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Photo by Knightmare6

Photo by Knightmare6

A Brooklyn court ruled that the city was not responsible for the drowning of a 10-year-old girl in 2008, saying that the city is “not an insurer” of the safety of parkgoers.

The case stems from the July 2008 drowning of Akira Johnson, who was swimming with her cousin, also 10, on Coney Island. They became distressed and a nearby lifeguard came to their aid, only saving Johnson’s cousin. The girl, lost to the water, washed ashore days later.

Brooklyn Eagle reports:

The family filed a wrongful death suit against the city with claims of negligence. A lower court judge found merit in the family’s suit and allowed the case to proceed. The higher appeals court, however, acknowledged the city’s responsibility to its park users, but held that the city’s lifeguards did not deviate from its public safety obligations.

Evidence showed that the city “had furnished a sufficient number of lifeguards, that those lifeguards were experienced and competent…that they were adequately trained and properly certified… and that they reacted to the situation in accordance with proper procedure,” the appeals court noted

The victim’s family argued that the training was inadequate as it takes place in a swimming pool.

New York Law Journal reports:

Plaintiff’s attorney Arnold E. DiJoseph argued that the lifeguards were not properly trained to handle rescues in rip currents. “Basically, they are trained in swimming pool rescues,” he said in an interview.

But a unanimous panel of Justices Ruth Balkin, John Leventhal, Joseph Maltese and Betsy Barros held the city had met its duty to maintain the beach in “reasonably safe condition,” citing the lifeguards’ prompt mobilization and the fact that they rescued Akira’s 10-year-old cousin in the same incident. At least six lifeguards responded when they observed the two children in distress.

“[The] city is not an insurer of the safety of the users of its parks, including its beaches,” the court ruled.

The 86th Street Foot Locker (Source: Google Maps)

The 86th Street Foot Locker (Source: Google Maps)

martinezDanny Martinez, 21, was arrested and charged with spying on women using the bathroom of Foot Locker at 2061 86th Street, where he worked.

Martinez confessed to cops that he used his cell phone to film women in the loo, and has been charged on two counts of unlawful surveillance. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison, and is currently out on $1,000 bail.

The deed came to light when a former employee, Jackie Rico, went to use the bathroom last week and spotted a “blinking thingy” nestled on a shelf behind a dragon figurine. It was a cell phone, which she turned off and notified the supervisor of, saying she believed it was Martinez – who was exiting the bathroom as she went in, according to the Daily News.

Rico knew Martinez personally, having hired him when she was still assistant manager of the location.

Cops were called to the store on Friday. After reviewing the cell phone’s files, they found the video of Rico and another woman, the paper reports.

“My actions were really wrong,” [Rico] told the News when reached by phone. “It was a bad choice to do.”

He tried to shrug it off as fun between friends and said he had apologized to both women. He added that it was the first time he had engaged in peeping and promised it won’t happen again.

“It will be the last of it,” he said.

According to Martinez’s Facebook page, he is a graduate of New Utrecht High School.

Congressman Michael Grimm and Councilman Domenic Recchia

Congressman Michael Grimm and Councilman Domenic Recchia

Republican Congressman Michael Grimm and Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia faced off for their third debate last night, trading barbs about corruption, influence and skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee.

The televised debate was widely covered as the campaign attracts national attention, due in part to Grimm’s 20-count federal indictment and Recchia’s blunders on the campaign trail. The debate followed much the same formula, with Recchia deflecting questions of policy and focusing on the incumbent’s legal woes, while Grimm portrayed the Democrat as a left-wing ideologue unprepared for the job.

On the simpler, seemingly innocent questions, the candidates still faltered. Neither could recall the name of the last book they had read.

“These are not supposed to be stumpers,” said moderator Errol Louis, according to the New York Times.

Recchia also divulged that he has smoked pot, while Grimm said he never did, according to the Daily News.

