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Why All City Council Speakers Betrayed Mom and Pop Owners!



Christine Quinn and

Melissa Mark-Viverito


Every City Council Speaker abandoned their progressive values to betray desperate small business owners facing a crisis to survive when their leases expire.


 All Speakers have colluded with special interests to rig the Council to deny economic justice to mom and pop owners and their workers.


Very soon in the City Council a vote will be held on the most anti-small business legislation ever written, the Commercial Rent Stabilization, CRS bill. Even though the CRS bill was written by special interests with the goal to keep the status quo favoring only the landlords in the commercial lease renewal process, it will easily pass.  The CRS bill will assure the continuation of the destructive lease renewal process that has, for over a decade, resulted in countless long established businesses forced to close, higher prices, layoffs and record empty storefronts on every main street. This two part series explains how such a destructive bill to local economies will cause even more businesses to close and more jobs lost in the future and was substituted for a real lifeline bill.  Substituted for a tenant’s rights bill that would have saved businesses and restored stability and a real future in NYC. This blatant discrimination and denial of economic justice to our city’s desperate business owners and workers could only have happened with the collusion of the Speakers with special interests to rig the system to make it happen.


Before anyone can fully understand the scope of our City Council Speakers’ betrayal of our city’s small business owners and the destruction of the “backbone of our local economies” that resulted, it is vital to understand the background of who really controls NYC’s economic policy. As well as, who really controls the selection of the City Council Speaker. It is important to realize that NYC has the largest budget of any city in the world and is being managed by only one party. NYC is a one party city where usually only the primaries really matter. At every cash rich NYC election the power brokers step forward to stake their claims to empower themselves even more at City Hall. The lobbies, party bosses, Borough Presidents, PR firms, political clubs, Wall Street, developers and high priced consultants are all at the public trough making their deals. Far more lobbyist walk the halls at City Hall than community activists.  The one group that is not represented in this election power grab frenzy is the “backbone of local economies and job creators for resident New Yorkers”, the small business owners.


After the main elections for Mayor the winning power broker team gets their reward to pick the vital transition teams and the new Speaker.  Any government appointed official heading an agency or Committee having to do with deciding economic policy and economic oversight are hand picked by special interests. Those agencies mandated to serve on behalf of our small business owners are controlled by special interests. Those Council Committees given oversight responsibility for promoting a healthy small business environment in NYC are also controlled by special interests.  


Except for the public disingenuous statements made by politicians on the importance of our small businesses to our economy and jobs, small business owners are marginalized in any serious economic policy decisions. In fact, besides insincere lip service they will become only the expendable “collateral damage” to the power brokers who created and control our city’s economic polity. The many heads of small business agencies, Chairs and CMs of Committees with small business oversight responsibilities, BIDS and government funded business groups will all claim to be speaking on behalf of the best interests of our small business owners but are in fact speaking only on behalf of the special interests who put them into power.  


All these lobby influenced political identities at City Hall, for over a decade, willfully join in a lobby orchestrated charade of pretending to care about small business owners. They do this as they all will abide by a false narrative and playbook created by special interests to: cover up the city’s small business crisis, distract from the real root cause of our established businesses closing in record numbers, stop a vote on the Jobs Survival Act giving rights to merchants when their leases expire, and deny economic justice to desperate owners facing a dire plight.


Why the city’s pro lobby economic policy is so relevant to the role of the Speakers is because the victims of this economic policy have no voice at City Hall. A major criteria to become a Speaker is to assure that the merchants continue to have no real voice in the Council. And assure the special interests that only their voices will be heard.   Either the Mayor or Speaker could at any time use their office to stand up for the small business owners and demand they receive fair treatment, justice and rights needed to end their “forgotten crisis”. But both the Mayor and Speaker refused to “do the right thing” and throw the merchants a real lifeline to give them the real rights needed to survive, and both still refuse today to give owners any rights needed to save their American Dream.   

