Will a Democrat for mayor stand up for small stores?

Four years ago, New York City Hispanic bodega owners endorsed John Liu, Bill de Blasio and Tony Avella due to their support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. The sign reads: “Dear customers, please vote for [Avella, Liu and de Blasio]. The candidates are fighting to save small businesses and jobs. Your vote counts! Please vote.” After deciding Avella’s chances of winning were slim, they made a second poster featuring only Liu and de Blasio.

Four years ago, New York City Hispanic bodega owners endorsed John Liu, Bill de Blasio and Tony Avella due to their support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. The sign reads: “Dear customers, please vote for [Avella, Liu and de Blasio]. The candidates are fighting to save small businesses and jobs. Your vote counts! Please vote.” After deciding Avella’s chances of winning were slim, they made a second poster featuring only Liu and de Blasio.

BY SHARON WOOLUMS | After listening intently to each candidate at the Village Independent Democratic club’s mayoral forum, I had a nagging sense there was an elephant in the room. And it wasn’t the Republican symbol. No, I was in a room full of Democrats.

The elephant in the room was what was not debated: the closing of our small businesses and a lack of criticism of a 20-year Republican mayoral economic philosophy for New York City that many feel is a disaster for small businesses and the middle class.

All the candidates speak of small businesses as the city’s economic backbone and job creators. Yet, at the forum, there was no talk of the dire situation these merchants face. The very stability of our community hangs on the issue of these stores closing. And the politicians must surely know that small businesses cannot compete with banks “too big to fail” and national franchises for rental space on Main Street.

So I did my research. Statistics are staggering and speak to a crisis. Between 1994 and 2012 under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, the Landlord and Tenants Commercial Courts issued 143,202 warrants to evict businesses. Another estimated 235,000 businesses walked away without a court fight. In short, up to 380,000 small businesses closed in New York City under Republican economics.

Of all the economic problems facing our government, rent gouging, which is causing the closing of our mom-and-pop stores, is the easiest to resolve, restoring the American dream for our small businesses. There is a bill now pending before the City Council, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (S.B.J.S.A.). The original version was introduced in 1986 by Councilwoman Ruth Messinger to save small businesses from sky-high rent gouging resulting from out-of-control real estate speculation in New York City; as well as the unscrupulous practice of landlords demanding “cash under the table” to remain in business; oppressive and unreasonable lease renewals, often doubling or tripling rents; and retail tenants even being forced to pay the landlord’s property tax.

A survey of Hispanic small businesses by the U.S.A. Latin Chamber of Commerce showed the No. 2 reason small businesses failed was due to paying their landlords’ commercial property tax.

All of the current mayoral candidates are aware of the S.B.J.S.A. In fact, in the last election, four of the candidates took strong positions on the bill. Posters highlighting the bill’s supporters were put in the windows of small businesses. John Liu and Bill de Blasio, who had made the bill a central topic of their campaigns, were featured in these posters.

Other candidates, however, got negative posters, including Christine Quinn for stopping the bill in the City Council and Bill Thompson for not fighting for it.

Many now feel Liu and de Blasio have abandoned the issue that they once championed to get elected as comptroller and public advocate, respectively. When candidates forget what they promised only four years ago we have to remind them! We have to remind them to revisit this crucial issue and make it the top priority it must be.

Why in this election, have none of the candidates mentioned S.B.J.S.A.’s existence? In the last election, this bill had the sponsorship of the City Council’s entire Small Business Committee, including its chairperson, David Yassky, and 32 members of the City Council, including both then-Councilmembers Liu and de Blasio. May we interpret this new silence to mean New York City will remain a liberal Democratic town continuing a conservative Republic economic philosophy regardless of which party we elect?

A major study was released in 2009 by the U.S.A. Latin Chamber of Commerce showing the true crisis state of our city’s small businesses. Small Business Committee Chairperson Yassky opened the public hearing on the bill stating, “I believe that we absolutely have to do something. Period. It’s not an option to do nothing.”

Either our small businesses face a crisis and can survive only with government intervention or they are not in a crisis and do not need help. The voters who know the truth have a right to know how their candidates actually stand on this critical issue.

For those candidates who know small businesses are in a crisis, and that the only real solution is the S.B.J.S.A., this bill is still alive in the City Council…waiting for a candidate with the political will, leadership and courage to fight and stand up to the political machine and the powerful real estate industry to get it passed into law.

This bill may serve here as a litmus test for the differences in the political parties and the candidates’ willingness to engage on this issue in depth rather than merely spouting platitudes. Any of the candidates’ jobs-creation initiatives, loan programs or economic stimulus plans would be of little value if the businesses continue to close.

Hopefully, this issue and a platform distinguishing itself from a failed Republican philosophy will be readdressed and re-enter the debate now that Anthony Weiner, “the scrappy political street fighter” as The New York Times May 22 article calls him, has announced his candidacy. Weiner has claimed, “The ideas that I have will set me apart.” And he will, according to the Times, “likely…depict his opponents as machine liberals…unprepared for the kind of tough financial decisions confronting the city.” The recently deceased Senator Lautenberg nailed it when he said, “If one of the parties is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless.”

