The New York City Public Advocate race grows more crowded by the week as Melissa Mark-Viverito has joined the growing candidate list that includes Council Member Jumaane Williams. The race was triggered after current Public Advocate Letitia James’ 2018 midterm election victory to become New York’s next Attorney General. An election date to elect the next NYC Public Advocate has yet to be announced, but the date will be set for sometime in early 2019 after James is sworn in as NY Attorney General.
Nomiki Konst is one of the NYC Public Advocate candidates that local media like to paint as an outsider despite her history of taking on corruption as an investigative journalist and as a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission.
Konst sets herself apart from the other Public Advocate candidates by pushing a progressive agenda that includes not accepting real estate lobby donations and committing to staying educated on city business deals prior to endorsing them. With the recent victories of other NYC progressives who also denied real estate money like Congresswoman-elect Alexandira Ocasio-Cortez and incoming New York State Senator Julia Salazar, Konst is running for local office at a time when the awareness of corporate influence on political decisions is elevated. Greenpointers reached out to Konst to find out what her policy positions are on current hot button issues in NYC like Amazon HQ2. Full disclosure: Nomiki Konst and I worked together briefly at the political news outlet TYT Network over the past year.
You have a long history as a watchdog, not only working as an investigative journalist, but as a Bernie Sanders surrogate during the 2016 campaign, and as a representative in the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commision. How would you utilize your experience investigating national issues to bring more accountability to New York City?
NK: The Public Advocate’s office has the unique ability to investigate separately from the Comptroller, for instance, to investigate conflicts of interest, to figure out where local sources of corruption are coming. And not just advocate for the city and New Yorkers, but specifically to be a check on the City Council, on the agencies as well as the Mayor’s office. So my experience on the Unity Reform Commission was incredibly powerful in that just like the Public Advocate’s office we didn’t have litigation power or the ability to subpoena, or present legislation really, but that’s a separate issue. So what I had to do was I had to be very creative about how we figured out where the corruption was coming from. And of course, being an investigative reporter I was probably a little bit more familiar with those strategies. So I first went to the budget and started looking through the budget, and I started figuring out what sort of conflicts of interests there were.
Mitch Waxman is a lifelong New Yorker and historian who for the past decade has traversed the area near the Long Island City waterfront at Anabel Basin where Amazon’s HQ2 is planned. In a recent post on his site Newtown Pentacle, Waxman revisits some of the photos he snapped of the future Amazon HQ2 campus, and Greenpointers reached out to Waxman to learn his point of view regarding the HQ2 announcement. He offered the disclaimer that he’s neither for or against Amazon’s HQ2 expansion into Queens and that his views are still developing on the deal as details emerge.
The area of Anabel Basin where Amazon’s HQ2 will be partially constructed is on contaminated land where a plastics manufacturer once operated, why would Amazon choose contaminated land to build on?
MW: There’s hundreds of state Superfund sites in Western Queens, and the people who have been moving into North Brooklyn and Western Queens over the last 20 years are breaking the old pattern. It used to be when you bought a house, you intended to be buried in your backyard, whereas the current population has very little intention of making New York their final stop. This is one stop on the trip of their lives and eventually, they’re going to settle elsewhere.
When you’re at Amazon’s new campus you’re down the block from the largest power plant in New York City that’s causing childhood asthma rates of historic levels in Ravenswood, Astoria and Queensbridge Houses. You’re on what abuts a brownfield, and a future Superfund site at Anabel Basin.
Future Superfund Site Anabel Basin has the same black mayonnaise in it that Newtown Creek does, the same combined sewer outfall problem that Newtown Creek does, it has all the good stuff that we would talk about in the area around the Pulaski Bridge. So why on earth would you choose this particular location to put Californians and Seattle people who are famously environmentally conscious, why would you put them there? Could it be that you’re going to be visible from the offices of the United Nations? Could it have anything to do with that Manhattan is the center of global investment and that putting yourself there means that you’re going to be a lot sexier to Goldman Sachs and everyone else who will cut you more preferential rates because you know them from drinking with them in a hotel?
The answer is that they came here for Wall Street and they came here to start bolstering their international presence and to start getting ahead of some of the regulatory environment that’s developing internationally around companies like Amazon.
Why is Mayor Bill de Blasio voicing a strong pro-Amazon stance given his progressive reputation?
