James–Squadron: The Big Little Battle for NYC Public Advocate

Who will replace Bill De Blasio (pictured above) as NYC's next Public Advocate? (Photo: CC/Flickr/Bill De Blasio)
Who will replace Bill De Blasio (pictured above) as NYC's next Public Advocate? (Photo: CC/Flickr/Bill De Blasio)

New York City voters face a tough choice on October 1st, 2013, when they will cast their vote in the Democratic run off for Public Advocate. The candidates, Letitia “Tish” James and Daniel Squadron, have been campaigning, debating and fighting for votes these past few weeks in a hotly contested race that has them agreeing on some issues, while fighting over the few key differences.

Letitia James, a councilwoman from Brooklyn, is very well known to local activists from her years of community organizing, and has drawn wide support from groups like 32B-J/199-SEIU and New York Communities for Change. In an email to supporters, Theresa R. Revesz, Chair of Citizen Action in New York City, wrote that “over the last decade-plus, there has not been a single more active, reliable and hardworking advocate for progressive values in New York City than Tish.”

From the fight to keep city hospitals open to the fight against Atlantic Yards/Barclay’s Center, what James doesn’t have in Daniel Squadron’s campaign budget (Squadron raised about $1.7 million, James raised about $800k) she may be able to overcome thanks to the concerted efforts of her allies in the activist grassroots.

It’s perhaps this grassroots appeal that has been the strength of James’ career. As explained at In These Times, “in 2003,.. she ran on the Working Families Party ticket and became the first third-party candidate to win a city council seat since the 1970s—with 77 percent of the vote.”

Daniel Squadron was elected to office as a State Senator in 2008, and he has his own progressive chops: for example, helping to create the “benefit corporation” designation, which allows for companies that allow to pursue social good instead of profit. Squadron also helped end the policy of charging homeless families for emergency shelter.

NYC and the Real Estate Oligarchy

But Squadron came into office with the promise of fighting off developers who wanted to place luxury housing in the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Once elected, Squadron ended up cutting a deal with Bloomberg, and housing (exclusively high-priced, luxury housing) has since been approved. While Squadron is acknowledged by insiders for reducing the total amount of luxury housing to be built in the park, the incident serves as a hint at what makes him so suspect to the New York activist set.

According to the Atlantic Yards Report (a highly respected local blog on the Atlantic Yards/Barclay’s Center development), real estate giant “Forest City would like Dan Squadron, not Tish James, to become Public Advocate.” As expressed at DailyKos, in a post entitled “What’s Wrong With Daniel Squadron, Anyway?,”

“Mr. Squadron has close and long-standing ties with the true rulers of New York City, its real-estate developers… While he loudly proclaims that he accepts no corporate PAC money, he has no problem accepting donations in the maximum allowable amount from private individuals with significant ties to the real estate industry, such as the following people connected to Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, the developer of the widely-opposed Atlantic Yards project:

Ellen Ratner (sister of Bruce) and her spouse Cholene Espinoza (resident of Cleveland, OH), $4950 each

Forest City Ratner VP Mary Anne Gilmartin, $200”


While Squadron has made consistent noise about Letitia James' status as a landlord herself (she owns a rowhouse, part of which she rents out), it's Squadron's own connections to the real estate industry that have left some in the progressive quarters of the Democratic Party less than enthusiastic about his possible stint as New York City’s Public Advocate.

Besides the connections listed in the Daily Kos piece above (where, in total, over $40,000 dollars worth of connections are laid out between Squadron and NYC’s biggest real estate players), according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board website, in 2012-2013, Squadron received $4.950 from George Klein, CEO of the Park Tower Group, which is currently trying to push through the Greenpoint Landing project.

Finally, as the run-off has drawn nearer, numerous complaints have surfaced on twitter, FaceBook and blogs of Squadron (or his allies) using robo-calls and flyers to attack Letitia James (the dailykos post above has two pictures in their updates). Even with Squadron’s serious financial advantage (and the fact that James was nonetheless leading in early polling), the sheer nastiness of the recent negative campaigning has shocked some activists into wondering whether Squadron is just another power-broker in progressive clothing. The connections that have come to light between Squadron and multi-millionaire real estate developers, the dreaded economic plutocrats of the city, probably aren't helping his progressive image either. [Update: nasty robo-calls against James have been confirmed and according to Politicker, Daniel Squadron dodged questions about his connections to those robo-calls]

In a year when so-called "faux-gressives," like Christine Quinn, have drawn the ballot-box ire of the local Left's activist roots, the appearance of a high-priced effort to make this an ugly campaign, combined with the revelations of Squadron's connections to developers, has a serious likelihood of backfiring on Squadron (who has said he will run for State Senate re-election if he's unsuccessful in his bid for Public Advocate).