And when the Democrat accused Grimm of skinny-dipping during a trip to Israel, the incumbent called him a liar, pointing out that, though he was there, it was a member from Kansas who took the nude plunge.

You can find more detailed coverage of the debate here:

The general election will take place November 4.

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

By Jesse Coburn

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the day “transcendent.” Senator Charles Schumer predicted “a glorious future” for the neighborhood. Shola Olatoye of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) dubbed the plans “a triumph.”

They sang these praises while announcing that $108 million in federal funding would go toward renovating a low-income Coney Island housing project severely damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

But some living in the Coney Island Houses have their doubts. “I don’t trust them,” said Judy Toro, 66, a resident since 1996. “They make a lot of promises.”

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy tore through New York, but many public housing tenants are still feeling its effects. The storm caused $19 billion in losses across the five boroughs, and these low-income residents were among the hardest hit. The Coney Island Houses, a five-building complex with nearly 1,400 residents at 2410 Surf Avenue, will be the first such property damaged by Sandy to undergo major repairs, and the city now hopes to acquire roughly $1 billion in additional federal funding for similar improvements in other public residences.

“My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done.”

 

–Coney Island Houses resident.

But decades of strained relations with NYCHA have left some tenants deeply suspicious of the beleaguered city agency, causing even good news to be met with wariness.

Toro’s tenth-floor apartment overlooks Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk, but the interior doesn’t quite match the view. Black mold grows in her bathroom, plaster is crumbling in the living room, and she said roaches and spiders have infested the kitchen walls. “My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done,” she said.

Problems like these have long afflicted public housing, but Toro said that they’ve only gotten worse since Sandy. A large water stain on her grandson’s bedroom floor provides a blunt reminder of the storm, which left residents of the Coney Island Houses without heat and electricity for 22 days.

The long list of outstanding repairs in Toro’s apartment is symptomatic of the ailments plaguing the housing authority, the largest such provider in the nation, with 334 developments that accommodate more than 400,000 tenants. Its 2014 projected deficit is $191 million, due largely to a steady reduction of federal funding. And though the backlog of work orders has decreased greatly in recent years, it still runs in the tens of thousands.

Superstorm Sandy only exacerbated these chronic issues. The storm affected more than 400 public housing buildings across the city and left more than 80,000 residents without basic amenities for weeks. The Coney Island Houses is one of many properties still relying on temporary boilers two years after the storm.

“The funding, design, and implementation challenges [of NYCHA's Sandy-related repairs] are unparalleled,”

 

–Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian.

As part of the renovations, NYCHA will install back-up generators, build an elevated structure to house new boilers, and replace numerous mechanical, electrical and architectural features damaged by the storm. It also will install new surveillance cameras to provide everyday security and to allow authorities to monitor the property in the event of another storm. The funding will not, however, cover repairs for storm-related damages in apartments like Toro’s that are above the first floor.

A NYCHA spokesperson said work should begin next summer. If successful, this approach to implementing Sandy repairs, which relies on funding from FEMA, may serve as a model for renovations in at least 15 other public housing developments that sustained heavy damage in the storm.

According to Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian and professor at the New York Institute of Technology, the sheer magnitude of damage at some properties has made it uniquely difficult for the authority to carry out repairs. “The funding, design, and implementation challenges are unparalleled,” he said. As for the two-year wait for extensive Sandy-related renovations, Bloom praised the city agency for not “rushing a fix.”

An authority spokesperson echoed the need for patience: “Very early on in the aftermath of the storm, once we made temporary repairs to restore critical utilities, we made a determination that it would be irresponsible to simply repair in place and rebuild for short-term expediency instead of long-term sustainability, which could potentially compromise our infrastructure and leave our residents vulnerable.”

But this protracted wait has left some residents skeptical of the authority’s ability to care for its aging buildings. “When I see it, I’ll believe it,” said Carmen Gonzalez, 61, of the planned renovations. “They’re always promising.”

