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Mario Cuomo, the silver-tongued, three-term New York governor who twice declined entreaties to run for president, has died. He was 82.

He died today at home in Manhattan, the New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. His son, Andrew, was was sworn in to his second term as governor hours earlier in the day. During his inaugural address, Andrew Cuomo said his father was too sick to attend and that he went through the speech with him the night before. He had those attending at One World Trade Center in Manhattan give a round of applause for his dad.

“He couldn’t be here physically today, my father,” Andrew Cuomo said. “But my father is in this room. He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here.”

A two-time failed candidate for public office before upsetting heavily favored New York City Mayor Edward Koch in the 1982 Democratic primary for governor, Cuomo used his gubernatorial bully pulpit to challenge President Ronald Reagan, who said that “the most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Cuomo’s biggest pulpit was the podium at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he stood as the keynote speaker and delivered an address that garnered national acclaim and instantly transformed him into a potential presidential candidate.

He went after Reagan’s declaration that America was a “shining city on a hill” by declaring that “not everyone is sharing” in this largesse.

“In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can’t find it,” Cuomo said. “Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit in your shining city.”

‘Social Darwinism’

He tried to contrast the two political parties, saying that Republicans believed “in a kind of social Darwinism,” in which it should take care of the rich and have their wealth trickle down to the middle-class and poor.

“The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail,” Cuomo told a cheering audience of delegates and party leaders. “We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact.”

‘Progressive Pragmatist’

Though considered the eloquent voice of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, Cuomo shunned that label, calling himself a “progressive pragmatist,” and trumpeting the tax cuts he championed during his first term in office. He also acknowledged that there was a limit to how much Americans would pay for public programs, declaring in his 1983 inaugural address that, “We should have only the government we need, but we have and must insist on all the government we need.”

Cuomo opposed the death penalty and went to Notre Dame University in 1984 to say that being a good Catholic did not require him to use his power as governor to carry out the church’s teachings on abortion, such as backing a total ban on abortion and stopping poor women from receiving government help to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

“To assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom, even if occasionally it produces conduct by them which we would hold to be sinful,” Cuomo said. “We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might someday force theirs on us.”

He continued, “Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin?”

Potential President

It was Cuomo’s eloquence that earned him a national following and made Democrats across the U.S. swoon at the possibility that he would seek the White House.

His 1984 convention keynote address placed him atop lists of potential Democratic presidential candidates in both 1988 and 1992. He declined to run both times, the second time as a plane waited on the Albany Airport tarmac to fly him to New Hampshire to enter the first-in-the-nation primary.

When Cuomo did return to the convention podium eight years after his keynote address, he was there to nominate Bill Clinton for the White House. Cuomo later turned down an offer from Clinton to nominate him to the U.S. Supreme Court, and left public office after losing his 1994 re-election bid to Republican state Senator George Pataki.

Mario Matthew Cuomo was born in Queens, New York, to Italian immigrants. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates to a professional baseball contract, though never made it out of the minor leagues. He dropped the sport after being hit in the head with a baseball.

Political Start

He graduated from St. John’s University in 1953 and its law school in 1956. After representing two neighborhood groups in zoning disputes, then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay asked him in 1972 to mediate a controversy over public housing in Forest Hills, Queens. Cuomo chronicled the dispute and his successful efforts to resolve it in “Forest Hills Diary,” the first of several books, including a children’s tome, that he would write.

Democratic Party leaders nominated Cuomo for lieutenant governor in 1974, though he lost the primary to state Senator Mary Ann Krupsak, who later became the first woman elected to statewide office in New York when the ticket headed by Hugh Carey defeated Republican Governor Malcolm Wilson. Once in office, Carey appointed Cuomo secretary of state.

In 1977, Cuomo sought to become New York City mayor. He lost twice to Koch, first in the Democratic primary and then, as the nominee of the state’s Liberal Party, in the general election.

New Ticket

The following year, after Krupsak challenged Carey in the Democratic primary, Carey replaced her on his ticket with Cuomo. The Carey-Cuomo ticket won in November.

When Carey declined to seek a third term in 1982, Koch entered the race with the prodding of Rupert Murdoch and the New York Post. The rest of the Democratic field cleared out with the exception of Cuomo. With virtually the entire party establishment lined up behind Koch, Cuomo asked son Andrew to run his campaign.

