We the People: Smoke and mirrors

Councilmember Vincent Gentile announced a bill to include “shisha” smoke for regulation under the 2002 Smoke Free Air Law at the February meeting of CB 10. That would make a lot of sense since the questionable distinction that the herbal briquettes that provide the smoke in hookah pipes are not tobacco shouldn’t allow avoidance of the restrictions of the law that made New York bars and restaurants smoke free.

Knowledgeable persons have always maintained that shisha, although it has herbal components, also is made with tobacco. Even if there is no tobacco in shisha, allowing it to be smoked indoors violates the spirit of the Smoke Free Air Law. The law should apply to hookah smoke and e-cigarette “vape” since both affect bystanders like cigarette smoke.

Experts agree that hookah smoke is as dangerous to a person’s health as cigarette smoke. Kudos to our councilmember for sticking up for the people and trying to protect smokers and bystanders from the toxins and carcinogens hidden in shisha. His proposal is an example of pro-active and practical law making.

MTA Chairperson Tom Prendergast was on the hot seat this week before the MTA Capital Review Board. His agency proposed a $26 billion capital construction program to maintain and expand mass-transit based, in part, on money promised by Governor Cuomo ($8.3 billion) and Mayor de Blasio ($2.5). The ambitious capital plan earmarks money for completion of the Second Avenue subway and for improvements to and maintenance of our mass-transit system. The program is essential and any time wasted will increase the cost. So the legislators took the time to lambast Prendergast because the program does not have the money proposed to be spent waiting in an account.

State Senator Marty Golden said, “I have no idea how we can actually do a capital program and actually approve a capital program with language that [the money] will be there when you need it.” He added, unhelpfully, “Corporate America would laugh at this.”

New York City straphangers and bus riders don’t give a fig for corporate America’s opinion of our subway, rail and bus plans. Straphangers, incredibly inconvenienced by L train tube reconstruction would be ecstatic if earlier MTA capital programs had provided for additional capacity or resilience for the East River tunnels battered by Superstorm Sandy.

Prendergast said, “I have a very high degree of confidence that the money will be found.” The governor and the mayor have already pledged the money for it! What would happen if the politicians went ahead and made improvements to the program and approved it?

If the money is not provided, then they will have wasted some time on the approval process but the complaining and grandstanding over the fact that the money is not in a dedicated account waiting to be spent is a waste of time. A spokesperson for the governor said, “The governor put unambiguous and iron-clad language in [his] budget to make good on his commitment to provide $8.3 billion towards the MTA’s capital plan.”

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took time to release a statement that Riker’s Island must be shut down. She expressed concern for the plight of accused defendants and sentenced prisoners on “The Rock.” However, her concern should be for the safety of the rest of our society. There are 10,000 to 15,000 persons incarcerated on Riker’s Island and the fact that they are incarcerated does not mean it is unjust for them to be there.

It is ridiculous and unfair to the fathers, mothers and children living in our city to release tens of thousands of defendants adjudicated to be dangerous unto the streets. This is another example of political attention-grabbing taking the place of practical law-making. If the speaker really wants to prevent unfair incarceration, she should push for reform to the rules and policies for bail.

You don’t have to fling open the doors of our jails to assure that some persons are not unfairly incarcerated. It would be pro-active and responsible to find a way to let people accused of minor infractions that pose no threat to our fellow citizens be released on recognizance or on an affordable bail. A “bail alternative” program with mandated treatment and supportive services as a condition of release on recognizance would actually keep many accused criminals from offending again.

Any reform proposal must be directed at keeping our communities safe and not at garnering maximum attention. If the incarceration of criminal defendants in New York City were suspended, then many thousands of defendants who are poor or homeless would need a place to live until trial. Will Ms Mark-Viverito recommend construction of a halfway house facility across the street from her publicly subsidized million dollar townhouse in East Harlem? Get a mirror!

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