Friday, May 30, 2008

Reducing Supermarket Operating Costs

In all of our discussions about the disappearance of so many of our local supermarkets, the one major point we have emphasized is the high cost of doing business in NYC-from real estate taxes and burdensome regulations, to high rents and attendant operating costs. One of these high costs is the disposal of supermarket waste.

Since the rules on garbage disposal were changed in 2003, the private carters are able to charge higher fees for "wet waste," the produce and vegetable matter that weighs more to truck away and dispose of in landfills. That the city wants us all to consume more of this produce-adding to the market costs-only adds to the irony of the situation.

There is, however, a realistic alternative to this disposal problem: the use of food waste disposers. That's why the Alliance had been promoting Intro 133, a bill that would legalize disposers in a pilot program designed to determine their effectiveness, as well as their impact on the waste water treatment facilities. The bill was derailed by the mayor and the speaker in a deal that they struck on the city's SWMP.

As we pointed out at the time, the deal ignored the fact that the use of disposers could save the supermarket industry millions of dollars in disposal costs-while the so-called environmental activists railed against having the "public" subsidize local business. Now it appears that folks are beginning to realize that regulatory restrictions have some very real world consequences.

This is brought home even more so by the fact that the carters continue to lobby for more rate hikes, rising fees that will bring back the nostalgic "mob tax. " Neighborhood supermarkets would be able to save tens of thousands of dollars every year if allowed the use of food waste disposers, and if not, the fee escalation will simply add to the burdensome operating costs. The use of food waste disposers would cut supermarket disposal cost by over 90%!

To allow their use would be a good step in the direction of creating a good business climate for what has now become known as a vital retail sector. It would be good for both the business climate as well as for the health of the city's neighborhoods-as wet waste that attracts vemin no longer would be stored where food is prepared and sold. Clearly, an idea whose time has come.

Vornado: Hoy Vey

The Spanish language media continues to go after Vorndo Realty and Distrust for its effort to evict a local Key Food from its Soundview location. Yesterday it was Hoy's turn to turn up the heat in an article titled "Keep the Key Food Open (in Spanish of course): "Tomando como ejemplo la amenaza de cierre inminente de un supermercado en la comunidad de Soundview, en El Bronx, oficiales electos, vecinos y trabajadores protestaron ayer por lo que parece ser una epidemia que amenaza con expandirse en todo la Ciudad."

Hoy highlights the rising cost of doing business and, quoting Councilman Joel Rivera, emphasizes how the loss of these markets impacts the health of New Yorkers: "Por consiguiente, las grandes cadenas de almacenes y farmacias vienen a ocupar esos lugares eliminando la posibilidad de conseguir alimentos frescos a bajos precios. Según el informe presentado en la rueda de prensa, Nueva York ha perdido un tercio de sus supermercados en los últimos 5 años. "Los supermercados en la ciudad son esenciales para la salud de la comunidad", dijo el concejal de El Bronx, Joel Rivera."

And Councilman Monserrate puts the ball right in the mayor's court: ""Le estamos pidiendo al Alcalde que ayude para que cada condado cuente con un número de supermercados que satisfaga las necesidades de la comunidad", dijo el concejal Hiram Monserrate, de Queens."

Hoy goes on to point out how Vornado's greed is fueling the entire controversy, and quotes Annabel Palma on how supermarket owners can't afford this kind of rent gouging: "El posible cierre del supermercado Key Food, de Soundview, se debe a que el dueño del centro comercial de Bruckner Boulevard, Vornado Realty and Trust, planea cobrar al supermercado 50 dólares por pie cuadrado en alquiler, precios los dueños del negocio no pueden pagar, según la concejal de la zona Annabel Palma."

Vornado is supposedly in talks with the mayor's office, and is soon slated to speak to Speaker Quinn. If the Distrusters don't get this pretty soon, they're going to see some of their lucrative toys confiscated. We wonder, Is Bruckner Plaza really worth all of theis tsuris?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Poor and Old: Disparate Impacts of Supermarket Disappearance

The threatened closings of two Bronx supermarkets puts the poor and the elderly at the greatest risk because these two groups simply lack the mobility to conveniently shop elsewhere. This is brought home clearly in this week's edition of the Bronx Times-Reporter: :A crowd of more than 100 angry and equally distraught seniors gathered at 2504 Eastchester Road, Monday, May 19, to protest the closure of their only neighborhood supermarket, Met Food.“I’m 81. Where are we going to go? Where are we going to go,” 40-year neighborhood veteran Lina Tripodi questioned sadly as she balanced her weight against her wooden cane.Tripodi was one of numerous local seniors shocked by the news of the pending store closure, with proposed plans for a Walgreens to take its place."

So, once again, it is another drug store that is slated to replace the community's local market: "“We don’t want a drug store. I won’t patronize the store, even if they’re giving things away,” Gloria Saplicki said as she held the arm of her 95-year-old mother Rose Polidoro, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 50 years and continues to depend on the store’s convenient delivery system.“We really have to protect our seniors,” Sal Conforto said. “This is a vital lifeline for them to do their shopping.”For the many neighborhood seniors who don’t drive, the nearest supermarket would be the A&J Food Market at 1000 Allerton Avenue.“They’ll have to leave the safety of their neighborhood to go to another neighborhood they aren’t comfortable in,” Conforto continued."

Councilman Vacca reiterates this point: "Vacca said this unfortunate scenario is becoming all too familiar. “This is déjà vu,” he said. “Wherever you see a supermarket closing, you see a chain drug store take over. How many sick people do we have? This is ridiculous.” And, as the paper reports, Pelham Gardens is also a neighborhood that is lacking in needed supermarkets-making this possible closing that more compelling.

Finally, we told the Bronx Times that this is another example of the need for an immediate call for action: “The city needs to act promptly in order to develop a policy to preserve and promote supermarkets,” said Richard Lipsky, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who took part in the rally. “New York has already lost more than one-third of its markets and can’t afford to lose any more.”

This common theme is highlighted in many neighborhoods throughout the city. Tonight State Senator Jose Serrano is doing a listening tour of East Harlem, an event that will culminate in a state hearing on the supermarket crisis. Here's the press advisory:

Office of Senator Serrano Invites NYS Council on Food Policy to Harlem

Where: ACP, Jr. State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, 2nd Floor

When: Thursday, May 29th

4 p.m. – The Office of Senator Serrano will host a reception for the Council and those residents participating in the listening session.

5 to 7 p.m. – NYS Council on Food Policy official listening session.

Senator José M. Serrano (D-Manhattan/Bronx) continues his fight for supermarkets this Thursday evening, as the New York State Council on Food Policy visits Harlem for an official listening session. The Senator will host an opening reception, at 4 p.m., and submit written testimony during the session itself. Media outlets are welcome to attend.

Senator Serrano has been on the forefront of the supermarket closures crisis. Earlier this year, he organized the Supermarket Closures Task Force, comprised of residents and community stakeholders, which meets monthly to investigate the root causes of the problem and develop comprehensive solutions. The Senator is currently in the process of crafting legislation to introduce in the State Senate.

The Senator has undertaken community organizing efforts to encourage local residents to submit testimony to the Council on Food Policy, a body established by the Governor last year that will ultimately make recommendations on developing a State food policy to ensure the availability of safe, fresh, nutritious and affordable food for all New Yorkers, especially low income residents, senior citizens and children.

The listening session, the first of its kind in Upper Manhattan, is open to the public. Residents who wish to participate will have three minutes to present their opinions, and must also provide comments in written format.

