Thursday, June 12, 2008


UP FRONT News June 10, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


By Tom Weiss

Several days before the June 7 legislative breakfast sponsored by the Staten Island African-American Political Association, I called the SIAAPA President Dora Berksteiner to let her know that I was planning to attend and to get some specifics in case others might want to attend. She expressed gratification at my plans to attend. She said although she expected most Staten Island elected officials to attend, as I recall she mentioned only Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer. (As it turned out Ms. Hyer-Spencer was among those who did not attend.)

I asked Ms. Berksteiner about Q&A. She told me that questions should be submitted beforehand and that they would be read to the politicians for response by the meeting chairperson.

I immediately sent Ms. Berkensteiner an e-mail with two questions. The first asked the politicians as to their views on a proposed mega-garage for the new courthouse to be built in St. George. My view is that a garage of that size in an area that is very well served by public transportation (bus, train, ferry) can only add to air pollution and to the traffic crunch on the Verrazzano Bridge. As far as I am concerned, the garage, essentially built to that size for the comforts of judges and lawyers, is an example of environmental racism. The garage needs to be substantially downsized, no matter what the pro-establishment Staten Island Advance might suggest. My second question asked for their views on the "Urban Design Plan" recently put forth by the Downtown Staten Island Council. As far as I am concerned the plan which covers the communities of St. George, Stapleton, Tompkinsville and Clifton, is a thinly disguised plan to in effect "Soho-ize" these ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods. In fact the plan contains, among other examples of de facto ethnic cleansing, the totally idiotic idea of expanding Stapleton's Tappen Park eastward along Canal Street toward the Homeport so that the corridor will be nice and "green." It just so happens that I am one of a number or residents living there, along with some small businesses. Indeed, when at a recent meeting of the Staten Island Democratic Association I asked plan promoter Dan Marrotta of the DSIC what would happen to me and the other residents and businesses, he said, "I don't know." Well, Mr. Marrotta, I do know and you can, in my best Brooklynese, "fuhgeddaboudit!"

I got to the meeting in New Brighton before it began. Ms. Berksteiner said she hadn't gotten my e-mail. I immediately gave her one of the many printout copies I had brought with me.
She gave a copy to the chairperson.

As it turned out, while there were plenty of capital "D" Democrats present, the meeting was less than small "d" democratic. As happens recurrently for example at dictatorially controlled meetings of the "left", my question was perhaps the only one (or maybe one of a very few) that didn't get asked because the order of the questions was selected by the chair.

The chair also willfully avoided exercizing her prerogative of enforcing the speaker time limits she announced on several occasions.

That gave the more verbose panelists - e.g. State Senator Diane Savino, City Councilman Michael McMahon (Democratic candidate for congress) and McMahon's Democratic opponent Steven Harrison - a lot more time than allotted. Indeed Diane Savino, one of the more corrupt and negligent politicians around (perhaps still employing as Chief of Staff the sometimes blatantly physically menacing Robert Cataldo), seems to have a Strom Thurmond-like filibustering capacity that enables her to express in several thousand words what more succinct politicians like the quite engaging City Councilman, Republican James Oddo, can express in a few hundred. And so there was no time to get to my question as the chair made several references to the rising nervousness of SIAAPA Vice-President Kelvin Alexander about closing time.

It is also interesting that one challenger (Mr. Harrison) was seated at the front with the elected officials and had tons of speaking time, while several other challengers, e.g. Rev. Tony Baker, a Democrat who is running for the City Counil seat that I am glad to say is finally being vacated by Michael (Machine) McMahon, sat in the audience and got only a few moments of time near the end of the meeting.

As far as the substance of the meeting is concerned, I am glad to report that they are all against evil, sin, traffic, overcrowded schools and child molesters in the living in the neighborhood. They all appear to like trees. Maybe some of those in the front of the room attend houses of worship. In consideration of all the official propriety in the front of the room, it is appropriate to report that such enviable unanimity could not have taken place had "Big" Dick Cheney pal Vito Fossella interrupted whatever other business he may have had in order to attend.

