Small Business Owners Bearing Brunt

Legislation would ease onerous lease terms and give proprietors more time to find new locations. This story was originally published Oct. 2 in the West Side Spirit.

Lorcan Otway recently questioned if New York wasn’t losing its soul. As the owner and operator of Theater 80, a small but cherished off-Broadway gem on St. Marks Place, Otway is on the front lines of the battle to save small business in New York.

“All the businesses in this room depend on small theaters,” said Otway to his fellow small business owners — proprietors of local bakeries, cafes and wine bars — at a recent roundtable organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “The small theater business is dying. There’s no other way to say it.”

He spoke of disarming thugs in the dope days of the 1980s and the challenges and joys of growing a small business in the big city. A recent run-in with cellphone bandits notwithstanding, Otway and his theater face a much more dangerous foe these days: rising rents in the area, skyrocketing taxes and zero leverage when it comes to renewing a lease.

“Once we lose the theaters in New York, we lose New York,” Otway said. “We don’t become Las Vegas, we become Flint, Michigan.”

The irony? Things were easier back when he was fending off strung out junkies and armed hustlers, he said. For example, he said, his taxes have jumped from $56,000 to $146,000 in four years.

What happens is that the city’s Finance Department conducts property assessments every year, which in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods can result in sudden tax bill increases. The problem for small business owners is that those tax bills can be passed along to them by the building owner via their lease.

All of this is done legally, according to Brewer, and is a “major problem” for small business owners in the borough and across New York City.

Jesse Ballan, who owns Café Mocha on East Second Street, faces a similar problem. He recently received a tax bill for $30,000 from the owner of his building, and the end of his lease is in sight.

“In three years my lease is up,” said Ballan, who recently received a commendation from Mayor Bill de Blasio for opening his café as a staging ground for first responders in the aftermath of the East Village blast that killed two people in March. “I don’t know if I’m going to survive,” he added.

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Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Barbara Feinman of Barbara Feinman Millinery on E. Seventh Street has a different problem. Her building was recently sold to a developer, and she has about five years left on her lease. There’s no guarantee, she said, that her new landlord will renew her lease at a reasonable rate.

“None of these other issues matter if we don’t get to renew our lease,” she said. “After five years, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Brewer announced in March her office was working on an initiative to bolster small businesses’ standing during lease renewal negotiations. According to a broad outline of the proposal, landlords would be required to give small business tenants 180 days’ notice of their intention to terminate a lease, followed by a negotiation period in which either party can request nonbinding mediation to assist with negotiations. The legislation would also provide the option of a one-year lease extension with no more than a 15 percent rent increase to give businesses time to move when necessary.

Ahmed Tigani, an urban planner in Brewer’s office, said her team is currently working with the chairman of the city council’s small business committee, Robert Cornegy, to draft and introduce the legislation. Barring that, they’ll seek to influence an existing piece of legislation to give more power to small business owners during lease negotiations.

Lucien Reynolds, also an urban planner in Brewer’s office, said the forthcoming legislation is meant to ensure property owners have a conversation about lease renewal with their commercial tenants, as opposed to ending the lease with little notice and jacking up the rent to an unrealistic level.

One thing Brewer is not investing time and energy in is passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would require building owners to provide small businesses with a minimum 10-year lease, and provide small business owners with recourse to binding arbitration if fair lease renewal terms cannot be reached.

Brewer helped write the legislation in the mid-1980s with then city council-member Ruth Messinger, and said the bill has languished for decades and will never pass. “We don’t want to come up with something we’re going to be talking about for the next 30 years,” she said, in reaffirming her belief the legislation is dead.

During her time in the city council representing the Upper West Side, Brewer worked to pass a law that prevents street-level storefronts from being longer than 40 feet across and limits the frontage of banks on the Upper West Side to a maximum of 25 feet across.

“That’s the only thing I’ve been able to do in terms of helping small businesses,” she said. “It’s not easy,” she added, to pass laws that help small businesses in New York.

And there are other less consequential challenges that are frustrating to small business owners.

