Monday, January 31, 2011

Eyesore Next Door: Nearly Century-Old Nude Statue in Kew Gardens Crumbling from Lack of Care by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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A neglected nude statue by Frederick MacMonnies stands unkempt in Kew Gardens in Queens
The decaying marble statue that sits at Union Turnpike and Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens was crafted almost 100 years ago with the loftiest of intentions.
A strapping young man, molded in the classical form, is the personification of Civic Virtue, triumphant over the twin sirens of Vice and Corruption.
These days, however the monument is looking less than virtuous.
"It's deteriorating," said Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9, which includes Kew Gardens. "We were told if it's left to its own devices, it will eventually crumble into dust."

From the start, the monument - by renowned sculptor Frederick MacMonnies - sparked controversy. When it was unveiled at City Hall in 1922, women were furious that a naked man was shown stepping on the female sirens.Mayor Fiorello La Guardia banished the statue to Queens but the borough's authorities were never happy with it, either.
The statue is owned by the city, so it falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which manages city-owned buildings and property. But Parks Department officials said they have been charged with caring for it over the years.
Parks officials said a proper cleaning and repair would cost "tens of thousand of dollars."

Gunshow Undercover - Arizona - A Project of the City of New York

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Just two weeks after the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, private investigators went to a gun show in Phoenix, Arizona -- one of thousands of such shows that occur across the country every year -- to test two basic questions:
How easy is it to buy a gun without a background check?
  • Answer: In a matter of minutes, an investigator purchased a Glock 9 millimeter and two high capacity magazines, similar to the weapon used by Jared Loughner, without background checks.
And, would unlicensed sellers sell guns to people who said they probably could not pass a background check?
  • Answer: Yes. An undercover investigator purchased two 9 millimeter pistols from two different sellers, even after the investigator told the sellers that "I probably couldn't pass a background check."
Private gun sales, like those at gun shows, occur with no background checks, and provide a dangerous loophole that fuels the interstate and international market for illegal guns. These loopholes in our system make it too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.
You can also watch videos from the 2009 Gun Show Undercover Investigation where 19 of 30 private sellers - 63% - broke the law by completing a sale to a buyer who they thought could not pass a background check.

Sign the petition:

At a gun show in Phoenix , Arizona on January 23, 2011, an undercover investigator bought a Glock 9mm similar to the one used by the shooter in Tucson 15 days before and three 33-round extended magazines, no questions, no background check.

It is illegal for a dealer to sell a gun to someone they suspect could not pass a background check. Watch what private sellers at a Phoenix, Arizona gun show did when an undercover investigator said he probably couldn't pass a background check.
It is illegal for a dealer to sell a gun to someone they suspect could not pass a background check. Watch what private sellers at a Phoenix, Arizona gun show did when an undercover investigator said he probably couldn't pass a background check.

Two Council Members, Dozens of Parents and Youth Arrested Protesting School Closures Near DOE Headquarters « EdVox

Hundreds of Fed Up Parents, Students Rally to “Fix Schools, Not Just Close Them

Two New York City Council Members and dozens of parents and youth were arrested for blocking traffic at Chambers and Centre Street following a rally outside Department of Education (DOE) headquarters. Council Members Jumaane Williams and Charles Barron were among those arrested when hundreds of parents and students gathered to demand the City “fix schools, not just close them” as the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) prepares to vote this week on whether or not to close 26 schools. The rally was organized by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and the Urban Youth Collaborative.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli Proposes Pension Forfeiture Bill

Calls for Severe Penalties for Abuse of Public Trust

Public officials stand to lose pension benefits if they commit a felony related to the performance of their duties under a bill proposed today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. DiNapoli’s bill also imposes a penalty up to twice the amount a public official benefitted from the commission of a crime committed in the course of his or her public duty.

