Thursday, July 31, 2008
Parents and teachers let school officials know Tuesday the city needs to work harder to reduce class sizes and improve the graduation rates for English language learners.
The Department of Education held a public hearing at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights to get feedback from the community on how to spend a chunk of state money, named Contract for Excellence (C4E) funds, designated for students with the greatest educational needs. The state has allocated $386 million to the city as part of this year’s C4E aid package, to be distributed among schools for six main purposes: class size reduction, time on task (includes programs to lengthen school years, expand support services and expand arts programs), teacher and principal quality initiatives, middle school and high school restructuring, full-day pre-kindergarten and model programs for English language learners. Funds are released directly to schools to be used in the specific areas at the discretion of the principal, School Leadership Team and the greater school community.
Dave Quintana of Ozone Park (correction) a parent and member of the organization Class Size Matters, said Queens has the most crowded schools in the city and DOE needs to take action. He cited Richmond Hill and John Adams high schools in District 27 as examples, stating both schools have enrollments exceeding 3,000 when they were built to hold 1,800 students.“The amount allocated to reducing class sizes is minimal,” he told officials, including Kathleen Grimm, deputy chancellor for finance and administration with the DOE.
He added the city’s plan for the funds was unlikely to meet its goals and wanted the state to check to make sure schools spend the money only in the areas they legally can.
Heather Goldberg, a teacher at P.S. 82 in Jamaica, added she appreciated the DOE’s attempt to reduce class size but a lot more needed to be done.
Silvia Gonzales, of the New York Immigration Coalition, wanted to see improvements with students learning English. She said this population has the lowest graduation rates in the city, with just 26 percent of ELL students graduating after four years and 50 percent dropping out after seven years.
Deycy Avitia, also of the coalition, added she was concerned some schools will use the C4E funds to cover basic needs for ELL students when it should be used to enhance services.
Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) also attended the meeting and raised several general concerns with the C4E program. He said it is imperative that there is accountability and oversight regarding the initiatives to reduce class sizes and that didn’t appear to be in DOE’s C4E plan.
High School teacher Janet Kelly was concerned schools would use the C4E money to fund escalating costs in operating expenses, such as electricity and oil, rather than use the money in the specific areas for which they are intended. If the city doesn’t keep up with those escalating costs, schools will use these funds to make up the difference, she said.
Terence Tolbert, executive director of intergovernmental affairs with the DOE and moderator of the meeting, said the C4E funds can only be spent in the specific areas by law and cannot be used for every day operating expenses.
James O’Neall, of the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, said decent after-school programs and a focus on arts, culture and sports between the third and sixth periods would greatly increase classroom attendance, grades, test scores and high school completion rates. He asked that the C4E funds be used on these items.
Citizens can still provide the DOE feedback on the C4E funds by e-mailing ContractsForExcellence@schools.nyc.gov. An updated version of the plan can be seen on the DOE’s Web site, at http://.schools.nyc.gov.
Photo left: City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who is running for the state Senate, was endorsed by the Communication Workers of America, District 1. (photo by Stephen Geffon)
In front of a cheering crowd at a rally at the Verizon building in lower Manhattan, the Communication Workers of America, District 1 reiterated their endorsement of City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who is running for for the 15th state Senate District seat.
“This is the guy to vote for, he’s here for us,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton.As chairman of the City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee,Addabbo condemned outsourcing and joined the call for fair pay and health care benefits.
"We need to keep jobs in New York, and we need to keep working families in New York,” he said. “The rising cost of living has made life in New York near impossible, and I will fight for fair pay.
“I will fight for paid family leave, increased aid for education so our children can get the skills they need for the 21st century, and health care coverage for our working men and women. I stand with labor here today, and with your support, next year in Albany.”
Noting that the effects of the foreclosure crisis, combined with soaring gas prices and a receding economy have wreaked havoc on working families, Bob Master, political director of the CWA District 1echoed the call for new leadership in state government.
“Joe Addabbo will shake up Albany and deliver for working people,” he said. “Albany and Serph Maltese have failed New York City. It’s time for a change; it’s time for Joe Addabbo.”
There are 180,000 members of CWA District 1, which encompasses theentire Northeast. In New York Senate District 15 alone, which includes the Queens communities of Howard Beach, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Maspeth, Glendale, parts of Elmhurst and Sunnyside, there are more than 1,200 CWA members.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Watch video report...
The Department of Transportation agreed Monday to replace damaged street signs in Belle Harbor.
Many of the signs in the exclusive Queens beach community have been damaged by the sun, others have fallen off and some have been defaced.
Some people consider the area's summer parking requirements controversial, and say it discourages them from visiting the beach.
But officials say safety comes first.
"These signs are very important for not only the residents here but to the visitors of Belle Harbor here in Rockaway, and for the police department who has to enforce these signs. So this is a win-win for everyone at this point,” said Queens Councilman Joseph Addabbo.
“It can cause traffic accidents to occur, problems with the police precinct handing out tickets to cars who might be illegally parked and they just don't know about it, with signs missing from the poles," said Belle Harbor resident John Signorelli.
An estimated 55 new signs will be up by next summer.
Watch video report...
State officials want Aqueduct's video lottery terminals up and running sooner rather than later, possibly by next summer.
The governor's office said Friday there are three bidders interested in the state contract to install 4,500 terminals at the Queens racetrack.
The winning bidder will be decided by Governor David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and new State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Nearly a year to the day after The Courier ran an article on the “sticky mess from above” - the creosote dripping from the elevated J line in Richmond Hill and Woodhaven - the problem is still not fixed, despite efforts by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
“It’s a problem, and I know the MTA is trying to address it,” said Wendy Bowne, Second Vice President of the Richmond Hill Block Association (RHBA).
According to the web site for FELA, or the Federal Employers Liability Act, “Creosote is the name used for numerous substances that are produced using high temperature treatment of coal, certain woods, or resin from the creosote bush.
Widely used and unregulated for almost two centuries, creosote can be found in thousands of miles of railroad tracks and rail yards across the country. However, recent research has linked creosote to a number of health hazards, including convulsions, liver disease, cancer, and even death.”
In August of 2007, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer partially banned the manufacture, sale and use of creosote in New York State, but it did not pertain to the J line.
In the past year, Bowne said, the MTA has tried putting a plastic covering over the railroad ties — from which the creosote drips — but “it wasn’t working. It was still seeping through.”
Now, she said, they are trying cloth tarping, “but these are worse.”
And this past spring, with the urging of Senator Serphin Maltese, the MTA actually replaced the ties in an effort to curtail the problem, but Bowne said, “As soon as the weather gets warm it starts dripping.”
She said it was particularly bad during the spring heat wave. Areas worst affected, she said, were between 111th and 110th Streets and by the old Le Cordon Bleu caterers.
“I went on vacation [for one week],” she said, “and when I came back I saw the damage.”
Shaaker Bhuiyan, Maltese’s Deputy Chief of Staff, knows first hand what kind of damage creosote leaves behind.
The chemical dripped onto the hood of his mocha-colored Nissan Altima and “Ate the paint. Now there’s just black spots,” he said, noting that he has yet to get an estimate for repairs.
“Those ties are just not working,” Bhuiyan said. “Plastic ties can only absorb so much creosote. It’s like we’re just putting a Band-Aid on it.”
On Tuesday, July 15, a spokesperson for the MTA told The Courier as it went to press that they would send representatives to the area that day “and take corrective action.”
