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Contract reneg

Dear Editor,
It is unfathomable what the city is attempting to do to over 250,000 retired city employees, as well as every person who is currently working for New York City by forcing us off of original Medicare and replacing it with a private Advantage program.
No job is perfect. When someone decides to take a city job, they realize they are making a trade-off. Working in the private sector rewards you with a higher salary, but working for the city offers better benefits, especially once you retire and are able to take advantage of the superior health insurance package and pension.
This is the sacrifice we all made when we accepted our jobs. It is unconscionable to remove this important benefit now that it is too late for us to rethink our profession.
If this new “special” Medicare Advantage program is as good as the city claims, then why don’t they allow us the option of opting into it, instead of automatically switching everyone onto it and requiring us to pay almost $200 per month in order to maintain the plan which was in our contract when we took our jobs?
Now we have two options: accept the new health insurance, which limits our choice of doctors, requires pre-authorizations, and costs us additional money for co-payments, or keep the Medicare we already have but spend about $2,300 per person annually.
This would be effectively reduce our pensions. In essence, the city is giving us a choice of which benefit we want reduced.
Needless to say, the secrecy the city utilized is a great cause for concern. This plan has actually been in the works since 2014. That was when the UFT negotiated with the city to get well-deserved raises for teachers.
The problem was the way they did it. First they took over $1 billion out of our health account fund. Next, they made a deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Office of Labor Relations to cut the amount of money the city spends on our health care by $600 million per year.
Over the past seven years they secretly discussed ways to do this. Then, in spring 2021 they decided to switch our health coverage from federal Medicare to a privately owned Medicare Advantage Program. There was no discussion or opportunity for us to vote on it.
Now the city is trying to rush everything along. Originally they set a deadline of October 31st to opt out. An amazing group of concerned retirees formed The NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees for Benefit Preservation.
We have over 10,000 members and were able to hire a lawyer to fight this. Our goal is simple: do not change what is in our contract.
The city has been using the tier system for the last 48 years. Periodically, they create a new tier, but current and retired employees are grandfathered into the tier that was in effect when they were hired. This would be the obvious and fair thing to do.
Then, new employees would be able to decide for themselves if they are willing to take a job with these different retirement benefits.
Sincerely,
Lee Rottenberg
Middle Village

Republicans get a voice in race for speaker

Who says the Republican Party is dead in New York City?
While it wasn’t exactly a red wave that swept over the city, the GOP did make surprising gains in the City Council.
The party was able to hold on to three seats – two on Staten Island and one in Queens – as well as pick up a vacant seat in south Brooklyn.
In Queens, Joann Ariola, who chairs the Queens County Republican Party, cruised to an easy victory over Felicia Singh, replacing the only Republican elected official left in the borough in Eric Ulrich, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year.
In Brooklyn, Republican candidate Inna Vernikov also had an easy win in the race for the City Council seat left open by Chaim Deutsch, who resigned earlier this year when he was convicted of tax fraud.
The GOP also has a chance to pick up two more seats. In northeast Queens, Vickie Paladino holds a lead over Tony Avella, a surprising outcome given Avella’s name recognition as a former councilman and state senator representing the district. Paladino has never held elected office.
There are still absentee ballots being counted, but Paladino currently holds 49 percent of the vote to Avella’s 42 percent. Avella will need to make up over 1,600 votes to regain his former seat.
In another south Brooklyn district, Justin Brannan is trailing Republican challenger Brian Fox, although Brannan is confident that the absentee ballots will swing the race in his favor, posting on Twitter on Monday night that of the ballots returned, nearly 1,400 were from Democrats or registered Working Families Party voters to just 280 Republican ballots.
While the increase in Republican seats won’t necessarily result in major legislative changes – Democrats still far outnumber Republicans in the City Council – it could have an impact on who becomes the next speaker of the legislative body.
City Council members vote for speaker in a secretive process, but it’s a not-so-well-kept secret that it’s really the Democratic Party leaders in each borough who engage in intense political horse-trading to decide how their members will vote.
If a party leader thinks they have enough votes to get one of their own elected, which usually means striking a deal with a party leader from another borough to ensure one they have enough votes, they will go for it.
But if they think they will fall short, often they will strike a deal with the party leader from the borough with the frontrunner and deliver them the necessary votes to win.
Why would they do that, you might ask?
In exchange for the votes, the party leader makes sure their City Council members get appointed by the new speaker as the chairs of powerful committees, like Land Use and Finance, to ensure the borough has a strong voice in the decision-making process on important matter before the council.
In the past, Republicans were generally excluded from this backroom wrangling because the slim number of votes they held didn’t really factor in to the overall tally.
But with a total of 51 seats, if the GOP were able to hold six votes, candidates looking to fill the spot left by Corey Johnson would have to at least make some overtures to the Republicans.
Factor in that it’s not inconceivable that conservative Democrats like Councilman Kalman Yeger of Borough Park and Councilman Robert Holden of Middle Village – who while a registered Democrat actually won his seat running on the Republican line – could be persuaded to join the Republican bloc to influence the race, the GOP could conceivably have eight votes on their side.
In addition, the two major players in every speaker’s race are the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic parties, simply because those borough’s have the most City Council members, and therefore the most votes to package.
Given that those boroughs are the two that stand to lose seats to the GOP, that diminishes the influence those party leaders and their council members have in deciding the next speaker.
The current frontrunners for speaker include Councilman Francisco Moya of Queens, Keith Power from the Upper East Side and Carlina Rivera from the East Village.
Brannan was also considered a strong candidate, but the difficulties he is having just getting reelected is sure to hurt his candidacy. It’s doubtful that many will get behind him even if he does pull out a win.
So while the Republicans might not gain much in the way of legislative power even with their wins, they will likely play at least some role in shaping the leadership of the City Council, and hence the direction it will take over the next few years as a new mayor comes into office.

