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This Week In Politics
The Riverdale Press
Adam Wisnieski

October 5, 2011
View the Original Article

Councilman Oliver Koppell has changed his living wage bill — again. Changes he hopes will finally move it to the city council floor.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act — which would require developers that receive taxpayer subsidies to pay workers $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without — was originally introduced by Mr. Koppell and his colleague, Councilwoman Annabel Palma, in 2010, in the aftermath of a fight between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on the development of the Kingsbridge Armory.

After a year of back and forth, Mr. Koppell reintroduced the bill in January with changes that would exempt not-for-profit organizations, affordable housing projects and small businesses that made less than $1 million annually. But that did not convince opponents of the bill.

This round of changes — which Mr. Koppell said was a direct result of testimony given at the May 12 public hearing — is much more severe.

Developers who receive taxpayer subsidies of more than $1 million would be required to pay living wage jobs, up from bill’s original threshold of $100,000.

Small businesses earning $5 million or less in revenue will be exempt, up from $1 million. All manufacturing companies will be exempt from the rule, which switches the bill’s entire focus to retail jobs.

Other changes include making record keeping easier in keeping with state requirements; reducing the length of the living wage requirement from 30 years to 10 years or the life of the subsidies; exempting commercial tenants in certain affordable housing units as well as “as of right subsidies,” which companies automatically receive for meeting certain criteria.

Mr. Koppell told The Riverdale Press that he plans to introduce the legislation this week.

He said he does not think the amendments change the main focus of the bill.

“It’s more limited but it’s still worthy,” he said.

Some compromises are ones Mr. Koppell said he wishes he didn’t have to make.

“I would liked to have had manufacturing in,” he said, but added that he understood the argument made at the hearing — that many manufacturing jobs start at a low hourly rate but generally go up after a year or two.

So after revisions, debate, a public hearing, more debate and another round of changes, what’s next for the controversial bill?

“I guess the next step really is to get the bill moving,” he said.

That means the bill has to get past Speaker Christine Quinn, who in the past has expressed her opposition to a living wage mandate.

But Mr. Koppell and others have said that if she has hopes for being mayor, she needs to get on board.

The Bloomberg administration has adamantly opposed a living wage mandate.

If Ms. Quinn decides not to bring the bill before the council, Mr. Koppell said he would consider circumventing the usual process with a motion to discharge, which requires a majority vote and would bring the legislation to the floor. Currently, 30 of 51 council members support the bill.

Mr. Koppell said he does not want it to come to that.

“There is a way of forcing a vote, but I hope that won’t be necessary,” he said. “The result of such an effort is questionable because people don’t want to alienate the speaker.”

Occupy inboxes

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz’s inbox was full of e-mails about Occupy Wall Street protestors on Monday.

Over the weekend, the NYPD arrested approximately 700 protestors at the Brooklyn Bridge, many for disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. A day later, an e-mail campaign began and the same letter, signed by different people from all over the world, was addressed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York City Council and the New York City Police Department, with members of congress, President Barack Obama and New York state legislators cc’d.

So Mr. Dinowitz was sifting through what he said were “hundreds and hundreds” of e-mails with the subject line, “DROP ALL CHARGES ON OCCUPY WALL STREET ARRESTEES!”

The letter writers demanded that all charges be dropped immediately.

“I was arrested in the past so I strongly sympathize with what they’re trying to do,” he said.

Mr. Dinowitz said he does not condone anybody breaking the law, but that he thinks the protest is a good thing.

Recently, the three-week-old protest, which started small, gained support from many major unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Communications Workers of America, as well as the Working Family Party.

“This might be the flip side of the Tea Party,” Mr. Dinowitz said.

Though he doesn’t agree that all government bailouts were bad, he echoed what many protestors have been saying, which is that no matter how bad the economy gets, “people never get bailed out.”

“I think that the people who are there .... are expressing the anger that so many people feel about the disparity that seems to be getting worse in this county between the very wealthy and the rest of us,” he said.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s office received 1,300 similar e-mails this week as well, according to Ibrahim Khan, Mr. Espaillat’s spokesman.

Councilman Oliver Koppell said he thought the protests were a reflection of American’s frustration with the economy as well, but that it wouldn’t do much good.

“I think that many of the people are well intentioned, but I don’t think it’s going to have much of an effect. It may highlight some of the issues that face our country, but I don’t see it as having any significant effect,” he said.

Koppell workin’ it

In case you were wondering, Councilman Oliver Koppell was working last week. At least, that’s what his press release from Monday afternoon says. The release, vaguely titled “Koppell successful in obtaining speedy results on issues affecting community,” outlines three things Mr. Koppell has done to help the neighborhood recently.

First, the Department of Environmental Protection cleaned out a catch basin on Manhattan College Parkway at the behest of the councilman, which helped stop the road from flooding.

Then, on Sept. 30, heavy rains disrupted the gas mains at 3950 Blackstone Ave. and tenants were without gas. Mr. Koppell said in the release he urged Con Ed to work throughout the night, which they did, and gas was restored.

The last problem Mr. Koppell fixed up hit the councilman close to home. Not his home literally, but his legislation: the Returnable Bottle Law. According to Mr. Koppell, Food Dynasty in Van Cortlandt Village was only accepting 40 bottles or cans at once. That’s 200 bottles or cans short of the law. Mr. Koppell whooshed in and asked the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct an investigation into the supermarket’s alleged bottle policy. The DEC confirmed the complaint and ticketed the supermarket for breaking the law.

“I am gratified that the agencies and companies I have contacted provided the kind of speedy response necessary to provide relief to my constituents,” Mr. Koppell said to conclude the press release.

Worth mentioning ...

• According to news reports, Chris Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will step down from his post at the end of October. Since taking office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has wanted to get rid of Mr. Ward, a former DEP commissioner who made few friends with locals during his reign for his role in the Croton Water Treatment Plant.

• State Sen. Jeff Klein will host Stay Safe with Senator Klein at the Robert J. Christen School, PS 81, located at 5550 Riverdale Ave., on Wednesday, Oct. 5. The program, a joint initiative with NY Life, is aimed at helping children stay safe and alerting residents to potentially dangerous sex offenders.