Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Wednesday, December 9th, noon

You have two opportunities to help the small businesses in your neighborhood survive: call your City Council Member, and participate in a rally before the City Council votes next Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. on a bill that can help our city's small businesses stay afloat.

That bill, the Small Business Survival Act, would establish arbitration and mediation procedures between landlords and commercial tenants. It is NOT rent control, despite the claims of the bill's opponents! The influence of real estate interests has prevented the bill from moving forward.

Council Member Robert Jackson will ask the full City Council to vote on discharging the Small Business Survival Act from the Small Business Committee so that the City Council can finally vote on it. The bill has been lying stagnant in the Small Business Committee since this past June's committee hearing.

The last time a vote was held to discharge a bill was in 1989--for the same bill!

Having the bill discharged by the committee challenges the committee's chairperson, David Yassky, and the Speaker, Christine Quinn, but it is the only way to get a vote.

The chairperson and the Speaker have united to prevent a vote, leaving Jackson to either let the bill expire on December 31st--when all pending legislation expires and the process has to be started all over again--or make a motion to discharge. He chose the latter.

At the hearing
in June, almost everyone who testified was in favor of the bill. They stated that
  • a crisis existed for the city's small businesses,
  • without the protection of this bill, thousands of small businesses would be forced to close,
  • jobs would be lost, and
  • the extortion of the mostly immigrant owners would continue.
Only the Mayor's representative spoke in opposition. Thirty-one Council Members were sponsoring the bill, including ALL of the members of the Small Business Committee, with the exception of Yassky. He testified that
  • he would take some action to stop the loss of small businesses,
  • the Survival bill seemed like the best choice, and
  • unless someone came up with a better solution, he would support it.
Soon after the hearing, Yassky became a sponsor.

But no vote has been held. Yassky decided to would leave it for the next chairperson. At the same time, the Speaker's office said the bill would be found unconstitutional by a court, and the Speaker would not allow a vote.

However, a team of legal experts led by Attorney Sherri Donovan (who wrote the bill twenty years ago and successfully defended it before the City Council at a special hearing) updated the case law on the bill and presented it to the Speaker's council. It was Ms. Donovan's finding that the bill was legal.

Jackson went back to Yassky and again asked for a vote. This time, Yassky said that it was up to the Speaker to DIRECT him to vote on the bill, even though
  • the majority of the City Council wanted the bill passed,
  • Yassky had held a public hearing without any opposition to the bill and strong support from the business community,
  • the entire Small Business Committee was sponsoring the bill, including Yassky himself, and
  • Yassky had made a promise to small businesses that he would take action to save them.
Yassky would not vote on the Survival bill unless ORDERED to by the Speaker!

The Speaker's staff would not work with Jackson to modify the bill to their liking. Instead, they presented two proposed new bills to Jackson and the Small Business Coalition.

The first bill proposed by the staff would make it a misdemeanor for a landlord to extort funds from a tenant and make it easier for a tenant to report a landlord. Store owners with no lease renewal rights would have to call the police to arrest landlords who demanded extortion money under the table! But without any rights or protection, tenants will be afraid to report their landlords for fear of losing their businesses when their leases expired.

The second bill proposed that when a commercial lease came up for renewal, a city agency would produce a list of arbitration agencies and data on vacancies and read the rights of tenants (New York City has none). Neither proposal gave any rights to tenants or made claims on landlords. It did not change the status quo.

Jackson decided to file a motion to discharge the bill from the Small Business Committee and let the full City Council stand up in public and state "yes" or "no" about supporting small businesses in our city.

Help get a YES vote on the Small Business Survival Act.

Phone your City Council Member and tell him or her to save small businesses by voting YES on the Small Business Survival Act. Spread the word to co-workers, family, and friends to phone. To get the phone number of your City Council Member, go to, type in your street address, choose a borough, and click "Find My Council Member."

And go to the rally on the steps of City Hall on the day of the vote (Wednesday, December 9th) at noon!

Information provided by Steve Null of The Coalition to Save Small Businesses.