Op-Ed: Real Progressives Would Bring Small Business Legislation To The Floor

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In the last election, every candidate proclaimed they were the “true progressive” to take the city in another direction from the Bloomberg administration and promised thru progressive legislation to end economic inequality. Many lawmakers highlighted their progressive label with claims of being “Champion of tenants’ rights” and stressing their courage to stand up to unscrupulous landlords who were abusing tenants. When NYS Attorney General Schneiderman announced 20 felony charges against landlord Steven Croman, several of these progressive lawmakers applauded and proclaimed with great pride their role in both exposing landlord abuses and in expanding their fight to protect the city’s tenants.

Why then have these same progressive lawmakers remained silent when unscrupulous landlords, in some cases the same landlords who abuse their residential tenants, illegally extort cash from mostly immigrant business owners? Don’t they consider small business owners, tenants? Don’t they consider the mostly immigrant business owners worthy of protection against landlord abuses? In fact, NYC commercial tenants have zero rights and need legislative protection to prevent landlord abuses, such as unscrupulous landlords demanding cash from their commercial tenant under the threat of throwing them out of business if they do not pay up.

Most of these so called progressive lawmakers should be ashamed for knowing there is a real solution to protect the business tenants but they remain silent. It’s called the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA): A pending bill stuck in committee with 27 Council sponsors which would give rights to the business owners when their leases expired. Rights needed to protect and stop many of the growing landlord abuses against small businesses.

Why would they betray their progressive values by turning their back on our city’s desperate small business owners at a time of crisis and deny them democracy?  The answer lies with the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a real estate lobby that contributes tens of millions of dollars indirectly to the campaigns of these “progressive” and holds the reins on the City’s economic policy. REBNY uses both their money and high paying private jobs to “rig the system” against mom and pop businesses by denying them a voice and economic justice at City Hall.

But REBNY could not be successful in stopping the SBJSA or having lawmakers look the other way as landlords abuse commercial tenants, without the collaboration and acquiesce of the corrupt lawmakers they bought and control.

The worst lawmaker to betray their progressive values to end the landlord abuse against small businesses is Mayor de Blasio. As a candidate for Public Advocate, he was the strongest supporter of the SBJSA and met face to face with Hispanic grocery owners to listen to their stories of landlord abuses, including being extorted. He accepted the findings of the largest small business study done on Hispanic business owners *(USA Latin Chamber of Commerce Small Business Study) which showed 31% had been extorted by their landlord. He pledged to them, “if elected I will fight to stop the outrageous practice of extortion being done to them”.

Yes as Mayor he has kept in place the exact anti- small business policies as Mayor Bloomberg.

The biggest ‘Progressive’ disappointment in stopping landlord abuses against small commercial tenants is Public Advocate Letitia James. As a council member on the Small Business Committee, James was a strong supporter of the SBJSA and when given every public opportunity would call for the passage of the bill to end the crisis and stop the “Malling of Main Street.”

But now James sings a different tune. When a reporter recently asked James, who is an attorney, on the progress of the SBJSA, she responded“ the bill has legal problems”. Her statement is the talking point created by REBNY for lawmakers to hide behind as an excuse to do nothing on the bill. PA office has the mandate to move this bill stalled by the real estate lobby, but James declined to take any actions.

There are too many “two faced” so called progressives at City Hall to detail. Lawmakers who in public, especially at election time,  proclaim their progressive values but in private take REBNY’s money and political influence and pledge to remain silent and do nothing to stop the closing of small businesses or end landlords’ abuses against commercial tenants.

Even as the crisis caused by sky high rents forcing long established businesses to close spreads to every borough, several Council members have withdrawn their sponsorship of the SBJSA, the only real solution to save small businesses. Among these lawmakers in Brooklyn include Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams. This act of withdrawing all support for progressive legislation like SBJSA and repeating the “big lie” cooked up by REBNY that the bill has legal problems is the litmus test REBNY demands from progressive lawmakers before they give them their campaign contributions.

One Council member who should never call himself a true progressive is Robert Cornegy Jr., Chair of the Small Business Committee. Even though he admits many small businesses face a crisis caused by sky high rents and he pledged to do something to stop the closing, he has done nothing to save a single small business or a single job.

In reality, Cornegy has become the point man for REBNY at City Hall to keep the status quo and protect landlords’ windfall profits. Under Cornegy’s chairmanship, he has carried on Bloomberg’s anti-small business policies resulting in making the crisis worse. Since taking over as Chairman, there has been an increase in the number of court warrants to vacate commercial businesses rising to 542 average per month with an estimated over 1,000 small businesses closing each month in NYC.

This crisis is spreading quickly from Manhattan to Brooklyn to the other boroughs, yet Cornegy stalls and is clueless in the face of the out of control rents and increased landlord abuses. How clueless? His first act was to create a resolution calling on corrupt Albany to pass legislation that gives tax breaks to landlords that don’t rent gouge and it’s only voluntary. Another worthless proposal he supports, written by REBNY years ago and rejected by the city’s business community as nothing but a landlords’ bill to keep the status quo, is giving the business owners the right to mediate when their leases expire, but it is non binding on the landlord. If mediation fails then an extension of the lease at 15% increase for one year to allow time to move.

Cornegy’s proposal would make the crisis worse when businesses are forced to bid against their neighbors in order to stay in the community. After failing to produce a single solution to the crisis, Cornegy now is supporting another fake study task force cooked up by REBNY to stall any bill and stop any vote on the SBJSA.

Currently, SBJSA has 27 sponsors, and Cornegy has the power to put the measure up for a hearing, but has yet to do so. It is time for Cornegy and the rest of the City Council to stand up to REBNY and take action to stave off further displacement of small businesses, the backbone of the city’s economy.

It’s the progressive thing to do.

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