The rent is too damned high

Posted June 30, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Let there be no mistake — even if it’s not against the law, a lot of what the New York State Legislature does is morally corrupt. Almost every case we see can be examined through the lens of “who gave what to get what.” To some degree, the Legislature has always been a house of ill repute. You pay, you get, and if you don’t pay, you are far less likely to get.

Let’s examine the matter of rent stabilization and rent control in New York City and a few other smaller places. This is a huge issue for a lot of New Yorkers. I have two college professor friends who chose to retire rather than face losing their rent stabilized apartment because they were making too much money. Both were great at their jobs but their apartment came first.

Landlords make a lot of money — in some cases, they make out like bandits.

For years, the landlords have been giving big to political campaigns. They have given a great deal to Governor Cuomo’s political efforts. They have also given to members of both houses of the Legislature, with a tremendous extra effort to the Senate Republicans. It’s no secret that the Republicans in the New York State Senate are much closer to those well-heeled interests than to the Democrats in the Assembly who, trust me, have their own flaws. Thus, it was not unexpected to see the Senate Republicans pitching in to help the landlords “decontrol” many of the apartments that are rented in New York. Year after year, they have been making it tougher and tougher to help those whose apartments fall under the rent regulations. This time around, when the rent stabilization/control law was up for renewal, a battle royal ensued. The Senate Republicans wanted new provisions to help the landlords decontrol some of the rent-controlled apartments, while the Assembly Democrats, many from the New York City region, wanted more protections for renters put into the law.

Enter Governor Cuomo who has been the beneficiary of the landlord/real estate dollars. Here was Cuomo at his strategic best. He let it be known to those in favor of enhanced protection for the renters that he was trying to help. But as the old saying goes, “It’s not what they say but what they do.” No matter what he said that he did to help tenants, in the end what they got was a four-year extension of the rent law. The Assembly Democrats simply refused to go along with any more help for the landlords, no matter how much they or their surrogates suggested that the people who rented apartments were just greedy and didn’t want to pay market value. The law exists because there are practically no vacant apartments in New York and the sky is the limit on what property owners can charge. Because of the secrecy of what goes on among the famous “three men in the room,” we’ll never really know what happened. As that guy on the old TV ad used to say, “You get what you pay for.”

This issue is at the top of most New York renters’ list of why they might choose to vote for or against a politician. It is no surprise that the Democrats in the Assembly were so insistent that what protections there were in the law would continue. As many of the upstate legislators learned when Cuomo got them to vote for enhanced gun measures in his heroic SAFE Act, you just can’t vote for something that will come back and bite you in the posterior.

In four years, the Republicans will have lost their control of the Senate. That’s because there will be a presidential election and many of the Republican senators will be swept from office. Once the Democrats have control of both houses, it is assured that the renters in New York will get enhanced protections. Mark my words.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/29/15

Responding to the latest hot headlines

Posted June 29, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Charlie Baker is one smart dude. He is a Republican in the tradition of Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney and all those other Republicans who win in Blue State Massachusetts. They win because they are reasonable and act in a rational and non-combative manner. I also suspect that part of the reason they win is because their Democratic opponents are not to the liking of the electorate. Take the governor’s newest initiative to deal with the number of drug overdoses in the state. He held a press conference with the Democratic attorney general — see what I mean about smart? — and spoke about the scourge of opiate addiction.

I really don’t see how anyone in their right mind could not recognize how many people in the state are dying from the use of opiates, including the increased use heroin and prescription pain killers. The governor wants to move the conversation about drug addiction; rather than treating it as a criminal issue, he wants us to recognize that this is a public health issue and should be treated as such.

My “go-to” personal heroine on the issue is addiction specialist Dr. Jennifer Michaels of the Brien Center. She believes that one of the biggest problems in the rehabilitation process is our insistence on attaching criminal responsibility to those who are suffering from addiction issues. What we need instead, she says, is to treat those who have become addicted as people in need of medical treatment like any other ill person.

