BY ARTHUR SCHWARTZ | I have agreed with The Village Sun that I will do a regular column with important political news and views. Here’s my first try:
- The Importance of Local Press. Local print newspapers, often the only source of news about local affairs, keep dying. Over the past 15 years, the U.S. has lost 25 percent of its local newspapers — 2,100 publications, 70 dailies and more than 2,100 weeklies. In addition, over the past 10 years we’ve lost more than half of the journalists on our surviving papers, meaning fewer reporters to cover routine government meetings and breaking local news. Or to produce investigative pieces. In addition, large investment entities have swooped in to purchase hundreds of the remaining 6,700 dailies and weeklies at rock-bottom prices, cutting costs, quality and coverage.
- Plastic Bags. As of March 1, 2020, no store in New York State is allowed to give customers single-use plastic “carry-out” bags, except for take-out food and raw meat. In New York City, paper bags, which some might request, will cost 5 cents. For now, the rule won’t apply to restaurants and pharmacies, or to shopping bags used to hold clothes. Although the law took effect this past Sunday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed on Friday to wait one month, until April 1, to enforce penalties against stores that do not comply. The promise, though, was largely symbolic. The agency had planned all along to phase in enforcement to give businesses time to adapt. D.E.C. made the pledge during a hearing on a legal challenge by a bag maker and a trade group of 5,000 bodegas in the city.
- Bail. Beginning in January, cash bail was banned for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. This could set free more than 40 percent of those now held on Rikers Island or at other detention facilities. The New York law is perhaps the most liberal in the country and has already led to the release of 15,000 people who were jailed only because they didn’t have money to post bail, often as little as $250. These folks return to families, jobs, drug therapy, etc. Seeking to scale back the law, opponents have grabbed onto the fact that a small number of the 15,000 people who were released committed other crimes. Although there has been a small rise in the crime rate in the last month, no statistical correlation has been made between that rise and the bail laws. Despite the somewhat demagogic outcry, there is little chance of a “fix” being done by the state Legislature this year.
- Sexual Harassment. Starting Feb. 1, under New York State law, an employee can sue his or her employer for sexual harassment without having to show that it is “pervasive.” And all employers, no matter how small, will be covered. This puts pressure on employers to respond immediately to complaints of even one-time instances of sexual harassment on the job.
- Bloomberg BS. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is running for president. Now he is a Democratic “progressive.” He has apologized for “stop and frisk,” even though he fought for it in court up until the last day of his mayoralty. And he tells us that the 64 sexual-harassment cases against him and his company had to do with “bad jokes.” But will he address the fact that during his mayoralty, the percentage of income in the city controlled by the top 1 percent soared past 40 percent? And he resisted universal free pre-K, paid family leave, and the $15-per-hour minimum wage. We are waiting to hear about his progressive bona fides.
- 2021 NYC Campaigns Begin. We haven’t even gotten past the 2020 presidential primary and a slew of people are already campaigning for New York City positions in 2021. West Side City Councilmember Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are already up and running for mayor. For borough president in Manhattan? State Senator Brad Hoylman is thinking about it. If he runs, City Councilmembers Ben Kallos (Upper East Side) and Mark Levine (Upper West Side) are his announced opponents.
- Ranked-Choice Voting. Starting in June, in New York City primaries and elections where there are more than two candidates, voters will get to rank their choices — first, second, third, etc. If no one gets a majority of first-place votes (more than 50 percent), then second-place votes get added in. So, someone can win who has fewer first-place votes than another candidate. Voting will require more thought; campaigning, more nuance. And, by the way, in all elections there will now be 19 days of early voting.
- Corey’s SUV. Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, is a big proponent of bike paths, even though the most recent Mobility Report, published by the New York City Department of Transportation, shows that only 1 percent of all trips in the city in 2018 were taken by bike. Johnson wants the city to spend $1.7 million on bike paths over the next four years. How does he get to and from his W. 15th St. apartment and to his various meetings? He has never been seen riding a bike to work. How does he travel? By a city-owned SUV.
- Con Ed Rate Hike. The Public Service Commission has given Con Ed rate hikes: 7.5 percent in 2020, 8.8 percent in 2021, and 7.2 percent in 2022. What better time to conserve!
- Commercial Rent Control Bill. One big bill in the City Council this year is a proposal to impose rent controls on commercial rents. It would freeze rents on small-scale commercial and manufacturing tenants and create board-set maximum increases, as is done for residential apartments. For some reason, Corey Johnson has not allowed the bills to go to the floor for a vote.
Schwartz is the Village’s male Democratic district leader and a principal attorney at Advocates for Justice.