Koch gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he described the state capital of Albany as “small town life at its worst,” called the suburbs “sterile,” and described rural New Yorkers as “wasting time in a pickup truck” or driving “20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears Roebuck suit.” Cuomo won the primary, then defeated Republican Lewis Lehrman in the general election to become the state’s 52nd governor.

Reelection Bids

Four years later, still basking in the glow of his convention keynote address, Cuomo polled 65 percent of the vote against Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke, then a record for the highest percentage for a New York gubernatorial nominee. Cuomo won a third term in 1990, defeating Republican Pierre Rinfret and Conservative Party nominee Paul London.

His 1994 bid for a fourth term ended at the hands of Pataki, who was carried into office by the same nationwide Republican landslide that ended 40 years of Democratic majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cuomo returned to practicing law and continued to speak out nationally on issues. In February 2011, he was chosen by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland to mediate a $1 billion legal fight between Irving Picard, the trustee liquidating the firm of Bernard Madoff, and the owners of the New York Mets, accused of benefitting from the con man’s Ponzi scheme.

Besides Andrew, Cuomo and his wife, Matilda, had a son Chris, who as of November 2014 co-hosted the CNN morning show “New Day,” and daughters Maria, Margaret and Madeline.

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Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris in her Avenue C BnB that had recently been forced into closure. (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris in her Avenue C BnB, which has recently been forced to close. (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

“You can do this now, or we can come back later,” a representative from the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement Task Force said to Anne Edris, owner of East Village Bed & Coffee, a bed and breakfast in the East Village, who had just opened the front door. It was three days before Thanksgiving, at 8:30 a.m., and Ms. Edris, with a house full of guests behind her, asked the Task Force, which included a police officer, firefighter, and Department of Buildings employee, for a warrant. They informed her it would only take four hours to return with one, so she cooperated.

Ms. Edris let them into her small licensed operated facility, where she has run a business for the past 16 years, and hosted more than 60,000 guests, with over 50 percent repeat customers. She pays state, city, and hotel occupancy taxes for her business, and provides a unique neighborhood experience for world travelers. Swept up in legislation passed in 2010, designed to eliminate short-term rentals and illegal hotels in residential or single-room-occupancy buildings, Ms. Edris, along with many other legal B&B owners, were suddenly rendered illegal when the law was enforced in July 2011.

The prevalence of short-term rentals and illegal hotels first came to the attention of State Senator Liz Krueger in 2006. “I became involved with this issue when I started getting complaints from constituents that there was crazy stuff going on in their building,” she said. Ms. Krueger detailed these occurrences, which included strangers coming and going from residential apartments with luggage like at a hotel, along with late night partying in hallways.

Before the law passed, BnB owners in Manhattan were told by local state representatives that their B&Bs, with an average of five rooms, would not be affected by the law.(Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

“There were a number of fairly scary incidents,” she added, “Apartments were redesigned and broken up into separate units, without building permits and fire codes being met. There were fake walls, and units in dorm-like structures, with 12 to 14 bunk beds piled into every inch of space into one or two-bedroom apartments.” Prior to Airbnb’s beginnings in 2008, landlords and illegitimate companies were profiting from short-term rentals and illegal hotels in residential buildings, some rent-regulated, located mostly on the Upper West and East Sides, Midtown, the Flatiron, and Chelsea.

City and State agencies began working together to figure out how to address the problem. “We concluded that the City didn’t have the right enforcement tools. When we started looking at housing laws, safety and buildings code, which were written at different points of history, they didn’t jibe, and in fact, conflicted with each other,” Ms. Krueger said.

However, after five years of study, a working group failed to protect legitimate B&B owners, who earned the right, by paying taxes and adhering to good business practices, to be excluded from the law. Local and state politicians now claim that B&Bs were not the intended targets. They have not only failed to correct this, but have also allowed the Task Force to enforce the law against B&Bs and hostels.

Before the law passed, these predominantly women and minority-owned businesses in Manhattan were also told by local state representatives that their B&Bs, with an average of five rooms, would not be affected by the law.

To crack down on illegal hotels, protect affordable housing, and permanent tenants under siege in their own homes, Ms. Krueger introduced Ch. 225 in 2010 at the New York State Assembly to clarify the multiple dwelling law. The bill passed, and if a renter or owner of a “Class A” zoned residential building is not present, an apartment or room cannot be rented for fewer than 30 days.