We have gone back and forth between the various modalities in this country. In neighboring New York, then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried to medically treat everyone and was so frustrated by the lack of results that he instituted the punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws, with disastrous results. For his part, Baker is to be commended for going the medical route. We all know someone whose parents have paid great amounts of money to fund rehab and treatment for a child or relative who has become addicted. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to get such treatment? Addiction is a terrible disease. No, there really are no easy answers but some solutions do seem more humane than others.

Look, make no mistake about it — the Confederate flag, which has been flying over the South Carolina capitol, is a symbol of racism. While she once defended its presence, after the killing of all those wonderful people in a Charleston church, Gov. Haley came to her senses. She wasn’t alone in modifying her former irrational and cowardly position. Some of the most notorious legislators in the white political establishment finally did the same thing as the South Carolina governor, who came late to the party.

There is a lot more than a flag at play here. There is the whole idea of allowing mentally ill people to have access to guns that is equally vexing. It really isn’t one or the other, flag or guns. We may have made some limited progress on the flag-symbol issue but this country is truly gun addicted. Until we do something about that, these unconscionable and tragic shootings will continue to happen.

So this veterinarian allegedly implants the dope in the dogs and smuggles it into other countries. If true, life imprisonment would be too short a sentence.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/29/15

Cats and dogs; Republicans and Democrats

Posted June 23, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The state Assembly has long been a Democratic stronghold. It’s easy to understand why. Simply put, the state has more Democrats than Republicans and once the Assembly fell into Democratic hands, the districts were drawn by the victorious Democrats so that they had a better chance of winning.

This Democratic advantage continued until the Democrats had an overwhelming veto-proof majority. As a result, Republicans in the Assembly literally became an endangered species. Meanwhile in the state Senate, Republicans have been vainly fighting a desperate rear guard action to hold onto power. They, too, have used their computers and political operatives to draw districts in which they had the best chance of winning. It has become a tug of war, with the Republican senators holding on for dear life. Their majority is down to a few tenuous votes. They now have huge problems including the indictment of Dean Skelos, their leader. If Hillary Clinton runs for the presidency, there is every indication that the Republicans will be tossed from power. Then the Democrats will draw the districts and the Republicans will have lost their majority, probably forever.

All of this explanation is necessary if you hope to make any sense of what is happening in Albany. Let’s face it — Republicans are closer to those who hold the economic levers than Democrats are. The Democrats have had to make some necessary accommodations with those who have the most money. If you get a real estate issue, like tax breaks for builders who generously give to campaigns, you had better believe that the Republican senators are in a tough spot. They want to help their rich friends and potential contributors but they are also aware that Republican senators in New York City could be wiped out if they were to vote against something like rent stabilization, sometimes called rent control, which allows New York City residents to stay in their apartments. This is called being between a rock and a hard place. As of now, they have come down on the side of the real estate folks. The issue of renewing the rent stabilization laws probably has them quaking in their boots. They owe the real estate guys for all the campaign money but nothing, and I mean nothing, means more to New York City residents than how much they are paying for their apartments. People are literally quitting their jobs and retiring early, so fearful are they of earning too much to qualify for the controls.

It doesn’t stop with rent stabilization. The divide between the “upstate” community and what we call the “city” is enormous. Andrew Cuomo couldn’t catch a break upstate because there the picture is simply desolate when it comes to jobs. Cuomo’s bastion is the city where he wins overwhelmingly. He has to find issues that play well in both places, upstate and down.

For example, this year he pushed a popular program that would try to put a stop to sexual assault on college campuses. The original program was anything but artful. We were told that at each stage a consensual couple had to stop and ask each other whether it was OK to proceed. That was subsequently modified. The governor has daughters and he was doing the right thing. The number of sexual assaults on campuses is just too great to be allowed to continue, but there is such a thing as creating a greater problem. Men and women both need protection. Since the time of Joseph in the Bible there have been women who have made unfair accusations against men who, it turned out, were innocent. The bill that emerged in the Legislature was a fair one offering protections to those who have been accused. This was a good example of compromises which are made despite political party affiliation. What we need is a lot more of that.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/22/15

Hero takes on Great Barrington speeders

Posted June 22, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

I love to have heroes, don’t you?

