Candidates basically agree on small-biz issues
By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Small business was the theme of Tuesday’s debate among this year’s Democratic mayoral hopefuls at St. Francis College.
But within a short time, criticism of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for her support of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2008 bid for a third term came to the fore, with three of the participants delivering sharp criticisms of their fellow candidate.
The forum was sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. In addition to Quinn, participants included Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, former City Councilman Sal Albanese and businessman Erick Salgado.
The “elephant in the room” was controversial former Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was not present but who recently said he is considering running for mayor. The discussion’s moderator, Dave Evans of WABC, even said, “No questions about Anthony Weiner, or the Nets, or the Knicks. We’re going to stay on business.”
Most of the candidates had the same basic message: Small business is the economic engine of New York City and creates the most jobs, but the city administration stifles it with overzealous enforcement and excessive fines and favors big corporations and Wall Street.
Among the candidates, Quinn was the only one who didn’t criticize the Bloomberg administration, but instead pointed to measures she instituted in the Council to make life easier for businesspeople.
In their opening remarks, Albanese and de Blasio both brought up economic inequality, with de Blasio citing statistics saying that 40 percent of all New Yorkers are on the edge of poverty. Liu talked about some of the excessive burdens on small businesses, and said he would make a small-business exception for the Unincorporated Business Tax.
Quinn mentioned some of her measures that she said helped small business, such as accelerating the process for starting a new business and instituting a waiting period for businesses that receive fines. She praised business incubators and initiatives to help small manufacturers, such as the one at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and suggested that they spread to other locations, such as Sunset Park.
Thompson complained that in its contracts, the city only allocates 3 percent for minority and women-owned businesses, way behind the 20 percent achieved by the state.
Salgado, the only candidate who has been a small-businessperson for most of his working life, criticized the pettiness of many regulations: “One business I know got a fine because it had curtains that were too long. Some of these regulations are so complicated, you need a lawyer, an architect or an accountant to understand them.”
The brouhaha started when de Blasio said that the city’s overzealous enforcement of regulations on small business increased substantially during Bloomberg’s third term.
The moderator, Evans, then asked Quinn about why she had supported a third term for Bloomberg. Quinn answered that the desire for continuity in the face of the financial crisis was the basic reason. De Blasio said Quinn was using “tortured logic” in first supporting a mayor who was harsh on small business, and then touting her own efforts to make things better.
Liu said that although Quinn had thought we needed “this financial genius [Bloomberg]” to make decisions in 2008, “I dare you to find one small-business owner who would say that it’s easier to do business now than then.”
And Thompson said, “It was wrong to ask for a third term [for Mayor Bloomberg]. In all due respect, we change presidents in the middle of wars ... We have you to thank for that third term.”
Otherwise, most of the candidates agreed that while bike lanes (which take away parking spots from small businesses) may be a good idea, the city didn’t seek enough input before deciding where these lanes would go. In a related topic, Salgado said there should be a regulation mandating two people on every delivery truck – a driver and a second person – so that deliveries wouldn’t hold up traffic.
Albanese supported the idea of a bike path across the Verrazano Bridge, while Salgado said he would like to extend the R train to Staten Island.
Albanese added that the $15 Staten Island-bound toll across the Verrazano, “the most excessive bridge toll in the U.S.,” is a burden on small business. “It’s like being mugged without a gun,” he said.
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Scissura made brief introductory remarks. The questioners included representatives of the city’s other Chambers of Commerce plus two representatives of the city’s BIDs (business improvement districts). “When I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, I had to show my passport,” joked Lenny Caro of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.