“We’re glad you brought this to our attention, and we’ll definitely take care of it,” he continued. By 4:30 p.m., no one had shown up.
Curating a local historical society can often be an under-appreciated endeavor. Sometimes, it’s only the biggest history buffs and local folklore hounds who make the effort to see meticulously curated collections that can take years of devoted, unpaid effort to gather and maintain.
Jeff Gottlieb knows what it’s like: as the president of two Central Queens historical societies — the Central Queens Historical Association and the Queens Jewish Historical Society — he has spent more than 20 years collecting historic photographs and writing press articles (more than 80 to date) about the area he loves and the issues that drive its citizens. Attention has been strong at times, and the work rewarding, but there is always room for a wider audience.
Now, thanks to the Internet, much of his work will be available to anyone at two new Web sites, designed by webmaster Dan Heisler: www.cqha.net and www.qjhs.org.
“I want to raise the consciousness of the people of central Queens to their cultural backgrounds and to the richness around them,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb has been a borough fixture for years. A Kew Gardens Hills native since 1956, he graduated from Forest Hills High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in education, both at Queens College.
From 1975 to 1982, Gottlieb worked as an administrative assistant to former Assemblyman Alan Hevesi. A retired teacher, he also taught high school social studies for 35 years, most of that time at at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside. He currently works as legislative director for Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
But after helping organize a series of walking tours, beginning in 1986, his interest in central Queens history deepened and became something of a life’s pursuit.
“By the late 80’s I had developed an interest in the photos and the history of central Queens,” he explained. Before long, Gottlieb was organizing several tours a year around Forest Hills, Forest Hills Gardens, Richmond Hill, Jamaica and other nearby neighborhoods. He had also begun collecting photos and giving historical slide show demonstrations around the community.
When it became obvious that there was a good deal of interest around the community in what he was providing, Gottlieb, along with Michael Sidell, Joseph DeVoy and Janet Kessler, formed the CQHA in 1988, an all-volunteer organization.
Over the years, the tours and slideshows grew in popularity, until it had built-up a mailing list of nearly 3,000 names. The group was incorporated in 1994, and began receiving state funding to help with the purchase and duplication of historic photos. The association was granted non-profit 501(c)3 status in 2004.
Meanwhile, Gottlieb had begun to notice that much of the interest in his group related to Jewish history in the area. In particular, Gottlieb recalled receiving a query about Leo Frank, the only known Jewish victim of a lynching in America. Frank is buried at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, bordering Glendale, and his 1915 lynching spurred the formation of the Anti-Defamation League.
In 2002, Gottlieb founded the QJHS, in honor of Frank — a volunteer group with a 40-member board of directors that he hopes to make a 501(c)3 someday.
Gottlieb estimated that, between the two groups, he and others had accrued between 300 and 400 historic photographs, roughly 75 of which are currently online.
One advantage of the Web site is that it will make those photos and other documents more accessible — most of which was housed at the Community Board 6 offices and required special permission to view.
Gottlieb also hopes the site will draw attention to his groups’ walking tours and to the history of the communities themselves.
“It gets a little depressing or discouraging when people don’t come out for the tours,” he said. “I’d like people to get more interested in their communities ... and take a bit more appreciation for what they have.”
Three Bidders Pass Background Check For Aqueduct Casino License By Larry Rutherford - Staff Editor, CasinoGamblingWeb.com
Aqueduct racetrack in New York is readying themselves for a new casino. It is still unknown who the developer will be to bring the casino to the track, but today they are one step closer.
Three developers have put in bids for the casino license for the new casino. All three have passed background checks, meaning that the process in choosing one of them will now move forward.
"We now started to discuss a process by which we pick a winner," said Governor David Patterson. The state inspector generals office cleared all three of the developers.
Capital Play and Mohegan Sun, Delaware North, and SL Green and Hard Rock Entertainment are the three developers that are competing for the license. Governor Patterson, along with two legislative leaders will have the final choice of which one gets the license.
The new casino has been a long time in the waiting. The Project was originally approved back in 2001. In the past seven years, however, the project has not been able to get off the ground. There have been a series of mishaps both financially and legal that have slowed the process.
Political Action - Addabbo, Baldeo Run for Senate Seat in Primary by William Lewis - Howard Beach Times
The race for the Democratic Party nomination in southeast Queens' 15th State Senate District is gearing up to be quite a primary contest. City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) is the candidate who has been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party Executive Committee. He is the son of late U.S. Rep. Joseph Addabbo Sr., who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years.
Addabbo is being challenged in a Democratic Party primary by insurgent candidate Albert Baldeo, who ran two years ago against the incumbent state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), who also had Conservative and Independence party endorsements. This year, Maltese will again have those two parties' support.
Baldeo did not face a Democratic primary in 2006 and lost the general election to Maltese by less than 1,000 votes. Baldeo has pointed out that he received 17,000 votes on the Democratic line in 2006 and Maltese 14,000 on the Republican line. The votes of the Conservative and Independence parties gave Maltese his narrow victory.
As a result of the critical role of third party endorsements, Baldeo sought and failed this year to obtain the Working Families Party endorsement, which has been given to Addabbo. He is now in the process of forming his own independent third party called the "Hope and Change Party."
If he loses the Democratic primary, he will still be able to run in the fall general election by using his own third party designation. This development could have a significant impact on the general election, with some votes that might have gone to Addabbo instead of Baldeo.
Baldeo's campaign seems to be shaping up as a major effort. He said he expects to have over five times the amount of petition signatures he needs to get on the ballot. Also, Baldeo has mentioned that he has raised over $400,000 for his state Senate campaign. He also has the advantage of having the experience of running for the 15th State Senate seat before.
In terms of issues, Baldeo intends to emphasize neighborhood safety, better education in public schools, more after-school programs and overdevelopment in his district. He also indicated that he heads a community-based organization opposing air and noise pollution that generally works toward improving the environment.
Addabbo speaks about his record on the City Council, especially as chairman of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, where he initiated a procedure for city agencies to submit written reports to the City Council regarding hiring and promotion practices. Addabbo has indicated that his information gives the City Council vital input in judging legislation.
Addabbo is especially proud of his role in providing additional transportation services for the people of his district by initiating ferry service from the Rockaways to Brooklyn and Manhattan. He is also interested in helping provide more jobs and improving his district's schools.
Addabbo wants his constituents to have an improvement in quality-of-ife issues, like combating crime and overdevelopment so they will continue to live in the district and not move away. He stressed that candidates for public office should not only tell what they want done, but how they are going to do it.
Baldeo has raised the issue of the 2002 property tax increase of 18 percent and the fact that Addabbo voted for it. In response, Addabbo mentioned that at the time the city government was faced with a $6 billion deficit and without the tax increase would have closed firehouses and possibly libraries. At the very least, it would have led to libraries being open for fewer hours. He also indicated, however, that last year property taxes were lowered and city services in some areas were increased.
So the Democratic Party primary struggle continues in the 15th State Senate District. This primary's winner will face Maltese, who has served in the state Senate for 20 years. This is an important race because with the Republicans having a two-seat majority in the state Senate over the Democrats, this race could determine which party controls the state Senate next year.
There's a pivotal election coming this fall, and it doesn't have anything to do with senators named Obama and McCain.
Instead of a national stage, this one plays out in a little corner of Queens, and the candidates squabble over water rates, property taxes, and remediating local school sites.
