Thursday, April 30, 2009

Richmond Hill - Queens Customers Find White Powder in Their Produce by James Angelos -

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Banana Country in Richmond Hill. Rob Bennett for The New York Times

WHEN sliced open, fruits and vegetables purchased in the city’s produce stores often yield unexpected discoveries. Usually, those discoveries involve rotten spots or, worse, worms.

But a few weeks ago, the surprise found inside bitter melons bought from Banana Country, a produce store on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, was little plastic bags filled with white powder.

The first call to police came on March 7, according to Detective Cheryl Crispin, a Police Department spokeswoman. The caller had bought a bitter melon, a green gourd that is grown in the Caribbean, China and elsewhere and is used in the cuisine of the neighborhood’s large West Indian and South Asian populations. The gourd looks like a cucumber, but it has a rough, bumpy surface.

Inside some items purchased at Banana Country, a produce store in Richmond Hill, an unexpected discovery. Rob Bennett for The New York Times

Cutting open the bitter melon, the caller was shocked to find the bags of powder inside. Within a day, the police received two more calls from other Banana Country customers complaining of having found the same thing in their bitter melons; a fourth call came a week or so later.

Soon after the first call, two dozen officers descended on Banana Country, searched the store with dogs and cut open the bitter melons there, according to the store’s owner, Tae Hyun Kil. But, he said, no other bags had been found.

Mr. Kil said that no one from his store had anything to do with the powder, and that he was just as perplexed as everyone else.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Police didn’t give me much information.” But he added, “No problems with bitter melons since then.”

No arrests have been made. Although news reports referred to the white powder as cocaine, the police described the substance only as a white powder.

On a recent afternoon, the sound system at Banana Country was playing pulsing Indian music as a stream of shoppers inspected the produce. The bitter melons lay innocently near squash and eggplants.

A woman wearing a blue head scarf who said she was from Guyana picked up four bitter melons; when thinly sliced, she said, they go very well with a shrimp and rice stir-fry.

“Maybe I should cut them and see what’s inside first,” she said after being told of the recent events. She added, “Hey, that’s a good way to smuggle!”

Although cocaine smuggling is a plausible explanation for the white powder in the bitter melons, whether melons have ever been used as drug “mules” is unclear. The possibility of such a smuggling method did not, however, surprise Paul Gootenberg, a professor of Latin American history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the author of a recent book about the history of the cocaine trade.

“Cocaine smugglers are very sophisticated and versatile,” Professor Gootenberg said. “They are continuously learning new methods.”

But if smugglers were behind the melons in Richmond Hill, it is uncertain how sophisticated they were. Professor Gootenberg added.

“They obviously didn’t get all the melons to the right person,” he said.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gulluscio to Run for City Council in November by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Frank Gulluscio certainly has the resume of a future city councilman.

The civic leader began his career as a teacher before moving into the private sector as a chief financial officer for a sales and marketing corporation. He left the corporate world to take a position as an aide to then-councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. He now serves on Community Board 6 in Forest Hills as a district manager. Both responsibilities solidified his desire to enter public office.

Last February, in a special election to fill the vacant council seat left when Addabbo was elected to the Senate, Gulluscio finally got the chance to throw his hat in the political ring. But, as he discovered, a political campaign isn’t always the fairest of battlegrounds.

Gulluscio was pulled from the race for reasons that remain murky. Some accounts say his petitions featured a star and were printed on green paper, which is a Democratic trademark and not allowed in a special election. Gulluscio said one of his contenders — Democrat Geraldine Chapey — was focused on getting him off the ballot, which resulted in court visits and lost time and votes.

“It will be a couple of chapters in my book,” Gulluscio said.

The candidate, who heads the South Queens Democratic Club, said he knew even before the last race ended that he would run again in November.

“I’m running because I’m the people’s candidate,” he said. “I’ve been involved in this community my entire life. I’m a well-rounded resident. I do the job every day.”

Addabbo agreed.

“His educational background, small business background and community involvement certainly surpass that of any candidate out there,” he said.

Gulluscio’s first fundraiser was held on Thursday, April 23 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Roma View, located at 160-05 Cross Bay Blvd.

Gulluscio Hits Ground Running for 2009 by Stephen Geffon - Leader-Observer

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More than 200 enthusiastic Frank Gulluscio supporters packed the Roma View Room in Howard Beach last Thursday evening with Democratic elected legislators from the area to raise funds for Gulluscio’s upcoming City Council race in the 32nd District.

Gulluscio is expected to face some of his prior opponents in the September 2009 Democratic Primary and, if successful, the incumbent Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich in the November 2009 General Election. Speaker after speaker touted Gulluscio's night as eminently qualified to become the area's next council representative.

Congressman Gregory Meeks said Gulluscio is dedicated to the community and has made a substantial difference.

"In Frank Gulluscio, we have a man that we know we can depend upon when times are hard," said Meeks, adding, "he's ready to serve."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who is co-leader with Gulluscio of the South Queens Democratic Club and has worked with him for many years, said, "I know what Frank can do, I know what he has done, I know what he will continue to do."

Pheffer said that in his current position as district manager of Community Board 6 in Forest Hills, "he really knows what has to be done and what could be done and what should be done (in city government)."

State Senator Joseph Addabbo told the audience that when he was the area's councilman, Gulluscio was always with him when the tough financial decisions had to be made. Addabbo said it is clear, without a doubt, that Gulluscio has the best all-around qualifications to represent the area as councilman.

Coming to the podium with the theme music from Rocky playing in the background, Gulluscio received a cheering standing ovation from the audience. He told his supporters that he would be a councilman of the people, "a real person that will represent the north, the south, the east, and the west of this district."

Gulluscio also said his campaign would be a personal, grassroots, door-to-door, block-to-block effort to win the council seat and represent the community.

"I am running to ensure that all of us of this district has a voice and a strong advocate at City Hall," he said. "I pledge to work for the needs and the interests of all the residents in this district."

More good words about Gulluscio came from Lindenwood resident Joan Vasta, who said, "I trust Frank completely, he's a man of his word."

Marie Mauro, also of Lindenwood, said she is a great believer in Gulluscio and is supporting him because "I think he's going to do a great work for the community."

She said that she went out and got petitions for Gulluscio when he ran in the Special Election last February. Gulluscio was eventually tossed from the ticket over technical reasons in the nonpartisan election.

"The first time it was a disappointment,” she said, “but this time he's going to make it and we're going to make sure that he makes it."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Queens - John Adams High School Kid In a Gun Jam by Larry Celona - New York Post

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A 14-year-old student was arrested at a Queens high school yesterday after a .380 handgun was found in his backpack, authorities said.

He was entering John Adams HS in Ozone Park just after 8 a.m. when the .380 Beretta in his backpack set off a metal detector.

He started to run away, but was grabbed by school officials, authorities said.

He was charged with criminal weapon possession.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rep. Weiner Statement on Today's Photo-Op Flyover in Manhattan...

NEWS: Rep. Weiner Statement on Today's Photo-Op Flyover in Manhattan

Representative Anthony Weiner (D - Brooklyn and Queens) released the following statement on the decision not to notify New Yorkers about a flyover in lower Manhattan:

"It is a debacle all around – whether it be the Department of Defense thinking it is a good idea to buzz ground zero with fighter planes or the Federal Aviation Administration ordering it be kept quiet or New York City officials keeping us all in the dark. It was simply a bone headed thing to do. And all this for a photo op?"

Comptroller Scandal: Crony Was Paid For Cohen’s Seat: AG Cuomo by Brian M. Rafferty - Queens Tribune

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Current Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi gained his seat only after an illegal payout to a political crony set in motion Assemblyman Mike Cohen’s move to a health industry job and pressure from then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi pushed for a quick special election, according to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Raymond Harding, the former head of the New York State Liberal Party, was charged Wednesday with obtaining $800,000 in illegal fees from state pension fund in exchange for decades of political favors, one of which was facilitating Cohen’s departure from the Assembly.

