (pictured), Richard Baum and William Howard and former state police head Preston Felton conspired to smear then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno by releasing his travel records to a reporter. At issue were trips by Mr. Bruno in May and June to New York City on days he met with lobbyists and attended Republican fundraisers.

The commission, however, found insufficient evidence to charge anyone else, including Mr. Spitzer. But the report criticizes Mr. Spitzer and his administration for a lack of cooperation in the investigation despite public promises for full cooperation. The Spitzer administration claimed executive privilege and sought to withhold 109 documents “without legitimate basis,” according to the panel’s report Thursday.

Continue hereto finish the AP article on the charges against Spitzer officials.

Governor Paterson Raises $3 Million, Drawing Funds from Diverse Quarters

From Jacob Gershman of the New York Sun:

Real estate developers, school choice proponents, and gay rights activists are among Governor Paterson’s most generous contributors.

Mr. Paterson, who surprised many in Albany by raising $3 million since becoming governor in March, drew contributions from a constellation of Albany interests, such as trial lawyers, contractors, teacher unions, state troopers, insurance, and health care companies, according to filings submitted yesterday by his campaign committee to the State Board of Elections.

The Democratic governor’s largest benefactor appeared to be the real estate industry, which flooded his campaign coffers with hundreds of thousands of dollars, including from many limited liability companies.

The developers donated to Mr. Paterson in advance of what could be a pivotal moment for the industry, whose opposition to rent regulations threatens to be over-powered by shifts in the Legislature.

Developers fear that Senate Democrats will vote to expand rent regulation laws in New York City if they grab the majority this year. If Republicans, who have been allies of the developers, lose control of the chamber, Mr. Paterson’s position on the issue will be crucial.

Continue hereto read more on Governor Paterson’s fundraising.