Several business owners expressed frustration at the amount of paperwork it takes to operate their stores, and urged city agencies – several of which were represented at the roundtable – to embrace new technologies that would make record keeping less burdensome.

Anthony Aiden, of Anthony Aiden Opticians, said he’s being targeted by sanitation workers who seem to follow garbage trucks around waiting for items to fall off so they can write tickets. (In New York, businesses are charged with keeping the sidewalk in front of their establishment clean and unobstructed, and can be fined if they fail to do so.)

“It’s an epidemic,” Aiden said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to generate money.”

Officials at several city agencies also gave advice to those small business owners present.

A Department of Small Business Services representative said there’s a multi-agency study currently underway to examine ways to decrease bureaucratic gridlock. And an official from the Department of Buildings said the agency holds informational sessions Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with business owners on DIB requirements for building and renovating a storefront. An official from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene said in advance of a real inspection, the agency is available for “pre-inspections” where potential violations will be pointed out but not penalized.

Brewer touted a study by her office that looked further at the challenges and potential solutions to sustaining small businesses in New York. The report, “Big Impact: Expanding opportunities for Manhattan’s storefronters,” is available for download at

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Pope’s Visit Bittersweet for Some

As closed churches wait for appeals in Rome, a pontiff’s visit stirs up complicated emotions. This article was originally published in Our Town on Sept. 28.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons and Richard Khavkine

About 20 blocks north from the United Nations, where Pope Francis gave a historic address to the General Assembly, sits Our Lady of Peace, a Catholic church shuttered in July by the Archdiocese of New York.

The church was established soon after World War I, with peace a founding principle. Almost a century later, with a small but dedicated congregation and financial solvency, the archdiocese decided to merge Our Lady of Peace with the nearby Church of St. John the Evangelist on East 55th Street.

The Catholic parish, established in 1919 by a growing population of Italian immigrants to the city and the neighborhood, was one of dozens closed by the Archdiocese of New York, which cited declining attendance, shifting demographics and a shortage of priests, among other factors, when it announced the merging of parishes from Staten Island to Albany late last year.

Closing Our Lady of Peace made little sense to congregants, who have an appeal pending in Rome, even as Pope Francis was being cheered by huge crowds in their own backyard.

“Here we have people who really love their church and want to participate and they’re driving them away,” said Bruno Cappellini, who attended Our Lady of Peace since 1937. “It’s insane. I can’t reconcile them … driving people away.”

Pope Francis waving to crowds in Manhattan. Photo by Heather Stein

Pope Francis waving to crowds in Manhattan. Photo by Heather Stein

Cappellini, 80, said many in the congregation are elderly and even the short walk to St. John’s is taxing. He also said the congregation hasn’t given up on saving the church. Weeks before Francis’ arrival in New York, members of Our Lady of Peace held prayer vigils in front of the church, which they’re continuing now that the pontiff has left.

“The pope was so close, he went to the U.N. We tried to get [him] possibly to come by and we were hoping that Rome would keep us open until a decision on our appeal,” Cappellini said. “But it’s a question of how do you reach someone like the pope? My brother’s idea was have the pope come by to our Lady of Peace to pray for world peace,” he added.

Asked what the congregation would say to the pope if granted an audience, Cappellini said, “We’re just like he is, we’re descendants of immigrants and we founded that church because we were looking for a church that was more receptive to Italian immigrants.”

Cappellini said a nearby Slovenian church refused to baptize Italians before Our Lady of Peace came on the scene.

A decision from the Vatican was postponed several times and is said to be forthcoming Nov. 1.

“We do expect to win by the way, our appeal is a very fine appeal,” Cappellini said. “There was no reason to close our church, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Kalman Chany, a trustee at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, which also was shuttered in August, said Francis’ visit renewed some heartfelt and difficult emotions.

“People thought that with time the hurt would subside,” he said. “I guess I’m in more pain that I was before.”

As a whole, he said, congregants were left unbalanced by the visit.

“There was a lot of support for the pope, but the same feelings aren’t shared for Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan,” he said referring to the archbishop of New York.