Take Dana Coleman, a teacher and mother and an unlikely agent of change.

The Colemans live on Taconic Avenue — you know, the main road that goes between the Saint James Church and the CVS pharmacy and travels out toward Simon’s Rock and Alford. They have two children aged 8 and 11.

They are keenly aware that what happened in Adams to an 8-year-old boy could just as easily have happened in Great Barrington. That beautiful child was killed and the entire county has been in mourning because each of us knows that there is nothing more precious than the lives of our children.

Dana Coleman is a soft spoken, lovely woman who decided that she just wasn’t going to put up with people driving too fast. Twice she had harrowing conversations with drivers who she signaled to slow down and who took major and unacceptable offense. I’ve been there and done exactly that. It can be very unpleasant.

So Dana and a group of her neighbors decided to organize and reach out to the leaders of town government. They wanted to see changes in the way the town regulates drivers who speed. These people, many of whom moved here for the bucolic life, know that allowing their children to walk and play where there are often no sidewalks is very, very dangerous.

When they thought they had finally had enough, they did what every citizen with life and death concerns ought to do, they acted. They met with the town manager, the police chief and members of the Selectboard.

They collected data and police reports and traffic studies and what they found is truly frightening. They used a soft approach explaining to town officials why they needed to do more. In some cases, they offered to give up some of their land so there could be sidewalks where none existed. But the real problem is the speeders.

I don’t know why some people take out their rage behind the wheel of a car. There’s one guy who drives up Hollenbeck Avenue on the way to Lake Mansfield. He has the look of a wolf as he passes at a rate of speed I would estimate exceeds 50 miles an hour in a 25 mile an hour zone. The other day a whole bunch of neighbors happened to be outside and when the fool came up the street we all yelled at him at the top of our lungs. It didn’t help a bit. Frankly, I think we made his day.

Dana and her gang came up with a plan. They would print up some election-type signs that advised people to “Slow Down, Children Live Here!” Dana went online and asked who wanted a sign and while she paid for the first six, people were only too willing to kick in 20 bucks for their signs.

It occurred to me to ask Dana for a sign that said, “Slow Down, Old People Live Here.” Dana’s daughter Lucy and her friend Rowan Novick made that sign. I offered them money but they wouldn’t take it.

Now the whole neighborhood is getting involved but Dana says that she is fighting for our entire town. She wants changes that will spread out like a hydra on both sides of the river. Suddenly, we are seeing police cruisers in our neighborhoods, positioned in key places to grab speeders. I want a police car on Sumner Street across from my house that will catch the crazy driver. It will only take once.

It’s funny how it works. Dana and all her friends and neighbors are passing around petitions and calling meetings and at least one selectman, Ed Abrahams, is meeting with her group.

Dana is shy and I don’t think she’d like to be singled out but hey, I’m writing this, she isn’t. She’s my hero.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/20/15

Escape from Clinton

Posted June 16, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Everyone has something to say about the two murderers who escaped from the Clinton prison. No matter what the outcome, there are major issues that have been raised here. There has been extraordinary attention paid to a woman who worked as an industrial training supervisor at the prison. If in fact, these not-so-subtle allegations are correct and she did help these miscreants, she will be thrown in the clinker for a very long time. This makes you shake your head and wonder who would be so stupid to think that if she did help these guys that she will probably spend a good deal of the rest of her life behind bars. Her sexual past has already been chronicled in article after article, and while she may have had nothing to do with the escape, she has already paid a significant personal price.

