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Andrew Yang

Yang Unveils Placard Abuse Crackdown Plan as Adams Calls the Corruption a ‘New Paltz’ Issue

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang unveils a plan to crackdown on placard abuse. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Two rival mayoral candidates sparred over placard abuse on Thursday, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams attacking Andrew Yang for elevating what Adams — himself a prime perpetrator of this form of corruption — claims is not an issue that real New Yorkers care about.

The beep, a former cop and State Senator who is a self-proclaimed "ardent supporter of 'broken windows' policing" and a well-known placard abuser and sidewalk parker himself, accused Yang of ignoring New Yorkers’ real plight — rising crime — in favor of illegal parking as Yang unveiled a plan to crack down on an issue that has long plagued New Yorkers (seriously).

“Violent crime is skyrocketing in New York. People are dying. Five-year-old and 12-year-old children are being shot in our streets — and Andrew Yang is focused on double-parking,” Adams's spokesperson, Madia Coleman, said in a statement issued after news broke that Yang would be presenting a placard plan on Thursday. "Maybe parking is the big crime problem in New Paltz, but not in New York. We need serious leadership at this critical moment who understands what communities of color and working class communities are going through.”

But Adams’s comments — which were both a dig at Yang for fleeing to his second home in New Paltz during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and reminiscent of when he told newer city residents to “go back” to the midwestern cities from which he believes they relocated — also ignore the very real dangers of illegal parking in bike lanes, bus lanes, crosswalks, on sidewalks, and in front of fire hydrants, activists say.

“Increased gun violence over the past year is indeed a deadly serious matter, but New York City’s leaders need to be able to deal with crimes of all types,” said Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC. "Placard abuse is rampant in this city, and it does endanger people — just ask the parent whose young child has had to ride a bike into traffic to avoid a car illegally parked in a bike lane. Placard abuse is also petty corruption, and city leaders have paid lip service to the problem while failing repeatedly to root it out. The buck needs to stop with the next mayor."

Yang also clapped back at Adams, saying during his presser at Cadman Plaza — just feet from where Adams has allowed his own staffers to park illegally on the public plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall — that not only is it quite possible for a mayoral candidate to tackle two issues at the same time, but it's crucial for the safety of all New Yorkers.

“I think about what’s happening to families in New York all the time, particularly victims of violent crimes, which unfortunately have risen in the city, and we have to do everything we can to get those crimes going down not up," Yang said. "New Yorkers sense that we have the capacity to do multiple things at once and one's ability to address parking placard abuse, which is a problem that's been growing for years, has nothing to do with one's ability to address the rising rates of crime in the city. I’m someone who has spent a lot of time biking my kids to school and a lot of New Yorkers will say this is very much an NYC issue and its’ a very solvable one we can address quite easily.”

Placard abuse has long been an urban plight in the five boroughs that's often referred to as low-level corruption — a nod to the entitled city workers, many of whom are cops, who steal what's left of the small fraction of the city's public streetscape that's not already dedicated to the storage of private vehicles. Mayor de Blasio has said himself that it makes streets less safe, and is a clear abuse of power.

“Placard abuse erodes faith in government and has no place in our city – it’s simply a question of fairness,” he said in 2019. “Misused and fraudulent placards increase congestion and pose a public safety risk. These initiatives give us the tools we need to start making a real dent in this pervasive issue, to help build a fairer city for all.”

And it's clearly an issue that New Yorkers care about. According to a survey conducted by Data for Progress and commissioned by Open Plans (the parent company of Streetsblog), a strong majority of respondents said they oppose cops parking on the sidewalk during non-emergencies.

The survey of 591 likely Democratic mayoral candidate voters revealed that 63 percent don't like the practice, while only 30 percent don't have a problem with it. (The poll has a standard margin of error of +/- 4 percent.)

People don't like cops parking on the sidewalk. Chart: Data for Progress
People don't like cops parking on the sidewalk. Chart: Data for Progress
People don't like cops parking on the sidewalk. Chart: Data for Progress

During his press conference, Yang endorsed Brooklyn Council Member Stephen Levin’s bill to create a citizen enforcement program for reporting placard abuse (Levin has been in his own failed battle with cops at Transit Bureau 30, who have turned a bike lane on Schermerhorn Street into a daily congested and unsafe mess). The de Blasio administration is opposed to the bill, claiming it will lead people to physically assault their neighbors for calling them out for illegal parking (though the same civilian reporting mechanism exists to fight idling).

