Commerce and Community

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The Search for Chanel’s Killer

Many thanks to “America’s Most Wanted” for featuring the murder of Chanel Petro-Nixon as the lead story of the show’s August 12 broadcast. The national exposure should help the police determine who strangled the 16-year honor student.
Many people have mentioned to me what a shame and a scandal it is that the violent deaths of black New Yorkers, particularly women, rarely get the round-the-clock media treatment that selected white victims receive. It’s a point well taken – but there is a remedy at hand. When it comes to news coverage of this kind, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Those who want to make a fuss should call every news organization in the city when a loved one is missing, ask to speak with the assignment editor, and talk at them until you get a response. It may not always work, but at least you will have tried.
A reward of $33,000 will be paid to anyone supplying information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Chanel Petro-Nixon, who left her home at Fulton Street on Father’s Day, June 18, shortly after 6 pm and was found strangled on Kingston Avenue several days later. Call 800-577-TIPS; you don’t have to give your name.
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Develop Don’t Delay Brooklyn
A busload of politicians has lined up to ask the Empire State Development Corporation to extend, by at least 30 days, the time it takes to consider and take public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted for the $4.2 billion Atlantic Yards project. The requested delay, which would involve postponing the planned August 23 public hearing, is probably not going to happen, nor should it.
For starters, a postponement might deny the Pataki administration – not just the Governor, but his top economic development aides – the satisfaction of seeing the project clear a key hurdle, approval by the Public Authorities Control Board later this year. Timing is crucial: after the November election, the Pataki administration will instantly be reduced to lame-duck status, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to control the early, post-approval stages of the project.
And beyond the question of control, politicians are not in the habit of allowing others to take credit for their pet projects, particularly as vast and ambitious an endeavor as Atlantic Yards. It’s safe to say the staff at the Empire State Development Corp. would rather drink muddy water than let a new administration get all the glory, political credit, and photos in the history books. Legacy is a real motivation.
An even more important factor is the announced intention of opponents of Atlantic Yards to file a lawsuit to halt the project. Stopping the development clock would only allow the opponents more time to prepare their legal papers. It would also give them a measure of the thing they most want: to draw out the process long enough to whip up more anti-development fervor and bleed the project of money by tying up the developer in court.
The state officials surely know this, so I doubt there will be any further delays. Those who want to see the project advance should try, by any means possible, to attend the hearing on August 23, or to send comments to the Empire State Development Corp.
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Boycott Rent-a-Center
For a town obsessed with money – making it, trading it, lending it, spending it – we don’t spend nearly enough time talking about how to keep ripoff artists from stealing it.
Our lack of attention to consumer scams makes Gotham’s 8 million residents a huckster’s dream, particularly the nearly 2 million struggling along below the poverty line.
A good case in point is Rent-A-Center, a Plano, Tex.-based chain of stores that offers some of the worst deals imaginable to the people who can least afford to be ripped off. As Sen. Chuck Schumer pointed out at a recent press conference, the rent-to-own industry “uses deceitful lease agreements to grossly overcharge the city’s most vulnerable residents for common household goods.”
Rent-A-Center, for instance, offers customers a chance to “rent” a snazzy 27-inch Toshiba television for $16 a week. Sounds like a great deal – but after 78 weeks (a year and a half) of such payments, the customer gets to keep the television after paying an incredible $1,247 for a set that Toshiba actually sells for $350 online and in regular retail stores. That’s a markup of 256% – and customers who fall behind at any point have the set repossessed.
In another ripoff flagged by Schumer, Rent-A-Center is renting out Whirlpool air conditioners for 30 payments of $26 a week – a deal that leaves customers paying $779 for an appliance that really costs $279, a markup of 179%.
A serious, grass-roots consumer movement would stage protests outside of places like Rent-A-Center, then target the corporations running the ripoff. In 2005, for instance, nearly every one of Rent-A-Center’s 43 New York City outlets were located in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods where most of the residents are black or Latino, according to the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Preachers in these low-income neighborhoods should regularly warn their flocks of these places, and maybe even organize the occasional boycott to underscore the point. The same attention needs to be directed at other places where working people regularly get ripped off – including the payday loan companies, the companies offering tax refund anticipation loans and predatory mortgage lenders. They account for a big chunk of what a recent study by the Brookings Institution calls a “ghetto tax.”
We’re long overdue for a ghetto taxpayer’s revolt. In other words, what we need is a movement.