Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weiner: Wrong for City to Trade Tax Breaks for Luxury Baseball Perks

Representative Anthony Weiner (D – Brooklyn and Queens), co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Caucus on the Middle Class, released the following statement today on news of the City's efforts to secure perks for a luxury suite at Yankees Stadium:

Rep. Weiner said, "It is wrong for city officials to trade tax breaks for luxury perks at a baseball stadium. During these challenging economic times, the City should have the Yankees repay the City for the value of these luxury boxes or auction them off. If city officials want to catch a game, they should purchase tickets just like every other New Yorker."

In October, Rep. Weiner released an analysis of luxury box perks at the new Yankee and Mets stadiums and found that the $1.3 million the City could retrieve from selling the luxury box perks would:

- Hire 29 new teachers
- Hire 30 new police officers
- Hire 36 new firefighters
- Build 1 new little league field

City Pressed Hard for Use of Luxury Suite at Yankee Stadium by David W. Chen -

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Some tough negotiations led to the City of New York’s obtaining the right to use a luxury suite at the new Yankee Stadium. Uli Seit for The New York Times

The Bloomberg administration was so intent on obtaining a free luxury suite for its own use at the new Yankee Stadium, newly released e-mail messages show, that the mayor’s aides pushed for a larger suite and free food, and eventually gave the Yankees 250 additional parking spaces in exchange.

The parking spaces were given to the team for the private use of Yankees officials, players and others; the spaces were originally planned for public parking. The city also turned over the rights to three new billboards along the Major Deegan Expressway, and whatever revenue they generate, as part of the deal.

The e-mail messages between the aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Yankees executives were obtained and released by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Democrat of Westchester, who questions whether taxpayers were adequately protected in the city’s deal with the team.

Mr. Brodsky said what emerges from the e-mail correspondence is a sense of entitlement ingrained in Bloomberg officials. He said that the city appeared to be pushing for use of the suite for not just regular-season games, but for the playoffs and the World Series, and for special events like concerts, too.

“There’s this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to the question of, what is the public interest here and who’s protecting it?” said Mr. Brodsky, who conducted a hearing on the issue of public financing of sports stadiums this summer. “We can’t find the money for the M.T.A., or schools, or hospitals, and these folks are used to the perks and good things of life, and expect them.”

The city maintains it was simply trying to obtain a luxury suite comparable to that given to other cities involved in stadium or arena projects. But the message traffic, which dates to January 2006, raises questions, too, about how sincere city officials were when they recently stated publicly that the box could be used to reward outstanding city workers, rather than mainly for the mayor, dignitaries and aides. The notion of inviting city workers as guests is not mentioned in the e-mail messages until Aug. 7, 2008, and only then in response to an inquiry from a reporter.

The city’s push for the perks has been known, at least broadly speaking, since Mr. Brodsky began raising questions earlier this year about the stadium deals for the Yankees and Mets, from whom the city also secured a luxury box. But the e-mail messages offer a revealing snapshot of the behavior and marching orders of the people involved in the deal for the construction of the billion-dollar Yankee Stadium.

It is hard to determine the precise value of what the city gave the Yankees as part of the exchange. The public parking, though perhaps a convenience to those who drive to the stadium, was to be run by a parking garage operator, not the city, before it was turned over to the Yankees for team use. The billboards would most likely generate about $750,000 annually, given their location. The Yankees are expected to charge $600,000 to $850,000 a year for stadium luxury suites, according to reports.

The project required permission from the Internal Revenue Service because of the team’s desire to use tax-exempt bonds to finance construction. In one heated exchange, city lawyers threatened they would not make the request to the I.R.S. for the use of the tax-exempt financing unless the Yankees would consider providing the luxury suite.

Lonn Trust, the Yankees chief operating officer, wrote to the city on Jan. 26, 2006: “For clarity, no seats, no suites, no tickets, and as they say in Brooklyn ‘No nothin’.’ ”

In response, a lawyer for the city, Joseph Gunn, warned that “No nothin’ can go both ways,” adding that if the luxury suite was not included, “We do not submit the letter ruling request.”

“Suite negotiations between the city and the New York Yankees were part of lengthy discussions with the city involving a whole host of different deal points,” said Alice McGillion, a spokeswoman for the Yankees.

At another point, raw personal feelings emerged, as evidenced during this exchange, starting June 29, 2006, between top city officials about Randy Levine, the Yankees president.

“If we want a deal on the suite, he wants 250 spaces,” Seth W. Pinsky, then the executive vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, wrote to Daniel L. Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor. After Mr. Doctoroff did not respond, Mr. Pinsky, a bit sheepishly, wrote the next day: “It comes down to how much we’re willing to rely on Randy’s word.”

“Let’s not give,” Mr. Doctoroff replied. “I don’t trust him.”

Another theme that emerges is Mr. Bloomberg’s interest in the stadiums. In one e-mail message on July 5, 2006, about the Mets’ new stadium, Mr. Pinsky noted: “This is a big issue to the mayor.”

David Lombino, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, cautioned against reading too much into the e-mail messages.

“Securing the option to use a box at the stadium was one part of a much larger, comprehensive negotiation where we sought the best deal possible for the city,” he said. “Our goal was to make sure that New York had the same advantages as other cities, including the option to use a box, be it for staff outings, for public employees or for visiting dignitaries. The mayor’s office has indicated that no decision has been made as to whether or not it will exercise the option, but it exists for this and future administrations.”

A Bloomberg spokesman, Andrew Brent, echoed those ideas, saying, “As a matter of equity, it was important to us throughout the negotiations that the Yankees were not exempted from such gives or treated any differently than other teams.”

In response to recent questions from reporters, Mr. Pinsky, who is now the president of the Economic Development Corporation, has played down the importance of the luxury suite, saying he did not understand what all the fuss was about.

But the messages show that he and other aides were anything but casual about the matter, with issues like the location and size of the box of obvious concern.

When the team agreed to an 8-seat box, the city successfully demanded 12 seats.

And on July 7, 2006, Mr. Pinsky informed Mr. Doctoroff that the Yankees had told him: “The location of the box is in left field, but before the foul pole. Also, it is designed to project out, so that it will have a direct view down the third base line.”

The city also demanded that the luxury suite be provided with food — just like all the other suites. But the Yankees balked.

In one message dated July 26, 2006, Stephen Lefkowitz, a Yankees lawyer, wrote to Mr. Pinsky: “Seth — Randy believes he told you ‘no food’ and that you agreed. If this is so, please let me know and we can drop this from our list of irritants.”

The city, of course, disagreed. And that prompted Mr. Lefkowitz to respond this way: “It’s really ridiculous, but it sticks like a bone in everyone’s craw. The Yankees feel the city should pay for any food it wants to consume, and I think it’s a little unseemly to require ‘free’ food.”

He added: “For this I went to law school — sigh.”

Queens Democrat Seminerio Charged with Corruption by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Longtime Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio is trying to negotiate a plea deal on his federal corruption charges, the Daily News has learned.

Photo: Hermann for News

Seminerio's lawyer, Ira Cooper, confirmed he has been in discussions with the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office.

"You talk to them, you wait, and soon we'll have to make a decision on what to do," Cooper said.

The lawyer said because the Queens Democrat is 73 and in poor health, he's hoping to avoid prison time, which could be difficult under harsh sentencing guidelines for elected officials.

"An imprisonment for him would be much harder than for a healthy young man," he said. "It's very hard to tell someone in his health that if you say you're guilty, you could go to jail for years."

