The BQ Brew: Artisan Journalism for the East Boroughs

Starting a media outlet in New York City, the most media-saturated market in the world, has to be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences available.

And yet we’re excited.

We’re excited because we see a lot of important media work that needs to be done in our communities.

If there’s ever been a modern symbol of simultaneous urban magic and misery, prosperity and inequity, well-conceived hope and unforeseen despair, then surely New York City is that symbol.

If you need proof of this unfolding epic, go check out your corner store being priced out, check out the working families on your block living in overcrowded housing because developers want to extort rent prices as high as possible, check out the co-op owners and small property holders being milked so that Wall Street and the major developers can continue to profit off the city without chipping in for its expenses, check out the pandemic of stop and frisk practices that often serve the “public management” needs of the real estate moguls who keep decimating our city.

In the East Boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, we are too often relegated to second class status, not just politically and economically, but also culturally, by a media corps often warped by the influence of what too tellingly is referred to as “The City”--in reality, just another borough, Manhattan.

With all the violence of Superstorm Sandy and all the subtlety of ULURP processes dominated by developers (and the legally-untouchable Wall Street tycoons behind them), we are sometimes reminded that unless we ourselves build up the structures to help each other survive and prosper, we’ll get left behind, or worse, by other folks who have themselves built up the structures they need to get what they want from our communities. If you think that makes us political, perhaps we should re-examine what makes us human.

Service Journalism for Survival
So this paper is a little bit of a hope, a gamble and protest against giving the city over to the big interests that now seem to get their way in every facet of our lives. It’s a hope that the small businesses that are responsible for most of the job growth and innovation in this city are sick of pretending they’re playing in a free market when the big guys get all the perks and the small guys get the tax bill.

It’s a gamble that us as over four and a half million people, a population larger than half of the states in America can boast, are getting hungry for critical, analytical local journalism that goes beyond who got shot, who got arrested and which politician shook the most hands.

But to be frank, it’s also an admission. How could any media outlet hope to drill into the actual trends behind community issues while depending on the good graces of the most dangerous corporate players?

So, even if we didn’t love our communities (which we do), even if we weren’t tired of seeing our local papers bought up by some distant billionaire for who-knows-what corporate motive (which we are)--even if that were the case, which it’s not, even then, for our readership, and quite mathematically speaking our survival, we’re depending on you.

And that’s fine, because we’ve always depended on you. That’s kind of how community works.

4.7 Million Motivations

For as long as we’re around, we hope to bring you artisan-level journalism crafted around the issues and trends that impact the 4.7 million residents living in Brooklyn and Queens, a part of the city distinctly more flavorful, vibrant and certainly a degree less beholden to faceless corporate interests.
You’ll find our paper on every single campus in these two boroughs, as well at over 300 barber shops, diners, doctors offices, cafes, libraries and any old place we’ve discovered that people get together to talk community.

With critical analysis, we’ll be taking you far deeper behind the issues and trends that matter to your life. We’ll get behind the surface to discover the points of consequence and impact: whether we’re examining the rise of formerly invisible workers (especially fast food workers), talking about Sandy recovery three months later,  taking on the nitty-gritty of co-op self management, discussing the hundreds of thousands of lives that hang in the balance with the medical marijuana question,  or examining the forces behind the attrition of health care services in Queens and Brooklyn (next issue).

We’re populists at heart and we put people over politics any day of the week. Policies don’t experience pain, don’t starve for food, don’t shiver in unheated housing and stay up late juggling bills. People, and quite a few of them, do.

Our focus is artisan journalism that forces eye-contact with not only the people behind the stories, but the forces shaping the communities they live in. In a city where the consequential is often brushed aside for the immediate, we want to pause and show that life for 4.7 million East Borough residents is more than just a sequence of incidents--there is consequence, cause and meaning. Our lives are inextricably connected not only to each other, but the larger story of economics, politics, culture and community.

