2016 – Oh, What a Year it Was!

2016 – Oh, What a Year it Was!

We are close to the end of what has been a historic year. So many things happened affecting so many people that it is hard to give sufficient words to describe what each event or happening means. But a year-end look back is worth the time and effort, so I will take a shot at it.

It has been more than six weeks since the national election, and somehow most of the people I meet still seem to be in a state of shock. Most of the unhappy voters are from New York who supported Hillary Clinton. Quite a few of them assumed that the election was a done deal and that Clinton would be on her way to the White House. When the most factual book is written about this election, the writers will no doubt find that the Clinton campaign made many tactical mistakes that caused her to blow it.

On the subject of heroes, there is no bigger one that I can think of than former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg. While he was in Albany, he became Governor Cuomo’s nemesis on the issue of funding for the disabled. At no time in the history of the state was any Assembly member able to force the governor to find more funding for a cause once the state budget was completed.

Weisenberg got every member of the Assembly and Senate to support his bill to allocate $90 million for programs for people in need. The bill passed both houses, and Weisenberg was under intense pressure to wait another year before the funding would be included in the state budget. He rejected the pressure and insisted that the money had to be approved without delay.

Even though he has left office, Weisenberg continues to be a relentless fighter for more funds for programs for the disabled. His latest campaign is to get the direct caregivers a pay increase. It’s hard to imagine that the people hired to take care of people with disabilities are making less than fast-food workers. In addition, Weisenberg is asking why these workers have such a high turnover rate and wants the state to look into the problem. He is traveling throughout the state to hold news conferences and use the media to keep up his battle for worker equality. If you are looking for a worthy charity, make a donation to the Harvey & Ellen Weisenberg Special Needs Program.

Among of the most disturbing things this past year were the criminal charges lodged against some highly visible Nassau County elected leaders. All of them are assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Watching the current political scene, it seems like there are ethical bonfires across the state. Once upon a time, elected leaders could step over the line and it went unnoticed. Today’s world is different, and but for a very small handful, too many politicians just don’t get it. I hope that the next group of leaders will respect the public’s desire to get the job done without scandal.

Two elected leaders are clearly back in the limelight. Former County Executive Tom Suozzi has regained his political footing and is now on his way to Congress, replacing Steve Israel, who did a terrific job. My fellow columnist Al D’Amato looks like a possible candidate to be an ambassador in the Trump administration. My only advice to the former senator is that he shouldn’t agree to an offer in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

There is no way that I would avoid talking about this year’s serious issue of hacking into our computer systems. The proven intrusion by Russian operatives is a warning that there is no system in this country that is safe from cyber-attacks. It’s the Democrats one day, and then it’s Google and the Defense Department. Tomorrow it could be your electric power system, your doctor’s office and multiple other places. So don’t take this occurrence as just an annoyance. Just because they didn’t hack your information this week doesn’t mean that you aren’t next in line.

To all my readers, have a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.



A Word to the Wise

A Word to the Wise

There is a lot of tumult going on in Washington, D.C. with a new president on the way in and a two-term president on the way out. While there will be a lot of upheaval at the national level, the political problems here on Long Island have for the most part, escaped the attention of the general public. Wherever you look, there is trouble.

Nassau County currently has a number of prominent public officials facing criminal charges having to do with alleged violations of law. Each is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but it is hard for any of them to effectively serve the people when they have a dark cloud hanging over their heads.

Over in Suffolk County, things are not much quieter. There is a bitter feud going on between District Attorney Tom Spota and County Executive Steve Bellone. James Burke, the former police commissioner, has been sentenced to 46 months in prison for a variety of misdeeds. There is dissension in Islip town involving board members and the supervisor and feuding in a few other towns.

As a former public official, I do not have the power to decide who is right and who is wrong. Nor can I assign blame in a criminal case. However, I can’t help but express concern for the reputation of what I believe are the two most important counties in the state. The stories about elected officials being in trouble in Albany and downstate have tarnished the image of public service.

For the past 25 plus years, Long Island has been free of controversy and has functioned well under both Republicans and Democrats. Occasionally, some official has been accused of being a bad actor, but happily, those cases are infrequent.

For those who are members of the political establishment and those who want to be public officials in the future, there are lessons to be learned. We are finishing the year 2016. This is not 1950 when favors were traded and a number of politicians stepped over the line. The laws of this state are a lot tougher and there is a lot more welcome oversight from a large number of institutions.

The results of this year’s election provided proof that aggrieved voters are an unpredictable bunch and are willing to take risks to change the direction of government. That, in and of itself, should be a warning sign that the local voters are paying more attention than ever and are willing to take bold steps to change the status quo.



Jerry Kremer Honored by City & State

Jerry Kremer Honored by City & State

Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, President of Empire Government Strategies, has spent his life getting things done and is never afraid to face a new challenge. He served in the State Assembly for 23 years and was Chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Beyond his successes at government affairs, he is currently Chair of Council of Governing Boards representing 8,000 private college trustees. An accomplished attorney, he serves on the Commission of Professionalism in the Law, by appointment of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and heads NYAREA, the only statewide energy policy group. He has helped build the Young People’s Chorus of New York City into an internationally famous organization. He is the author of two successful books and is a frequent media commentator on both state and local government issues.