But the outcome of the state Senate race between Republican incumbent Frank Padavan and Democrat Jim Gennaro will have a huge impact on New York City's future That's because Republicans hold a slender two-vote lead in the state Senate, and Democrats, who have been gunning for years to take over the chamber, say this is their year, and are promising to end Albany's stranglehold on the city.
"Take out your wallet and look in it," said Gennaro, currently a city councilman from Fresh Meadows "After the Senate changes, you'll have more money in it."
The city pays out more than $11 billion in taxes than it gets back, Gennaro said. With the state Assembly and the governor's office controlled by Democrats, a Democratic majority in the Senate would mean that more New York senators would conference with the party in power, and would look to shower their districts with the type of funds that now go upstate.
"The local little league will no longer have to scrape by," said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic consultant. "The nature of politics is that the party in the majority has a better chance to secure things for their district. Democratic districts will benefit, and all but one or two districts in the Senate will be Democratic."
And it's not just the local little league that stands to benefit. Analysts say that funds could pour into the city, helping the MTA to increase service, schools to cut down class size, and nonprofits and senior centers to restore services cut recently in the budget.
Republicans, naturally, say that if the Democrats controlled all the branches of state government, chaos and bedlam would necessarily follow, and predict current voting patterns won't continue
"Taxes, taxes, taxes, that would be the first thing that would go up in this great state," said Marty Golden, a Republican state senator representing Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge. "The Democrats seem to be against any kind of economic development. They have handcuffed police officers in the state instead of criminals. The people of the city and state recognize the need for a two-party system."
Democrats are certain, though, that after years of inching closer to taking the majority, this is finally their time.
They hope Obama will bring many new voters to the polls, and look at many of the incumbent Republicans as representing another era in party politics.
"You've got a blue state in a blue election with a lot of excellent candidates running," said Alan Chartock, professor of political science at SUNY-New Paltz. "The Republicans who are in there now, people have been voting for them for a long time but many of them are ancient. The legislature may not have term limits, but God certainly does."
It's not just funding that could change if the Senate flipped. A tenant-friendly bill that would have preserved more affordable housing in the city died last year in the Senate.
Gay-rights activists may look to move on marriage equality legislation. The harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws could be repealed. The minimum wage could increase dramatically.
Democratic activists can barely contain themselves about the prospects of taking over, many pointing out that because of current trends in the state, once the Senate turns blue,, it will remain that way for a generation and be the final death knell for the Republican party in New York.
But some are more cautionary. Americans in general seem to prefer divided government, and one-party governments have a tendency to overreach and fall into squabbling.
"There won't be checks and balances, so there will be a lot of pressure on us to do what's right," said City Councilman Joe Addabbo, who is trying to unseat 10-term Republican incumbent Serphin Maltese in a district that includes Maspeth and Ozone Park. "And if we don't, the residents of New York will have their say again in two years."
Klein Lends A Staffer To The Cause (Updated) - Elizabeth Benjamin - The Daily Politics - NY Daily News
An aide to Deputy Senate Minority Leader Jeff Klein will be handling press for Democratic Councilman Joe Addabbo’s bid to unseat veteran Queens Republican Sen. Serphin Maltese in November.
Klein’s communications director, Alexis Grenell, 25, confirmed she will be spend the three months “volunteering” for Addabbo, using up vacation and accumulated comp. time.
(UPDATE: The above paragraph has been altered to reflect the fact that, as a reader reminds me, there is no overtime for legislative staffers - although there is a one-house bill in that would change that situation.
Comp. time is awarded at the discretion of the lawmakers, so staffers don't generally have to sacrifice anything to do political work.
(Before taking on Maltese, Addabbo has to face his primary opponent, Albert Baldeo, who came within less than 800 votes of unseating Maltese in 2006, but is not the favored candidate of the Democratic establishment).
Maltese is one of the Democrats’ top targets this fall. Klein’s lending of a staffer to Addabbo raised some eyebrows, as Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, whose job Klein is speculated to covet, has yet to make a similar move.
This also comes on the heels of Klein's big July 15 financial report, which showed he led his Democratic colleagues in fundraising, out-raised Smith and also contributed more to incumbents and candidates.
Klein raised $711,351 and has $1.05 million on hand. He contributed $1,000 to Addabbo's campaign, $1,000 to Don Barber, $2,500 to "Baby" Joe Mesi, and $2,500 to Sen. Andrea Stewart Cousins.
Smith raised $537,492 and has $782,048 on hand. His only Senate contribution was $5,500 to Sen. Marty Connor, who once held the minority leader's post and faces a tough primary challenge from Dan Squadron.
Klein, a Bronx Democrat, downplayed the decision to send a staffer to Addabbo, saying he’s “lucky to have a very talented staff that is just as committed as I am to taking the majority” and adding that he expects other members’ aides will soon make similar moves.
It's not unusual for public sector staffers to use their personal and vacation time to work on campaigns - in fact, it's an expected (if not always directly spelled out) aspect of the job. That stands to reason, since their jobs ultimately depend on keeping the bosses they serve - and their bosses' friends and allies - in office.
Just last week, Council Speaker Christine Quinn lent a spokesman from her press shop, Anthony Hogrebe, to Councilman Mike McMahon's congressional campaign.
According to Quinn's office, Hogrebe will be paid by McMahon's campaign.
$3 Million for More Lifeguards, Park Improvements
Gateway Hires Additional 15 Lifeguards to Increase Safety at Beaches - Weiner Calls on the City to Match Federal Efforts
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens), along with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Queens) and Councilman Joseph Addabbo (
New lifeguards and seasonal rangers will help increase safety at Jacob Riis Park beaches under a $3 million federal initiative, Representative Anthony D. Weiner (D – Brooklyn and Queens) said today. The new resources will enable the national park to fully staff beaches with lifeguards – not only this year, but for the next 10 years.
Over the past few years, the budget for Gateway National Park has not had sufficient funds to hire lifeguards to patrol all of the beaches. As a result, four or five beaches in Riis Park were forced to remain closed. With Riis Park receiving approximately 350,000 visitors each summer, the beaches open to the public have become cramped and crowded.
Rep. Weiner said the new resources, which provide $3 million each year for 10 years, would enable the National Park Service to hire an additional 15 lifeguards to keep all of their beaches open. To date, the Park Service has already hired 13 new lifeguards as well as 18 more staff. The new personnel will allow the National Park System to open 30 percent more beaches this year then they have in past years.
As these federal resources can only be used to hire new lifeguards at Riis Beach, which is operated and maintained by the National Park Service, beaches operated by the City may still remain closed due to lack of safety personnel. The number of lifeguards employed by the City remains about 10% below full staffing levels. Weiner called on the city to match his efforts and provide additional funding to keep beaches open for New Yorkers.
Rep. Weiner said, “In the most urban part of our country, beaches and access to the ocean provide entertainment and escape from the stress of the Big City. I hope the city will match these federal resources and give more hardworking New Yorkers the opportunity to relax at the beach.”
The new funding is part of the Federal government’s Centennial initiative, which provides a $50 million nationwide boost to National Parks to hire seasonal staff. The initiative provides both public and private resources to complete renovation projects before 2016, the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.
City Agrees to Replace Damaged, Missing Traffic Signs in Rockaways
Click on photo to enlarge...
Rep. Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens), along with Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), President of the Belle Harbor Owners Association Barbara Larkin, resident John Signorelli, and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Queens) announced that the DOT will replace Belle Harbor's 55 missing, damaged traffic signs.
