Sung Soo Kim *
The City with the Most Anti-Immigrant government in America Is not in the South, but in NYC
For the first time in over a century, NYC as the Gateway to America for immigrants to achieve the American Dream has been closed. NYC is closed as the Gateway for Entrepreneurs in America. All of the centuries of risk, hard work, and scarifies made leading to success for immigrant business owners is being destroyed. The greatest transfer of wealth from hard working successful entrepreneurs to speculators and profiteers has taken place in NYC over the past two decades. Who is most responsible for allowing the backbone of our city’s economy to be broken and wrecked while covering up the many negative impacts on our economy and society?
The Democratic Party is fully responsible for this historic destruction of our city’s diverse capitalistic economy. They have abandoned the core democratic values the party once stood for. Because it benefited a handful of corrupt power brokers, the Democratic political machine has allowed Democracy to be replaced by Oligarchy at City Hall. In the face of a growing economic crisis, they have willingly joined in “rigging the system” with the big real estate lobby (REBNY) to deny any real solution to save our mom and pop businesses, the majority of which are owned by immigrants who employ immigrant families. Under the disguise of promoting progressive leadership who pledge to promote progressive legislation which will end economic inequality, the Democratic party has fully endorsed fake progressives who they know beforehand will keep in place the decades old Republican Trickle Down economics. A failed economic policy overseen by Goldman Sachs with only one goal of creating a friendly government to both maximize and protect the profits of a handful of wealthy investors.
I have good reason to be bitter towards the Democratic machine in NYC. For three decades I experienced firsthand the truth of the greatest betrayal of immigrants and of all New Yorkers by this unethical party.
Thirty four years ago myself, along with several Korean business leaders began a campaign to recruit Korean families to invest their life savings in opening small businesses in NYC. The centerpiece of our argument was that, for centuries NYC was the gateway for immigrants and entrepreneurs to achieve the American Dream. That it was the center of the American economy and symbol of capitalism. And where risk taking, hard work and good business skills can lead to bountiful opportunities. To calm their fears of crime, drugs and clashes of cultures in some communities, I founded, along with a few Korean business leaders, The Korean American Small Business Services Center to help them start their businesses and be present at all times to deal with their problems.
Korean families came by the thousands to risk everything in NYC. They opened businesses in every part of the city, many risking their safety every day. They had to overcome challenges to survive and they did with our organizations’ help in dealing with their problems. I was not prepared for the biggest challenge they would face nor had I any idea it would be caused by our own democratic government.
Former Mayor Koch had his administration put a cancer into our diverse economy. Our own government was promoting an environment for speculators at the expense of our entrepreneurs. Why would government purposely create an anti capitalistic policy, which if unchecked would destroy our very best entrepreneurs? He did it to increase the property values and taxes so the city’s political machines could again be empowered thru the political jobs in government.
The city’s business community turned to real progressive democrats to save them. There were many, lead by then Councilwoman Ruth Messinger. A bill was written to give rights to tenants which would stop the speculators but Speaker Vallone stopped it in committee, and pledged never to allow a vote by the full council on any bill that regulates commercial leases. The Mayor created the cancer and the Speaker denies treatment.
Except for the Dinkins administration, for the next 28 years, this cancer has been allowed to spread and grow, destroying our best entrepreneurs and jobs. The Giuliani, Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations would create the perfect environment for the cancer to grow and the Speaker’s office would deny treatment. What was also growing was the power and influence of the real estate lobby (REBNY). The Democratic machine not only allowed REBNY to highjack our city’s economy, they willingly allowed them to hijack our democracy. The real estate lobby controlled economic policy and allowed a few wealthy people to build up their wealth through speculation not through labor. Our own government controlled by the Democratic party helps create an environment for speculators to maximize their profits and reduce their risks. But will not help the small business owners who toil day and night.
All of the government agencies who are suppose to help small businesses were fronts for property owners and banks to cover up the carnage created by unchecked greed reaping windfall profits off our small businesses. The
largest numbers of owners of small businesses in NYC are immigrant owned, yet they were marginalized by having no input in making economic policy. They had no voice in stating their real problems faced, and no voice in government in finding real solutions to help them. Our small businesses have become a Deprived Social Class under the Giuliani, Bloomberg, and de Blasio, Republican Trickle Down economics.
I had hope for a future again for our small businesses when I witnessed former Small Business Committee chairman David Yassky at a public hearing on finding a real solution to stop the business closings. Yassky, “I will say simply as an opening statement that I believe that we absolutely have to do something, period. We have to do something to help small businesses... 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.”
He was addressing a room full of mostly desperate immigrant owners; Hispanic, Chinese, and Korean. At the end he would join 32 council members along with his entire committee members to become a sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill to give rights to commercial tenants when their leases expire.