Believe it or not there was a time in the New York City Council when true progressive Council Members, CMs, stood on their principles, kept their campaign pledges and upheld their oversight responsibilities. A time when CMs had the political will and ethics to stand up to special interests and for the will of the people who elected them.


One bill, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, Jobs Survival Act, highlighted this time and also best showed the true progressive CMs vs the lobby corrupted CMs. True progressive CMs and good government at its best were shown at an emergency hearing of the Small Business Committee in June 2009.  An independent survey* of immigrant owned small businesses showed a crisis existed for the owners caused by sky high rents and growing property taxes.  Within days of the survey’s release progressive CMs were calling for an emergency hearing to find a real solution to stop the closings and end the small business owner’s crisis.


At this hearing, then Chairman David Yassky set the commitment for the entire committee members. Yassky, “I will say simply as an opening statement that I believe that we absolutely have to do something, period. It's not an option to do nothing. The mom and pop stores on the commercial strips in our neighborhoods are the heart of the neighborhood. We cannot allow them to be pushed to the point of disappearance, which is what is happening now. The one thing I just want to put right up front with the administration witnesses here is we have to have some solutions to offer.”



Every Committee CM challenged the SBS and EDC spokespersons for opposing the Jobs Survival Act, for no good reason, while refusing to offer any real solutions of their own to stop the closings, and they still refuse today.  Both agencies came to this hearing to stop any law regulating commercial landlords, and still will stop any bill today.  Both agencies refused to admit that a crisis existed for the small business owners when their leases expired and they had no rights.  None of the Committee members were buying any of the SBS’s worthless programs that they always hype and hide behind at every hearing.


This hearing illustrated the complete disconnect between the SBS and the city’s small business owners struggling to survive. For the next decade, and still today, the SBS only promotes opening up and empowering BIDS. BIDS whose majority board members are property owners who helped to create our small business crisis in the first place. Then while claiming to speak for the merchants covered up the crisis and finally openly opposed the Jobs Survival Act giving rights to BID merchants when their leases expired.


At the conclusion of the hearing the Committee selected the Jobs Survival Act as the only real solution to stop the business closings and restore stability for small business owners. Every Committee member became a sponsor of the bill, making 32 CMs, assuring easy passage when a vote was taken. Finally, for small business owners their government was working for them and standing on their side for a chance. The Council was going to give them the rights they deserve and needed to have a fighting chance to survive and keep their American Dream alive when their leases expired.


The Jobs Survival Act showed good government at its best and it would also for the next decade, and even today, shows the City Council at its worse. A City Council bowing to the wishes of special interests while denying economic justice to small business owners. Within two weeks of a vote and certain easy passage of the Jobs Survival Act, then Speaker Quinn’s office stepped in and stopped a vote. A desperate real estate lobby had one last hope to prevent their landlord members from being regulated and end their years of landlord abuses and windfall profits being made. The special interests in collusion with the Speaker’s Office hatched a scheme to produce a legal roadblock. A vote was stopped by creating a bogus vague claim that the Jobs Survival Act would be challenged in court and likely not be upheld. A challenge to the Jobs Survival Act that was never made either by the Speaker’s legal department or by the real estate lobby at the hearing where it could have been easily exposed of as merit less without one iota of credible legal case law to substantiate. 


The legal history of a much stricter Commercial Rent Control legislation enacted by Albany in 1945 through 1963 proved the opposite from this merit less claim. This strict rent control law was immediately challenged by the real estate interests and lost. It was repeatedly challenged throughout its existents and lost every case, several rulings at the highest Appeals Court in the state. When the original version of the Jobs Survival Act was introduced in June 1986, prior to a vote by the Economic Development Committee, a special hearing was held just on the legality of the bill. Again, the bill was upheld, even by the Law Department of NYC, as fully constitutional and a vote was scheduled and taken by the Economic Development Committee. For the next 3 decades and 11 hearings, the fierce battle over the Jobs Survival Act would take place at City Hall. But never once would the bill’s legality be challenged, even by REBNY, until Speaker Quinn’s legal department conspired to stop a vote on the bill. *


Quinn’s Terrible Betrayal!