-- M Jalonschi

Race Tightens as NYers Search for a People’s Mayor

(Photo: Wilhelm Joys Andersen/CC)
(Photo: Wilhelm Joys Andersen/CC)

There was a time New Yorkers were resigned to the fact that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a close ally of the real estate industry, would win the Democratic mayoral primary. Between all that corporate money and name recognition, insurgent primary campaign efforts seemed futile. With the City Council Speaker having earned the nickname Deputy Mayor Quinn, New York had braced itself for Bloomberg Four.

As the primary season has heated up, things have gotten more complicated. With negative stories appearing about Quinn’s cutthroat vindictiveness and the heat she drew for blocking the paid sick days bill, City Hall is no longer hers for the taking. She may still come out on top in the primary, but not with enough votes to avoid a run-off. The question becomes: Is there a 99 percent alternative to Quinn’s embodiment of the status quo?

In a sense, there’s only so much one can expect from anyone in the pack. If a Democrat wins, which according to polls is very likely, he or she will be the first Democratic New York City mayor in 20 years, and people might have forgotten that even someone with progressive credentials is going to at least some degree have to give deference to the Democratic machine and owe specific favors to campaign boosters when it comes to making policy.

While public sector unions might reason that endorsing the winner in advance might make for smoother labor relations down the road, the mayor is the boss and is mandated to be in a functionally dialectical relationship with labor.

But there are differences among the alternatives, and Quinn’s ability to walk away with the primary is hampered by the late entrance of former Congressman Anthony Weiner and the campaign of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, both of whom draw white, outer-borough support away from Quinn, who needs to shake off her image as a Sunday brunching Manhattanite.

Quinn attempted to regain progressive credentials by finally allowing a vote on the paid sick days bill (though a watered down version that basically cuts out manufacturing and shift workers from protection) and coming around to support an inspector general for the police. This inspired former City Comptroller William Thompson to move right, angering many African American leaders for advocating for the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk. He’s good at giving speeches about creating jobs and affordable housing, but he never says how he’s going to do that, and he doesn’t propose how to bring in new revenue to fund, say, the 2,000 new cops he wants to hire. Indeed, he came out of the gate early promising no increased taxes on the wealthiest or corporations.

John Liu in support of the LGBT community at a recent NY Pride Parade. (Photo: UrbanLatinaFemale/Flickr/cc)
John Liu in support of the LGBT community at a recent NY Pride Parade. (Photo: UrbanLatinaFemale/Flickr/cc)

By contrast, his successor, John Liu, has crafted a plan that would close tax loopholes for corporations, which shows he’s interested in finding money for the partial retroactive pay he’s promised city workers in collective bargaining (most city unions are operating on expired wage agreements). Liu’s not afraid of class consciousness when he approaches an audience and apologizes to those in the room making more than $500,000 a year.

Perhaps Liu's most notable achievement in the past four years was uncovering problems with the CityTime contract, which hemorrhaged money public sector workers believed should have been directed to city services. But two members of his previous campaign team were recently convicted for financial wrongdoing, sullying his reputation, but Liu hopes that over time this scandal will fall out of public memory. Besides, it’s not an issue Quinn can easily raise without opening herself up as a target, as she presided over the City Council slush fund scandal that resulted in convictions of several lawmakers.

Bill Thompson discussing graduating rates. (Photo: Gotham Schools/CC/Flickr)
Bill Thompson discussing graduating rates. (Photo: Gotham Schools/CC/Flickr)

Thompson and Liu are interesting because if neither of them face the Republican in November, and State Senator Daniel Squadron defeats City Councilman Letitia James for the public advocate slot, the citywide Democratic ticket will be all white (Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is vying for comptroller unopposed). Plus, if de Blasio or Weiner pulls an upset it will be all white and all male. This is a public relations blunder the party has to be worried about.

