Trump contracts with city parks should be terminated, Councilman Levine says

 

By Lauren Cook

City Councilman Mark Levine is urging the city Parks Department to terminate its contracts with businesses owned by President Donald Trump in light of recent guilty pleas from his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Levine, whose district includes the Upper West Side and Washington Heights, said on Friday that documents released as part of Cohen’s plea deal prove the Trump Organization is “deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy,” and provide the city with the opportunity to cut ties with the Trump-owned companies.

“This is exactly the pretext used for cancellation of a similar concession agreement with another company in 2011, when the Parks Departments terminated the contract of East Coast Golf, Inc., to run a golf course in Marine Park, Brooklyn, because of alleged ties to organized crime,” Levine said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Levine argued the city’s contracts with Trump’s businesses have long been problematic, with promises of public benefits unrealized, exorbitant pricing to users and falling city revenue.

The city has three contracts with Trump businesses — Wollman Rink LLC, Central Park Carousel LLC and Trump Ferry Point LLC — that are expected to last at least through 2020, The Washington Post reported in May.

While the city projected in 2017 that it would receive about $2.1 million from its contract with Wollman Rink Operations, which also runs Lasker Rink at the northern tip of Central Park, Trump received nearly $9.3 million from the same deal, The Washington Post reported.

“It’s time for the city Parks Department to sever ties with the Trump Organization once and for all. We must free Wollman Rink, Lasker Rink, the Central Park Carousel, and the Ferry Point Landing golf course from the grip of a company which harms the interest of New Yorkers and violates the law,” the councilman said. “The precedent for taking such action is clear. The Trump Organization’s parks concessions contracts should be terminated immediately.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said they are monitoring the events surrounding Cohen's plea deal to, "determine whether or not they provide grounds to take action."

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Councilman calls for canceling Trump Organization contracts with city over Michael Cohen plea deal

 

By Jillian Jorgensen

A city councilman is re-upping calls for the city to cut ties with the Trump Organization following guilty pleas by President Trump’s personal lawyer.

Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) said Michael Cohen’s plea — and his relationship to the Trump Organization — give the city the legal opening it needs to scuttle its Trump Organization contracts in city parks.

“Revelations in the Michael Cohen plea deal make the case for termination of these contracts stronger than ever, with evidence that the Trump Organization has been deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy,” Levine said.

And there’s precedent for getting out of such deals, he argued: The city previously nixed a contract for a Marine Park golf course with East Coast Golf, Inc., in 2011 because of the company’s alleged ties to organized crime.

“There was no claim that they were not fulfilling the terms of service in the park — it was because they were involved in illegal activities,” Levine told The News. “And we’re at the same place now with the Trump Organization.”

The Trump Organization currently operates Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink in Central Park, the Central Park Carousel, and the Ferry Point Landing golf course in the Bronx. Various city officials have called for the cancellation of those contracts for years — dating backing to Trump’s campaign and his disparaging comments about Mexicans. But city officials had said they couldn’t legally cancel the deals just because they disagreed with Trump’s speech.

Levine argued the organization’s connections to Cohen offered a “compelling legal rationale for getting out of these contracts.”

The contracts are also hurting the city’s reputation and its bottom line, Levine argued.

“There also are really compelling interests in the city to get out of this relationship because of financial interests, and reputational factors as well,” Levine said. “We have declining usage at Trump-branded facilities, which means that we get less revenue.”

Levine also argued the amount of money the Trump Organization is charging to operate a golf course on city land — city residents pay $154 during the week or $185 on the weekends for 18 holes of golf— is “far beyond what the average Bronx resident can afford.”

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

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Why Local Council Members Voted to Freeze the Number of App-Based, For-Hire Vehicles For One Year

By Carol Tannenhauser

The number of app-based, for-hire cars licensed in New York City has more than quadrupled in the past three years to 63,000. Last Wednesday, the City Council voted to freeze that number for one year, mandating the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to study the impacts of the explosive growth of Uber, Lyft and Via on both drivers and the city, to determine if and how the industry should be regulated going forward.

Local Council Member Mark Levine (District 7), who voted for the legislation, explained in a telephone interview why he felt it was so important.

“One of the effects of the dramatic increase in licenses is that we have more and more drivers competing for fares, and, therefore, longer and longer wait times for the drivers between passengers,” he said. “It’s estimated that 40% of the time of the average driver is spent cruising around with no passengers. That affects their income, obviously; they’re not being paid for that time, even though they’re burning gas. So many of the vehicles you see crowding the streets of midtown and the Upper West Side don’t have passengers. They’re not performing a function and they’re costing us in terms of congestion and the environment.”