Representative Anthony D. Weiner (D–Brooklyn and Queens), Co-Chair of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus of the Middle Class, today announced new efforts by the City to replace missing and damaged traffic signs across Belle Harbor. The effort will greatly improve traffic safety in the Rockaways, Weiner said.
Starting in 2006, Belle Harbor resident John Signorelli began documenting parking signs that were covered in graffiti, faded, damaged or missing from Rockaway Boulevard to Beach Channel Drive. Signorelli mapped the findings block by block and sheet by sheet. He then began urging local officials to fix or replace the identified worn signs.
In November 2007, the DOT and city officials received Mr. Signorelli’s letter, but offered no response. Mr. Signorelli then turned to Rep. Weiner, who immediately petitioned for the DOT to replace the traffic signs in the targeted areas. Rep. Weiner’s letter to the DOT is attached.
After months of pressure by Rep. Weiner and community leaders, the DOT finally inspected the identified signs. This month they agreed to replace 55 damaged parking signs by October 1, 2008.
Rep. Weiner said, “With children playing in the street, traffic safety is a serious issue that should not be understated. Today is a major victory for the community of Belle Harbor.”
Mr. Signorelli said, “The Belle Harbor Community and I want to thank Congressman Anthony Weiner for his
valuable assistance in keeping our community safe. This is a win-win for everyone.”
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Governor David Paterson and New York’s top legislative leaders have received integrity reports on the groups seeking Aqueduct’s gaming contract, indicating that a decision might be coming soon.
Background checks were conducted by the state Division of Lottery, which oversees video lottery terminal operations. Aqueduct is slated to get 4,500 machines that are expected to generate more than $450-million per year.
Lottery’s report, following review by the state Inspector General’s office, was sent to Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island), and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), within the past few days.
“At this point they can begin to have discussions about which one will be best for the state,” said Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman. “The three of them did discuss it briefly on Sunday.”
The trio met in person at the governor’s mansion in Albany. Talks focused on the state’s fiscal condition, the economy, and property taxes. Aqueduct is a closely related subject because New York is facing a nearly $5-billion budget deficit and loses $1-million each day that VLTs are not operational.
“If that [racino] had been up five years ago we’d be $2.5-billion better off in this state,” former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said recently.
Lottery’s report concluded that each bidder is qualified to run Aqueduct’s gaming facility. The selection requires approval from all three state leaders.
Entities seeking the contract are Delaware North Companies, which is partnered with Saratoga Harness Racing Inc.; Manhattan’s SL Green Realty Trust and Hard Rock Entertainment, which is owned by Florida’s Seminole Indians; and Capital Play Inc. and its partners: Mohegan Sun casino of Connecticut, Extell Development, and Plainfield Asset Management.
Delaware North owns Finger Lakes Racetrack, the state’s only Thoroughbred venue that currently has gaming, located southeast of Rochester in upstate New York. Delaware North also runs VLTs at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, a Saratoga Springs harness track directly across the street from Saratoga Race Course.
The company is counting on these ties to help it win the Aqueduct contract. However, Capital Play/Mohegan Sun touts its experience in the New York City marketplace, saying it already has a large, well-established customer data base to draw upon.
Likewise, SL Green is one of New York’s largest owners of commercial real estate and has 67 properties in the greater metropolitan New York area. Hard Rock’s highly successful and well-recognized name is a cornerstone of the group’s bid.
There are no indications, however, about which entity might have an inside track with state leaders and while Lottery’s report is complete, there’s no guarantee that a decision will be made soon.
“I wouldn’t put a timetable on it,” Hook said. “The three of them can sit down and meet any time. It’s not that hard to arrange.”
Racino construction is expected to take at least a year, meaning a facility could be operational by late 2009.Paul Post is a New York-based Thoroughbred Times correspondent
Friday, July 25, 2008
Changes are on the way for Jamaica Bay as its supervisor is leaving her position of three years on Aug. 18.
Wisconsin native Lisa Eckert worked at 11 national parks before coming to Queens in 2005 to fill the long-vacant position of superintendent of Gateway’s “most complex and complicated” unit, Jamaica Bay.
It’s also one of the most remarkable. “The diversity of the resources, not only natural, but historic, here at Jamaica Bay (is) really incredible,” Eckert said.
Being the first unit superintendent neither from New York nor from within Gateway, Eckert brought with her a “national perspective,” helping her to make accomplishments at the 6,000-acre unit.
A critical component of her job, Eckert noted, was leading and guiding the staff. She oversaw 60 year-round, permanent employees and some 140 seasonal staff members. “Leadership and accountability is one thing I’ve been able to provide,” she said, “especially with some consistency and managing tough issues.”
Equally as important as working with staff, Eckert believes building a good rapport with the community surrounding Jamaica Bay is essential to being successful and accomplishing goals. She has worked with community groups to create beach cleanups, educational boat and walking tours and others efforts to maintain, preserve and restore Jamaica Bay.
Eckert also helped employ a general management plan, set to launch in the fall in all of Gateway’s three units, that would generate better communication with the community, garner community interest and input, and disseminate information about the significance of Jamaica Bay.
“All of our jobs here should be to preserve and protect the park resources and to ensure that they’re here for future generations,” Eckert said, adding that a big part of this is educating the public and reminding people that Jamaica Bay is part of a national park.
It seems that has been a relatively easy part of the Eckert’s job. In her 26 years with the National Park Service, the superintendent — who applied competitively for and received a transfer to the Grand Canyon, where she will be the superintendent of a training program — has found that all national parks have one thing in common.
“There’s such passion and interest,” she said. “People really do care. I found that no matter where I’ve lived, I have some employees and ... park neighbors that do really care about the park.”
With an active community surrounding Jamaica Bay, there is no doubt that it will be monitored and cared for in Eckert’s absence. But some community members are worried that those tasks will be left solely up to them, depending on who the next superintendent will be.
Dorothy McCloskey, president of the Friends of Charles Park Committee — a group dedicated to maintaining and upgrading the park, which is part of the Jamaica Bay Unit — is concerned about being left out of the new superintendent selection process.
“The community wants to know what’s going on and to give our input,” McCloskey said. She and other community members have their own ideas, projects and goals for the Jamaica Bay unit that they want to share with Eckert’s successor. They also want to hear the successor’s thoughts and plans and work together to improve the condition of the bay.
Now is the best time to do so, Eckert said. With the general management initiative taking effect in a couple of months, community meetings will be scheduled and discussions will take place to guarantee that everyone has a chance to be heard. Collaboration with the public is as important to Gateway’s staff as it is for McCloskey and other area residents, according to Eckert.
It’s expected that the next superintendent will be kept busy after taking over the position. There are many exciting opportunities, according to Eckert, as well as projects needing completion, such as the general management plan and the $4.8 million rehabilitation of the Ryan Visitor Center in Brooklyn.
The next superintendent will also be responsible for carrying out budget changes Eckert and other Gateway staff are currently planning. All parks in the National Park Service are undergoing “core operations” in which they must develop plans for trimming costs. Gateway is getting close to implementing such a plan that will reduce the $24 million budget by $3 million.
But what Eckert would most like to see the next superintendent do is care for the staff “because the employees are critical resources,” she said. “I would love my successor to continue leading the staff and working with them as a wonderful team.”
Thursday, July 24, 2008
A new law to protect consumers against identity theft is in effect in response to the most common consumer fraud complaint in the United States.