In recent weeks, the issue of supermarket closures has received widespread attention, with the release of Department of City Planning Report – which found that three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods characterized by a high need for supermarkets and grocery stores – as well as the high-profile efforts to save the Key Foods, in the Soundview section of the Bronx, from rent hikes by its corporate landlord

Supermarket Closings-En Espanol

Channel 41 did a wondeful in-depth story on supermarket closings-and featured yesterday's press conference as well. The Noticias focus was on both the rising cost of food as well as the loss of neighborhood markets: "Al parecer ningún sector de la economía parece escapar a la actual crisis. Las alzas del petróleo han encarecido el transporte de los alimentos, los cuales ahora suben de precio con más rapidez. A eso se suman los costos de las rentas en Nueva York, una combinación que está llevando a que los supermercados de la ciudad cierren sus puertas. Los hispanos son parte de los afectados.

In addition, the television piece also took a look at the costs of doing business for supermarket owners-and, taking Public Advocate Betsy Gitbaum's lead, suggested the need for government intervention: "La defensora mencionó la importancia de obtener subsidios e incentivos para que los supermercados no cierren sus puertas." And of course, high rent is a crucial variable: "Uno los problemas que enfrentan los dueños de supermercados es el costo de las rentas."

Lastly, the story emphasized the extent to which the supermaket crisis is a public health crisis: "La oficina ve la necesidad de contar con los supermercados de acceso a la comunidad como uno de los componentes que ayuda a evitar la obesidad y la diabetes, ya que ante la ausencia de comida saludable, los habitantes tienden a adquirir comida chatarra."

We are beginning to see this message getting across to a wide spectrum of elected officials-and we've only just begun this campaign. The Distrusters at Vornado-evictors and public health enemies-better beware.

Good Observations on Supermarket Shortage

Our supermarket rally and press conference yesterday got a good write-up at the NY Observer's real estate blog: "The battle to save the Key Foods in the Sound View neighborhood of the South Bronx has brought the issue of the city’s dwindling stock of supermarkets into sharp relief, and become the centerpiece of the United Food and Commercial Workers union’s campaign to preserve local supermarkets."

The lost market crisis is a focus of a City Planning report: "New York City has lost one-third of its supermarkets over the past five years, most of them in the outer-boroughs and in low-income neighborhoods, according to a recent report by the Department of City Planning. About 750,000 New Yorkers live more than five blocks from a grocery store in neighborhoods hardest hit by the closures, meaning they have little access to fresh produce or affordable groceries."

This loss has serious economic repercussions. As the UFCW Local 1500's Pat Purcell told the Observer: "Assuming that a minimum of 35 people worked in each of the 100-plus grocery stores that have closed, at least 3,500 jobs have been lost, estimated Mr. Purcell." And this is on top of the lost tax revenues, dwindling neighborhood foot traffic, and vanishing entrepreneurial opportunities for immigrant businesses."

This is thrown into sharp relief in this week's Crain's NY Business. Crain's supermarket story features the fact that many of the Dominican supermarket owners, folks who revitalized inner city food retailing, are searching outside of the city for better economic opportunities: "The cost of operating supermarkets in New York City was impossible," says Eligio Peña, who closed the last of his six Associated supermarkets here in 2000 after 30 years in business. Today he co-owns 26 Compare Foods markets in the Carolinas."

The shift in focus dramatizes just how difficult NYC's economic environment has become-and many point fingers at Mayor Bloomberg's commercial real estate tax increase in 2002 as a major culprit: "The industry's main beefs with the city center on high taxes and rent. Veteran grocer Cesar Ramirez is a prime example. Although he still owns three C-Town markets in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, in recent years he has focused his energies on Florida, where he has opened five Freshco stores. "I definitely wouldn't expand in New York unless there were tax rebates and subsidized rent," says Mr. Ramirez. He notes that he has been able to hold on in New York largely because he owns the real estate at two of his locations."

All of this was a focus of the remarks given at yesterday's press event by Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz: “In some neighborhoods," said Brooklyn borough President Marty Markowitz, "banks are taking every available retail site because they pay more than other businesses and in other neighborhoods we are being overrun by the drug chains and what’s closing?
“Our supermarkets. Not everybody gets Fresh Direct, not everybody goes to exclusive gourmet grocery stores. They go to the Key Foods and the Associateds. We have got to get the government to approach this with ideas that make it profitable for supermarkets to open new stores."

And we also need to hold landlord pigs at the trough like Vornado accountable for their selfishness. As we told the Observer: “Vornado is a real public player," Mr. Lipsky added. "They are a finalist in the 125th Street development. They are asking the Port Authority to intervene to buy Madison Square Garden. They are always in the loop to ask for public benefits. Now if you’re going to be in the loop to ask for public benefits and you’re going to grow your company on that basis, then you have to be a good corporate citizen. And throwing out the last big supermarket in the south Bronx neighborhood of Sound View is not being a good public citizen.”

As we have been saying, this is only the beginning. And we hear that Vornado's coming in to dinner, so to speak, with Speaker Quinn. Hey Chris, "this dud's for you." Read Vornado the riot act, and be a real hero for the good folks in Soundview and the workers at Key Food-rediscover that old feisty spirit. We know that you can.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vornado's a Supplicant-Again!

In today's NY Observer, there's an article on the attempt of the evil twins to resurrect their lucrative Moynihan Station deal-by getting the Port Authority (that's part of the public sector Mr. Roth) to buy Madison Square Garden:

"According to multiple people familiar with discussions, the joint venture of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust wants the Port Authority to come in and buy the current Madison Square Garden, along with its hotly desired air rights, a task that would cost somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The developers have told officials that this purchase by the public sector, which would be effectively paid back by the developers should the entire project come together, is necessary to right the troubled large-scale plan. By the public sector taking a risk that the developers apparently find too risky and/or expensive—in the failed plan, billions in funding and numerous agreements for the entire project were needed before the Garden could get a new arena—the developers seem to be reasoning that the Garden would be given enough certainty to be lured back to the table."

This is the same Vornado that's looking to spit in the face of the South Bronx by evicting its one large supermarket, thereby depriving the community of good access to healthy food. Which is one of the major points that will be made today down at City Hall when we gather to throw down the gauntlet to the mayor as well as the Distrusters at Vornado. To paraphrase the old Coasters song: "Look in the dark you'll see my face, don't try to hide I'm everyplace."

Supermarket Showdown

Today on the steps of City Hall at 1:00 PM, a city wide coalition of business, labor, community groups and food advocates, will join with a wide range of elected officials in a call for action on behalf of supermarket preservation. The call for action is stimulated by the fact that, according to a City Planning report, New York has lost over 1/3 of its supermarkets over the past five years. Community residents from many of the impacted neighborhoods that have, or will be, losing markets, will be present to dramatize just what kind of hardship is created when the local supermarket disappears.

Scheduled to appear at tomorrow's press conference, co-sponsored by UFCW Local 1500 and the Alliance, are Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Congressman Anthony Weiner and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. In addition, council members scheduled to join us will be Anabel Palma, Jimmy Vacca, Eric Gioia, Tish James, Vinnie Gentile, Hiram Monseratte, Melissa Mark-Viterito and Charles Barron. Joel Berg from the NYC Coalition against Hunger and Triada Stampas from the Food Bank will highlight the issue of rising food prices and the need for greater access to food stamps.

This call for action is, to some extent, prompted by Mayor Bloomberg's emphasis on the correlation of supermarket preservation and the public health of the the city's neighborhoods. This concern was underscored recently by Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs in a NY Daily News editorial: " "We are looking at a variety of strategies to tackle the challenge, including using city-owned land for the development of new food markets and examining zoning in certain areas to ensure that we are not precluding the location of new food stores. In addition, the city's food coordinator will play a leadership role on the newly formed Supermarket Commission, a public/private partnership that will provide recommendations about how the city can get new supermarkets into neighborhoods."