Chany, a congregant at St. Elizabeth’s for more than 30 years, is also seeking recourse from the Vatican about the church’s closure. He said that St. Elizabeth’s, which served the deaf community, was financially sound.

Decisions on appeals by both Our Lady of Peace and St. Elizabeth of Hungary were due sometime after Sept. 1 but were postponed.

Janice Lynch, also a parishioner at Our Lady of Peace, said her supposition for the delay was based on Francis’ visit.

“I don’t think they wanted to hand out a decision either way while the pope was here or before” for fear of embarrassing either Dolan or angering the congregation,” she said.

“There could be all kinds of hell breaking loose,” said Lynch, who was not attending any of Francis’ official functions but nevertheless twice caught sight of him on East 66th Street as his motorcade came off the FDR Drive.

Lynch and other parishioners submitted five volumes of documentation, including financial records, to the Vatican in the hopes of overturning the Archdiocese’s decree.

“I don’t know if he knows about the church closings,” she said.

Lynch said was confident if was able to have a look inside Our Lady of Peace and be told of its history, Francis, whom she called “a very good man,” would endeavor to keep the parish open.

“He talks about his love for immigrants,” she said. “We have a very diverse community. I think it’s the kind of church he would really like.”

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Case Closed in Fake Cop Case

Residents continue to believe men are tied to effort to oust rent-stabilized tenants. This article was originally published in the West Side Spirit on Sept. 16, and first reported by the newspaper on Sept. 8.

Citing a lack of new information to go on, police in the 24th Precinct have closed their investigation of a recent incident involving alleged NYPD impersonators in a residential building on the Upper West Side.

“Unfortunately there was no new information for them to go on,” said a police source. “All available leads were exhausted, so to speak.”

On Aug. 20 three unknown men entered 50 W. 93rd St. and told the doorman they were members of the NYPD. The men had badges on chains around their necks and were armed, according to residents. The building’s superintendent told the Spirit that tenants in two rent-stabilized apartments were questioned as to how long they’d lived in the building and wanted to know who they lived with.

Detectives from the 24th Precinct met with residents on Aug. 25 and subsequently opened an investigation based on surveillance footage from the building’s elevator.

Sharon Canns, president of the tenants association at 50 W. 93rd St., said police were initially reluctant to open an investigation, but did so after pressure from Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who declined to comment.

Canns said the building’s owner, Stellar Management, has aggressively been trying to get rent-stabilized tenants out of the building. In her two years as tenant association president, Canns said she’s brought seven complaints of tenant harassment to the Dept. of Homes and Community Renewal, and has won them all.

“Either Stellar backed off because I brought it to their attention that they were going to lose, or they lost in court,” said Canns. who noted the former Mitchell Lama building is currently home to about 75 rent stabilized tenants and 47 market rate tenants.

Canns said she would not bring a questionable case of tenant harassment to DHCR, and would not cover for any tenant who abused the rent stabilization system.

“Rent stabilization is a gift. It’s a serious gift that most people in the world do not have. So to abuse it would be wrong. I would not take up with anyone who was not playing by the rules,” she said. “These are good people. They have not been loud, they’re good tenants, they pay the rent on time, and yet they have to go through this.”

Canns stopped short of suggesting the alleged police impersonators were sent by Stellar, claiming she doesn’t know what happened, but said she believes the company is capable of such a thing. “I think everybody thinks it, but nobody is saying anything because it’s a police matter…But who else would do that? At the end of the day we’re not idiots.”

The building at 50 W. 93rd St. and another Stellar-owned property at 70 W. 93rd St. were the subject of a Daily News article last year in which tenants claimed they were being harassed to leave their rent stabilized apartments. Tenants alleged they were summoned to housing court with flimsy legal claims that their apartments were not their primary residence or that they added unauthorized family members to their leases without consulting management. Stellar declined to comment for that story.

The company also drew criticism last year for barring rent-stabilized tenants from using luxury amenities at another of their properties on West End Avenue.