We hope to bring you that story, your story, in the months and years to come. We’ll also do our best to stay away from bad businesses, whether in our professional dealings or in our advertising. We accept no chain store advertising, we accept no advertising from the entitled gangs of developers wrecking through our boroughs, and we engage in a good-faith process to ensure that our advertisers are treating their own customers and employees with fairness and a little dignity. We won’t always get it right, but we’ll try.

This city is going to keep changing. It’s the nature of cities and human development. How our city and our boroughs change is, in many ways, not only the scope of our paper, but the very stuff of our daily lives. Here at the BQ Brew, we’re a couple of folks (with over 60 years combined local journalism experience) who want to make sure that the story of the future isn’t told by those who could afford the loudest amplifiers.

We built this paper to tell your stories in the depth they deserve. You make our boroughs jump with culture, innovation, challenges and a million invisible daily struggles. Whether professional, middle or working class, your voice and the challenges in your life matter, if not to the corporate media that neglects us, then certainly to your community. This paper, as a member of your community, is honored to be fighting by your side.

Thank you for your readership. Time and attention are a high-demand resource in the lives of New Yorkers, so we appreciate the moments you spend to learn a little more about the communities in which you live.

We’re here in the trenches of daily life with you. And we’re listening.

One Love, One Struggle,
--Manny Jalonschi
Managing Editor

Brooklyn and Queens bring the world together and we’re proud to bring you the critical analysis to help you discover the East Boroughs. (Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/CC)
Brooklyn and Queens bring the world together and we’re proud to bring you the critical analysis to help you discover the East Boroughs. (Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/CC)

Understanding the Rule of One in Building Co-Op Management

There's been a lot of interest in practical application of democratic principles and we've gotten a few questions about how folks can use these principles to bringer better, more inclusive management to their building co-ops. This is Part 1 of a three part series on learning the basics of building co-op democratic self-management. You can read part two here: A Co-Op Board’s Member’s Responsibilities and Duties (and What Constitutes a Breach of that Trust)

Get to know “The Rule of One” and how it might apply to your co-op.(Photo:lumierefl/Flickr/CC)
Get to know “The Rule of One” and how it might apply to your co-op.

In NYC about 75-80% of apartments available for purchase are in cooperative buildings with the remaining 20-25% in condominiums or townhouses. Co-op ownership remains a popular option as there is more inventory to choose from and therefore prices are usually more favorable (NYT). Additionally, co-op shareholders are considered tenants of the co-op and benefit from legal protection under the New York City landlord-tenant law that condominium owners do not receive.

The intent of the residential landlord-tenant law is to protect the tenant from landlord abuses. Accordingly, the tenant-shareholder of a co-op has the advantage of: The Rule of One - when you have a problem that only affects your apartment, no one cares but you.

However, when subject to the indifference of the co-op board, the managing agent and/or the other tenant-shareholders, the tenant protection laws encourage and support remedial action to resolve the situation.

The landlord-tenant laws offer another benefit for co-op owners. In many instances, the cooperative corporation, through its Board of Directors, must remain a party to disputes between individual lessee unit owners.

Because of the proprietary lease, the cooperative corporation acts as lessor and can have a contractual obligation to resolve conflicts between unit owners.

Should a co-op shareholder in a co-op neglect plumbing repairs and cause a flood in a neighbor’s apartment, because the situation violated the city’s “warrant of habitability”, the co-op would have a responsibility to address the problem similar to the role of a landlord.

Implied into every residential lease is the warranty of habitability as set forth in Section 235-b of the Real Property Law of New York:

“1. In every written or oral lease or rental agreement for residential premises the landlord or lessor shall be deemed to covenant and
warrant that the premises so leased or rented and all areas used in connection therewith in common with other tenants or residents are fit for human habitation and for the uses reasonably intended by the parties and that the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous, detrimental to their life, health or safety.

When any such condition has been caused by the misconduct of the tenant or lessee or persons under his direction or control, it shall not constitute a breach of such covenants and warranties...” (subparagraphs 2. and 3. omitted)

The original intent of the law was to protect tenants from deleterious living conditions such as a lack of heat or hot water, a threat to physical safety, rodent infestation and other serious threats to “human habitation.” If a breach of the warranty was identified by a court, the court had the power to compensate the tenant by stop the payment of rent until the sources of the complaint were remedied.