Our goal today is to continue to push the city to act quickly before more and more supermarkets bite the dust. In this push we will be calling on the administration to begin to examine lowering the cost of doing business-high taxes and over-regulation being key variables in the disappearance of so many of our neighborhood food stores, something that is featured in the current issue of Crain's.

As Crain's points out: "Anyone who wants to know why the number of supermarkets in the city is rapidly declining only needs to ask the people who own them. In the past five years, about 100 grocery store owners have either left the city entirely or focused their expansion efforts outside the Big Apple. In response to recent reports detailing the situation, a special commission is now struggling to come up with recommendations that might help turn the tide. The experiences of many of the grocers leaving town show, however, that it won't be easy."

The situation has been particularly hard on those immigrant entrepreneurs that have, until very recently, invested so much in the neighborhoods of the city: "The cost of operating supermarkets in New York City was impossible," says Eligio Peña, who closed the last of his six Associated supermarkets here in 2000 after 30 years in business. Today he co-owns 26 Compare Foods markets in the Carolinas. Mr. Peña's complaint and his response are common. The National Supermarket Association, a Queens-based group that represents independent chains including Associated, Key Food, Pioneer and C-Town, reports that a quarter of its 400 members have shifted their focus elsewhere, opening stores along the East Coast from Florida and Georgia to as far north as Massachusetts.

The main culprit? "The industry's main beefs with the city center on high taxes and rent. Veteran grocer Cesar Ramirez is a prime example. Although he still owns three C-Town markets in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, in recent years he has focused his energies on Florida, where he has opened five Freshco stores. "I definitely wouldn't expand in New York unless there were tax rebates and subsidized rent," says Mr. Ramirez. He notes that he has been able to hold on in New York largely because he owns the real estate at two of his locations."

Mayor Bloomberg's huge commercial real estate tax increase in 2002 was a knife in the heart of all neighborhood retailers, but particularly supermarkets that operate on very narrow margins: "Life in other states is far easier, as Mr. Peña has discovered. In just seven years, he has built a supermarket empire in North Carolina more than four times as large as his former holdings in New York. He notes that he paid between $3 and $5 in real estate taxes per square foot here, a multiple of North Carolina's rate of 40 cents to $1. One of his biggest savings is on insurance, which now costs him $7,000 a year in North Carolina, compared with $100,000 in New York."

This supermarket issue is going to be a big part of the 2009 election cycle if we have anything to say about it. The cavalier Bloomberg attitude that taxes don't have any impact on business health must be replaced by a healthy awareness of the correlation of low taxes, less regulation and business growth. Today's press conference is just the start of this campaign.

Thanks for the link Liz.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vornado in El Barrio?

According to Crain's (with an assist from Liz), the city is honing in on the selection of a developer for a swath of property on the eastern edge of 125th Street. And guess who may be coming to dinner? Yup. it our good friends at Vornado, the same folks who think that it's okay to evict a vital supermarket from an underserved Bronx neighborhood.

Here's the Crain's take: "Real estate sources tell Crain’s that the three companies vying for the roughly six-acre site are Vornado Realty Trust, General Growth Properties and Thor Equities." And the lovely aspect of all of this is that the city is proceeding through ULURP without the developer being named.

This, as we have seen in the Willets Point situation, doesn't make a whole lot of sense from the stand point of City Council oversight. Yet it appears that, according to Crain's, Council woman Melissa Mark-Viverito supports this end run: "Only recently have some strains among the parties begun to emerge. They stem from the city’s decision in March to start the rezoning process before selecting a developer. Though not unprecedented, choosing a developer during rezoning is unusual. Some community activists argue that rezoning without a developer weakens the city’s bargaining power."

EDC head Pinsky disagrees: "Conversely, Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp., claims that delaying the choice extends the competition.“We’ll get a better deal,” says Mr. Pinsky, adding that there will be plenty of time to examine the chosen builder’s proposal before the City Council votes on the rezoning."

We certainly hope so, since the scope of the proposal could become problematic: "The East 125th Street Development calls for the creation of a 1.7 million-square-foot complex, which will include a retail component anchored by a national chain, plus local shops, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and possibly a hotel. It will also have offices and specialized space for nonprofits. The plan also envisions up to 1,000 apartments, with at least 30% of the units reserved for low-income residents."

Who's tenanting the site could become a real issue here. And what about the potential for another supermarket? Yes, Pathmark's right up the road, but wouldn't this be a good opportunity for another market since the Pathmark deal was so heavily subsidizes and East Harlem has lost at least six local supermarkets?

Which brings us back to our buddy Steve Roth at Vornado. Mr Private Sector needs to be sent a very clear message that his little real estate company needs to become a good corporate citizen or else the 125th Street deal will go elsewhere (as will many others if he doesn't stop his company's efforts to evict the Key Food from Bruckner Plaza).

Tomorrow we will be gathering on the steps of City Hall to call attention to rising food prices and the declining number of supermarkets in the city. The Key Food situation will be front and center-and we believe that Melissa Mark-Viverito will be there to send a shout out to Roth and company; it's what known as the handwriting on the wall.

"Yankees Si, Highbridge No"

In what amounts to little surprise to us, the NY Times reported over the weekend that the plan to replace the community parks demolished to make way for the new Yankee Stadium, was way behind schedule-and way over budget as well: "The cost of replacing two popular parks where the new Yankee Stadium is being built has nearly doubled. At the same time, several of the eight new parks, which were supposed to be completed before the new stadium opens next spring, have been delayed by as much as two years, according to city documents."

This is, of course, an outrage-one that adds insult to injury while compounding them both. Mullaly Park was a grand refuge, but no more. And the so-called compensation for the damage is laughable: "None of the replacement parks have been completed, and construction on several has not yet started; however, the parks department has built a temporary replacement park on a parking lot in the area, opened a ball field this spring at a school almost a mile to the east, and is building a sports field at a recreation center about a mile to the north."

Here's what the law says about compensation: "State and federal law dictated that a similar amount of parkland nearby of equal or greater fair market value be built to replace the parks that would be lost." If so, what the city and the Yankees have done here makes a mockery of this: "Some residents have been critical of the trade-off. While Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were almost contiguous stretches of grass and trees amid the concrete topography of the South Bronx, the replacement parks are small parcels scattered around the area. The sites include sports fields atop a planned stadium parking garage and a park along the Harlem River, which is on the opposite side of the Major Deegan Expressway"

This park replacement charade could not have been done anywhere else but in the Bronx, where a faux CBA negotiated by BP Carrion has yet to bear any fruit after misfeasance by the crack committee set up to manage it: "Under a community benefits program agreement between the Yankees and Bronx elected officials, intended to help mitigate the effects of the stadium construction, Bronx charities were to receive $800,000 annually once construction started. But only $11,500 of that money has been distributed so far, according to the group that administers the fund."

And now the delays are accompanied by cost over-runs that will really sock it to-not the Yankees-but New York's tax payers: "In March, Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner, told the City Council parks committee that the figure had climbed to $190 million. Last week, Jama Adams, a department spokeswoman, put the cost estimate for the replacement parks at $174 million — about $16 million less than Mr. Benepe’s figure — but said that it might continue to grow. She said Mr. Benepe had spoken “off the top of his head.”

The estimated cost of the replacement parks now almost matches the amount the parks department has spent building and refurbishing parks and recreation centers throughout the Bronx over the past six years. Since 2002, the agency has spent $178 million on parks and recreation centers in the borough, according to department figures."