Regrettably, for desperate small business owners all the focus turned away from the bill to an upcoming election.  Then Speaker Quinn’s staff used the delay to personally contact CMs pressuring them to withdraw their sponsorship from the Jobs Survival Act. Shameful, the Speaker’s Office in the open was serving a lobby!  Fortunately, they could only find three members to withdraw their sponsorship: Thomas White, Jose Rivera Jr, and Inez Dickens. After meeting with the Speaker’s legal team and presenting a strong case law review supporting the bill, the Jobs Survival Act’s prime sponsor CM Jackson knew that the Speaker’s legal team had no substantial evidence whatsoever to back up their bogus challenge. He therefore, took the rare step to challenge the Speaker and called for a “motion to discharge,” with a full vote by the Council on his bill. Once again the Speaker’s staff launched a pressure campaign for the Council Members to reject the Motion. A shameless act against democracy! Days prior to the Motion vote CM Jackson was forced to withdraw his motion when his Chairmanship of the Education Committee was threatened. On December 31, 2009 all pending bills died and must be resubmitted in the new Council.

A vote on the Jobs Survival Act with its now 29 sponsors was stopped only by the direct interference of the Council’s democratic process by then Speaker Quinn.  When it came to government intervention regulating powerful lobbies, she was not going to allow good government to work in the Council under her watch.


The Speaker’s Office had become nothing but a high priced lobby for the real estate industry.


Blind political ambition drove Quinn to conspire against: her own Council Committee doing its mandated job, the majority of Council Members who wanted a real solution to save their businesses and jobs, against desperate small business owners who needed government intervention to survive, and against democracy. But the biggest betrayal of justice and rights for small business owners by Speaker Quinn was against the long established businesses in the Village region and the citizens who lived in her district. Those businesses with loyal customers who were willing and able to pay a reasonable rent when their leases expired, but instead were forced to close would still be in business today if Quinn had allowed good government to work just one time for the Jobs Survival Act.


The most iconic neighborhood in America was allowed to gradually be destroyed by greedy landlords seeking windfall profits. The character and spirit of the Village would be changed forever when a real lifeline to protect and preserve its businesses and jobs was stopped and covered up by the Speaker’s Office. If the Jobs Survival Act would have been voted on there never would have been empty storefronts in the Village where once thriving businesses were. Consumer prices would have been lower and wages higher with business owners not forced to pay their landlord’s property taxes and forced to pay exorbitant rent increases. The voters in the Village trusted Quinn to use her progressive values to make decisions on their behalf and instead she made decisions on behalf of big real estate. And to this day most do not know what happened? They believe the constant lobby created distraction of blaming fines and regulations for the closings, forgetting the basic need for a fair lease renewal process giving businesses rights.


What can be said of the lack of scruples and abandonment of all progressive values to serve campaign donors, special interests, and self serving political ambitions over the will of the citizens who elected her.


Former Speaker Quinn had the rarest of opportunities given a politician. Her choice alone would decide the fate and futures of the largest number of small business owners of any city in America. Her choice to make could end a growing crisis for small business owners and restore their American Dream. A choice to save countless jobs and keep the pathway open for social mobility for low income families and hard to employ New Yorkers. She could keep New York City as the historic gateway to immigrant entrepreneurs.  A decision which would affect every business owner, jobs, the character and spirit of neighborhoods and the backbone of local economies. Unconscionable, Quinn would turn her back on her own Council, the victims of hyper real estate speculation and of democracy and collude with the real estate lobby to keep the destructive status quo.


Speaker Quinn would abdicate her office to the lobby to successfully carry out their scheme to rig the system to stop a vote on any legislation that would regulate commercial landlords in the commercial lease renewal process. 


The shameful facts under her watch:


Not one single honest hearing on the Jobs Survival Act during her remaining term as Speaker.