B&Bs owners, mostly in “Class A” residential buildings, rely on a business model of short-term guests. Before 2010, B&B owners were considered legal by the City, with no imposed regulations. The city wanted B&Bs to pay hotel sales tax in 2003; those that agreed were licensed as small-facility operators.

Vinessa Milando, owner of Ivy Terrace B&B at East 58th Street, founded StayNYC, a non-profit trade association of B&B owners to seek exemption from the law. Along with her members, Ms. Milando wants to host short-term guests legally, which she had done for 17 years before the law changed.

StayNYC B&B owners all paid New York State and City sales tax, and New York City hotel and occupancy tax. They had been in business for ten to twenty years, in “Class A” residential buildings, none is rent regulated or has permanent tenants, and all had websites.

3rd floor guest bedroom - Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris, her dog Mango, and her Avenue C BnB that had recently been forced into closure. PHOTO: Emily Assiran/New York Observer

Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris pays state, city, and hotel occupancy taxes for her business. Here, a guest bedroom at Avenue C BnB. (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

Although they are not illegal hotels, the Task Force has B&Bs on its radar, and uses TripAdvisor, a travel website, to track them down. B&Bs are also subject to the same scrutiny as illegal hotels, and safety standards required of large hotel buildings. Most residential buildings do not have two separate staircases of egress, or a fire safety sprinkler system, both necessary for hotels. B&Bs visited by the Task Force have been issued violations for hotel safety measures.

Ms. Kruger is aware of challenges regarding Certificate of Occupancy [CO], which determines the use of a building, and zoning issues. “It’s too complicated to fix and change the COs, and I’d love to see the city work on that. There are zoning issues, which are exceptionally complicated. Getting zoned can be a bloody fortune—that was never anything we thought about or intended, and wasn’t explicit in our law,” she said, “I personally think it’s legitimate for the city to explore some allowances for easier variances for a B&B type situation.”

With the proliferation of Airbnb and other “hotel” sites, the Task Force seemingly has enough law breakers to go after. A recent report from the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals in New York City are illegal, with mostly commercial operators masquerading as “hosts.” And in mid-October, the Mayor’s Task Force was able to legally stop two illegal hotel owners from doing further business due to violations of state law and fire safety hazards.

ShareBetter, a coalition of community and housing groups, neighborhood activists, elected officials, hotel owners, and labor organizations, have joined forces to combat illegal hotels, specifically Airbnb, in an effort to preserve affordable housing. With a $3 million media grassroots campaign, ShareBetter is airing advertisements against Airbnb.

Anne Edris at work in her kitchen - Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris, her dog Mango, and her Avenue C BnB that had recently been forced into closure. PHOTO: Emily Assiran/New York Observer

Anne Edris, along with many other legal B&B owners, were suddenly rendered illegal when legislation designed to eliminate short-term rentals and illegal hotels in residential or single-room-occupancy buildings was enforced in July 2011. (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

Austin Shafran, ShareBetter spokesperson, talked to the Observer about landlords who get rid of rent regulated tenants, keep apartments empty, and then rent them for up to $300 a night. “Those are the type of serial violators that Airbnb is enabling their illegal activity,” he said, “The more units they help take off the market lower supply for New Yorkers, and drives up rents in New York City.”

The 2010 law provided the City with the authority to hunt down illegal hotels that were exploding over the Internet, with no government oversight. According to Ms. Krueger, the Task Force is complaint driven. Initially, fines were $90, with $800 maximum per building. City Council was able to increase fines, which had not been much of a deterrent, but currently range in the thousands. “It can keep getting bigger the more times you’re caught. Now you can find buildings with up to $50,000 fines,” Ms. Krueger said.

Over the past three years, StayNYC’s membership has dwindled to three. The Task Force hit five members, (one of them twice), which resulted in many having to shut down their business due to heavy fines, and aggravation. Others preemptively closed in fear.

Nicolena Natoli, owner of Nicolena’s BandB on Warren Street in Tribeca, closed her doors in 2012. She was in business for six years, until a visit from the Task Force. Ms. Natoli honored a few more bookings after that, but did not take on any more guests. She is a nurse with three children, and is selling her loft – she can no longer afford it without her business.