This affront to the public good was led by Adolfo Carrion, who now wants the people of New York to support his bid to be come comptroller, the person in charge of all of the city's money. Some chutzpah, heh? We'll give the advocates the last word-and a Bronx cheer for all of this mischief: "“The real emphasis was on building a stadium for the Yankees, and the community and the parks were an inconvenient afterthought,” said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “The Yankees couldn’t miss a season, but it was O.K. for the community to miss five years of parkland and be shut out of a community benefits agreement.”

More Legacy Admissions

Sunday's NY Post featured what will soon be a spate of "Bloomberg Legacy" pieces. What caught our eye first was the following observation by Joe Mercurio: "One of Bloomberg's shortcomings as mayor, according to political consultant Joseph Mercurio, boils down to "his refusal to play the game of New York state politics," a trait both criticized and applauded by New Yorkers over Bloomberg's two terms."You don't play the game, you don't win," Mercurio said. "I think he should try to play in his final year . . . His legacy is still up in the air."

Well said. The fact is that Mike Bloomberg entered politics as a vanity run, with no understanding of either public policy or the political process. Given this lacuna, he did rather remarkably well; things didn't fall apart and the Giuliani legacy that he inherited, on crime and welfare in particular, remained in place.

What else is there? The Post points out a few things, particularly in the area of public health, but underscores the big misses: "He may have encouraged city dwellers to quit smoking (there were 240,000 fewer smokers in 2007 than 2002), eat fewer trans fats and call 311 instead of screaming out their windows at neighbors (14.3 million calls in 2007), but a series of visionary projects he dreamed of bringing to New York - the 2012 Olympics, a Jets stadium on the West Side, congestion pricing - all have gone the way of the bar ashtray."

All of the failures devolved from the weaknesses he brought to the job: his novice status, his distaste for politics, and his martinet personality. As Doug Muzzio points out, this aspect of Mayor Mike is becoming more pronounced as he realized just how much he has failed to get done: "As he runs out of time, political scientist Douglas Muzzio said, Mayor Bloomberg is losing his patience."He's getting snippier and snippier," said the Baruch College professor. "Meanwhile, he's just getting lamer and lamer. The time to finalize his legacy is now."

But, aside from the overall projected air of competency-something that we believe history will seriously question-the real failure of the Bloombergistas will be seen in the impact of mayoral control of the schools. As Mercurio points out: "He promised a lot, but what has he really done with it?" Mercurio asked, referring to the school system. "It's not clear. That could be looked at negatively, especially if the state doesn't renew the mayoral-control legislation or changes it extensively."

And don't forget that Bloomberg blustered that he should be judged on this one major policy area, one that the Post doesn't give enough time and analysis too-and this will be a major policy issue in 2009 since the candidates will focus on things that the press has ignored while the Bloombergistas have spun a phony tale of accomplishment.

The Post piece has some good points, but as the mayor's monetary aura recedes into history the more incisive re-evaluations will begin to emerge. We are anticipating them with undisguised relish.

Dumb and/or Incompetent: DOI

Over the weekend, the NY Post had an observant editorial about the mayor's role in covering for the speaker in the current slush fund scandal before any of the facts are in. Now our position on this has been pretty clear-we feel that all of the fire and brimstone has been misplaced, and more attention needs to be placed on the administration's role and responsibility in all of these earmarks; after all, no money can be allocated without the approval of a mayoral agency.

Which brings us to the mayor eagerly becoming a character witness for Chris Quinn. As the Post points out, the entire investigation's being run by the DOI, a mayoral agency whose commissioner, Rose Gill Hearn, is appointed by Mike Bloomberg: " Just what kind of a probe, exactly, can an investigator produce - when his or her own boss has all but exonerated the potential targets?"

What kind indeed? The same kind that found that Hedge Fund Dan Doctoroff and Steve Ross of Related didn't have any conflicts in their dealings because their friendship "predated" the entry of Dan into city government. This is beginning to look like a cover up, and remember that Bloomberg has any number of selfish reasons to minimize what the council may or may not have done.

Here's how the Post harshly views the mayor's actions: "Just a day before Hearn gave her testimony, Mayor Bloomberg all but declared Quinn free and clear. Hizzoner said she'd been "unfairly beaten up a little bit by the press" - adding: "We should give her the due for taking us in the right direction." Not only that, but a few weeks ago, as the scandal was starting to unfold, Mayor Mike called Quinn "the most honest person I know." What's Hearn to do?
Does she follow the evidence wherever it may lead - at the risk of proving her own boss wrong?
Or does she "take the hint" - and (banish the thought) tilt the probe? After all, she is a city commissioner - appointed by the mayor. Her job may depend on what kind of finding she comes up with. And, by the way, what's up with Mayor Mike? Is he intentionally sending signals to the DOI about the direction he thinks the probe should take?"

The proper attention needs to be given to the mayor, his agencies and his own private motives for minimizing all of this. The Post is to be congratulated for its incisive examination of his role.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Diaz Srikes a Blow for the Neighborhood

Ruben Diaz Jr. is about to introduce legislation to protect local supermarkets. He is concerned with the impact that the spate of supermarket closings, and the threatened closure of the Key Food in Soundview, will have on the health of low income communities; that is why he showed up at yesterday's rally and led the community with the chant: "Keep the Key Food Open."

Here's the full text of the Assemblyman's:

For Immediate Release:Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. announced today that he will soon introduce significant legislation designed to protect local supermarkets.

Citing the possible eviction of a local Key Food supermarket in the Soundview section of the Bronx, Assemblyman Diaz said: “I am currently in the process of reviewing the appropriate legislative measures and potential economic incentives needed to protect our local groceries from any further closures and to promote supermarket growth. We can not allow our children, seniors and hard working families to lose another community based supermarket especially when we are already confronting an emergency situation in terms of the accessibility of affordable fresh produce in the Bronx.”

“Simply put, our neighborhoods are already severely underserved when it comes to the availability of healthy food choices and therefore facing a substantial public health crisis due to the alarmingly high incidences of diet related illness. I plan on making every possible effort to ameliorate this condition for the people of the Bronx.” concluded Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr.

The Cats Meow

Today's NY Sun has a profile of John Catsimatidis, our client for over twenty five years; and Grace Rauh's piece captures what's most compelling about his potential run for the city's top job. As his campaign guru Rob Ryan explains: "Mike Bloomberg is Wall Street and John is Main Street," Mr. Ryan said, repeating a line that could become a refrain in the coming year. "He came up in the streets of this city and he understands, he understands, why the Korean greengrocer is here, why the cab driver from India is here, why the guy from Central America is here or Africa or the Caribbean. He understands them. And their dreams are his dreams because he has lived them."

Which is exactly why, by experience and temperament, Catsimatidis would be a better mayor than Bloomberg-he understands average folks and empathizes with what they're going through; he has none of mayor Mike's arrogance and callous disregard for the "little people." John would never say, as Bloomberg did, that the loss of $250 million from the cash registers of the city's bodegas was, "a minor economic issue."

And yet he understands finance, and can move easily in the highest circles as well; someone who is comfortable in any number of settings, and who has few airs about him: "I can have dinner at the diner in Astoria or I can have dinner at the White House," Mr. Catsimatidis, the chairman and CEO of the Red Apple Group, said, sitting to the left of his adviser at a long table at his company's headquarters in Manhattan. "To me, it's irrelative. I'm comfortable in both worlds."

That being said, it is also true that John needs to get up to speed on some of the city's major issues-something that Bloomberg did well and John will also when it's necessary. But being Professor Catsimatidis is not his goal, and having some issue geek as mayor is no substitute for leadership. Leadership is all about temperament and judgment, and Catsimatidis has just that.