There was at least one blatant untruth uttered by one of the panelists. McMahon had the gall to claim that he has worked with everyone in his district. I have his December, 2006 e-mail to me refusing to assist me on some urgent matters because I had exercized my constitutional right to criticize his political mother superior, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (now wallowing deep in the slush fund scandal, which is in fact only the tip of an iceberg of Quinn corruption and negligence). I had to remind Mr. McMahon of the facts. That got an SIAAPA hothead sitting near me very angry. For some reason the even more constituent-negligent Assemblyman Matthew Titone showed up, late, looking as if he had interrupted a round of golf. Better late than never? As far as I am concerned, in Titone's case, better never than late.

The SIAPPA needs to do something about small "d" democracy and certainly about the manners in public of some of its members.

There were plenty of Democrats there but not enough democrats. No wonder there are so many Republicans and "independents" in Staten Island.

One of those "independents" is a man named Richard Thomas. He states that he is running against Diane Savino as an "independent" - a term with weird connotations in New York because of the long history of Independence Party of New York's (past?) dictatorial rule by the racist Lenora Fulani, a surrogate for the megalomaniac and convicted felon Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., some of whose agents remain in positions of power in Staten Island. I don't know what party the African-American Richard Thomas belongs to but he told me that he plans to run as a Republican.

Over my many years of political experience there has been one (now former) Republican who earned my respect. He is former U.S. Congressman Joe DioGuardi, who represented a district in Westchester and the Bronx for four years during the Reagan years in the 1980's.

Mr. DioGuardi was elected as a conservative Reaganite. At the time I was working at a homeless shelter in Westchester and served as the legislative representative of the Coalition for the Homeless of Westchester (CHOW). To make a long story short, strongly influenced by me, Mr. DioGuardi became one of the strongest advocates for the poor and hungry in the U.S. Congress. He and I became friends.

For his efforts he earned the enmity not only of "liberal" Democrats but also of Reagan Re- publicans. The liberal Democrats tried to unseat him by having Bella Abzug of Greenwich Village carpetbag her way into a residence reportedly in White Plains to run against DioGuardi. Abzug was among the world's most loudmouthed "liberals" and, anticipating Hillary Clinton, certainly among the rudest and most arrogant. Some of my friends got angry at me for giving the UP FRONT News endorsement to Mr. DioGuardi. Abzug, like her political offspring Hillary, was the early heavy favorite but Joe DioGuardi sent Bella packing back to Greenwich Village.

Ultimately since DioGuardi refused to play ball with the reactionary Reagan team, the Re- publicans refused to back him for a third term, picking an early neo-con, Sue Kelly. Mr. DioGuardi, a man with a strong libertarian streak (his hero is Tom Paine), joined the Con- servative Party. Most of his work however is as the president of the Albanian-American Civic League and he has emerged as perhaps the most important spokesperson in this country for the life of Kosovo.

One of the legislative issues that, thanks to the way the meeting was run, was not addressed was tenants rights, "rent-flation" and gentrification. These issues should have priority in Staten Island, especially since the North Shore is now in the crosshairs of the mega-developers and their friends in what I call the Quinnberg Administration. Aggressive developers like Casandra and Massey-Knakal are attempting to gentrify Stapleton and adjacent communities and the acreage at the Homeport has the developers salivating.

As the many readers of UP FRONT News are aware, I have lived in all five boroughs of New York City (as well as upstate, in and near Binghamton) and I have long been involved with the communities in Lower Manhattan where the mega-developers have run wild. I have long been a supporter of independent activists such as the musician Rebecca Moore, the founder of the Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization (LOCO) and an organizer in "Take It To the Bridge", which recently had a surprisingly mainstream media (New York Times, New York Post) covered demonstration opposing the offensively upscale boutique Varvatos that replaced the displaced CBGB's rock club. Ms. Moore and allies on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown have for years been battling in mayoral-controlled Manhattan Community Board 3 to stem the tide of luxurization that has transformed a once somewhat troubled working class community into a still very troubled monarchy for the rich. The same holds true in Tribeca, where I used to live, even before Robert DeNiro moved in as rents and condo purchase prices went through the high-rise roofs.