If democracy existed at City Hall the bill would easily pass into law and save our businesses. But at the same time Chairman Yassky was committing to finding legislation to save our businesses, in another part of City Hall in the Speaker’s office , REBNY was telling lawmakers there was no option to regulate landlords. Their audience was career bureaucrats living high off of taxpayers money and ambitious politicians hungry for REBNY funds. They colluded to cook up a bogus legal roadblock that would stop a vote by Yassky’s committee and kill the bill which would have easily passed.
Even though the bogus legal roadblock had no legal basis to substantiate the claim and in 2010 a Legal Review Panel reported the Jobs Survival Act was fully constitutional, the bill never received a public hearing in seven years based upon this made up claim.
What is disgraceful for the Democratic party and shows them to be total hypocrites without any moral values, is that the entire leadership knows the bill is legal and the crisis has gotten worse and this bill is the only real solution to stop the closings. Yet, they either are complicit in the REBNY rigging by remaining silent or they join in the rigging by repeating REBNY talking point that the bill has “legal problems”.
My last hope to restore democracy at City Hall and pass our bill to end this crisis came after the last election. Every past strong supporter of our bill was elected to positions of leadership. Mayor de Blasio was the champion of our bill when he ran for Public Advocate and pledged repeatedly to the immigrant owners he would fight to pass legislation to give them rights to renew their leases and survive. Speaker Mark-Viverito gave testimony supporting the bill and was proud the council was standing up to big real estate for the little guys. Public Advocate James was also a strong sponsor and voice for the bill . All were proud progressives ready to fight for progressive legislation like our Jobs Survival Act to end economic inequality. All knew a crisis existed caused by sky high rents, and the immigrants were most often the targets for illegal extortion of cash by unscrupulous landlords.
After all were sworn into a higher office and in a position to use their offices to restore democracy by stopping the rigging and holding public hearings on the Jobs Survival Act they all flipped and abandoned their pledges and progressive principles.
The present political system at City Hall which is controlled by the Democratic Party and the 1% Oligarchs will not allow real progressives to have a voice for the will of the people. I call this the “Serpico Effect” based upon Frank Serpico the policeman who had high moral values and just wanted to do his job but the institution was so corrupt it would not allow for people with integrity to have a voice and expose the corruption. The progressive lawmakers had to abandon their progressive values and ethics on the steps of City Hall and get in line to gain their chairs and perks. For those with political ambitions they also lined up to take REBNY funds for future elections.
After thirty years of advocating for small businesses I never imagined at the end of my career I would be giving up all hope that justice would be done for the immigrant owners. I have no choice but to tell the truth to the Korean families, do not open your business in NYC, you will not achieve the American Dream here. Do not risk your family savings in NYC because it has become the worst place in America for small business owners to survive. The government has no respect for your investment or appreciation of the contribution to our economy. It is the most anti small business city in America and in the end your American Dream will become an American nightmare. The government will turn its back on you and allow you to be extorted for your life’s savings by unscrupulous landlords. They will not help you when speculators rob your investment and kick you out of the business you built. They will ignore you when landlords force you into indentured servitude by giving you month to month or short term leases.
My message to all New Yorkers who love their neighborhoods and mom and pop businesses and want to stop their closings and take back their neighborhoods. First, vote out all incumbents now in office. There are no brave progressives at City Hall with the true courage to stand up to change the corrupt inhumane anti democracy system. Instead, vote for new candidates who have not taken REBNY funds or been endorsed by the corrupt political machine. The second thing to do after the election is bring together all the true community activists who are not funded by government to hold a conference and organize ballot initiatives to change government. Ballot initiatives are meant to empower the citizens when the will of the people is being denied by special interests or a corrupt political system. Have at least two or three ballot initiatives on the next ballot that if passed would result in real reform leading to a return of democracy in NYC.
* Sung Soo Kim, is called the Godfather of Small Business and recognized as the city’s leading authority and advocate for three decades. He is the founder of the oldest small business service center in NYC, the Korean American Small Business Service Center, and was Chairman of the Mayor’s First Small Business Advisory Board, appointed by Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani. He is co-founder of Small Business Congress and sole creator of the Small Business Bill of Rights. He has spent every working day for 32 years addressing the problems of immigrant small business owners. He never took a salary from government as Chairman of Small Business Advisory Board nor in consulting on numerous regulations. He turned down offers to run a BID in Queens and turned down government funding for his business service center. In 32 years he has personally negotiated and re-negotiated an estimated 50,000-55,000 commercial leases for his Korean members. He has gone to court weekly for 30 years to fight over 5,000 times for his members in court. He personally consulted in the drafting of the original version of Small Business Jobs Survival Act and every version introduced by seven prime sponsors. He has written more OP-ED articles on the issue of saving small businesses than all others combined. He has given testimony at 11 City Council public hearings on the issue of legislation to stop the closing of small businesses.