Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Back Peddling?

Yesterday's preliminary budget hearing on consumer affairs at the city council shed some light on just how much the issue of peddling is a contentious problem for law makers. In a meeting last week with Consumer Affairs Chair Leroy Comrie, we were told that the councilman would support the effort to create a dedicated vendor enforcement unit at the Department of Consumer Affairs. At the hearing yesterday, however, Comrie seemed to back peddle after Commissioner Mintz testified that the DCA was reluctant to take on this enforcement role.

The DCA's reluctance underscores the extent to which the issue of vendor enforcement is a thorny one, so much so that no one wants to step up and defend the rights of tax paying store owners and risk the wrath of the "immigrant community." Under the current enforcement scheme DCA, DOH and the local police precincts are all responsible for enforcement and, as a result, enforcement is not vigorously pursued.

On the other hand, Commissioner Mintz had no such reluctance a few weeks ago when he testified before Comrie's committee and asked for greater enforcement authority over local stores. In this case he was asking that the council approve a bill that would give the DCA judge and jury status, thus obviating the inconvenience of forcing the agency to have to actually prove a case against a store owner in a court of law.

In yesterday's testimony the commissioner told the council that DCA was busy educating local police precincts on the intricacies of the vending laws, and this program was a "success." This is total buck-passing since the police don't want to divert their resources from crime fighting and therefore approach vendor enforcement as a chore to be avoided at all costs.

Which leaves us with the position of Chairman Comrie who appeared at yesterday's hearing to both support the dedicated enforcement unit and to advocate caution and delay since the DCA wasn't supportive of the idea. We also heard from others that the chair was cautious because he was concerned that the immigrant community might take great exception to the initiative.

In the next few weeks we will be traveling all over Queens to meet with merchant and civic groups on this issue. We want to see if the council will be supportive of the principle that the commercial streets of the city belong to the communities and businesses that pay the taxes. In the process we are hopeful that Leroy Comrie's position will be clarified and he will side with our growing vendor enforcement coalition.