Federal prosecutors cannot make a sentencing commitment and judges will not get involved until after a guilty plea is entered, Cooper said.

"They've offered me something to plead guilty to, something like using a scheme or a device to embezzle, but it would open him up to those sentencing guidelines," Cooper said. "In order to decide whether [to accept a plea deal], we need a lot more information from the U.S. attorney's office, which at this point they may not want to give us.

"No one knows how much time he is facing."

Without a deal, prosecutors have said Seminerio faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the influence-peddling charges.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney had no comment.

Seminerio was charged in September with pocketing $500,000 in payoffs through a sham consulting company that offered favors to entities with business before the state.

"I cannot say whether he committed a crime or not," Cooper said, adding that the legal team is trying to identify a "viable defense."

A preliminary court date has been postponed three times, with the next scheduled for Dec. 10.

While the veteran pol has been charged, no federal indictment has been unsealed. Legal experts say that's not uncommon when prosecutors and defendants are trying to make a deal.

Seminerio earlier this month ran unopposed for a 16th term. His lawyer said he suffers from heart problems and a host of other illnesses. "When the time comes, and if it has to come, we'll have 200 letters of recommendation asking the court to be lenient," Cooper said.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Community Board 9 Rejects Parking Meters - Merchants' Proposal Is Not Approved by Ralph Mancini - Times Newsweekly

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A request on the part of local merchants for the endorsement of parking meters in a residential neighborhood in Ozone Park fell on deaf ears as Community Board 9 narrowly voted against it at their Wednesday, Nov. 12 session held at the Royal Indian Palace and Restaurant in Richmond Hill.

Presented with a petition from local business owners in favor of the installation of parking meters on both sides of 98th Street between 97th and 101st avenues and one from community residents opposed to it, Public Safety Chair Thomas Chiofolo recommended that the Board vote to approve the proposal.

"If you don't put in the meters," argued Chiofolo, "people will park there all day, discouraging others from shopping in the area."

Dr. Vincent Evangelista, who operates his practice at 97-15 101st Ave., stated his case for the addition of eight parking meters on his block to generate car turnover resulting in more customers for local businesses.

"You can still park there from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. Plus, the city gets more revenue," he stated.

In addition, the doctor informed that metered parking wouldn't impact most residents since the majority of them have their own driveways to pull into.

A nearby community member, however, pointed out that most of her neighbors on the block in question don't use their driveways, which would force her to park her vehicle two to three blocks away.

South Queens activist David M. Quintana, a 39-year resident of Ozone Park, supported her claims by adding, "This is not a thriving business community. Parking meters are ridiculous and would only be a burden on the people of Ozone Park."

Board member Evelyn Baron took issue with the 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule, declaring that she would only give her approval if the daily time restriction were reduced by one hour so that it wouldn't infringe on people returning from work.

Fellow Board member John Carter was of the same opinion and didn't agree with forcing residents coming home at 5 p.m. to spend their quarters on parking everyday.

"I can't see how eight spots is going to make a difference," said Nick Comaianni prior to the Board's roll-call vote. "To me, metered parking is just another way for the city to make money."

The proposal was defeated by a 16-to-12 tally.

Land use

Land Use Committee Chair Sherman Kane spoke of the Board's opposition to the paving over of land on the part of the Korean Presbyterian Church, located at 80- 10 Lefferts Blvd. in Kew Gardens.

District Manager Mary Ann Carey noted that an inspection of the area was completed by the Department of Buildings, but she never heard back from the city agency.

A "giant" yellow backhoe has already been seen there, according to Board 9 Chairperson Andrea Crawford, who was worried that work may commence there before any action can be taken to stop it from taking place.

Changes in ULURP process

Those in attendance were made privy to a part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's charter revision proposal, which would strip community boards from having a say in the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure.

Since 1976, the charter's intent in requiring ULURP was to establish a standardized procedure that would give community boards (and other commissions) the right to publicly review the applications of land use in the city.

"It's a dismantling of our community boards," said Crawford. "We are the front lines of what happens our community. Contact your local Council members about this."

Cell tower

In his Parks, Recreation and Environment Committee report, J. Richard Smith alerted Board members to the upcoming installation of a cell communications tower at 117- 01 Park Lane South in Richmond Hill.

The tower, he said, will help apprise first responders of emergency situations.

Local crime report

P.O. Christopher Gonzales of the 102nd Precinct updated the Board of a recent murder in which one individual allegedly killed another by hitting the victim with a crowbar.

The incident reportedly occurred in the area of Metropolitan Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens.

The suspect and victim were both residents of Kew Gardens, said the officer.

Remembering Nancy Cataldi

During her District Manager's report, Carey remembered the late Nancy Cataldi, former president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, who died in October.

"She was an inspiration to our community. She was a wonderful friend and a very active community leader," she said.

Carey mentioned her many efforts in trying to preserve the history of Richmond Hill, such as her work in the attempted restoration of the Richmond Hill Republican Club.

RHHS Founding President and Board 9 First Vice Chairperson Ivan Mrakovcic reported that Cataldi's group would not disband, but he also added that she would not be replaced as the historical organization's actual president.

Liquor licenses

The Board endorsed on-premise liquor license renewals for Las Nuevas Delicias De Acapulco Corporation, located at 76-15 Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven; and Altiff Corporation (d.b.a. Cherry Blue), located at 107-12 101st Ave. in Ozone Park.

An on-premise beer license renewal request was also approved for Baba Supermarket, located at 124-12 Jamaica Ave. in Richmond Hill.

Community Board 9 typically meets on the second Tuesday of the month at various locations in Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Ozone Park.

For further details on the next meeting, call 1-718-286-2689.

Cops Catch Staten Island Gang as They Attempt to Rob Bank - Tunnel Rats Busted by Murray Weiss and John Doyle - New York Post

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It was "Ocean's Eleven" - Big Apple style.

A small band of crooks was busted red-handed yesterday trying to knock off a Staten Island bank in an elaborate scheme gone awry that included tunneling through the wall of a store next door, The Post has learned.

Investigators received an anonymous tip that the thieves planned to break into the Richmond County Savings Bank on Richmond Avenue, near the Staten Island Mall and a satellite office of the 122nd Precinct.

When cops arrived at 2:30 a.m., they spotted the four-man team struggling to break into the vault, which holds 1,000 safety- deposit boxes filled with valuables.

Sources said the thieves had made their way into a Pearl Vision eyeglass store next door and used high-speed drills and jackhammers to bore through the wall into the bank.

The bandits - who are believed to be linked to at least three similar heists around the city - were eyeing the more than 1,000 safety-deposit boxes inside.

The cops called in reinforcements and surrounded the bank, watching the thieves rummaging around and struggling to break into the vault.

Just before 5 a.m., the cops made their move and quickly cuffed the alleged crooks.

Sources identified the suspects as Lee D'Avanzo and Bekim Fisku - ex-cons on probation for similar crimes - and Mislim Ruci and Joseph Cotarello.

D'Avanzo, who was released from federal prison in 2006, was indicted in 2001 for a string of bank robberies and drug deals, according to a published report.

Investigators believe the crew pulled a similar holiday bank job this past Easter.

In that case, they allegedly knocked off a Queens bank for at least $100,000 and an undetermined amount of safety-deposit boxes this past Easter.

The thieves allegedly copied a key for a store next door to the Sovereign bank in Howard Beach.

