Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
The humpback whale that became entangled in a lobster pot and netting south of the Rockaways has been released, the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday night.
A rescue team out of Massachusetts cut the fishing gear, which had been wrapped around the whale's tail, and the whale was freed at 4:39 p.m. off the coast of Sandy Hook, N.J., the Coast Guard said.
"It does have serious injuries, but it is much better off than being anchored in the shipping lane," Teri Frady, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a news release.
The rescuers, from the Massachusetts-based Center for Coastal Studies, began working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff to free the whale at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Coast Guard learned of the trapped whale Wednesday afternoon and set up a 500-yard safety zone around it -- eight miles east of Sandy Hook, N. J., and near active shipping lanes. The Coast Guard Cutter Penobscot Bay and a vessel from the NOAA went to the scene to protect the animal.
The whale was described as a juvenile humpback, about 25 to 30 feet long, according to Jamison Smith, the large whale disentanglement coordinator for NOAA.
"It had curvature on its back from the weight of the gear pulling down on it, but the primary entanglement was the line wrapped around it tail, which caused a gash," said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Smith said on Wednesday that the entanglement was "potentially life-threatening" and that freeing the whale could be "very dangerous both for the animal and for the rescuers." He said an entanglement happens in local waters "once every year or every other year."
The site was not far from where a family of 16 bottlenose dolphins stayed in two rivers near the Sandy Hook Bay for half of last year, sparking a heated debate over whether they should be removed or left to leave on their own.
Three of the dolphins died, and employees of a nearby restaurant said they saw about five leave the Shrewsbury River and go out to Sandy Hook Bay just before the river froze last month. The fate of the remaining eight dolphins is not known, but a helicopter search earlier this month failed to spot any dolphins, alive or dead.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, D-NY, today joined the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for its first meeting with President Barack Obama since he took office last month. Mr. Towns, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was among a select group of CBC members who spoke at the meeting, and in his remarks Chairman Towns discussed key issues currently facing the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The CBC meeting is the second visit Chairman Towns made this week to the White House. On Monday, Chairman Towns participated in President Obama’s White House Fiscal Summit, which brought together select members of Congress, economists, unions, business leaders, lawmakers, and advocacy groups to discuss the most pressing issues currently facing our country.
Below are Chairman Towns’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
Remarks of Chairman Towns
High Risk Issues
Mr. President, thank you for meeting with us today. You have pledged to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t in government. I sent a letter in January to Secretary Gates requesting a meeting to discuss eight areas in DOD operations that are at high risk of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement according to the GAO. These risks cut across most areas of DOD’s operations and include DOD’s longstanding inability to deliver its major weapon system acquisitions on time and at promised costs and capabilities. With the country facing its most serious financial and economic problems in decades and fighting two wars, we cannot afford for the Department to get less than the maximum value from the resources the Congress and the American taxpayer provide it.
I will be asking for similar meetings from other Cabinet-level officials about projects within their area of responsibility that appear on GAO’s high risk list, including oversight of financial institutions and markets and food safety. Through this process I hope to help you fix some long standing problems that have lacked attention and have resulted in unnecessary government waste. I note that agency Inspectors General have made approximately 13,000 recommendations that have not been implemented. I would appreciate your support for these critically important meetings.
Oversight of the economic recovery package will be a major portion of the Committee’s work this Congress. In overseeing this spending, we will work closely your accountability board, as well as agency IG’s and GAO. However, I am concerned that the legislation will strain the ability of the current federal acquisition workforce to effectively manage the huge volume of spending in the bill. I am also concerned that the State and local IT infrastructure will not be up to the task of handling the data requirements for funding, transparency and accountability.
Small Disadvantaged Businesses
Mr. President, if the larger businesses community is sick, Small Disadvantaged Businesses are on life support. As Chairman of the House Committee with procurement jurisdiction, I can tell you that during the past 8 years much of the progress we have made in overcoming discrimination, and providing fair contracting opportunities for minority businesses has been lost. The bundling of federal contracts, which priced most DBE’s out of competition, became common administration practice. Sole contracts increased to favored businesses, like Haliburton, while sole source contracted awarded through the 8(a) program dried up. These practices, coupled with the current economic slow down, means that we may lose a generation of minority businesses if we do not work quickly.
Efforts were made to reverse these practices by including specific minority business language in the TARP funding bill. However, the results to date have been disappointing. Of the 14 prime contracts awarded by Treasury, none of the contracts have gone to minority businesses. While all 14 businesses have subcontracting plans that spell out plans to use minority businesses, my staff has been unable to get sufficient information to determine whether the prime contractors are meeting their subcontracting goals.
I think that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act presents a once in life time opportunity to assist the small disadvantaged business community. However, unless we develop the appropriate small business infrastructure, this opportunity will be missed. I would recommend the following steps: (1) I think you should direct each agency with contracting authority under the recovery legislation to identify those contracts and subcontracts that they anticipate could be preformed by Small Disadvantaged businesses, this should be done in consultation with SBA; (2) set appropriate contracting and subcontracting goals and (3) establish an oversight task force within OMB to track and to hold agencies accountable for meeting those goals. These steps are consistent with federal procurement laws and existing Executive orders.
Mr. President, I am deeply concerned that without some specific direction from you and your team, the current acquisition workforce will simply fall back on what they have been doing during the past 8 years, which is to have limited competition and award large contracts to favored majority contractors.
I have seen what effective procurement policy and Executive support can achieve. President Clinton made increased access for disadvantages businesses in Federal contracting an important priority for his administration by issuing Executive Order 13170. Unfortunately, we have lost most of the progress that was made during that time period.
You have a unique opportunity with the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to recapture that progress.
The Federal Workforce
Discrimination and the lack of opportunities for racial minorities continue to be central issues within the federal workforce, particularly at the senior levels. While we have made significant progress much more remains to be done. I would urge you to pay special attention to your sub cabinet level appointments, appointments to the Senior Executive Service and to look very carefully at any the potential for discrimination in any pay-for-performance system you may be considering.
