Restler: Pass Permanent Open Restaurant Programs

By Lincoln Restler, Councilman for District 33


Open restaurants emerged as one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic. They served as a lifeline for small businesses and restaurant workers, made socializing safely possible for immunocompromised New Yorkers, and added dynamism to our streetscape. 

When he was a Council Member, now Borough President Antonio Reynoso sponsored and passed creative legislation to permit outdoor dining all across New York City and made it easy for neighborhood small businesses to participate. Based on the extraordinary response from New York restaurant goers, Antonio’s innovation for Open Restaurants demonstrated that this was exactly what New Yorkers had been waiting for.

I love taking breakfast meetings or meeting up with friends at any of the hundreds of outdoor dining structures in District 33. For example, the set up at beloved Boerum Hill neighborhood spot Rucola on Dean is just as lovely as the indoor space and has significantly expanded their seating capacity. It has been a boon for neighbors uneasy with indoor dining and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.

However, City policies were hastily crafted on an emergency basis at the height of the pandemic and haphazard enforcement has led to numerous issues for restaurants and neighbors. We need clear, consistent regulations to ensure that the Open Restaurants program is accessible to all and bad actors are shuttered. It is time for the City Council to pass a permanent Open Restaurant program that smartly regulates outdoor dining by creating fewer guessing games for small business owners and putting forward regulations that reduce noise, improve sanitation conditions, and mitigate stormwater management issues. 

Open Restaurants and Open Streets have been a gift to expanding and rethinking our public spaces, generating new and exciting ways for neighbors to come together to create community. 

We are all familiar with the joy on the first day of spring when folks are filling our sidewalks to hang over a meal or coffee — but it isn’t reserved for the warm weather. Restaurant owners have found creative solutions to ensure that New Yorkers can take advantage of outdoor dining year round, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit that makes New York so special. 

There’s no question that city agencies can and must better address sanitation issues, noise mitigation, and stormwater management to make Open Restaurants a permanent success in our neighborhoods. We’re committed to working together with City agencies and community members to ensure the program works for everyone and to remove sheds that are used for storage rather than dining.

Open Restaurants are repurposing  our streets by replacing parking spots with vital places for neighbors to come together and creating more jobs by expanding restaurant workforces. The City Council should swiftly pass legislation that  maintains a permanent Open Restaurant program that includes an option to operate year round, minimizes bureaucratic barriers for restaurants, mitigates quality of life issues, and allows our neighborhoods to continue benefiting from outdoor dining. 


Pol Position: Holy Sh*t? He Said That?

Hizzoner is known for wild statements and his antics. But he surprised the city, and even got national attention last week, when he declared at an interfaith breakfast where he declared he didn’t believe in the separation of church and state.

“When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools,” Mayor Adams said at the February 28 press conference, where he emphasized how his faith drives his governing.

Adams also noted that he had a “Godlike approach” to governing and his aide Ingrid Lewis-Martin said that Adams was one of the chosen people.

He’s going to need divine intervention if he wants the people of New York to feel the same way about his “Godlike approach” to implementing policies.

A February 1 poll from Quinnipiac University found that a plurality (43 percent)  of respondents disapprove of Mayor Adams’ first year in Gracie Mansion, with 20 percent saying they “didn’t know” and 37 percent saying they did approve.

On the issues a majority of respondents disapprove of Adams’ handling of crime, homelessness and a plurality of respondents disapprove of Hizzoner’s handling of public schools, the city budget and immigration issues. There wasn’t a single issue where the mayor had either a plurality or majority approval.

While it’s been speculated that Eric Adams could run for president in the future, his comments were reminiscent of someone on the stump for the Republican ticket in Iowa.

Adams has already started to walk back his comments after the comments got national attention. His comments regarding the church and state and prayer in schools were convenient panders for churchgoing voters, but his other remarks about having a godlike approach reveal his own narcissistic liturgy.

Throughout his first year in office and on the campaign trail, Adams has made a series of remarks that show his vanity.

Adams has acted like he has a larger mandate than he has ever since he was sworn in,, even though he won the 2021 Democratic Primary by just a little over 7,000 votes in the final round against Kathryn Garcia.

Before even getting sworn in, Adams dismissed critics of solitary confinement since they didn’t wear a bulletproof vest for over 20 years like him. At a May 12 press conference announcing his Dyslexia Screening program,  Adams leaned into his own backstory as someone with the learning disorder and said that if he had earlier intervention he would be Mr. President rather than Mr.  Mayor.