From the first minute that Governor Cuomo appeared at the prison, he made clear his opinion that the escapees had help. Cuomo gave up a major horse race to get to the prison and to retrace the escape route of the convicts. Some of the press people were angry that he used his own photographer and didn’t allow any of the regular press photographers in with him. When he popped his head out of the sewer where the convicts exited the prison there were those who felt that he had overplayed his hand. Some of his detractors suggested it was a “Dukakis moment,” referring of course to then presidential candidate Dukakis’ picture in an Army tank.

The prison, of course, was constructed circa the Civil War and has lots of problems. There has to be constant construction work going on and that may be one of the reasons it was hard to hear the escapees as they used power tools to make their way out. The secure part of the prison has had an excellent record with almost no successful escapes. Nevertheless, we are learning more and more that our prisons often miss the mark when it comes to their correctional potential. In fact, some of the giant prisons in New York have long ago become economic engines which support local economies big time. Since many of the prisoners come from New York City and its environs the placement of prisons near the Canadian border do not make some sense in that they deprive families of the incarcerated opportunities to visit, perhaps lowering morale to the point of desperation leading to what we have just seen.

Since the prison industry is so important to the upstate regions, and since Governor Cuomo has put tremendous pressure on his administration to provide more economic opportunities for the upstate region, it is unlikely that Cuomo will do anything to close the prisons that are still left. In fact, every time the crime rate goes down there is impetus to close these facilities, and that enrages local communities that depend almost entirely on the prison industry.

Two other political controversies are sure to be put into play here. The first is gun control and Governor Cuomo’s “SAFE Act.” If a prisoner were ever to escape and take hostages there is no question that the gun people would say, “See, that might not have happened if people had guns.” It doesn’t make sense, of course, that’s politics and the pro gun people are sure to seize on this escape one way or the other. The second is the death penalty. While I do not support the death penalty on the basis that we have executed innocent people, it would take just one pro death penalty partisan to suggest that if anyone was murdered as a result of this escape that such a thing could not have happened if these two murderers had been put to death.

These two guys will be caught sooner than later and we will all know much more about the way all of this happened. Nevertheless, this whole thing has opened a lot of issues for us all to think about.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/15/15

Tanglewood a valuable asset to the Berkshires

Posted June 15, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

I love the letters to the editor of this newspaper. Even if I don’t agree with the content, they are quite frequently stimulating and well crafted. Research shows that I am not alone in going to the editorial page to read these opinions.

These letters have signatures at the end of them. They are nothing like the hysterical, unsigned rants that Internet trolls post wherever they can — a kind of ugly new graffiti. But what goes around comes around and every so often we will see the same old, same old, no matter how well written the letter.

For example, a letter that recently appeared suggested that Tanglewood doesn’t do its proper share of giving the communities on which it sits more money from their coffers. Their parent company, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is the absolute hub of the cultural offerings that bring people to the Berkshires every summer. In fact, the Berkshires would not be the Berkshires were it not for Tanglewood. If for some disastrous reason we lost Tanglewood, it would be as if a great Ice Age had descended on the Berkshires.

If we were to lose Tanglewood, I assure you we will have lost our raison d’être for keeping the bad guys out. Several years ago there was a major move to bring a prison to our area. The location was to be very close to Tanglewood. Many of us who did not care to have this institution in our backyard made the argument that its existence would hurt or reputation as a summer destination.

We won that fight because we have been chosen by the BSO to be their summer home. They have been generous to a fault, allowing other nonprofits to use their space. Can you imagine how many businesses would fail if Tanglewood disappeared? All kinds of committees would be established to fill the void. Even then, it would prove impossible.

It isn’t that the Boston Symphony doesn’t have problems. After all classical music is just that, classical. It isn’t for everybody. Those of us who love it and are stimulated by it are in debt to the BSO for what they give to us. WAMC, which I am proud to head, is given the benefit of playing every concert for almost no money at all. We are thankful to both their CEO, Mark Volpe, for all he has done to allow that to happen and to the members of the BSO for their generosity. But as the population ages, the task of getting all of us to go is not an easy one. The number of people employed by the Boston Symphony in the summer is formidable.