Last September, an arbitrator ruled that the SES’s pay-for-performance system discriminated against African Americans. In addition, analysis of DOD’s National Security Personnel System indicates that African Americans are receiving significantly lower performance based pay than their white counterparts.
I would urge you to carefully balance your need for effective tools to attract and reward top talent, with the need to ensure that all employees are treated fairly in promotions and pay decisions.”
Mr. President, all of us are well aware that the 2010 Decennial Census is quickly approaching and that its results will have a deep and lasting impact on our communities.
As the Chairman of the House Committee that oversees the Census, I am committed to vigorous, bipartisan oversight of its implementation. I appreciate your respect for this Committee’s responsibility to conduct Census oversight and for making it clear that your administration will not interfere with our important work. The success of the 2010 Census, given its implications and magnitude, is one of the Oversight Committee’s highest priorities.
Mr. President, the success of the 2010 Census is a priority for all of us here today. Along with apportioning and redistricting Representatives in the House, it will determine the allocation of billions of dollars in federal assistance to state and local governments. The economic crisis has made certain that our communities, some of which may already be struggling, cannot afford to lose any of these critical dollars.
Unfortunately, your administration inherited a Census Bureau that has failed to demonstrate its constitutionally-mandated responsibility to successfully carry out the 2010 Census. We have already been warned by GAO that the 2010 Census is in serious trouble and has been placed on GAO’s list of programs at high risk. We still do not know if all of the Bureau’s operations and systems, particularly those that will be used for the first time in 2010, will work together under the pressure of the census. With less than eleven months to go until the launching of the 2010 Census, the Bureau has little time to improve its capabilities.
Certainly the $1 Billion in additional funding for the Census Bureau that was included in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the Bureau as it prepares for 2010. But given the existing problems at the Census Bureau and a critical need for the Census to succeed, I urge you to provide ample funding for the Bureau in your budget proposal.
I am also deeply concerned with the current leadership void at the Census Bureau. We need to have a Bureau director nominated and confirmed as soon as possible. Then we can focus on the important work of organizing the Census Bureau and ensuring that it is prepared to support the activities of the 2010 Census.
During the weeks and months to come we will be working to put together press conferences and other Census-related events in our districts that will help educate and encourage the participation of our constituents. This effort will help in assuring our communities that information gathered by the Census Bureau is strictly confidential, and that their cooperation will help the government determine where vital resources such as increased food stamp assistance and funding for public housing are needed.
Mr. President, the stakes are too high for the 2010 Census to fail and I am asking you to support our efforts that will help guarantee its success. We need to have a Census Bureau director nominated and confirmed as soon as possible, ensure that proper resources are being directed to the Census Bureau, and we must work to educate our communities about the Census and encourage their participation.
There was a single car accident at about 6:50 am on the Jackie Robinson Parkway this morning as it winds through Forest Park ...There were no reported injuries...
Photos by Manny
NYS Senate Passes Neighborhood Preservation Act Protects Property Values and Neighborhood Safety from Fallout of Foreclosure Crisis
Currently, in New York State, municipalities use real property law (RPL) 235-b to craft administration codes by which to enforce the standard of safety and habitability. Real property law (RPL) 235-b establishes a standard of habitability for occupied properties between tenants and landlords. Currently, no such standard for bank owned (REO) properties exists. This standard of habitability has been considered to be breached in the State of New York if such conditions such as inadequate security (failure to provide locks and secure the premises), substantial accumulation of garbage, severe infestation of insects/rodents, and sewage leaks and spills are in evidence. Klein’s bill will provide parallel support to any codes and laws created by an individual municipality with reference to a bank owned vacant property.
“As the foreclosure crisis spreads, we’re seeing a ripple effect as property values plummet and surrounding neighborhoods experience an increase in quality of life issues like graffiti and crime. One foreclosure can devastate an entire community and threaten the safety and well-being of innocent families We need to curtail this crisis and end the shameful lack of responsibility on the part of the banks that has permeated the American Dream of home-ownership We cannot allow our communities to become a casualties of the foreclosure crisis," said Klein.
The legislation was originally introduced in May 2008 when the fall-out of the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit home in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx in the 34th senate district, where the ripple effect of a single foreclosure rocked a pristine and exemplary community of responsible citizens. The basement of a foreclosed property had degenerated into the site of frequent delinquent behavior by gangs of local teenagers, tormenting an otherwise quiet and family oriented neighborhood.
Unable to find any bank or agency to take responsibility for the property, the desperate community called Klein’s office for help.
In response, Klein looked up the deed of the property via the ACRIS system (the on-line records of the New York City Register) and found that it was owned by HSBC Bank as a trustee, which had sold the servicing rights to Ocwen Loan Servicing to manage the sale of the property. After countless calls, Ocwen informed Klein that eviction notices would be issued at the end of the month but that the Realtor currently responsible for the property was Northeast Assets Realty Inc. Despite repeated opposition, and an extraordinary amount of red tape to determine the party responsible for the house, Klein was finally able to arrange to have the property boarded up the next day.
“The devastation of home foreclosure effects everyone, not just the family facing the loss of their home, but the entire community. Empowering a municipality to force banks to take responsibility for foreclosed property protects property values and preserves the character of our neighborhoods ,” said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith.
Billions of dollars continue to be drained from the tax base, and New York neighborhoods are feeling the effects of the foreclosure crisis firsthand as homes fall into disrepair, attract trespassers and illegal activity. As of October 2008, there were 23,093 houses in the foreclosure process in NYC, with 9,297 in Queens, 7,816 in Brooklyn, 2,682 in the Bronx, 2,296 in Staten Island and 1,002 in Manhattan. Queens accounts for 8.8% of the state's foreclosure filings this year and 34.2% of filing for New York City.