He also is someone who understands what it's like make payroll in a neighborhood business; he's not from the rarefied atmosphere of corporate finance that sees people as meaningless numbers (Hedge Fund Doctoroff comes to mind). And he's unlikely to be blase about raising your taxes as Mayor Mike has been; "What I'm going to say to taxpayers is, 'Who do you want watching your money?'" he said. "I can't fix what was done 10 years ago or 20 years ago, but under my watch, I'm going to be watching your money and taxpayers are going to get a good deal."

What's clear here, is that if John Catsimatidis runs for mayor he's going to be a force to reckon with; and given the current field he shouldn't be underestimated.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sounding Off on Soundview

In this morning's Crain's Insider, the newsletter highlights today's rally in front of Key Food in the Bronx, and our city campaign to bring Vornado Realty to heel: "Vornado Realty Trust and Mayor Bloomberg are the latest targets of a citywide campaign by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 and lobbyist Richard Lipsky to help supermarkets. A rally this afternoon outside a Key Food in the Soundview section of the Bronx will call on Vornado to extend the store’s lease and demand that the mayor intervene."

Crain's also focuses in on our effort to make Mayor Mike take the lead in insuring that the real estate giant and Bloomberg favorite, doesn't move to evict a supermarket that is instrumental in maintaining the health of that South Bronx community: "The mayor is not known for getting involved in private deals of this kind, so the rally’s prospects are dubious. Nonetheless, City Council members Jimmy Vacca and Annabel Palma of the Bronx are expected to take part. “We’re going to lay it out as the mayor’s responsibility to use his bully pulpit with a company like Vornado,” says Lipsky, who represents small and midsize supermarkets."

Well, we don't agree with the dubious characterization, but we'd agree that the mayor certainly hasn't been known for standing up for the little guys, but the time is ripe to bell the cat; especially since he has made public health his signature issue. As we told Crain's: "Lipsky says rising rents and food prices are squeezing supermarkets, and the mayor is obligated to act because his health department has bemoaned the lack of healthful food in poor neighborhoods."

So the ball's in his court and we will rally this afternoon up at Bruckner Plaza at 4 o'clock. Next Wednesday we'll make this a city wide issue down at the steps of City Hall. Our press release for the rally is reprinted below:

Press Advisory
Soundview residents rally against supermarket closing

When: Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where: Bruckner Plaza in the Bronx (off Bruckner Boulevard)

Time: 4:00 PM

On Thursday, May22nd, residents of Soundview will rally at Bruckner Plaza to protest the possible eviction of their local Key Food supermarket. The market is being forced out by the shopping center’s landlord, Vornado Realty and Trust. Vornado wants to rent the supermarket’s space for $50 a foot, a rate that is unaffordable for a supermarket in this low and moderate income neighborhood.

The rally, and the community’s concerns, addresses the fact that the city has recognized the role that local supermarkets play in maintaining the health of New York’s neighborhoods. The city has identified communities throughout the five boroughs where the lack of access to health fruits and vegetables is contributing to our growing obesity and diabetes epidemics. Soundview is one of those communities, and the eviction of Key Food, a store that sells over $2 million worth of fresh produce very year, is a direct and serious threat to the health of this South Bronx neighborhood.

The rally on Thursday, led by Council members Anabel Palma and Jimmy Vacca, as well as by Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, is being held to confront Vornado and to insist that this multi-billion real estate company, a firm that has accessed considerable profits from the public sector, act as a good corporate citizen. It is all part of a campaign to call the company to account for its assault on the public interest. Vornado cannot continue to come to those in government asking for special dispensation, while it acts in a manner inconsistent with the health and well being of New Yorkers.

The rally at Bruckner Plaza will be joined by hundreds of local residents led by Community Board #9’s chair, Enrique Vega, and Mary McKinney, the head of the Concerned Residents Organization of Soundview. In addition, residents of Pelham Gardens will join with the group in a show of solidarity since that community is also being threatened with the loss of their local supermarket.

The rally is also part of a city wide effort on behalf of neighborhood supermarkets. Many in attendance on Thursday will be joining groups from all over the city next Wednesday at City Hall for a large press event that will dramatize the seriousness of the supermarket/grocery price rise crisis in the city.

Contact: Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)

Butt Ugly

There's a wonderful editorial in today's NY Post on the way in which New York City and State have put a stake through the heart of small business through its craven refusal to enforce the cigarette tax laws. And this pusillanimous behavior has cost the tax payers big time: "Rather more substantial figures from the state Tax Department show that during Mike's incumbency, sales of fully taxed cigarettes in New York City have dropped from more than 350 million packs a year to roughly 150 million - a 57 percent plunge. Yet the city smoking rate has dropped fewer than five percentage points in the same period. So where are Gotham's million-plus remaining smokers getting the goods? The black market, maybe?"

And where do all of these bootlegged smokes come from? From Indian retailers who former Governor Spitzer pledged to crack down on before he got so badly distracted: "And it just so happens that New York's tobacco smugglers have the perfect source for their product. The state for years has refused to collect taxes on the more than 300 million packs of cigarettes a year coming off of New York's Indian reservations - which smugglers affix with phony tax stamps and sell to retailers at massive profit,"

All of this is costing NYC bodegas and newsstands over $250 million a year in lost revenues-something that Mike Bloomberg, that champion of the cause of the little guy, called a "minor economic issue." As the Post says, the responsibility hear lies with the governor and the mayor: "Ultimate responsibility, of course, rests on the three governors - Pataki, Spitzer and Paterson - who've refused to lift a finger to crack down on Indian tax evasion. But Mike bears blame, too. He should 'fess up, and work to mitigate it." Let's hope they're up to the task.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mike's Pique

In yesterday's NY Times, the indefatigable Diane Cardwell took a long hard look at Mayor Mike's suddenly in evidence temper. The money quote: "Mr. Bloomberg is often a man of quaint politeness in public. But in recent days, as he has endured setbacks on projects crucial to his legacy, another Michael Bloomberg has spilled into view: short-tempered, scolding, even petulant."

What we're finally seeing here, is the real Mike Bloomberg, a short tempered egotist, finally emerging from the news cocoon that has blanketed the first six and a half years of his pedestrian term. If there was ever someone who appeared good, rather than was good, it is the diminutive mayor. Certainly it hasn't been City Hall that has put out, "The Spin Stops Here" door mat.

Bloomberg's arrogance has met the immovable force-political realities that he has been ill-equipped to deal with; from both a personality as well as a skill set perspective. As the Times puts it: "The mayor has watched the collapse of his congestion pricing proposal and the blocking of his plan to link teacher tenure to student test scores. He is hoping a revived deal to develop the far West Side of Manhattan, another crucial part of his vision for transforming the city, can become a reality."

And that doesn't get into his original Olympic Stadium fiasco, and the utter failure of Ground Zero redevelopment and the Moynihan Station. The record of his is littered with hype outpacing accomplishment-and that doesn't even get into the squandering of the first few years of mayoral control with a progressive education pedagogy that had to be scrapped and replaced from scratch.

As the Times underscores the real mayoral personality-we really like the fact that he's using the royal "We" nowadays-is emerging as the political policy road becomes more cluttered with his failures: "But several current and former officials say the public is just now getting a sustained look at the impatience and occasional anger that Mr. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire unused to answering to any authority higher than his own, feels toward those who would stand in his way or challenge his motives. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Mr. Vallone said of Mr. Bloomberg’s mood."