MW: The “tale of two cities” for me is the tale of Manhattan and Long Island City. Long Island City is where he gets to do what he wants to do. Overbuilt, overdeveloped, not enough infrastructure.
He wants to borrow $18- $20 Billion from the city’s coffers for Sunnyside Yard deck. What they’ll do then is they will give the land away for a dollar an acre to the developers who paid them off to do the project, and the city taxpayers will pay the mortgage on $18 – $20 billion over a 25 year period hamstringing us from doing anything else we need to do.
Conventionally speaking, NYCHA needs $53 billion to bring its housing back up to snuff and to bring the roughly 1/10th of all available apartments that have been out since Hurricane Sandy back into service. If he was the man of the people that’s the direction he would go in.
De Blasio likes to blame all the problems of NYCHA on Mayor Bloomberg. Who was the public advocate during Bloomberg’s last two terms? Who was in the City Council during the last term of Giuliani and the first term of Bloomberg?
Why would Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo agree on something like the Amazon HQ2 deal after disagreeing on nearly everything else?
MW: Both of their political machines are getting fed by the deal. At the top of the food chain, there are people who are Democrats; like the Yankees, they’re just wearing hats.
Amongst the many, many, many things that I disagree with Donald Trump about, the firing of Preet Bharara just as he was drawing in on both the Mayor and the Governor, is something the Mayor and the Governor should fall down and kiss Trump’s feet for. If Preet had continued on with his investigation, I’m certain that the headlines we would be seeing every day would be simultaneous trials for the Governor and the Mayor.
There’s a lot to say about corruption in our city and state always. We have a one-party system. We have different factions of a single political party, and what I am not gonna to do to you as a fellow elected Democrat is put you on trial because you would do the same to me, and that affects the larger party.
Living in a Republic that ostensibly operates as a Democracy, there was no conversation, there was no argument. You had two people who are pro-development, neo-liberal capitalist-oriented Democrats, talking to a neo-liberal corporatist, and deciding for the community in the manner of Nelson Rockefeller, in the manner of Robert Moses, in the manner of Austin Tobin deciding for a community exactly what it is that they needed. And you know what? If you don’t like it you can get out.
The Citi Bike presence in North Brooklyn and New York City as a whole will continue to grow at a time when the program’s parent company Motivate will be acquired by ride-sharing company Lyft, in a plan that includes a $100 million investment by Lyft over the next five years, the Mayor’s office announced last week.
A statement from the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio explains that the investment by Lyft will repair the existing 12,000 Citi bikes and expand the fleet of both regular and electronic pedal assist bikes to 40,000 while doubling the current service area. Although the ‘vast majority’ (around 30,000) of the new Citi bikes will be electronic, Gothamist reports. NYC lawmakers introduced a bill to legalize e-scooters and pedal assist bikes last week, but Mayor de Blasio said he’s “seeing too many problems” with e-bikes, referring to the complaints his office receives over the handle grip throttle e-bikes that are popular with food delivery workers. Continue reading →
North Brooklyn’s industrial business zone is undergoing a further rezoning push by Bill de Blasio’s administration just a week after the announcement of the tentative Amazon HQ2 move to Long Island City.
The North Brooklyn Industry and Innovation Plan released on Monday by the City Planning Dept. is meant to foster the growth of industrial manufacturing and tech office space by offering developers tax breaks through the federal Opportunity Zone program. According to the Empire State Development website, the creation of Opportunity Zones “encourages private investment in low-income urban and rural communities.”
In 2015, de Blasio announced an industrial action plan, with the stated purpose to protect the existing 530,000 NYC manufacturing jobs and to grow the local workforce with 20,000 new manufacturing jobs.
This past Saturday, December 17th, Mayor de Blasio came to Bushwick Inlet Park to praise the community activists who after ten years of strugglefinally prevailed and forced the city to purchase the twenty-seven acre site for the park. De Blasio continually referred to the community’s victory and praised the local group Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park for their tireless advocacy for the park. In his remarks the Mayor laughed about the persistence of local City Councilman Stephen Levin, who incessantly nagged him until the park was purchased. The Mayor spoke of the high cost of acquiring the land ($150 million just for the final piece), but said that the city was fulfilling its promise to the community to acquire the waterfront site.
