This is dirty politics, nearly as sleazy as it gets.
Days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s primary race for re-election Thursday, the New York state Democratic Committee has sent voters a campaign mailer falsely accusing his challenger, Cynthia Nixon, of being “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism.”
It says she supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. She does not. It accuses Nixon of opposing funding yeshivas, private religious schools attended by many of the city’s Orthodox Jews. She has never said that.
“With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise, we can’t take a chance,” the mailer reads. “Re-Elect Governor Andrew Cuomo.”
This is the lowest form of politics, and the most dangerous, exploiting the festering wounds and fears along ethnic and religious lines.
“I didn’t know about the mailer,” Cuomo said at a news conference Sunday in Manhattan. “I haven’t see the mailer.”
Sorry, Mr. Cuomo, but that strains credulity.
Cuomo dominates the state Democratic Party. It acts ethically or abominably at his direction, or the very least, with his campaign’s blessing.
The committee no doubt sent this garbage in the cynical hope that it would prove effective with Orthodox Jews, who generally vote as a bloc, making them a sought-after constituency for New York politicians.
Geoff Berman, executive director of the state Democrats, said Saturday on Twitter that the mailer was “a mistake and is inappropriate and is not the tone the Democratic Party should set,” saying it wouldn’t happen again. Sunday, he went further, saying the party would “work with the Nixon campaign to send out a mailing of their choosing to the same universe of people.”
Even if that were possible so late in the campaign, it’s not enough.
Cuomo has an obligation to personally apologize and condemn these outrageous attacks. Voters deserve to hear Cuomo describe Nixon as a worthy opponent who abhors anti-Semitism. He should make sure that message gets to Orthodox voters before Thursday’s elections. And he should fire the party official who came up with the idea for the flyer.
While Cuomo is at it, he might also mention that Nixon attends a Manhattan synagogue. Saturday night, her rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, issued a joint statement with her wife, the teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten, on Facebook, calling the charges in the mailer a “baseless lie.” Other Democrats have also condemned Cuomo and the Democratic Party for the flyer.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat who hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the primary, said in a statement released by the Nixon campaign Sunday: “I am doubly offended and aghast that my party organization would produce and mail such a false, damaging attack on Ms. Nixon and then watch the governor and key staff act surprised they had done this. Shameful.”
Given all the ethical lapses in Cuomo’s administration, of which he has also pleaded ignorance, this smear is appalling. It is the kind of cynical behavior that detracts from Cuomo’s often-impressive ability to govern. If he is not careful, it could make voters feel they have no choice but to vote for someone else.
Cuomo deserves a third term because of his potential to lead. He should stop squandering that potential now. To be sure of it, New York Democrats need to turn out in large numbers Thursday to support every reform-driven candidate possible — for the Legislature, for attorney general, even for party committees. They can teach Albany a lesson it won’t soon forget.
Voters Can Keep Housing Affordable
(This is part of a series on what is at stake in New York’s primary elections on Thursday, and in the general election on Nov. 6.)
As gentrification and a bloated real estate market intensify New Yorkers’ frantic search for affordable housing, and escalate the threat of homelessness, voters can fight back by electing lawmakers willing to break the real estate industry’s grip on Albany.
State lawmakers flush with the industry’s donations have been gutting New York City’s rent regulations for decades, putting hundreds of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments on the open market, driving up housing costs and forcing poor and middle-class New Yorkers out of their homes. Restoring those protections and giving New York City power over its own rent regulations could keep more families housed at a price they can afford.
New York’s system of rent regulation, limiting how much landlords can charge tenants, began in the 1940s to help a growing middle class. There are about 1 million apartments covered under rent-restricting regulations now, about a quarter fewer than there were in the early 1990s.
The stage was set for this loss in affordable housing in 1971, when the Legislature took control of rent regulation away from New York City by passing the Urstadt Law, which barred the city from enacting rent laws more restrictive than those of the state.
But the most destructive wave of deregulation began in 1993, when the Legislature, under threats from Senate Republicans to end the rent regulation system altogether, created a compromise that deregulated an apartment when a tenant left after the rent had reached $2,000 per month. That was a high rent at the time, and a column in The Times predicted that the measure would create “little change” for tenants. Clearly, that was wrong.
That wave became a tsunami when, in 1997, state lawmakers approved rules that allowed landlords to increase the rent by 20 percent when an apartment became vacant. By the following year, the city was losing three times as many rent-regulated apartments as before. The measure has proved to be a powerful incentive for landlords to continually push out tenants until a unit’s rent exceeds the state limit and the unit can enter the open market.
Since landlords can be allowed to raise rents to cover the cost of renovations, many make minor improvements that may not be necessary, or they artificially inflate the cost of improvements, to inflate rents and inch units closer to deregulation. Though the latter is illegal, the state’s overtaxed enforcement body is largely incapable of holding landlords accountable.
Even when rents are down and market conditions ought to benefit tenants, legislators made sure the law worked to the benefit of landlords. Rent guidelines set the rent a landlord can legally charge for an apartment. Sometimes that’s higher than its market rate, so landlords charge a lower “preferential rent.” Landlords once had to wait for the tenant being charged a preferential rent to move before they could raise the rent to the legal limit. But in 2003, as gentrification was sending real estate values surging across the city, the Legislature passed a law letting landlords raise rents when current tenants renewed their leases, leading to steep, sudden rent hikes for many tenants.
That’s what happened to Amauri Vasquez, who was paying $700 a month for a rent-stabilized two-bedroom apartment in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn when his landlord raised the rent to $1,025. “I can’t afford that,” said Vasquez, 36. “But this is reality. This is what happens every day in Bushwick.”