Levine stressed that “they’ll be a pause for a year, but there will be no reduction in vehicles. And we’re going to allow additional licenses for wheelchair-accessible vehicles, so there will be growth in that category, which is very important.

“As of now,” he said, “only about 400 app-based, for-hire vehicles are wheelchair accessible, out of 63,000.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal (District 6), a co-sponsor, praised the legislation.

“Ensuring every driver in New York City earns a decent wage, tackling the nuances of congestion, and properly regulating app-based vehicles is a fair, evidence-based, and comprehensive approach,” she wrote in an email to WSR. “Even better, the 12-month moratorium on new licenses exempts wheelchair-accessible vehicles – a powerful incentive to finally start adding accessible vehicles to the road. It also stresses that if an area of the city is under-served by for-hire vehicles, the TLC is authorized to issue new licenses.”

The mayor has already announced that he will sign the bill into law. It will take effect 120 days after signing. Vehicles in the process of applying will be grandfathered in.


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Queens officials slam NYCHA for water tank contamination and call for unannounced inspections

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By Jenna Bagcal

Elected officials and community advocates gathered at the Astoria Houses on Friday to push for increased monitoring of New York City Water tanks, especially in lower-income communities.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, spoke in support of Intro. 1056, which calls for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to conduct unannounced inspections of drinking water tanks on buildings.

Constantinides was joined at Friday’s press conference by Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden on behalf of Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr., Astoria Houses Tenants Association President Claudia Coger and Bethany Goldszer, Senior Director of Programs & Development at Urban Upbound.

The push for cleaner water came after disturbing reports in City and State which showed that harmful materials including dead pigeons, squirrels and cockroaches, were not included on NYCHA and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene records. According to the article, water tank inspections are often performed after they have been cleaned, which does not give residents a clear picture of the potentially hazardous material they’re ingesting.

In recent years, poor water quality in public housing complexes in Queens and the Bronx has resulted in an increase in Legionnaires Disease, a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that grow in warm water.

As a response to these reports, Intro. 1056 was introduced by Constantinides in partnership with Councilmen Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health, and Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, along with Borough President Diaz.

“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about what will come out of the faucet when they get a glass of water,” Constantinides said. “Unfortunately, that appears to be the case for many, especially our low-income residents, as loopholes are exploited to misrepresent what’s in these water tanks. I am thankful for Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to action on this crisis, and proud to partner with Council members Levine and Torres as well as Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr. to make a step forward in addressing this issue.”

DOHMH inspections under Intro. 1056 would occur periodically and spontaneously without prior notice to the landlord. Following the inspections, the results would be posted online to increase transparency to residents and all other involved parties.

Water tanks are used in over 10,000 New York City buildings that are taller than six stories, according to the DOHMH. Landlords of these buildings are required to submit annual reports that confirm these tanks are free of sediments or harmful bacteria, but few than half did so between 2015 and 2017, according to City and State. The report added that NYCHA buildings had some of the worst-kept tanks, with residents complaining about “murky water being fed from tanks that were falling apart.”

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Massive Sinkhole Opens Up On Upper West Side Street

Patch-Logo.png By Brendan Krisel

UPPER WEST SIDE, NY — A massive sinkhole that could swallow a car whole has opened up on an Upper West Side street, and area residents are frustrated by the lack of urgency in fixing the problem.

The sinkhole appeared Tuesday on West 101st Street and Manhattan Avenue, City Councilman Mark Levine said. The area is coned off and traffic is being directed around the hole, but the crevice hasn't been filled yet, Levine said.

Residents in building near the gaping hole voiced their frustrations to Pix 11 News.

"If it was Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue this matter would've been settled already," neighborhood resident Rene Rodriguez told the news station.

Rodriguez told the news station that the sinkhole has caused problems on the street since 2013, and that each time it opens up the city just fills it with asphalt. A neighborhood mother told Pix 11 that the sinkhole is a danger for the area's children, who approach the unstable street out of curiosity.

Levine said Thursday that Con Edison is dispatching a repair team to fill in the sinkhole.

"Crazy that it's still not fixed after two days. but we believe [con ed] is now finally on way to repair it," Levine said on Twitter.

The city Department of Environmental protection is working with Con Edison to fix the sinkhole, a department spokesman said. An investigation revealed that water and sewer infrastructure near the sinkhole is working properly, the spokesman said.

