Mark Gjonaj, Who Takes Money From Sanitation Salvage, Goes on TV to Blame the Company’s Victims for Their Own Deaths
City Council Member Mark Gjonaj went on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” last night to defend his relationship with the owners of Sanitation Salvage, a private sanitation company that would benefit from his effort to sabotage industry reforms.
For good measure, Gjonaj told host Errol Louis the two people killed by company drivers since last November were responsible for their own deaths.
Gjonaj, of the Bronx, is a former Assembly member elected in 2017 to replace termed-out Jimmy Vacca on the council. According to campaign finance records, Gjonaj has collected at least $13,700 from carting companies since his first Assembly run in 2012. The majority of those funds — $9,450 — came from the Squitieris, the politically influential family that owns Sanitation Salvage.
In addition, up until last month Gjonaj’s brother Paul Gjonaj owned a restaurant with the Squitieris, according to a recent Crain’s report. When he was an Assembly member, Gjonaj spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds at the business, the Observer reported last year.
Employees of private waste hauling companies, which collect commercial waste, take the lives of more pedestrians and cyclists per mile driven than any other type of motorist in New York City, and have killed 33 people since 2010. Meanwhile, city sanitation workers, who handle residential and municipal trash, were last involved in a fatal crash in 2014.
Last April, Sanitation Salvage driver Sean Spence fatally struck Leon Clark on Jackson Avenue in the Bronx. Though witnesses told the Daily News Spence was “going too fast,” NYPD blamed Clark, who was in his 70s and walked with a cane, for the collision.
After the April crash, ProPublica revealed that five months earlier Spence had run over and killed off-the-books Sanitation Salvage worker Mouctar Diallo on Jerome Avenue. At the time, Spence and another crew member told police that Diallo, 21, was a stranger who had tried to grab hold of the truck and fallen under the wheels.
Even after the cover-up was exposed, NYPD and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark took no action to hold Spence or Sanitation Salvage accountable.
Gjonaj is fine with all of this. On NY1, he downplayed waste haulers’ atrocious safety record, telling Louis, “We’re making it a much bigger issue than it really is.”
Regarding the Sanitation Salvage-caused deaths, Gjonaj said NYPD “declared them both pedestrian errors” while also describing the investigations as “ongoing.” NYPD has given no indication publicly that the cases are still active.
Unlike their counterparts at DSNY, most private sanitation employees don’t have union representation. Companies are notorious for putting the public and their employees at risk by flouting safety rules and directing drivers to disregard traffic laws as they criss-cross the city during long overnight shifts.
The de Blasio administration has pledged to implement a zone-based system — with companies assigned to separate geographic areas — that would shorten collection routes and reduce the number of miles haulers drive. Carting companies oppose those reforms, and Gjonaj, along with fellow council reps Robert Cornegy Jr. and Barry Grodenchik, are carrying their water by pushing legislation that would preserve the current system.
Gjonaj plugged the bill on NY1, characterizing proposed regulations as an assault on the free market.
City Hall is already cracking under pressure from carting companies, announcing in May that multiple companies, rather than one apiece, might serve each zone. If Mayor de Blasio wants to reduce the carnage caused by Sanitation Salvage and other haulers, he can’t give in to industry shills like Mark Gjonaj.