They then drilled directly through the reinforced concrete wall into the vault.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Musical Senate Seats? by Matt Hampton - Queens Chronicle

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With President-elect Barack Obama seemingly putting together a Lincoln-esque “team of rivals” in his cabinet, one New York name that has unsurprisingly popped up is Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is reportedly being vetted by a team of attorneys to be the next secretary of state.

If she is tapped for the position and accepts, it will leave a gaping hole in New York’s Senate delegation that Gov. David Paterson will be forced to fill in short order.

Several candidates have been discussed, including current Brooklyn/Queens Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and New York’s sitting Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

One interesting consideration should also be given to the current make-up of the United States Senate. With the resignation of Obama last weekend, the nation’s highest governing body is currently absent any African-American representation.

Paterson, New York’s first African-American governor, has certainly never been motivated by race in his previous appointments, but the opportunity to essentially legislate diversity at such a crucial period in American history is undoubtedly tempting.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks and New York City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., are both viable replacements for Clinton, and well known members of the African-American community. Both have years of big-time experience and proven track records in office.

Selecting Meeks would be an easy transition, as the congressman’s 10 years of Washington experience would allow a relatively seamless switch.

When asked about the possibility, Meeks’ office referred to a recent appearance Meeks made on MSNBC’s Hardball, where Meeks told host Chris Matthews that “my main focus is serving the constituents of the Sixth Congressional District, but if I am asked I will answer the call.”

For Thompson, an appointment to the Senate would mean he gets to avoid what has become a very crowded mayoral field, and a battle against a tough incumbent.

It’s unlikely that Paterson would select a current state senator for the position, considering the delicate balancing act that’s currently taking place with the Democrats’ newly christened majority, though Malcolm Smith’s name has also been mentioned.

A Call to Brooklyn Artists “Gowanus Basin: A Sense of Place”. December 5th -22nd, 2008

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC) invites visual artists to participate in a benefit art exhibition and sale, "Gowanus Basin: A Sense of Place”, on December 5-22, 2008. This event has come about very quickly, due to the imminent availability of a new retail space in Gowanus, on Bond Street between Union and Sackett.

The primary objectives of this exhibition are to raise funds for GCC, to bring focus on Gowanus as the center of northwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, to generate public interest in the preservation of the Gowanus landscape, and to foster opportunities for local artists.

Very prompt action is requested by interested local artists -- the Opening Reception will be on Friday, December 5, 6-8:30 pm. Regular gallery hours over the following 3 weeks are Thursdays 3-8 pm, Fridays 3-6 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am - 7 pm. There will be a Final Day Sale on Monday, December 22, 11 am - 7 pm.

Submitted artwork should be representational views of streetscapes, landscapes, or interiors, and specifically of locales in the Gowanus Basin area of Brooklyn [the neighborhoods of Gowanus, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill]. Artwork must be 2-dimensional media: painting, photography, original prints, etc. and must be framed or canvas edges painted or taped. No wood strips attached to canvases will be accepted. Artwork must be securely wired for hanging. Artwork should be priced generally between $100 and $1000, and there are no size restrictions. Artists may request either a 2' or 4' wide space, and on acceptance artists will be notified of their space assignment.

Accepted artists will be responsible for hanging their artwork on 12/4, 2-9 pm, or 12/5, 11 am-3 pm. Accepted artists will also be asked to gallery-sit for at least one 2.5-3.5 hour shift during the show. Artists will have the option to participate in the "Final Day Sale" on Monday, December 22, when retail prices will be lowered by 20%. Any unsold artwork must be removed from the gallery on Tuesday, December 23, by either the artist or a designated representative. Artist’s payment checks for sold artwork will be distributed at that time.

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy will serve as the gallery operator, and artwork will be consigned to them for the duration of this exhibition. The Conservancy will also be responsible for all sales transactions and accounting for them, retaining 35% of sales as a donation (40% for sales over $400); provide liability and property insurance for the temporary gallery space during this exhibition; create and provide artwork labels based on information provided by artists; generate publicity by sending out postcards, e-mails, blog postings, press releases and placing local paper ads.

To apply to exhibit at this show, send an email with your name, telephone number, artwork media, price range, and 3 sample images [in small jpeg files] by 5 pm on Monday, December 1, to If accepted you will hear back by 5 pm on Tuesday, December 2, and will be expected to send by email your list of artwork for the exhibition with pertinent information (title, medium, size, price) by 5 pm on Wednesday, December 3.

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located at 509 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231. For more information please visit, or call Lauren Collins at the Conservancy office, 718-858-0557.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fourth Man Declares Run in Special Election by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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A second Rockaway man declared his run for the 32nd Council District February 2009 special election, bringing the total number of contenders to four.

Retired NYPD lieutenant and life-long Rockaway resident Glenn DiResto announced last week that he is ready to compete with opponents Frank Gulluscio, Eric Ulrich and Lew Simon, each of whom is a district leader with name recognition in his respective community.

Unlike his competitors, DiResto, 38, does not have a background in politics — in fact, he hates politics. But that’s exactly why he wants to take office: he wants to bring change, particularly to the Rockaways, which, he said, has been largely neglected by the city.

DiResto took care to explain that he wouldn’t favor one area of the district over another, but that steps would need to be taken to level what has been an uneven playing field for many years.

“If I were to be elected, everybody would get equal representation. The only thing is a lot of other areas in the council district have already reaped economic growth and funding, where as there has been a lot of neglect here [in the Rockaways],” DiResto said.

“There needs to a little more focus on the needs of some of the areas here... But there will be no disparity in service. Everybody would have an equal voice and funding would be distributed equally.”

The 38-year-old mentioned some of the Rockaways’ needs: while there are many nursing homes and low-income housing units, there are no colleges, transportation is poor, police presence is insufficient and economic development barely exists. The peninsula has two hospitals, but both have low ratings, according to DiResto.

The city has repeatedly promised to bring more institutions and economic growth to the Rockaways, but “every time we’re promised something, we get nothing,” he said, noting two such incidents: ferry service and a CUNY annex.

Both Ulrich, an Ozone Park Republican district leader, and Simon, a Rockaway Democratic district leader, share DiResto’s thoughts on the subject. Gulluscio, a Howard Beach Democratic district leader, says he recognizes the individuals needs of each community.

What distinguishes DiResto, he said, is his background in public service. “Being a police officer, I’ve worked in areas where I didn’t live and I represented those people favorably. ... I understand better than other candidates the problems that average New Yorkers face.”

DiResto admitted that he doesn’t know all the complaints in every neighborhood and that he doesn’t even know every neighborhood like “the back of my hand.” But he wants to learn and plans to do so by holding town-hall style meetings, attending sessions held by community leaders throughout the district and, most importantly, listening.

DiResto admits that winning the special election won’t be easy, especially because he is considered a “political outsider.” But, he added, “the recent elections show that people are sick and tired of politics as usual and want real change.” With support from the community, DiResto believes he can bring that positive change to the district.

The non-partisan special election will likely take place in early February. It will be declared by the mayor in early January, after current City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who won the recent 15th Senatorial District seat, is sworn into the legislature on Jan. 1

Pols Want New Name for Mets Home: Citi/Taxpayer Field -

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Two New York City Council members say that Citigroup should show its thanks for a federal bailout by sharing the naming rights to the new Mets ballpark in Queens.

The struggling bank is slated to pay $400 million over the next 20 years to name the stadium Citi Field.

The bank made the commitment years ago, when it was flush with cash. Now that Citigroup is getting billions of dollars in federal aid, Staten Island Republicans Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo say the ballpark's name should be changed to Citi/Taxpayer Field.