Over the years, the warranty has been applied to noise, water damage, fire damage, toxic conditions such as mold, extremely disruptive  or dangerous behavior and bedbugs.

Often, boards are reluctant to address complex or sensitive issues and feel that as volunteers, they have less of a duty to insist upon compliance with the building’s governing rules and regulations.

The failure to enforce a cooperative corporation’s covenants can undermine the financial and social success of the community. Board members should never feel that their authority and responsibility is diminished by virtue of their being volunteers. Their position exists to uphold and enforce the rules and covenants of their building for the good of all.

Should a board fail to heed the guidelines for rule enforcement, the result can be extra expenses, project delays, ill will among shareholders and owners, and potential liability on behalf of the board - and perhaps even individual members themselves. Managing agents and attorneys have come to understand that a court may award a maintenance abatement as a result of the failure of the co-op to provide services or make repairs.

Most boards will try in good faith to resolve a dispute before a third party gets involved. The co-op board that does not deal fairly with the co-op unit owner who legitimately asserts a breach of the warranty of habitability, should live in fear of setting a bad precedent which could impact other residents in the building.

It goes without saying that the shareholder should not undertake withholding of maintenance without legal counsel.

There are many excellent publications addressing the many facets of co-op ownership, management and board of director duties including The Cooperator, Habitat and the State of New York Office of the Attorney General’s publication on How To Handle Problems with A Co-op’s Board of Directors.
If you have an issue you would like to see addressed, please let us know. You can email your co-op questions to with the subject line “Co-op Reporter.”

-- By the Co-Op Reporter

Three Months After Sandy: By The Numbers

Three months after Superstorm Sandy, thousands of New Yorkers are still recovering. We took a look through some of the numbers and this is what we found.

Second Costliest Storm in U.S History: Sandy was surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina in total damage. Sandy unleashed over $65 billion dollars in weather destruction in less than five days.

Total number of homes affected by power outages: 8,100,000. Sandy damaged infrastructure to a point where some electrical grids simply shut down. People in at least 17 states were left without power in one way or another.

Historic size and numbers: Hurricane Sandy’s greatest size was 820 miles in diameter. measured just before Sandy unleashed on Atlantic City. The last storm to affect New York City specifically, Hurricane Irene, was half the size and nowhere near the power of Sandy.

Sandy also had the lowest barometric reading ever recorded - 940 millibars - for an Atlantic storm to make landfall north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Record-breaking waves pounded our coast, the tallest measuring 32.5 feet - the tallest ever recorded in our area.

13 Foot Downtown Deluge: The East River overflowed its banks, flooding large swaths of Lower Manhattan, with a 13.88 foot surge in Battery Park. Seven of the MTA’s underwater subway tunnels were flooded, creating extensive damage that took over a month to fully repair.

Political Windfall: The storm hit the U.S on the eve of the 2012 Presidential Election. Barack Obama’s stance and the overall effectiveness of the recovery (boosted by a sizable federal presence in the area) all helped his campaign.

The President’s approval rating jumped 7 points, according to right-leaning Rasmussen. It also boosted the approval rating of New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, by 21 points (from 56 to 77%) and helped not only Obama’s reelection but also boosted the Democratic presence in the states. Sandy also added a blip to Mayor Bloomberg’s fading reputation, boosting his approval rating to 50%, the highest it had been since 2010.

Crime and Desperation: Reports of robberies have risen dramatically in areas affected by Sandy. In the Rockaways, complaints of burglaries in the 100th Precinct, have increased 500 percent this year alone, from the same period in 2012. Complaints have increased by 250 percent in the 101st Precinct, which encompasses Far Rockaway and Edgemere.

Recovery Time: Lower Manhattan has seen the quickest recovery time, with most power restored in a week, yet about 300 buildings in Staten Island remain without electricity or heat. Ten public housing buildings in Red Hook, Coney Island and the Rockaways still have mobile boilers, run by generators. Residents say hot water availability goes from nonexistent for up to 3 days, to scalding hot and unbearable.

