New York, NY—New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently issued a report that as many as half of New York City’s restaurants could close indefinitely over the next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. On top of that, recent surveys indicate that the city may lose one-third of its small businesses. The five candidates running to be the next Manhattan Borough President explained recently during a debate their ideas and solutions to prop up small business during the pandemic.

N.Y. State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) first said that the statistic of one out of three small businesses never returning is so alarming that it’ll require government to jump start the city’s brick-and-mortar businesses.

That’s why he’s introduced a bill with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan) that would allow small businesses that have suffered demonstrable loss in income resulting from state mandated closures or state-imposed restrictions to receive support.

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“These businesses were forced to close due to no reason of their own and we need government to step up and provide support,” said Hoylman.

He’ll also advocate for cutting red tape and reducing city fines and violations that don’t pertain to health or safety.

For example, he wants to restore the NYC Awning and Accessory Sign Amnesty Program because in some cases businesses can accrue fines of up $25,000 for awning violations.

In addition, he wants to leverage and utilize the city’s public and private legal expertise to assist small businesses.

“The borough president’s office, a bully pulpit, a legislative office in part can tap into private entities and experts willing to offer pro-bono services. I want to work with the New York City Bar Association to create a pro-bono legal clinic for small business as they try to navigate these difficult issues, including their leases,” Hoylman said.

Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) said that if he’s lucky enough to be Manhattan’s next borough president he would work with the business community to stabilize commercial rents, eliminate the commercial rent tax in Manhattan and create incentives for landlords to keep their retail spaces active.

“We can and must work together in a public/private partnership to rebuild this city for all of us,” said Kallos.

Council Member Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) noted that small businesses are indeed facing an existential threat which requires urgent action on the city and state level.

For example, he’s supporting legislation on the city level by Council Members Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) and the state level by Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) to give landlords tax breaks if they provide more lenient leases.

He also pointed to recent legislation that passed in the Council that expands a program providing free attorneys to low-income entrepreneurs that will defend them against evictions, renegotiate leases and help them with the difficult application for government funding and assistance.

Before beginning his public office career, Levine founded a credit union in Washington Heights that ultimately provided $25 million in small loans to low-income families and small businesses. He wants to leverage that experience by creating New York City's first public bank. 

“This is something I’ve worked on in my career through my work in starting a credit union uptown, and it’s something that I want to supercharge for New York City by creating a public bank that would invest in the kinds of community-based lenders that can make credit readily available to entrepreneurs who need it, who will put it to good use to grow their businesses, to grow our economy,” said Levine.

“This is going to be a major priority for me in this campaign, and certainly will be if I’m lucky enough to be the next borough president.”

Meanwhile, Kimberly Watkins, who is married to a small business owner and is a business owner herself, highlighted the many years she has spent in executive positions, having had experience hiring and managing dozens of people at a time, up to hundreds of people at time.

“We need to think of a long game of a decade or two out of what small businesses are going to be like,” said Watkins.

And Elizabeth Caputo, who works at the World Economic Forum and was previously the Chair of Community Board 7, said that she would work to ensure that small business has a voice in local government.

“I think that business owners feel that they, in terms of my conversations with them, don’t have a voice in our local government. And one of the things we need to do is leverage the convening power of the borough president to bring small business owners together with government,” began Caputo.

“I did that when I was chair of Community Board 7 where I established a business to business networking session every quarter on the Upper West Side. It led to great relations with different communities and it expanded our outreach throughout the borough and throughout all the different neighborhoods on the Upper West Side. I believe strongly that this is something that could be expanded throughout the borough.”

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