“As Chair of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, the issue of identity theft has been a major component of my agenda to protect New Yorkers. This new legislation strengthens the existing identity theft laws we worked so vigorously to enact in 2002, and continues to address issues that have arisen with the ever growing world of technology,” announced Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.
Protecting consumers from identity theft has been a top priority for the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB), which has developed strategies to help enforce the law.
The CPB monitors methods of placing and removing a “Security Freeze,” which lets consumers “freeze” or lock access to their credit report. After a surge in violations, the CPB held a public hearing last February to assess the effectiveness and accessibility of the Security Freeze.
Under the new law consumers can use a toll-free phone number or a secured Internet communication to place or lift a Security Freeze, instead of having to contact the credit reporting agencies by overnight or certified mail. In 2009, the law will let consumers lift the Security Freeze within 15 minutes, and by 2010, freeze their credit reports in one business day.
The CPB will implement new ways to place or lift a Security Freeze that will be free to victims of domestic abuse. Other initiatives include raising awareness through a web campaign and helping consumers to spot “skimmer” devices, which can be used to obtain personal information from credit cards.
By strengthening relations with state agencies, the CPB will help ensure that guidelines to restrict the use of Social Security numbers by employers, business or government are followed.
“This new bill wisely restricts the use of Social Security numbers by employers and public agencies, and improves the ability of consumers to place a security freeze on their credit accounts,” said Chuck Bell, Program Director for Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, based in Yonkers, NY, which will collaborate with the CPB.
Additionally, the CPB will act as a liaison between the victim and any state or other governmental or non-governmental entities to help victims recover from the damages of identity theft.
Victims will find new and updated information as well as liaison and mediation services through the CPB’s Identity Theft and Mitigation Program. Consumer advisors will intervene and troubleshoot in varied situations, as well as with creditors, financial institutions, credit-reporting agencies, utilities and employers.
Working with victim service providers, the CPB will help consumers track and determine the number of hours and the value of the time used to repair their credit standing due to identity theft so that they can obtain proper restitution.
Along with the CPB’s public awareness campaign to reduce identity theft victimization, the law will help connect victims with resources. The CPB’s train-the-trainer program will teach victim service providers, social workers, law enforcement, unions, senior citizen groups, clergy, educators, bankers and others by teaching them how to help victims of identity theft.
“With the passage of this law, New York demonstrates a real commitment to reducing the incidence of identity theft and providing meaningful assistance to the victims of this crime,” said Mary Lou Leary, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
“Victims will be able to receive restitution for the time they spend working to repair the damage of the identity theft, and assistance of a State office as they work with law enforcement and credit bureaus in the aftermath of this crime.”
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Broad Channel may only be a mile long and four blocks wide, but this "city-by-the-bay" has a history nearly as expansive as its more populous neighbors across the water.
The 128-page collection of photo essays, released Monday, contains 200 vintage pictures, ranging from the town's first bungalows and fire department to its storefronts and railroad.
Authors Liz and Dan Guarino have lived in Broad Channel for 20 years. When the Broad Channel Historical Society asked them to take on the book project, and complete it in six months, they were up for the challenge.
"It is a very striking history - boardwalks, hotels, speakeasies," said Liz Guarino.
The book tells "the history of the community, how it started, how it came to be, how it has metamorphosed," she said.
The husband-and-wife team has worked closely with the historical society, founded in 1994, to preserve the community's unique heritage. The society has a large collection of photos and memorabilia, much of which has been reprinted in the book.
Barbara Toberg, 68, chairwoman of the historical society, said she expects the book to be a hit - not just with the approximately 2,600 residents of Broad Channel, but with any history lover.
"It is so unusual for a place in the city," said Toberg. "People like to read about it."
The images and accompanying stories were collected from local families, the Library of Congress, the historical society and various other collections.
"The photos catalogue a lot of history of Broad Channel going back to the turn of the [19th] century," said Toberg. The pictures "show what life was like here over the years."
Erin Vosgien, 27, editor of the book, said the best thing about the work is that it introduces rare images of a bygone era that even local residents haven't seen.
Dan Guarino agreed. "It will be giving people a view of Broad Channel as it no longer exists."
"We're looking at [pictures of] people's uncles, their boyhood photos," he said. "Pictures with a very personal history."
On Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Dan and Liz Guarino will sign copies of "Images of America: Broad Channel" at Grassy's, 1802 Crossbay Blvd., Broad Channel.
Police are investigating an incident in which a man allegedly exposed himself to a 14-year-old girl on the J train Monday morning.
Police say the victim got on the train at the Woodhaven Boulevard stop. She told police that, while in transit, a male exposed himself to her. She got off the train two stops later, at the Eldert Lane stop, police said.
Authorities say the man followed her, then grabbed her and threatened her with a razor. She fled, spotting several school safety officers from a nearby high school. They helped the teen and called 911.
Police initially believed the suspect may have been the man wanted in a string of similar sex assaults in Queens, but further investigation led them to believe this is a separate incident.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
It started as a routine conference call. But at some point during the call, Representative Anthony D. Weiner became furious, convinced that his scheduler had not given him a crucial piece of information.
His scheduler, John J. Graff, who was in the next room, suddenly heard the congressman yelling at him through the wall.
Then, Mr. Graff recalled, Mr. Weiner started pounding his fists on his desk, kicked a chair and unleashed a string of expletives.
Two weeks later, Mr. Graff, a Navy veteran, became the latest of a sizable number of staff members who have resigned after an abbreviated stint with Mr. Weiner, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
“I push people pretty hard,” said Mr. Weiner, who acknowledged getting upset at Mr. Graff. “And there are, from time to time, staffers who don’t take to it or just don’t like being pushed that hard. But I really regretted him leaving. He was a marine. I’m like, ‘How bad is this?’ It’s even worse than boot camp.”
It is rarely easy working for any member of Congress, with the low pay, long hours and endless politics. But Mr. Weiner, who is running for New York City mayor next year, is without question one of the most intense and demanding, according to interviews with more than two dozen former employees, Congressional colleagues and lobbyists.
Mr. Weiner, a technology fiend who requires little sleep and rarely takes a day off, routinely instant messages his employees on weekends, often just one-word missives: “Teeth” (as in, your answer reminds me of pulling teeth) or “weeds” (as in, you are too much in the weeds). Never shy about belting out R-rated language, he enjoys challenging staff members on issues, even at parties.
And, in a city saturated with transient career hoppers, Mr. Weiner has presided over more turnover than any other member of the New York House delegation in the last six years, according to an analysis of Congressional data. Roughly half of Mr. Weiner’s current staff has been on board for less than a year. Since early 2007, he has had three chiefs of staff.
Mr. Weiner’s actions as a boss of 20 or so employees, representing almost 700,000 people, offer clues about how he might handle perhaps 300,000 city workers, with eight million constituents.
“I’ve already found out that of the 300,000 employees, they only let you have 200,000 I.M. addresses at once open on your screen,” he joked.
The congressman says that his ferocity is simply reflective of his New York roots, and that he speaks at a high decibel level most of the time, so it may sound to others as if he is shouting. His district staff — perhaps more accustomed to an aggressive style — tends to be more steady than his Washington office.
“When you grow up in Brooklyn, you know, sometimes arguing is the sport,” he said.
Still, he admitted that he could occasionally be rough on office furniture, and said: “Very often people say things to me on the phone that frustrate me. I sometimes hang up phones with an excess amount of enthusiasm after a call hasn’t gone my way.”
