Senator Andrew Lanza, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblyman Michael Reilly, and two City Council members have asked Governor Cuomo to “Unleash Staten Island” and allow the “forgotten borough” to reopen.
However, Governor Cuomo refused the other day to do so, saying that Staten Island is inextricably tied to New York City. This is actually not the case at all. Staten Island is only essential in this instance, whereas usually the needs of Staten Islanders are not considered. A stark example is the Fresh Kills Landfill, which was the largest active landfill on the East Coast, until its closure in 2001, which only happened due to an incredible fight by our own local officials.
This push to reopen Staten Island, however, should not end with the governor’s refusal. Two attorneys, Louis Gelormino and Mark Fonte, have offered to defend anyone who opens their business in defiance of the laws, and will help them fight any fines they receive.
Mark Fonte said, “I stand with small businesses and restaurant owners on Staten Island. All businesses are essential. You should not have to ask the governor for permission to work and feed your family. Any business that opens that needs my help, I will be there at no cost.”
Lou Gelormino made a statement as well. He said, “We are offering our services pro bono to any person or business that decides to reopen. My legal opinion is that the mayor and governor of New York have overstepped their constitutional bounds. They have all the data; the scientific and medical data is out there now, the public is informed, the curve is flattened. People of New York should be making their own decisions if they want to leave their house and frequent any particular business.”
However, businesses must not open in secret. As Steve Margarella said at the Save Staten Island Small Business rally last week in Annadale, if everyone bands together, and they all open at the same time, with big publicity about their opening, then the state cannot as easily silence them.
Sunbelievable Tanning Salon on Staten Island reopened yesterday morning with social distancing and mask requirements. However, immediately after opening, the city threatened to take away his license to do business, so he closed up again. He was also issued a $1,000 fine when he opened yesterday, and before he was shut down.
Politicians and others came to support Bobby Catone in opening this small business. Bobby has stated that he did not try to open his small business for himself, or for money. He tried to open because, as he said, “What makes a business essential or not essential? Why is a big box store or a restaurant allowed to be open?”
This is a pointed question: if the big businesses can make their stores safe for patrons, small businesses can make theirs safe as well. Bobby invested in several thousand dollars worth of new equipment in order to make his establishment as hygienic as possible, and was following all of the regulations and rules issued by state and federal health authorities in terms of keeping people safe.
Unfortunately, only one patron, Joe Borelli, City Council member, was able to receive services. At the time that he attempted to pay for his services, the police, who were very respectful, first told Bobby that he would be arrested, and then spoke with the mayor’s office. After that conversation, the Chief of Police told him they would have to take his health department license away if he continued to try to operate. So, he shut down voluntarily, and is presently considering his legal options.
The actions of the city are unfortunate, and extremely heavy-handed.
It is very similar to what New Jersey did to Atilis Gym in Belmawr, where the Health Department literally broke into his gym after three days of being open and changed the locks on his door. That business owner is presently taking the state to federal court.
Most Staten Island businesses are small businesses. And many have asked why were Target, Home Depot, and other large businesses with millions in revenue, allowed to remain open, with patrons entering and leaving the store at will. Why could small businesses not do the same and reopen safely weeks, if not months, ago?
At the Save Small Business rally last week in Jefferson Plaza, this very question was asked. No one could answer, and the politician in charge of this, the governor, largely ignored it.
Now to the question of how “inextricably tied” to New York City Staten Island is. Staten Island has a population density much, much lower than that of the other boroughs. The population density here is less than half of the density of Queens, and less than a quarter of the density of the Bronx ( )
Staten Island has also met all of the governor’s 12 markers to reopen, possibly because of the lower population density.
According to random antibody tests conducted in late April, to a random sample of the population over the course of two days, 24.5% of New York City residents tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies. According to Governor Cuomo, this made the state’s death rate 0.5%. That is somewhat worse than the annual flu, but nowhere near the 5 and 6% death rate we have been hearing about based on raw testing numbers, rather than extrapolated data.
While the antibody testing mentioned above is a preliminary study it shows the direction in which this disease is going. It is a lot less deadly than was previously thought, and does not warrant continuing to suffocate small businesses and individuals who want to go back to work.
Perhaps the governor should step up, stop treating the forgotten borough with a one size fits all approach with New York City, and truly follow the data. The data started to show that the shutdown could have been over in New York state and city back in April since the infection rate was so high. Why was there no further testing, why did it stop?
Steve Margarella and others have said that Staten Island small businesses need to reopen now, and should be allowed to operate as every other big box store in the state, with patrons allowed into the store in groups, where everyone wears a mask, and life carries on as usual.