St. Mark’s Comics reopens in Industry City

After a monumental 36 year run, East Village mainstay St. Mark’s Comics closed the doors to its flagship Manhattan location in 2019. Yet like any iconic superhero, the store has returned to help the world during its hour of need…this time across the river in Sunset Park’s Industry City.

Our paper recently caught up with St. Mark’s co-owner Mitch Cutler to discuss the store’s reopening and his goals for the new Brooklyn location

“Industry City called us even before we closed [the East Village location] and said ‘don’t close, we’re here,’” Cutler explained. “We weren’t ready for that yet. First I needed to sleep for two months straight after working 90 hours a week, every week for 36 years.”

Cutler continued: “We were always entertaining the idea though, but it needed to be just the right situation. Industry City was finally the right spot. The campus is beautiful, we have a great big open space, and our store opens right up to the courtyard. It’s been nothing but terrific so far.”

Since their grand opening on July 30th, the team at St. Mark’s Comics has been working tirelessly to stock their shelves with a vast assortment of new and vintage comics, graphic novels, and toys. Cutler is hopeful that, despite being in a state-of-the-art campus, the old-school comic shop can retain its trademark character and charm.

“Industry City has a vintage bowling shop, a vinyl shop, a tattoo shop, and plenty of bars and restaurants,” Cutler said. “So it’s just like the East Village has moved across the river. We like to say that we’re bringing a little bit of the East Village to Brooklyn, and we’re just cleaner than before.”

During its nearly 40 years of operation, St. Mark’s Comics has seen both New York City and the comic industry change dramatically. The East Village transformed from a quaint neighborhood into a world-famous destination and the once niche-hobby of comic books has grown into an entertainment behemoth, especially following the release of Iron Man and the birth of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. In addition to the iconic East Village location, St. Mark’s also previously had a store in Brooklyn Heights for 24 years, but it shut down shortly after 9/11.

Despite these changes, the team at St. Mark’s is still excited to see what the future has in store for their city and their industry.

“Things change and sometimes you are sad to see something go. I think that’s the nature of things but it’s especially the nature of New York,” Cutler explained. “But so far, about a third of the customers [who have come to Industry City] are old customers who wanted to come in and say hi. Then there’s another third who live in the neighborhood and have been waiting for us to open, and then there is a final third that sees that there is a comic book store here and say ‘that’s a novel and cool idea.’”

“Every fandom and group has some sort of gatekeeper, but we don’t want to be like that,” Cutler added. “The more the merrier. If you know nothing about comics, you are one of my favorite customers because I am able to show you everything all over again. There is so much great material and it is still exciting for me when I get to share it.”

With truckloads of comics and toys coming in by the day, the team at St. Mark’s Comics is ready to bring their passion and energy to Sunset Park. After 40 years, Cutler and company are just as persistent as ever, just like the co-owner’s favorite hero.

“I’ve always been a Superman guy,” Cutler said with a grin. “I know it falls in and out of vogue, but his stories are always the one I come back to.”