“I’d like to know how much the City lost in shutting us down. The money they’ve made in violations can’t compare to what they lost in taxes, we were giving them 14 percent,” she said, “And we all survived, the B&Bs were so great, if we were booked, we’d refer. It was families, not corporations, real families.”

Ms. Edris, who was shut down by the Task Force, has a partial vacate order on her front door at East Village Bed & Coffee for “Illegally converted 2 family house and business on 1st floor into 11 class B rooming units (transient) without providing required means of egress, fire alarm and sprinkler system.” She has nine rooms, the rest are for storage, 17 fire extinguishers, as well as carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms required by law. The partial vacate order has facilitated two attempted break-ins.

Her B&B sustained damage from Hurricane Sandy. “I already had the estimates for the sprinkler system ($90,000) for the building in the works before Sandy, and then, money allocated for that went to Sandy repairs,” Ms. Edris said, “Money just got literally flooded away.” She estimates her loss of revenue and repair from Sandy at $150,000. A second means of egress in her 1901 building would cost a fortune.

Second floor BnB guest kitchen - Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris, her dog Mango, and her Avenue C BnB that had recently been forced into closure. PHOTO: Emily Assiran/New York Observer

This Avenue C BnB was raided by a Task Force just before Thanksgiving. (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

There are plenty of B&Bs left in Brooklyn, and when Don Matteson, a B&B owner, helped form his group, New York B&B Association, he found 50. His group has 15 members, owner occupied B&Bs in a one or two-family home, averaging three rooms.

“They are taking our money in sales tax, city taxes and occupancy taxes, you wouldn’t think we’re doing illegal activities,” Mr. Matteson said. The group is working with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilmember Robert Cornegy on legislation to exempt them.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer appreciates B&Bs, and even ran one herself for a short time. Concerned about the zoning issue, Ms. Brewer closed down her one room.

Ms. Brewer was surprised Ms. Edris had been raided by the Task Force, and thought they were not doing that anymore. “B&Bs are wonderful and it’s a great way for people to visit New York. It’s a big town, and they come back to a place where it’s comfortable to visit.”

Ms. Brewer discussed the change of use buildings would need to go through, and difficulties of legalization, including zoning and fire codes. “It’s not an easy answer,” she said, “B&Bs were not the culprits.”

City Councilmembers Mark Weprin and Daniel Garodnick are searching for a solution. “They’re being mistreated, no question. We don’t want to put them out of business, and we don’t want to see these legitimate businesses destroyed by the broad brush of enforcement of illegal hotels,” Mr. Weprin said.

Anne's friends artwork in 2nd floor guest kitchen - Manhattan BnB owner Anne Edris, her dog Mango, and her Avenue C BnB that had recently been forced into closure. PHOTO: Emily Assiran/New York Observer

“We need to explore avenues to deal with the unintended consequence of the law. Perfectly legitimate B&Bs out there that are paying hotel and sales tax are very different from what the illegal hotel laws was trying to address.” (Photo by Emily Assiran/New York Observer)

“We need to explore avenues to deal with the unintended consequence of the law. Perfectly legitimate B&Bs out there that are paying hotel and sales tax are very different from what the illegal hotel laws was trying to address,” Mr. Garodnick said, “It’s clear that the laws are not protecting a group here that deserves protection.

B&Bs welcome tourists to the neighborhoods of New York, and direct them to local businesses and restaurants. In 2010, StayNYC B&Bs contributed more than $4 million to the local economy, according to StayNYC.

Mr. Weprin and Mr. Garodnick jointly submitted a letter to Mayor de Blasio last Friday requesting relief for legitimate B&Bs. The letter addresses the difficulties B&Bs have faced since 2010, and provides a brief history. “They are not intended targets of this legislation and our mission is to fix this oversight and operate transparently,” it states. Mr. Weprin believes the City can change enforcement and “not go after these unintended B&Bs.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Edris sits at her kitchen table, surrounded by manila folders of zoning and codes, tax returns for a loan application, and copies of her violations. “My dad just died, I’m absolutely broke, and my mother’s ill. It’s just too much at once,” she said, “New York City is becoming this heartless City.”

Ms. Edris has been a denizen of the East Village for 22 years. “There’s been so much support and friends and family and love and effort put into this business. That’s what hurts the most, the thought of having to walk away.”

De Blasio getting the thumbs down from NYers

Saturday, 13 December 2014 by

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