Kremer Honors Speaker Heastie on Behalf of NY AREA

Kremer Honors Speaker Heastie on Behalf of NY AREA

New York AREA Honors Four at Annual Member Reception

The New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) held its annual reception in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, November 16, where four people of diverse backgrounds were honored and presented with the Chairman’s Award.img_9590

New York AREA is a coalition of New York labor unions, business organizations, community and environmental leaders, and independent energy experts. The members support policies that will supply New York with reliable and affordable electric power. Its mission is education: to let the public, media, and policy makers at all levels know about New York’s energy supply challenges, and to promote solutions that stimulate the economy, create jobs, and satisfy New York’s growing demand for power.

The keynote speaker at the reception was New York State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie. Heastie represents the 83rd A.D. in the northeast Bronx. He is the first African-American to serve as Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and was elected in February, 2015.

img_9585The crowd was welcomed by the Honorable Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, Chairman of New York AREA, who spoke of the Association as “the conscience of the energy industry here in New York,” and mentioned that it had been in existence for thirteen years, and has well over 300 members.

The first honoree of the evening was Tom Grech, Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. He began his acceptance speech by saying that Queens used to be a place people traveled through, whereas now they travel to it. With the growth of the borough as a travel destination comes the need to improve its energy systems. In Queens itself, “There are 53 different power generation facilities supplying half of New York City’s electricity and fully 10% of the power produced within the entire State of New York,” he said. Meanwhile, “Having reliable energy is one of the highest expenses for businesses. It must be regular, efficient and inexpensive.”

The second honoree was Louis Picani, President of Teamsters Local 456. Teamsters Local 456 represents workers in Westchester and Putnam Counties, public workers in the City of Yonkers, the Town of Greenwich, and surrounding municipalities. Many of Westchester’s building trades workers are also members, including concrete drivers, paving workers, and building materials workers, and the local is a leader in the county building trades council. Local 456 members also deliver fuel oil and gas and drive school buses. “The Teamsters secure the physical [energy] plants,” he said. “They do it img_9570with extreme professionalism. Local 456 greatly appreciates this partnership. We all have an interest in affordable reliable electricity. We have to invest in the energy infrastructure, because it is imperative to create jobs.” He thanked the Teamsters who work at the plants.

The next honoree was Deborah Milone, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has more than 300 members, and is an advocate for the business communities in and around Buchanan, Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, Montrose, Peekskill, Putnam Valley, and Verplanck. “It is an honor to be recognized by the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance,” she said. “They all work so hard to ensure New York has clean, reliable energy. Businesses need affordable electricity in order to expand,” she added.

Finally, James Slevin, President, Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2, received his award. The Union represents over 8,000 members who work in the electric, gas, water and nuclear industries throughout New York, including more than 400 workers at the Indian Point Energy img_9632Center. “This is a partnership,” he said, “where labor, business and environmental interests come together for common goals. Labor’s message is brought to the table.” Slevin accepted the award on behalf of his members, who “go out in a storm, go out when it’s hot, and make sure everyone has the power they need, and the energy is safe and secure.” He also thanked his Business Agents, Senior Agents, Con Ed, Entergy, and others. img_9630

To close out the evening Speaker Heastie told the assembled crowd: “I’ve always been a fan of inexpensive energy. This is something that’s always been in my heart and mind.” He said that because increasingly extreme weather conditions “can have serious consequences in our communities, the City and State have to work together to get energy solutions.” He then thanked “the workers and others who keep the power flowing 24/7, those who keep the lights on for all of us in the State of New York.”



Crain’s New York Supports Hostels in NYC

Hostels want to return to New York. 
The city should welcome them back

By Crain’s Editorial Board

Budget-conscious travelers would love to have somewhere safe and inexpensive to stay in New York City. Hostel executives are eager to invest millions to accommodate them. Commercial

DUTCH TREAT: An Amsterdam property run by Generator Hostels, one of the hostel operators eyeing the Big Apple

landlords would gladly 
lease or sell property to the industry. Local tourist attractions and small businesses would appreciate new visitors. Edgy neighborhoods would benefit from their activity and spending. And the government would welcome the added tax revenue.

Hostels would create many winners—but so far not enough, apparently, for lawmakers to pass a bill allowing them to flourish here.

A 2010 statute banning short-term apartment rentals inadvertently ruined the economics of hostels, leading most of New York City’s to close.

The few that remain face limitations on sleeping arrangements—no more than four guests to a room, for example—that render their traditional dormitory-style cost structure impossible.

Legislation to fix this was drafted by a city task force in 2011 but, incredibly, the City Council has given it scant attention. The hostel industry is trying to revive it but has been struggling just to get the chamber to schedule a hearing, which is crucial because changes are needed to reflect the advent of quickie rentals booked on the internet. Provisions should be added to reassure council members that hostels will not be like Airbnb, which is disliked by many city lawmakers because some folks use the listing service to book tourists in what should be affordable housing for New Yorkers. The bill would support those legislators’ interests because hostels would compete with Airbnb for budget travelers without using apartments or land zoned for residential use.

The bill also needs a new primary sponsor or some advocacy from its current one, Councilwoman Margaret Chin. She has no discernible enthusiasm for the measure, having inherited it from a colleague who left office. It needs a true champion to research and reshape the legislation and win over powerful interests, especially owners of unionized hotels and the politically potent union that represents their workers.

Hostels serve an entirely different clientele than unionized hotels, so the union ought to be neutral about their return to the city, if not in favor of it. The bill also needs community and de Blasio administration support, which can be generated by adding terms that restrict hostels to commercial areas.

Every year that hostels are frozen out costs New York up to $500 million in lost revenue, while rival cities like London are cashing in. It’s time we showed this industry a little hospitality.