Not one single real solution offered to substitute for the Jobs Survival Act.


Restructure the Small Business Committee by appointing Diana Reyna as Chair. First, Reyna withdrew her sponsorship and support of the Jobs Survival Act. Never once as the new Chair would Reyna ever mention the Jobs Survival Act or the city’s growing small business crisis.


In collusion with the SBS and EDC her Office did absolutely nothing to stop the closings of even one business in NYC.


She kept the BIG LIE alive in her Council. That lie was that the Jobs Survival Act had legal problems. Unlike, as with all other legislation treatment, her legal team never once made any effort to amend the bill as to satisfy their claimed legal challenge. It is hard to correct something that does not exist.


Later, a request made by then prime sponsor CM Chin to the legal department for suggested amendments to the bill that would make it legal, were never responded to.


After the Speaker’s Office refused to publicly resolve their claimed legality issue of the Jobs Survival Act, then Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr. with the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, held a legal review panel of the Jobs Survival Act in Nov. 2010.* They sent an invitation to the Speaker’s legal department to attend and present their case for their legal challenge to the bill. They refused to attend or submit any legal proof and they also refused to even comment on the Panel’s Final Report, “the Small Business Survival Act, as it is presently written, is fully constitutional and legally sound to withstand likely court challenges.  …no section of the Small Business Survival Act is found to be “vulnerable” enough to rise to the level in a court challenge to cause the bill to be found unconstitutional.”      


* Review of the legal arguments and supportive case law dealing with the constitutionality of the Small Business Survival Act. To determine, as it is presently written,  if the Small Business Survival Act is fully constitutional and legally sound to withstand likely court challenges or, if determined the bill is unconstitutional, to recommend changes to the Small Business Survival Act which would make it fully constitutional and legally sound to withstand likely court challenges.


Quinn promoted only a lobby created and influenced group of worthless initiatives that were mostly created 30 years ago by the lobby to substitute for the original version of the Jobs Survival Act.  Not one would give any rights to the business owners when their leases expired. Not one would save a single business or job. All were meant to only keep the status quo with the landlords in full control of the commercial lease renewal process. In fact, a major campaign was launched from the Speaker’s Office touting several lobby created substitute bills for the Jobs Survival Act. Even though her own Small Business Committee made clear that the only way to stop the closings of businesses and end their crisis was to give the business owners the right to renew long term leases and rights to negotiate fair lease terms that would allow a profit to all parties.  Yet, none of the lobby influenced proposals being promoted by the Speaker’s Office gave the business owners any real rights, especially the right to renew their leases.


Quinn refused to follow the recommendations of her own Small Business Committee whose predictions came true. Yassky’s prediction,” it is not an option to do nothing…. or the small businesses on main street will continue to disappear.”


Likely the greatest hypocrisy and betrayal by Quinn was of our city’s women owned businesses. She took great pride in her statements that she was the first woman Speaker. Yet, she allowed countless women business owners to be forced to close because they had no rights to negotiate fair leases to allow them to make a profit and survive. The truth is Quinn did not make one effort to use the Speaker’s Office to save even one woman owned business in NYC, when their leases expired. This betray by Quinn extends even more so to the tens of thousands of female workers who lost their jobs when their businesses were forced to close.


Due to Quinn’s collusion with the real estate lobby everyone in NYC, except a handful of power brokers, including herself were losers. If she would have allowed a vote on the Jobs Survival Act to happen in Aug 2009, she would have been a hero to over 200K business owners, millions of customers and over 2 million workers. With the city’s vast majority owners of small businesses being from multi generational immigrant families (64-68%) she would have easily become the first woman Mayor in NYC.


Is it fair to blame Quinn for a small business closing? Under her watch, if a long established business owner who had built a loyal customer base and was willing to pay a reasonable rent but cannot negotiate fair lease terms that would allow a reasonable profit was forced to close, YES blame Quinn. Every established business that was forced to close after Aug 15, 2009 only because they had no rights to negotiate in good faith reasonable lease terms then their closings could have been prevented if Quinn would have allowed good government in her Council and a vote on the Jobs Survival Act.