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Transit Advocates Push Mayor on Bus Reforms

City-Limits.png By Multiple Authors

Transportation advocacy groups released a report Tuesday outlining ways Mayor de Blasio can fix the city’s sluggish bus system, with the goal of improving riders’ commutes in underserved neighborhoods with limited transit options.

The “Bus Turnaround” report, released by Riders Alliance, outlines specific actions the city can take to benefit its 2 million daily bus riders—stressing the de Blasio administration’s role in reforming the system, in addition to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s

“The buses are controlled by the MTA and the streets are controlled by the city—the streets, the traffic lights and the enforcement,” says Councilman Mark Levine. “We will not fix our bus system, we will not implement the Bus Turnaround plan, without the city doing its part.”

The MTA unveiled its own plan in April to improve city bus service, which is being used by fewer riders than in the past; ridership numbers are down 14 percent since 2007, according to the agency’s data. City buses are also notoriously slow, with an average speed of 6.7 miles per hour, the Riders Alliance’ report says.

“I’m a senior. I don’t know how much time I have left, and it seems like I’ve spent all my time waiting for the bus,” says Beth Childs, a “very frustrated” rider from the Upper East Side and a Riders Alliance member. She and other members performed a skit during a press conference in front of City Hall Tuesday, intended to draw attention to the daily struggles of bus riders.

Childs says she frequently takes the M15 bus because it’s hard for her to walk up and down the subway stairs.

“Even with knee and hip replacements, I can walk faster than that bus,” she says.

The report recommends adding 100 miles of bus lanes to New York City’s current 120, making sure bus lanes stay clear by ticketing cars that block them, and improving the experience of riders by establishing bus shelters and making accurate real-time information available to all.

It also calls for the city to expand its use of Transit Signal Priority (TSP), which adjusts traffic lights to prioritize buses moving through intersections. City buses spend 21 percent of their time in service waiting at red lights, according to the report. It recommends that the Department of Transportation quadruple the pace of its current TSP expansion to include all applicable intersections by 2020.

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Council speaker calls emergency meeting on NYCHA’s water tanks

CityandState.pngBy Frank G. Runyeon

New York City elected officials and tenants’ advocates denounced the deteriorating condition of the rooftop water tanks that supply drinking water to New York City Housing Authority tenants, following a report by City & Statewhich revealed dozens of cases of contamination – including birds, rodents, and insects in the tanks – that were never reported to city health officials, as the law requires.

NYCHA indicated that it was revising its policies and health officials said they were examining documents and working with the housing agency to “provide guidance about water tank inspection requirements.” The health department repeated a common refrain that “there is no evidence that the water from water tanks raises any public health concern, and there has never been a sickness or outbreak traced back to a water tank.”

Those official statements did not placate a chorus of discontent over the revelations.

“The reports on contamination in NYCHA water tanks are appalling,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents tenants spotlighted in the City & State report. “This is unacceptable in my district, and it’s unacceptable anywhere in the five boroughs. NYCHA needs to get its act together – quickly. The hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who live in NYCHA buildings deserve better.”

Johnson is scheduling an emergency meeting at the Chelsea Houses with NYCHA and city health officials, according to a spokesman for the speaker. Birds were found in drinking water tanks in both the Elliott and Chelsea housing developments in 2017.

New York City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the council’s Committee on Health that has oversight over the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the agency responsible for ensuring the water tanks are properly maintained, also weighed in.

“NYCHA's shameful legacy of underinvestment has spared no infrastructure system, including the thousands of water towers that residents depend on,” Levine said in a statement. “No one should have to question the quality of their drinking water – especially not NYCHA residents facing challenges on so many other fronts.”

Elected officials launched reform initiatives and a formal inquiry earlier this year after a City & State investigation published in May showed the city’s largely wooden water tanks were often neglected and oversight was lax.

“The City Council is working on a package of bills that will further strengthen the rules for inspection and repair of water tanks while providing much more transparent reports to the public, both in private housing and at NYCHA,” Levine said. “Such policies are critical to ensuring that New Yorkers have full confidence in their drinking water supply.”

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Protestan contra supremacistas blancos en Alto Manhattan

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Cientos de personas se congregaron ayer en Fort Tryon Park en respuesta a la pancarta antiinmigración colocada allí por un grupo de supremacía blanca durante el fin de semana.

“Identity Evropa” colgó el aviso que llamaba a “detener la invasión, terminar con la inmigración”. El mismo grupo se apostó el sábado frente al Consulado de México en Manhattan para manifestar a favor de la construcción del muro fronterizo, una de las promesas electorales del presidente Donald Trump.