Women have chance at majority on Council

For the first time in the history of the City Council, women have the opportunity to hold a majority of the seats.
If all of the June primary winners are victorious in the general election this November, 30 women will hold 51 of the seats in the legislative body.
Last week, some of those winners and their colleagues in government rallied outside City Hall with members of “21 in ’21,” a grassroots advocacy group founded in 2017 with the goal of getting more women elected to the City Council.
If the results stand, the group surpassed its goal by nine seats.
“It is incredible to see this idea finally turn into a reality that has led to a historic moment,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “When women run and have the support around them, women win.”
There are few competitive races later this year, so it is likely most, if not all, of the primary winners will join the City Council on January 1.
Nantasha Williams, Shahana Hanif, and Mercedes Narcisse would claim seats never held by a woman in Jamaica, Cobble Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The LGBTQ+ Caucus would be bolstered if the primary results hold. Crystal Hudson and Kristin Richardson Jordan would be the first openly gay Black women to serve in the City Council. Tiffany Cabán would be Astoria’s first openly gay representative.
Sandra Ung, a Chinese American from Flushing, won the primary for the seat being vacated by Peter Koo.
And Linda Lee and Julie Won will be the first two Korean-American women in the City Council, while Felicia Singh and Shahana Hanif would be the first two South Asian members.
“Over half of my district’s residents are foreign-born, but I am set to become the first immigrant and the first woman to represent these neighborhoods,” said Won. “As trailblazing elected officials have done before me, I will partner with the rest of the incoming City Council cohort to create a professional pipeline for progressive Asian, Black, and Brown activists to ascend to the highest levels of government and elected office.”
Hanif would also hold the distinction as the first ever Muslim council member.
“I’m excited to forge a model of leadership in coalition with all the women that is deeply committed to enabling and expanding a multiracial, participatory democracy,” said Hanif. “It is past time for the women of our city to be front and center.”
Singh arguably has the strongest challenger in the general election in Queens Republican Party chair Joann Ariola. However, if Singh were to lose, the seat would still go to a woman.
Additionally, the City Council will now have 11 mothers.
In 2017, former speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former council member Elizabeth Crowley co-founded 21 in ’21. At the time, women held only 11 seats in City Council despite accounting for 52 percent of the city’s population.
They’ve expanded their coalition over time by partnering with 17 different organizations, including Emily’s List and She Will Rise.
“I am enormously proud to have taken the baton and gotten the organization across the finish line,” said Amelia Adams, president of Adams Advisors, a firm focused on government affairs, community relations and political consulting. “With the help of our membership, mentors and candidates, we created a sisterhood that is going to continue in the body of the City Council and beyond.”
Some advocates believe the increase in female representation was a direct result of ranked choice voting, which was used city elections on a large-scale basis for the first time in the June primaries.
“For the first time ever, New York City’s government will actually reflect the diversity of our city, thanks to ranked choice voting,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, COO at NYU’s McSilver Institute. “Ranked choice voting results in more wins for candidates of color and women, and the proof is in the results.”

Women have chance at majority on Council

For the first time in the history of the City Council, women have the opportunity to hold a majority of the seats.
If all of the June primary winners are victorious in the general election this November, 30 women will hold 51 of the seats in the legislative body.
Last week, some of those winners and their colleagues in government rallied outside City Hall with members of “21 in ’21,” a grassroots advocacy group founded in 2017 with the goal of getting more women elected to the City Council.
If the results stand, the group surpassed its goal by nine seats.
“It is incredible to see this idea finally turn into a reality that has led to a historic moment,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “When women run and have the support around them, women win.”
There are few competitive races later this year, so it is likely most, if not all, of the primary winners will join the City Council on January 1.
Nantasha Williams, Shahana Hanif, and Mercedes Narcisse would claim seats never held by a woman in Jamaica, Cobble Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The LGBTQ+ Caucus would be bolstered if the primary results hold. Crystal Hudson and Kristin Richardson Jordan would be the first openly gay Black women to serve in the City Council. Tiffany Cabán would be Astoria’s first openly gay representative.
Sandra Ung, a Chinese American from Flushing, won the primary for the seat being vacated by Peter Koo.
And Linda Lee and Julie Won will be the first two Korean-American women in the City Council, while Felicia Singh and Shahana Hanif would be the first two South Asian members.
“Over half of my district’s residents are foreign-born, but I am set to become the first immigrant and the first woman to represent these neighborhoods,” said Won. “As trailblazing elected officials have done before me, I will partner with the rest of the incoming City Council cohort to create a professional pipeline for progressive Asian, Black, and Brown activists to ascend to the highest levels of government and elected office.”
Hanif would also hold the distinction as the first ever Muslim council member.
“I’m excited to forge a model of leadership in coalition with all the women that is deeply committed to enabling and expanding a multiracial, participatory democracy,” said Hanif. “It is past time for the women of our city to be front and center.”
Singh arguably has the strongest challenger in the general election in Queens Republican Party chair Joann Ariola. However, if Singh were to lose, the seat would still go to a woman.
Additionally, the City Council will now have 11 mothers.
In 2017, former speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former council member Elizabeth Crowley co-founded 21 in ’21. At the time, women held only 11 seats in City Council despite accounting for 52 percent of the city’s population.
They’ve expanded their coalition over time by partnering with 17 different organizations, including Emily’s List and She Will Rise.
“I am enormously proud to have taken the baton and gotten the organization across the finish line,” said Amelia Adams, president of Adams Advisors, a firm focused on government affairs, community relations and political consulting. “With the help of our membership, mentors and candidates, we created a sisterhood that is going to continue in the body of the City Council and beyond.”
Some advocates believe the increase in female representation was a direct result of ranked choice voting, which was used city elections on a large-scale basis for the first time in the June primaries.
“For the first time ever, New York City’s government will actually reflect the diversity of our city, thanks to ranked choice voting,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, COO at NYU’s McSilver Institute. “Ranked choice voting results in more wins for candidates of color and women, and the proof is in the results.”

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