“Harding helped [Michael Cohen] get a six-figure job at an insurance company to generate a vacancy in the Assembly seat,” according to Cuomo. An unnamed official in the Comptroller’s office, alleged to be un-indicted co-conspirator Jack Chartier, “helped arrange for the Queens Democratic Party to endorse Andrew Hevesi for the open seat. [Chartier] then met with an aide to [then-Gov. George Pataki] and requested that the Governor certify a special election for the vacant Assembly seat as quickly as possible, which would discourage competition for the seat. Andrew Hevesi was elected to the open Assembly seat in May of 2005.”

Cuomo was clear to point out that Andrew Hevesi was not aware of the deal that was cut to arrange for his seat. The criminal complaint also fails to clearly connect the dots between Harding receiving the money and his interceding to arrange the meeting between Cohen and HIP, which ended up giving Cohen a $150,000-a-year position in the insurer’s marketing department.

Andrew Hevesi had no comment on the indictment, but a spokesman was clear to point out Cuomo’s absolution of any knowledge the younger Hevesi may have had about the scheme. A Cohen spokesman said that the former Assemblyman would continue in his bid to replace Melinda Katz in the City Council.

The charges against Harding are the latest to come from Cuomo’s investigation into wrongdoing in Alan Hevesi’s office. A few weeks ago Cuomo secured indictments against Hevesi campaign consultant Hank Morris and the Comptroller’s Chief Investment Officer David Loglisci on 123 counts of corruption, fraud, money laundering, falsifying business records and grand larceny.

Alan Hevesi remains un-indicted, though in several sections of criminal complaints against all three, it appears that Chartier was acting under the direct orders of Alan Hevesi.

Hevesi was re-elected Comptroller in 2006, but quickly stepped down amid a scandal involving his un-reimbursed use of a state vehicle and chauffer to take his wife around town.

In the current investigation, in addition to his alleged influence in the Assembly seat, Harding is said to have been paid off for decades of political support on behalf of the Liberal Party, including for Alan Hevesi’s campaigns for Assembly from 1971-1993, Mayor in 2001 and State Comptroller in 2002.

According to Cuomo, Harding participated in a corrupt scheme devised by Hank Morris and David Loglisci to skew the process of selecting investments at the State pension fund to favor political allies, friends and family. “Morris and Loglisci allegedly made Harding a sham placement agent for three investments in order to repay him for past political favors to Hevesi,” Cuomo said. “Through investment deals with Paladin and Pequot, two private equity firms, Harding is charged with securing over $800,000 in sham placement fees.”

In May 2004 the state invested $20 million into Paladin Homeland Security, for which Harding received $300,000 in bogus placement fees, Cuomo said. In October 2005 and June 2006 the state pension fund invested $100 million into Pequot Diversified Offshore Fund, netting Harding $500,000 in bogus fees.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Parking Tickets in Store - Jamaica Ave. Biz Owners Hit Meter Fee Windup by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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TIMES ARE TOUGH along Jamaica Ave., a once-bustling shopping strip in Woodhaven that is now dotted with shuttered stores.

So when merchants there found out that parking meter fees were hiked to 25 cents for 20 minutes, instead of 30 minutes, they were shocked and angry.

"This is a blatant attack on small businesses," said Maria Thompson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp.

Shop owners fear that customers, unaware of the new fees, will get slapped with parking tickets.

"I have people coming in from Long Island to shop," said Steve Esposito, who owns the Orthopedic Shoe Clinic on Jamaica Ave. "If they get a ticket, they aren't going to come back."

Matthew Xenakis, owner of Park Place Greenery and Florist, said one of his wholesalers thought he had 30 minutes - and got slapped with a $35 ticket.

"I felt bad," he said. "I gave him the money for the ticket."

Rep. Anthony Weiner and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo met with business owners last week to address complaints that they had no warning about the change.

"Parking spaces are precious things," Weiner said. "You can't use that pressure to balance the city's books."

But city Transportation Department officials said the change was announced very publicly by Mayor Bloomberg this year.

"Most meter rates have remained unchanged since 1992, when the city changed the rate for many meters to 25 cents for 30 minutes," said Transportation Department spokesman Seth Solomonow.

"Also, the new rate will not affect the approximately 8,000 single-space and 3,200 muni-meters, which are already set for higher rates citywide - roughly 40% of all spots in the city."

The change started in February, and are being phased in throughout the city, Solomonow said. Queens work was recently completed.

Some merchants are in favor of the rate hike because it creates more turnover in parking spots. But Addabbo said it hurts consumers and merchants alike.

"Raising fees and decreasing time doesn't help our shoppers," said Addabbo as he stood across the street from Jason's, a party and variety store that closed recently after more than 60 years in business.

"To see a store like Jason's go is just sad. My father took me there as a kid."

Whitestone Journal - Fighting Real Parrots With a Fake Owl in Queens by Corey Kilgannon and Jeffrey E. Singer -

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Exotic green birds in Whitestone, Queens, have built nests up on Con Ed equipment, which often starts fires and destroys costly machinery.

Many of Con Edison’s challenges are well known — blackouts and steam pipe explosions included — but a lesser-known problem has proved no less nagging: how to protect equipment from the thousands of monk parakeets that nest in the utility poles of Queens and Brooklyn.

These birds — also called monk parrots or Quaker parrots — are attracted to the heat given off by the transformers and other equipment high up on the utility poles. Their nests often wreck the electrical equipment by engulfing the electrical devices, blocking ventilation.

The resulting trapped heat can cause the devices to short-circuit, and often to catch fire, sometimes leading to local power failures. In eight fires on overhead equipment in past 18 months, the nests are the main suspects.

Con Edison officials have tried to shoo the birds with nets, spikes, deterrent sprays and sound machines.

“None have been successful,” said Al Williams, a senior scientist with Con Ed who tracks the monk parakeet, a native of South America.

One Con Edison crew has come up with its own solution: a plastic battery-powered owl that swivels its head and makes a hooting noise, bought at a local nursery.

The idea came from Gerry Goodwin, 65, a 44-year Con Edison veteran who tired of continually replacing the 24,000-volt feeder reclosure on a pole on 11th Avenue, just off Clintonville Street in Whitestone, Queens, which has become a main parakeet habitat, along with Canarsie and Midwood in Brooklyn.

“These things cost about $20,000 to replace, and we’ve gone through five in the past couple years,” Mr. Goodwin said of the feeder reclosures. “These nests are killing us.”

Pondering the problem, Mr. Goodwin recalled that a co-worker had installed a plastic owl on his boat to keep sea gulls away.

“I figured, ‘If it works for sea gulls, it’ll work for parakeets; let’s put one up on the equipment,’ ” Mr. Goodwin said. So last year, they bought an owl and named him Hootie.

Hootie worked like a charm. Months went by with no new nests. But suddenly the nests were back, and again they caused the feeder reclosure to short-circuit and catch fire.

Hootie’s batteries must have run out, the workers said, and the birds immediately detected him as a fake and built their nest next to him.

“I think one of them married Hootie,” joked Sam Maratto, a Con Edison supervisor.

At any rate, when Mr. Goodwin took Hootie down, he saw that he had been damaged by the fire. So Mr. Maratto drove to a nearby plant nursery and bought another one, and a set of fresh batteries.

On the way, Mr. Maratto pointed out some huge nests in the area. When the nests become wet, he said, they conduct electricity and cause the devices to short-circuit and explode.

“They’re all over, and they’re huge,” he said.