Citigroup and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon have been saying that they have no plan to alter the naming-rights deal for the ballpark, which hosts its regular-season opener April 13.

Wilpon and Citigroup spokesman Steve Silverman said they had no comment on the proposal.

Smith Will Allow Senate Vote on Bill to Require Term Limits Referendum by Sal Gentile - City Hall News

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Speaking at a City Hall On/Off the Record breakfast Nov. 7, incoming State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith threw up a potential roadblock to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. Asked whether he would allow the State Senate to vote on a bill, sponsored by several Democratic lawmakers, that would require a public referendum before the city’s term limits law could be changed, Smith gave a simple answer: “Yep.”

Threats by Democratic state lawmakers to preempt the mayor’s bill to extend term limits with their own measure were seen as largely symbolic because Senate Republicans, who have benefited from the mayor’s financial largesse, would almost certainly have prevented a vote on the bill.

But now that Democrats have wrested control of the Senate from Republicans, the bill’s sponsors, including Smith’s third-in-command, State Sen. Kevin Parker, may be able to cobble together enough votes to pass it.

Smith declined to say whether he would support the measure himself, though he did say he opposed the concept of term limits.

“I can’t tell you that I wouldn’t vote for it,” Smith said. “I can tell you that I’m not a proponent of term limits. I never have been. I think term limits is that the voters have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to us.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has already said that he would allow a similar bill sponsored by Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries to go through the normal legislative process. Silver has been perceived as leery of passing a one-house bill just to goad Bloomberg, but now that the bill could have life within the Senate, its chances of passage in the Assembly—which come January will have just 41 Republicans out of 150 members—are improved.

Traditionally, leaders of the Senate and Assembly have only allowed votes on bills they know will pass. But it was unclear whether there was enough support in the Senate to pass Parker’s measure, or whether Smith—who has had a somewhat rocky relationship with Bloomberg—would simply allow a symbolic vote as a way to brush back the mayor for his strong support, in both endorsements and campaign support, for Senate Republicans.

The Democrats will likely hold a slim 32-30 majority in the Senate when they take over in January, and it was unclear whether Bloomberg allies and the so-called “gang of four” dissident Democrats would support Parker’s bill, though one of them, Hiram Monserrate, already cast a vote against Bloomberg’s extension in the City Council.

Another, State Sen. Ruben Diaz, might have a personal stake in stopping the extension of term limits, since that would clear the way for his son, Assembly Member Ruben Diaz Jr. to have an open race for Bronx borough president. Yet another, State Sen. Carl Kruger, has toyed with the idea of running for Brooklyn borough president, a race which would be also be open if term limits were to remain in place.

Joseph Addabbo, another incoming Senate Democrat, also voted against the mayor’s bill in the City Council. And fellow freshman Daniel Squadron—whose State Senate bid was endorsed by both Bloomberg and Rep. Anthony Weiner, a harsh critic of the mayor’s bill and likely 2009 opponent—made support for the concept of term limits a key plank in his reformist agenda, and has said that he opposes extending term limits legislatively.

“I don’t think folks should extend term limits for themselves,” Squadron told the Downtown Express on Oct. 31.

An unresolved State Senate race in Queens may further complicate the bill’s prospects. In that race, Democrat James Gennaro, a member of the City Council, trails Republican Frank Padavan by just 723 votes, with an unknown number of paper ballots left to be counted.

Gennaro also voted against the mayor’s bill in the Council. Were he to prevail, the Democrats’ margin in the Senate would increase to 33-29, adding another likely vote for Parker's bill. Supporters would then need to hold the other members of the conference or pull in a few Republican votes.

Should the bill pass both houses, it would go to Gov. David Paterson for approval. While avoiding specific comment on the term limits extension, Paterson has said he thinks Bloomberg has done a good job and could continue doing a good job in a third term.

Whether he would be willing to sign legislation halting the term limits extension and openly confront Bloomberg, whose wealth and popularity would make him an instant favorite were he to run for governor against Paterson in 2010, remains an open question.

Councilman Stable After Car Accident by Sahsa Austrie - Queens Tribune

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Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) sustained serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident Saturday, but is expected to make a full recovery.

He was released from the intensive care unit this week at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

“By the grace of God I am alive today,” Sanders said in a press release. “I am receiving excellent care by the hospital staff.”

Sanders and two other men were returning from a visit to the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Pennsylvania when, according to the release, a sudden downpour of rain caused the driver to lose control and the vehicle to crashed and rolled. According to the release, the trip was to scout a possible site for a planned retreat for youth leadership training.

Donovan Richards, Sanders’ district manager, and Mike Duvalle, a member of the South Ozone Park Civic Association, were in the SUV with the councilman.

“The car was totaled,” Richards said. “I don’t know how we made it out.”

Richards said the car rolled over about three times and flipped over the median. According to the release, the three were traveling on a highway near Newburgh in Orange County. They were first transported to St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh.

Richards said he received eight stitches and is still in pain. He said Duvalle, the driver and owner of the SUV, was uninjured.

Richards said the extent of Sanders’ injuries weren’t confirmed, but speculated the councilman had a few sprains and possibly, a broken collarbone.

Andrea Sanders, the councilman’s wife, said she is relieved Sanders is out of intensive care.

“It’s been very rough,” she said.

Andrea said the community support has been stellar.

“I have to do a thank you,” she said. “The community has been absolutely wonderful.”

She added although Sanders is in a lot of pain, she is expecting a full recovery.

“He is getting better,” she said.

His colleagues in the City Council are also hoping for a full recovery.

“My prayers go out to him,” Councilman Tom White (D-South Ozone Park) said. “I hope he gets out of it.”

Candidates Gear Up for Queens Council Race by Jonathan P. Hicks - City Room Blog -

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With this month’s elections over, next year’s political competition is already well under way. And the race to succeed City Councilman Eric N. Gioia, a Queens Democrat, is already off to a fast start, with nearly half a dozen candidates raising money, organizing volunteers and campaigning.

Mr. Gioia, who was elected in 2001, is in his own crowded race for public advocate in 2009, hoping to succeed Betsy Gotbaum, who announced last month that she would not run for re-election.

Over the weekend, campaign events were held in that Queens council district. One candidate, Jimmy Van Bramer, had a campaign kickoff fund-raising party with more than 100 Queens residents. Mr. Van Bramer is a Democratic state Committeeman who has worked for the Queens Public Library for more than a decade.

“It’s not at all too early to start campaigning,” said Mr. Van Bramer, who is also president of the West Queens Independent Democratic Club and a co-founder of Queens Pride House, a center for the borough’s gay population.

Photo: Jimmy Van Bramer (center) with partner Dan Hendricks and Rose Van Bramer (his Mom)

“In fact, this is a critical time to start raising money and begin reaching out to the people in this area,” he said in an interview Monday morning. “It’s really important to be able to show some strength early to demonstrate to people that you’re a serious candidate.”

Mr. Van Bramer is not the only one trying to demonstrate campaign strength in the 26th Council District, which includes the Queens neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City. In fact, he was not the only candidate in the district to have a fund-raising event over the weekend.

Deirdre A. Feerick (photo on right), a lawyer for the City Council and a candidate for the Council seat, held a fund-raising breakfast on Sunday, asking for guests for a $10 contribution and a coat, which was to be donated for a shelter for homeless veterans in the district.