Melissa Mark-Viverito’s terrible betrayal!


The small business advocates welcomed a new Speaker to replace the pro lobby ambitious Quinn. When Melissa Mark-Viverito, MMV, was selected as the new Speaker most advocates were very pleased. Why not, after all she had built a reputation as being very progressive and her district was mostly in the Bronx. The Bronx was very much a small business economy with the majority owners being Hispanic family backgrounds, like MMV.  But what gave the advocates the most hope that they would finally receive rights and justice came from MMV’s testimony at the hearing on the Jobs Survival Act. Even though she was not a member of the Small Business Committee she came to show her strong support for the Jobs Survival Act which she was a “proud sponsor.”


MMV testimony June 2009:

“  I'm very proud of the fact that we're having a hearing on this legislation.  We obviously have intent on passing this.  We're going to be very firm and very strong.  As a Council we have a responsibility to represent all sectors in this city and not just a select few, which I believe is what has happened with this administration.  We are here to also represent the tenants, to represent the small business owners and to do what we can to preserve this vital backbone in this city.”    


To add confidence in MMV that she would be a strong voice for business owners was the fact she had read the USA Latin Survey that triggered the hearing. The independent survey was of only Hispanic business owners. It showed 53% were at risk of closing, as well as, 31% confirmed that they had been extorted for cash by their landlords under the threat of being thrown out.  MMV testified when Brad Lander also testified that he was appalled by the illegal extortion and Lander called for an investigation of the extortion.  


A perfect situation for the merchants, with a progressive Hispanic woman representing a district and borough of mainly Hispanic business owners who were facing a growing crisis to survive and being extorted by unscrupulous landlords. MMV is a sponsor of a real solution to end their crisis and she goes public to show her strong support and call for action to pass the Jobs Survival Act.


That hope for MMV to be the savior of our small businesses quickly ended when she withdrew her name as a sponsor of the bill.  That was followed by the special interests hand picking CM Cornegy as the new Chair of the Small Business Committee. Even the Committee was stacked with NO BRONX member. The Committee of 9 had 5 members from Queens. 


Former Speaker Quinn handed the lobby’s torch to MMV to carry on the collusion and rigging for special interests in the Council. In many ways the betrayal and denial of economic justice against small business owners would be even more reprehensible under MMV’s watch.  MMV would be the first Speaker in over 30 years to never hold a single hearing on the Jobs Survival Act! Under her watch there would be no mention of the USA Latin survey or that the sky high rents and property taxes had caused a crisis for business owners in NYC.  There would be no effort whatsoever during her entire term to take any actions to save even one business or one job, when their leases expired. Shamefully she would take no action to stop the illegal extortion of mostly immigrant owners which she was fully aware of.


MMV would faithfully use the Speaker’s office to carry out the sinister Machiavelli schemes created by special interests to protect their windfall profits. The conspiracy to cover up the city’s growing small business crisis and stop legislation giving rights to business owners was joined by the SBS, EDC, Chambers and several government funded organizations. MMV played a key role is this successful lobby orchestrated charade of worthless initiatives, useless bills, unnecessary studies, and inadequate programs all pretending to help small business owners while keeping the status quo for the wealthy. In other words, the same old distraction, delay and destroy the JOBS SURVIVAL ACT.


The outcome of MMV’s serving special interests was record closing of long established businesses, growing court evictions in every borough and empty storefronts on every main street that remained empty for longer and longer periods.  Under MMV’s watch the foundation was laid for our city’s “empty store blight.”


Like Quinn, MMV also deliberately kept the lie alive that the Jobs Survival Act had legal issues even after this bogus claim was soundly debunked by President Diaz Jr. Bronx Legal Review Panel.  MMV did something that even the unethical Quinn would never stoop that low.  The lack of integrity for the Speaker’s Office hit a new low under MMV when she became part of then former Manhattan President Brewer’s scheme* to serve the real estate lobby by destroying the Jobs Survival Act.