He stopped at a device on a pole near Seventh Avenue and 150th Street “smothered” by a huge nest.

“Look at that capacitor bank — it’s a condominium,” he said. “It’s engulfed. That’s a piece of Con Ed equipment; you can’t even see it.”

According to the prevailing theory, the birds escaped from cargo at Kennedy International Airport and now proliferate mostly in Brooklyn and Queens, with perhaps 300 nests that cause “a tremendous cost” to Con Edison, Mr. Williams said.

The men said working in Whitestone had given them double duty as parrot home wreckers (though parrot sympathizers should know that the birds rebuild their homes within several days). When working on nest-infested equipment, Con Ed workers must wear protective suits and face masks.

“These birds don’t go easy,” said one worker, Patrick Chery. “They hover right around you, and if they have eggs in the nest, they’ll attack you.”

Mr. Goodwin said that the Hootie solution seemed like the way to go citywide, except for the need to change the batteries every few months. He has asked Con Edison engineers to come up with a way to feed low-voltage direct current from the lines to power the owls.

Last week, Mr. Chery mounted the new Hootie. Within minutes, a parakeet flew over to take a look.

Steve Baldwin, who runs, a Web site devoted to chronicling the wild urban parakeets, said the parakeets have strong instincts to return to their original nesting spot. They will not be fooled for too long by a plastic owl, he said. A better solution might be using recorded hawk calls to deter the parakeets, he added, and providing “alternate nest platforms” on poles.

“I know there are people who think Con Edison is killing them, but I think they’re pretty humane about removing the nests,” he said. “It would be nice if, on our Con Ed bills, there was a box you could check to donate $5 for humane monk parakeet nest removal.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cohen Talks About His Seat Scandal by Joseph Orovic - Queens tribune

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Michael Cohen asserts that his hands are clean.

The City Council candidate said he was unaware of any nefarious machinations that may have helped him attain his current six-figure job, leaving his seat open for then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s son Andrew to be rushed into his vacated Assembly seat.

“Nothing occurred to me that anything untoward, suspicious or illegal had gone on to in order for me to be interviewed by my current employer,” Cohen said in an interview with the Queens Tribune.

A criminal complaint from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office claims a political operative gained $800,000 from the State’s pension fund in exchange for political favors, which included helping Cohen find his current job. Another unnamed official in the Comptroller’s office then pulled the strings ultimately leading to Andrew Hevesi’s win in a special election for the vacated seat.

The Attorney General’s complaint does not draw a direct line between the payouts and Cohen’s ability to get a $150,000-a-year job with insurance giant HIP. Cohen said by the time a meeting with HIP was arranged, he had already decided to vacate his seat due to a family illness that demanded he spend more time at home.

“My thinking of leaving was known with my colleagues in the Assembly; and then I was approached,” he said.

Cohen defended his current employment, saying he met HIP’s need for someone with strong ties to labor unions, and he currently retains this same position with the company.

While Cohen said he had a three-decades-long working relationship with the operative, thought by many to be Hevesi’s No. 2, Jack Chartier, they were never close friends. Still, he did not suspect any foul play when the job opportunity appeared.

He didn’t know “what motivated people or why they were doing it. I just accepted it as someone who was trying to help,” he said.

The operative, former head of the New York State Liberal Party Raymond Harding, was charged with securities fraud for receiving the state pension funds though he was not certified to be handling them as a placement agent.

Cuomo’s complaint states Cohen was approached by Alan Hevesi in 2003, asking to be notified should Cohen ever consider leaving office. When asked if the election of the younger Hevesi raised his suspicions, Cohen said, “Only because there are other people in the comptroller’s office I’ve known for some time. But you’re asking the million-dollar question. I can’t comment.”

But he quickly added he played no part in Andrew Hevesi’s election.

“It wasn’t a concern of mine who would succeed me. I wasn’t asked to help anybody to be my replacement. It was not my concern.”

Cohen said he has had “extensive conversations” with the Attorney General, and has not sought legal counsel regarding the investigation into Hevesi’s office.

The complaint’s revelations have changed the landscape of the 29th Council District race.

None of Cohen’s opponents demanded he bow out of the race to replace Melinda Katz, and most doubted any wrongdoing on Cohen’s part.

“I hope it all works out for him. I really hope the investigation does not reveal any improprieties,” said Heidi Chain, echoing the tone of other candidates that commented.

They all also said the decision to bow out of the race was purely his own to make - not theirs to demand.

Cohen acknowledged he now faces a cynical crowd of voters.

“I do expect the public to have a great deal of skepticism,” he said. “I know I’m going to have to deal with that. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to draw the worst possible conclusion about a situation. I personally have received no negative feedback.”

The case has also led elected officials in the State and City to call for a reform to the handling of pension funds. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and City Comptroller Bill Thompson both moved to ban the use of placement agents in the dispersal of pension funds, a direct nod to the system that allowed Harding’s alleged wrongdoing, as well as the indictments of others close to Hevesi.

Teen in Critical Condition Following Queens Fire -

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An 18-year-old woman is listed in critical condition after she was injured in a house fire Friday. The blaze was reported at 11:15 a.m at 106-10 101st Avenue in the Ozone Park section of Queens. The woman's family was able to get out of the house, but the young woman was trapped inside, officials say.

Firefighters who responded to the late-morning blaze, managed to pull the teen to safety. Authorities say the victim sustained second- and third-degree burns over much of her body, and is being treated at the burn unit in Cornell Medical Center. Doctors say they expect her to survive.

Police are still investigating the cause of the blaze.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Queens Senators Not Behind Governors Gay Marriage Bill by Ben Hogwood - Queens Chronicle

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Gov. David Paterson introduces legislation that would allow same-sex marriage at a news conference last week. (photo courtesy of the governor’s office)

Gov. David Paterson unveiled a gay marriage proposal last week to much fanfare, but that excitement is not shared by several local politicians.

This week, the Queens Chronicle contacted the borough’s seven senators for their opinion on the legislation. Of those, three said they opposed the bill, one was undecided, one was in support and the remaining two did not return calls.

While majority leader Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) supports the bill, his spokesman, Austin Shafran, said the senator will not bring it to the floor unless he knows it will succeed; right now that doesn’t appear likely. “We don’t believe there are sufficient votes at this time to pass the marriage equality bill,” Shafran said. “As soon as the votes can be secured, we will bring it up for a vote.”

Paterson, however, wants to see it voted on with or without knowing the end result, hoping national momentum will get it through. Paterson’s bill comes shortly after Vermont and Iowa legalized gay marriage.

Some Republicans would have to cross party lines to pass the bill, as several Democrats, including Queens Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria), have declared their opposition. A spokesman for Onorato confirmed his opposition on Friday, but did not elaborate, nor did the senator return calls.

Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) also said she does not support the bill. Huntley said her decision is largely based on her religious beliefs. “I just don’t believe in it,” she said. “I’ve had a large influx of calls and letters from constituents who asked me not to support it.”

And that Republican support won’t come from Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), the only GOP member from Queens in either state house. Padavan said he agreed with the state Court of Appeals when it ruled in 2006 that gay marriage is not allowed under law. That decision states that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples could be based on rational social goals, primarily the protection and welfare of children.

Padavan was critical of Paterson’s decision to introduce the legislation now, when he believes there are bigger issues that need addressing — specifically the MTA crisis and the state budget.

That was a position echoed by Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). Addabbo represents the southern and mid Queens neighborhoods of Middle Village, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Howard Beach, Glendale and Maspeth — areas that are historically conservative. Addabbo won the seat after defeating former Sen. Serphin Maltese, a Republican who held the position for 20 years, in 2008.

