Good afternoon and welcome to The Point! Today the editorial board spoke with new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Read about the "fun" he's planning below.
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Zadroga in the crosshairs
Ben Chevat hoped to close the doors of his organization two years ago.
After all, Chevat, who heads the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, an advocacy group, and the 9/11 Health Watch, a nonprofit watchdog organization, had completed his mission in 2015, when the World Trade Center Health Program became permanent and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was renewed for five years.
But many advocates were concerned about the health program’s future. So, he stayed, and the organizations quietly continued to try to help 83,000 9/11 survivors and first responders navigate the system and get care.
Things went quietly, that is, until last week.
President Donald Trump’s budget would move the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, into the National Institutes of Health, while leaving the World Trade Center Health Program under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control. The problem is that the WTC Health Program has always been connected to NIOSH. It’s NIOSH that contains the program’s management and expertise, and many of the staffers who work on it. It’s NIOSH that has improved how 9/11 responders and survivors get health services, and it’s NIOSH that deals with contracts and vendors, navigates roadblocks, and tries to ensure that the tens of thousands of individuals in the program get their benefits.
And so, Chevat is back in the public eye, asking supporters to advocate for the program. He’s worried that separating it from NIOSH will make it more difficult for people to get care and medications, and to deal with the bureaucracy and paperwork. Separation could also hurt the program’s connections with its vendors and other key players because so much of the expertise comes from NIOSH.
Unsurprisingly, that means Rep. Peter King is out there, too, advocating for an issue he’s long supported. King told The Point he doesn’t see any reason for the change, and was not told of it before budget documents were released.
King’s target is Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. As a member of Congress, Mulvaney had refused to co-sponsor the Zadroga Act’s reauthorization, although he never had to vote on it directly because it ended up as part of omnibus legislation. But the way King sees it, this is simply the latest move from someone who opposed the 9/11 health program from the beginning.
For King, the fight with Mulvaney also might provide a political boost. His support of the WTC Health Program is a stance voters still remember and applaud — and this is not an issue an opponent can use to fight him.
Randi F. Marshall
Over a hurdle at the Hub
It’s been 13 years since developer Ed Blumenfeld first bid for the right to develop land around the Nassau Coliseum known as the Nassau Hub.
Now, he finally might get the chance.
Blumenfeld Development Group of Syosset and Forest City Enterprises have settled a nasty lawsuit over who had the right to build retail space, restaurants and more near the Coliseum. For years, the suit was a roadblock to getting anything done at the site besides the arena’s 2017 renovation.
So, could the settlement lead to actual development at the 77-acre site?
While terms were not disclosed, sources told The Point that the settlement paves the way for Blumenfeld to develop the site, likely without any involvement from Forest City or developer Bruce Ratner, who won the county’s request for proposals for the site in 2013.
At that time, Ratner controlled Nassau Events Center, the entity that was set to renovate the Coliseum and develop the land. Blumenfeld joined Ratner’s effort after his own bid was rejected, but the two fought, and Blumenfeld sued in 2015. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov now owns 85 percent of Nassau Events Center, and it’s possible he and his company, Onexim Sports and Entertainment, might still be involved in the Hub’s development.
Garden City attorney Ronald J. Rosenberg, who represents Blumenfeld, said Blumenfeld wants to work with Nassau County, which owns the land, and the Town of Hempstead, which controls the zoning, to move development forward.
But Blumenfeld knows better than anyone that settling the lawsuit doesn’t mean a smooth path. After all, he bid in 2005 — and lost to New York Islanders owner Charles Wang. He then bid again in 2012 — and lost to Plainview developer Donald Monti. Then, he bid in 2013 — and lost to Ratner.
And so far, the property around the Coliseum is still only asphalt.
Perhaps the fourth time’s the charm. But there still could be plenty of potholes ahead.
Randi F. Marshall
Speaking with the new City Council speaker
Newly minted New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson says he is “on speed dial” with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He has met with State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and spent 90 minutes without staffers in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office on the Friday before last.
That’s some of the relationship-building the 35-year-old Manhattan Democrat has embarked on in just his first seven weeks as speaker.
One of Johnson’s selling points during his campaign was a promise of independence from Mayor Bill de Blasio. In a conversation with the Newsday-amNewYork editorial board in Manhattan on Wednesday, he noted points of disagreement with the mayor such as being “very, very open to the city putting in $418 million for the Subway Action Plan.” That payment, requested by Cuomo and the MTA, has been resisted by de Blasio, who argues that the governor controls the MTA.
Johnson openly discussed the $418 million as a potential tool for negotiation as state leaders work on their annual megadeal known as the “big ugly.” Johnson’s comfort with wheeling and dealing stands in stark contrast to de Blasio, whose relationship with Cuomo has long been uncomfortable.
Johnson, who lobbied county party leaders and campaigned hard among council members for their votes in his bid for speaker, has modeled a more personal and exuberant style than either his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, or de Blasio.
“I am going to have fun,” Johnson said of his term (he has already posted a video of himself lip-synching).
He ticked off potential excursions around the boroughs, such as going to Gravesend, Brooklyn, for pizza, plus enjoying the theater, the food, and the museums of NYC — all while working to strengthen the city’s social safety net and doing the local work of governance, like paving the roads and clearing snow. “As La Guardia said,” Johnson noted, evoking the gregarious 20th century NYC mayor, “there’s no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage.”