His narcissism is  what he likes to call his swagger but maybe if he spent more time crafting legislation and working with other officials instead of raking in on the photo-ops, he wouldn’t sound as ridiculous as he does.

Poll Position: Fighting for relevance

The Guardian Angel, media personality and prolific cat owner Curtis Sliwa has a new venture: breaking the democratic stronghold in Astoria. 

At least, that’s what he plans on doing. Whether he can be successful is a much bigger question.

Sliwa, 68, is no newcomer to politics. BUt even more so, he is no newcomer to generating some media buzz.

As a savvy PR operator, Sliwa knows more than most on how to generate a press cycle. Just back in January, Sliwa was able to generate a similar buzz by announcing his offer to help the mayor clean up rats at his Bed-Stuy apartment with cats.

What both these stories show, more than anything else, is Sliwa’s ability to generate press and cling on to relevance while his political cache has waned in recent years.

His new venture, the Ronal Reagan political club seeks to challenge the growth of DSA within the neighborhood.

“We’re going into the belly of the beast of the Democratic Socialists of America in New York City. We’re going to take on AOC and Caban,” Sliwa said in his announcement.

The club aims to challenge DSA’s grip on the Western Queens neighborhood by  promoting “ fiscal responsibility, small government, and lower taxes in Queens while maintaining an open dialogue with the community about the issues facing them,” per the announcement’s press release. 

While the announcement got some press, his venture to actually make change will be a much more uphill battle and nearly impossible.

In the 2021 City Council election cycle, Tiffany Cában resoundingly won the primary against other more liberal candidates, capturing 62.6 percent of the final vote in the final round. In the general election the candidate only netted 30.5 percent of the vote, a measly 6,209 votes to Cabán general election total of over 12,000 votes. 

The large gap in the polls demonstrates the stronghold that Astoria is. If Sliwa was more interested in actually spreading his message and trying to get more conservatives elected he would focus on closer elections like South Brooklyn or in the Bronx where the issue of crime is much more salient on voters minds and actually has a chance of change in representation.

But of course, this whole announcement was more pomp than anything else –  hoping to score a few headlines for an increasingly irrelevant person in Big Apple politics.

In Our Opinion: Legislative Staffers deserve a union

Staffers of the state assembly announced that they are trying to get union recognition, as City and State first reported last month. We believe that they deserve recognition.

The move follows organizing efforts by staffers of the state senate to be recognized as the  New York State Legislative Workers United group. 

As reporters who engage with these offices regularly, good staff are the unsung heroes of a successful politician. Many staffers who work these jobs often can’t afford to live in the district they are representing despite long hours and demanding work. 

Behind every good policy proposal, solving constituent services complaints or positive perception of a politician is a hardworking staffer.

“Far too many of us can barely make ends meet, regardless of our office, credentials, seniority, or responsibilities. Most of us work long hours, including late nights and weekends, and our overtime is unpaid. Compounded by the rising cost of living these factors disadvantage employees from less privileged backgrounds and make long-term careers with the Assembly increasingly difficult to manage,” a Jan. 17 letter from New York State Legislative Workers United, explaining their want for a union.

If we want New York’s brightest to keep working in government rather than go to the private sector, a union is the best way to ensure they are able to stay for the long haul. If we want the staff to reverse the economic and racial diversity of our city, having a union to secure decent wages is of utmost importance.

This is especially true when the legislature voted at the end of last year to boost their own salaries by 29%, making them the highest paid legislature in the country and netting them an $142,000 annual salary. 

Opinion: Shut up Councilman Salamanca

In the progressive caucus fallout, Bronx City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Junior took to Twitter trying to slam Brooklyn Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Shahana Hanif for their position on “defunding the police.”

“I challenge far left dems @LincolnRestler & @CMShahanaHanif (representing the wealthiest communities in NYC) to come to Hunts Point/Longwood & address my community on how defunding @NYPDnews @NYPDPBBronx is a positive thing to ensure their safety. #cometothesouthBX,” the February 8th tweet reads.

This critique relies on demonstrably false cliches that do nothing but try and negate one side of the conversation from happening at all.

A 2014 report from the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, based off of data stemming from 2009 to 2013 found that 29.3 percent of people in 33rd council district (currently represented by Lincoln Restler) earned below the federal poverty level. More recent data from the city, measured by community districts, found that Greenpoint and Williamsburg found that 40.3 percent of residents live at or near city poverty levels.