Stellar said through a spokesperson that they were in no way involved in the alleged police impersonation incident at 50 West 93rd Street on Aug. 20, and that they do not harass their tenants.

Surveillance images obtained by the Spirit show three unknown men suspected of impersonating police officers in an elevator at 50 West 93rd St.

Surveillance images obtained by the Spirit show three unknown men suspected of impersonating police officers in an elevator at 50 West 93rd St.

“The management of 50 West 93rd Street has not participated in any wrongdoing or illegal activity regarding the impersonation of law enforcement at the building, nor have they ever engaged in harassment towards tenants in the building,” said Stellar in a statement. “In fact, management worked cooperatively with the local precinct, officials, and residents to investigate the matter. NYPD recently completed their investigation, determined it was a non-criminal matter, and closed the case.”

David Hershey-Webb, an attorney with the tenant-exclusive firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents tenants at 70 and 50 West 93rd Street, said Stellar has a history of bringing rent stabilized tenants to court with frivolous lawsuits.

“The main issue for them is that Stellar is very aggressive about bringing cases against tenants, whether they have merit or not,” said Hershey-Webb. “They’re bringing cases they shouldn’t bring.”

Hershey-Webb alleged Stellar has engaged in other harassment tactics at 50 West 93rd Street as well.

“They’ve deprived tenants of basic services, including taking away half of their community room, including the kitchen,” said he said. “They also substantially raised the cost of using the community room. Overall there’s been a decrease in services.”

While Hershey-Webb said he can’t comment on the incident that occurred Aug. 20, he has heard of police impersonators being used to intimidate and harass rent stabilized tenants. However, that was decades ago.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Hershey-Webb. “But the fact of the matter is the housing market is so hot right now landlords appear to be beginning to engage in some of the tactics that were used in the 1980s.” The NYPD said the investigation around the Aug. 20 incident at 50 West 93rd Street can be re-opened if new information comes to light.

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Fare Access

Pressure from ride-hail apps cause increased wait times for disabled riders, as fewer accessible cabs are on the road. This article was originally published in the Chelsea News Aug. 26.

Disabled New Yorkers who use wheelchair accessible yellow cabs to get around Manhattan are reporting that wait times in the borough are increasing, and industry experts predict the problem will only worsen with pressure from ride-hail apps like Uber.

“What I’ve seen is that it’s very unreliable,” said Ronnie Raymond, a disabled woman who lives on the Upper West Side and uses a wheelchair. “Sometimes I call and they send someone within 10-15 minutes. And other times an hour will go by and they’re not able to send anyone.”

Before the advent of Uber, Raymond said she used a wheelchair accessible cab three or four times a week. So far this month, she’s used a cab about three times.

“If they were reliable I would take a taxi almost every day,” she said.

Bill Scalzi, president and founder of Metro Taxi, which is responsible for dispatching the borough’s 581 accessible yellow cabs through a contract with the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s accessible dispatch program, said the problem is that many traditional yellow cab drivers have defected to Uber and similar companies, creating a surplus of non-wheelchair accessible cabs for lease, which are more attractive to drivers.

“What’s happened is there’s vehicles that aren’t shifted each day, and when drivers come in to lease a vehicle, they’re just saying ‘give me a (regular yellow cab) because I don’t want to be bothered with an accessible vehicle,’” said Scalzi. “So accessible cars are now sitting there unleased.”

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Scalzi said according to TLC rules, the driver of a wheelchair-accessible cab may pick up non-disabled fares, but must always respond to calls for a disabled pickup if they’re the closest wheelchair-accessible cab to the call and are dispatched. As a result, drivers sometimes travel multiple unpaid blocks to pick up a disabled fare.

“If you have to say no to a passenger on the street and drive three, four blocks to pick up a disabled person that called in for a ride, you’re losing money,” said Scalzi, who estimated that of the city’s 581 wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs that pick up fairs from Lower Manhattan to the top of Central Park, maybe 200 are on the road at any given time.