“It’s difficult to ask people for money in tough financial times like these,” said Ms. Feerick, who is also a Democratic district leader in Queens.

“So, what we had was a low-budget event that was pulled together quickly. My mom made coffee cake and soda bread,” she said. “What I wanted to see is not just a political event, but something that benefits the community and to get people in this community involved in something worthwhile. It was a great success.”

Mr. Gioia said he had not endorsed any of the candidates yet. But he said he was pleased to see such a spirited campaign start so early.

“What we’re seeing is something every community should have,” he said. “There is an energetic campaign already under way in this district. And these are grassroots campaigns that are taking place in living rooms, on stoops and in all kinds of places in the community. And I’m delighted to see events that aren’t just normal campaign events, but events that are aimed at getting the community involved.”

Among the other candidates in the race are David J. Rosasco, who is a member of Community Board 2 and president of Nichibei Translations, a Japanese translation business; and Brent M. O’Leary (photo to left), a legal compliance office for Bloomberg L.P.

Young Gun Lynn Nunes Taking Shot at Thomas White's Council Spot by Brendan Brosh - NY Daily News

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The 2009 race for City Hall is already underway in Richmond Hill, where a 23-year-old businessman is challenging incumbent Councilman Thomas White.

Lynn Nunes, who ran against White for a Democratic District Leader position earlier this year, said he is eager for a rematch.

"This district ranks in the bottom of education, crime and foreclosures," said Nunes, a recent Queens College graduate.

"I'm not promising the world, but we should be on every doorstep and trying to improve the community," he said.

White first held the seat from 1991 to 2001, when he was forced out by term limits. He returned to office after defeating controversial incumbent Allan Jennings in 2005.

Nunes noted White has one of the worst attendance records in the Council. It has earned him the moniker "the invisible man."

"There was enough dust on his desk to have an archeological dig," Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, told the Daily News in 2005.

White, who voted for the controversial term-limit extension bill in October, did not respond to Queens News' requests for comment.

Nunes and White are the only declared candidates in the district, according to the city Campaign Finance Board.

Nunes said he doesn't feel his youth is a handicap. He noted both Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens) were elected to the Assembly in their early 20s.

"I may be a political outsider, but I'm a neighborhood insider," said Nunes, who kicked off his business career by selling bed sheets and cologne at Aqueduct flea markets.

He also worked as a lifeguard in Rockaway before opening his own real estate office. Many of his friends said the Christ the King High School graduate has always been civic-minded.

"He was going to all the community board meetings and writing elected officials [when he was a teenager]," said George Parpas, 24, a law school student who grew up with Nunes. "We'd poke fun at him, but we admired him for what he was doing."

Nunes said he hopes to use his real estate knowledge to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

"There aren't enough resources available for people in the area," Nunes said.

Asked why he was challenging a veteran incumbent, Nunes said, "People feel that [White] has neglected the community."

In April, the Daily News unearthed city records showing that White was hosting water bill seminars for his constituents even as the nonprofit group he heads owed more than $226,000 in water bills.

"I will approach this job with a sense of urgency," Nunes vowed. "We have a lot of problems that need to be resolved."

Mall Struggles to Catch On: Owner Says Atlas Park's Growing Pains are Normal by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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Damon Hemmerdinger, co-owner of Glendale’s Shops at Atlas Park (inset), says the shopping center is 'still building our brand.' The mall opened in 2006. Noonan for News

From its inception, the Shops at Atlas Park mall has been a blend of opposing extremes.

The manicured outdoor retail center in Glendale was once a gritty industrial park. Opening upscale shops in a blue-collar neighborhood has been praised as enterprising and jeered as unrealistic.

It's a center of either suburban bliss or inflated expectations - depending on whom you ask - as it enters the crucial holiday shopping season and nears its third anniversary in April.

Since opening in 2006, the mall at 80th St. and Cooper Ave. has elicited both praise and criticism as an ambitious complex anchored by a movie theater, eight restaurants and more than a dozen clothing stores.

"We have growing pains that are very consistent with new shopping centers," said Damon Hemmerdinger, the mall's co-owner and development director. "We're still building our brand."

Some retail experts expressed doubt that Hemmerdinger's focus - targeting a key 18 to 35-year-old female demographic, with a niche for "mature women" up to age 55 - would work long term.

Former Crain's New York Business writer Leslie Jay, who covered the planning of Atlas Park in 2000, said she remembered wondering if it would appeal to southwestern Queens.

"I just didn't know if the immediate neighborhood was up for a fancy mall," Jay said, adding the complex still isn't "the first mall you go to on Black Friday."

But Paul Barchitta, a retail marketing professor at Queensborough Community College, said the Glendale mall has a key edge even in a bleak economy.

"If they were opening today, brand-new, they would certainly have a harder time finding success," he said. "At least they've gotten the first year or two under their belt."

Atlas Park storeowners focused largely on the positives.

"Weekdays are a little slow, but on the weekends it's packed," said Henry Fernandez, 32, who opened a Simply Fondue restaurant at the mall last month.

Teri Basile said she moved her framing shop, Art World, from Austin St. in Forest Hills to Atlas Park last year because the Glendale center has a "magical feel."

"You come to work every day and you feel good about being here," said Basile, 54.

Not every tenant shares that enthusiasm.

Starbucks said in July it will shutter its Atlas Park coffee shop and 10 other city outlets.

Reports that a Chili's Grill & Bar persistently leaks liquids into a Borders bookstore downstairs are backed up by scores of water-stained or missing ceiling panels.

Storeowners and employees who asked to remain anonymous griped that Hemmerdinger charges outlandishly high rents and issues steep penalties to shops that open later than scheduled.

Hemmerdinger said rents and penalties are consistent with those at other shopping centers.

"That's not the criteria I'd use to say whether we have a good relationship," he said.

Perhaps the truest indicator of Atlas Park's success is its customers, who frequent the theater and eateries but often bypass stores.

"It's good if you want to see a movie, but not to shop," said Tyrone Casey, 18, of Jamaica, as he roamed Atlas Park last week.

"They just need more stores," said his pal, Chaz Fraser, 28, who lives a block from the mall.

"Stores people go to," Casey quipped.

But coming soon are a Republic of Couture apparel boutique and a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Hemmerdinger said.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Councilwoman-Elect Elizabeth Crowley Celebrates Thanksgiving with the Children of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Center

Elizabeth Crowley, NYC Councilwoman-Elect for District 30 celebrated an early Thanksgiving meal with two Universal Pre-Kindergarten classes at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council at 62-02 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale on Tuesday November 25. The children enjoyed a full meal of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and corn along and a glass of apple juice with a cookie for dessert.

Afterward, Bob Monahan, President of GRYC who directs the Little Stars UPK gave Ms. Crowley a tour of the facility's classrooms that serve 162 families principally from the Glendale, Ridgewood, and Maspeth communities. "The GRYC provides precious services both for youth just entering into school and for those who are entering into the workforce.
These services are invaluable and as Councilmember of the 30th CD I will work to ensure that GRYC remains a strong vibrant community center."

Dog Group Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Queens Parks Won't Do Dog Run Despite Petition by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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See spot run - somewhere else.

Tracy Heller (l.) and Beverly Seiger, with Zoe, Misty and Neo, want a new dog run. Farriella for News

Forest Hills pet owners should stop barking for a dog run at Yellowstone Blvd. and 68th Ave. - and instead use one that residents call filthy and dangerous, city parks officials said.

