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Posts from the "Chuck Schumer" Category

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In Anti-Bike Lane Case, Gibson Dunn Strays From Pro Bono Standards

In an effort to undo a bike lane reportedly opposed by Senator Chuck Schumer, Jim Walden, a partner at Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, is providing free legal services to wealthy Prospect Park West residents who live in some of the most exclusive real estate in Brooklyn. Photo: Gibson Dunn.

Jim Walden is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the kind of white shoe firm where lawyers represent major corporations at rates of nearly a thousand dollars per hour. His name has been popping up on Streetsblog recently because he represents a politically-connected group attempting to undo the redesign of Prospect Park West. According to press accounts, Walden is doing this work at no charge to the client. Walden would not comment to Streetsblog for this story.

Under the ethical standards of the legal profession, lawyers are expected to donate a certain amount of their time pro bono publico, for the good of the public, and some of Walden’s pro bono representations are quite impressive. In 2007, he received Gibson Dunn’s top award for exemplary pro bono work for representing 11,000 New Yorkers whose food stamps had been wrongfully terminated. Last June, Walden won a pro bono case in front of the United States Supreme Court preventing a legal resident from being deported for a minor drug offense.

Walden’s newest pro bono case, however, doesn’t rise to the standard he’s set in the past. In representing a group of Brooklyn residents fighting against the traffic-calming Prospect Park West street redesign, Walden is devoting his pro bono time to the affluent and politically connected, not those in need.

The New York City Bar Association’s statement of pro bono principles, which Gibson Dunn has signed on to, defines pro bono work as legal services provided without fee to:

  • “persons of limited means,
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations committed to serving the needs of persons of limited means and/or in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means,
  • individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights,
  • individuals, groups or organizations who have been harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency or who are providing assistance to persons harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency, and
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources.”

Esther Lardent, the president of the Pro Bono Institute, wouldn’t comment on the particulars of a specific case, but did share some general principles about pro bono work. “If this is something that could be handled on a contingency basis in the marketplace,” explained Lardent, “that would be unlikely to be something that could happen on a pro bono basis.” If the clients can afford to pay, in other words, it’s not likely to merit pro bono services.

The Pro Bono Institute is a non-profit organization that helps support pro bono work; Gibson Dunn has signed on to the institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. “In recognition of the special needs of the poor for legal services, we believe that our firm’s pro bono activities should be particularly focused on providing access to the justice system for persons otherwise unable to afford it,” reads one section of that challenge.

The pro bono coordinator of another major law firm, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect the firm, told Streetsblog that while different firms have different approaches to pro bono work, “We try to focus all of our pro bono on helping the poor, or helping institutions that help the poor, or advancing rights.”

It’s hard to call the leaders of the anti-bike lane group either poor or powerless. The group’s leading spokespeople are Norman Steisel, a former deputy mayor, and Louise Hainline, a dean at Brooklyn College. They have published letters in print and online media alongside Iris Weinshall, a former DOT commissioner and the wife of Senator Chuck Schumer.

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Schumer-Linked Group Wrongly Assumes That Council Backs Bike Lane Delay

The group of politically-connected Prospect Park West bike lane opponents linked to Senator Chuck Schumer wants the city to take a break from making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

U.S. Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer. Photo: Noah Kazis

They call themselves “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” but in a press release sent out yesterday, opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign make it pretty clear that, in a world where things are called what they actually are, NBBL would stand for “Never Build Bike Lanes.” The group, which is closely affiliated with Schumer’s spouse, former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, wants to see a citywide moratorium on bike lane construction while the city puts into effect new bills that open up data on traffic crashes to the public. In behind the scenes conversations with members of the City Council, Schumer himself has lobbied against bike lanes, the Post reported last month.

NBBL’s press release mistakenly assumes that Council Speaker Christine Quinn and transportation committee chair James Vacca also back the idea of a bike lane moratorium. But Andrea Bernstein at Transportation Nation reports that Quinn and Vacca don’t support such a policy.

In addition to putting words in the mouths of City Council members, the NBBL press release perpetuates the myth that data on the Prospect Park West redesign has been lacking.