“So that’s become very difficult to us to provide the service level that we have in the past,” he said. “There’s a lack of available, accessible vehicles on the roads for us to dispatch, absolutely.”

He estimated that in the past six months, response times for wheelchair-accessible vehicles have gone from 13 minutes to 19 minutes. Scalzi said accessible dispatch gets 180-200 calls for service in Manhattan per day, mostly via telephone, and that the program is regarded as a success by both the TLC and advocates for the disabled.

“Everybody says the service is good and it’s growing, we just don’t have enough cars,” he said. “Uber in particular has done a number on medallion taxis. The medallion owners are finding it difficult to fill their shifts with drivers. There’s a shortage of drivers because a lot of the drivers are now driving for Uber.”

Michael Higgins, a longtime city cabbie who hosts a weekly podcast centered on issues facing the yellow cab industry, said the profit margin for drivers operating wheelchair-accessible vehicles is razor thin, if it exists at all.

“It’s almost like we’re doing it for charity,” said Higgins. “Rarely does a cabbie come out being profitable picking up the wheelchair dispatch calls. And God forbid we say anything — then we’re monsters.”

Higgins said he’s tired of cab drivers being demonized at TLC hearings by disability advocates who blame them for the shortage of accessible cabs in Manhattan.

“It’s this horrible visual where we’re portrayed as these monsters,” he said, while adding that it’s been a boon for those elected leaders who accessible cab programs in New York, but less so for drivers and fleet operators.

“As far as the people that actually do the legwork and the implementation, [they] don’t make money on it and actually lose money on it,” said Higgins. “It’s a burden and an unfair competitive advantage, especially for the Uber knuckleheads.”

James Weisman, president of the United Spinal Association and an advocate for the disabled who helped craft the Americans with Disabilities Act, sympathizes with Higgins.

“I’ve heard from medallion owners that they can’t get accessible cabs on the road, and that waiting times are going to go up because drivers are being taken up by Uber,” said Weisman. “And the (yellow) cabs they want to drive are the hybrids, not the accessible ones.”

According to Higgins, the disabled community in New York worked out a deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo three years ago for 2,000 new taxi medallions, all of which would require wheelchair-accessible cabs. However, only 400 have been bought to date, he said.

“There’s no market for the other 1,600 medallions,” said Weisman, who believes wait times will continue to go up, “because they’re not getting (accessible) cars on the road.”

The city appears to be aware of the problem. Starting in 2015, a 30-cent surcharge was added to all metered fares for a Taxi Improvement Fund, which is designed to ease the burden for medallion owners who must pay to convert vehicles for wheelchair access and help the city reach its goal of a 50 percent accessible fleet by 2020.

According to Greg Gordon, a TLC spokesperson, it costs around $14,000 to convert a regular cab to one that is wheelchair accessible. But money from the Taxi Improvement Fund surcharge has yet to be doled out.

“Funds haven’t been disbursed yet because there was no regulatory framework in place for the manner (and) process by which funds should be distributed to owners and drivers,” said Gordon. “At the outset, the plan was to begin collection of funds in 2015 so that necessary funds would be available to begin disbursements in 2016.”

The TLC is proposing changes to the Taxi Improvement Fund, including increasing the amount paid to medallion owners for converting cabs and individual drivers who operate wheelchair-accessible cabs, as well as dispatch fees paid to drivers for completing a wheelchair-accessible trip. The commission is holding a hearing Sept. 17 on the proposed changes.

“The program is operating effectively in Manhattan under its current model, however, there is always room for improvement,” Gordon said. “With our sights on lowering existing wait times and making such a service available citywide, the more wheelchair-accessible vehicles on the road, the more efficient the program will run and the better service it will provide to those passengers in need.”

In May the city released a request for proposals for a vendor to administer a citywide accessible dispatch program, which the city says will significantly expand the level of service available to passengers who use wheelchairs. In addition to dispatching accessible yellow cabs, the new program will also dispatch the 1,200 accessible green cabs that operate north of Central Park and in the outer boroughs. (According to Scalzi, who currently holds the contract for the accessible dispatch program, the service only dispatches accessible yellow cabs.)