“When public officials break the law while performing their public duty, they should forfeit their public pension, plain and simple,” DiNapoli said. “It’s time to take away the pension of anyone found guilty of committing a felony in the course of his or her official duties. No one who violates the public trust should be allowed to receive a taxpayer-funded pension. And the tough sanctions I’m pushing will remind every public official that violating the public trust will not be tolerated.

“Public confidence in government has been bruised and battered. This bill will be a strong step toward rebuilding trust.”

“New York’s pension system needs to be reformed and this is a logical first step,” said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. “This proposal ensures government officials who violate the public trust are accountable for their misdeeds, not rewarded for them.”

DiNapoli noted that while the state constitution prohibits any diminishment of retirement benefits for current public officials and public servants, the new felony provisions would apply to all current and future public officials and public servants.

Fulfilling a pledge made last fall, DiNapoli’s legislation provides for the revocation of the pension benefits of future Retirement System members who are state or local elected officials, officers and appointees, including directors and members of public authorities and public benefit corporations, who are convicted of or plead to the commission of a job-related felony.

DiNapoli’s bill also enhances penalties by elevating Official Misconduct to a felony and increasing the penalties for any abuse of the public trust by public employees in New York state. An abuse of the public trust entails committing a felony and using one’s position as a public servant to commit or conceal a felony or to conspire to commit a felony.

Public officials who abuse the public trust would be forced to pay a penalty up to twice the amount they benefitted from the commission of the crime. In addition, Class A-1 and Class B felons would face increased incarceration time by four to 20 years depending on the severity of the crime. The monetary penalty and enhanced sentencing would be in addition to any other sanctions imposed by existing law. This portion of the bill would be applicable to all public servants in the state regardless of whether they are a member of the New York State and Local Retirement System.

The pension forfeiture provisions in DiNapoli’s bill apply only to prospective members of the Retirement System so the bill will withstand legal challenges.

To view DiNapoli’s proposed bill, visit:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Senator Addabbo Hopeful for a Bipartisan Session by AnnMarie Costella - Queens Chronicle

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Practical laws to help everyday people —that is the legislative goal of state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) this session. He hopes the switch of power from Democratic to Republican control in Albany will not hinder the Senate’s main purpose, which is to work for the betterment of New York residents.

“We need to optimize the professionalism of the Senate in order to reach our full potential for the good of the people and the state government,” Addabbo said. “We need to share resources and ideas.”

But it hasn’t gotten off to a good start. Addabbo said he and his colleagues were given rules changes shortly before the session started.

“There was no public hearing or time to examine them and compare them to the current rules,” Addabbo said. “That is unacceptable.”

“I hope this is not an indication of how things will be going forward,” Addabbo continued. “I am sincerely optimistic and hopeful that we have learned a lot over the last two years and the last 40 years of the Senate, so that we can shed this label of dysfunction.”

Addabbo is already showing that he is ready to cross the aisle and work with the GOP. He supports a state spending cap and a bill to limit future tax increases, both of which were introduced by Republican senators.

The first bill, S. 1892, places limitations on the amount of money the governor may propose to spend in a given fiscal year. While the other, S.1919, would require a two-thirds vote each by the Senate and Assembly before increasing or decreasing any tax rate; imposing a new state tax; or extending or removing an existing state tax.

“Public support for a spending cap is strong and the state government needs to address its spending practices,” Addabbo said in a statement. “A spending cap will force more discipline over budget and tax measures, meaning state government will have to live within its means, just like our families do.”

The senator plans to introduce numerous bills this session, covering a wide range of issues — most of which, he says, came from the ideas, concerns and complaints of his constituents.

Based on findings that tires over seven years old are usually dangerously worn and tend to blow out causing accidents, Addabbo is proposing a law that would require companies to put a label on each tire with the date when it was manufactured.

Tires usually have this information imprinted on them already, but it’s coded, Addabbo explained, making it impossible for consumers to decipher.

“The average person should know what they are buying,” Addabbo said.

Also on his agenda, is legislation that he hopes will act as a drunk driving deterrent. He wants any intoxicated person who gets behind the wheel and kills someone to be charged with murder.