As we've said on any number of occasions, Bloomberg's problems have always stemmed from the fact that he just doesn't get politics, and holds it in contempt as well. Royal "We" indeed: "In some respects, associates say, Mr. Bloomberg’s anger stems from incredulity that systems do not function as they should, and from never fully adjusting to the last-minute, secret deal-making culture of politics, which he believes is a bad way to conduct business."

Notice the phrase, "as it should." In Bloomberg's world view, "as it should," means a system where he himself wields total control without the encumbrances of political forces, or "special interests" that might thwart his own unique vision of the public good. And just where does he get this vision or expertise from? Perhaps it's from the innovation of a financial gadget that made him into, not only into a billionaire many times over, but a political genius at the same time; the classic legend in his own mind.

So what's happening here is about time-the beginning of an honest appraisal of the Bloomberg legacy, or lack thereof. Kudos to Cardwell for once again setting the pace on this long overdue evaluation. We can only hope that the rest of the press follows suit.

Co-oping Food Policy

In this week's Gotham Gazette there's an article about the prospects that food co-ops can address the public health issue of access to healthy foods: "As the city confronts the health effects of the "grocery gap," many see food cooperatives as way to improve access to fresh food and think government should do more to encourage the businesses. "Like supermarkets, Green Carts, farmers' markets and bodegas, food co-ops can be a great way to get affordable, nutritious food into neighborhoods where fresh produce can be hard to find," says Ben Thomases, the city's Food Policy Coordinator. Holtz thinks the city could help co-ops succeed in underserved neighborhoods. "If the city had a low interest loan program, that would help clear the biggest hurdle," he says."

"Kumbaya mi'lord, kumbaya." What a bunch of romantic nonsense-and the "let one thousand flowers bloom" approach is only going to distract the city from the real essence of effective public policy: insuring that neighborhoods have good food and good jobs, in other words, supermarkets. Wasting time and energy on the evanescent phenomenon of food co-ops will simply divert us from what should be the city's the main goal; and giving financial support, except in the most rare of circumstances, would be a waste.

Our friend, Ben the Food Czar feels a bit differently on all of this: "Indeed, the supermarket report suggests providing financing for private supermarkets and grocery stores in high-need communities as one of its solutions. "Any financial incentives the supermarket commission recommends to encourage supermarkets to locate in underserved communities should be made to food co-ops as well," Thomases said in an e-mail."

We disagree. If a community is so motivated that it wants to create a food co-op then we should say, "Go in good health." But to pledge public monies when it hasn't even been determined what kind of financial incentives for supermarkets make sense, is not a sound suggestion in our view.

And the co-ops, just like the fruitty peddlers, do compete with the stores. But where the stores thrive, the co-ops often don't: "To the adherents, co-ops offer many advantages -- and face challenges -- the more conventional supermarkets do not. The East Village's Fourth Street Food Co-op was started in 1995, replacing another that started in '73. As its neighborhood has thrived, the co-op has fought to survive in the face of intense competition from two nearby Whole Foods, a Trader Joe's and health food stores."

We did, however, get a kick out of the fact that the East Village co-op has its own ethics committee. If a neighborhood has enough folks who believe that a food co-op should have an ethics committee, then there's a good chance that such an enterprise can survive without any public money.

As the Gazette highlights: "Our ethics committee goes through products we currently and potentially will carry in order to ensure the company is a small business with sustainable practices and pays workers a fair wage," says Cassandra Flechsig, a membership coordinator. "None of our products are tested on animals and we purchase organic, local, and fair trade, whenever possible." She also notes, as do other co-op members, that the issue is about more than shopping - it is also about forming community. "It's easy to get lost in a city as big as New York City," Flechsig said. "The co-op provides a nurturing environment that welcomes new members and makes them feel they belong to something bigger than themselves."

"We are the World," indeed. Let's not get diverted by all of this romantic commune ambiance and keep focused on more substantive, real world concerns.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

City Food Policy Must Move Quickly

In today's NY Daily News, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs outlines the city's efforts to address the public health crisis highlighted by the rising obesity and diabetes epidemics: "In spite of our success, we're still facing a public health crisis - but it stems more from poor nutrition than hunger. For example, obesity and diabetes are on the rise - particularly in low-income communities where access to fresh, healthy foods is limited. These diseases take a serious toll on individuals and families, as well as on our public health system, which is why Mayor Bloomberg has launched a coordinated campaign to improve access to fresh foods and to help New Yorkers understand the strong link between nutrition and overall health."

This is all much to the point, and we applaud the Bloombergistas recognition of the problem. And their focus on supermarkets is to be applauded considering the fact that so many markets have closed, as a recent City Planning report has underscored.

For instance, just yesterday we attended a rally in the North Bronx where local residents of Pelham Gardens rallied to keep their Met Food supermarket open. As NY1 reports: "A Bronx community is urging a landlord not to push out their supermarket to make way for a drug store chain. Council Member James Vacca says city records show Met Food in Pelham Gardens is in the process of being sold to Walgreens, who can pay higher rent. If the deal goes through, local residents say their area will be underserved by grocery stores."

And Councilman Vacca's right on point about the need for a city policy: "We want to keep people out of their cars, we want to give them access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Vacca. “This is citywide policy yet we have no policy to incentivize little supermarkets staying open. They can't compete against the big chain drug stores."

So Deputy Gibbs has a big job ahead. As she says: "We are looking at a variety of strategies to tackle the challenge, including using city-owned land for the development of new food markets and examining zoning in certain areas to ensure that we are not precluding the location of new food stores. In addition, the city's food coordinator will play a leadership role on the newly formed Supermarket Commission, a public/private partnership that will provide recommendations about how the city can get new supermarkets into neighborhoods."

And not a moment too soon, since the Bruckner Key Food is being pushed out and another Key Food in Bay Ridge will close in June. In addition, if NYU doesn't bargain in good faith, a Met Food on Second Avenue could soon become history.

So the city, as Gibbs tells us, feels that public health is a major priority: "Access to healthy foods is critical to the future health of all New Yorkers, and the Bloomberg administration will continue to play a leading role in advancing innovative new strategies that will make all five boroughs healthier places to live and raise families." If so, then it can't sit by while landlords evict supermarket tenants, and communities are stripped of vital food access.

We'll give the North Bronx's Met Food the final word here: “Sure, pain for ourselves as well,” said Met Food director of operations Fred Galella. “We've got a lot of senior citizens here and they've got some valid points, you know, they don't drive. There are drug stores everywhere.” And, if nothing is done, soon there will be more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Cost of Living

In this morning's NY Post, there is more evidence of the theme we have been commenting on for the past few weeks: the higher costs of living as reflected in the rising price of groceries in NYC; "Given that food prices increased 0.9 percent in April alone, there is no question that higher wheat, rice, and soybean prices are partly to blame."

However, the fact that the Post focuses its attention on a rather affluent Manhattan family, skews the analysis: "Still, while the family of four may be feeling the pinch, it is going to have to grow into a punch before they start changing their behavior. "The increases are definitely noticeable, but I can't say it's changing a lot of decisions," said Foodim, who manages, an e-mail tip sheet for interesting reading and events. "The stuff that is going up is related to our family and not really anything we can change. We have to buy food for the kids."

Transpose this report to an elderly couple in Brooklyn, or to a family trying to make do on food stamps in order to eat, Once this is done, then the nature of the food prices/grocery store closings crisis becomes clearer. It is also why we will be gathering on the steps of City Hall next week to galvanize the public sector to act to mitigate this situation for all New Yorkers.

