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OPINION: ‘Fake news!’ Mark Gjonaj’s rally to save small business

BY SHARON WOOLUMS | A rally to “save small businesses” was held June 26 outside City Hall. If any group deserved a rally to focus upon quickly finding a solution to stop the closings, it’s our city’s desperate mom-and-pop shop owners.  Careening out of control at a fast clip, unless legislation is quickly passed to give rights to business owners when their leases expire, New York City will be filled with empty storefronts.

The rally was organized by Mark Gjonaj (joe-nye), the chairperson of the City Council’s Small Business Committee. Its stated focus was on saving save small businesses. In fact, the city’s leading advocate for immigrant businesses, Sung Soo Kim, called for a boycott of the rally.

Activist Marni Halasa, right, held her “Blame Corey!” poster at Councilmember Mark Gjonaj’s rally to save small businesses. Halasa and her allies are demanding that Speaker Corey Johnson let the Small Business Jobs Survival Act come up for a vote before the full City Council. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Kim was not buying the premise that the rally would focus on “saving” even one small business.

“Even in the face of a growing small business crisis destroying the future of all small businesses,” Kim said, “the Real Estate Board of New York’s top promoter at City Hall, Councilmember Gjonaj, continues the rigging to stop the Small Business Jobs Survival Act — the S.B.J.S.A. or Jobs Act — from passing and giving small business owners rights when their lease expires.

“The root cause of business closings — the unfair commercial lease process — will never get an honest debate under Gjonaj,” Kim declared. “Speaker Corey Johnson abdicated the future of small businesses to the real estate lobby, REBNY, allowing them to handpick Mark Gjonaj as chairman of the Small Business Committee, with only one goal: Protect the profits of REBNY’s members, the landlords.

“This rally was nothing but ‘political theater’ right out of REBNY’s playbook,” Kim charged, “a charade rally to call upon all real estates’ friends — business improvement districts, chambers of commerce, and paid-for lawmakers — to come and distract the public from the real cause of the crisis and away from the real solution. It was a sham rally meant to fool the public into believing the false narrative that the real problems of small businesses are too many government regulations and fines.”

Kim was not alone in calling out Gjonaj for continuing the rigging at City Hall. Community activists, led by Marni Halasa speaking out, took the hot air out of the rally. Chelsea’s Ben Kremen, along with Ray Rogers of Stop REBNY Bullies, were very vocal every time Gjonaj made the claim that “fines and overregulation” were causing businesses to struggle.

Halasa, brandishing her “Blame Corey!” poster, spoke out powerfully.

“The speaker, in office for 18 months, has not proposed one bill that would have saved my shop, Red Eye Coffee, from closing,” she stated. “It’s always been about affordable rent and he knows it. He just doesn’t want to piss off his real estate donors.”

Advocates challenged Gjonaj to set the record straight and admit, “The rents are too damn high!”

In the end, a third of the crowd gathered for the rally followed the advocates in chanting and calling out Gjonaj for stalling on the S.B.J.S.A.

It was a sunny day for a bogus rally, but it turned stormy when things got heated and the truth rained on Gjonaj’s “fake news” parade.

Woolums is a longtime Village activist, advocate for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and Villager contributor.

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