A number of other local politicians spoke. Borough President Eric Adams mentioned that the park was proof of the city’s commitment to provide waterfront access to all the people of Brooklyn, not only those with the means to purchase luxury waterfront real estate. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney also addressed the gathering saying that the actions of community groups in gaining the park would serve as a future model. State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol reminded people that he had been an advocate for the park for a decade.
The mood at the gathering was celebratory, almost euphoric. Many of the people in the crowd had done the hard work of advocating for the park for years. They had made phone calls, signed petitions, and even slept out in the rain to gain the parkland, and they were in the mood to celebrate. As they walked home to Greenpoint, Stephen Chesler, Scott Fraser and some of the other people who fought the hardest to gain the park posed for pictures by the fence, which recently read Where’s Our Park? but now reads triumphantly, Here’s Our Park. Those words said it all.
We’ve already talked about how Newtown Creek is one of the most polluted waterways in the country (AKA, don’t even think about taking a dip or eating its fish). And while everyone knows this is true, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has reportedly lied about the already horrific water quality in city reports—and former employees have banded together to potentially sue the City of New York. Continue reading →
Not very likely. However, there has been talk in recent weeks of a new satellite jail being built in Greenpoint to compensate for a proposed closure of Rikers Island. The idea to close the city’s main jail complex is nothing new – it was first presented a decade ago by the then-commissioner of the New York City Correction Department, Martin F. Horn. Horn envisioned closing down the troubled Rikers facility and rehousing thousands of inmates in new state-of-the-art facilities built in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Recently, the former Brooklyn Union Gas Company location at 287 Maspeth Avenue has been scouted as a possible location for a new jail.
The New York Times has been following this story for years and has several articles documenting the struggle that is Rikers Island. The dilapidated jails, built on a landfill, are not structurally stable and are prone to flooding and other issues. In addition to the environmental concerns, Rikers has a pretty serious culture of violence (one that goes both ways). An investigation by the Times reported several cases of brutality against mentally ill inmates, which currently make up nearly 40 percent of the Rikers population. These incidents included gang assaults by officers that resulted in serious injuries.
However, before we begin a new multi-billion dollar project, we need to evaluate the time, expense and displacement it will create and decide if those billions of dollars might be better spent on subways or other existing forms of mass transportation. The city says that the streetcar will be ready in 2024, but critics feel this is a wildly optimistic timeframe.
Washington D.C experienced years of delay and large cost overruns on a much smaller streetcar line, and the New York plan is far bigger than what any other American cities have recently built. The de Blasio administration envisions 30 stops over a 16-mile route and 60 streetcar vehicles. The very scope of the project almost ensures many more years of delay than Washington’s tiny system.
Another issue that many have with the streetcar is that in a city already short on parking, the rail line would eliminate hundreds of parking spots, so that drivers all along the route would be vehement enemies. It is hard to imagine City Council members backing a plan that would draw the ire of their driving constituents, especially if they never take the streetcar line. It is still not clear if the streetcar would be woven into the subway system or if it would be an independent system. There is also the huge question of whether the system would honor MetroCards. It is hard to imagine that many riders who already pay a lot for public transportation would shell out even more money for the tram if the streetcar fare costs extra. A limited ridership would mean that the billion-dollar cost of the streetcar cannot be justified.
There is one other problem with bridges: bureaucracy. Besides the time and expense of constructing a bridge, building spans today mandates conducting long and costly environmental impact studies that could take years and push back the 2024 date even further into the future. Let’s not even begin to contemplate the delays legal challenges to the light rail line would create.
Perhaps the more than $2 billion earmarked for the trolley could be better spent on a renovation of the inadequate G line. Certainly improvements to the G would have a greater impact on the local transportation situation in the near future. Clearly, the city needs to explain how the plan for the streetcar is more positive for Greenpoint than a subway overhaul.
Another year, another completely made-up neighborhood acronym. Except this year, the city is calling it official in Greenpoint.
Following a series of closed-door negotiations with residential developers, Mayor de Blasio has designated the area north of Greenpoint Avenue as “North Greenpoint,” or “NoGre” (rhymes with “ogre”). As such, the area bordered by Greenpoint Avenue, North 12th Street, and the BQE will heretoforth be known as South Greenpoint, or “SoGre.”