The combined effect of these efforts has been severe: 284,301 New York City apartments were deregulated between 1994 and 2017, according to city data. During the same period, rents soared. Together, these two trends have put enormous financial pressure on poor and middle-class New Yorkers and helped push some 60,000 people into city homeless shelters. As of this month, that figure included more than 22,000 children.
Even a casual follower of America’s corrupt politics would not be surprised that lawmakers who voted to benefit wealthy interests at the expense of their constituents raked in money from those interests. From 2005 to 2013, the New York real estate industry contributed at least $44 million to state candidates, committees and PACs. Such largesse was made possible in part by a loophole the state Board of Elections created in 1996 that treats limited liability companies as “individuals,” allowing them to donate up to $65,100 a year to any state candidate instead of forcing them to abide by the $5,000 corporate limit.
The money grubbing has been bipartisan, but the Republican-controlled state Senate has been the landlords’ most reliable friend. So the best chance to strengthen rent laws and protect affordable housing is to deliver the Senate into Democratic hands in November, and elect reformist Democrats in the primary Thursday.
Then, here are some actions lawmakers can take:
— Overturn the Urstadt Law
Return control of the rent laws toNew York City, where it belongs. The city should be able to decide how it wants to regulate rents without getting approval from the state Legislature.
— End High-Rent Vacancy Decontrol
Once an apartment’s rent hits $2,733.75, it no longer falls under any rent regulation once the current tenant moves. A fairer system would keep the apartment under rent stabilization and allow for gradual increases that reflect owners’ costs and rates set by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board.
— End Vacancy Bonuses
Landlords’ ability to raise the rent by 20 percent every time an apartment is vacated is a perverse incentive for continually displacing tenants to boost an apartment’s rent until it is deregulated. It’s no coincidence that tenant harassment is pervasive in New York City. The company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, for example, has been accused of such misconduct. Lawmakers should scrap this incentive entirely.
— End the Preferential Rent Bonus
Landlords should only be allowed to raise rents to the legal limit after a tenant who had been paying a lower rent moves out.
— Strengthen the Division of Housing and Community Renewal
This is the state agency that enforces rent laws, and it needs more funding to bring much-needed accountability to a system that is widely abused by landlords. One way would be for the agency to require landlords to submit receipts for improvements to individual apartments to the agency and the tenant. Rent increases justified by such improvements, as well as capital improvements to the entire building, should be made temporary, lasting only until the costs are paid off.
New Yorkers’ votes Thursday and on Nov. 6 can craft a Legislature devoted to the needs of city residents, not the demands of their donors. That’s how to keep more New Yorkers in their homes.
Don’t Let Migrant Kids Rot
For all the human brain’s mysteries, its development is quite well understood. Early childhood and adolescence are crucial times of unparalleled neural growth. Just as trust and stability can enhance that growth, fear and trauma can impede it. Institutionalization, in particular, can have profound and deleterious effects, triggering a range of developmental delays and psychiatric disorders from which recovery can be difficult, if not impossible.
In light of that knowledge, the Trump administration’s latest move against immigrant children is especially troubling. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security proposed new regulations that would allow the government to detain migrant children indefinitely. Officials are now prohibited from detaining such minors for more than 20 days by an agreement known as the Flores settlement, which has been in place since 1997. The new rules would end that settlement and would likely open the door to an expansion of detention centers across the country.
DHS says that by eliminating Flores, officials will deter illegal immigration, reasoning that unauthorized adults will be less likely to enter the country to begin with if they know they can’t avoid long-term detention simply by having a child in tow. Immigration activists say the proposed rule’s true aims are both simpler and more diabolical than that: “They want to strip away every last protection for detained immigrant children,” says Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Even with Flores in place, those protections have proved thin. Youth migrant shelters — there are roughly 100 such facilities housing more than 10,000 minors across the country — have been cited for a long list of abuses, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, blatant medical neglect, the forcible injection of antipsychotic medications, the unlawful restraint of children in distress and harsh rules that prohibit even siblings from hugging one another. The shelters in question, several of which are facing lawsuits, are part of a network that has received billions of federal dollars in the past four years alone. That money has continued to pour in even as abuse allegations have multiplied.
The administration bears unique responsibility for these violations, in no small part because its disastrous and short-lived separation policy has wreaked havoc on a system that was already rife with problems. Shame alone should have federal officials working hard to undo the damage of that policy and to prevent further harm to the children under their charge, never mind that it’s the right thing to do under any number of international agreements and norms.
But their latest plan is more likely to exacerbate existing problems than to resolve them. The proposed regulations would eliminate the standing requirement that detention centers submit to state inspections and would narrow the scope of relatives to whom children can be released to only parents and legal guardians — no aunts, uncles or other extended family members. It would also trigger a proliferation of new facilities: The administration projects that Immigration and Customs Enforcement-run family detention would increase from 3,000 beds to 12,000. The number of shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors may also grow.
The proposals will be open to public comment for the next 60 days before they can be finalized. Readers who wish to register their concern can do so on the Federal Register’s website.
After that period, the issue is almost certainly headed to court. Observers say the same judge who has ruled against past attempts to undermine Flores is likely to thwart this attempt as well.
Which paints a stark reality for what’s motivating this move and what it ultimately means: The administration surely knows what a long shot this proposal is, but it will undoubtedly excite President Donald Trump’s political base as the midterm elections approach. So while the administration plays politics, the well-being of thousands of children who came to America seeking protection and safety will be put at risk — today and, developmentally, for the rest of their lives.
The Editorial Board © 2018 The New York Times