For this year’s mayoral race, Local 802 endorses Bill Thompson. While the vast majority of the feedback we’ve received about this has been positive, a small group of members took us to task for not going with whom they perceived to be the “inevitable choice.”
Last year in my piece on 802’s decision to endorse Barack Obama for president, I outlined the philosophy behind our endorsement process. While it appeared in these pages before, it bears repeating:
It is neither political identity nor peer expectations that guide our endorsement choices.
We do not expect to be 100 percent in agreement with our endorsees, for to do so would be a setup for deception.
We look for candidates who not only understand the issues and concerns of our members, but who hold themselves to the higher purpose of serving the common good.
As union members, we embrace the ideals upon which the labor movement was founded: no one goes it alone, for as individuals we risk discrimination and exploitation.
We stand united for opportunity, fairness and dignity in the form of worker protections and wage, health and retirement security.
As our agreements equally protect our newest members and our 40-year veterans, we expect our endorsees to govern and legislate in ways that offer the greatest protections and opportunities to all citizens, not merely a select few.
With this as our guiding principle, we applied our philosophy to the records, public statements and policy decisions of Michael Bloomberg and Bill Thompson.
This article covers four issues relevant to our members: affordable housing, the New York City film production tax credit, arts education and the will of the people.
Mr. Bloomberg’s housing policy tends to favor landlords, and he has worked with real estate developers to create new housing rather than preserve existing housing units.
In an Oct. 14, 2009 New York Times piece, the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, states that:
Efforts to create or preserve 72,000 units for low-income earners have been overwhelmed by a far larger number – the 200,000 apartments affordable to low-income renters that New York City has lost over all, because of market forces, during the mayor’s tenure. A majority of the 200,000 units in the Furman Center data – 137,000 apartments – had been part of the rent regulation system but were deregulated. In most cases, they became market-rate once their rent topped $2,000 and they became vacant, as allowed by the rent regulation system. Thousands of others had been in the state Mitchell-Lama or federal Section 8 programs, but were taken out of those subsidy programs by their owners and converted to market-rate apartments…While the mayor’s plan has put thousands of low-income families in new or rehabilitated buildings and helped stabilize neighborhoods, it has been nearly drowned out by the twin waves of gentrification and rent deregulation.
Courtney Gross, in a Gotham Gazette article addressing the loss of affording housing units, wrote, “Focusing on rent stabilization reform and rent control . . . is the real solution.”
Mr. Bloomberg opposes the repeal of vacancy decontrol laws, which make it possible for landlords to raise rents on rent-regulated units to current market value, upon the exit (eviction, death or otherwise) of the tenant.
The devastating effects of gentrification and rent deregulation have exacerbated a disturbingly increasing number of homeless people.
According to Coalition for the Homeless, there are over 39,000 homeless people, 25 percent of whom are entire families (with a total of 16,500 children) that check into the city’s homeless shelters every night. This represents a 45 percent increase since Mr. Bloomberg assumed office.
In 2004, he pledged to cut homelessness by 66 percent over a five-year period and “end homelessness as we know it.”
Further, the Bloomberg administration does not give Section 8 vouchers to people staying in the shelters, even though it would help them afford low-income housing.
On the other hand, Bill Thompson has long championed the rights of tenants and called for stronger tenant protections.
He supports repealing vacancy decontrol and the state’s Urstadt Law, which would return control of the city’s rent laws to New York City residents.
Over the past few years, Mr. Thompson has appeared before the city rent board, calling for rent freezes. He has pledged that if he is elected mayor, he will use his bully pulpit to push for stronger rent and eviction protections and the preservation of Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 housing.
Film Production Tax Credit
In May, the Bloomberg administration announced that the city’s film tax credit program, which has provisions for film scoring, spent out all $192.5 million of its funds for film and television production.
In response, Mr. Bloomberg proposed a new model for the tax credit, against the wishes of the film and television industry.
The legislation would extend the city’s program through 2011 – at $24 million budgeted per year – but it imposes a $250,000 cap for each film or episode of a TV series.
The plan also includes a reduction in the tax credit amount, lowering from its current level of 5 percent down to 4 percent.
Furthermore, Mr. Bloomberg’s plan limits how long TV shows can get tax credits. After receiving the reduced 4 percent benefit for three years, shows would get 3 percent in year four and 2 percent in year five.
Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal serves as a disincentive for film and television production companies to shoot their projects in New York City.
It punishes the success of long-running television series by making it more expensive for them to work here.