In addition, according to PropertyShark, foreclosure rates in Queens (the most afflicted county in the state) jumped 91% in the first quarter of this year. As a result, the median home price in Queens plummeted over $100,000 from Feb 2007 to Feb 2008, from $390,000 to $283,665.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending , bank owned properties not only drag down property values, but directly correspond to an increase in neighborhood violent crime by approximately 6.7%. Homeowners living near foreclosed properties will see their property values decrease by $5,000 on average per each foreclosed home. Whereas foreclosure rates for the entire city jumped 60% in the third quarter of 2008, New York City property values overall are likely to decline by 20-25% in the next 12 to 18 months.
In May, 2008 Klein released a report which found that in New York State alone, there are 3,552,642 homes which have experienced devaluation in 2007 due to sub-prime foreclosures. The resulting combined monetary decrease in home values/tax base in New York State is $36.841 billion dollars. As of October, 2008 there were a total of 1,954 bank owned properties in NYC, with 1,209 in Queens, 313 in Brooklyn, 160 in the Bronx, and 17 in Manhattan. Kings County (Brooklyn) ranks 3rd in the first in the United States but 1st in the NY Metro region with 740,141 neighboring homes devalued at a total cost to the tax base of $12.743 billion. Queens County is a close contender at 5th place (411,929/$9,254 billion), followed by Bronx County at 7th (398,746/$4.903 billion), New York County at 10th (398,746/$3.845 billion), and finally Richmond County at 33rd (141,174/$1.086 billion). Klein’s report also surveyed Nassau and Westchester county. In Nassau county there were 911 REO owned properties with 271,875 neighboring homes devalued due to foreclosure. There a was a combined $1.935 billion dollar decrease in home values/tax base from the foreclosure effect. In Westchester County there were a total of 209 REO owned properties with 176,387 neighboring homes devalued due to foreclosure. There was a combined $1.3 billion dollar decrease in home values/tax base from the foreclosure effect.
“It is sad that many of the same lending institutions that gladly took taxpayer money to buy new drapes and take lavish trips to Las Vegas have to have their arms twisted to be a good neighbor,” Senator Craig M. Johnson, (D-Port Washington), said. “I commend Senator Klein for authoring this common-sense legislation and for leading the fight to hold these lending institutions accountable, and to preserve the quality and character of our neighborhoods,” said Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Port Washington)
"I want to applaud Senator Klein for leading the fight to get such common sense legislation passed," said Senator Krueger. "When a house is foreclosed upon, for whatever reason, it is incumbent upon the bank or the financial institution to take responsibility for being a good neighbor and keeping the home in good repair. Otherwise, the entire community suffers,” added Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).
"A foreclosed property that falls into disrepair can have devastating ripple effects for the surrounding community," said State Senator Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan/Bronx). "I am confident that this bill, by holding the banks accountable for maintaining their properties, will go a long way to protect the quality of life for the residents of impacted neighborhoods throughout the state,” added Senator Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan).
“When a home is foreclosed on, banks take ownership but they don't take responsibility, and it takes a toll on the community,” added Klein.
U.S. Rep. Edolphus ‘Ed’ Towns Statement on President Barack Obama’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress...
“President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time since taking office last month. I am humbled by President Obama’s honest assessment of the state of our nation and equally inspired by his ‘blueprint for our future.’
Yesterday, I participated in President Obama’s White House Fiscal Summit, which brought together select members of Congress, economists, unions, business leaders, lawmakers, and advocacy groups to discuss the most pressing issues currently facing our country, including the current economic crisis, health care, and Social Security. This meeting was a precursor to tonight’s speech, and a constructive first step toward breaking out of the economic tailspin that we have been engulfed in for far too long.
New Yorkers need solutions, and they need them now. Tonight, President Obama proposed several policy measures that will help improve the financial stability of our markets, help keep families in their homes, implement reforms to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending, reduce healthcare costs, cultivate our economy with clean renewable energy, and modernize our educational systems so that we can foster innovation and remain viable in the global economy.
The President talked openly about the ‘stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.’ In New York, the rate of unemployment and foreclosures has reached record highs– all remnants of Wall Street’s collapse and a severe economic downturn. People are wondering where they will get their next meal, how they will pay their rent, and who they will turn to for help. That is why I supported the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed into law last week, which is estimated to create 3.5 million jobs nationwide and 215,000 jobs in New York. I am also working to advance the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, set for consideration on the House floor this week, that would help millions of families avoid foreclosures.
A new day is here, and in the words of our President, ‘that day of reckoning has arrived.’ We have a lot of work to do. I join President Obama in believing that if we work together our nation can restore the American promise.
“For all of the TySheoma Bethea’s in communities all across America, we are not quitters.”
Special elections were held on Tuesday for three City Council seats in Queens and on Staten Island to fill vacancies left by candidates who were elected to other offices in November.
Eric A. Ulrich won in the 32nd Council District in Queens and Julissa Ferreras won in the 21st Council District, also in Queens.
With about 10,000 votes cast in the 49th Council District on Staten Island, Kenneth C. Mitchell was leading Deborah L. Rose by 34 votes, but numerous absentee ballots still remained to be counted. Mr. Mitchell or Ms. Rose will fill the seat formerly held by Michael E. McMahon, who was elected to the House of Representatives.
The winners will serve through the end of the year and will then need to run again in primaries and in the general election to keep their seats.
Mr. McMahon won the seat formerly held by Representative Vito J. Fossella, who did not seek re-election after a drunken driving arrest led to revelations that he fathered a child with a mistress.
There were 395 absentee ballots that remained to be counted in the Mitchell-Rose race, said Valerie Vazquez-Rivera, a Board of Elections spokeswoman. The absentee ballots will not likely be counted for another week, Ms. Vazquez-Rivera said.
Early returns showed Ms. Rose leading, but shortly after midnight Mr. Mitchell had moved ahead.
Ballots were cast in the district using paper ballots after a last-minute ruling added a candidate to the ballot.
Mr. Ulrich, a Republican, won the seat formerly held by Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. in the 32nd Council District. Mr. Addabbo was elected to the State Senate.
Mr. Ulrich, the Republican district leader, outspent each of the other candidates vying for the seat. Ms. Ferreras, a Democrat, won election in the 21st Council District in Queens, replacing her former boss, Hiram Monserrate, who was elected to the State Senate.