Some former employees suggest that if he were elected to City Hall, the congressman might face a difficult transition to a job requiring executive aplomb and delegation. Do not be surprised, these former employees say, if a Weiner administration experiences a high degree of turnover.
But to other employees, Mr. Weiner is refreshingly dedicated and forthright. His command of the issues, coupled with his tireless devotion to constituent concerns, underscores a genuine devotion to and eagerness to fight for his native city.
Even Mr. Graff, who told Mr. Weiner he was a “petulant child” when the congressman yelled at him about the conference call, said he did not hold a grudge.
“I was given fair warning in my interviews that Anthony is very difficult to work for, and I was told all the horror stories — the telephone throwing, etc.,” said Mr. Graff, who now works for the Democratic National Committee. “But in the end I decided I could deal with that. I do hope that he’s able to work on his temper and get that under control. He’s really talented, and it was really an honor to have the opportunity to work for him. I’m rooting for him for mayor.”
Mr. Weiner attributes the high turnover on his staff, in part, to the high expectations he sets for his employees and the relatively low salaries he offers them. As for how he would manage City Hall, he said that he was devouring mayoral biographies to see how others had done it, and that he believed he could strike the right balance:
“What I’m going to try to do is try to internalize some of the things that have worked and not worked before. I think that having the police commissioner or any commissioner be afraid to take a step for fear of antagonizing their boss, I don’t want that. I want them to feel they’re empowered to do things. But I also want them to know that, every so often, they’re going to have a conversation with me where I really want to know what’s going on. I want to be involved in problem-solving.”
Mr. Weiner, 43, honed his instincts while working for Charles E. Schumer, the New York senator who is legendary in political circles for being a brilliant yet overbearing boss. And because Mr. Weiner performed just about every job for Mr. Schumer, he knows exactly what he wants — and then some.
“People joke that two years of Chuck equals one year of Anthony,” said one employee who, like most interviewed, insisted on anonymity for fear of alienating their boss, who also could be the next mayor of New York.
Marc Dunkelman, a former chief of staff who remains close to Mr. Weiner, said he relished the congressman’s hardball immersion course in government and politics.
“You’re sitting there at 8 or 9 p.m., on a Wednesday night, thinking about this data that you just got about how rent has changed in the five boroughs, and there are almost no lights on in the caverns of the House office building,” said Mr. Dunkelman, now a vice president with the Democratic Leadership Council. “I loved it.”
Those who did not love it, especially in Washington, typically did not last long with Mr. Weiner. “If you’ve come to Washington to be taken to fancy dinners, do de minimis work, schmooze with people and hope that 10 years on you will be hired to go downtown and be a lobbyist on K Street, this is not the place for you,” Mr. Dunkelman said.
The revolving door in Mr. Weiner’s office, however, has not gone unnoticed by people who interact with his staff. Several people said that the constant churn created an air of instability.
“You never know who’s there, because they aren’t there long enough to remember their names,” said one Congressional staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Employees quickly learn how to read Mr. Weiner’s body language. He is known as a sports-loving wiseacre, but when he digs into an issue he cares deeply about and his temples are raised, seemingly ready to burst, watch out.
Lobbyists say Mr. Weiner’s employees are a different breed, too. They usually seek granular policy details and ask better questions than anyone else, but they also seem much more harried, as if fearful to face the boss, ever the micromanager, without the answers he wants.
“It comes across as more urgent and more specific,” said one New York lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the prospect of working with Mr. Weiner. “If they didn’t identify themselves as being from Weiner’s office, you could tell.”
Mr. Weiner embraces the latest high-tech gadgets. He was using instant messaging and text messaging services shortly after arriving in Congress in 1998, when he was elected in an upset, said Serena Torrey, who was Mr. Weiner’s communications director from 1999 to 2001.
“He has no patience for bureaucracy and the molasses speed things are often done in government,” said Ms. Torrey, who is now executive director of business development and corporate communications for New York Media, the parent company of New York magazine.
Not everyone applauds his unending multitasking. During a panel on the middle class in January at the New School with the mayors of Miami, Honolulu and Buffalo, Mr. Weiner irked some audience members by constantly working on his BlackBerry, as an assistant continuously ferried documents to him on the dais.
“The clock is always ticking,” Mr. Weiner explained.
Staff members who go out of e-mail range for even a few hours sometimes risk rebuke. One described being unavailable once on a weekend afternoon and immediately calling the office after noticing a stream of increasingly exasperated e-mails among Mr. Weiner and his top lieutenants. A senior staff member curtly responded, “That’s why we have BlackBerrys.”
Still, those who have gained Mr. Weiner’s trust stay in touch, sometimes via instant messaging, and they say the congressman has often gone out of his way to help them land jobs. There is a camaraderie that emerges, some say, after surviving what one person likened to a Congressional version of “Survivor.”
Mr. Weiner, who described himself as a tough but fair boss, said he was setting an example by his own work ethic: “I don’t know anyone who works harder than me.”
But schedulers, he conceded, have an especially challenging time with him, because of his zealous focus on where he needs to be and who he needs to talk to.
“It is an impossible job, I freely admit,” Mr. Weiner said. “When you’ve been through a job being scheduler, you’re entitled to say whatever about me when you’re done. I have nothing but love for people who endured it, even if they endured it for a short period of time.”
Surrounded by hundreds of supporters and joined by family members and leading Democrats from across New York, Councilman Joseph Addabbo formally announced his challenge to Serphin Maltese to represent the 15th District in the State Senate.
The announcement took place Saturday afternoon at Danny’s Szechuan on Crossbay Boulevard and 164th Avenue in Howard Beach. The district includes the neighborhoods of Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Howard Beach, and Ozone Park.
"For too long, the families here have watched as their taxes have gone up and funding for our schools has gone down,” said Addabbo. “Our local economy is suffering while politicians in Albany simply brush our needs aside. I am running for State Senate to change the way business is done in Albany. It's time to improve the way our government works for the people of this Senate district."
New York State Democratic Chairperson June O'Neill joined Addabbo at his announcement.
"The State Committee is 100% committed to winning a majority in the State Senate because it's time for new leadership, new ideas and a State Senate we can count on to fight for our values,” she said. “From right here in Queens all the way to Buffalo, I look forward to welcoming new Democratic state senators to our new majority in January."
"I have known Joe and his family for years and am very excited that he has decided to take on this critical fight," said Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith. "He grew up in a tradition of family service, and there's no elected official who works harder or more effectively for their community. He's going to be a true asset for the hard-working families of Queens."
The race is expected to be one of the hardest fought in the state, and the GOP is expected to spend millions of dollars to defend the incumbent, who barely held on in 2006 against an under-funded and largely unknown opponent in Albert Baldeo, who will likely run again this year, forcing Addabbo into a Democratic Primary race.
"Make no mistake, this will be a tough race," explained Addabbo. "But my father taught me to never back down from a fight just because it was going to be difficult. I stand with the people of Queens and I will be their voice demanding that Albany finally ease our crushing tax burden, give our schools their fair share, and make sure we can afford our healthcare."
CAPTION: Councilman Joseph Addabbo and supporter Martin Auerbach of Howard Beach at an event to announce Addabbo’s campaign for State Senate. Photo: S. Geffon
Police Officer Thomas Scalise, center, of the 106th Precinct, was honored by Lt. Joseph Salvato, left, and 106th Precinct Community Council President Frank Dardani with the Cop of the Month award.
