BIDS PART VIII
BIDS, SBS, CHAMBERS of COMMERCE and OUR DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR COVERING UP AND “DOING NOTHING” TO END A DECADE GROWING CRISIS.
BIDS PLAYED MAJOR ROLE TO STOP A VOTE ON THE ONLY REAL LIFELINE TO SAVE NYC BUSINESSES.
In our past series on NYC BIDS* we made the claim that BIDS were responsible for our city’s “empty store blight.” We further predicted that, prior to the virus crisis, if BIDS had not existed on main streets, the city’s main streets would be filled with thriving long established businesses. Citywide our main streets would mostly have vibrant successful businesses because legislation would have easily been passed a decade ago to protect our long established businesses from being forced to close when their leases expired. We also claimed that the BIDS played a key role in the decade long, lobby orchestrated charade with our Democratic leadership, SBS, and Chambers. This City Hall political theater, pretending to help our small businesses, was nothing but a poorly veiled contrived cover up of our city’s growing small business crisis.
In Part VIII we will expose the major role played by BIDS at a lobby orchestrated sham hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act*, Jobs Survival Act. This disgraceful sham hearing was the most anti- democratic, anti- immigrant, and anti- small business hearing ever held in the City Council. The hearing’s outcome would determine the future of “the backbone of our city’s economy.” By the BIDS own testimony given at this hearing, any reasonable doubt of whom the BIDS really serve, their true contribution to a healthy business environment, their lack of respect for BID merchants or their lack of integrity and of not having any scruples was clearly shown. ( Part IX )
As a result of the BIDS helping to make this sham hearing a huge success for the real estate lobby, we can accurately make another claim against the BIDS. The key role the BIDS played at this lobby’s hearing makes BIDS share in the responsibility for stopping a vote on the only real solution/lifeline to save our small businesses and end their crisis. Furthermore, the BIDS refusing to present an alternative viable solution to stop the closing of even their own BID merchants makes them also share in the responsibility for making every business owner in NYC more vulnerable to closing due to the covid virus crisis!
All the virus crisis did to merchants was to greatly speed up what was already taking place in NYC for years. That was that our city’s long established businesses were being forced to close in record numbers when their leases expired due to having no rights to renegotiate reasonable lease terms. As one of the worst bad actors of this disgraceful hearing to deny economic justice to our desperate small business owners, the BIDS helped lay the foundation for killing the Jobs Survival Act and substituting the useless lobby created Commercial Rent Stabilization bill, CRS, in today’s new Council.
You reap what you sow, except at City Hall. In NYC business owners reap misery, abuse and ruin from what the real estate lobby sows.
The real estate lobby’s PLAN B to keep the status quo for its commercial property owner members was taking control of the 2018 Council hearing on the Jobs Survival Act. The goal of the lobby’s PLAN B was to take total control of the hearings’ narrative and thus its outcome. That outcome would be to silence advocates’ call for an immediate vote on the Jobs Survival Act. The lobby would then, after the hearing, take total control of the Jobs Survival Act to change it to benefit only their own property owner members.
The real estate lobby was given total control of this critical hearing by then Speaker Corey Johnson and then Small Business Committee Chairman Mark Gjonaj. Control to hand pick and coach key early speakers who would give only the lobby’s false narrative of disinformation and distraction, for the purpose to stop a vote on the Jobs Survival Act. From hours of key speakers repeating this scripted lobby’s narrative a foundation would be laid to not just stop a call for a vote in the Council, but amend the bill after the hearing. The lobby’s scheme was calculated and clear. Under the disguise of following the almost unanimous recommendation of the hearings’ speakers, the Jobs Survival Act would be amended and moved to a vote. This call from the hearings’ testimony would come from the lobby’s hand picked and coached loyalist. The Jobs Survival Act would be amended, which is code for watered down, to keep the status quo with business owners having no rights and their futures would remain solely in the hands of their landlords.
Why the Lobby’s Plan B to stop the Jobs Survival Act, and not Plan A?
The lobby’s PLAN A was launched in 2014, and failed miserably. Plan A was to have then Manhattan President Gale Brewer and Small Business Committee Chair CM Robert Cornegy collaborate to pretend and proclaim that they would do extensive research and interviews to come up with legislation that would address the city’s business closings. Their new bill would substitute for the Jobs Survival Act. MBP Brewer knowingly and willfully lied when claiming the Jobs Survival Act was unconstitutional and going anywhere for 30 years collecting dust. On the other hand, MBP Brewer assured everyone her bill would not be held up and easily passed. Of course it would easily pass because it was written and promoted by the real estate lobby who are the largest campaign donors at election time.
The BIDS played a major role in the real estate lobby’s Plan A.* They were touted as the primary source of advice and data for this new lifeline legislation coming. After a year and half of faking research, MBP Brewer launched a major media blitz proclaiming she had found the legislation to save our businesses. Her great lifeline was exposed as a total fraud. It was written 30 years ago by the real estate lobby to stop a vote on the original version of the Jobs Survival Act. Her bill was word for word lobby written and her shameful and unconscionable legislation knowingly would keep the status quo destroying our businesses and was shown to not save a single business or job.