Addabbo said he has yet to make a decision on the legislation and will speak with people in the district for input. Still, he said this is hardly the time to be discussing gay marriage, citing the previous issues as well as problems closer to home, such as the closure of hospitals in the borough and redevelopment plans for Aqueduct Raceway, which is expected to become a “racino” with video lottery terminals — basically slot machines — in the near future.

“I truly believe there are priorities to be set and gay marriage is not a priority at this time,” Addabbo said.

Senators who did not return calls were Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Elmhurst) and Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing).

The governor’s bill is much the same as one passed in the Assembly in 2007. Three of the borough’s representatives voted against it at that time, including Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill).

The governor introduced the legislation on April 16, framing it not as a gay issue but rather a civil rights concern.

“Marriage equality is about basic civil rights and personal freedom,” Paterson said in a prepared statement. “Too many individuals face discrimination every single day. Too many loving families do not receive the legal recognition they deserve.”

The bill would amend the Domestic Relations Law to give same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into civil marriages, qualifying them for 1,324 state rights on issues such as property ownership, inheritance, healthcare and insurance coverage.

A poll from the Siena Research Institute released Monday found that the majority of New Yorkers support the bill, with a margin of 53 to 39 percent. Democrats, independent and young voters and women strongly support Senate passage, while men, older voters, African Americans and Protestants were more often opposed, the poll found.

About New York - 13 Birds From Guyana, and a Chance at Stardom in New Yorkby Jim Dwyer -

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There is surprisingly good money to be made — and lost — on male finches when they sing to woo the females. On fine afternoons, the birds are taken in cages to Smokey Oval, a park in Richmond Hill, Queens, for singing contests. The finches are treated by Guyanese immigrants as if they were college basketball players: the wagering is ferocious.

The bird that sings the best wins, and successful owners can bring home $5,000. The judges in these matches are male humans, not girl finches, which presumably have their own notions of what makes for a good song of courtship.

“They’re judged on how mellifluous they are,” explained Deirdre von Dornum, a lawyer who recently acquired an expertise in the field of bird song contests. “Their range and length and sophistication of song.”

The money may be good, but it is not easy. Among Guyanese in Queens, the finches with the best reputation as singers are those that live in the grass back in Guyana. Whether they really are superior singers, or this is simply a matter of deflected longing for home, is impossible to say. It is enough that people believe the Guyanese finches are worth the trouble of evading quarantine requirements by smuggling them. And part of that trouble, naturally, involves law enforcement.

On Tuesday, a case involving 13 smuggled finches took Ms. von Dornum to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn along with nine other lawyers and law students, a forensic ornithologist flown in from Oregon, a federal magistrate, his law clerk, a court stenographer to document the proceedings, and 14 jurors.

The story begins on a summer day nearly three years ago, when customs officers at Kennedy Airport pulled Terrence McLean, a maintenance worker at a nursing home in Brooklyn, out of line when he arrived from Guyana. In his checked luggage, the officers found a bundle of grass seed.

One of the officers asked if Mr. McLean had any birds with him.

“No sir,” he replied.

His carry-on consisted of a plastic shopping bag with two bottles of duty free liquor. Also in the plastic bag was a small paper shopping bag. It held 13 plastic hair curlers. Inside the hair curlers were 13 live finches.

A team of federal agents fell on Mr. McLean, who was searched and found to have not a penny of cash. He spoke freely about the finches, which he called Towa Towas, according to papers filed in federal court.

Born in Guyana but now a United States citizen, he had gone home to settle his grandmother’s estate, with requests to bring back quality birds. He was to be paid $100 for each finch delivered in good condition. These were just his transport fees.

The birds were supplied by a man named Eric Thomas, apparently a leading source of Guyanese finches, who was paid directly by the buyers from New York. Nine were going to one man.

For himself, Mr. McLean said, he bought two birds for $200 each in an open market. “McLean said Thomas gets a better price from the sellers in the market, but they will raise the price for someone living in America, like McLean,” according to a report by a federal Fish and Wildlife Service agent.

In the United States, the price is higher still, Mr. McLean told the agent: from $300 to $1,500. “Asked why they use hair curlers, he said that the plastic does not trigger the metal detectors, and if you have only a couple of finches, the curlers can be put hidden beneath the clothes,” the report said.

That was not the end of the subterfuge. At the airport in Guyana, Mr. McLean went through security without the birds. Meanwhile, Mr. Thomas turned them over to an airport employee, who had been told what Mr. McLean would be wearing. “Are you Terry?” the airport employee asked, and told Mr. McLean to follow him to the cantina. There he handed over the bag of hair curlers and finches without a word.

IN court on Tuesday, the magistrate decided, after hearing from the forensic ornithologist, Pepper Trail, that Mr. McLean could not have violated a 1919 Guyanese law that bans the export of various wild birds because the classification of the finches had been revised since the law was enacted.

Mr. McLean, 36, pleaded guilty to filing a false customs declarations form.

“This is something that practically every one who flies has done at some point or another,” said Ms. von Dornum, who represented Mr. McLean.

Perhaps — but not with hair curlers filled with finches.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Call on State Representatives to Lower Unconscionable MTA Fare Increases - Op/Ed by Albert Baldeo...

Despite our protests, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently voted to enact a series of fare hikes and service cutbacks, presumably to keep the transit system from going broke. MTA Board members artfully called the combination of fare increases and slashing bus, subway and commuter rail cuts a disaster but said they could no longer wait for lawmakers in Albany to rescue them. The votes, painfully taken in three parts, approved fare hikes, toll increases and service cutbacks, despite spirited opposition.

On behalf of the millions of tax payers and working families, who depend on this system, we demand that a compromise be reached before the subway and bus fare hikes take effect May 31. It is troubling to see how our elected officials fail to appreciate and respond to the massive transportation threat millions of New Yorkers face every day. The public interest is paramount, and we need to work together to implement a real and viable mass transit plan that does not create yet another reason to drive residents from our state.

Unless Albany acts, this decision will affect millions of New Yorkers in the coming months, as base subway and bus fares will jump to $2.50. Seven-day passes will jump from $25 to $31, 14-day passes will increase from $47 to $59 and the cost of 30-day MetroCards will rise from $81 to $103 effective May 31, 2009, while commuter rail fares will increase on June 1. Tolls on the authority’s bridges and tunnels will also go up, with the increase taking effect in mid-July. The service cuts are far reaching. They include the elimination of 35 bus routes and two subway lines, the W and Z. Off-peak and weekend subway, bus and commuter rail service will also be cut back. Gloomy, indeed!

Given the city’s economic downturn, this is unconscionable, and places an undue burden on all of us who use public transportation. It amounts to untold suffering to two-thirds of all mass transit riders in the United States. Enough is enough!

Albert Baldeo is a Community Advocate and former State Senate candidate who helped Democrats take control of the State Senate for the first time since 1965.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ten Easy Ways To Go Green - Op/Ed By Council Member Elizabeth S. Crowley

The earth’s climate is changing, and global temperature is rising. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable, and communities worldwide are facing disastrous consequences. And people are causing it. Americans alone, represent five percent of the world’s population, consume twenty-three percent of the world’s energy and produce thirty percent of the world’s pollution.

As Americans, we are recognized as intellectual world leaders and I believe that we will find the solution to climate change. It’s not just our scientists or our new technologies that will help towards the solution, it’s our everyday people. There are a lot of things that we can do, as individuals and as a community, to alleviate climate change. But we need to start now.

We have to use less energy in order to reduce our CO2 emissions and our carbon footprint. Calculating one’s carbon footprint is the primary way to measure how much CO2 an individual personally consumes and it is our responsibility to diminish our own impact on the environment. (Estimate of your carbon footprint by visiting: The most effective way to do this is by buying locally grown, produced and manufactured goods; using less energy; and decreasing the amount of garbage you produce. Going green will help you live better, support our local economy and, in the long run, save money.