Staten Island's North Shore is one of the new battlegrounds and, as far as I am concerned, the so-called aforementioned "Urban Design Plan" is something of a declaration of political and econmic war on the poor. I do not see much in the way of resistance at Staten Island's Community Board 1.

One way to keep working class communities viable is for there to be meaningful rent pro- tections devoid of the kinds of loopholes that characterize the euphemism known as "rent stabilization." Rent stabilization is a joke because under the existing system there is no way to clearly check the validity of landlord claims of indigence, which always accompany the landlord lobby's demand for unjustifiable rent increases at the rent stabilization law-created NYC Rent Guidelines Board. New Yorkers are very familiar with the circus atmosphere at RGB hearings, which afford both landlord lobbyists and self-appointed and corrupt tenant "leaders" such as the landlord lobby-colluding Christine Quinn pal Mike ("The Knife") McKee the opportunity to manipulate the public.

What is needed is legislation that would require any landlord or landlady seeking a rent increase for any reason to open his or her books for auditing to prove need. In fact, late in the last millenium such legislation was repeatedly introduced. It was known as the Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act. It was introduced by State Senator John Flynn (R.-Yonkers) and State Assemblyman John Dearie (D.-Bx.). The fact that a principal sponsor was a veteran
and "conservative" Republican meant that Flynn-Dearie could have passed. The problem was that it was torpedoed repeatedly by the sinister combination of the landlord lobby working in collusion with fifth columnist McKee, who broke off from the Flynn-Dearie supporting-New York Metropolitan Council on Housing to form the divisive New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition (NYSTNC). McKee helped bury Flynn-Dearie before it ever came to the floor of the legislature by claiming that the "open the books" provision was "too cumbersome." And then he would go on and denounce the Republicans, even as a key Republican leader was lining up for tenants rights.

I've asked both Matthew Titone and Diane Savino to look into the possibility of introducing Flynn-Dearie-style legislation. They have said they would get back to me. Sure!

One legislator who is at least on record via an e-mail to me that he is interested in the idea is State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, (D.-Manh.) (He may be a little uncomfortable about this like his relatively Democratic machine-independent colleague from Staten Island Assemblywoman Hyer-Spencer because they are among those who, no matter what they may say in public, know how negligent Matthew Titone and Diane Savino are.)

Another legislator who has expressed at least initial interest verbally is State Senator Andrew Lanza (R.-S.I.), who attend the SIAPPA event and who also has the merits of being less tiresomely verbose as Savino. Mr. Lanza's State Senate predecessor, John Marchi, by the way, thanks to my lobbying efforts with him in the 1970's and 1980's, played a key role in the passage of the Loft Law (although the law was critically weakened by the nefarious "tenants rights" combo of Mike McKee and self-appointed loft tenant "leader" Chuck ("Ol' Loophole") Delaney. Mr. Lanza and I do not agree on anti-gun legislation but at least he didn't talk the subject to death Savino-style.

Mr. Lanza and I talked briefly at the meeting and I have been in telephone contact with his district and legislative office, both apparently run much more professionally than has been my experience with the really, really bad Titone and with Savino, where constituents should consider bringing bodyguards with them in case Cataldo loses it again.

Lanza is a "conservative." I hope that he is ready to do what may be necessary to "conserve" the working class communities in Staten Island and to "conserve" the rights of tenants.

In any case, although I am a loyal Democrat, when it comes to ethics there are most certainly higher loyalties. Diane Savino should not get any more smug that she already is.

And she needs to observe time limits. Unfortunately for Staten Islanders on the North Shore there are no term limits (yet) for state legislators.
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