Typically, they would be slapped with a vehicular manslaughter because the act is believed to be unintended. Addabbo, however, contends that it is quite the opposite.

“There is that threshold, right before you lose rational thought, where you make that conscious decision not to give your keys to someone,” Addabbo said. “Until we really crack down on this issue, these incidents will continue to occur in our community.”

Every time a person buys a new house and changes residence, they are required to re-register to vote, the lawmaker said, so to make it easier he wants to require that the voter registration forms are provided at real estate closings.

“You wouldn’t be required to fill them out, but at least you would have the option,” Addabbo said.

As the then chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, one of the top complaints Addabbo received was that the type on the new election ballots is too small and constituents are having a hard time reading them, so he has introduced legislation to change that.

As chairman of the Senate’s Gaming and Wagering Committee, Addabbo is worried about the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans possibly opening a casino complex in Monticello, Sullivan County, thanks to an agreement signed with former Gov. David Paterson.

It would compete with the new Aqueduct racino, scheduled to open this spring in South Ozone Park, hindering its chance of success before it even gets off the ground, according to Addabbo. He plans to write a letter to Gov. Cuomo soon expressing his concerns.

“Working everyday and having the opportunity to help the people in my district is a privilege,” Addabbo said. “I understand their concerns and I will always be there for them.”

Queens Dems Back Pheffer for County Clerk by Howard Koplowitz -

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Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer says she will accept an appointment to Queens County clerk if a presiding judge picks her for the position. Photo by Christina Santucci

Queens Democrats have recommended state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) for Queens County clerk to fill the post left vacant by the death of Gloria D’Amico.

“If it’s offered to me, I will take it. I’ve been in office 24 years and I would love to be offered this opportunity,” Pheffer said of the position. “I know the Queens organization can make a recommendation and they recommended me.”

The presiding judge of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, A. Gail Prudenti, is responsible for choosing the next Queens County clerk.

Prudenti is an appointee of former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, who selected her as presiding judge in 2002. D’Amico had been county clerk from 1991 until her death last month.

D’Amico was the first woman to be appointed county clerk and began her political career by joining the Taminent Regular Democratic Club in Astoria and rose to Democratic district leader in 1970.

“I knew Gloria D’Amico loved her job ... so that’s the job I’m looking for now. I think it’s a people’s job, but you [also] have to deal with the public,” Pheffer said. “It’s a position I would find interesting.”

Before the county clerk position became open, it was no secret Pheffer had her eye set on running for Queens borough president — an ambition she put off after the city’s term limits law was changed and Borough President Helen Marshall decided to run for a third term.

Pheffer would not rule out running for borough president even if she were appointed county clerk.

“Politics is a funny thing,” she said. “Borough president is three years down the road. This is an opportunity that’s here now.”

If Pheffer were to get the post, Gov. Andrew Cuomo would most likely call for a special election to fill her Assembly seat.

“There’s always a lot of names” that come up for her seat, said Pheffer, who singled out her chief of staff, Joanne Simon, as her preferred successor.

“If she wants to run, I think it would be a wonderful opportunity,” Pheffer said. “If Joanne ran, I would endorse her.”

Other names being floated include Democratic District Leaders Frank Gulluscio, Lew Simon and Geraldine Chapey. All three have run unsuccessfully for City Council.

But if things do not work out for Pheffer, she said she still loves her current job.

“I’m happy being the assemblywoman,” she said.