As we celebrate the Earth this week, we are reminded about our impact on the planet and we are challenged to think of ways we, as individuals, can become energy efficient and save money in the process. Here some ways to integrate going green into your daily routine:

1. Buy Local: supporting local businesses and manufacturers not only serve as an economic engine for the community, it reduces CO2 emissions. When products are shipped in from foreign countries, there is a tremendous amount carbon emissions associated with the trip. Furthermore, products made abroad tend to be mass-produced and of less quality, requiring a heavier manufacturing process and more packaging, which generates more waste.

2. Drive Less: even if it’s once a week, try biking, walking, taking public transportation or car-pooling. With roughly seven-hundred million cars on the road worldwide, over thirty percent of America’s CO2 emissions come from vehicles, acting as one of the leading causes of Global Warming. Driving less not only helps the environment, it saves you money and helps you get into shape!

3. Use Fuel Efficient Vehicles: using fuel efficient vehicles can reduce carbon emissions and oil consumption by fifty percent. Drive a hybrid, small car, motorcycle or scooter. It will help the environment and reduce your gas bill. My hybrid has saved me five-hundred dollars annually from fuel alone. Also, when I drive to Manhattan, I try to carpool at least two to three people.

4. Recycle: it’s the best ways to help the environment. Recycling reduces garbage in landfills, reduces carbon emissions by reducing manufacturing and transportation emissions and enables our Earth’s natural resources to be more evenly distributed among the world’s population. To find one of the many recycling center near you, visit and type in your zip code. Remember to ask about curb-side pick-up schedules of recyclable materials and how you can get your own recycling bin. Recycling is also about reusing bags when you go to the grocery store or reusing your mugs every time you go to refill your coffee.

5. Use Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs): CFLs use twenty-five percent less energy than standard light bulbs and last ten times longer. When you can’t use CFLs, replace standard bulbs with halogen bulbs.

6. Use Power Strips: most electronics continue to use electricity if they are left plugged in, even when they are turned off. When electronic equipment is plugged in and not in use, it uses of ten percent of the electricity used in most homes. An easy way to fix this is by plugging all your electronics into power strips which provide an easy way to turn power on and off.

7. Turn Off Your AC When Not In Use: install a programmable thermostat or use a timer to turn on your air conditioner a half hour before you return home. Contact Con Edison for a free programmable thermostat by visiting or calling 866-521-8600. Also, with roughly forty percent of unwanted heat coming in through the window, make sure to close your shades, curtains and blinds to keep out the sun.

8. Energy Audit Your Home: buildings contribute to seventy percent of our City’s carbon emissions. Improve your home’s energy efficiency by contacting the Community Environmental Center (found on-line: to schedule a home audit which could save you thirty percent on your utility bills.

9. Compost Your Food: did you know that a lot of your food waste can become nutrients for the soil in your garden? Join or create a compost or community garden, which will decrease waste in landfills. Learn more about composting by contacting the Queens Botanical Gardens (found on-line:

10. Educate Yourself and Spread the Word! My office has created a booklet of detailed information on global warming, more ways to decrease your carbon footprint and other resources. Please contact us at 718-366-3900 or visit us at our office at 64-77 Dry Harbor Road, Middle Village, Queens 11379.

The future of the planet and all its inhabitants depend on us Americans to modify our lifestyles. Climate change may seem to be a slow process but since the industrial revolution, it has accelerated at an alarming rate. If we all do our own part and work together as a community, we will save the environment, improve our health, save money and create a better future for our children.

Rep Ed Towns Honors 39th Earth Day...

U.S. Representative Edolphus “Ed” Towns (NY-10), today commemorated Earth Day’s 39th anniversary and emphasized his commitment to reducing global warming and helping to preserve the environment for future generations.

A lifetime champion of green technology and improved efficiency, Rep. Towns proudly supported the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which is now investing billions of dollars nationwide in projects that will lower energy costs, reduce American dependence on foreign oil, and create jobs to stimulate our economy.

“I was a proud co-sponsor of the economic stimulus legislation that is helping to get our economy back on track while making crucial investments in green projects that will conserve our environment and halt global warming,” said Rep. Towns. “The stimulus is an excellent example of an opportunity where we can stimulate our economy with jobs that will help improve the planet.”

Rep. Towns also outlined several steps he intends to take as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee to reduce the federal government’s carbon footprint, including expanding the “Green the Capitol” initiative.

“Making older buildings more efficient, improving the fuel efficiency of the federal vehicle fleet, increasing standards for green buildings and requiring all federal agencies to use environmentally sound disposal methods are just a few things I hope to achieve as Chairman that will reduce the federal government’s energy consumption and save millions of taxpayer dollars,” stated Rep. Towns.

In addition, Rep. Towns also helped to fund local projects that will reduce Brooklyn’s dependence on foreign oil and reduce energy costs for all Brooklynites.

“Projects like the East River Kinetic Hydropower System (KHPS) Turbines, which will provide 5 megawatts of clean, renewable energy and create new high-tech, high-paying jobs are symbolic of the revolutionary steps we can take to protect our planet and ensure our children and grandchildren live in a safe and clean environment,” said Rep. Towns. “I am committed to supporting investments that will positively benefit Brooklyn and the entire planet for years to come.”

NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson Moves to Ban Placement Agents, Asks State Attorney General to Investigate Quadrangle Transaction

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr, in the wake of continuing investment scandals involving the State pension fund, is calling for a ban on the use of placement agents in investments with the New York City Pension Funds.

Additionally, Thompson has referred to the New York State Attorney General the issue of whether the Pension Funds “were intentionally misled or deceived” as to the identities of any placement agents involved in an investment by the Funds in the Quadrangle Group.

The New York City Pension Funds invested $125 million in Quadrangle in 2005 and 2006, but at no time did the Pension Funds’ consultant ever identify Hank Morris or Searle & Company as a placement agent in that transaction. In fact, in a due diligence questionnaire issued by the Pension Funds’ consultant, Quadrangle identified Monument Group and Helix Associates Limited as the only placement agents.

“The recent indictment and felony complaint by the New York Attorney General and complaints filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission have called into question the conduct of certain entities and individuals that identified themselves or allegedly acted as placement agents in connection with investments made by the New York State Common Retirement Fund,” Thompson said.

“I am extremely troubled by the allegations and believe that such improper conduct underscores the need for broad and comprehensive reform nationally with respect to the activities of placement agents. At this time, the wisest course of action would be to immediately prohibit the use of such paid intermediaries in connection with our investments.”

Thompson has called a meeting with Pension Fund trustees – who ultimately must approve the prohibition on placement agents. “We need to prevent any recurrence of the type of egregious conduct detailed in the indictment and complaints,” he said.

“The Comptroller and the many other trustees of the New York City Pension Funds endeavor to invest with the highest quality managers, not just in terms of performance, but in terms of integrity and adherence to the highest ethical standards,” Thompson said. “We take any ethical lapses by our managers seriously and will consider any remedies available to investors, and would certainly view any confirmed instances of wrongdoing as a disabling factor in any consideration of future investments.”

Trustees of the Pension Funds include Mayor Bloomberg, his commissioners, and representatives and appointees from labor unions. The funds are the: New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, New York City Police Pension Fund, New York City Fire Department Pension Fund, and Board of Education Retirement System.

The Comptroller serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of four of the five Funds and is investment advisor to, and custodian of, the five. The Funds cover more than 237,000 retirees and beneficiaries and more than 344,000 City and City-affiliated employees. The Funds have combined assets of more than $82.5 billion as of December 31.

The Comptroller said the Pension Funds’ assets are invested for the benefit of the plan participants and their beneficiaries. All assets of the Pension Funds are managed by registered investment advisors.