Ms. Ferreras, who was Mr. Monserrate’s chief of staff, had her candidacy tainted by questions of financial irregularities at a charity she was involved with and the legal problems of her former boss: Mr. Monserrate was charged in December with domestic violence and weapons possession after he was accused of slashing his girlfriend in the face.Ms. Ferreras is the first Latina to be an elected official in Queens, according to the Working Families Party, which was behind Ms. Ferreras’ campaign.
As the Senate Democrats prepare to conference the question of tax reform at 6 p.m. this evening, the so-called Fair Share bill being pushed by the WFP and its labor allies is gaining steam in both houses of the Legislature.
In the Senate, two more Democrats - Tom Duane and Martin Dilan - have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, bringing the total number of supporters to 20, according to the WFP's Bill Lipton.
An alternative to the millionaire's tax that is being championed by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein has yet to be introduced, but the concept has been endorsed by Columbia University Prof. Michael Woodford.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has made clear he thinks taxing the rich is "the last thing we should be doing," but also left the door open earlier this week to doing so if it's the route his conference wants to take.
In the Assembly, a same-as bill is being carried by Assemblyman Darryl Towns, chairman of the 48-member Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus.
Towns introduced the bill earlier this week and has garnered the support of 30 of his colleagues.
"It's critically important that we solve the budget crisis through real shared sacrifice," Towns said in a statement relayed to me by a labor supporter of the bill. "Fair Share Tax Reform will make New York's tax code more equitable and will also raise revenue necessary to protect essential services."
The Queens political world has a new Comeback Kid following 24-year-old Republican candidate Eric Ulrich’s smashing victory in Tuesday’s special election, which puts the GOP back on the political map again.
Ulrich, in winning the 32nd Council District election by more than 1,000 votes over second-place finisher Lew Simon, a Democratic leader in the Rockaways, brought the Ozone Park-Howard Beach seat back to the Republicans. Ulrich, the GOP District Leader in that area, becomes the youngest person to become a councilmember and the only Republican in the Queens delegation. According to unofficial and incomplete returns, Ulrich garnered 3,426 votes.
Ulrich replaces Joseph Addabbo Jr., who vacated the seat last November after winning the state senate post previously held by Serphin Maltese.
In other election activity in Queens on Tuesday, Julissa Ferreras won the 21st Council District post previously held by Hiram Monserrate, who had vacated the seat by also winning a state senate seat in November.
Ferreras, a 32-year-old Democrat, easily defeated three opponents and became the first Hispanic woman to hold a council post in the borough. The district covers the Jackson Heights-Corona-Elmhurst-East Elmhurst areas adjacent to LaGuardia Airport.
Ulrich’s victory follows closely upon state Senator Frank Padavan’s re-election in Northeast Queens, retaining him as the only Republican from the borough in the upper house of the state legislature. Besides being the Republican Party District Leader in Ozone Park, Ulrich also heads the Our Neighbor Civic Association of Ozone Park. He ran with the strong backing of the Republican Party county organization chaired by Philip Ragusa.
In a victory statement issued after the votes were in, Ulrich thanked Ragusa for the party’s support and recalled naysayers’ remarks: “They said a Republican can never win. He is just a kid. Well, we proved them wrong.”
Ragusa responded, “[Eric] reaped the fruits of his hard work organizing, party building and serving his community. The voters of this district clearly responded to his energetic and vigorous campaign.” He added, “I’ve said since November that rebuilding the Queens GOP will come in stages. The first block was Senator Padavan’s win. We had hoped Eric would be the second, and now he is. We are in a strong position to make further gains in the city council elections this November.”
Queens GOP Executive Vice Chairman Vince Tabone noted: “[Eric] knows everybody in his district. [He] was an outstanding candidate and will make a terrific city councilman. The county organization’s top priority was Eric’s election, as evidenced by the thousands of phone calls and e-mails we sent out, independent of Eric’s campaign, as well as the volunteers we directed to his race.”
Tabone also noted that Ulrich’s victory was not affected by the presence of a second Republican on the ballot, Mike Ricatto. Ricatto got 652 votes. Another Rockaway Democratic District Leader, Geraldine Chapey, received 891 votes.
Former Councilmember Tom Ognibene was credited with guiding Ulrich’s well-run campaign. Tribute was also paid to fellow Republican District Leaders Jane Deacy, William Johnert, Donna Caltabiano, Joe Kasper and Janice Bar; club leader Bernie Solow; Reagan Club President Rosemary Frissolone; Conservative Party Chairman Tom Long, and prominent Republican activists Tom Lynch and Pete Stubben.
The 32nd Council District, which besides Ozone Park and Howard Beach includes Broad Channel, the Rockaways and parts of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, was represented by Councilmember Alfonso Stabile before he was succeeded by Addabbo in 2002. Ulrich will serve out Addabbo’s term, which expires at the end of this year.
In the 21st Council District contest, which was also on the ballot on Tuesday, Julissa Ferreras defeated Francisco Moya and George Dixon, both Democratic District leaders, and Jose Eduardo Giraldo. The Queens Democratic organization did not endorse a candidate in the 21st District race because Moya and Dixon, both district leaders, were in the field.
Ferreras, who was endorsed by the Working Families Party, tallied more than 7,000 votes, almost 44 percent of the total, for a very impressive victory. “Without the Working Families Party, I never would have been able to get out my message of uniting our communities. This campaign was about fighting for all of us, and I was proud to have the WFP with me every step of the way,” she said in a post-election statement.
A jubilant Jose Schiffino, a member of the Queens chapter of the Working Families Party, responded: “Julissa Ferreras will be a force for New York’s working families in the city council.”
Working Families Party staff ran the Ferreras effort, and organizer Ted Fertik served as campaign manager. In addition to the WFP’s involvement, Ferreras was endorsed by several municipal labor unions, members of which were also active in her campaign.
