Quinn thanks Douglas Durst for his opinions on ‘living wage,’ takes a Bloombergian stance on gambling

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City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Last month, developer Douglas Durst expressed qualified support for New York City's proposed "living wage" bill, on which Council Speaker Christine Quinn has yet to formally take a position. This afternoon, during a question-and-answer session with reporters in advance of the City Council's first meeting of 2012, Quinn thanked Durst for expressing his opinion, while once again declining to elaborate on her own.

The living wage bill would require some recipients of city development subsidies, along with their retail tenants, to pay at least $10 an hour plus health care to employees, or $11.50 without. The legislation appears to have the support of a majority of the City Council. But the Council can't vote on it until Quinn allows them to.

In December, Durst, the developer of 1 World Trade Center and the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, parted ways with some leaders of the city's business establishment, when he told me, "We don’t have an issue with landlords paying, but when you make the tenants do something, you’re making the project not feasible."

When asked whether he would support the legislation if it had a retail-tenant exemption, he said, "I wouldn’t oppose it," later adding, "I suppose by not opposing it, we’re supporting it."

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This afternoon, Quinn, who has grown closer to the business community in recent years but seemed to indicate a willingness to support a modified version of the living wage bill during a very lengthy hearing in November, said, "I read Mr. Durst’s statement. I think that Mr. Durst is someone who’s done a lot for the City of New York, particularly for my district, as it relates to the Hudson River Park. The park would not be as robust and terrific as it is now. So I thank him for his work. And I thank him for offering opinions on legislative issues. And that’s really all I have to say on the bill today."

A second reporter followed up on the issue.

Reporter: On the living wage, any update as far as meetings on both sides...

Quinn: Nope.

Reporter: ...discussions, negotiations?

Quinn: Nope.

Reporter: Are you any closer to making a decision?

Quinn: No update.

Reporter: Any ... plans for making a decision in the near future?

Quinn: There is a plan to make a decision at a point, yes.

The speaker also fielded questions on the legalization of full-blown casino gambling in New York State, something which has won the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as major casino operators, but which some critics regard as a de facto tax on the poor that does little to actually foster economic development. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has carved out something of a middle position on the matter, arguing that while he personally opposes gambling, New York State might as well benefit from the gambling revenue New Yorkers are now spending in casinos elsewhere.

"You know, I’m not a huge fan of gambling myself," said the speaker. "I think it’s regressive. That said, if there is going to be gambling legalized, so to speak, in New York State, then I want the whole state included in that, and then we in New York City can decide whether or not we have gambling in New York City, and whether that’s something we have to do."

She later added, "I am very sympathetic to the position that the state legislature and the governor are in. We certainly understand that, having done many, many, many more rounds of budget cuts now than any of us would have wanted to do. So you can’t fault people for exploring every option they have in front of them."

During this afternoon's press conference, the speaker also joined councilmembers Gale Brewer, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander in support of a constitutional amendment that would reverse the controversial Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that corporations and labor unions could anonymously spend an unlimited amount of money on elections.

"This has already opened the floodgates to massive corporate spending in elections across the country," said Quinn. "By giving corporations the same free speech rights as individual citizens, the voices of everyday citizens who might not have the same financial resources as these corporations are being drowned out."

She also said the council would roll back a proposed $730,000 in budget cuts to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, something she argued would hinder the police and district attorneys' ability to prosecute cases that rely on DNA evidence, in particular rape cases. This afternoon, the Council also planned to vote on the Transparency in Paving Streets act, sponsored by Councilman James Oddo, which will require the city to post information online about street paving; a bill that would ban the sale and installation of volatile organic compound-chemical emitting carpets; a resolution in support of efforts in Congress to close the so-called gun show loophole; and a resolution in opposition to the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.