Besides Thompson, the New York City Pension Funds’ trustees (chairs in bold) are:

New York City Employees’ Retirement System: New York City Finance Commissioner Martha E. Stark (Chair); New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; Borough Presidents Scott Stringer (Manhattan), Helen Marshall (Queens), Marty Markowitz (Brooklyn), James Molinaro (Staten Island), and Acting Borough President Earl D. Brown (Bronx); Lillian Roberts, Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME; Roger Toussaint, President Transport Workers Union Local 100; and, Gregory Floyd, President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 237.

Teachers’ Retirement System: New York City Finance Commissioner Martha E. Stark (Chair); Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, New York City Department of Education; and, Sandra March, Melvyn Aaronson and Mona Romain, all of the United Federation of Teachers.

New York City Police Pension Fund: Mayor Michael Bloomberg; New York City Finance Commissioner Martha E. Stark; New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (Chair); Patrick Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association; Michael Palladino, Detectives Endowment Association; Edward D. Mullins, Sergeants Benevolent Association; Thomas Sullivan, Lieutenants Benevolent Association; and, Roy T. Richter, Captains Endowment Association.

New York City Fire Department Pension Fund: Mayor Michael Bloomberg; New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta (Chair); New York City Finance Commissioner Martha E. Stark; Stephen Cassidy, President, James Slevin, Vice President, Robert Straub, Treasurer, and John Kelly, Brooklyn Representative and Chair, Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York; John Dunne, Captains’ Rep.; John J. McDonnell , Chiefs’ Rep., and James J. McGowan, Lieutenants’ Rep., Uniformed Fire Officers Association; and, Joseph Gagliardi, Marine Engineers Association.

Board of Education Retirement System: mayoral appointees Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (Designee, Kathleen Grimm, serves as co-chair), Alan Aviles, Philip Berry, David Chang, Tino Hernandez, Edison O. Jackson, Richard Menschel and Marita Regan; Patrick Sullivan (Manhattan), Wendy Gilgeous (Brooklyn), Joan Correale (Staten Island); and Dmytro Fedkowskyj (Queens); Anna Santos (Bronx); and employee members Joseph D'Amico of the IUOE Local 891 and Milagros Rodriguez of District Council 37, Local 372 (serves as co-chair).

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez on Airforce 1 with President Barack Obama...

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Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez on Airforce 1 with President Barack Obama this past weekend during the Latin American Summit in Port of Spain -Trinidad Tobago..!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lobbying To Change His Own Law, Sanders Wades Back Into Mayoral Control by Andrew J. Hawkins - City Hall News

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Former Assembly education chair, Klein foe, charges chancellor with “freelancing”

Most people do not keep copies of the mayoral control law in their offices.

Steve Sanders does.

“I wrote the law, so I know what’s in the law,” said Sanders, who chaired the Assembly Education Committee from 1995 to 2005, jabbing a finger at the leather-bound book containing the text.

Keeping a copy nearby is handy as Sanders levels his criticisms at how Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been interpreting the law.

“There are a number of things he is doing, in my opinion as the author of the law, that are not authorized,” he said. “He was freelancing, he was doing things beyond the scope that exceeded the authority we gave him.”

Now an Albany-based lobbyist, Sanders finds himself back in the middle of the highly charged debate around renewing the law he helped shepherd through, which is set to expire June 30.

Sitting in his office at Crane, Vacco & Sanders, LLC, Sanders said he could have stayed on the sidelines and watched as his successor, Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), did her best to manage all the competing interests involved. But instead, Sanders became one of those competing interests.

Late last year, Sanders was hired to lobby for the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA), which represents over 700 school boards across the state. The New York City school board, the Panel of Education Policy, was once a member, until Klein ended that affiliation last year. NYSSBA was incensed at Klein’s decision to drop membership, especially since this fed into the group’s notion that that the chancellor was marginalizing the Panel from other state school boards.

As of now, the Panel is mainly a rubber stamp for Klein’s will. Sanders is lobbying his former colleagues to strengthen the Panel when reauthorizing the law, granting it the power to approve construction contracts, union contracts and certain regulations that have an impact on citywide issues, which he said was the original intent as written in the law.

Seeing well-funded groups like Learn NY, a pro-mayoral control lobbying organization, pushing its message on Albany lawmakers, the NYSSBA retained Sanders to lobby on its behalf. Having Sanders on its side “evens the playing field,” said Timothy Kremer, the group’s executive director.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” said Kremer of Learn NY’s reported $20 million budget. “But it is good to know that I have somebody who is aware of what the legislative intent was, who has contacts with those that will be making decisions in Albany, and who has contact with people in New York City.”

From the beginning, Sanders said he suspected something was off about mayoral control. When Klein moved to replace the 32 local school districts with six regional support centers, Sanders joined a lawsuit against the Department of Education to keep them and convened hearings about what he called a subversion of the intent of mayoral control.

Looking at the negotiations over renewal, Sanders said he agrees with increasing transparency and accountability, and more opportunities for parents to have their voices heard. He is also aware that the law’s many ambiguities have allowed Klein to bypass parents.

“One of the mistakes I made was that there wasn’t enough specificity,” Sanders said. “There wasn’t enough specific language diagramming what we meant.”

He did take credit for the sunset provision that is now forcing the debate about mistakes made in the first round.

But while Sanders lobbies for Sunshine Development School, Metschools Inc. and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators in addition to NYSSBA, education is not the only thing on his mind. Duane Reade and the East River Science Park corporation (which would be within his old Assembly district on Manhattan’s East Side) are also among his clients.

While he does not have the same role he used to, he admits, he still expects his colleagues’ respect in the mayoral control negotiations.

“I see myself as a young elder statesman,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “I can opine, I can reflect, and I do. Sometimes ad nauseum.”

ABOVE: Steve Sanders helped write the mayoral control law. Now he is lobbying on behalf of the New York State School Board Association to make changes. Photo by Barry Sloan

Early Endorsement Gamble for WFP by David Freelander - City Hall News

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De Blasio’s Performance Expected to be Statement About Party’s Clout

In 2008, the Working Families Party helped a 28-year-old neophyte knock off a 30-year incumbent state senator and turned all levers of state government blue for the first time in 70 years.

Such moves and moxie left many WFP members wondering what they could do for an encore after helping vault 28-year-old Daniel Squadron to the State Senate last September in what was the biggest electoral successes for the 10-year-old party to date.

Now it appears they have their answer: Make sure that the man they endorsed surprisingly early, Bill de Blasio, is elected public advocate.

“We don’t do paper endorsements,” said George Albro, a WFP executive committee member. “The party has a real track record of being effective in campaigns like this. We anticipate being very active—a lot of resources, a lot of troops, a lot of publicity.”

De Blasio has, to date, lagged in fundraising and name recognition compared with his rivals for the seat, but his backers are hoping that an infusion of Working Families money and support can vault him to at least the run-off.

“I think they are an incredible brand, and are extremely good at organizing people on the grassroots level,” de Blasio said. “They made an extraordinary commitment to me by endorsing me so early, and I’m sure they fully intend to back that up.”

The potential lack of a serious Democratic mayoral primary may give extra weight to the WFP endorsement. In a low turnout primary, the key to winning a down ballot race in 2009 may come down to identifying and turning out supporters, something at which the Working Families Party has proved adept.

But winning a 25,000-vote Senate primary is one thing. Throwing their weight around citywide six months out from a competitive citywide primary is another, particularly for an organization that has until now only supported one citywide candidate, Comptroller William Thompson (D), and avoided the last two public advocate’s races entirely.

The support of de Blasio, then, will prove a crucial test of the WFP’s muscle.