Then SB Chairman CM Cornegy had no intentions to ever give a hearing on the Jobs Survival Act or any hearing to find a real solution to stop the closings, which under his watch was out of control citywide. Instead, in early 2014 he announced he and MBP Brewer were jointly writing legislation to address the high rents and businesses closings. He was untruthful; he and MBP Brewer were carrying out the game plan of the real estate lobby to substitute their lobby created bill for the Jobs Survival Act.   The only real lifeline to save our businesses was being plotted by lawmakers to be destroyed.


Beginning in 2014, MBP Brewer stated her concern that sky high rent increases were forcing businesses to close and remain empty for sometimes years and needed to be addressed. Later she made the alarming statement to the media, “the mom-and-pop crisis has intensified with a fury.” Also she sounded other dire warnings which laid the foundation for her announced major comprehensive study and business roundtables to find a real solution to save small businesses.  


Their commitment to research and write a new bill to save our businesses launched a “dog and pony” political theater citywide. MMV, Andrew Rigie (NYC Hospitality Alliance, Julie Menin (Commissioner Consumer Affairs), MBP Brewer and CM Cornegy produced this political theater promoting this new “lifeline” soon coming to save the owners and end the crisis. There was NO rational reason for not amending the Jobs Survival Act and passing it. This is what is normally done with every bill at the Council except for the Jobs Survival Act. Why reinvent the wheel, just quickly fix or tweak it and vote on it.   If any lawmaker was truly really committed to save businesses this is what they would have done.


Small business advocates knew whatever CM Cornegy and MBP Brewer were cooking up it would not give the right to renewal of long term leases, no equal rights to negotiate the lease terms and that 100% for certain, tenants would continue paying their landlord’s property taxes. Both CM Cornegy and MBP Brewer claimed their bill would be the result of the findings of MBP Brewer’s year long comprehensive study as well as a series of roundtables seeking the recommendation from the merchants. 


Their great lifeline turned out to be a giant fraud. Appalling and disgraceful, MBP Brewer’s new bill was in fact over 30 years old and written by the real estate lobby to stop a vote on the original version of the Jobs Survival Act. Thankfully, Sung Soo Kim the city’s oldest immigrant owner’s advocate remembered this bill and knew immediately the Brewer bill was “word for word” the same lobby bill.  Yet, this worthless bill that was soundly opposed by all the city’s business community in 1986 was accepted by MMV and Menin.  Only after Kim wrote several OP ED articles exposing this scandalous bill did MMV and Brewer drop their bill. Even then both gave a false reason for dropping the bill, “it was to similar to the Jobs Survival Act.”  This lobby created bill gave the merchants a one year lease extension at a 10% rent increase to find a new place to move to. The only similarity with the Jobs Survival Act is the number 10. The Jobs Survival Act gave a right to renew a 10 year lease and the Brewer Bill gave a 10% rent increase for one year only. 


Under MMV’s watch, the NYC courts issues warrants to evict 22,710 commercial businesses.  Those businesses who did not fight in court and were forced to close due to having no rights were estimated at 58-60,000.  An estimated minimum of 460-480,000 jobs were lost due to her offices’ interference in not allowing good government to seek a real solution to the small business crisis.  The consequences of her serving the will of a lobby and not the will of the people has caused great suffering and hardship to countless New York families, especially in the immigrant community. Every neighborhood in the city has been negatively impacted due to MMV’s not living up to her pledge to promote progressive legislation and a transparent and independent council.  The empty storefronts on every city main street where once thriving businesses existed are the responsibility and result of her loyalty and commitment to a real estate lobby. By doing absolutely nothing to end the small business crisis, the Speaker made a crisis worse by putting her own political ambitions and the profits of landlord donors above the needs of people.

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