The TLC’s current system for increasing the amount of accessible cabs is based on a lottery system and tied to the retirement of older cabs and their replacement by medallion owners. Gordon said there is no mandate on how many accessible cabs must be on the road at any given time and that the commission does not track response times for disabled fares.

Raymond, of the Upper West Side, said she noticed the drop in reliability about a year ago.

“All the (accessible) taxis that were out there were on the street. Now they’re not because so many of the drivers are driving for Uber now. (Accessible cabs) sit in parking lots at garages because the drivers don’t want to take them. So the taxis exist but they’re not being used,” said Raymond. “I used to use them a lot more often than I use them now, because I can’t rely on them really.”

Weisman said the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require sedan-sized vehicles for hire to be wheelchair accessible, and that he’s not holding out hope Uber will begin implementing their own wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“Either they voluntarily do it, or the state or the city mandates it,” he said. “Why should a mode a transportation that everyone loves be completely off limits to people that use wheelchairs?”

Weisman said the mandate should require at least half of Uber drivers’ cars to be wheelchair accessible.

“At least half, because if they want to replace the yellow cabs, which they do, they should have to meet the same requirements,” he said, referring to the city’s 2020 goal. “Right now they only drive people with smart phones and credit cards. If they didn’t have to take black people or gay people, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. People aren’t ready to call them bigots, but we are.”

A spokesperson for Uber said the company currently dispatches wheelchair-accessible rides through their uberWAV option, which boasts an average response time of five minutes and completes 600 to 800 accessible trips per week.

However, that program coordinates their accessible rides with the TLC’s accessible green cabs, and does not include the smart phone payment integration that’s a big draw of Uber’s main app. According to Weisman, not a single Uber car is in and of itself wheelchair accessible.

Uber’s accessible app is also bound by the TLC’s Manhattan Exclusionary Zone, and cannot pick up fares below West 110th Street or East 96th Street. The spokesperson said Uber is currently working on a deal to service disabled fares within the exclusionary zone.

Despite the increase in wait times, Scalzi things are set to improve as the city makes good on its commitment to convert 50 percent of their cab fleet to wheelchair accessible, which is good news for drivers and disabled passengers alike.

“I’m not sure how the whole Uber thing is going to shake out in the end, but if you’re lessening the number of trips that are available to yellow and green taxi cabs, then drivers will be more apt to accept trips from whatever source, whether it be e–hails, accessible trips or contract work,” Scalzi said. “So they’re going to be hungry to take anything. I see this as everything getting better for the drivers.”

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The Flaws in Cooper’s Law

Only two people have had their licenses suspended since a high-profile law aimed at slowing pedestrian-traffic deaths went into effect. This article was originally published June 10 in the West Side Spirit.

Dana Lerner embraces Jonathan Hume, who along with his twin brother Jacob, eulogized their former classmate Cooper Stock at a recent street renaming ceremony. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Dana Lerner embraces Jonathan Hume, who along with his twin brother Jacob, eulogized their former classmate Cooper Stock at a recent street renaming ceremony. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Most of Cooper Stock’s friends were able to hold it together during a street renaming ceremony last week at 97th Street and West End Avenue, where the nine-year-old was killed by a reckless cab driver last January. Jacob Hume, age 10, wasn’t one of them.

“Cooper was the kind of person who made you feel good about yourself,” said Hume, a classmate of Cooper’s at the Calhoun School. “It’s devastating. I miss Cooper every day of my life.”

As Hume spoke, Cooper’s mother, Dana Lerner, broke down, choking back sobs. The two embraced after Hume finished, and cried softly together.

“I love what you guys said, it meant so much,” said Lerner, as she hugged the rest of his class, now in fourth grade.

Last week, students at the Calhoun School marched from their building on 81st Street up to Cooper Stock Way to remember their classmate and draw attention to the issue of pedestrian safety. Cooper and his father, Richard Stock, were struck by cabbie Koffi Komlani as they crossed 97th Street with the green light. After Cooper’s death, Komlani was charged with a traffic violation and issued a $500 fine by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office.