Besides working for several years as Monserrate’s chief of staff, Ferreras was also active as an advocate for students and parents at P.S. 19 in Corona, one of the city’s most overcrowded schools. In her job as a top member of Monserrate’s staff, she helped to serve the entire district in constituent matters. She also aided in one of Monserrate’s greatest victories, helping to shape the final development plan for Willets Point. Monserrate had advocated for more jobs for local residents as well as more affordable housing and community benefits than developers first intended to include as part of the plan.
Ferreras will complete Monserrate’s council term, which expires at the end of the year.
THE CITY has quietly begun laying the groundwork to use eminent domain to acquire land for the construction of an 1,100-seat high school in Maspeth.
The school is proposed on the site of a former Restaurant Depot on 74th St. at 57th Ave., but a city official said the School Construction Authority has reached an impasse in its effort to buy the property.
"It has not been possible, as of this point, to negotiate a purchase," Education Department spokesman Will Havemann told the Queens News.
"As is our right, we are proposing to acquire the property through eminent domain," Havemann added, noting it is unclear if and when a condemnation proceeding would head to court.
The property owner, Lucky Star Elmhurst LLC, bought the industrial property in 2006 for $12.6 million, city records show. The warehouse is now used by a food distribution business, said Lucky Star attorney Hayes Young. Previous attempts to sell the property have been unsuccessful because the city's interest in buying it, starting in 2007, have "tied our hands," he said.
A public meeting required under state eminent domain law has been scheduled for Thursday at Public School 58 in Maspeth.
The new high school, projected to open in the fall of 2012, would serve grades 9 through 12.
One hundred seats would be reserved for special-education students. The remaining students would be divided between two high schools under the same roof.
Since the city introduced its plans last year, opposition has centered on the community's desire to have local students get priority.
Nick Comaianni, president of the local Community Education Council, noted that the district is the most overcrowded in the city. He also pointed out that there are two other schools in the vicinity of the proposed site.
"If it is not locally zoned, we don't see it as necessary for another school to go up in that area," he said.
City officials have said priority will be given only to Queens students. But Havemann said giving priority to local students to alleviate high school overcrowding in the district has not been ruled out.
"We believe strongly in the value of school choice at the high school level," he said. "Zoning a high school limits that choice, and can keep students from attending the school that will serve them best."
Plans for the new school, funded in the Education Department's 2005 capital plan, must be approved by the City Council.
Newly elected Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has said she would not support it unless it is locally zoned.
The plan was scheduled to be taken up by Council subcommittees yesterday and today and could be voted on by the full Council as early as Thursday, Council sources confirmed last week. But Crowley announced yesterday that the Education Department has agreed to a one-month review period for the new school.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
A bill that could end Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid for a third term is reportedly picking up steam in Albany.
According to the New York Times, the State Assembly Committee on Election law has enough votes to approve a bill that would effectively undo the law that allows the mayor and City Council members to run for a third term.
The Senate Elections committee is set to vote on the bill on March 10th.
The bill would apply retroactively, and would require a public referendum on term limits in the city.
The committees are just the first step in the process. It would still have to be approved by Governor David Paterson – who has expressed support for the mayor's efforts to run for a third term.
New York City officials say 919 guns were collected during a one-day buy-back program at six Queens churches.
The program paid $200 to anyone who turned in a gun. A pellet or BB gun was worth $20. The officials say they paid a total of $158,880.
The weekend buy-back results were announced Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Since last summer, similar programs in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island - plus the Queens effort - have netted more than 3,500 guns. More than half of them are handguns.
The goal is to reduce crime and tragic accidents.
Two firefighters were hospitalized after falling 15 feet while fighting a four-alarm blaze in Queens last night, authorities said.
It wasn't immediately clear what caused them to plunge while in the warehouse at 56-95 49th Place in Maspeth shortly after 8 p.m.
One suffered a broken arm, the other a minor head injury, officials said. Both were taken to Elmhurst Hospital.
"They were pulled out of the warehouse conscious and on their own power," an FDNY spokesman said.
A third firefighter was treated at the scene for minor injuries.
The warehouse was unoccupied and in an industrial area.
It took about five hours to bring the blaze under control.
I think it should be noted that Mike Ricatto reportedly spent at least $100,000 on the race...my math shows that amounts to $153.60 per vote, that's quite a lot of money to spend (without matching funds from nyc campaign finance board) to finish last...
Mainland Republican District Leader Eric Ulrich was victorious on Tuesday, winning the City Council seat vacated by State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. by more than 800 votes.
Ulrich polled 3,316 votes in the win.
Rockaway candidates came in second and third in the contentious election. Democratic District Leader Lew Simon polled 2,502 votes while another Democratic District Leader, Geraldine M. Chapey, polled 846.
Ozone Park businessman Mike Ricatto, who spent more than $100,000 on his campaign, polled just 651 votes.
For the full story on the election, read Friday’s Wave.
Rose and Ulrich Ahead, Ferreras Calls It for Herself by Elizabeth Benjamin - The Daily Politics - NY Daily News (Updated with NY1 Final Tallys)
The unofficial results so far from the city Board of Elections in today's three City Council special elections are as follows:32nd CD (Queens, Final 100.00% of eds reporting):
- Eric Ulrich: 3,316
- Lew Simon: 2,502
- Geraldine Chapey: 846
- Mike Ricatto: 651
Absentee ballots returned: 507
- Julissa Ferreras: 2,216
- Francisco Moya: 1,191
- George Dixon: 781
- Jose Eduardo Giraldo: 639
Absentee ballots returned: 328.
- Ken Mitchell: 4,130 *
- Debi Rose: 4,096 *
- Tony Baker: 849
- John Tabacco: 558
- Paul Saryian: 538
- Donald Pagano: 532
*Absentee ballots returned: 395
All photos from candidates Facebook pages...except ken mitchell, from candidates web site...
I can't help but wonder...Is the Aqueduct deal for video lottery terminals with Delaware North about to go sour, in favor of Belmont Park..? I sure hope not for the community's sake...
Project Could Be Hindered by Competing Aqueduct Development
A state panel is recommending a racino and hotel be built at Belmont Park race track to generate jobs and revenue for the state.