MBP Brewer’s lobby created bill is relevant to BIDS because many BID officers are listed as giving advice to what merchants needed in legislation to continue to grow and create jobs. MBP Brewer’s bill gives business owners no right to renew their leases and only a one year extension of their leases at 15% rent increase to find a new location!
Why is it acceptable to BIDS that the very hard working small business owners who invested their life’s saving and scarifies to build a successful business should be forced to move? If BIDS promoted good economics they would want well established stable successful businesses to stay and continue to create jobs. BIDS should be doing everything in their power to hold onto established businesses instead of forcing them out when their leases expire. BIDS participation in sanctioning this shameful lobby bill and with not one BID protesting its obvious bias and landlord favoritism, is reprehensible and appalling.
Once exposed, MBP Brewer quickly was forced to drop this indefensible and insulting bill. The real estate lobby dropped Plan A and moved on to Plan B, the Council hearing. For the real estate lobby’s planning, if we cannot substitute our own bill then we have our Council cronies highjack and change the Jobs Survival Act to suit us.
The last hearing on the Jobs Survival Act was June 2009. Where the entire committee’s members selected the Jobs Survival Act as the only real solution to stop the closings of our businesses and end the crisis. The real estate lobby conspiring with then Speaker Quinn cooked up a bogus legal claim to stop a vote on the bill, even with its 32 sponsors and easy passage assured. What followed this despicable act of betray at City Hall for nine years was NYC Courts* issuing 53,314 warrants to vacate commercial businesses. An estimated 155K-162K businesses closed without a court fight. Empty stores appeared in every main street of our city where once community loved vibrant businesses were. Stores left empty for sometimes years. And increased landlord abuses against mainly immigrant owned businesses. Knowing the dire state of our small businesses and the destructive outcome to our small businesses by stopping a vote in 2009 on the Jobs Survival Act, would the real estate lobby be so void of any decency and humanity to again stop a vote on the only real solution to save our businesses, the backbone of our economy?
Would the real estate lobby allow the continued destruction of the backbone of our economy to the point where our small businesses would become extinct? Was our Council so moral bankrupt that they would allow the real estate lobby to continue to block this only lifeline for our businesses? Was there not a single true progressive leader at City Hall who would be a strong voice for rights and justice for our owners? One lawmaker not controlled by special interest or the corrupt machines and willing to stand up and demand that never again would good government allow our business owners to be denied the economic justice they deserve? The 2018 hearing would show who really runs City Hall.
As the authors and advocates of the Jobs Survival Act for over 34 years, upon learning a hearing date was set for our bill we contacted CM Mark Gjonaj, Chair of the Small Business Committee. There had been 11 prior hearings on the Jobs Survival Act and at every hearing the authors, chief advocate, and prime sponsor were given priority and the right to help organize the hearing. They were permitted to give a list of early supports who would give strong testimony making the best case for the legislation. Also, speakers with the most knowledge of the bill and issue were heard early so as to correct the likely misinformation testified by opponents.
In a travesty of justice, Chair Gjonaj refused to meet or even discuss with us our recommended speakers or any role in this hearing. An unbelievable failure of Council policy and ethics by Chairman Gjonaj. We knew Chairman Gjonaj was bias to big real estate interests. After all, he was hand picked by the real estate lobby to be Chairman, he set records for campaign donations from big real estate in his elections, he owns his own real estate company, he is publicly opposed to any regulation of landlords, and many times has publicly stated he was strongly opposed to the Jobs Survival Act. We had no intentions of sitting at a hearing on our bill and listening for hours of disinformation about our bill and only getting to respond late in the day to empty chairs. Therefore, not wanting to give any credibility to this mockery of justice sham hearing we called for a boycott. If ones cause is fighting against any real estate interests, you will never get fair treatment at City Hall.
Who would select the best advocates to speak for our bill? Which people having the most experience and direct knowledge of the commercial lease renewal process and would best set the record straight when needed? Not the authors of the bill with decades of small business commercial lease experience, but instead those that orchestrated the hearing, the real estate lobby would pick the Jobs Survival Act advocates? Who did the lobby pick to advocate for the bill? People who never owned a small business or likely never read the bill but all would recommend amending the Jobs Survival Act and none called for an immediate vote.
From this day of the hearing, City Hall would have a new name, REBNY HALL.
A Who’s Who of NYC power brokers, grossly overpaid bureaucrats, lobby corrupted lawmakers, and organizations like the BIDS who had benefited from the hyper real estate speculation in NYC, testified at the hearing. At all 11 previous hearings on the Jobs Survival Act, no Chamber, BID, lawmaker, or organization ever testified opposing the bill! That changed at the Oct 2018 hearing where these lobby picked and coached parties lined up at the Chamber entrance to kiss his ring and pay homage to John Banks, President of REBNY.