Occupy Wall Street’s Role: OWS, as Occupy Sandy, went above and beyond to fill in the gap between the displaced residents and their recovery needs. This proved to be pivotal, especially in the outer boroughs, where the response was slow at best and simply absent at its worst. OWS was responsible for sending 10,000 turkeys to families affected by the storm and coordinating shelter and other relief.
In the month following the storm, Occupy Sandy was responsible for cooking and distributing between 10 and 15 thousand meals each day; enlisting more than 7,000 volunteers; creating three major distribution hubs from which it dispatched both workers and supplies; and establishing dozens of recovery sites in New York and New Jersey. Occupy also raised more than $600,000 in cash for its efforts and received more than $700,000 worth of donated supplies.

“Bipartisanship,” Again: On part of Congress, it took nearly 70 days for them to pass the flood insurance section of the Hurricane Sandy Relief. Some people had to wait 70 days in uncertainty and (some cases) homelessness or displacement to get aid in rebuilding. That’s more than six times longer than it took Congress to pass the Katrina. After three months of delays Congress finally approved a $51 billion aid package for victims of Super Storm Sandy
More than three-quarters of GOP senators voted against the full package. A Republican amendment to the bill that would require spending cuts to offset the disaster relief funding passed the House but was rejected by the Senate.

Mold and the Rockaway Cough: In a report put out by Queens Congregations United for Action, as of December 5 only 174 homes (out of 38,000 homes and businesses on the Rockaway Peninsula) had received help through Rapid Repairs. Over 8,000 more were still waiting to be inspected. The Met Council, a social service agency, found that only one in five families is hiring professional mold cleaning services. Community leaders are urging the city to include mold removal in their Rapid Repairs program.

Changes to flood zones: 35,000 buildings and homes have been added to flood zones in parts of Queens and Staten Island, according to preliminary maps released by the FEMA on January 28, 2013. Preliminary flood zone maps are expected to be released for other parts of the city in February. Official maps won’t be released until this summer. Those who live in Zone A and have federally-backed mortgages will be required to get flood insurance once the formal maps are released. Other forms of insurance, such as homeowners, will likely go up as well.

--By Ava M Capote, Randal J. Rivera

It took hundreds of sanitation trucks to clear the debris strewn across New York City in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. (Photo: NYC Department of Transportation)
It took hundreds of sanitation trucks to clear the debris strewn across New York City in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. (Photo: NYC Department of Transportation)


Cannabust: Playing Politics at the Expense of NY’s Medical Marijuana Users

Before she tried medical marijuana, a Queens woman named Natalie was in such pain from two bouts of breast cancer, chemotherapy, and the side effects of medication that she went for weeks not sleeping more than two hours a night—and some nights she got only 15 minutes. In the morning, she says, she hurt so much that “I couldn’t hold a toothbrush.”

The criminality of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use marijuana for medical purposes hangs in the balance as upstate politicians dawdle. (Photo: Cosmo Spacely/CC/Flickr)
The criminality of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use marijuana for medical purposes hangs in the balance as upstate politicians dawdle. (Photo: Cosmo Spacely/CC/Flickr)

Regular painkillers didn’t help her. Percocet and Vicodin “did horrific things to my digestive system.” And Arimidex, the estrogen-blocking drug she takes to prevent the cancer from recurring, causes severe joint pain. “It makes me feel like I’m a 90-year-old woman with severe arthritis,” she says.

Then her husband suggested that she try smoking marijuana before she went to bed. She took a few tokes of mild herb, and “it soothed me, it helped me go to sleep,” she says. “At night, it’s like a lifesaver.”

But under New York and federal law, the 45-year-old mother of two (who asked that her last name not be published) is a criminal, violating Section 221 of the state penal code and Title 21, Section 841 of the federal criminal code. More important, even though possession of less than 25 grams has been decriminalized in New York, she doesn’t have a way of getting a legal, consistent supply of known potency. When she’s had pot that was too strong, she says, it made her feel terrified and throw up.