Yang said the city must shift to the fully digitized system for reporting placard abuse that the mayor announced in 2019 in order to end the current practice of NYPD traffic agents looking the other way when a brother or sister colleague breaks the law with a city-issued placard (or even a department-issued vest or notepad) on their dashboard.

"The digital sticker system is going to be a huge upgrade because it's not transferable between vehicles, and you can also very easily monitor and track specific uses," Yang said. 

Yang didn't have a solid explanation for how or why a digital sticker would somehow encourage officers from one branch of the NYPD to write tickets against members of other branches, saying only that he's "confident" that it would work.

"That's the glorious part, is that when you scan the vehicle you don't actually know whether that's where they're supposed to be. I think if you have a digital system where you frankly don't have a placard that you're throwing on the other things that we're seeing now. ... I'm very confident," Yang said. "I think you're going to see behaviors change very quickly just because people know what's happening with their vehicle being scanned."

And to finally rein in placard abuse, Yang also said the city must reinvest the money it cut last year from placard abuse programs. Last summer, amid the city’s dire financial crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, de Blasio axed two dedicated units meant to crack down on public employees, especially recklessly driving cops, who park in front of fire hydrants, in crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus lanes.

But neither program ever actually made progress in combatting placard abuse, and the $1.2-million Placard Abuse Enforcement Team within the Department of Transportation was never actually created.

Yang also promised on Thursday to reduce the number of legitimate placards in circulation, which is currently about 125,000 — though there's no counting how many fake placards are used, which includes a range of bogarted passes such as fully fabricated permits, business cards, personal notes and even orange work vests, as Streetsblog has reported. Yang declined to give an actual number of by how many he plans to cut back, saying that he needs to review city personnel numbers.

"We are committed to a substantial reduction," he said. "First we're going to get rid of the counterfeits by upgrading the system, and then we're going to reduce the headline number. We don't have a precise number because frankly we have to get a better sense of the personnel and their needs and how the stickers are being used."

For Adams, it seems, Yang's promise to end placard abuse is personal — the beep has come under fire for allowing his staff to park their cars illegally with impunity, several of which have racked up tickets for speeding in a school zone or going through red lights. In September, 2019, Adams was basically cornered into holding a forum on the issue after he infamously likened placard abuse watchdogs to members of the KKK.

During that forum, Adams defended his offices's illegal parking habits by arguing it should be allowed because his predecessors allowed it, and because he worries about his female employees’ safety when they come to the office late at night for work — so he grants them just “three or four” of them an illegal parking spot feet from the front door of Borough Hall so they don't have to take public transit.

“When I came here, this is what the former borough president was doing. We’re not breaking the law; we inherited the same system that was in place when we came here,” Adams said at the time.

With Adams refusing to budge, the city pledged to discontinue the decades-old tradition of Borough Hall staffers parking on various sidewalks and seating areas around Borough Hall after Adams leaves office at the end of 2021.

Streetsblog spoke with the mayor of New Paltz — who answered his own phone after just a few rings — about the invocation of the upstate town roughly 90 miles north of New York City in the heated mayor's race downstate. Here's what Mayor Tim Rogers said about the controversy:

"We absolutely do have people who become emotionally charged when they feel like they can't park as close as to buildings as they would like. The advantage of living in a place like New York, you can live without owning a car. The public transportation is accessible, folks who live in NYC, many times they have a car more as a luxury item," said Rogers, who lived in NYC for about 20 years, and said he's not yet ready to make an endorsement, or if he will. "I think if you're a vehicle owner and operator, it's your responsibility not to make things more stressful and chaotic whether that's in New Paltz or NYC. When people are not following our parking rules, I regularly receive calls and emails to my office....and I also make the case that it's bad for the local economy when parking is not managed properly, or not enforced. We definitely do not (let people park on the sidewalk), no one is permitted on the sidewalk."

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