In the history of the Council there has never been two more opposite hearings on the same bill as with the Jobs Survival Act. In 2009 then Chairman David Yassky made clear in his opening remarks to the administration he wanted to hear solutions to stop the closings of businesses. There was no option for his committee to “do nothing,” or our businesses will disappear. His committee did not want to hear all the grand programs of the SBS but only real solutions or at least compromises. And if they had none to offer then his committee would move forward with their own, that very day!
Compare that commitment to find a solution to stop the business closings to the 2018 hearing where Chairman Gjonaj did not want to hear any solutions and eagerly listened to all of the SBS useless failed programs and resources. His committee never intended to do anything but distract from the Jobs Survival Act and stop a vote on the bill. The 2018 hearing offered no empathy for the suffering and dire plight of our small business owners or their employees. Whereas the 2009 hearing was full of concern for saving jobs and ending the illegal extortion of mostly immigrant owners. It was made clear by all the members of the 2009 hearing that the priority was finding the best solution to stop the closing of our business. While the priority of the 2018 hearing was to stop a vote on the Jobs Survival Act and water it down after the hearing to where it would keep the status quo.
Before I detail the BIDS team’s testimony at this lobby hearing*, I want to explain the lobby’s talking points given to control the narrative of the hearing. Talking points coached to those who testified opposing the Jobs Survival Act. First, everyone who opposed the bill must first mis-characterize the Jobs Survival Act in some manner in order to justify their opposition. At this hearing giving disinformation and obvious false facts about the bill would never be called out or corrected. Secondly, no opponent of the bill would give an alternative solution to stop the business closings. A speaker could make any recommendation as long as it had absolutely nothing to do with the commercial lease renewal process which is only what the Jobs Survival Act addressed. Nor would any speaker ever claim their recommendations would be better than the Jobs Survival Act. No speaker was to ever mention the word “crisis”.
Focus and mention rents often, but never mention the commercial lease renewal process which in reality determine rents and much more. Key lobby coached talking points were: the Jobs Survival Act is not the silver bullet, if passed it would produce "unintended consequences", the bill would do more harm than good, the bill must be amended to eliminate protection for big Fortune 500 companies like Goldman Sachs, there are other factors that caused businesses to close like tickets, over regulation, enet and changing times, government must look at programs that bring businesses back into empty stores and more studies are needed before serious consideration of legislation can be looked at. These talking points would be repeated at least a hundred times by all of the lobby’s team players. The talking points for supporting the Jobs Survival Act would not come until late in the afternoon when most lawmakers had left.
At no previous hearing on the bill had any past Speaker been present or made any comment on the hearing, not even in writing. Not so at this lobby orchestrated sham hearing, where Speaker Johnson was present for most of the hearing. He also led the lobby’s talking point narrative the entire time he was present. He mentioned “this bill is not a silver bullet,” many times. As well as, repeating dozens of time, “the bill will be amended to not protect banks and big corporations, then moved to a vote.”
A hearing of disinformation on the Jobs Survival Act with distraction away from any solution to the destructive commercial lease renewal process. Dozens of recommendations of programs, laws and actions but none addressing the broken and destructive commercial lease renewal process.
Without question, this sham hearing was the most dishonest hearing ever in the Council. Not one time did any Council Member ask any of those testifying and recommending other options if their recommendation was a better solution to stop the closing of businesses than the Jobs Survival Act! The most dishonest statements came from Speaker Johnson. While not promoting the lobby’s narrative at the hearing, and to make himself look like he was on the public’s side, he repeatedly asked those opposing the Jobs Survival Act, what would be their solution to save businesses forced to close due only to steep rent increases. He would use the example of several Village restaurants who recently closed when rents doubled or tripled.
SPEAKER JOHNSON: Well, what about a restaurant like Tortilla Flats, who in the last three days said that they want to stay in the Far West Village? They’ve been there for over 30 years. They’re able to be profitable and continue to have viable, attractive business, and the only reason why they’re going under is because the landlord unreasonably, and I would say in a greedy way, hiked their rent to almost three times what they’re paying now. They gave no other reason. They didn’t talk about minimum wage or government regulations or bureaucracy or any of those things. They just said our rent is tripled and now we have to go out of business. What is your suggestion of how the Council and the City should act in instances like that, or you think we shouldn’t act?
In every answer the parties had no real solutions to give and instead would just give only lobby talking points like try zoning laws, tax incentives to landlords, or tax empty storefronts. None ever recommended giving tenants the right to renewal their leases.
The real estate lobby had everyone so prepared to give their narrative and talking points that almost every speaker, including advocates, was in agreement that the Jobs Survival Act needed to be amended. For the lobby’s Plan B goal of controlling the entire narrative of the hearing to stopping a vote on the Jobs Survival Act and laying the foundation to water it down after the hearing , Plan B was a huge success. But not everything worked out for the lobby after the hearing! In the end, their grand scheme failed when prime sponsor CM Rodriguez changed his mind and refused to water down his bill.* It would take the real estate lobby’s PLAN C and the help of the BIDS to finally kill the Jobs Survival Act.
* PART IX Twenty years of a growing small business crisis and BIDS finally are forced to show their true colors and make a public statement, a shameful one.