The Forest Hills Dog Lover's Association is pitching the dog run at Yellowstone Park as a way to let pooches exercise and owners socialize. They boast 900 signatures of support on a petition.

But Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski has rejected the idea, figuring nonstop barking would irk nearby apartment dwellers and that city workers would have to move plants.

"We would not do it at this location," Lewandowski said. "We wouldn't want to take an area we invested in horticulturally and turn it into a dog run."

Instead, Lewandowski suggested residents head to the Under Bridge dog run, at 64th Ave. and the Grand Central Parkway service road in Forest Hills.

"Under Bridge is really their option," she said, adding the city would be more willing to "seek improvements" there than build an entirely new dog run.

But Beverly Seiger, president of the dog lover's association, wouldn't bite on Lewandowski's offer to revamp Under Bridge.

"There's no way I'm going to bring my dogs there," Seiger said, claiming the Under Bridge dog run wouldn't be safe for her white schnauzer, Misty, and Boston terrier, Neo.

"They bring guard dogs there for exercise and they're vicious dogs," said Seiger, 61. "These are dogs they use for guarding premises, and our dogs are pets."

Tracy Heller, who also belongs to the dog lover's association, bashed Under Bridge, too.

"It's not walkable. It's not accessible. It's filthy," said Heller, 57, who owns a 2-year-old shih tzu named Zoe.

Seiger and Heller both said they would continue advocating for the dog run at Yellowstone Park, which is much closer to their homes than Under Bridge.

They said Queens Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz pledged to support their efforts after she heard their presentation to Community Board 6 in October.

Koslowitz told Queens News yesterday she spoke to Lewandowski about the dog run last week.

"I can't make them [the Parks Department] do it," Koslowitz said. "You have to take the people who live around there [Yellowstone Park] into consideration."

Beach in Jamaica Bay Littered with Debris, Slain Animals by Brendan Brosh - NY Daily News

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An isolated beach on Jamaica Bay has become an eyesore, littered with religious icons and the gruesome remnants of animal sacrifices, area residents complain.

And last week, Queens News found a decapitated goat and evidence of an apparent chicken sacrifice on the beach, at the foot of the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge that connects Broad Channel and Howard Beach.

Fishermen said they have seen headless cats on the shore there.

Locals complain that the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the site, does little to patrol or clean the area.

"We're trying to clean up Jamaica Bay here, and we're finding all these religious objects that are detrimental to the marshes," said Dan Mundy Sr., a Broad Channel resident and head of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers. "We have been receiving numerous complaints about debris and litter."

Religious groups, sometimes more than 100 strong, congregate at the beach on weekends, according to locals.

They said the area is left littered with coconuts, flags, broken glass, flower wreaths, religious statues, plastic items and bottles - a mix of what appear to be Hindu and Santeria religious items.

The Park Service said it is trying to balance the competing needs of the religious communities and keeping the park clean.

"We've been working with the communities, trying to have them better understand and educate them about the impact of leaving articles from their religious ceremonies," said Patti Reilly, acting superintendent for the Jamaica Bay unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Reilly said maintenance crews clean the site, but trash sometimes accumulates - including dead animals.

"From time to time, we have seen animal carcasses and have removed them quickly," she said. "None of that is permitted."

Local fisherman said the garbage is just one of many problems upsetting the fragile ecosystem of Jamaica Bay.

"There are all sorts of religious byproducts floating around the bay," said Mike McGovern, 70, a retired construction worker who has lived in Broad Channel for most of his life.

"I've seen Styrofoam plates with illuminated candles, dozens of them, floating on the water," he said. "People just can't leave garbage there."

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn), who led a cleanup of the site Friday, said regular maintenance is the key.

"I don't think Gateway has done enough to clean up the foot of the bridge," said Weiner.

"We want all New Yorkers to enjoy our beaches, but we cannot have circumstances where there is animal cruelty," he said.

Walter Ward Playground to Get $1.7M Makeover by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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Howard Beach children and parents are eagerly anticipating the long-time coming makeover of one heavily used, dilapidated and neglected playground, expected to begin next summer.

A $1.7 million renovation for the aging Walter Ward Playground in Howard Beach, shown above, is scheduled to begin next summer and be completed the following year. (photo courtesy of Stephen Geffon)

At almost 42 years old, the Walter Ward Playground, located at 89th Street and 160th Avenue, is in serious need of the $1.7 million facelift it will soon get.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) secured funding for the revamp after P.S. 207 Parent Coordinator Nina DeBlasio brought to his attention parents’ complaints and concerns about the condition of the aging facility, which was known as P.S. 207 Playground when it first opened in February 1967.

With the funding in place, the city Department of Parks and Recreation will begin replacing the old park and making it accessible to all users. Larger play equipment and adult exercise equipment will be installed, and children of all ages — from toddlers to teenagers — will have a variety of activities for recreation.

The new playground will have tot swings, a play unit for children 2 to 5 years old, two separate units for children 5 to 12 years old and a spray shower feature. As part of the project, the parks department will renovate the handball courts and add new fencing, benches, game tables, lighting, resilient safety surface, drinking fountains and add extensive plantings.

Last week Parks Department representatives Joanne Amagrande-Savarese and Steve Whitesell presented to members of Community Board 10 detailed plans of the reconstruction, which they said will likely take about one year to complete.

Residents and parents began meeting with Whitesell, the park project designer, in late 2006. In September 2008, he showed them a preliminary design sketch for the renovation.

According to DeBlasio, parents applauded the department for its work on the project. “They’re very excited they are getting a new park,” she said. Kelly Sinisgalli, a P.S. 207 PTA Board member, said she is extremely happy with the playground project.

After addressing concern about the placement of a large piece of play equipment near the kindergarten entrance, the final park design was submitted and approved by the parents. It was then unanimously approved by C. B. 10.

Addabbo was approving as well, particularly because a renovation such as this was necessary for a playground with a variety of safety issues.

As it sits now, the park contains three full basketball courts, two handball courts, play equipment and a shaded sitting area. In 1996, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani funded a $96,000 renovation of the playground, which provided new play equipment and safety resurfacing.

Construction that is expected to begin next summer will not disrupt the basketball courts where the Rockwood Park Summer Basketball League is scheduled to play its 20th season, according to DeBlasio.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ex-Hillary Clinton Aide Leecia Eve Could Take Over as Senator by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Leecia Eve, a former aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the latest name to surface as a possible replacement if her ex-boss becomes secretary of state.

Former Hillary Clinton aide Leecia Eve may wind up replacing her former boss in the Senate. Putrock for News/Joe Putrock/Daily News

A source close to Gov. Paterson, who would appoint Clinton's successor, and two Democratic operatives say Eve entered the mix in the last two days.

Eve, who is from Buffalo, ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 with the backing of top Harlem pols, including Paterson's father, Basil, and Rep. Charles Rangel.

The daughter of longtime deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur Eve, she dropped out when Eliot Spitzer picked Paterson, then Senate minority leader.

The source said the governor would like someone from upstate - every statewide elected official is from downstate - who is a woman and preferably Hispanic.

Eve could not be reached for comment.

"Leecia has support from Rangel, is someone [senior Sen. Chuck] Schumer could work with, and she was Clinton's counsel so she knows the Senate," a longtime Democratic operative said. "She's seen as a smart pick."

A former Spitzer aide questioned whether Eve has the gravitas to be a senator.

"She speaks well, but we said no as lieutenant governor because we didn't think she was heavy enough or informed enough," the former aide said.

Other upstaters in the hunt include Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a former Clinton aide from Saratoga Springs.

