By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn made its presence felt in Albany this week, as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce led a large contingent up to the state Capitol for a two-day visit to meet with legislators and advocate for economic development in the borough, tax breaks for small businesses, improved transportation, the Paid Family Leave Act and an increase in the minimum wage, among other items.
Led by President and CEO Carlo Scissura and Chairperson of the board Denise Arbesu, the delegation met with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and with more than a dozen state Assembly and state Senate members representing districts in Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Eagle accompanied the Chamber delegation on the visit and got an exclusive look at how the group interacted with lawmakers and advocated on behalf of the borough.
The visit, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, came at a crucial time in Albany. Monday was the day the state Legislature began the tension-filled process of drafting a state budget. Under state law, the budget must be finalized by April 1.
The Chamber’s platform includes a reduction in state taxes paid by small business owners; re-instating express service on the F subway line, a move that members said will help Coney Island business owners and residents; establishment of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal for a Brooklyn-Queens cable car service; expansion of Brooklyn to Manhattan ferry service; and reinstatement of the 421-A tax abatement program for developers to spur construction.
In addition, the Chamber is calling for implementation of a proposal for the Paid Family Leave Act to give workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave following childbirth or to care for an elderly or sick relative. The Chamber is also in favor of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but members told lawmakers they preferred to see wage increases introduced incrementally and reach $15 by the end of 2018.
Speaking at a luncheon Monday afternoon at the Hilton Hotel in Albany, Scissura told Chamber members that their voices deserved to be heard in Albany because the Chamber “is an economic engine” that creates jobs and generates tax revenue for the state and city.
With more than 2,000 members, the vast majority of whom are small business owners, the Chamber represents the interests of businesses, health care providers and cultural institutions.
At the luncheon, Scissura and Arbesu both said that the diversity of the Chamber’s membership, which boasts people of various races, nationalities and religions, was one of its major strengths.
“We represent the future of Brooklyn,” said Arbesu, a senior vice president at Citibank.
Chamber member Lyn S. Hill, a vice president at New York Methodist Hospital, told the Eagle on the Amtrak train ride up to the state Capitol that she felt it was “important to get the Chamber’s platform heard” in Albany.
While the Chamber was on a serious mission, there was some time set aside for fun, too. On Monday evening, the Chamber hosted Brooklyn Night, a reception in which more than 50 culinary and beverage businesses presented their products and offered free samples. Hochul, Heastie, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-C-Suffolk County) and nearly every member of the state Legislature’s Brooklyn delegation showed up, as did hundreds of other people.
But first, it was time for business. On Monday, the entire Chamber delegation met with Hochul, Heastie and Brooklyn lawmakers.
On Tuesday, the delegation broke up into smaller groups to meet with individual lawmakers in their offices to advocate on behalf of issues important to the Chamber.
The groups, each composed of 10-12 people, scurried through the Legislative Office Building all morning, traveling to the lawmakers’ offices for the dizzying rounds of meetings.
In the meetings the Eagle was allowed to sit in on, the legislators listened intently to the Chamber members and engaged in frank discussions with them, a sign that the visitors were being taken seriously.
In addition to promoting the Chamber’s legislative agenda, individual members were able to tell lawmakers about their particular concerns.
It’s unclear, however, how much of the Chamber’s agenda will be adopted when the state budget is completed next month.
Hill, who has been a Chamber member for more than 30 years, said she was impressed by the size of the delegation. Hill said that when she started going to Albany with the Chamber 20 years ago, the contingent numbered about 20 people. The fact that more than 70 people were on the trip showed the Chamber’s strength, she said.
“It shows the Chamber to be a more important and vital institution,” she told the Eagle. “It is a dynamic organization.”