Gov. David Paterson embraced the recommendations from Racing & Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini and Empire State Development Corp. President Marisa Lago weeks ago, but kept it under wraps until their report was released Monday.
Sabini and Lago led a group charged with identifying uses for the Nassau County track, which the state acquired from the New York Racing Association. The hotel and racino would be built on 8 acres near the grandstand.
"These would create jobs and enable a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly environment," the report says.
Development plans for another 20 acres should include retail, a smaller hotel, senior housing and some recreational opportunities. "These uses maximize economic benefits and create a lively urban center," the report says.
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook cautioned that while the governor had accepted the report, he hasn't yet endorsed a specific development plan for Belmont.
The plan is far from a done deal. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and many members of his conference are not enthused about having Belmont compete with nearby Aqueduct for video lottery terminal customers.
Also, the operators of the proposed Aqueduct VLT racino in Queens must be granted a greater share of VLT revenues if Belmont gets a racino.
Under the deal in which Delaware North agreed to build the racino at Aqueduct, the Buffalo-based gaming company was assured a greater fee if Belmont gets a racino, too.
Legislation would have to be passed to alter the VLT rates to benefit Delaware North — and the company isn't planning to give the state its $370 million up-front payment for rights to operate at Aqueduct until such legislation is in place, according to company officials.
Because Paterson is planning to receive that $370 million by March 31, the legislation is critical in the next few weeks, Delaware North says.
James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at email@example.com
Read the full report on Belmont development at http://blogs.timesunion.com/capitol
The grassroots party played a major role in the victory, lending its staff to run Ferreras' bid to become the first Latina elected official in Queens.
“Julissa Ferreras will be a force for New York’s working families in the City Council,” said a jubilant Jose Schiffino, member of the Queens Chapter of the Working Families Party. “We endorsed Ferreras because of her tireless work fighting for responsible development and better schools, and we’re proud to have helped put her over the top.”
Working Families Party staff ran the Ferreras effort, and organizer Ted Fertik served as the campaign manager. The WFP and its affiliates, including ACORN, the Hotel Trades Council, and SEIU locals 1199 and 32BJ, together knocked on over 20,000 doors to help put Ferreras across the finish line.
Julissa Ferreras said: “Without the Working Families Party, I never would have been able to get out my message of uniting our communities. This campaign was about fighting for all of us, and I was proud to have the WFP with me every step of the way.”
The Working Families Party has helped elect dozens of City Councilmembers, including Letitia James, who became the first victorious third party Council candidate in decades in 2003.
In 2008, the Working Families Party received over 210,000 combined votes across New York for its Congressional candidates.
To listen to the interview go to www.lagcc.cuny.edu/webradio.
THE PEREZ NOTES airs every Wednesday from 6-8PM so spread the news and tell a friend. Azi will be giving us all a post election analysis so tune in.
Azi Paybarah bio from Wikipedia...
Azi Paybarah is a New York-based journalist who focuses primarily on local politics. A former reporter for the New York Press and editor of a blog hosted by the New York Sun entitled 51st State, Paybarah has recently returned to his former home at The New York Observer, where he writes frequent pieces for their daily blog, The Politicker.
Azi attended the University at Albany, and spent the next few years in the state capital working on campaigns prior to moving back to New York City.
FORECLOSURES FROM PREDATORY LOANS HIT BROOKLYN HARD
On Saturday, Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (NY-10) will host a town hall meeting in response to the public outcry about the prevalence of predatory lending and its impacts on Brooklyn communities. Adding to the financial crisis, predatory lenders have targeted elderly, minority, and financially inexperienced borrowers, disrupting families and destroying communities all across the country. In Brooklyn, the problem has manifested in many ways, including the high rate of foreclosures and the lack of affordable housing.
At the meeting, residents will hear from Rep. Towns, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose committee is charged with oversight of federal agencies and the stimulus package. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will address preventative measures and issues in predatory lending, and a representative from the Census Bureau will also be on hand to present information about the 2010 Census. The event is free and open to the public.
Date: Saturday, February 28, 2009
Time: 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Location: Holy Family Church - 9719 Flatlands Ave.- Brooklyn, NY 11236 - Between Rockaway Parkway and East 98th Street
With many of our neighborhood supermarkets closing in Queens, this is a fortunate day for Queens Village residents...With help from Assemblymember Mark S. Weprin (D-Little Neck), the Food Dynasty in Queens Village has a new twenty-year lease to remain at its current location, 220-46 Hillside Avenue. When negotiations were stalled on the renewal of the lease that was set to expire at the end of February, Assemblymember Weprin took action to save the supermarket. Mr. Weprin contacted the landlord’s attorney to encourage the resumption of talks. Negotiations then progressed, and the landlord and store owner
have now reached an agreement.
“I am so pleased that we have retained the supermarket,” said Mark Weprin. “Our community cannot afford to lose the supermarket, which serves seniors as well as families with young children. Without this store, they would have had nowhere to shop for food in the neighborhood.”
Assemblymember Weprin thanks President Bobby Sher of Bell Park Manor Terrace and the residents of Bellerose Manor and Queens Village for their efforts in support of keeping the supermarket in the community.
Stimulus Provides Record Boost for Fighting Drugs, Gangs, and Violence against the Elderly Funding is More Than the Last Four Years Combined
Buried deep in the stimulus bill is more than $30 million to help New York City fight crime. The “Justice Assistance Grant” (JAG) program is a multi-purpose, anti-crime initiative that helps cops, District Attorneys, and prosecutors take on gang violence, drug trafficking, and juvenile justice.
According to a study released today by Representative Anthony Weiner (D – Queens and Brooklyn), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the City will receive a $30 to $35 million windfall in JAG funding – more than the last four years combined.
Among the programs that have been funded with jag dollars in the past are:
NYPD used funds to implement state-of-the-art child exploitation tracking system
Brooklyn DA used funds to try violent juvenile offenders, particularly those affiliated with gangs
Manhattan DA used funds to target criminals who are violent and habitual offenders
Queens DA used funds to target hate crimes and track patterns of youth gang development
Staten Island DA to enhance the prosecution of violent offenders.