Worksman Cycles - Queens Bike Maker Seeks Big Leg Up by Hilary Potkewitz- Crain's New York Business

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Ever since the city's Department of Transportation started asking for proposals for a citywide bike-share program in November, a small bike factory in Queens has been trying to get noticed.
“It's a grassroots effort at this point, but we're trying to create as much awareness as we can with local businesses, the Department of Transportation and the Mayor's Office,” says Wayne Sosin, president of Worksman Cycles. In fact, the company has been quietly wheeling out heavy-duty bicycles and tricycles in Ozone Park since the 1890s.
“No other city has the opportunity to source their bicycles from their own local bike manufacturer,” Mr. Sosin adds, noting that Worksman bikes are already used in several smaller U.S. cities' bike-share programs. “If that didn't happen in New York, it would be tragic.”
A contract for 10,000 or more bikes for New York City's program would be a huge boost for the small company, and would mean hiring more welders, painters, assemblers and packers for the Queens plant. That's a fact not lost on local politicians. Nearly all of Worksman's employees live in the five boroughs.


“Those jobs are important not just for that one business, but for the local economy,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich, whose district includes Ozone Park. “If the city is serious about keeping and creating local jobs throughout the boroughs, then it's going to do everything it can to support small businesses currently operating here.”
The DOT is accepting bids until Feb. 16 for the bike program, which would involve setting up more than 600 bike stations around the city, equipped with high-tech locks, and more than 10,000 GPS-equipped bikes. The request for proposals dictates that a private company will bear all costs of the program, slated for a 2012 launch, and share any profits with the city.
Modeled on similar bike programs in Europe, the New York bike-share system will be the largest in the U.S. Naturally, the companies that run programs in other cities are eyeing the New York contract—but none manufacture their bikes in the U.S.
Mr. Sosin's challenge is to be considered as a possible supplier. It's proving an uphill climb.


“We love Worksman, and it's super cool to have the oldest bike manufacturer in the country right here in Queens,” said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, a transportation policy think tank. “I've mentioned them to all the [bike-share program] operators I've spoken to, but my role is advocating for better mobility options at less cost, not in picking sides.”
For nearly a century, Worksman bikes were primarily used in auto and other heavy industries to help employees get around in sprawling factories. When those plants began closing up, Worksman was hit hard.
The company has shifted its emphasis to recreational bikes for everything from old-age communities to urban bike-share programs. Its new line of commuter bikes costs $300 to $600, slightly more than foreign-made rivals. Last year, sales were up 10% over 2009 levels. The company's largest single order in recent years was 1,700 bikes for a Central American postal service.
The problem for Worksman's attempt to get in on the big New York contract is that the bike-share industry is dominated by BIXI, a Canadian outfit that runs such programs in Montreal, London, Boston and elsewhere. Its bikes are manufactured in Quebec by Cycles Devinci, which last year received a sizable grant from the Canadian government to expand its assembly line. Denver, Chicago and Louisville, Ky., use Asian-made Trek bikes.
DOT declined to give details on proposals that have been submitted, but it's safe to assume that major players like BIXI are aggressively bidding for the contract, said Transportation Alternatives.
That prospect concerned Mr. Ulrich. “I think that preferential treatment absolutely should be given to local businesses like this bike manufacturer,” he said. “Why should we be giving money to a Canadian company when we can create more jobs right here?”

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Prevent GOP from Repealing Healthcare Reform Legislation by David M. Quintana -

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Dear Editor:

The GOP is gearing up for this week’s U.S. House of Representatives vote on repealing the health-care bill — and the time for us to take a stand is now. We need to be clear about what Republicans are trying to do: take away health care from 32 million uninsured Americans who have no other lifeline. These folks — our family, friends, neighbors, loved ones — need us to advocate for them, to speak out strongly and compassionately.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republicans have grievously misled the public about health-care reform from day one, and it is time to get real about the consequences of a repeal: families going into debt from medical costs they cannot afford, women losing coverage for life-saving mammograms and critical maternity care, seniors having to choose between their medication and buying food and $230 billion added to the deficit over 10 years.

This is why I am saying we simply cannot turn our backs on our fellow Americans and the future of this country by allowing a repeal of health care.