Another Supermarket Closing

Councilman James Vacca is holding a rally in front of another Bronx supermarket that is threatened with closing. Once again, it underscores just what kind of a crisis exists in the city's neighborhoods. Here's the councilman's press release:

Vacca, Local Residents, UFCW Union to Rally in Support of Local Supermarket

Pelham Gardens/Allerton community hopes to buck nationwide trend

Council Member James Vacca, dozens of local residents, and representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union will host a rally outside of the Met Food Supermarket at 2504 Eastchester Road on Monday, May 19, to send a signal to landlord Murray Appelbaum that the Pelham Gardens/Allerton community, especially its large senior population, needs this supermarket to remain open.

Despite the supermarket owner’s commitment to stay, Mr. Appelbaum, of Appelbaum Realty, has negotiated a deal with Walgreens to take over the site, city records show. If the Met Food closes, Pelham Gardens/Allerton will become one of the most under-served areas of the Bronx in terms of supermarket access ― the latest victim in a nationwide trend that has starved hundreds of communities of quality shopping options and creating significant burdens for senior citizens, many of whom depend on their grocer being within walking distance.

“We need another chain drugstore in this neighborhood like we need a hole in the head,” said Vacca. “Today, we are urging Mr. Appelbaum to consider not just his bottom line but also the needs of a community that has helped support him over the course of many years. On behalf of our seniors, our families, and all those who would rather shop in their own neighborhood than drive to a Costco or a BJ’s, we’re sending a message about how important this supermarket has become to the fabric of this community.”

Who: Council Member Vacca, over 50 local residents, members of UFCW
What: Rally to send a message that the Met Food Supermarket must stay open
When: Monday, May 19, at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Met Food Supermarket, 2504 Eastchester Road (corner of Mace Avenue), Bronx

Contact: Bret Nolan Collazzi (718) 931-1721 / (646) 261-4471

Bloomberg's Watergate

Last Friday the Water Board raised the city's water rates by over 14%-and water rates have increased by a whopping 77% since 2001. As the NY Times blog reports; "According to official projections, the average single-family homeowner will pay $800 for water in the fiscal year that starts July 1, up from $700 this fiscal year." But it's not just about the water-the larger issue is how New Yorkers under the tax and spendthrift mayor have been beleaguered by higher taxes and fees.

Still, the water torture bears examination since the DEP is historically one of the most inept city agencies we have, and there is a compelling need to put the entire operation under some form of trusteeship (something the mayor won't do since there are no crane killings to embarrass him, like there are with the DOB). At least Bill Thompson weighed in: "The proposed 14.5 percent rate increase, on the back of an 11.5 percent increase last year, will have a very real, deleterious effect on those that can least afford it."

And it's not only homeowners being squeezed We talked to a couple of supermarket operators who detailed just how much they're being charged for water and that fee, when added to the 32 separate permits required, and the multiple agencies that oversee their business, adds considerably to the cost of doing business in New York-another factor in the disappearance of local supermarkets.

Speaker Quinn also criticized the rate hike in the City Hall Insider: "Ms. Quinn called the spike "excessively high, especially as New Yorkers are dealing with rising costs for every other basic necessity" and called on the city Department of Environmental Protection to "start looking for other ways to maintain services without passing the extra costs onto consumers." The problem, however, is calling on the DEP to clean up its own act, something that the agency's incapable of doing.

The NY Daily News almost puts its finger on the problem: "The steep hike was attributed to sharply rising costs for everything from chemicals for water and sewage treatment to the cost of capital improvements largely caused by federal mandates. Add to that the unpaid bills by so-called water deadbeats." All of these rationales, without a full evaluation of the agency's abilities, simply miss the boat.

And what is missing in all of this is the impact that this rate hike, along with all the other tax and fee increases (and grocery price hikes also), has on the elderly on fixed incomes The NY Post captures this: " One elderly resident in Jamaica, Queens, said higher water bills, coming on top of higher electric rates, are going make her life even tougher fiscally. "The electric, the gas and now the water," said the 76-year-old, who would reveal only her first name, Joanna. "I live by myself and I'm scared and I have no money to go anywhere. I still watch TV and the lights are never on and I don't eat too much. It's not only hard for me. It's hard for everyone."

Well said. It's about time that the Bloomberg mystique gets the appropriate reappraisal.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Food Costs Rise: Seniors Hurt

The NY Daily News is reporting today on how rising food prices are really hurting Brooklyn seniors: "For many Brooklyn seniors, 2008 has so far been anything but a golden year. The cost of food, along with just about everything else - except the seniors' fixed incomes - has gone up." As we have been saying, these rises, when coupled with disappearing supermarkets, has created a real crisis in the city.

For the poor, as well as the elderly, the lack of mobility really makes the neighborhood supermarket a necessity-otherwise they're left with the higher-priced local grocery stores and bodegas. Listening to the senior is truly heartbreaking: "Mary Hood, 89, is angry. The former dancer is now in a wheelchair, but that's not what has her upset. "I used to be proud to say I was an American. Now I'm ashamed of what the government has done. We voted them in. Why can't we vote them out?" she asked, adding that she liked none of the candidates currently seeking the presidency."

Clearly, this is going to be a hot political issue, in this election cycle, as well as in next year's mayoral race. And the disappearance of our local markets will be seen as apiece with the high cost of bread and other staples.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Now we've always liked the iconoclastic views of the New York Sun; but its inexplicable lionization of Mike Bloomberg really baffles us-and the call for him to run for governor is appalling, considering his over-hyped record as mayor. Here's the Sun's take: "The answer to how serious he is about the vision he has put up for New York will come with his decision on whether to run for governor."

Ah, the Bloomberg vision. Just what could that be? Is it the rather dismal school performance after the mayoral control of the schools was gifted to him by Shelly Silver? Or perhaps it is the wonderful construction rising on the ground zero pile? The $180 million he spent to convince New Yorkers that he was Mr. Wonderful? The Jets Stadium? The termination and malling of the Bronx Terminal Market as a gift to Deputy Dan's good friend Steve Ross? The congestion tax fiasco perhaps-on top of the tax and spend policies that Bloomberg launched in 2002 (hail the water rate hikes today as well)? Or maybe our favorite, fruit peddlers and menu labeling for the city's health morons?

Mike Bloomberg's run for governor would do only one thing for the mayor's legacy-camouflage it through the further spending on the burnishing of his image and the bamboozling of the citizenry. In this context, the Sun's epistle is totally comical: "But protecting the mayor’s legacy in City Hall is one thing. Protecting his successor is another, and the best way to do that is for the mayor to campaign and win the governorship so that he can follow through on what he’s started. It would put him in a strong position in respect of mayoral control of the schools, of reform at the rolling disgrace known as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, of the West side, of the charter school movement, and of the budget issues."

The one positive thing that the mayor can do for all of us, is to leave the stage as quietly and as gracefully as possible. And quite frankly, sycophancy is not what we expect from the normally perspicacious folks over at the Sun.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

KARA Mia Mine

We've been having some ongoing discussions with the good folks at KARA-the Kingsbridge Armory Development Alliance. KARA represents a coalition of groups in the Northwest Bronx that is looking to insure that the development of the armory is beneficial to the local community: "KARA seeks living wages and union protections for local residents in the construction and permanent jobs, community space, an affordable recreation center, and environmental protections through the negotiation of a Community Benefits Agreement, a Labor Peace Agreement and a Project Labor Agreement with the developer of the Armory." This, as we have said before, will pose a real challenge.

Our interest here is that the project does not include any big box retail uses that would not only threaten local store owners, but would also place a heavy traffic burden on the Kingsbridge community. The eventual outcome of all this is uncertain. As the NY Times has pointed out: "Despite the high poverty rate in Kingsbridge Heights, Related and the city said a shopping development could work at the armory because Bronx residents had limited shopping options.The retailers have not yet been chosen. Negotiations are continuing, which call for Related to buy the building, retain the exterior and rebuild the interior. The plan requires approval by the City Council, which officials said probably would not be granted until next year."