Scalise, a member of the precinct’s burglary unit, was recognized for his diligence in the apprehension of two individuals police said were responsible for a May 27 robbery of a home in South Ozone Park, located at 121st Street and 130th Avenue.
Scalise also recovered items stolen from the house.
Surrounded by hundreds of supporters and family members, and joined by a number of city and state lawmakers, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. formally announced on Saturday his highly anticipated run for state Senate in the 15th District against Republican incumbent Sen. Serphin Maltese.
[Left - Supporters cheer on City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., center, after he officially announced his run for the District 15 state Senate seat. (P.J. Smith)]
Kicking off his campaign, Addabbo, traveling via school bus, made four stops throughout the district, which includes the communities of Glendale, Howard Beach, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ozone Park and Woodhaven, among others.
Addabbo shook hands with and spoke to supporters about his plans at each stop, which included a rally at Peter Charles Park in Maspeth and a visit to Myrtle Avenue in Glendale, where he plans to open a second campaign office.
Addabbo’s bus, which had departed at 9 a.m. from his Howard Beach campaign office, also stopped by a Sikh center in Richmond Hill before reaching its final destination: a campaign party at Danny’s Szechuan restaurant in Howard Beach.
“For too long, the families here have watched as their taxes have gone up and funding for our schools has gone down. Our local economy is suffering while politicians in Albany simply brush our needs aside,” Addabbo said. “I am running for state Senate to change the way business is done in Albany.It’s time to improve the way our government works for the people of this Senate district.”
The race is expected to be one of the hardest fought in the state, and the GOP is expected to spend millions of dollars to defend the incumbent, who is gunning for his 11th consecutive term. Maltese nearly lost the 2006 election to Democrat Albert Baldeo, a community leader who does not currently hold elected office.
Baldeo is running for the Senate seat again and will face off with Addabbo in the primary election. However, the Queens County Democratic Club has endorsed Addabbo, making him a prohibitive favorite.
Addabbo, however, recognizes that it won’t all be smooth sailing. “Make no mistake,” he said, “this will be a tough race. But my father taught me to never back down from a fight just because it was going to be difficult.”
His father and namesake, Joseph Addabbo, who was born and raised in Queens, served as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961 to 1986.
“I stand with the people of Queens and I will be their voice, demanding that Albany finally ease our crushing tax burden, give our schools their fair share and make sure we can afford our healthcare,” Addabbo Jr. said.
New York State Democratic Chairperson June O’Neill joined Addabbo at the kickoff.“The state committee is 100 percent committed to winning a majority in the state Senate because it’s time for new leadership, new ideas and a state Senate we can count on to fight for our values,” she said. “From right here in Queens all the way to Buffalo, I look forward to welcoming new Democratic state senators to our new majority in January.”
Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) is one of Addabbo’s greatest supporters. “I have known Joe and his family for years and am very excited that he has decided to take on this critical fight,” Smith said. “He grew up in a tradition of family service, and there’s no elected official who works harder or more effectively for their community.He’s going to be a true asset for the hard working families of Queens.”
So far, Addabbo has raised about $175,000.
City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) kicked off his state Senate campaign with a multi-stop bus tour of his district Saturday, making stops in Ridgewood, Glendale, Howard Beach and Ozone Park.
At the Sikh Cultural Society Gurudwara in Richmond Hill, Addabbo received the endorsement of many Sikh community leaders in his bid for the seat held by longtime Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale).
"We need to listen to each other and act on what we hear," Addabbo told the crowd of some 50 people. "I plan to break down barriers of race and party affiliation to address your concerns."
The 15th Senate District, which includes Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Howard Beach and Ozone Park, has been held by a Republican since at least 1966, when Martin Knorr was elected to the seat.
But Democrats, buoyed by negative public opinion of President George W. Bush, hope they will have the momentum to overtake the Republicans in the state Legislature's upper chamber.
"This is the year of change," said Harpreet Soor, former president of the Sikh Temple in Richmond Hill. "The state Senate is going to have a Democratic majority for the first time."
Maltese, the former head of the Queens Republican Party, has held the position for the last 20 years. In 2006, Maltese narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Albert Baldeo for the seat. Baldeo, a Richmond Hill attorney, is also running on the Democratic line against Maltese this year, which will pit him against Addabbo in the primary this fall.
"Make no mistake, this will be a tough race," Addabbo said.
A survey of 400 voters conducted by Maltese's campaign last month showed the senator with a 27-point lead over Addabbo, who criticized the poll by saying the projected lead of a 20-year incumbent should have been higher.
Addabbo, elected in 2001, will be term-limited out of his City Council seat in 2009. In January he endorsed district leader Frank Gulluscio to succeed him in the City Council. A special election will be held for Addabbo's seat if he defeats Maltese in November.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
Queens Boulevard may be getting a couple of new lanes for traffic — the kind on two wheels — if an idea to put a bike lane along the thoroughfare comes to pass.
Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that advocates bicycling, walking and public transportation, has been discussing the preliminary ideas for making Queens Boulevard safer for cyclists after Briarwood resident Asif Rahman, 22, was killed Feb. 28 on the thoroughfare at 55th Road as he rode home from work. His mother, Lizi Rahman, is working with the group to make the boulevard safer for cyclists and create a bike lane in her son's memory.
Along the entire stretch of Queens Boulevard, from Sunnyside to Kew Gardens, there have been two cyclist fatalities since 1990, and during the last five years there has been an average of 20 cyclist injuries a year, the city Department of Transportation said.
"We're in the very, very beginning stages" of planning the lane, said Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee Chairman Mike Heffron. "We're aiming for all of Queens Boulevard to have a lane."
To make the idea a reality, the group and the city Department of Transportation must meet to work out the logistics and implementation so that cyclists can ride safely and drivers are not overly inconvenienced, but so far scheduling conflicts have prevented this happening.
"In creating an integrated bike network we look to place new bike lanes where they will make connections to either existing bike facilities or to popular destinations such as bridges, commercial corridors, schools and parks," DOT spokesman Ted Timbers wrote in an e-mail.
Community outreach, planning, design and implementation of a new bike lane can take a minimum of six months depending on the complexity of the location.
Even for experienced cyclists, Queens Boulevard is a daunting thoroughfare on which to ride.
"I took it upon myself one time to ride all of Queens Boulevard and almost got hit three times, and not dinged — hit hard," said Ed Hernandez, a lifelong Queens resident and fellow Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee member.
Each street presents unique challenges, Timbers wrote.
"Queens Boulevard combines intense vehicular traffic with a high volume of pedestrians," he said. "Visibility is an issue for the portion that also serves the elevated No. 7 subway line."
Heffron said the hope is to have a Class I lane, which is separated from the flow of vehicular traffic by a physical barrier. The promenades along Eastern and Ocean parkways in Brooklyn are an example of what a protected lane could look like.
"My vision of what I'd like to see Queens Boulevard have is a protected bike lane that children could use to get to and from school safely," Hernandez said.
Over the last 12 months DOT has installed more than 70 miles of bike lanes citywide, including 24 miles in Queens, Timbers wrote. In the next 12 months there are plans for a bike lane along Skillman Avenue, which runs parallel to Queens Boulevard, he added.
In his first public appearance since announcing his run for state Senate, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) held a joint town hall meeting Monday with City Comptroller William Thompson in Woodhaven.