“They are not middleweights any more, they are tuning up for the heavyweight bout,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College. “They are not the third major party in New York anymore. They are the second.”

But the move does not come without risks. By putting all of its chips on one candidate early, the party risks angering others in the field. If de Blasio wins, the party will be able to make the case that it is the dispositive force in Democratic primaries. But if he fails, the eventual public advocate will have proven he can win citywide without any help from the WFP. Fast forward four years, when the first-term public advocate decides to run for the open mayoralty, and he could afford to essentially ignore the WFP, who would have already proven themselves ineffective at winning citywide races. Other citywide candidates could develop similar doubts.

Nor did the endorsement come without controversy. The other candidates grumbled that because of de Blasio’s longstanding ties with some of the big unions, like 1199, and with progressive groups like ACORN, receiving the Working Families Party imprimatur was a foregone conclusion, and thus, hardly newsworthy.

Some within the party voiced concern as well, complaining that the endorsement was railroaded through for the sake of getting the support to de Blasio early. Each of the party’s affiliates—its clubs, member unions and civic organizations—cast a weighted vote, but some organizations did not have a chance to consult their members before the vote. This could create an awkward situation if in the end some of the member unions, organizations or clubs opt to support another public advocate candidate while the WFP and its army of grassroots operatives turn out for de Blasio.

“There was no reason to push the vote through that early,” said Michael McGuire, director of the Mason Tenders PAC. “They easily could have tabled it and let other organizations do their process. There was a feeling that a certain powerful segment of the party has been with de Blasio from day one.”

These are precisely the kind of bare-knuckle tactics that have vaulted the WFP to influence. Now that they are there, though, many are left scoffing that the party has abandoned some of the good government roots.

“I think a lot of people in the inside just roll their eyes and don’t see them to be all that progressive of a group,” said one Brooklyn political insider. “They are very much part of the traditional power structure, and make very opportunistic endorsements.”

ABOVE: The Working Families Party put all their chips on Bill de Blasio’s public advocate run, hoping for a big payoff on primary day and beyond.

Richmond Hill South Civic Has 2 Key Issues by Peter C. Mastrosimone - Queens Chronicle

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Empty houses like these in Ozone Park, and others throughout southern Queens, concern members of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association. (photo by Michael O’Kane)

When the Richmond Hill South Civic Association holds its next meeting April 23, two concerns of residents will top the agenda, according to civic officials: the blight of empty homes that have been abandoned by builders and the future of Aqueduct Raceway.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s director for community affairs in Queens, Jennifer Manley, will be the meeting’s guest speaker. Manley is certain to be asked what the city can do to get unfinished houses complete and occupied, as well as what is going to happen with the state’s plans to redevelop Aqueduct since the firm that won the bid for the work had to pull out.

How much the city government can do about private-sector construction on the one hand and a state-directed project on the other is what the members hope to find out at their meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, located at 112-14 107th Ave.

Empty houses not just in Richmond Hill but other parts of southern Queens concern members even more now that the New York Racing Association has announced that it will be selling multiple empty plots of land near Aqueduct.

“That is some concern for all those people who live around there,” said Elke Henkell of the Richmond Hill South civic group. “There are some houses on Centerville, right near the John Adams playground, that have been constructed but haven’t been lived in.”

Henkell continued, “We don’t want the same thing to happen again. All you have are these brown parcels of fence, and people graffiti them and start dumping garbage there. People who live next to these lots start experiencing rats and mice coming in.

“People feel their homes are devalued. It impedes our quality of life.”

Aqueduct itself is a concern in several ways. Residents are nervous about what will follow the state’s selection of one company to build a “racino” there with video lottery terminals because of increased traffic, and the kind of people who will be attracted to the new gambling center, according to Henkell. But at the same time, the community is looking forward to the jobs the redevelopment is expected to provide.

“We want help with the Aqueduct situation,” civic President Margaret Finnerty said. “We live right by Aqueduct, it’s in our backyard. There were jobs that were promised our community, and we were looking at it as a way to spruce up the community. We want the community to help to put pressure on the governor to move the situation forward.”

Woman Fatally Hit in Queens While Walking Dog by Matthew Lysiak and Wil Cruz - NY Daily News

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A 55-year-old woman walking her dog in Queens was mowed down near a boulevard where area residents have long complained about speeding, cops and neighbors said Friday.

Joanne Kodetsky and her pet were on a path off Cross Bay Blvd. Thursday afternoon when a 2002 Nissan jumped the curb, cops and neighbors said. Paramedics rushed her to Peninsula Hospital where she died. The driver stayed at the scene and was not charged.

Christina Hall, 63, said drivers use the road in Broad Channel for speeding and racing.

"We don't have lights here," said Hall. "It's not a race track, but it's treated as one."

Search Continues For Suspect In Queens Burglaries - NY1 Video Report...

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Police continue to search for David M. Rodriguez who they say is responsible for three burglaries in Woodhaven, Queens over the past two years.

Man Killed in Queens Hit-and-Run by Daniel Edward Rosen --

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A Queens man driving a scooter was killed during a hit-and-run late Saturday night, New York City Police said.

Youyun Zhou, 43, of Elmhurst was driving his Yamaha scooter west on Jamaica Avenue (80th Street and Jamaica Avenue) in Woodhaven when he was hit from behind by a Volkswagen sedan, police said.

Police gave the following account: The driver of the sedan drove off, but was arrested shortly afterward when a witness called in his license plate number to 911.

The driver, Gus Pappaeliou, 27, of 85-72 76 Street, Woodhaven, was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident, according to police.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NYRA Selling Vacant Land by Patricia Adams- Forum News:

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Residents in the Centerville area who live adjacent to vacant properties owned by the New York Racing Association received letters from David R. Malts & Co. on March 25, informing them that NYRA “has decided to liquidate certain assets that are not part of its core business strategy.” The letter also informed residents that they had to remove any structures, fences, pools or items stored on the NYRA property.

The letter indicated that David Maltz & Co. would be conducting an auction of the land on May 13th. David R. Maltz & Co. Inc. is an auction company that specializes in sales that are debt related. Since those letters were sent out to residents it appears the auction date has changed. According to the auctioneer's website, it is to take place at the racetrack on June 10th.

The 64 tax lots are all located in the Centerville area and are presently vacant land. All are zoned R4 which allows only for residential development. According to the auctioneer, lots/assemblages Range from 2,000 - 75,000 Sq. Ft.

At the Community Board 10 meeting two weeks ago, NYRA Vice President Liz Bracken and NYRA's Community Relations Manager, Joanne Adams, were present, but provided little information as to on how local residents whose properties abut the lands to be sold could participate in the auction. The Board requested that such information be provided.

The land now in use by the Ozone-Howard Little League is not among the parcels to be sold. The Little League will continue to operate on the NYRA owned land it uses.

Lots reported to be included in the planned sale are lots 1,7, and 129 on Block 11535; lots 18,21,22,25,26,and 27 on Block 11551; lots 30,21,35,36,37,39,41,85, 91, 94, 95, and 100 on Block 11552; lots 7, 16, 30, 38, 40, and 42 on Block 11555; lots 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 19, 23, 25, 30, 32, 33, 35, 38, 45, and 60 on Block 11559; lot 11 on Block 11560; lots 1, 3. 5. 8, 12, 22,35, 36, 37, and 122 on Block 11561; lots 140, 152, 153, 157, 175, 179, 188, 200, and 202 on Block 11562.

Some community residents maintain they were not aware until now that NYRA intended to sell off the 64 surplus lots it doesn’t utilize. But the sale of the parcels has been brought up at the Ozone Park Civic Association meetings as well as at the Community Board and other area meetings many times over the last few years.