In fact, data on the Prospect Park West bike lane has been exhaustively collected and promptly made available to the public. The numbers show that injuries caused by traffic are down since the redesign was implemented last summer. The NYPD has reported no injuries caused by bike-ped collisions. DOT has presented information on travel times, traffic volumes, speeding, bike volumes, and sidewalk cycling in multiple installments, and the raw numbers are all available online for anyone to see [PDF].

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Schumer Calls for Increased Transit Spending, Slams Christie

Photo: Noah Kazis.

Senator Chuck Schumer. Photo: Noah Kazis

In a speech at a Crain’s breakfast this morning, Senator Chuck Schumer called for reinvesting in infrastructure, including repairs to New York’s existing transportation system and new transit projects. Schumer also blasted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for killing the ARC tunnel and for his proposal to use Port Authority funds to pay for maintaining New Jersey roads.

Schumer’s prepared remarks, sent to reporters in a press release, focused exclusively on the capital side of the transportation system. Instead of discussing fare hikes or service cuts, both of which were completely absent from his remarks, Schumer spoke about the megaprojects that will reshape the region’s transit network, including the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 train extension, East Side Access and Moynihan Station, as well as new projects that have yet to reach the construction phase, like high-speed rail and a single-seat train trip to LaGuardia airport.

Encouragingly, Schumer’s call for reinvesting in infrastructure was limited almost exclusively to transit. While he noted that billions of dollars more are needed to keep the state’s transportation system from crumbling, Schumer did not mention any new highway projects and repeatedly made the conceptual case for transit. “On any given weekday, there are two million people commuting into Manhattan alone,” he said. “And it is this very density, which only mass transit allows, that has always allowed our region to attract the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor, all seeking one or more of these opportunities.”

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Report: Letting Transit Tax Benefit Expire Will Throw Riders From the Train

In his recent re-election campaign, Chuck Schumer ran ads touting his support of transit tax benefits. Those benefits are now expiring, however.

In his recent re-election campaign, Chuck Schumer touted his support of transit tax benefits. Those benefits are about to expire, however.

For many transit riders, there’s another fare hike coming down the track, one that many may not even be aware of.

A provision of the stimulus bill that offered a larger tax break for some transit riders is set to expire at the end of the year. A new report by TransitCenter [PDF], a non-profit that works to provide tax-free transit benefits, outlines just how many riders will be affected by the end of those benefits, and how hard it will hit ridership numbers. By letting the transit benefit revert back to its pre-stimulus levels, Congress would push Americans away from riding transit and pinch the pocketbooks of those who keep riding.

The tax break was slipped into the stimulus bill by New York Senator Chuck Schumer in early 2009. Previously, riders could buy up to $120 in transit fares per month without paying taxes on that income, while those driving to work could deduct up to $230 in parking costs (one example of how the incentive to drive is embedded in the tax code). Schumer’s proviso equalized the caps, but only temporarily. It expires at the end of this year.

TransitCenter found that the higher transit benefit helped increase the number of people who took advantage of it. In 2010, 17 percent more firms offered the pre-tax transit benefit than in 2009, and 29 percent of employers reported higher enrollment in commuter benefits programs while the higher cap was in effect.

Without the higher cap, transit riders paying the national average tax rate of 31.6 percent could see their commuting costs rise up to 18 percent higher. For riders facing such a large effective fare hike, the train won’t look so appealing anymore. The report looked at studies of previous fare hikes and found that an 18 percent increase in price will translate into a five to nine percent drop in ridership among that group.

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Schumer, Labor Leaders Rally to Keep Buses and Trains Running

Schumer at Rally_1.JPG L-r: Senator Chuck Schumer, ATU Vice President Larry Hanley, TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen, and City Council transportation chair James Vacca. Photo: Ben Fried

Senator Chuck Schumer joined a coalition of labor unions and transportation advocates at Penn Station today to call for emergency federal funding for the nation's transit systems.

The rally made the case for the Public Transportation Preservation Act, which would authorize $2 billion in operating funds for struggling transit systems. Transit riders from New York to Sacramento, Chicago to Atlanta are currently facing service cuts or fare hikes that an injection of federal aid could avert.

If the bill is enacted, New York City's transit system, by far the largest in the country, would receive approximately $345 million. Mass transit "is the lifeblood of our city," said Schumer. "This beautiful, crowded, pulsing city could not be this way unless we had mass transit."

Schumer singled out the potential loss of discount student MetroCards as an unacceptable outcome, recalling his trips to junior high on the B2 bus.