“It’s not fair that we have to hide and feel bad about something that alleviates things,” she says. “If it’s properly regulated, this could be a magical thing for a lot of people, or at least it’s an option.”

This year, the odds of that changing for New Yorkers like Natalie might be stronger than they’ve ever been. “I believe if a bill comes to the floor of the Senate, it will pass,” says Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the main sponsor of medical-marijuana legislation in the Legislature’s lower house.

The Assembly has passed those bills several times, most recently last year, but in the state Senate, gerrymandered for a Republican majority, the leadership has never let them come to the floor for a vote.

This year, however, the Senate leadership is controlled by an alliance between the Republicans and a breakaway faction of five Democrats—one of whom, Diane Savino of Staten Island, is the medical-marijuana bill’s lead sponsor.

Getting enough votes is more important than the new power alignment, Savino says. On that count, she’s optimistic. She says she’s met only two senators who are “vehemently opposed” to legalizing medical marijuana, although others have expressed concerns about how to prevent the supply from being diverted and whether doctors’ recommendations will be for legitimate ailments.

“I think there’s enough votes,” she says.

The bill has not been drawn up yet, but Savino says it will set up a system where patients who get recommendations from doctors will apply to the state Board of Health for a medical-marijuana card. (continue reading...)

Low Wage Workers Resuscitate NY’s Organized Labor

With New York’s barbell economy destroying traditional middle class employment, fast food workers aren’t the only ones fed up with low wages and unfair labor practices. Others rising up to fight for fair pay include workers from:

• Farm Country in East New York - 63 current and former workers at Farm Country in East New York will receive a total of $500,000 in back pay as a result of being underpaid hourly as well as being shorted on overtime. Workers voted to unionize and will be getting 50-cent raises over minimum wage, overtime, and paid days off.

• Golden Farm in Kensington, Brooklyn - Since 2008, workers from Golden Farm have been fighting for fair pay, overtime, and paid sick leave...and they’re winning. After contacting the Dept. of Labor, suing the owner for back pay, organizing a community-wide boycott that has resulted in a 20% drop in revenue, and voting to unionize, employees are just 2 negotiations away from signing a fair labor contract.

Astoria Car Wash and Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube Inc - In September of 2012, workers at Astoria Car Wash and Hi-Tek 10 Minute Lube became the first car wash employees in NYC history to vote for unionization. This came after a 2008 investigation by the state labor commission found that nearly 8 out of every 10 car washes in NYC violated minimum wage and overtime laws. Since September, 4 other car washes have voted for unionization.

• Hot and Crusty - After nearly a year of organizing against a fiercely anti-union boss, workers at this NYC chain went on strike, formed their own independent union, and are helping to educate and inform other chain restaurant workers of their rights.

• Retail Action Project (RAP) - RAP is an organization of retail workers that is fighting to improve workplace standards. In October of 2012, they launched the Sustainable Scheduling campaign. This is an effort to curtail corporate retailers’ unpredictable, part-time scheduling practices. Their goal is give workers stable hours that produce a sustainable income.

• Air Serv and Global Elite Group - Security workers at JFK airport threatened to walk off the job before the holiday rush in December of 2012 unless their demands for higher wages and safer working conditions were met. The Port Authority asked them to call off the strike and strongly urged their contractors, Air Serv and Global Elite, to work out an agreement with employees. The employees are also considering unionization.

--Ava M. Capote

Low wage workers all over the city, like these Domino's employees, are getting organized fir fair wages and treatment. (Photo:  New York Communities for Change)
Low wage workers all over the city, like these Domino's employees, are getting organized fir fair wages and better treatment. (Photo: New York Communities for Change)

NY Fast Food Workers Serve Up a Fight for Economic Justice

The sidewalk in front of the Wendy’s on Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall was choked with people at noon on November 29th. The signs they held were mostly handmade, in English and Spanish, calling for higher wages, more respect on the job. A small group of them held a bright red banner, that read “STRIKE for higher pay for a stronger New York.”