According to NYRA Chief Administrative Officer John Ryan, “The New York Racing Association has been wanting to sell these properties for years.” NYRA had sought approval to sell them in 2005 as part of its effort to stave off bankruptcy proceedings, but that sale did not advance.

Most proceeds generated from the planned sale are to go toward NYRA's debt, including an outstanding IRS bill estimated to be around $25 million and a state tax bill for back taxes in the amount of $1.4 million. A small portion will be set aside for capital improvements.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he is seeking information from NYRA as well as Gov. Patterson’s office concerning the upcoming auction. “What we have to realize here is that the residents of this community will have to deal with whatever is built here for a long time,” Addabbo said. “That mandates that we carefully review every detail now.”

Following a meeting with NYRA last week, Sen. Addabbo has requested a map to physically see the layout and contends that he will push hard for current homeowners to have the first shot at purchasing adjacent properties. “Certainly we want to see people who live here have an opportunity to buy land parcels that are connected to their homes and not have developers come in and take that away from them.” Maps of the area and the lots planned to be sold was provided to Addabbo, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, and Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton by NYRA at later meeting with NYRA President Charles Hayward and other NYRA staff.

Sen. Addabbo also stated that there are problems with some parcels of land because they could “disappear” as a result of a slated city project, 411B, which will serve to widen streets in the area. “There are parcels included in the auction package, such as some on Bristol Street, that could be lessened by at least a third of their size due to their physical location when 411B begins.”

According to the senator, although 411B has been talked about for nearly 15 years it will definitely come to fruition, and when it does there are lots on certain mapped, as yet unconstructed, streets that run right through the center of the project. All of the lots NYRA plans to sell are located within the HW411B project area.

Addabbo isn’t the only elected official that is promising constituents a watchful eye. State Assembly member Audrey Pheffer says she plans on closely monitoring NYRA’s sale. Stressing the importance of keeping residents informed, Pheffer said, “This process must be run in an extremely open fashion. The residents must know exactly what to expect. She said that because the properties in question are all subject to zoning restrictions, all new construction would have to be similar to existing structures throughout the area.

NYRA has indicated that it will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.

Reservoir Plans Due May 2 by Jeremy Walsh -

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Steve Fiedler, chairman of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee, discusses the potential improvements to park facilities at Ridgewood Reservoir during a CB 5 meeting. Photo by Jeremy Walsh

As the landscape architect for Ridgewood Reservoir finalizes three distinct options for developing the park, neighbors are calling on the city to recognize that the reservoir’s fate is linked to that of Highland Park.

Mark K. Morrison Associates will present an “active recreation plan” to convert at least one dry basin into artificial−turf ballfields; a “passive recreation” plan to preserve the vegetation that has grown there; and a combination of the two during a public meeting May 2 at 11 a.m. at Ridgewood’s IS 77, at 976 Seneca Ave.

But as these designs are fleshed out, community leaders are pressing the city to apply parts of the $50 million reservoir budget on improvements to the rest of Highland Park, which is split between Queens and Brooklyn, and encompasses more than 140 acres, including the Ridgewood Reservoir.

The park contains six ballfields in various states of disrepair, and Friends of Greater Highland Park⁄Ridgewood Reservoir member Thomas Dowd said many youth baseball coaches and other Brooklyn residents using Highland Park have been attending the city Parks Department’s listening sessions and calling for the conversion of the reservoir basins due to the poor condition of their own facilities.

Steve Fiedler, chairman of CB 5’s Parks Committee, introduced a board resolution asking that between $10 million and $15 million of the Ridgewood Reservoir budget be dedicated to the ballfields in Highland Park. It passed unanimously at last week’s meeting.

“Instead of getting these ballfields fixed up, it’s like, ‘Let’s infringe on what is now essentially a nature preserve,’” he said.

Some $7.5 million will be spent on upgrading the rim of the park, including staircases, a perimeter path and a trail between two of the basins, Dowd said. He also warned that plans to build the artificial−turf ballfields in the basins overlook the fact that the plant species growing there are predominantly wetland species.

“If we put kids down there playing baseball, they’re going to get their feet wet,” he said.

Ridgewood Reservoir was constructed in 1858 to serve Brooklyn. The three basins comprising the 50−acre reservoir site were last used during the drought of 1965 and were drained in 1989.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gov Paterson, Senate Maj Leader Smith and Assembly Speaker Silver Announcer the Reopening of Solicitation Process for VLT Facility at Aqueduct...

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New Deadline for Bids is May 8

Governor David A. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced that New York State is seeking new proposals to select an experienced gaming operator to build and operate a Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) facility at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 8, 2009. As with the original proposal, the selected operator will be chosen by the unanimous agreement between the Governor, Majority Leader and Speaker.

“We remain absolutely committed to bringing a VLT facility to Aqueduct, which will provide much needed economic development to the race track, and critical funding for education in New York,” said Governor Paterson. “It is extremely disappointing that the economic crisis has slowed this development, but we are confident that Aqueduct will be transformed into a destination spot for racing and gaming fans.”

“Growing our economy through job creation and economic development projects such as the implementation of VLTs at Aqueduct will move our state toward the type of new economy New York needs to get back on track,” Senate Majority Leader Smith said. “Though it is dissapointing that the process has been slowed due to the struggling economy, I am confident that we can find a new partner to build Aqueduct into a gaming location that bolsters the local and state economy.”

“It is essential to the long-term successful operation of New York’s racing industry that we find the most qualified vendor to operate VLTs at Aqueduct,” Speaker Silver said. “Though the economic recession has delayed the course of selecting a vendor, the state remains committed to ensuring the best option is selected for the State and the community to create a quality destination and entertainment venue at Aqueduct.”

Last October, Governor Paterson, then Majority Leader Dean R. Skelos and Speaker Silver unanimously selected Delaware North to develop and operate a VLT facility at Aqueduct. Unfortunately, the downturn in the financial markets prevented Delaware North from providing the financing necessary to move forward with the project.

An updated version of the State’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was made public today. It outlines a potential framework for terms related to the operation and development of a VLT facility at Aqueduct, and includes the following components:

  • The winning bidder would pay the full amount of their proposed upfront franchise fee no later than ten business days following the execution of the MOU.
  • The State would issue personal income tax bonds through the Empire State Development Corporation in the amount of $250 million to finance eligible VLT project costs. The net amount borrowed would be advanced to the selected bidder to be used for project capital costs incurred in the construction of a VLT facility at Aqueduct.
  • The VLT facility would be constructed by the VLT Vendor, which will be responsible for its design and construction subject to the terms of the MOU and applicable laws and regulations. Neither ESDC nor the State will be responsible for construction or cost overruns.
  • The State would enter into an agreement with the winning bidder for a fixed period of 30-years, with a possible 10-year extension based on the attainment of reasonable benchmarks that ensure satisfactory performance.

Vendors may propose modifications to this MOU as part of their bids. These proposed changes will be considered by the Governor, Majority Leader, and Speaker in making their selection.

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. said: “I am more optimistic today about the future of Aqueduct and our surrounding communities now that he VLT solicitation process has begun. I intend to inform my residents and ensure their involvement in the process that pertains to protecting Aqueduct.”

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer said: “The installation of VLTs will certainly help to improve Aqueduct and stimulate the racing industry and economic growth in New York. It is unfortunate that the process of finding a qualified vendor has taken this long. Nevertheless, it is important that New York continues the bidding process in order to enhance the facility and provide needed revenues for the State.”

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, Chari of the Racing and Wagering Committee, said: “Aqueduct is one of the reasons that New York is a national thoroughbred racing industry leader. The installation of VLTs at the facility has been a top priority in our goal of attracting tourists and stimulating economic development in the region. It was essential that New York reopen its bidding process to move forward with this important project.”

To review the solicitation letter and MOU visit