New York's transit cuts go into effect in two weeks, however, and federal aid is unlikely to come that quickly, if it comes at all. The bill is currently sponsored by eight senators, all Democrats. In the House, a version is sponsored by Staten Island Democrat Michael McMahon. Supporters have yet to secure a clear path to passage.

"Every major piece of legislation gets stuck in the Senate," said Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She told Streetsblog that the most likely scenario for passing the transit aid bill is to attach it to other legislation, probably a jobs bill or a small business tax-credit.

In the meantime, noted Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, the MTA still has a budget hole of about $350 million -- even taking the imminent service cuts into account -- and no plan to close it. "It makes me think a lot of that plan is going to be a big fare hike," he said.

When asked about opposition in Congress to addressing the transit crisis with $2 billion in deficit spending, Schumer tied the health of the nation's transit systems to the health of the national economy. "We will never get out of the deficit if the economy shrinks," he said.

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Moynihan Station Is the First Big TIGER Stimulus Winner

New York City's Moynihan Station project has snagged $83 million in grant money from the stimulus law's Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced today.

moynihan_articlebox.jpgA rendering of the proposed Moynihan Station. (Photo: The Real Deal)

The grant makes the intended successor to the current Penn Station, a longstanding priority for New York's congressional delegation, the first winner in a highly competitive chase for $1.5 billion in federal transport funding aimed at moving the U.S. DOT towards a more merit-based decision-making process.

The TIGER funding will allow the project to begin its Phase I of construction, which includes building vertical access points from the street to the new transit hub. Work should begin by the end of the year, according to Friends of Moynihan Station, a private-sector advocacy group founded by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's (D-NY) daughter.

"Moynihan Station is the poster child for the best way to use federal funding -- it creates jobs, upgrades aging transportation infrastructure, and leaves behind an economic engine for the entire region," Schumer said in a statement.

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer also hailed the federal grant through his spokeswoman: "For too long, Moynihan Station has been stopped dead in its tracks. Now that our congressional delegation has been able to secure a down payment, we can begin moving forward on this project, which will create jobs, ease congestion, boost tourism, and right the wrongs of half a century ago" -- a reference to the destruction of the original, above-ground Penn Station, which urbanist pioneer Jane Jacobs fought to preserve.

The rest of the Obama administration's TIGER grants are expected to reach public view starting tomorrow, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood slated to visit Tuscon (hoping for streetcar aid) and Kansas City (home to the ambitious Green Impact Zone).

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‘Cash for Clunkers’ Out of Cash — But Not Quite Finished

The U.S. DOT may have notified car dealers last night that its watered-down "cash for clunkers" plan was already out of cash, but that doesn't mean the rebates are on their last legs. With the White House vowing to protect the program, Congress soon could have to decide whether to keep the good times rolling for auto companies.

ap_gma_cash_clunkers_090731_mn.jpg(Photo: AP)
Lawmakers approved an initial $1 billion in June to offer taxpayer-subsidized credits of $3,500 and $4,500 to new car and truck buyers, reportedly prompting dealers to begin assuming backlogs of "clunker" rebates that were abruptly cashed in when the program formally began this week.

That rush to capitalize on the "clunkers" deal has led Democrats as well as many in the media to frame the program as, essentially, a victim of its own success.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), co-author of this Congress' landmark climate change bill, said in a statement that he hopes to spur a million car trade-ins: "Cash for Clunkers may have run out of cash, but America’s consumers haven’t run out of clunkers."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) echoed Markey's call to keep the program alive, calling it "maybe even too successful." He suggested giving the rebates "a tuneup so that we get the most stimulus, conservation, and efficiency for the buck."

Indeed, the question this morning may not be whether the program gets more money but if environmentally-minded lawmakers heed the warnings of conservation groups and insist on greater fuel-efficiency improvements in order to qualify car buyers for the deal.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who joined Schumer on a rival "clunkers" bill that would have set stricter fuel standards, announced last night that they would only support a stronger version of the program:

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Tell Your Senator to Support Transit and Green Jobs, Not Highways

Update: Hold those phone calls, folks. Schumer has co-sponsored the Murray/Feinstein amendment, making it highly unlikely that he will offer his own, superior amendment. There are more amendments in the wings -- supported by Senate Republicans and some surprising Democrats -- that would give highway builders even greater leeway to build dirty, traffic-generating boondoggles. We'll keep you posted on those developments throughout the day. For now, you can get the message out with this action alert from Transportation for America, telling your Senator that the stimulus package should reduce oil dependence, invest in transit, and spur a green recovery.