The armory presents a considerable development challenge: "For years, the Kingsbridge Armory, a blocklong red brick castle with soaring turrets that dominates the West Bronx’s low-rise streetscape, has been a neighborhood embarrassment. The nine-story Romanesque building on Kingsbridge Road at Jerome Avenue has been mostly vacant for more than a decade, a blemish on the working-class Kingsbridge Heights area not because of its appearance, but because it was not being used."

KARA wants to negotiate a CBA with the city's designated developer of the armory-the Related Company. This will be no simple task since Related has never been a community friendly company, leaving the warm and fuzzy stuff to others. Already, the city seems to be trying to create one of its Potemkin Village-style "Advisory Committee" rope-a-dope strategies that co opt KARA into a kind of paralysis.

Related, whose vision for the site contrasts sharply with that of the community, needs to be confronted; and the elected officials need to stand four square behind the community if any meaningful CBA is to be crafted, Otherwise we're going to see a repeat of the Gateway Mall, Yankee Stadium and Columbia University debacles: faux CBAs that reflect the will of electeds, and generate money that is channeled away from any community benefit and toward less savory destinations.

One thing we did suggest to the KARA folks, is that they insist that the EIS for the development be done by an environmental consultant that is not chosen by Related. A more objective evaluation is needed, particularly in the post-congestion pricing climate. Now's the time to worry about the Bronx asthma rates, and Related crocodile tears over this in support of the mayor's congestion tax need to be exposed for the hypocrisy that it was.

The Northwest Bronx needs an honest review, and not a stacked deck orchestrated by Related's master of misdirection, the honorable Jesse James Masyr. It is approaching the time where we will be seeing both Related and Vornado put in the dock and judged wanting. KARA could be just the group that can do this, and we will help them in any way we can.

Lucha Supermercado in Soundview

As El Diario is reporting this morning, a battle royal is shaping up in the Bronx over Vornado'e attempt to evict the local Key Food supermarket, and the fight is over the threat to the health of the community: "Una nueva lucha empieza en el sur de El Bronx y esta vez tiene que ver con salvar un supermercado.Los vecinos del barrio de Soundview planean protestar la semana que viene frente a uno de los principales supermercados del barrio, el Key Food de Bruckner Boulevard, para evitar así su cierre.Líderes de la comunidad, concejales y varios vecinos han calificado el potencial cierre del supermercado como injusto, ya que la zona casi no tiene tiendas donde se pueda comprar fruta y vegetales y sus residentes padecen varias enfermedades relacionadas con una dieta pobre."

The Soundview town hall meeting was a raging success, with News Four's Lynda Baquero covering the story brilliantly on the 6 o'clock news last night-with a nice interview with CB #9 chairman Enrique Vega. Vornado hasn't seen nothing yet and we'd suggest that its stockholders, scheduled to meet in Saddlebrook, NJ, today at 12:30 at the Marriot, sell short because this company is going to be getting a serious black eye for being an enemy of the people.

And Vornado's "No Comment" lockjaw will soon have to stop. Here's El Diario's take: "El posible cierre se debe a que el dueño del centro comercial de Bruckner Boulevard, Vornado Realty and Trust, planea cobrar al supermercado 50 dólares por pie cuadrado en alquiler. Key Food —que se encuentra dentro del centro comercial— no puede pagar ese precio, dijo ayer la concejal de la zona Annabel Palma (D-El Bronx)."

The councilwoman was brilliant last night, and as she said on the news: "The closing of the Key Food will be seen as a direct attack on the Soundview community, I will do everything in my power to prevent this shameful act from taking place." Next week the community will rally in front of the store, and there will be a city hall press conference on the 28th of the month. Vornado better batten down, the ride's gonna be a bitch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Town Hall Meeting in Soundview

This evening there will be a town hall meeting in the Soundview section of the Bronx to inform the community about the growing campaign against the eviction of the neighborhood's one large supermarket. This meeting is the first step in actions being taken against Vornado Realty and Trust, the landlord of the shopping center where the Key Food supermarket operates.

More aggressive actions will follow if Vornado fails to hear the community's call for it to cease and desist-and a rally and protest in front of the store is planned for next week. Here's the NY Daily News' take on this evening's event: "With urban supermarkets becoming an endangered species, Bronx residents will meet Wednesday night to try and save one of this dying breed.
A recent report from the Department of City Planning highlighted the importance of local grocery stores to public health while showing a recent wave of closures has left large swaths of the city - including much of the Bronx - underserved. Nearly the entire South Bronx was found to have a "high need" for more supermarkets."

Given this high need, the actions of Vornado are a slap in the face to the residents of the Soundview neighborhood: "In a borough where few people own cars and public transit coverage is less than ideal, closing a major grocery store could mean a difficult trek to the next-nearest supermarket, or force the least mobile to rely on higher-priced local grocery stores. "A lot of the people who patronize Key Food walk there," said Francisco Gonzalez, district manager for Community Board 9. "The only other supermarket in the area is across the highway and not as accessible to this neighborhood - especially for senior citizens."

And, as the DCP report on supermarkets points out, the neighborhood supermarket is a key for public health: "The report linked local markets and access to fresh produce to public health, showing that underserved areas of the Bronx have high rates of diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. The area around Key Food at Bruckner Plaza is one of the few places in the Bronx deemed to have adequate supermarket access, according to the report. Residents gathering at tonight's meeting convened by the Neighborhood Retail Alliance and City Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-Soundview) will discuss ways to try and keep it that way."

Here's the full press release for this evening's meeting:

Press Advisory
Town Hall Meeting in Soundview to Save Our Supermarket

Where: IS 131 885 Bolton Avenue
When:Wednesday, May 14th
Time: 6-8 PM

A community town hall meeting, organized by Councilwoman Anabel Palma and Community Board #9, will be held today to inform the community about the potential eviction of the Key Food Supermarket in the Bruckner Boulevard shopping center in Soundview. The reason for the possible eviction is because the landlord, Vornado Realty and Trust, is seeking to charge the store $50 per square foot in rent. This kind of rent would make it impossible for Key Food, or any supermarket in this income community, to be able to offer the neighborhood good healthy food at affordable prices.

The purpose of the town hall meeting is to alert and activate the Soundview community in order to get Vornado to support the extension of the supermarket’s lease at a price that is realistic for the neighborhood. The plan is to hold a rally in front of the store a week later on the 22nd of May.

The organized outrage of the Soundview community is important so we can empower the elected officials to put the kind of pressure on the real estate company that will make a difference. Vornado has received millions of dollars of public benefits from the city and needs to behave like a good corporate citizen.

In addition, we will be calling on the mayor to use his good offices to intervene on the community’s behalf. Soundview has been identified as a community where diet-related diseases are epidemic, and where access to fresh fruit and vegetables is way below the city wide average-exacerbating the health problems in the community.

Because of these health issues, the Department of Health has targeted this neighborhood for the introduction of produce vendors. The Key Food sells over two million dollars worth of produce every year, vegetables and fruit that are essential for the health of Soundview. Clearly, the store’s demise is not good for the health of the community, and that’s why the City Council Health Committee Chair Joel Rivera, and Councilman Jimmy Vacca, will be joining with the community tonight..

We will be calling on Mayor Bloomberg to act on behalf of all of the residents of Soundview in the name of public health. As the mayor has said on countless occasions, no economic concern is as important as the health of New Yorkers.