In the months following the tragedy, Lerner devoted herself to advocating for pedestrian safety and railing against reckless driving. Her efforts led to the passage of Cooper’s Law, which revokes a cab or livery driver’s license if they are found guilty of committing a traffic violation resulting in the death or critical injury of another person. Under the law, if a driver licensed by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission is issued a violation or summons for an accident where someone is killed or critically injured, their TLC license is immediately suspended pending an investigation. If, during the investigation, the driver is found guilty of the violation or summons, their TLC license is permanently revoked.

The bill was signed into law last June and was part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s slate of pedestrian-friendly Vision Zero laws, which included lowering the citywide speed limit to 25 m.p.h and other measures.

Calhoun School students march in memory of former classmate Cooper Stock, who was killed by a reckless cab driver last January. The students called themselves "Cooper's Troopers" and carried homemade signs highlighting safe driving. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Calhoun School students march in memory of former classmate Cooper Stock, who was killed by a reckless cab driver last January. The students called themselves “Cooper’s Troopers” and carried homemade signs highlighting safe driving. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

But despite the attention that the issue has received, and the high profile of Cooper’s death, the impact of the law named after him has been disappointing: According to the TLC, in the almost nine months since the law went into effect, only two drivers have had their licenses suspended under Cooper’s Law — and none have been permanently revoked.

Lerner said she was “horrified” to learn that her son’s law had only been used twice, information that came through a Freedom of Information Law request filed by this newspaper.

“The point is there’s too many reckless drivers out there,” said Lerner in an interview. “Cooper’s Law is a way for the TLC to do something about this, and clearly they’re not. Things are falling through the cracks.”

Helen Rosenthal, the New York city councilmember who championed Cooper’s Law, was not aware that the law had been applied so infrequently, and said that, as a result, she is considering tweaks to the legislation.

An analysis of the law reveals two critical weaknesses. One is that in order for it to be triggered, the driver must be issued a summons or violation at the scene of the accident, or retroactively. Out of dozens of NYPD accident reports examined by this paper that were part of the FOIL request, only two TLC licensees were issued summonses or charged with crimes. In one case the charges were dropped.

In the other case, that of livery car driver Joseph Mergile, who was arrested in January for backing over a person shoveling snow on a sidewalk in Brooklyn, Cooper’s Law was applied. His TLC license was suspended and an investigation is underway, in accordance with Cooper’s Law, said the TLC. The victim in that case was listed as critical but not likely to die, according to police reports.

Another driver had his license suspended under Cooper’s Law since it was passed last September, but the details of that incident are unclear as it happened recently and fell outside of the scope of this paper’s records request.

The other weakness is that Cooper’s Law is only applied to accidents where someone is killed or critically injured. In March, a California woman named Rosemarie Mifsud was pinned between two cabs in Times Square, completely dislocating her right knee and shattering her left leg. But because medical professionals at the scene deemed her injuries non-life-threatening and said she was likely to live, Cooper’s Law did not apply.

Dana Lerner moves to unveil Cooper Stock Way at the corner of 97th Street and West End Avenue, where her son was killed last year by a reckless cab driver. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Dana Lerner moves to unveil Cooper Stock Way at the corner of 97th Street and West End Avenue, where her son was killed last year by a reckless cab driver. Photo by Daniel Fitzsimmons.

According to Mifsud, driver Mohamed Gendia initially claimed he didn’t see her, and then later said the accident occurred due to icy conditions at the time.

“At first he said he didn’t see me, that was his first defense,’” Mifsud said. “So that leads me to believe that he was distracted because how could he not see me? I was loading my luggage into the cab and next think I know I was pinned.”

Records indicate Gendia’s TLC license is current. A month and a half after hitting Mifsud, records also show he was hit with a TLC summons for using an electronic communication device while driving.

Mifsud, who has been out of work since March and has at least another six months of recovery, said she has nightmares about the accident every night and said it doesn’t seem right that Gendia is back behind the wheel catching fares, especially given Cooper’s Law.

