Community Newsletter - March 2011
Washington Irving Students Meet with Kavanagh to Advocate for Health Centers
On Tuesday, February 8, 2011, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh met with Washington Irving High School students who traveled to Albany to advocate for continued funding of school-based health centers (SBHC's) at Washington Irving and other schools, where hundreds of students receive primary health care services. Washington Irving is located in the 74th Assembly District, near Union Square.
Kavanagh and Good Government Advocates Call for Campaign Finance Reform
On January 24, 2011, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, several of his legislative colleagues, and a coalition of good government groups, labor and issue advocacy organizations, and citizen activists called for passage of a public campaign finance system for statewide and legislative elections in New York. The gathering coincided with the first anniversary of the US Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which struck down restrictions on corporate expenditures to influence the outcome of elections, clearing the path for corporations and special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries. It also comes at a time when large contributions directly to candidates and party committees are playing an increasingly significant role, as demonstrated by a recent study conducted by the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Fighting to Renew and Strengthen Tenant Protections
Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh has been very active in the fight to renew and strengthen New York State's rent stabilization laws, which are currently set to expire on June 15, 2011. On February 19th, Kavanagh spoke at a rally and an accompanying workshop on the issue at the 40th Annual Legislative Conference of the NY State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators in Albany.
On February 24th, Kavanagh joined City and State elected officials and tenant advocates at a City Hall press conference calling for passage of the law during the course of the budget process, which is scheduled to conclude by April 1st, rather than permitting negotiations on the legislation to go down to the wire, as they have in previous years when the law needed to be renewed.
At both events, Kavanagh spoke about the experience of the residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, which was purchased in 2006 by predatory investors whose business plan relied upon aggressively seeking to remove apartments from the rent regulation system, evict current tenants en masse, and raise rents by exorbitant amounts. The State's highest court later ruled in a case called Roberts that deregulation of these apartments was illegal, and landlords have since sought to overturn the court's decision by statute.
On March 15, 2011, Kavanagh co-wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by dozens of colleagues in the Assembly and the Senate, making the case for prompt passage of renewed and strengthened tenant protections. Kavanagh and his colleagues called upon the Governor to join them in making repeal of vacancy decontrol provisions in the current law - provisions that allow landlords to deregulate many apartments when they become vacant - the central element of a bill that would genuinely strengthen the law. They also called for: reducing the monthly rent increases permitted under the Major Capital Improvement and Individual Apartment Improvement provisions, and ensuring that the increases are subject to proper State oversight and approval and only endure as long as is necessary to cover the costs of bona fide improvements; reducing or eliminating "vacancy bonuses" and ensuring that any such bonuses are not available for the same apartment multiple times over a short period; ensuring that any of the 70,000 units currently in the Mitchell-Lama and Project-Based Section 8 programs will be subject to rent regulation if they are removed from these programs; ensuring that landlords who offer a "preferential rent" that they claim is below the legal limit cannot later raise the rent beyond the percentages permitted by the Rent Guidelines Board for the duration of a tenancy; and, finally, avoiding offsetting the benefits of the above measures by meaningfully weakening the law in other areas, refraining from creating new loopholes for landlords or overriding well-reasoned judicial decisions like the Roberts decision.
Kavanagh Voices Concern About PCBs In Schools
On Wednesday, February 23rd, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Congressmember Jerry Nadler, Borough President Scott Stringer, and other elected officials and environmental health advocates on the steps of City Hall to address PCB contamination in public schools built or substantially renovated between 1950 and 1978. PCB's, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a class of chemical compounds previously used in building materials, including caulk and fluorescent light ballasts, that were banned in 1978 by the US Environmental Protection Agency due to the carcinogenic effects associated with prolonged exposure. Kavanagh is supporting legislation recently introduced by Rosenthal that would require the City Department of Education to replace PCB-contaminated light ballasts and light fixtures.
Since the Department of Education and the EPA began a pilot program to test PCB levels in New York City schools last summer, momentum has been building to take major action to rid City schools of these dangerous compounds. The EPA, along with many citizens and public interest groups, have been pressuring the New York City government to replace all light ballasts in schools built or substantially renovated between 1950 and 1978 after several schools were found to have lights leaking dangerously high amounts of PCB's.
In order to protect the health of children, teachers, and other faculty and staff-and in part in response to the legislators' advocacy-the Bloomberg administration has now committed to replacing the light fixtures containing PCB's in nearly 800 buildings over the next 10 years. The City has allocated $708 million to the effort, which will rid schools of these dangerous chemicals while also providing an opportunity for the City to install energy efficient light fixtures. Kavanagh and his colleagues are reviewing the City's proposed approach with an eye toward accelerating the process.
Kavanagh Joins Elected Officials in Urging Cuomo to Restore Funding for Senior Centers
Assemblymember Kavanagh is working to oppose the proposed change to Title XX funding, which would, according to a proposal released by the New York City Department for the Aging on March 3rd, result in the closing of 105 senior centers throughout New York City, two of them in the 74th Assembly District: Stein Senior Center located at 40 East 24th Street and John Paul II Friendship Center on 103 East 7th Street. Several weeks ago, as part of the ongoing State budget negotiations, he joined many of his colleagues in the Assembly in a formal request to restore these funds. He has followed up since with a letter to the Governor that identifies funds that have recently become available that he believes should be used to protect our senior centers.
When Governor Paterson proposed a similar cut to Title XX funding last year, Kavanagh worked successfully with his legislative colleagues to restore the funds and save the Wald Senior Center on the Lower East Side, which had been threatened with closure. Kavanagh understands the vital role that these centers play in our community, and will oppose this new attempt to cut the funding.
Working to Stop Gun Violence
On Saturday February 19th, Kavanagh joined colleagues, community organizations, and law enforcement officials from around the State for a panel discussion on intervening in the cycle of violence that grips many communities throughout the State. The panel was part of the 40th Annual Legislative Conference of the NY State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators in Albany; Kavanagh briefly addressed the audience from the panel. The discussion focused on the work of Operation SNUG, a program that is already demonstrating some success in stopping gun and gang violence. We must help our youth and young adults push for understanding and growth. The program, modeled on the Cease Fire initiative in Chicago, uses credible messengers (many of them have their own histories of gang-affiliation) to reach out to young people in their communities and show them that change is possible.
On Sunday, February 27th, Kavanagh joined Senator Malcolm Smith, other elected officials, and residents of various communities that have experienced substantial gun violence for the "Don't Shoot New York" march and rally in support of Operation SNUG and other approaches to ending gun violence. The rally was a great success in drawing attention to the ongoing violent tragedies that continue every day in our communities and to call for much needed change.
In his remarks at the rally, speaking from a flatbed truck in Times Square, Kavanagh highlighted the need for a coordinated effort between community groups and elected officials to end gun violence. "For a long time, we have not only been losing the battle on the streets, but we have been losing it in the legislatures," he said. He closed by praising the work of groups like Operation SNUG that are attacking illegal guns at a grassroots level, and by calling on legislators to renew their focus on keeping illegal guns off of our streets.