New York City Regs Force Arthritic Woman to Push Cart to Laundromat Instead of Using Her Laundry Room

(p. A1) When Jean Harrow got a ticket in 2016 for unauthorized renovations to her Queens home, she thought it was a misunderstanding. Yes, she had put a powder room in her basement without realizing she needed a permit. But surely, she said, she wasn’t responsible for the washer and dryer a previous owner had installed downstairs — illegally, according to the $1,600 citation. She would simply explain that at her hearing.

As she waited to do just that, Ms. Harrow got a second ticket — for “failure to comply” with the first. In the 14 months after the original citation, she received five others for the same issue: $15,600 in additional fines. Each meant another hearing, and although she never missed a court date, the tickets kept coming.

Thousands of small property owners in New York City have been hit with a similar pileup of fines, an unintended result of a decade-long crackdown set off by fatal construction accidents. In recent years, the city’s Buildings Department has hired hundreds of new inspectors and doled out harsher penalties for violators. But rules introduced as a safeguard have become a costly trap for ordinary people, The New York Times found.

. . .

(p. A23) Ms. Harrow admits she made a mistake: She should have sought a permit to install the toilet and sink that piggybacked on plumbing already in her laundry room. But, she said she told the inspector, “I didn’t run those pipes — I bought it like this.”

To correct the violation, Ms. Harrow needed to have the unauthorized plumbing removed. Before she could get the permit, however, she had to pay a $1,500 civil penalty.

Pulling the money together took months. The receipt for the payment was lost, then found. Her permit request was rejected several times, because of errors a plumber had made on the application. She received another fine during this period.

At Ms. Harrow’s final hearing, the agency lawyer reduced two fines imposed after the permit came through. But Ms. Harrow was on the hook for the rest. Besides losing the bathroom, she would be out $13,100 in fines plus interest, as well as permit costs, plumbers’ fees, two taxi fares, and a washer and dryer. A different permit would have allowed her to keep the laundry room, but the process would have been even more expensive.

“Now I have to be pushing a cart to go to the wash,” she said. “I have rheumatoid arthritis.”

Ms. Harrow said she tried to put $50 a month toward the fines. “But sometimes, to tell you the truth, I can’t make it.”

For the full story, see:

Grace Ashford. “Snowballing Tickets Bury Homeowners in Debt.” The New York Times (Monday, September 9, 2019): A1 & A22-A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Law Was Aimed at Deadly Machinery. It Hit Her Washer.”)

Chester Arthur Reformed Civil Service After Reforming Himself

(p. A15) One of America’s obscure vice presidents was Chester A. Arthur, a machine politician from New York. No one thought of him as presidential timber, least of all Arthur himself. He was chosen as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1880 only to pacify the corrupt yet powerful boss of the New York Republican Party, Sen. Roscoe Conkling, who had fought against the nomination of reform-minded James A. Garfield for president.

Then Garfield was assassinated soon after entering the White House and the machine hack was suddenly President of the United States.

. . .

But reform was in the air. Rutherford B. Hayes, elected president in 1876, had run on a platform promising to overhaul the civil service. He ordered a 20% staff cut at the Custom House, followed by an executive order forbidding “assessments” and barring federal workers from performing political work on or off the job. . . .

When Arthur unexpectedly became president, nearly everyone expected that the federal government would soon return to business as usual. It didn’t. Conkling wanted Garfield’s Custom House appointee fired and his own man put in, so he could use the patronage to fuel his political machine. Arthur refused. “For the vice presidency I was indebted to Mr. Conkling,” Arthur explained. “But for the presidency of the United States, my debt is to the Almighty.”

Mr. Greenberger also highlights the remarkable role that a perfect stranger played in Arthur’s transformation. Julia Sand, a semi-invalid living with her family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, wrote Arthur a series of letters encouraging, warning and criticizing him, consistently urging him to overcome his corrupt past. He visited her only once, unexpectedly, but carefully preserved her letters even though he burned most of his other papers.

Her encouragement had its effect. In his first annual message to Congress, Arthur called for civil service reform and the reactivation of the moribund Civil Service Commission. In his second message, he called on Congress to pass laws banning assessments and requiring competitive examinations for civil service positions. Under public pressure, Congress quickly complied.

. . .