De Blasio has to shake his past of initially siding with developers over small business and residents facing evictions in the Atlantic Yards project and his advocacy for luxury high-rises to be built at Brooklyn Bridge Park. And while he can cite support from 1199/SEIU, the mega-local representing members along the eastern seaboard, public sector labor support appears to be coalescing behind Liu, and a recent nod from the city’s electricians’ union shows Liu may be making headway among the powerful building trades unions.

That doesn’t translate necessarily into some massive departure from the past three terms if Liu’s elected. That takes constant pressure. According to lore, unions once approached President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a list of demands for working people, and he responded with something like, “That sounds great. Now get out in the streets and force me to do it.”

That advise for activists is just as relevant on the local level. The mayor is still going to be a boss, the chief in charge of the police and be the target of pressure from finance and real estate interest, all of whom have little problem with the cost of living of middle and working class New Yorkers. The question, then, might not be so much how progressives can elect the next mayor, but how they might form a coalition that can push its agenda vocally and aggressively after January 1.

--Ari Paul

Mixed Bag for NY’s Working, Middle Class Families in 2013 Mayoral Election

Your rent is too damn high. You’re trying to make a living in the worst economy since the Depression. If you have a job, you probably haven’t gotten more than a token raise in years, and there’s a good chance you’re working freelance or part-time, with no benefits or security.

Front-runner Christine Quinn speaking to business leaders in Brooklyn. (Photo: Myrtle Avenue Business Partnership/CC)
Front-runner Christine Quinn speaking to business leaders in Brooklyn. (Photo: Myrtle Avenue Business Partnership/CC)

So what does this year’s crop of mayoral candidates have to offer you, after 12 years of rule by Michael Bloomberg, the seventh-richest person in the United States—who increased his fortune by more than $22 billion while in office?


Six of the 11 now running are Democrats—City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, plus former Councilmember Sal Albanese and activist/comedian Randy Credico. Four are seeking the Republican nomination: former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joseph Lhota, supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis, community-newspaper publisher Tom Allon, and George McDonald, head of the Doe Fund, a nonprofit that helps the homeless. Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr. is the Independence Party nominee.

Quinn is generally considered the front-runner, as she has raised the most money and is well ahead of the other Democratic hopefuls in current polls. She’s straddling the need to appeal to working people while pleasing her funders in the city’s power elite—joining tenants protesting outside a Washington Heights building with no heat or electricity, but also blocking the Council from voting on a bill to require businesses to give employees paid sick leave.

Her record on housing issues reflects this. Under her leadership, the Council has passed legislation to have the city single out the buildings with the worst housing-code violations for aggressive inspection, to require city inspectors to cite the underlying causes of problems such as leaks, and to authorize the city to make repairs itself and sue the landlord for their cost. She’s annually urged the city Rent Guidelines Board, which sets permissible increases for the more than 900,000 remaining rent-stabilized apartments, to freeze rents, and gone to Albany several times to lobby for repeal of the state law that prevents the city from strengthening its rent regulations, while de Blasio, Liu, and Thompson haven’t.


On the other hand, Quinn has taken far more money from the real-estate lobby than any of the other candidates, and has supported megadevelopment deals that are packing her Greenwich Village-Chelsea district with high-priced high-rises, from the just-approved rezoning of the Hudson Square area west of Soho to the Manhattan West and Hudson Yards luxury housing and retail complexes being built west of Penn Station. (Similar rezonings in Greenpoint-Williamsburg and Long Island City have jammed the waterfront there with luxury housing too, and produced only a fraction of the affordable units promised.) You have to look pretty hard to find a black, Latino, or working-class person in the ads for Manhattan West. The Related Companies, Hudson Yards’ developer, has contributed more than $40,000 to Quinn’s campaign.

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)

Lost Wages Due to Sandy? NY Public Advocate May Be Able to Help

During Hurricane Sandy, millions of New Yorkers were trapped away from work. For folks who could not work remotely, this sometimes translated to lost wages for jobs the had no way of getting to.

New York City Public Advocate Bill De Blasio recently announced that there may be help available for not only businesses who were affected by the storm, but employees who might have lost out on a few days pay.

According to CBS:

[De Blasio's] team has been providing assistance to businesses with insurance, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, loans, and worker compensation.

“We’re trying to make sure folks get lost wages, they get lost income, they get help from the Small Business Administration to get some money in their pockets to get up and running, they get help getting their electricity back on – we’re working on all those fronts,” de Blasio told 1010 WINS.

You can contact the Public Advocate for more information on recuperating lost wages by calling their office at (212) 669-7250.