In response, Councilman David Yassky, who authored the city’s film production tax credit legislation, assembled a press conference on July 10, where he stated, “The city’s film production tax credit has created thousands of good paying jobs right here in New York City.”
Given that the film and TV sector is the only one that actually added jobs in the last quarter, the mayor and council must act immediately to ensure that production companies feel secure to bring their business to New York.
Otherwise, we will be leaving thousands of hard working New Yorkers out in the cold.
The film scoring industry has lost 80 percent of its work in New York City over the past ten years.
Further, industry studies indicate that each year, New York City loses millions of dollars in business to the soundstages and post-production facilities of California and Canada, where film producers gravitate toward their local tax subsidies.
Yassky’s film tax credit program ensured job creation and retention in the film/television industry with a return on investment of $6.40 in tax revenue for every $1 paid out. Furthermore, it attracts new business, stimulates economic activity in this and in other sectors and puts much needed gap-closing revenue into city coffers.
New York City has lost over 85,000 jobs since August 2008 and Mr. Bloomberg said he expects the city to lose as many as 300,000 throughout this economic downturn.
Bill Thompson blasted Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, agreeing with our assessment that at a time when so many people are out of work and tax revenues are down significantly, we cannot drive away employment opportunities or enact legislation that will cost New York City even more jobs. He supports reinstating Yassky’s successful tax credit program as it is.
Recent reports reveal some very troubling statistics about the state of city’s arts education programs.
Under Mr. Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein, 92 percent of city elementary schools do not offer instruction in all four components of the arts curriculum and less than half of the city’s middle schools offer the level of arts education mandated by the state.
Nearly 30 percent of schools had no certified arts teacher on staff in 2007-08 – up from 20 percent the previous year.
There was a 63 percent decline in spending on arts supplies and equipment in 2007–08 over the previous year – a reduction of nearly $7 million.
Another survey showed that 7 percent of elementary schools and 9 percent of middle schools surveyed had no arts education at all.
Last December in Queens, when asked about the arts curriculum, Mr. Klein stated that he did not believe that New York City public school children need all four components.
Bill Thompson is the only mayoral candidate to discuss the educational, developmental and economic importance of the arts to the city and residents of New York.
He wants “active inclusion of parents in education decision-making and education policy.”
He wants an end to no-bid contracts and and end to the hiring of private firms to perform the tasks of public employees.
(Incidentally, he promised that if elected mayor, he would fire Mr. Klein.)
The will of the people
In 1993 and again in 1996, the people of New York went to the polls to voice their position on term limits for elected officials: two is enough.
Prior to last fall, Mr. Bloomberg stated he would never run for a third term.
However, in October 2008, citing the poor state of the economy, Mr. Bloomberg said “Given the events of recent weeks, I don’t want to walk away from leading the city in these tough times. This is a challenge I want to take on,” declaring his intention to overturn the will of the people and extend term limits.
When asked by a Daily News reporter about his change in position, Mr. Bloomberg replied, “I change my mind on a lot of things, but I don’t change it because it’s good for my campaign or my career.”
When confronted on nullifying the voice of the voters on terms limits during the mayoral debate on Oct. 13, he responded, “They have lost absolutely nothing.”
Bill Thompson called the mayor out for lying to New Yorkers and betraying the trust of voters when he asked the City Council to amend the term limits law.
CUNY political science professor John Mollenkopf, an informal advisor to the Bloomberg campaign, said, “If you ask New Yorkers what they did not like over the last eight years, term limits is the major negative.”
Bill Thompson pledged to honor the will of the people and that if elected, will only serve two terms.
In 2005, Local 802 endorsed Mr. Bloomberg based on a series of promises made to the previous administration, all of which were broken.
Additionally, he took no stand with us during the 2003 and 2005 strikes.
During our screening process, Bill Thompson came to 802 and demonstrated a command of our issues.
He had already taken a stand on the film production tax credit and sided with us on the importance of implementing all four components (dance, music, theatre and visual arts) of the arts curriculum in public schools required by state law.
By contrast, Mr. Bloomberg sent two surrogates; neither of whom knew anything of our industry. Nor were they aware of Mr. Bloomberg’s broken promises to us.
For Local 802, Bill Thompson is the best choice to steer our city out of the recession, improve our economy and protect working families.
For 30 years he has dedicated himself to faithful service to the common good, seeking fairness and opportunity for all New Yorkers.
He has pledged to make this city a beacon of opportunity for all New Yorkers, not just a select few.
Local 802 proudly stands with Bill Thompson for mayor.