Even Mark Twain—no apologist for politicians—wrote that “it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”

“The Unexpected President” is popular history, dependent on secondary sources, especially Thomas Reeves’s magisterial biography of Arthur, “Gentleman Boss.” But it generally avoids the pitfalls of the genre, such as assuming facts not in evidence in the sources. Above all, Scott Greenberger’s slim, well-written biography is a worthy tale of redemption—of a wandering man who, suddenly finding himself president, rose to the occasion and did his duty.

For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. “BOOKSHELF; Growing Into the Office; Chester Arthur was a product of the New York patronage machine. Then Garfield was killed, and suddenly the political hack was president.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 27, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Greenberger, Scott S. The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. New York: Da Capo Press, 2017.

“He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read”

(p. B16) Steve Dunleavy, a hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday [June 24, 2019] at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

. . .

He was said to have been the model for Wayne Gale, the manic Australian reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers.” But he gravitated closer to the Runyonesque characters in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play “The Front Page” from 1928.

. . .

After the actress Ava Gardner rejected his invitation to be interviewed at a nightclub and threw a glass of champagne in his face, he wrote an article that began: “Last night, I shared a glass of champagne with Ava Gardner. She threw it; I wore it.” Continue reading ““He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read””

Regulators Allowed New York City to Exploit Taxi Medallion Buyers

(p. A1) . . . The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, (p. A20) and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “New York’s Top Lawyer Begins Inquiry Into Reckless Taxi Loans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 21, 2019): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2019, and has the title “Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor.” Where the online version includes a few extra words, or slightly different wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

Environmentalists Often Fail to Compost Their Compostable Salad Bowls

(p. 1) Every weekday, shortly after 11 a.m., a line forms at the Broadway and 38th Street location of Sweetgreen, the eco-conscious salad chain. By noon, the line has usually tripled in size. It often takes more than 15 minutes to get to the front.

. . .

(p. 12) At Sweetgreen, the appeal is partly ethical.

. . .

The moral overtones extend even to the trash. As customers pay and head back toward their various workplaces, they pass an oft-overflowing garbage bin with a proud sign above it that says that all of the company’s utensils, napkins, bowls and cups are plant-based, “which means they go in the compost bin, along with any leftover food.”

“Nothing from inside Sweetgreen goes to the landfill,” the sign declares further, virtuously.

But that’s far from the truth, though it’s not the chain’s fault.

Matt Holtz, a salesman at Microsoft, is “addicted” to Sweetgreen, according to his co-worker, Michelle Munden, and goes almost every day. Mr. Holtz does not compost his disposable bowl once he is done eating, he said, though he “will compost if the opportunity is available.”

Zara Watson, a lawyer who eats at Sweetgreen three times a week, throws the waste from her healthful lunch directly in the trash because she does not have composting at her office. So does Sam Hockley, the managing director at the software company Meltwater, who is willing to eat a Sweetgreen bowl for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Even Scott Rogowsky, the host of HQ Trivia who last year put his continued employment in jeopardy when he expressed his preference for Sweetgreen, is unable to dispose of his salads responsibly at work, because composting is unavailable at the WeWork location where the trivia app is based.

Indeed, zero customers interviewed at Sweetgreen over several days said that they composted their bowls at their offices.

For the full story, see:

Jonah Engel Bromwich. “The Ethical Salad Bowl.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, Sept. 31, 2018): 1 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 29, 2018, and has the title “Is Your Salad Habit Good for the Planet?”)

Mayor de Blasio Seeks “Ban” on “Glass and Steel Skyscrapers”

(p. A23) As he stood on the Queens shoreline on Earth Day, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a stern warning that the familiar Manhattan skyline behind him was about to change.

“We are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming,” he said on Monday. “They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore.”

. . .

“Everyone is trying to figure out what the mayor meant,” said Adam Roberts, director of policy for the American Institute of Architects New York. “We just hope that the mayor misspoke.”

For the full story, see:

Jeffery C. Mays. “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.” The New York Times (Friday, April 26, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2019, and has the title “De Blasio’s ‘Ban’ on Glass and Steel Skyscrapers Isn’t a Ban at All.” The online version says that the New York Edition print version had the title “A Ban on Glass and Steel? ‘Perhaps the Mayor Was Overenthusiastic’.” My National Edition print version had the title “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.”)

New York City Made $855 Million Selling Over-Priced Taxi Medallions to Trusting Immigrants

(p. A1) At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

. . .

Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

Their actions turned one of the (p. A20) best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

“Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city. Continue reading “New York City Made $855 Million Selling Over-Priced Taxi Medallions to Trusting Immigrants”