Special Narcotics Prosecutor used funds to crackdown on career and violent narcotics offenders
City used funds to manage digital images and videos sent to 911 and 311 systems via cell phones and computers.
The recently-enacted stimulus provides more than $2.76 billion nationwide to allow states and local governments to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime and to improve the criminal justice system.
Rep. Weiner said, “These funds get the federal government back in the business of keeping our streets safe. They will help all levels of law enforcement put violent criminals and gangs behind bars.”
Chairman Towns was invited to the summit by President Obama and took the opportunity to raise his concerns about ongoing contracting and procurement problems that will affect the distribution of federal funds. He also offered several ideas about how to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
Chairman Towns maintains a hard-line stance on the importance of increasing transparency and compliance with the minority and women-owned business mandates as we stimulate local economies, especially in communities like Brooklyn, New York.
“Given the current fiscal crisis, I want to make sure the federal government spends money to help stimulate the national economy and that MWBE’s – like the ones that employ people in local communities all across New York – are not forgotten during this process,” said Rep. Towns. “There are more than 215,000 New York jobs at stake.”
Chairman Towns recommended that the government make a concerted effort to break its pattern of engaging primarily with mega-contractors. Often, small and minority-owned businesses nationwide cannot get contracts with the government, preventing critical dollars from reaching communities and preventing potentially more innovative companies from offering their services.
“One reason why we tend to rely only on a few mega-contractors is that we don’t have the personnel to administer more, smaller contracts,” said Towns. “We are essentially contracting-out the acquisition and project management functions of the federal government.”
Chairman Towns also noted that the government must look at its basic contracting efforts and begin to hire and better-train contracting officers. By doing so, many of these problematic contracts and cost overruns could be detected and prevented.
Chairman Towns is set to hold a hearing on Thursday to look into how convicts and con artists – people who have been formally debarred from federal contracting – continue to receive new work because the databases created to maintain this information are out of date and inaccurate.
"If some Governors decide to reject the money, other states should be able to use it to create thousands of jobs," Weiner says
Representative Anthony Weiner (D - Brooklyn and Queens), a Regional Democratic Whip, announced new legislation to send stimulus money rejected by Governors to other states in need.
To date, five (5) Governors have announced they will turn down sections of the economic stimulus package.
Rep. Weiner said, "If some Governors decide to reject the money, forty-five (45) other states should be able to use it to create thousands of jobs. We have plenty of projects across the country that will put people to work and help achieve long term economic growth and stability. This money would help prevent layoffs for police, firefighters and teachers."
Out of Business
New Study Shows More than 650 Big Chain Pharmacies Dominate NYC Market; 77 Community Pharmacies Closed Last Year Alone the Result: Changing Neighborhoods, Higher Drug Prices
Big chain pharmacies have muscled out more than 75 mom and pop pharmacies in the last year alone, according to a new study conducted by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D – Queens and Brooklyn), a member of the House Commerce Committee. While community pharmacies close, big chain pharmacies have grown to 654 today from 165 in 1990.
Ever wonder whatever happened to your neighborhood pharmacy with its lower prices and personalized service? According to Rep. Weiner's office, hundreds of neighborhood pharmacies are going out of business,only to be replaced by giant pharmacy chains.
Weiner Pharmacy Study
- § 77 neighborhood pharmacies closed in New York City last year alone
- § Chain pharmacies (4 or more stores) have grown to 654, up from 165 in 1990.
- § The largest chains, like Duane Reade, Rite Aid, and CVS, have gobbled up the City's pharmacy market. There are currently 226 Duane Reade stores, 85 Rite Aid stores, 56 Walgreens, and 119 CVS stores in the five boroughs. Supermarkets and other big box stores make up the remaining 83 pharmacies.
- § Neighborhood pharmacies are closing over all the five boroughs: 23 closed in Queens; 22 in Brooklyn; 16 in Manhattan; 12 in the Bronx; and 4 in Staten Island.
The result is higher drug prices for New Yorkers. In fact, the average New York City chain store charged $901.28 for a monthly supply of 10 drugs, while independent stores charge $69 dollars less – costing consumers $828 more a year for a typical suite of drugs.
Rep. Weiner will introduce the Community Pharmacy Fairness Act, which will allow independent pharmacists to jointly negotiate terms and conditions of insurance contracts to better compete with the bargaining power of huge chains.
Rep. Weiner said, "The invasion of the chain pharmacies has overrun our shopping strips. The result: higher prices, less personalized service, and the changing face of our neighborhoods. It's time we gave neighborhood pharmacies some first aid in the fight against Rite Aid."
To categorize pharmacies, Weiner staff used definitions provided by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which defines a neighborhood drug store as comprised of 3 pharmacies or less, and a chain drug store as 4 pharmacies or more (including supermarkets and mass merchants).
The report is available online at:
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley gets Department of Education to Allow a One Month Review Period for New Maspeth High School...
"We have an opportunity to build a great school that will benefit our community and help alleviate the dire overcrowding in public high schools throughout Queens," said Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. "However, by refusing neighborhood preference to local students, the DOE's proposed plans for the new Maspeth high school do not address the infrastructure and education needs of our community. I look forward to working with parents, community leaders and the DOE, in the coming weeks, on a new plan that is the best possible solution for our community and our kids."
The DOE will again present its proposal for the school before the City Council in approximately one month.
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley encourages community members to participate in this discussion by attending the Community Education Council's meeting on Tuesday, February 24 at PS 58 on Grand Avenue in Maspeth at 7pm.
Senator Jeff Klein Calls for Middle Class Tax Cuts and Increases on Higher Income Earners
RWDSU Supports Klein Tax Proposal
In the midst of legislative negotiations to fill the $14 billion dollar NYS budget gap, Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Jeff Klein released a progressive tax proposal which would provide middle class tax cuts to stimulate the economy while generating $1 billion dollars in revenue for the state.