Residents complained about city Department of Buildings issues, raccoons invading their homes from nearby Forest Park and "human animals" living next door.
When confronted with a question about how the DOB could be more effective, Thompson said complaints about the agency are "the first or second issue brought up in Queens.
"The Department of Buildings has dropped the ball," Thompson said, noting that investigators from his office found that the agency said dangerous situations existed in some situations, but did not follow up to make sure the problems were solved.
"They don't respond quickly and efficiently," the comptroller said. "They just don't."
Addabbo, who announced over the weekend that he was running for state Sen. Serphin Maltese's (R-Glendale) seat, said the City Council signed legislation last year adding more inspectors to the agency, but the DOB hired incompetent workers.
He said a remodified version of the bill was introduced this year that would provide training for new building inspectors.
A Woodhaven resident who lives near Forest Park complained that baby raccoons were grazing in her backyard.
She said that when she called 311, she was eventually referred to a private trapper who charged $299 to set up a trap and another $99 to haul the trap if raccoons got caught in it. The ASPCA gives out free traps, she said, but she would have to bring the cage with the trapped raccoon to the organization herself.
The woman said she was concerned that the two raccoons she saw would multiply.
"I'm hoping it's not a brother and a sister because there's no taboos in Raccoonland," she said.
She asked if the city had "raccoon birth control to spread around Forest Park."
Addabbo said he has contacts with local exterminators who "sometimes do favors" for his office and urged anyone with an animal or pest control problem to call his staff.
A resident of 81st Street in Ozone Park asked for help about a different kind of problem.
"Everybody's talking about animals. I got human animals. I got a prostitute next door to me," he said.
He said a few girls and a man who were living at the house and wanted for murder were arrested, but have since moved back in.
The man also said there was a graffiti problem on his block, noting that he just paid $4,000 to have his car repainted.
Addabbo said the City Council is trying to have penalties increased for graffiti crimes.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173
Foreclosures, water bills, building violations, education, public safety, flooding and raccoons were among the issues discussed at a nearly two-hour town hall meeting in Woodhaven on Monday night.
About 100 community residents and leaders gathered in the meeting room of the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, located at 78-15 Jamaica Ave., to ask questions of and get answers from their elected officials.
City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) organized the meeting and invited City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) to participate. The three were eager to respond to the complaints and concerns their constituents voiced, and each found the meeting to be successful.
“It’s the summer and people can be elsewhere, with their families or home, and instead they spent some time with us to discuss the issues and try to make our community better,” Addabbo said. “So, hopefully we can show the residents that their time there last night was worth it. And, I think it was.”
Pheffer also agreed and said residents demonstrated their contentment when Woodhaven resident Allan Smith raised the subject of inadequate performance by the Department of Buildings.
The audience burst into applause after Smith asked the officials his all-encompassing question: “How can we enforce laws relating to zoning infractions, illegal conversions, McMansions, lack of landmarking in Queens, historic districts, concreting over lawns, out-of-character structures, permanent fencing, teardowns, self-certification by engineers and architects?”
Thompson immediately took the opportunity to answer. “The Department of Buildings, to be honest about it, has dropped the ball,” he said. “In Queens, it’s usually the first or second issue that anybody brings up. ... There isn’t an issue I hear about more.”
What it comes down to, the comptroller said, is that the DOB needs to add personnel who are better trained. The buildings department fails to properly inspect violation complaints and to respond quickly and efficiently, he added.
Audience members nodded in agreement. “I think people felt very good about hearing about the Department of Buildings because everyone there really had an issue with them,” Pheffer said.
Other hot-button issues brought up during the meeting were water rate hikes, flooding, insurance claims related to flooding and the inaction of the Department of Environmental Protection.
“Make no mistake, we’re being ripped off,” Thompson said of increasing water rates. The water board and the DEP raised the rate by 11.5 percent last year and 14.5 percent this year, generating outrage from city residents and elected officials. “They are putting their hands in your pockets. ... They are charging us more than it takes to run the water system.”
In a move that further frustrates local residents, the DEP has attempted to absolve itself of responsibility for last summer’s flooding, calling it “an act of God,” according to Thompson. Numerous parts of Queens were devastated after torrential downpours in July and August 2007 destroyed some homes and caused many to lose valuable possessions.
The Comptroller’s Office depends on the DEP to determine who, if anyone, is liable for the flooding damage. In many cases, the DEP does not hold itself accountable, which is why one resident at the meeting called the agency a “zero” pulling a “con game.” Recognizing that the DEP’s negligence is unfair, Thompson is working with the agency to find solutions that are more equitable to homeowners.
This has caused a delay in the compensation owed by the city to those who filed claims with the Comptroller’s Office regarding their losses. Thompson apologized to those like area resident Pat, who did not give his full name, awaiting a response. Thompson is also trying to extend the final deadline for compensation, so that homeowners will not have to file lawsuits against the city.
Putting the issue in context, Addabbo said overdevelopment and building violations are causing the city to lose its natural drainage. Paving over lawns, illegally converting buildings and erecting three-family homes in areas designed to accommodate only single-family structures are actions that exacerbate flooding in the city’s antiquated sewer system, he noted.
It appears the inadequacies of one city agency contribute to those of another — and what contributes to them all? According to Ozone-Tudor Civic Association President Frank Dardani, 311.
Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the public information center several years ago, city agencies have gotten lazy, Dardani implied. He believes they do not take initiative. Instead, they must be prompted by repeated complaints. According to Thompson, 311 was designed as a supplement to, not a replacement for, city agency’s awareness of and response to problems.
Woodhaven resident Elaine Bauman said there is one issue of which the city is aware, but just does not care: raccoon infestations. Families of the so-called “masked bandits” have taken over the backyards of homeowners living near Forest Park, she said. And unless residents want to trap and remove the pests themselves, they are here to stay because there is no city agency with oversight on the matter.
Addabbo admitted that the city is reluctant to deal with raccoons unless they are rabid, and suggested residents call his office so he can refer them to private trappers.
Other residents complained about excessive graffiti in their neighborhoods and were assured by Addabbo that the City Council is attempting to increase penalties for graffiti. The councilman also urged audience members to call his office for help cleaning up defaced property.
The topic of education was discussed at length toward the end of the meeting. David Quintana of Ozone Park asked Thompson for his opinion on mayoral control of the city’s schools, to which the comptroller — who is a likely contender in the 2009 mayoral race — responded with a smile.
Thompson believes in mayoral control, but questioned who’s in charge. There is a flaw in the law that created mayoral control, which allows the Department of Education to remain an unaccountable entity, according to Thompson, who has been outspoken in his criticism of School’s Chancellor Joel Klein.
“Parents are more left out than ever,” he said, adding that the next mayor should create in the DOE a greater level of accountability, responsibility, openness and transparency.
One of the last subjects discussed at the town hall meeting was foreclosures. Vance Barbour of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association asked several questions regarding what is being done to repair the foreclosure crisis that has gripped the nation.
The state is taking various steps to help keep people in their homes, Thompson said. Pheffer, in particular, sponsored legislation earlier this year that created a $150 million mortgage assistance grant fund to assist borrowers in owner-occupied homes who are in default.
Residents raised several smaller issues that the elected officials addressed and people left the meeting with a sense of accomplishment or confidence that they’ve been heard, according to Pheffer.
But it was also advantageous for the elected officials. “It helps our leaders help us,” Dardani said, adding that it’s always beneficial when people gather to have dialogue about serious issues.