For this mayoral election, the stakes are high for every middle-class and small-business family. Business advocacy groups predict that if government does not pass the S.B.J.S.A. soon, within 16 years our mom-and-pop Main Street businesses will become extinct. We who love our neighborhoods must demand that one Democratic candidate distinguish him- or herself from the failed 20-year Republican economic policies and reflect a true progressive economic philosophy. I’m not an economist but I — and you — see, hear, discuss, listen, learn and read, and we feel that something is wrong, something has changed, and that we are in trouble and that we must fix it, and that doing nothing is not working.

Actions speak louder than words. The record speaks for itself. I have one vote, and so do you. Our vote en masse speaks louder than empty words. Some say money talks, but so do our votes, if we cast them in droves at the polls. And if just one candidate speaks to this important issue, we will prove our one vote is worth more — yes, more valuable than a corporation’s coffers or a real estate’s lobbying dollar.

Real estate campaign donations and lobbyists’ influence should never be more valuable to candidates than any one vote from a constituent who has felt the pinch from losing his or her job; or from those investing life savings and years of work into a store, only to have their businesses fail because of ridiculously high rent hikes; or of a young native New Yorker or immigrant aspiring to the American dream only to experience a nightmare of impossibility; or finally the mom and pop who dreamed of passing on their business to their children.

If ever there was a time for an elected official to stand up for “the people,” it is now. For it’s not just our quaint stores that are disappearing — but also the faith in knowing whom our government actually serves. That candidate, whoever it may be, may soon inhabit the lovely Gracie Mansion that has sadly been vacant for 11½ years.

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13 Responses to Will a Democrat for mayor stand up for small stores?

  1. Very fine article, well-written. Author Sharon Wollums directs our attention to an issue of importance to the vitality of our city and its neighborhoods. We have to hold all the candidates accountable.

  2. Finally, her article said in 16 years all our mom and pop businesses would be extinct, not in my neighborhood above 96th , they are closing every month and will be gone in half that time. If just one candidate would pledge to
    stop the closing of our small businesses , he or she would have my vote.

  3. The article nails it ,except we have maybe 5-10 years or so, or the closings will be too great to come back for the mom & pops of NYC! Not one candidate has had the courage to stand up to deal with this crisis and say the will pass the Survival Act! THIS is the number one main issue facing the economic future of New York City.

  4. This goes to the heart of the matter, how many more Duane reade and banks are gonna pop up before our city is totally ruined?

  5. newyorkcityinthewitofaneye

    It is the rape of the soul of this city. No charm, no heart, no individuality, no respect for small businesses and the middle class. Christine Quinn would be the worst cancer to beset this city continuing Bloomberg's greed.

    • You are correct! Quinnberg is Bloomberg's fourth term!

      • LIttle Steve

        How does this work in NYC , liberal democratic city on social values but a conservative republican economic
        policy? No wonder the job creators and backbone to our economy , our small businesses are getting destroyed. Future NYC Mayor can't have it both ways , take money from 1% to screw the 99% . NO MAS

    • Right on, Hans! Jerry's Sharon here…

  6. Beautifully thought, researched and written. Thank you, Sharon, for highlighting a critical issue that will, hopefully, gain the spotlight in upcoming mayoral debates and Q&As. I, for one, refuse to enter the 7-11 (another blight on our city landscape) that opened across the street from a small Yorkville deli that subsequently went out of business. Small businesses have always lent character to our neighborhoods while providing a living for local middle families. I will wear a Shop Local & Save a Family t-shirt or boycott box stores, whatever the movement calls for!

    • LIttle Steve

      Shashinyc, you want to have the greatest impact , put pressure on the city councilmembers where the bill has been bottled up for three years. Log onto savenycjobs.org and follow the steps laid out for citizens to fight to stop the closing of their mom and pop businesses. We have to make public if it is acceptable to our local elected official for our established businesses to be rent gouged out of business or extorted.

  7. blasio is hott

  8. Richard Weldon

    I have recently moved back to the Village after having been away for about twenty years. The first thing I noticed was the extent of change concerning small indigenous businesses. Twenty or thirty years ago there were almost no chain stores and the character of the village, the sense of community and distinctiveness was defined by the small business that gave it much of its charm. Today we find chain stores on every corner and the Village is looking more and more like a typical suburban mall with apartments over the stores. If we want to preserve the identity of the Village and other neighborhoods throughout New York we must do all we can to counter this trend.

  9. That is why community orgs and elected officials will gather Tues Junhe 25th, 11am 150-24 Morthern Blvd, Flushing, NY 11354 at the Diamond Hall of the Dae Dong Manor to support the introduction of the Small Business JOBS Survival Act! Which mayoral candidate has the courage to support passgae of this bill? Enough lip service for the last 25 years about the "back bone of the economy," it is time to act upon this CRISIS NOW, before all the remaining mom & pops are gone! http://www.saveNYCjobs.org

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