Salamanca tweets were nothing more than mindless pandering. If there’s a discussion, have it. In earnest. If you really cared about them showing up, you probably should have sent an email rather than score internet points.

Otherwise you can shut up with the snarky tweets before you try and write off our communities.

In Our Opinion: LaSalle is wrong pick for Chief Justice

Last week, Governor Hochul nominated Hector LaSalle as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Empire State. Her choice to nominate him and not seeing the coming backlash demonstrates a serious lack of political adeptness.

Back in November, The Governor published a Daily News op-ed outlining her criteria for a chief justice. Among requirements like being able to manage the large court system, Hochul wrote:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken — with decisions such as Dobbs vs. Jackson, taking away a woman’s right to choose, and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen, tossing a century-old law protecting New Yorkers from the proliferation of guns. We are now relying on our state courts more than ever to protect our rights. We need our courts to defend against this Supreme Court’s rapid retreat from precedent and continue our march toward progress.”

Now, with LaSalle’s nomination, Hochul has nominated someone who curtailed investigations into crisis pregnancy centers. LaSalle also allowed Cablevision to sue union members as individuals for defamation over their criticism of the telecom company’s response to Hurricane Sandy, circumnavigating protections normally afforded to union members. 

The news created a backlash with a handful of state senators saying they would vote no or expressing skepticism. Multiple unions, including the powerful 32BJ SEIU, came out hard against the nomination, labeling him as anti-worker.

LaSalle’s nomination is historic. If confirmed, he would the first Latino Chief Justice to preside over the Court of Appeals. But his record would also help move the court more rightward.

In response to the backlash, Hochul said that “I never wanted to have a political litmus test.” This statement alone shows Hochul’s weak politics, entertaining the fantasy idea that justices are completely neutral just because they wear a robe. 

It’s a political appointment. Full Stop.

Even if his record on these issues didn’t personally bother us, the nomination shows a critical misunderstanding of current political winds. All the eyes are on the courts now, and having someone with these views is not tenable in the modern Democratic Party – where issues such as labor and abortion rights are key issues. 

John Catsimatidis-Owned Oil Company Refuses to Sign Union Contract at Greenpoint Refinery

John Catsimatidis-Owned Oil Company Refuses to Sign Union Contract at Greenpoint Refinery

Claudia Irizarry Aponte, The City

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

Left to right: Union rep Vic Castellano with Asaaf John and Andre Soleyn at Greenpoint’s United Metro Energy worker strike, April 29, 2021.
Union rep Vic Castellano, left, with Asaaf John, center, and Andre Soleyn at Greenpoint’s United Metro Energy worker strike, April 29, 2021. | Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

United Metro Energy, the Brooklyn-based oil company owned by radio host and former GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, declined to sign a longstanding, industry-wide collective bargaining agreement that expired last Friday, Dec. 16.

The contract had represented only three truck drivers, who haul fuel from the Greenpoint refinery, as members of Teamsters Local 553 for decades. But additional United Metro workers, including about two dozen technicians and mechanics, have been on strike for union recognition since April 2021.

In an interview with THE CITY on Thursday, Catsimatidis said — as United Metro executives have in recent months — that the company was never bound by the agreement, a matter Local 553 is disputing with the federal National Labor Relations Board.

Overall, that contract spans some 800 workers in New York City and is negotiated by the New York State Energy Coalition (NYSEC), which deals with labor contracts with unions across the state on behalf of several energy corporations. 

United Metro’s refusal to sign the master agreement was largely seen by workers as an attempt to further thwart the efforts of striking workers at the expense of the facility’s three union members.

“That’s all part of the fight to undercut the union effort that we started, and he seems to be getting away with it,” said Andre Soleyn, a terminal operator and union leader on strike at the terminal since April 2021. “So he is definitely using that as a perch to come against us as a group to prevent us from getting what we deserve.”

The new contract that went into effect on Dec. 16 includes a $5.50-hour increase over the three-year life of the agreement — the “largest increase ever,” according to a memo sent to Local 553 members — and the addition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

Mayor Eric Adams meets with Greek American leaders at Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, February 15, 2022.
John Catsimatidis, right, attended a meeting Mayor Eric Adams held with Greek American leaders at Gracie Mansion, Feb. 15, 2022. | Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“We are abiding by whatever terms everyone else is abiding by. And if they make an agreement with the rest of the industry, we will most likely abide by that, too,” Catsimatidis said.