Earlier: Debate on the stimulus package is moving rapidly in the Senate today, with amendments debated as I type. There are two amendments on the table right now with big implications for transportation spending. Senator Chuck Schumer's amendment is the one to throw your support behind. It boosts transit funding to $14.9 billion overall and leaves highway funding untouched.

Another amendment sponsored by Senators Patty Murray and Diane Feinstein would ramp up highway portion of the stimulus from $27 billion to $40 billion, while bringing transit funding up to only $13 billion. Crucially, this amendment would also strike a provision in the current legislation that would allow smaller cities to spend stimulus funds on transit operations.

We're getting word from Transportation for America that Schumer may pull his amendment to clear the way for the Murray/Feinstein amendment. Schumer's amendment is superior and would yield more investment in clean transportation and help to keep more buses running. To support green infrastructure and green jobs, call your Senator now and urge them to support Schumer's amendment, not the Murray/Feinstein amendment. If you're a New Yorker, it's especially important to call Schumer's office -- (202) 224 6542 -- and encourage the Senator to bring his amendment to the floor.

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Chuck Schumer on Transit: I’ve Got Your Back, Fairfield County

schumer_nature.jpgSchumer in Chautauqua. When was the last time you saw Chuck with a majestic cityscape behind him?
New York's senior senator threw suburban train riders a bone yesterday, announcing that he's secured a tax break for transit commuters in the Senate version of the stimulus bill. The Daily News reports:

The provision would raise the monthly cap on mass transit commuting costs not taxed by the federal government to $230 from $120.

A commuter in the 30% tax bracket with mass transit costs of $230 a month could see annual savings double to about $1,000 from about $500, according to Larry Filler, president of the nonprofit TransitCenter.

This is great if you ride to work on the LIRR or Metro-North. But what if your transit commute already costs less than $120 per month? New Yorkers who ride the subway or the local bus to work -- millions of Schumer's constituents -- get nothing out of this deal. Express bus riders, who pay $41 for an all-inclusive weekly pass, get next to nothing.

As for maintaining service and transit jobs in the face of sweeping cuts to New York City's system, Schumer's proposal is utterly useless.

Schumer has the opportunity here to speak out for straphangers in New York and around the country by calling for transit operating assistance to be included in the stimulus package. His erstwhile junior colleague, Hillary Clinton, introduced a bill in the Senate to fund transit operations back in the summer. Over in the House, Oregon's Peter DeFazio made an all-out effort to get operating assistance into the stimulus bill -- going so far as to criticize the president's top economic adviser on national television -- before ultimately falling short.

Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer brags about helping Westchester, Nassau, and Fairfield, while leaving commuters in the five boroughs to fend for themselves.

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Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton: Where Is the Leadership?

pumphead.jpegJoining Hillary Clinton in the push to reduce the federal gas tax is fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who has railed about gas prices at least since they "soared" to $1.59 per gallon.

As Politico reports, rather than talking about climate change and auto dependence, Schumer is pushing a Democratic plan to go after "Wall Street speculators, OPEC, price gougers and Big Oil":

[R]egardless of the legislative realities — not to mention the futility of promising short-term decreases in gas prices — Democrats have embraced a political opportunity. By proposing aggressive legislation that takes on the boogeymen of the oil tycoons and profiteering speculators, Democrats are trying to corner Republicans into choosing between a president who is chummy with the oil industry and a decidedly populist energy bill.

“We need to stop the speculation” that’s driving up oil prices, said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who has been involved in discussions with Democratic leaders who debated energy policy at a closed-door lunch Tuesday. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised “short-term relief and long-term relief” and insisted that “Big Oil should pay” for any suspension of gas taxes.

As Politico points out, the main elements of the plan, which include substituting gas tax revenues with new taxes on oil companies, investigating price gouging, and diverting oil from national reserves to increase supply, are mostly long shots and short-term fixes. Why can't Schumer and Clinton take a cue from the New York City Model of transit oriented development and show some true leadership?