Protesters Warm Up Before Rent Guidelines Meeting at Cooper Union
As we said earlier, there's a Rent Guidelines Board meeting tonight where they're expected to approve our new rent hikes. The only humanizing touch in the whole Soviet-style deal is the protests that took place earlier this evening outside Cooper Union, where the vote is to be held. The 60 or so protesters were divided roughly into three factions: loosely affiliated tenant advocates; followers of Stop Shopping advocate and mayoral candidate Reverend Billy; and Jimmy McMillan, erstwhile candidate of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party for governor (he ran against Spitzer that year -- how do you feel about your vote now?) and currently that Party's mayoral candidate.
"I'm running for mayor on the Democratic line," he affirmed. In fact, "I got a song the radio played last night." He didn't get the name of the station, but the song is called "Come to the Floor" and you can hear it at his website.
"But most importantly," McMillan said, "people won't have noplace to stay if they raise the rent. You have a massive unemployment problem. So forget me runnin' for mayor. I need signatures for petitioning right now, but this is more important. People need to be home with their children but instead they're working two or three jobs because the rent is too damn high."
We asked what good this protest would do, as the outcome of the hearing was presumed to be a done deal. McMillan seemed at first to take this as a knock against the Billy brigade -- which was strolling the area, talking to newsmen and waving signs while the Reverend worked the megaphone -- and he noted a little sourly: "They never showed up for the first hearing or the second hearing I wonder why they're here now."
But he quickly refocused on the matter at hand. "You're right, it is a done deal. I begged them the last time we came here, freeze the rent, because people can't afford to live here any more. People can't afford breakfast, lunch and dinner, senior citizens take their medication, or they're dying off the medication because they're not eating breakfast, lunch or dinner."
But if the begging doesn't work? "Protests," he says. "I will call a massive protest. I will use $50,000 of my own money, run an ad in every paper" Where'd he get the money? "I'm a Vietnam veteran, disabled veteran. People take care of me."
He warmed to his topic. "I will call a massive protest and shut this city down," he promised. "I will shut this city down! Let them play games with me! I dare them to raise the rent!"
There was "more to this story than is being told," though both he and we had too much to do to discuss it just then. "There's a lot of fraud between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I uncovered it in 1993. Maybe you read my article where they took me to the Belt Parkway and they tied me to a tree..." You can see it, and much more, at his website.
Meanwhile the Reverend prowled the plaza with a giant megaphone and fired his troops. "An epidemic of evictions and foreclosures!" he cried. "We have whole neighborhoods where you have to have $250,000 a year to live! I am not a 28-year-old stockbroker! I need a decent rent.... We're not going to pay that rent anyway! We're gonna put it in escrow!"
Then it grew late and demonstrators began to file into the hall. The plan is for them to put tape over their mouths, symbolizing the government's unwillingness to hear their concerns, and some other protest kung-fu which we, in solidarity, will not reveal. You'll hear the story later.