Klein's proposal doubles the standard deduction for every type of tax filer and provides a tax cut in the form of a debit card to ensure spending (the standard deduction is a dollar amount reduced from one's total taxable income, thereby reducing their tax liability). Currently, a single person with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 can deduct $7,500 from their income, resulting in taxes on $52,500 of the filer's income rather than $60,000. Under the Senator's plan, the standard deduction would increase to $15,000 for a single person, resulting in taxes on $45,000 of the filer's income rather than $60,000.
"This is an opportunity to reform an antiquated tax system and start a conversation about creating a system which is more fair and equitable. We need to provide real relief and recovery for middle income New Yorkers who need it the most, while at the same time seeking solutions to generate revenue," said Klein
Klein's proposal also increases taxes on individuals making more than 250K/year with rates increasing from 6.85 to 8.97 percent for millionaires and 10.3 percent for income above $3 million.
Whether single married or retired, households making less than 250K would receive tax cuts ranging from $466 to $1,165 in the form of a debit card. Individuals will be able to use the debit card as they would a gift card- solely for spending, thereby stimulating the economy. The cards will have an expiration date in 2009, as determined by the Dept. of Taxation and Finance, with unspent money reverting back to the state.
An example of the current NYS Personal Income Tax rate structure is as follows: an individual earning just over $20,000 a year would pay the same marginal tax rate (6.85%) on their last dollar earned as a millionaire would (6.85%). A married couple filing jointly earning just over $40,000 a year would be taxed at the same marginal rate (6.85 percent) on their last dollar earned as a couple making $10 million.
The state income tax was once much more progressive, with very wealthy New Yorkers paying a much greater proportion of their income in taxes than middle-class taxpayers.
In 1972, New York State had a PIT with 14 different brackets ranging from 2 percent to 15 percent. Since then, changes to the income tax have gradually made the personal income tax flatter, ultimately resulting in today's narrow rate range of 4-6.85 percent. This movement toward a regressive income tax has benefited wealthy New Yorkers.
"This is the beginning of the conversation about a short-term solution and long-term recovery. In the short-term we've got to jump start this economy, but the key to long-term stability is creating a tax code that is fair for all New Yorkers."
New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today called on the New York City Fire Department to disclose its plans to address the impact of the planned closures of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Queens hospitals.
In a letter to Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, which can be viewed at http://www.comptroller.nyc.gov/, Thompson wrote: “These closures are scheduled to take place by the end of this month, yet there has been no meaningful effort by your office to educate the surrounding communities about how these closures will impact the health and safety of area residents including transition plans for ‘911’ emergency medical response and treatment services.”
Thompson noted that if the two closures occur a total of 15 New York City emergency rooms will have closed since 2002, with four emergency rooms having closed within the last two years. Among the recent closures, Parkway Hospital served some of the same communities as St. John’s Hospital.
“With the City’s economy in decline and as increasing numbers of City residents lose their jobs and health insurance, there will be significant demands on emergency rooms as City residents’ access to primary care decreases,” Thompson wrote. “With capacity already strained, crowded emergency rooms mean longer wait times for patients, fewer ambulances available to take calls, and possibly, diminished health outcomes as some ambulances are forced to travel farther in an emergency.”
Thompson asked that FDNY, which oversees EMS, take the lead in evaluating the impact of the two proposed Queens hospital closures, as well as publicly outline the steps necessary to minimize adverse impacts.
He further recommended that the FDNY hold a public hearing to allow residents an opportunity to provide input. If the closures move ahead as planned, he suggested that FDNY-EMS publish data indicating what effect, if any, the closures have had on ambulance response and turnaround times in the emergency rooms of the next closest hospitals.
Thompson has been advocating to prevent or delay the hospital closures.
In 2006, Thompson issued a report “Emergency Room Care: Will It Be There?,” analyzing the impact of the proposed closure of five hospitals, including Parkway Hospital in Queens. The report detailed how such closures could overwhelm emergency rooms at neighboring hospitals, reduce ambulance availability, and require New Yorkers to travel farther to reach an emergency room. Since then, Parkway Hospital has closed, placing added pressure on the remaining hospitals. If Mary Immaculate and St. John’s close as well, Western and Southwestern Queens will have lost 3 hospitals within two years.
In 2004, Jamaica Hospital, the closest hospital to Mary Immaculate, had roughly 100,000 emergency room visits compared to approximately 45,000 at Mary Immaculate. If all of the patients from Mary Immaculate switched to Jamaica Hospital, this would represent an almost 50% increase in activity.
Legislators Call On Governor Paterson And Mayor Bloomberg To Use Stimulus Money To End Flooding In Northeastern Queens
"For years my constituents have waited for the City to put a stop to the flooding in this area. With the federal stimulus package New York finally has the resources to solve this problem once and for all. It is up to Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson to put those stimulus dollars to good use by investing them in sewage and drainage projects here and show that they have not forgotten about Queens," said Assemblyman Lancman.
"Queens residents expect answers not excuses when it comes to ending the flooding problems. Some catch basins in Queens were designed a generation-and-a-half ago. Stimulus money should be used to solve the area's sewage infrastructure and free up the strain on the City," said Congressman Weiner.
Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman, Congressman Anthony Weiner, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Councilman James Gennaro call on Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg to use stimulus money to end flooding in Northeastern Queens.
"We anticipate New York State will receive approximately $25 billion in federal stimulus money. Part of this funding should be used to mitigate the flooding problems, which are familiar to anyone who lives in Fresh Meadows, which can turn into a veritable swimming pool during an intense downpour.
We are calling today on Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to do what is right and fair, and earmark some of the stimulus package funds for this area so that the storm sewer infrastructure can be upgraded to a level appropriate for the community's needs," said Senator Stavisky.
"Just the other day the Bloomberg Administration warned of severe flooding that will hit New York City in years to come due to climate change. The residents of this part of Queens don't need a fancy report to know this; they already scoop buckets of flood water out of their basements every time it rains. If we don't use federal stimulus funds to bail them out and fix this problem for good, these folks will be bailing out their basements forever. Let's get this done now!" said Councilman Gennaro, who chairs the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee.