News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Upset could shift Empire State politics

By Dan Margolis

QUEENS, N.Y. — A major shift in the politics of New York state may be under way, and a local state senate race here may play a big part.

The race, in New York’s 15th State Senatorial district here, could help decide the fate of the state’s Legislature post-Nov. 4. The diverse district, long a Republican stronghold, could flip Democratic and in so doing, if the Democrats maintain their current seats and flip one other district in the state, would help elect the first Democrat-controlled State Senate in decades.

That, many say, would be a huge victory for the labor movement, tenants’ organizations and women and a defeat for big developers and the Republican right.

In this hot race, New York City Council member Joseph Addabbo is challenging Republican State Sen. Serphin Maltese, who has held the district’s seat for 20 years. Maltese has been a conservative icon for years, and was a founding member of New York’s far-right-wing Conservative Party.

A wide array of organizations have been involved in Addabbo’s campaign, including labor, women’s rights organizations and the Working Families Party, a statewide political party founded by unions and community organizations. The WFP has become influential in the state’s political scene, and is credited with providing the margin of victory for a number of progressive Democrats.

Working Families Party spokesperson Dan Levitan said Maltese “has helped block basic, fundamental things like raising the minimum wage or establishing a paid family leave program — simple, common sense things that most normal people favor but the Republicans in Albany have been able to block.”

“He is the most pro-landlord member of the state senate,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of the tenants’ rights organization TenantPAC. Maltese has not attended any meetings with organized tenants in at least 15 years, though he routinely meets with local property owners’ associations, McKee noted.

Addabbo’s victory is “entirely probably, but it's not guaranteed by any means,” McKee warned. Victory will likely be determined by who has the best get-out-the-vote operation on Election Day, he said.

To help bring in an Addabbo victory, Levitan said, the Working Families Party is bringing its experienced field operations into the race. “There are tons of volunteers; we’re knocking on tens of thousands of doors,” he said.

Some in the labor movement have argued that it is good for labor to have a divided Legislature because it means Republicans and Democrats have to fight for labor’s support, and therefore will pursue a pro-labor agenda.

“We disagree,” Levitan said. “We think that there are some big issues that need solving in New York, and the Republicans have clearly expressed their desire not to deal with them.”

Recently, some unions that used to support the divided-Legislature concept, like 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East, an electoral powerhouse, have moved away from this idea, and although it still accepted by some unionists, it seems to be on its way out.

There are a number of other races across New York state where a Democrat may win a Republican seat, including such diverse places as Western New York and Westchester County.

Progressive activists across the board agree that a Democratic victory will be just a start. Levitan said, “There’s still going to be work to do. In fact, we’ll have to work just as hard.”

But at least, he said, “one major obstacle will be gone.”

Reprinted from the People's Weekly World

Friday, October 17, 2008

Communist Leader's Testimony on City Council Term Limits Proposal

This written testimony was delivered to the New York City Council on Friday, October 17, 2008 as part of the hearings on the current term limits extension proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn. Hundreds of New Yorkers attended the hearings over two days and thousands more made their voices heard by calling and emailing their representatives in the City Council. I like many others couldn't wait for ten hours to speak in person so I was forced to submit my testimony for the record.

Despite the overwhelming outpouring against extending term limits in this manner, the city's elites and many city council people remain committed to backing the extension for various reasons, some opportunistic, some more principled.
If you would like to make our voice heard on this issue, visit the web page of the council and submit your testimony on line or by mail: New York City Council

"My name is Libero Della Piana, I am a resident of East Harlem and the Chairperson of the New York State Communist Party.

I want to declare my opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed term limit extension.

Don’t get me wrong. I and my organization are against term limits. They take away the right of voters to determine their representatives. But remember that the measure before you does not end term limits, it EXTENDS term limits, primarily as a means to ensure another four years for Michael Bloomberg.

In fact, the Mayor’s plan is aimed at creating a one-time extension of the Mayor’s term. His side deal with another billionaire, Ronald Lauder, to head up a Charter Commission in 2010, almost ensures a return to the existing term limits.

It is clear that this measure is not in the interests of the working people of New York City. It is an end-run around the twice-passed referendum in order to ensure to the financiers and big developers.

The main argument we hear is that we need Bloomberg to save the city from the ongoing financial disaster and the impending economic crisis in our city. We do not agree that a billionaire who is creature of Wall Street is the best one to address the mess that Wall Street financial elites created.

You might believe that term limits are an abstract issue and should not about any one candidate, but we would not be facing this measure if Bloomberg was not the Mayor. This measure is very much about the mayor and his tenure.

At a time when it is harder and harder to New Yorkers to live and thrive in this city because of skyrocketing cost of housing, when cuts in city spending dig into the pocketbook of working New Yorkers, we need to oppose this backdoor move to keep a friend of the developers in the mayor’s office.

We look forward to full and thorough debate of the term limit issue. This is not it. We believe that there should be no term limits on legislative bodies such as the City Council. An argument can be made for term limits on the Executive, the Mayor’s Office, which under Bloomberg has become even more powerful.

We hope you will block the Mayor’s proposal and consider a process that allows for full public debate. Do not allow the billionaire Mayor and his development buddies do and end-run on democratic process for their own interests.

Libero Della Piana
New York State Communist Party"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

US Communists say their time has come

New York communists in the news:

NEW YORK (AFP) — A rare bird in the political world, the US Communist Party is feeling rather smug in these days of capitalist turmoil.

At the party's New York headquarters on 23rd Street in Manhattan, regional party chairman Libero Della Piana, 36, laid out why he thinks Marxist-Leninism's time has finally come.

"We are very excited, we feel that we are at a turning point," Della Piana, an imposing half-Italian, half-African American with a pony tail, told AFP.

"We can afford to be less on the defensive for the first time since Ronald Reagan, and we can say our word in rebuilding America on a new basis, rebuilding a better world, instead of one based on the greed of the few."

The US Communist Party was founded in 1919 and never really took off. It was ostracized during the Cold War and members faced discrimination, even firing from their work, during the anti-Communist drive of the 1950s.

Today, the party claims to have 3,000 to 3,500 members -- seemingly not a threat to the giant Democratic and Republican parties contesting next month's White House election.

But American communists think that the collapse of Wall Street and huge disillusionment among the public with the economy has put them on a roll.

"We receive more and more phone calls, we have more inquiries from people, we see an increase in interest," Della Piana said. "We hope to be part of the discussion. I can see a role for the Communist Party in this next period."

"The crisis' number one lesson: the market cannot regulate itself," he said. "Otherwise it goes out of control."

Communist youth coordinator Erica Smiley, 28, said "the major issues for the young are: peace, jobs, health care, education, and we provide them with answers."

Whether the communists will be able to deliver remains open to question.

One plus is that their recently renovated New York headquarters, featuring the obligatory tomes of Lenin and Marx, is prime real estate -- a serious and very capitalist nest egg.

But few people were about during a visit by AFP on Monday and the atmosphere was collegial and slightly sleepy, rather than revolutionary.

"They are all out working to get people to vote," explained Bill Davis, 65, who has been a faithful member for 37 years.

There is no communist running for the White House and the Communist Party does not endorse Democrat Barack Obama.

Yet many staff here wore his picture on lapel buttons, while Republican John McCain was relegated to a box of tissues -- the tissues being pulled through his mouth.

Reprinted from AFP.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Join Peace Movement at Presidential Debate, Hempstead, Wed Oct 15

As a member organization of United for Peace & Justice/NYC, the New York State Communist Party is joining with others in actions outside the Presidential Debates to remind the candidates that we can't afford war and occupation. We know that there is a difference between a candidate who jokes about bombing Iran and casually talks of 100 years of occupation and one that is for setting a deadline to bring the troops home. Here's the call:

Tell the candidates:
Bring All the Troops Home Now!
Oct. 15th

Dear Friends,

Everyone is talking about the elections: on the train, at work, in the coffee shop, in the classroom. But what is the role of the peace and justice movement in this frenzied season? More than ever, we must keep doing what we have been doing for almost 6 years: speak out against the war and make sure that all the candidates know that the people of this country want all the troops to be brought home NOW!

You have two opportunities to let the presidential candidates know how you feel:

Final Presidential Debate
Wednesday, Oct. 15

3:00 - 4:45 PM
Rally at Hempstead Train Station with Iraq Veterans Against the War and then will march to meet up with the LI Alliance demonstration.

4:30 - 6:30 PM
Line Hempstead Turnpike at Hofstra University with the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives to present the People's Agenda.

NYC-UFPJ is supporting the actions that will be taking place on that day and encouraging all who can to attend. Click here for information about the trains from Manhattan, Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens. Please register here so we can ask the LIRR to add trains.

For more information, visit

If you are interested in joining the Communist Party for this action, please call 212-924-0550 or email today!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bloomberg Tries to Slip in a Third Term

Last week New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his intention to run for a third term as mayor of the country’s largest city. He called on the City Council to pass legislation that would change the City Charter, which currently bars him (and City Council members) from holding office more than twice. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has obliged the Mayor and helped introduce a bill extending city offices to three terms instead of two. A competing measure was introduced by City Council members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James calling for a new public referendum on the issue of term limits. Two such referenda in 1993 and 1996 established then reaffirmed term limits.

The long-rumored move by the mayor has thrown city politics for a loop. Whether or not they support term limits, many New Yorkers are outraged at the prospect of the City Council overturning two voter referenda just weeks before the Presidential elections.

The debate over term limits is important. Frankly we are largely against term limits. But the proposal of the mayor does little to facilitate a real discussion of the pros and cons of the issue. It is a last-minute ploy for the mayor to hold power past his 2009 final year. Just as the introduction of term limits 15 years ago through a highly financed publicity campaign, the process largely serves the interests of city’s elites.

Any legislation, and certainly a major decision such as this, must be judged by its impact negative or positive on the working people of New York: all the workers, the racially oppressed people, immigrant, women and youth of the city. This proposal puts the city administration back in the hands of Bloomberg who has been a loyal servant of his fellow billionaires, monopolists and financiers. We need a champion of working people and their issues, not a budget-slashing billionaire who puts private development first and will be quick to tighten belts while he is immune to the suffering.

Bloomberg, who was recently ranked the 8th richest man in the U.S. by Forbes Magazine, has been good to the big developers and his Wall Street buddies over the past seven years. The mayor has championed massive capital developments like Atlantic Yards, various sports stadiums that are receiving huge city subsidies and tax breaks and other private projects that use public financing. City elites are unhappy to see such a friend leave office. A recent New York Times article detailed how developers, financiers and other mega-rich New Yorkers were desperate to find a Bloomberg clone to replace him. With an extension of term limits they don’t need one.

Richard Lauder, another billionaire on Forbes’ list, financed the original campaign to impose term limits. Lauder and other big business elites supported term limits at the time because it suited their interests. They wanted to keep the revolving door on city offices turning to minimize the impact of progressive and even centrist elected officials. Lauder and Bloomberg recently said they were against changing term limits. But now Bloomberg remaining in office serves the billionaires’ interests. Under the pretense of the financial crisis, they claim they were forced into the change. Suddenly Bloomberg has reversed himself and even Lauder is now on board, because “these are extraordinary times.” Of course, the mayor has also promised to make Lauder head of a “Charter Revision Commission” to bring a term limits referendum before voters in 2010. Apparently the mayor believes a unilateral decision to put another billionaire in charge will make the process very transparent and unbiased. We think not.

Of course, Bloomberg’s relative popularity is what makes the move appealing to the mayor and his backers. If he was lagging in the polls, you can bet that none of them would be raising the issue of term limits. Despite the skyrocketing rents, crumbling schools, devastation to communities, corruption and cronyism, erosion of construction regulation and enforcement, police abuse and misconduct and a host of other problems that New Yorkers face, many do not blame Bloomberg. Many of the mayor’s worst policies are invisible to the average New Yorker. And Bloomberg is masterful at the PR game (he is, among other things, a media mogul after all).

Even if term limits are extended, the election for mayor is a year away. It remains to be seen if Bloomberg’s popularity can stand up through the deepening economic mess, several major labor contract negotiations and increasing anger of gentrification.

Some commentators have hinted that New York ”needs” a billionaire like Bloomberg since he understands the Wall Street crisis, which is having disproportionate impact in the city. Of course, they fail to mention that Bloomberg and his friends in the financial district are part of the problem that led us into this mess. Bloomberg is a creature of Wall Street. He worked for Salomon Brothers, did business with Merril Lynch, and cuts deals every day with the very crooks who got rich playing games with the economy. Famously he promised $1.65 billion in tax breaks to Goldman Sachs to lure their headquarters to their Ground Zero site.

Bloomberg despite shedding his GOP membership to become an “independent” is of the same opinion as Bush, McCain and the Republican Party that regulation is bad and that “the market knows best.” The Bloomberg policies have brought cranes crashing down around our ears just as the financial house of cards has come tumbling down. The U.S public has been bombarded with the idea that business can fix what government screwed up. The financial crisis and the $800 billion-plus government bailout of the private banks should put that lie to rest for good. Bloomberg, however, is hoping to use this false logic one more time to get reelected in 2009. He remains the CEO Mayor.

Many people are also upset by the way the mayor wants to make the change. “People—even elected officials—are allowed to change their minds,” The Working Families Party (WFP) stated in a press release. “But doing so on a momentous, constitutional change deserves full deliberation and patience.” WFP has set up a website, which calls for New Yorkers to oppose City Council action whether or not they support term limits. They and others believe the problem is the City Council overriding the will of the people.

But that’s only part of the issue. The imposition of term limits at this time by the mayor is clearly aimed at manipulating the public fears over the financial meltdown and slipping the proposal in during the buildup to the Presidential elections. Bloomberg had time to introduce a referendum on the ballot for November, but he played coy (as he did with running for President) in order to play his advantage. The process should be slowed down and thoroughly debated.

Communists have long believed that term limits are largely undemocratic, taking away the right of the people to elect who they will. Proponents of term limits argue that incumbents have an unfair advantage and can rarely be elected out of office. They believe that term limits ensure new blood in the political arena. It may, but it also ensures that strong representatives for working-class constituencies have to leave office just as they become experienced and effective advocates.

Since term limits became law in 1993 by popular referendum, the rule has also created political seat-hopping which often pits progressives against each other for higher office once their City Council terms are up. This musical chairs scenario is costly and encourages using public office as a stepping-stone instead of encouraging elected officials to be real representatives of the people and their interests.

But the previous referenda should not necessarily the final word on the matter. It has been over a decade since the last public referendum. The vote at the time was heavily influenced by a big money public relations campaign to influence public opinion. And leaving he current matter to referendum faces the same problem. The public may swing the other way due to fear mongering and well-financed campaigning by Bloomberg and Co. Or people will support the change because of the candidate not the principle. The point is not just how term limits changes, but who it changes for and what they stand for.

At the federal level, Members of Congress and Senators face no term limits. Only the Executive Branch, the office of the Presidency is subject to term limits. This is part of the checks and balances that developed over time. The executive branch is perhaps too powerful to go on without limit, while the Congress is the voice of the people and needs stability to stand up for the people.

Perhaps the same should be true at the city level. As the real debate about term limits continues and New Yorkers decide how the city should be governed, why not propose that the Mayor’s office be limited to some number of terms while the City Council—which, of course, is much more susceptible to being voted out if they lose the favor of the people—have no limit.

Of course, the other tragedy of the timing of Bloomberg’s move is that is distracts everyone from the urgent issues facing working-class New Yorkers right now: the financial crisis and its impact on local tax revenues, jobs, etc.; the attempt to renew disastrous mayoral powers over public education; the proposed social service and jobs cuts in Albany and City Hall; negotiating fair contracts with city workers, transit workers and others; the impending crisis in public transit, etc. A decision on term limits will help determine the occupancy of the Mayor’s Office and the City Council for 2010, but working people have urgent concerns still in 2008. Finally, this is a big distraction from the most important election of our time, just weeks away.

Nonetheless, we encourage everyone to come out to the public hearings October 16 & 17 in City Hall and voice their opposition not just to the way these term changes are being introduced but also to the Bloomberg Administration and his policies. This issue is not clear-cut. Progressives, unions and grassroots organizations have ended up on both sides of the question and many others remain neutral or just downright confused. We have to approach it with an eye toward the main problem we face: a possible four more years Bloomberg Administration.

The real criteria for any decision should be, what is good for the working people of the city, the great majority of the people? What gives them the greatest voice and power in a city more and more ruled by a small set of billionaire elites, with Bloomberg as their direct representative?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Citywide tenant protest in Harlem demands Real Rent Reform!

New York City tenants and housing organizations held a rally through heavy rain at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem tonight. Called by the Metropolitan Council on Housing and the Tenant's & Neighbors, the protest rally kicked off a new "Real Rent Reform Campaign" or R3.

Participants at the rally were outraged at the increase of rents for subsidized housing in the city. It is the 20th straight year of rent increases approved by the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB). Tenants have called for the dismantling or reform of the RGB which is fundamentally flawed and stacked against renters.

Many speakers called for defeating Republicans in the State Senate in order to pass pro-tennt legislation which has been blocked in Albany for years. State Senator Bill Perkins reminded the crowd that "we need troops in the streets and we need troops at the ballot box" to expand tenants rights.

The main demands of the R3 campaign are:

• Repeal vacancy decontrol
• Home rule on rents
• Save Mithcell-Lama and Section 8
• Reform the rent Boards

You can download a PDF of the campaign platform here.

For more information, visit the webpages of Met Council and Tenants & Neighbors

Curtis Sliwa Mocks the Daily Worker

On New York 1's Inside City Hall show tonight, conservative talk show host Curtis Sliwa accused El Diario's Gerson Borrero of reading "the Daily Worker of Gus Hall." That was his retort when Borrero said he wouldn't miss the recently demised New York Sun, the rightwing daily founded in 2002.

I guess Sliwa, who is backing McCain for President, is stuck in a time warp. The Daily Worker has been gone for decades, replaced by the People's Weekly World, a critically acclaimed newspaper celebrated by broad sections of the democratic movement. Gus Hall, former chair of the Communist Party USA, passed away in 2000.

Sam Webb, the current national Chair of the CP, has recently written a series of articles on the current financial crisis.

I think I am going to send a copy of the PWW to both Sliwa and Borrero and ask them to subscribee, it might give them both some perspective on the struggles of working New Yorkers.