What would this repeal mean? It would be a gigantic step backward — a disastrous move for our fellow citizens and the direction of our nation. We must talk about the devastating results of losing health-care reform:

1. Women would be unable to get preventative services that save lives because their gender is a pre-existing condition.

2. With over 9 percent unemployment, young people who cannot afford skyrocketing premiums would be kicked off their parents’ plans.

3. Seniors, some of our most vulnerable citizens, could lose essential prescription coverage that their lives depend on.

We cannot sit idly by while Boehner and the GOP try to roll back reforms that dramatically improve the lives and well-being of millions of Americans. This touches all of us. Adequate, affordable health care cannot be the luxury for a precious few in this country — every single one of us needs and deserves it.

I would urge everyone reading this to call their congressional representative and demand that they vote against the GOP bill. This is not the time to backslide on health care for our family, friends, loved ones and neighbors.

David M. Quintana
Ozone Park, NY

Jamaica's Hostess Factory Workers Face Unsure Future by Christina Santucci -

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After the closing of the Hostess Co.’s Wonder Bread factory in Jamaica last week, many of the plant’s 175 former workers were left wondering what they would do next.

Woodhaven resident David Drysdale, 46, spent half of his life in the engineering department after taking the job at age 23. Now he hopes to find a position in the same field.

“Nobody is happy losing their jobs,” Drysdale said outside the main entrance at 168-23 Douglas Ave. on his last day. “I will miss this place. Everybody became like family.”

Hostess officially shut the doors to the Jamaica factory last Thursday. Built in 1870, the building was first the Shults Bread Co. Hostess, Wonder Bread’s parent company, announced the closing late last year, saying the 100,000-square-foot facility was in need of modernization and that the company did not have the money to pay for the update.

“We appreciate the years of dedicated service by many of our employees and regret the impact the plant closing will have on them and their families,” a spokesman for Hostess said in a statement.

The company said that at least 15, and possibly more, workers would be reassigned within Hostess.

To help some of the 175 laid-off workers find employment, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) — in conjunction with the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. and the city’s Workforce 1 job counseling program — organized a job fair at the plant last week.

“There’s no doubt that those companies want these guys. There still is hope for them,” Comrie said of the Wonder workers.

In addition, Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) said his office was also working to find new jobs for the bakery’s employees.

“There was a lot of frustration, but now a lot are using that frustration and channeling it into finding a new job,” Wills said.

Several factory employees seemed cautiously optimistic about last week’s event, while others noted the low pay offered by prospective employers.

“It was fair,” Drysdale said. “We will see what the results are, if they can help us find something.”

Robert Harvell, 56, opted to retire after more than three decades working in the shipping and transportation department. Harvell said he mentally weighed his pension package against future wages at another job, and retirement seemed like the better plan.

“I was making $21 an hour, and now I’m going to work for $8?” he asked.

Now that he is retired, Harvell plans to spend time with his two grandchildren and maybe travel. Once the winter is over, he said he might try to work as a limo driver.

“As far as physical, manual labor, I’m done with that,” he said.

Still, he said, he had no regrets about his time with Hostess.

“The bakery, it was good to me. I worked there 32 years. I put three kids through college and I got one more to go,” Harvell said.

Several workers bemoaned the loss of friendships formed at Wonder Bread.

Earl Millington and Ukeini Bartlett both started in the engineering department 4 1/2 years ago.

“It’s very said, it became a home,” said Millington, while wearing his 2010 top engineering performer jacket. Millington pointed out that Bartlett had earned the honor the year before.

Robert Sookraj, 58, of Ozone Park worked for 14 years in the factory — first in sanitation, then production and finally in shipping, where he was responsible for securing the bread within the trucks before the vehicles left the Jamaica facility. Since the factory closed, he has visited shops on Liberty Avenue seeking employment and even traveled to Brooklyn to see about openings.

“I have a little education, I have my license for driving, so I prefer driving,” he said Monday, “But if anything comes along, I have no choice.”

Sookraj, who has three grown children, guessed that he would be all right financially for a few months, but when asked if he was hopeful about landing another job, he said, “No, not really.”

Reporter Ivan Pereira contributed to this story.

Planners Seek Expansion at Kennedy and Newark Airports by Patrick McGeehan-

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The bay runway at Kennedy Airport could get a sibling built on a filled-in portion of Jamaica Bay under an airport expansion proposal.
The New York region’s two largest airports, already choked with crowds and delays, may need to be radically reconfigured so they can make way for vitally needed additional runways that would help accommodate a projected increase of almost 50 million air travelers per year within two or three decades, according to a new study.
The study, from the Regional Plan Association, calls for as much as $15 billion to be spent at Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airports. At Newark, all three terminals would have to be at least partially razed, then rebuilt; at Kennedy, part of Jamaica Bay might have to be filled to create space for one or more new runways.
The proposed expansions would amount to the most ambitious reshaping of any of the region’s major airports in several decades. They would require significant changes in the region’s airspace, a modernization of the system for controlling air traffic and at least one act of Congress.
If the proposals are accepted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, Newark and La Guardia Airports, they would surely encounter stiff resistance from local and national advocates for the environment, the report admits. They would also have to survive the political tug of war between the governors of New York and New Jersey, who jointly control the Port Authority.
The report, which was financed in part by the Port Authority, was scheduled to be presented at a daylong conference on the future of the airports in Manhattan on Thursday.
Christopher Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, was scheduled to attend the conference and was expected to discuss the report as fodder for planning. Asked for comment, a spokesman for Mr. Ward said only that “we look forward to examining this study.”
The study considered a spectrum of options that stretched to the fantastic: a new airport on an island in New York Bay. But the cost was deemed to be “exorbitant.”
Elected officials and business leaders have discussed airport expansion for years, but have been reluctant to broach the idea publicly to avoid stirring up opposition too soon, said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City. But, Ms. Wylde added, “It’s become very clear that our economic future depends on investment both in the technology and facilities upgrades and runway expansion at the regional airports.”
For years, the local airspace has been too clogged to consider adding any more traffic. Indeed, federal regulators have placed limits on the number of flights each hour to and from the region’s airports. But the federal government is planning to upgrade the nation’s air traffic control system with a program known as NextGen that will allow more planes to squeeze into the region, said Jeffrey M. Zupan, a transportation analyst who is one of the report’s authors.
Once the first phase of NextGen is in operation, the Port Authority should seek to have the caps on flights lifted and begin making room for new runways and gates to accommodate the increasing traffic, the report says. It estimates that traffic at the three airports will increase steadily from about 104 million passengers annually last year to 150 million passengers within 20 to 30 years. Mr. Zupan said that the airports currently cannot handle more than about 110 million passengers a year.
The Port Authority has been grappling with how to alleviate congestion at its major airports; in 2007, it acquired a long-term lease on Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, N.Y., with the purpose of making it the region’s fourth major airport. That goal has yet to be realized, and the new plan suggests that the Port Authority’s money and efforts would be better spent at Kennedy and Newark.
The question of the Port Authority’s mission arose again this month when New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, asked for $1.8 billion to build and repair roads and bridges in North Jersey. New York’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, demanded that the Port Authority refuse that request, because, he said, the agency should devote its resources to grand plans that would benefit the economy of the entire region.
The cost estimates are preliminary and vary widely depending on which of several options for expanding Kennedy would be chosen, according to the report. The authors laid out seven proposals for adding runway space at Kennedy, some of which would require filling in more of the bay than others.
At Newark, they concluded, the only feasible way to expand would be to add a runway between the existing terminals and the two main runways in use there now. Doing that would require the demolition of all of Terminal B and parts of Terminals A and C, Mr. Zupan said.
Rebuilding the terminals in Newark could cost as much as $5 billion, which could raise the total cost of the expansion to $15 billion, the report says. But it estimates that not expanding the airports could cost the region $16 billion a year in lost airfare, as well as up to 125,000 jobs and $6 billion in annual wages.
At Kennedy, expansion could cost anywhere from $1 billion to $3.5 billion, depending on whether one or two runways are added and how they are configured, the report says. It lays out seven possible configurations at Kennedy, some of which involve reorienting the flight path into and out of the airport. Doing so would bring those flights into closer conflict with planes going to and from La Guardia, which the Federal Aviation Administration might find unacceptable, Mr. Zupan said.
Among the alternatives, he said, would be to fill in part of Jamaica Bay and construct a new runway parallel to the existing runway used by the giant trans-Atlantic passenger jets. Getting approval for that option would entail not only overcoming opposition from environmental groups but also changing the federal law that created the Gateway National Recreation Area, which explicitly prohibits expanding the airport into the bay.
A section of the bay known as Grassy Bay contains a deep trench that was dug during construction at the airport in the 1950s, the report says. That trench has some negative effects on the surrounding bay, which might be ameliorated if it were filled in during the construction of a runway, Mr. Zupan said.
But John Waldman, a professor of biology at Queens College, said he was skeptical about that trade-off and imagined it would not occur without a “fierce battle.” While he said that filling the trench to level the bottom of the bay probably would be beneficial, he said he could not see the benefits outweighing the cost of encroaching on one of the “ecological jewels” of the region.
“I don’t see that as a clear trade of equal value,” Professor Waldman said.

Locals Concerned About Shops at Atlas Park Future with Center Set for Auction by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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The Shops at Atlas Park have been run by a court-appointed receiver for two years

A foreclosed Queens mall is set to be auctioned Friday, marking a turning point for the embattled Shops at Atlas Park as locals wonder how a new owner will operate its mix of stores and eateries.
The Glendale complex, which has been run by a court-appointed receiver for two years, will go up for bids at the 11 a.m. sale at Queens Supreme Court.
At stake is the future of Atlas Park, an outdoor shopping center with a movie theater, a Borders bookstore and chain restaurants. Many of the mall's smaller businesses have slumped through recent years.
Insiders said it's hard to predict the sale's outcome.
"It's either going to be anti-climactic or you're going to have four bidders going hot and heavy on this thing," said lawyer Dennis Cappello, appointed by the court to run the sale.
The banks that mortgaged the mall, Credit Agricole and Société Générale, hope to snare at least $119 million - about the amount of the loan to the mall's founders, Atlas Park LLC.
Among the parties rumored to be in the mix for the auction are Cypress Equities, once affiliated with football legend Roger Staubach, and the mall founders, the family of ex-MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger.
Cypress has denied interest in bidding. Hemmerdinger's son, Damon, once the mall's development director, declined comment.
Locals figured a national mall operator could also swoop in.
The powerhouse Chicago firm McCaffery Interests, once considered a frontrunner to land Atlas Park, dropped out last fall.
But the bidding war may not play out. The auction will be postponed if Atlas Park LLC files for bankruptcy before the sale. Sources said that scenario is unlikely.
Cappello said the banks had not decided as of yesterday morning on an "upset price," or the minimum amount at which the mall can be sold.
If the banks set an upset price and no bidder goes that high, the mall becomes bank property.
In that case, the banks would probably seek to sell the property as soon as possible rather than manage the mall, sources said.
An attorney for the banks declined comment.
Questions linger about the mall's direction under a new owner, who might decide to shift its focus from upscale to more affordable stores - or even raze the place for an entirely new project.
Residents are counting on the sale to end a tumultuous period for the Cooper Ave. center.
"We need to move forward," said Kathy Masi of the Glendale Civic Association.

Bird Like Me - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 01/24/11 - Video Clip | Comedy Central

Wyatt Cenac finds an historic black town in Mississippi where birds are revered more than people.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Assembly Member Mike Miller: Beware High-Interest Tax Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs)

New IRS rules make it easier to secure your tax refund quickly without an RAL

As we approach tax season, many working families have been hit hard by the recession, and will look to their tax return for much-needed cash. Given this tough economic climate, it can be especially tempting to seek a tax refund anticipation loan (RAL), which provides money up front in exchange for a very steep fee. Fortunately, new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules have made it easier to secure tax refunds quickly without falling prey to a high-interest RAL.

RALs are short-term loans made by banks through tax preparers and secured against the taxpayer’s expected tax refund. The annual percentage rate tax preparers charge for RALs can range anywhere from 70-600 percent. Taxpayers can also face additional charges if their refunds don’t arrive when expected.

The IRS has taken action to protect taxpayers by refusing to provide tax preparers with certain information used to determine RAL amounts. These new rules will curb this particular form of high-interest predatory lending. However, while the new regulations will make RALs harder to come by, the loans that are provided will still be accompanied by astronomical fees.

Data from the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer Law Center indicate that in 2008, tax preparers took in $738 million in RAL fees from the refunds of 8.4 million taxpayers; that’s an average of about $85 per tax return.These numbers have probably grown since 2008 because of the recession, as more working families have been forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck. Taxpayers who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, a special tax break for low-income earners, are particularly targeted; nearly two-thirds of RAL borrowers receive this tax credit.

Both New York State and the federal government have taken additional steps to decrease the prevalence of RALs. In New York, state law prohibits tax preparers from advertising RALs as “refunds,” and must state in an obvious place that an RAL is a loan and that a fee or interest will be charged. This year, the IRS introduced a pilot program – MyAccountCard – to provide 600,000 low-income earners with a no-interest, no-fee debit card preloaded with their tax refund, eliminating the need for an RAL.

Unfortunately, these economic times have forced working families to seek more urgent means of securing cash. However, turning to an RAL can be a dangerous approach to the problem. The appeal of instant cash masks the long-term effects of high interest rates, fees and potential damage to your credit score – all of which take money out of your pocket. Today, the government processes tax returns much more quickly than even a few years ago. The key is to be patient and not pay needlessly to get money that is rightfully yours.

What to do to speed-up turnaround time on your tax refund:
  • Check your mailbox. You may have been selected as one of the 600,000 Americans to qualify for the Treasury Department’s MyAccountCard pilot program, mentioned above.
  • File your taxes online using e-file. By filing online, taxpayers’ returns will be processed within 7-10 business days. Taxpayers can also check their refund status using the IRS’s “Where’s my refund” tool at,,id=96596,00.html. If you do not own a computer, local libraries often provide free Internet access to community residents.
  • Indicate Direct Deposit on your tax return form. Taxpayers indicating Direct Deposit when filing will have their return deposited into their accounts within 10 days of filing. It usually takes the IRS between four and six weeks to mail your return in a paper check.
  • If you don’t have a bank account, open one today. Many banks now provide free checking accounts. Even if the bank charges an account maintenance fee, this fee usually ends up costing much less than the fees associated with direct check cashing and RALs.
For more information, visit the Internal Revenue Service at or the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at

Rockaway Public Hearing Announced on Proposed Natural Gas Terminal on February 8th

At the request of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens), the US Coast Guard has agreed to hold a public hearing for New York City residents on the proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal 23 miles off the Rockaway shoreline.

The formal hearing begins at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, February 8th at Beach Channel High School. It is preceded by an open house at 5pm. Public meetings will also be held in Long Branch, NJ and in Edison, NJ.

Liberty Natural Gas has proposed building a liquefied natural gas terminal and 44 miles of pipeline off the coast of New York. Weiner called on the US Coast Guard to hold hearings in New York City to ensure that area residents are able to discuss the proposal and hear from the relevant agencies firsthand.

In a letter to the Coast Guard, Rep. Weiner wrote, “To better understand the potential ramifications we need hearings in the affected communities—including the Rockaways. If we are going to make an informed decision, my constituents need to hear the proposal details directly from the responsible federal agencies and the company placing the pipeline.”