“Absolutely, I don’t feel that he should be driving. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” she said. “If I was holding a child’s hand that child would have died immediately because of the way I was hit.”

Several incidents examined closely from last September to this April, where it seems Cooper’s Law should have come into play but did not, include cases like the fatal accident of famed CBS correspondent Bob Simon. According to police and news reports, livery car driver Abdul Rashad Fedahi accelerated into a Mercedes that was waiting at a red light in Chelsea, careened into a metal stanchion in the intersection, and killed Simon, who was a passenger in Fedahi’s car. The Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment on whether charges have been brought against Fedahi, but said the case remains open. News reports at the time said Simon was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident.

In April a delivery truck driver for the Daily News named Jonathan Long was killed in Brooklyn when his vehicle was clipped by a green cab whose driver, according to police reports, disobeyed a steady red signal. Police reports indicate driver Tazul Islam was not charged at the scene and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said they do not have him listed as a defendant in their system.

The TLC licenses of both Fedahi and Islam were suspended in the wake of the accidents that killed Simon and Long, but because Cooper’s Law does not appear to have come into play, could be reinstated. According to several news reports, Fedahi’s license was suspended at least six times before the crash that killed Simon.

The apparent reticence on behalf of law enforcement to issue summonses or make arrests in accidents that cause critical injuries or fatalities exploits a weakness in the law, said Rosenthal.

“I always felt that the crux of the problem was that Cooper’s Law is dependent on the driver getting a summons, that’s my concern,” said Rosenthal, who expressed a desire that police issue more tickets and arrests at the scene of serious accidents. “That’s the weakness of the law that I would like to see fixed.”

Lerner said it’s fine to tout Cooper’s Law as another tool to keep pedestrians safe, “but what is happening to these drivers? Where are they now? People aren’t even given tickets until afterwards.”

In Cooper’s case, Komlani wasn’t charged with a failure to exercise due caution violation until eight months after the crash and after considerable pressure from pedestrian advocates. Under Cooper’s Law, Lerner wonders, who is following up on whether TLC drivers are charged with traffic violations in these accidents and initiating investigations?

Cooper Stock Way. Photo By Daniel Fitzsimmons.

Cooper Stock Way. Photo By Daniel Fitzsimmons.

“The question is, shouldn’t Cooper’s Law mean that these drivers are no longer allowed to drive in a cab the minute they’re charged?” she said.

Rosenthal requested her own data from the TLC after she was reached for comment on this story, and said that since the law went into effect, TLC licensees have been involved in 34 accidents where a person was killed or critically injured. Of those, two had their licenses suspended as a result of Cooper’s Law, while another six lost their TLC licenses as a result of other laws.

A TLC spokesperson said the two investigations have been initiated under the law since it was put into effect, but “thus far, circumstances have not called for any revocations pursuant to Cooper’s Law.”

Rosenthal said she doesn’t know if Cooper’s Law isn’t being applied in enough cases, but agreed that the critical injury stipulation was another weakness.

“You’re piquing my interest in thinking about a tweak to the law, but Cooper’s Law only takes into account critical injury or death,” said Rosenthal, who noted her office would be looking into reexamining portions of the law given recent findings.

While Lerner doesn’t fault Rosenthal for the way the law is written, she said revelations about its use are evidence of systemic dysfunction in enforcement.

“You’ve got all these different agencies, and one of them is assuming the other one is supposed to do something, and no one’s doing it,” said Lerner. “I don’t have a bone to pick with Helen [Rosenthal] about this. I think her heart was in the right place, all of our hearts were in the right place. I think you can’t for one minute believe that the system is going to take care of the victims, and that’s my whole point.”

But the limitations of Cooper’s Law had no effect on his friends and supporters, who marched last week with homemade signs and fond memories to the street corner now bearing his name.

“Goodbye, my friend,” said one classmate, as 10 blue and orange balloons floated on the air above West End Avenue, one for every year of Cooper’s life, if he were still alive.

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