Our letter writer makes the point that nonprofits should only serve the poor. She makes the assumption that people should pay for entertainment. In saying so, she forgets all of us who, when we had no money, lay out under the stars, listening to the music and thanking whatever force there is that brought us magical experience.

The idea that government should only help the poor is exactly the reason why we have the schism that exists between the haves and the have-nots. If everyone were to benefit, there is much less likelihood that those with the most would be so unhappy with those who have the least and vice versa.

So what is it that makes people make the kind of mistake evidenced by our letter writer? Is it hubris? Is it misplaced anger? I don’t know but I want to beg our writer to reconsider her words.

The truth is, we are great beneficiaries of having this wonderful resource in our laps. To put it mildly, the loss of this institution would be a disaster. I thank our letter writer for her efforts but I assure her that she is dead wrong.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/13/15

What is Cuomo’s problem?

Posted June 9, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

A new batch of political opinion polls is out and they all spell really bad news for the political class in Albany and particularly for Governor Andrew Cuomo. As they say in the fishing business, Cuomo’s numbers are sinking fast. Also like the fishing business, everything is beginning to stink. People don’t really follow politics all that much. They do, however, get the idea about how things are going. Cuomo came into town riding on a white horse, saying that he was going to clean things up. One thing is for sure, he has not done that. In fact, the case could be made that he has worsened the situation. Now, however, he is beginning to go after all of his perceived enemies, which seems to be everyone, big time. We are all asking, “What is his problem?”

When you pick a fight with the well-liked state Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, people want to know why you are doing that. Now he is once again going after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking state workers to evaluate Schneiderman’s work. This is what we used to call “trying to pick a fight” in the old days. It would be fun and appropriate if Schneiderman and DiNapoli asked all the people in their departments to evaluate the governor.

Considering Cuomo’s low polls in a stratified sample of New York state voters, the results of polling state workers would have to be pretty bad for Cuomo. His problem, of course, seems to be that he gets angry and fires way before he sees the whites of his frenemies’ eyes. His list of perceived enemies keeps growing. Among them is Mayor Bill de Blasio who has plenty of problems of his own. Poor de Blasio must be walking around with his head held between his hands as if he had a fierce toothache. There are those who believe that the poor guy really thought that he and Andrew were best friends. It turns out that Cuomo has turned his cannon around on de Blasio and loaded it with lethal metal fragments. Maybe this is because Cuomo thought he was on the way to the presidency and that de Blasio, with his populist appeal, would get in the way of this country’s highest political prize. Maybe because Andrew just believes that everyone who isn’t him is untrustworthy and a natural political enemy. There are some wild animals that are like that.

Some animals in the forest can coexist and some cannot. When a politician eschews alliances and considers everyone an enemy, he does so at his own risk. When the other political players are frightened by political bullies, they band together in a defensive posture. Witness DiNapoli and Schneiderman.

It doesn’t stop with politicians. Cuomo is known and respected up to now as a take-no-prisoners tough guy, but his political antennae seem corrupted. His picking on the teachers of New York state is dumber than dumb. It appears that he fell in with a crowd of rich potential funders who are always yelling about “educational reform.” Maybe he wanted their money and he became a fierce charter school advocate and then adopted positions which then threatened the hell out of the teachers who are underpaid and overworked. Their tenure is one of the few things they do have going for them, and however Cuomo meant it, the teachers saw him as looking to evaluate them with an eye toward firing them. These are usually people who want nothing to do with Albany politics, but they sure got a wakeup call. I talk to them all the time and they are angrier than I have ever seen them.

Even on subjects like “fracking,” which the liberal community took on wholesale and which the governor has now said “no” to, no one trusts him because it sure seemed like he was hardly against the idea for a lot of years. When you add up the Moreland Act Commission missteps and his fight picking, you see a guy who had better start re-evaluating the way he does things.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/8/15

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