(Illustration: Molly Crabapple)
Pamela Flood: “I work hard for my money, I work hard for my kids, and I think we all deserve better. I’ll take two and three jobs to take care of my kids, but while I’m doing that I’m also going to stand up for what I believe in, and what I believe in is that we should be making way more than $7.25, because if a doorman, a security guard, and a janitor can make $12 to $15 an hour, why can’t we?” (Illustration: Molly Crabapple)

A young woman led the rally, her bright red hair pulled back, her voice already ragged from chanting, from shouting her story. I was later told by an organizer she’d been out since 5 AM, showing up to support the first of the fast-food workers to walk out on that day’s strikes, and she’d be onstage at the end of the day, too, whipping up the crowd underneath the glittering lights of McDonald’s in Times Square.

Her name is Pamela Flood, and she works at the Burger King at 971 Flatbush Avenue. She was one of 200 or so workers at New York City’s fast-food restaurants that struck for a raise to $15 an hour and union recognition on that November day, kicking the simmering movement among the city’s lowest-wage workers up another level. She also works at a CVS and attends classes at night, holding down a 4.0 GPA as she studies to be a medical assistant, to better support her three children. Burger King pays her just $7.25 an hour.

Flood drew cheers that day on the picket line when she demanded $15 an hour so that she could take her kids on vacation like the high-paid executives can. “I work hard for my money, I work hard for my kids, and I think we all deserve better,” she told me. “I’ll take two and three jobs to take care of my kids, but while I’m doing that I’m also going to stand up for what I believe in, and what I believe in is that we should be making way more than $7.25, because if a doorman, a security guard, and a janitor can make $12 to $15 an hour, why can’t we?”

With her that day were workers from other fast food restaurants in Brooklyn, community members, other low-wage workers from around the city, supportive clergy, and organizers who’d helped pull together the seemingly-impossible feat of getting hundreds of workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza stores across multiple boroughs.

“This is a moral issue,” Kirsten John Foy, a minister and former aide to Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, told me as the picket line danced behind us. “We can’t live in the wealthiest economy in the world, and treat our workers like they’re from the third world.” (continue reading...)

Sandy and Staten Island: A Return to the Forgotten Borough

Amid the highly visible political posturing over the plight of Sandy victims, it is hard to connect the sturm und drang of New York lawmakers over their neglected constituencies with any tangible action to benefit those who are suffering. In our walks through Staten Island we did not see the rebuilt or even cleaned-up communities so many political leaders had promised.

(Photo:Joanne Stocker)
(Photo:Joanne Stocker)

Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the formation of a Staten Island Task Force to contend with the borough’s particularly severe devastation (an announcement made at a business luncheon, providing further reason to question with what interests the mayor’s concern lies) , more than a month later such a task force had failed to materialize. Much of Staten Island still looked like a demilitarized zone, with mutual aid within communities as the only substantive form of relief for many.

“The only thing you can say about this neighborhood is that it's not getting better, only changing,” retired FDNY Lieutenant John McCole tells our crew on one visit. A light drizzle falls in the shattered Staten Island neighborhood of New Dorp, as the street we're on roars with debris removal trucks and the occasional van passing by, packed with volunteers from states like South Carolina.

At the time of this visit, it had been nearly a month since Hurricane Sandy smashed into New York City, and McCole was right: In three trips to this neighborhood, we hadn't noticed a marked improvement in the lives of residents.

The only constant seemed to be struggle.

John is tall, with hunched bony shoulders and a quick smile. He wears a blue dirt-encrusted FDNY fleece. He lost many colleagues when the two towers fell on September 11th, 2001. He is now a private contractor working out of Manhattan doing home repairs, but has been spending a lot of his free time in New Dorp and the other hard-hit neighborhood of what he calls the “Forgotten Borough,” Midland Beach. He helps many he knew growing up here – assisting in everything from food and supply deliveries to home repairs. He plans to write a book someday about his experiences on Staten Island.

He pauses. A bead of rain drips from his cap onto his nose. “The only real help I've seen around here is that of neighbors helping each other,” which is a constant refrain each time we’ve visited this neighborhood. (continue reading...)