“Somebody shows it to me, whatever agreement they abided by, with the other people, we will abide by it,” he added.

In response to Catsimatidis, Local 553 secretary-treasurer Demos Demopoulos said in a statement to THE CITY on Thursday: “I expect Mr. Catsimatidis to be a man of his word and that he will honor his commitment to abide by and sign the Industry Agreement when I present it to him.”

600 Days on Strike

Even as it honored the terms of past industry-wide agreements settled in 2017, United Metro Energy claimed — in a Sept. 20 letter from president John McConville to NYSEC CEO Rocco Lacertosa — that the company was not bound to the contract that expired on Dec. 16 in the first place, because it did not sign the contract.

United Metro, McConville wrote, “is not bound by the current Master Contract with Local 553. To the extent that any such agreement is in effect — which it is not — it will not renew after December 15, 2022.” 

Local 553 charged the company had “unilaterally canceled a valid collective bargaining agreement” in an unfair labor practice charge it filed against United Metro with the NLRB in October.

“For the employees that are covered under that contract, they have been paying all the wages, benefits and medical, vacation schedule — everything that’s covered under the master contract,” Demopoulos said last Wednesday. “So it’s ridiculous for them to claim now that they’ve never been covered under that contract, when for years, they’ve been more or less honoring that contract.”

Catsimatidis is the CEO of Red Apple Group, a conglomerate of energy, real estate, media and grocery companies, including Gristedes food markets, which have a longstanding collective bargaining agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.

The dispute adds another chapter in a multi-year labor dispute at United Metro Energy, which distributes heating oil to New York City schools and hospitals and the MTA, as well as diesel fuel to gas stations. About two dozen of its Greenpoint refinery oil technicians, terminal operators and fleet mechanics are on a strike that has stretched for more than 600 days.

Those workers voted to join Teamsters Local 553 in 2019 and went on an indefinite strike in April 2021, more than two years after fruitless contract negotiations began.

United Metro workers earn hourly wages averaging $12 below the industry average, according to Local 553.

‘Always Welcome’

“Basically, they’ve just been dragging out negotiations,” union rep Vic Castellano told THE CITY last year. “And we wouldn’t take this action if they were negotiating the way they claim to be. Nothing should take over two years.”

In April, a year after the strike began, Local 553 called on Mayor Eric Adams to halt a $52 million contract with United Metro brokered by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, because of the dispute. The mayor’s office said it could not sever the deal because the company is in compliance with local regulations, the New York Post reported.

Catsimatidis told THE CITY that the workers “are always welcome to come back to work.”

“Check my record — in 50 years in labor, in New York City, I’ve been a CEO for 50 years, we’ve never had a strike. And the union just on a Monday morning, decided to put these people on strike,” he said.

United Metro responded by firing nine terminal operators at the onset of the strike in 2021 — union leader Andre Soleyn among them. The company was ordered by the NLRB to reinstate the nine employees in July of this year; those workers are separate from the truck drivers whose contract the company is disputing.

The company complied, and all but two of those workers remain on strike, taking other jobs to make ends meet while holding the line.

“There’s a certain resolve that the guys have, and that’s because we all have families that we need to take care of, and we want them to do better than we did,” Soleyn said.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

Pol Position: How the mighty have fallen

The three-term scandal-scarred former governor Andrew Cuomo, who ruled Albany with an iron fist is now … a podcaster.

Cuomo first announced the podcast last month along with a political action committee (groups that raise money to help elect candidates) and plans to launch a gun-safety initiative. 

The first episode of “As A Matter of Fact…” was released on October 20, 2022, as part of his recent return to public life. It featured guests like the 11 day tenure Trump White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, former Clinton pollster turned Trump defender Mark Penn and Elaine Kamarack – a senior fellow of the center-left public policy group The Brookings Institution.

The podcast is mostly a snooze fest: lamenting political polarization, highlighting his own accomplishments and challenging the state of “democratic and republican facts.”

“It’s just spin. Its just deception,” said Cuomo regarding the state of facts, which is rich coming from the man who the Attorney Generals office said underreported COVID-19 nursing homes deaths by upwards of 50 percent.

The new podcast is likely nothing more than a soft launch for his political comeback, as he still has a 10.6 million dollar war chest, according to campaign finance records released in July.

Irregardless, its a long fall from the Executive Mansion to be sitting in front of a microphone, doing … a podcast of all things.

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