Downstate New Yorkers mentioned include Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Steven Israel of Long Island and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan.

Embattled Pol Spends $35G in Campaign Cash to Fght Federal Charges by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Facing federal corruption charges, Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio has used $35,000 in campaign funds to help pay his legal fees, the Daily News has learned.

Seminerio's campaign cut the check to Rosedale lawyer Ira Cooper on Sept. 19, Board of Elections filings show.

Seminerio's campaign treasurer, Lisa Loughlin, confirmed the payment was for legal work connected to his arrest.

"According to a state Board of Elections ethics opinion, the expenditure is permissible," Loughlin said.

While not commenting specifically on Seminerio, state Board of Elections spokesman Robert Brehm said the board issued a formal opinion in 1989 allowing the use of campaign cash for legal fees if the charges are related to the holding of office or running of a campaign.

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, blasted the use of campaign money for legal fees.

"This should be illegal," Horner said. "These are campaign funds, not legal defense funds."

Federal prosecutors filed corruption charges against Seminerio in September after an undercover investigation.

Seminerio is accused of pocketing $500,000 in payoffs through a sham consulting company that offered favors to entities with business before the state.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Dec. 10, by which time he could be indicted by a federal grand jury or make some type of plea.

Despite his lingering legal troubles, Seminerio, 73, this month ran unopposed for a 16th term.

Seminerio is not the first criminally charged state legislator to dip into his campaign account for legal fees.

- Former state Controller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty to using state employees to chauffeur his wife, used at least $750,000 in campaign cash to pay his lawyers.

- Former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $2 million, paid his lawyers $500,000 from his campaign coffers, but later refunded the money.

- Former state Sen. Guy Velella, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in 2004, used $400,0000 from his campaign on legal fees.

Ed Towns' Bid for Committee Chairmanship | Politicker NY | New York Politics News, Reaction, and Analysis

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Here’s a letter from Representative Dennis Kucinich and two other members of Congress, supporting Representative Ed Towns of Brooklyn to become the new chairman of the committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The current chairman, Henry Waxman, is leaving that position because he ousted the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The most senior member of the committee on Oversight and Government Reform, after Waxman, is Towns, according to one of his aides. Usually, chairmanships are assigned based on seniority, which means Towns is already Waxman's likely successor.

Towns' lack of a committee chairman was one of the critiques raised by his opponent in the Democratic primary.

AZI PAYBARAH can be reached via email at

106th Precinct Community Council - Cop of the Month - November 12, 2008...

Police Officer George Scott (left), of the 106th Precinct, was honored by Precinct Commanding Officer Capt. Joseph Courtesis, (center), and 106th Precinct Community Council President Frank Dardani, (right), with the Cop of the Month award.

Scott was recognized for his excellent police work for single-handedly apprehending an individual Courtesis said robbed a resident on Saturday evening, October 11 near the “A” train station at Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill.

Photo by: Stephen Geffon

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rowdy Teens, Break-ins Concern the 106th Pct. by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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Members of the 106th Precinct Community Council learned during their meeting last week in Ozone Park that a group of rowdy teenagers has been disturbing the tranquility of the Lefferts branch of the Queens Public Library, located at 103-34 Lefferts Blvd in Richmond Hill.

Their antics, out-of-control behavior and rebellious attitude have frustrated library patrons, area residents told board members. “It’s really getting out of hand,” said a resident who only gave her name as Nicole. The teenagers, she noted, wrestle, block the library entrance and push and shove each other.

Residents also expressed concern about children riding bicycles with speakers blaring loud music, disturbing those trying to read in the library.

But the library isn’t the only place the rowdy teens can be found, Nicole told the board: they are also a problem on Rockaway Boulevard between 124th Street and 127th Street, where they have reportedly broken several store windows.

The commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, Capt. Joseph Courtesis, said the Lefferts library and the 124th Street area are part of the city’s Safe Corridor Program, which provides an additional measure of protection and safety for students as they travel to and from school.

Under the program, the primary streets on which students travel are identified and officers are deployed along them to ensure students’ safe passage.

Courtesis also noted that a police officer is assigned to a post at the Lefferts branch library. But when the precinct is short on personnel, the officer is assigned to 124th Street and Rockaway Boulevard since that location has triple the number of young people and therefore more potential for trouble.

A group of residents from 134th Road between 97th and 99th street in Ozone Park were concerned about suspicious individuals with tools in their back pockets looking in driveways, walking through private properties, looking through garbage cans and ringing doorbells.

One resident noted that in the last two weeks there have been two attempted house break-ins in the area. Another said 134th Road is a quiet block with no through traffic so there should be no reason for any non-resident to be there. The person asked for police presence on the block.

Sgt. Donna Nugent, coordinator of the precinct’s Community Police Unit, said since the attempted break-ins, patrol cars have been directed to include 134th Road in their daily rounds. Nugent told resident that she herself has driven through the block in an unmarked car.

Courtesis asked area residents to aid the precinct by providing any information they have about the person or persons attempting the break-ins. He also told residents to call 911 if they see suspicious individuals. “We’ll arrest them for trespassing,” he said.

Baldeo Awarded for Leadership - Queens Chronicle

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Albert Baldeo, with plaque, and his wife, Tara, were honored last week by Lew Simon, left, Democratic district leader and president of the Good Government Regular Democratic Club, and Buddy Hoosein, president-elect of the Long Island Board Of Realtors, which includes Queens.

Baldeo was awarded the plaque in recognition of his community leadership, and work as a grass roots organizer. He was honored for his dedication to “uplifting working families and for his exemplary loyalty and support” to Queens’ Democratic community, according to the club.

(photo courtesy of Albert Baldeo)

Gateway, Volunteers Forced to Clean Litter Left on Shores After Rituals by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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At the southern end of Howard Beach’s Addabbo Bridge sit two quiet parking lots fronting a beach, one on each side of the road. People from all over the borough visit the lots, which are part of Gateway National Park, to fish, birdwatch and enjoy the view of Jamaica Bay.

That experience has been spoiled for both visitors and Gateway staff and volunteers: greeting them on the shores at the start of every week are discarded coconut shells, candles, rotten fruit and flowers, pieces of paper and plastic, soiled rags and garments, religious statues, flags, broken glass, rats and sometimes body parts of slaughtered animals.

One would have a difficult time imagining that prior to their decomposed, algae-encrusted, sand-covered condition, these items were new and clean — and used in religious rituals honoring Hindu gods and goddesses, according to area residents, local fishermen and Gateway staff who have witnessed the ceremonies.

Those performing the rituals are members of the large Guyanese Hindu community of Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, said Don Riepe, a local preservationist and the director of the Jamaica Bay Guardian program. Every week, dozens of them congregate on the shores of the national park to worship the deities, one of whom is Ganga Mata (Mother Ganges), according to Ina Brennan, a Gateway volunteer who does beach cleanups every Thursday.

Several calls to religious leaders in the local Guyanese Hindu community were not returned as of press time.

While the Gateway administration believes people have a right to practice their religions on its property, it does not believe they have a right to pollute there. “We want them to be part of the park,” spokesman Brian Feeney said of the messy guests. “And we respect their First Amendment rights, but what we want from all our park visitors is to respect the land and to not litter.”

Dispelling rumors that Gateway has not addressed the problem because it fears controversy, Feeney explained the park’s message clearly: “We’re not telling you how to conduct yourself in the sense of your religious beliefs, but do not litter in a national park. ... If you are there, take away whatever you have there.”