El congresista Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan) dirigió la protesta de ayer, acompañado por el concejal Mark Levine (D-Washington Heights) y la vicegobernadora Kathy Hochul.

“Acaban de pelear con 20 millones de neoyorquinos”, afirmó Hochul. “Estamos unidos, liderados por esa bella dama en el puerto, y somos un faro de esperanza”, dijo en referencia a la Estatua de la Libertad.

“Identity Evropa” aboga por el fin de toda inmigración, tanto legal como ilegal y promueve que las personas sólo vivan con otros de su misma raza. El grupo de extrema derecha, fundado en 2016, tiene sólo 300 miembros en todo el país.

“Somos una comunidad de inmigrantes, de gente de color, de judíos, de musulmanes, de personas LGBTQ, por lo que básicamente somos la peor pesadilla de esos tipos”, dijo Levine, citado por Pix11. “¡Y estamos orgullosos de eso!”

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Neighborhoods rally against white supremacist group in Fort Tryon Park

AMNY.pngBy Abigail Weinberg

Protesters gathered at Upper Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park Tuesday to denounce a recent demonstration by Identity Evropa — a white supremacist group that rallied in the same location days before.

Members of Identity Evropa, which has been identified as a white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, unfurled a banner Saturday reading “STOP THE INVASION, END IMMIGRATION” at the park’s Billings Arcade, according to the group’s Twitter account. In response, Rep. Adriano Espaillat organized Tuesday’s event, titled “Uptown Standing Together Against Racism and Xenophobia,” drawing hundreds to Billings Lawn in support.

Fort Tryon Park is situated between Hudson Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood — neighborhoods with predominantly Hispanic populations. The speakers at Tuesday’s event, including State Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, Councilman Mark Levine and Anti-Defamation League Associate Regional Director Melanie Robbins, lauded the neighborhood’s history of accepting immigrants of all ethnicities.

Espaillat called the gathering a celebration of “a neighborhood that welcomed the survivors of the Holocaust right down the street, a neighborhood that welcomed African Americans as they fled Jim Crow in the South, a neighborhood that has welcomed people from all around the world.”

“You come and mar the sanctity of this magnificent park with a message of hate and try to disrupt the beauty that we know here of our immigrant community, you’ve just picked a fight with 20 million New Yorkers,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Many of the protesters were longtime Washington Heights residents.

Hanna Griff-Sleven, 59, has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and brought a photograph of her Jewish ancestors in Lithuania.

“To see that sign here — these guys must have known that a lot of German Jews were here and how offensive it is,” she said. “That they dared to do that made me so angry. Since I’ve been here I’ve never had any of that kind of stuff happen here.”

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Under City Program, Renters-Turned-Homeowners Could Become Renters Again

NYTimes.png By Nikita Stewart

Robert Mattox was not in the position to own a home.

He was raising seven children in 1980 when New York City turned his Harlem building into a cooperative. He was asked if he wanted to buy his three-bedroom apartment.

The city began turning deteriorating buildings over to tenants to save their homes and to help the city in the 1970s. The effort was envisioned as a way to improve a neglected housing stock but also give New Yorkers with low and moderate incomes a financial stake in their homes. Mr. Mattox said he paid $250 for his co-op on 143rd Street and then continued to pay maintenance fees and taxes to retain the apartment.

But what began as a way to help renters own their homes became a challenge as many cooperatives struggled to keep up with taxes and utilities. Since 1997, the city has foreclosed on 74 cooperatives that fell behind in bills, according to data provided by the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency.

In 2015, the city began taking action on 111 co-ops as part of a roundup of hundreds of residential buildings that were in deep debt or disrepair.

Since then, the number has dwindled as co-op owners have banded together to make arrangements with the city to pay back bills. The exact number fluctuates as residents make personal appeals and take legal action. Last week, the City Council voted to remove four cooperatives from the pending foreclosure list. But residents in about 60 cooperatives remain in danger of losing their status as owners.

Without intervention or finding a way to pay the city, the buildings will be transferred to developers for $1. But the developers will also pay the city $8,750 per unit. In exchange for a commitment to improve conditions and management, the developers will not have to pay arrears and will get tax exemptions. Once a developer takes over, the owners will become renters again. 

The failure of the low-income cooperatives serves as a reminder that good intentions can go awry. “This ain’t playing house. This is house,” said Bill Perkins, a council member who represents Harlem, home to many of the co-ops. “We’re finding that so many people couldn’t handle it.”

Some co-op owners and their advocates say the city underestimated the need for oversight and guidance.

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