A ban, a pay increase and an activist’s death

Catch up on some city news post-holidays.
Catch up on some city news post-holidays. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

It’s a new year, and there has been a lot of news in New York City over the holidays. Here’s a special, three-part amExpress to catch up.

A Styrofoam ban

After legal action and years of uncertainty, a city Styrofoam ban went into effect on New Year’s Day.

The reason for the ban is straightforward. The city Department of Sanitation concluded that Expanded Polystyrene foam could not be recycled, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Styrofoam an “environmentally unfriendly substance” that floods “our streets, landfills, and waterways.”

But now the complicated part: actually doing away with the disposable cups, plates, and especially the “clamshell” containers that many food trucks and some eateries use for takeout food.

The city is giving businesses a six-month grace period before fines will be imposed ($250 for a first violation, $500 for a second). And some small businesses and non-profits can apply for waivers that are meant to be temporary, says mayoral spokeswoman Jane Meyer.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services has received 49 waiver applications, according to Meyer.

Some Styrofoam alternatives are already being used, such as The Halal Guys’ iconic round tin steaming with rice and meat.

Other food truck operators visited in Manhattan on Monday still had small stacks of Styrofoam above their grills, unaware of the new rules.

Minimum wage hike

New York City’s minimum wage has reached $15 for many workers (the wage is a bit lower at businesses with 10 or fewer employees).

The Dec. 31 salary hike is part of scheduled minimum wage increases around the state, and it’s a big boost in NYC, considering that the federal minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 an hour.

It was a long road to 15 here: from fast-food workers and advocates pushing a “Fight for 15” movement, to eventual support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who routinely points to the minimum wage hike as an example of his progressive bona fides.

But the wage is increasing at different rates across the state, with Long Island and Westchester still at $12 and the rest of the state lower.

It won’t be until after a new president is elected that we’re scheduled to see $15 in the city suburbs.

Death of an activist

Nicholas Heyward Sr. was forced into the role of police-reform activist two decades before Eric Garner died in police hands on Staten Island and Tamir Rice was fatally shot by police in Cleveland.

Heyward’s son, Nicholas Jr., was playing with a toy gun along with friends in the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn in 1994 when a police officer mistook the toy for a real one and shot him. He was 13, a year older than Rice.

Nicholas Sr. continually pushed for some type of justice, inviting reporters again and again into his Brooklyn apartment to talk about his dead son, not far from the basketball court that bears his son’s name. Heyward also appeared repeatedly alongside other family members of New Yorkers slain by police, urging prosecutors to press charges.

Heyward, a respected figure among many current criminal justice reform activists in the city, had hoped that reformer District Attorney Ken Thompson would reopen his son’s case. But Thompson’s office concluded in 2016 that criminal charges were not applicable, according to a spokesman.

Heyward died at 61 on New Year’s Eve morning after a heart attack, says Donna Heyward, his wife.

“He was very depressed and stressed out at the fact that his son never got justice,” she says.