The problem is not new, and Gateway has been dealing with it for many years, according to Feeney, who said: “We are trying to do our best to address it with community outreach, with additional maintenance crews and with enforcement.”

Riepe said Gateway simply isn’t doing enough — particularly in the area of enforcement. If the National Park Service would dispatch rangers or park police to the parking lots in the late-night or early-morning hours, when most rituals take place, they could confront participants and issue “courtesy” or warning summonses. The presence of authority figures alone can dissuade people from leaving behind garbage or breaking park rules.

But this is a difficult approach for the park service. While park police are aware of what takes place and they do patrol the area, they have to cover more than 12 miles of shoreline there: “You can’t patrol the whole area every minute of every day. It’s just impossible,” Feeney said. Additionally, most of the rituals take place at night, when rangers are not on duty, leaving park police to patrol alone.

A better approach — and one that may get more results — is community outreach: “We feel that’s what is going to be most effective,” Feeney said. Breaking down cultural barriers and educating people about the effects of their actions can probably accomplish more than punitive action. Gateway wants to convey the message that it welcomes the Guyanese Hindu community, but not its trash.

Gateway has already attempted to reach out to the community and worked with volunteers to educate and spread awareness about the issue. “We’ve tried to be creative,” Feeney noted. A while back the park service attempted a recycling program in which it placed storage bins in the parking lots and encouraged visitors to store items there for future use instead of discarding or casting them off into the water. Unfortunately, Feeney said, the program “didn’t work out.”

The problem is that “this is a very large, varied community that has grown a lot over the last 20 years,” according to Feeney. As a result, not only have rituals become more frequent, but it has become more difficult to reach the entire community. Still, he said, Gateway will “redouble” its community outreach efforts. “Anything it takes, we will try.”

Riepe and Gateway volunteer Barbara Toborg said it’s no longer enough to send maintenance crews to clean twice a week or to rely on community volunteer clean-up projects. The park service must do something more drastic than “redouble” outreach efforts, according to Toborg, who, along with several other volunteers, cleans the shores every Thursday.

Echoing their sentiments, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) called for an education regimen and more enforcement. After meeting Friday with Riepe, Toborg, maintenance staff and Park Ranger Edgardo Castillo to learn more about the situation on the shores of Jamaica Bay, Weiner said this is a “structural” problem.

“The people are not the issues. The issue is the activity. Even if the activity is permitted, leaving behind trash cannot be,” Weiner said. “We cannot have a situation where people are leaving behind ceremonial pines ... leaving shrines of their garbage.”

After Castillo, a Gateway ranger for 27 years, explained the efforts of the park service and the way it has handled the situation, the congressman said he understood why regulating small ad-hoc groups of people is difficult. But, he added, “We can’t keep chasing our tail on this.”

Triborough Bridge Now The RFK By Joseph Orovic - Queens Tribune

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The Triborough Bridge was officially renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge at a ceremony held in Astoria Park on Wednesday.

Connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, the bridge (I-278), joined the New York landscape in 1936.

Former President Bill Clinton, Governor David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a gaggle of Kennedys faced the brunt of a bitter wind to honor the former U.S. Senator from New York and presidential candidate.

“New York wouldn’t be the City it is today without the Triborough. The United States wouldn’t be the country it is today without Robert F. Kennedy,” Bloomberg said. “It’s only fitting the naming of a bridge fit the grandeur of its scale.”

Kennedy’s daughter Kerry, a former Queens resident, recalled crossing the bridge with her father regularly, who would point to the neighboring Hell Gate Bridge and playfully tell his children, “Look at the upside-down bridge!”

Clinton argued the best memorial for Kennedy may be a pause to think of the man’s legacy every time one crosses the bridge.

“He moved a generation by reminding us we can be the greatest bridge,” he said.

Still, not everyone felt the urge to eulogize that day. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) released a statement in light of the ceremony, saying the State and City have more important business to tend to.

“Robert Kennedy was a great man, but this isn’t the time,” Vallone said in a statement. “While one agency that gets money from the state is raising fares and cutting service to the neighborhood at the foot of the bridge, another has somehow found a way to spend millions of dollars on changing the signage of it.”

Comptroller Gives Mayor Low Marks on Schools by Vladic Ravich - Queens Chronicle

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City Comptroller William Thompson advocated an overhaul of the city’s school system at a education summit last Saturday in Far Rockaway.

Photo: City Comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson Jr. addresses the audience at a wide-ranging education conference last Saturday. (photo by Vladic Ravich)

A leading critic of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, Thompson plans to run for mayor in 2009. Given the opportunity to criticize the cornerstone of his rival’s legacy, the comptroller did not fail to take it.

“I have never seen a time in the education system in New York City when parents have less idea about what’s going on and have less opportunity to address their problems,” said Thompson.

Citing an investigation from his office that revealed $100 million in no-bid contracts to the city schools, Thompson turned the administration’s education statistics against it.

Referring to a city-supplied figure showing the city’s education budget increasing over 40 percent, Thompson asked, “Where’s the money really going?”

Joining the comptroller at the Far Rockaway Community Church of Nazarene, state Senator Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) praised the work of the first annual education conference and encouraged the community to redouble their involvement in the work of educating their children.

“This is a challenging time for the State of New York,” Smith said, acknowledging the planned budget cuts before the state Legislature.
“However, one of the opportunities of a challenging time is that everyone is ready to listen to creative ideas.”

The summit’s chief organizer, Rosalind O’Neal, described it as a “proactive way to help ourselves and to help each other.”

Thompson used his remarks to criticize the “opaque” state of mayoral control of the schools — the centerpiece of Bloomberg’s educational policy and likely a major part of his reelection bid.

The comptroller also said the department was out of touch and “made decisions behind closed doors.” As an example, he brought up the decision to reroute school bus routes during February: “They left students standing on street corners during the coldest part of winter,” Thompson said.

However, the speech was only the prelude to an extensive and nuanced discussion of how to revive one of Queen’s most dysfunctional public school districts, located in predominately black neighborhoods in the Rockaways.

Speakers, such as Professor Samuel Anderson, founder of Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, questioned the philosophy of the city’s test-based curriculum. “Envision a new system where you and your child are the center of the system, where the classroom is not a prison cell.” Anderson said.

The conference featured a wide variety of speakers, such as develpmental psychologist Lenora Fulani, who advocated “play, curiosity and exploration” as crucial factors for lifting young people out of neighborhoods filled with crime and poverty.

The two-day conference took place last Friday and Saturday, the first of what organizers hope will be an ongoing catalyst for education reform.

Featuring a panel of various academics and civic leaders, the conference framed the challenges facing their community in philosophic, cultural and psychological terms. Afterward, there were several workshops for parent to help them navigate all available educational and social services.

A second conference is planned for the spring.

There was also a youth day, which featured talks on topics ranging from gangs, clothes and President-elect Barack Obama. The conference also featured prayers from another organizer, the Reverend Les Mullings, and a youth choir.

Last week’s event was presented as part of an ongoing effort to get the community involved in creative solutions for the troubled public school system. Aside from the practical presentations and workshops, the speakers emphasized the hope and inspiration needed to overcome the daunting problems being discussed.

During his speech, Anderson quoted from the state Senate’s recent hearings on mayoral control. “Success in school should be measured by how many of the children go on to graduate from college… by how joyfully noisy and colorful the school building is inside and out… by how many parents, regardless of race and nationally, want their children to be at that school,” he said.