Amelia Riviera has called the Houses home for more than three decades, and the 57-year-old said the problems facing the buildings predate Sandy. “We had to wait for a storm to get help like this?” she asked, mentioning longtime issues like faulty elevators, broken security cameras, and trash on the facility’s grounds. “The buildings were already corrupt.”

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

The Coney Island Houses consist of five 14-story towers that accommodate 1,398 low-income residents. The buildings were completed in 1957—one of many high-rise, low-income developments built on the outskirts of the city.

Cheap land, low population density, and preexisting poor communities made places like Coney Island and the Rockaways seem like logical places to put these new housing blocks. Since then, however, these beachside locations have proven a mixed blessing, as residents are isolated both geographically and economically from the rest of the city. Crime continues to trouble the neighborhood, although it has significantly improved in recent decades. And the area’s median household incomeremains among the city’s lowest.

But as the 2012 storm made painfully clear, natural phenomena count among the most serious threats to the neighborhood and its almost 10,000 public housing residents.

The city has received pointed criticism for its response to public housing impacted by Sandy. In “Weathering the Storm,” an independent report by a group of community advocacy and research organizations from 2013, the authors wrote: “The City’s response to Superstorm Sandy was slow and communication to residents before, during and after the storm was inadequate.”

But the report saw promise in the wave of progressive politicians and officials who have arrived in local public office in recent years. Chief among them is Mayor de Blasio, for whom housing is a central concern. And according to Judy Toro, the authority’s response time to work orders has improved in the past few months. Recently she received a new refrigerator, three years after submitting her request.

For residents like Toro, however, such developments will have to become the norm rather than the exception if perceptions of the authority are to improve. The upcoming renovations could represent such a sea change. But Toro is less than certain: “I’m not holding my breath.”

Councilman David Greenfield, Source: Facebook

Councilman David Greenfield, Source: Facebook

The following is a press release from the offices of Councilman David Greenfield:

Councilman David G. Greenfield is partnering with New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) to provide local residents access to free legal help at his district office this Wednesday October 29th. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the NYLAG’s mobile van will be parked outside the Councilman’s office to offer legal assistance to residents who need help but cannot afford an attorney. Anyone interested in taking advantage of these free services is encouraged to call Councilman Greenfield’s office to schedule a 45 minute legal assistance appointment. Attorneys will be on hand to provide free confidential legal advice pertaining to issues residents have with government programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, housing and other public assistance programs.

“Everyday my office receives calls from neighbors seeking legal help. The New York Legal Assistance Group has been an invaluable partner in helping assist these people in need with free legal assistance,” said Councilman David Greenfield. “I am proud to team up with NYLAG this Wednesday to bring their excellent attorneys right to Boro Park to help people one-on-one.”

Councilman Greenfield is committed to expanding legal assistance in his district. He hosted the community’s first ever NYLAG mobile legal assistance day with great success in the spring of 2013. Additionally, the Councilman has sponsored free immigration-related legal services in his district office twice a month in partnership with the City University of New York Citizenship Now project. Any resident interested in accessing immigration services is encouraged to call the Councilman’s district office to schedule an appointment.

The NYLAG mobile van will be parked outside Councilman Greenfield’s office at 4424 16th Avenue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Tuesday. Interested residents should immediately contact his office at (718) 853-2704 for more information about the types of services that will be provided or to schedule a timeslot for Tuesday. Residents should bring identification and any relevant paperwork or documents to their appointment.

Source: assembly.state.ny.us

Source: assembly.state.ny.us

Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind is in hot water with outraged constituents after co-sponsoring a job fair that charged unemployed workers a $20 entrance fee.

The New York Post reports:

The event in Midwood was jointly promoted by the Orthodox Union and state Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

… Hikind, who has $792,691 in his campaign treasury, defended the fee.

“There are expenses involved. It takes money to put this together,” Hikind said of the Jobs Fair held at Young Israel of Midwood on Thursday.

Hikind said many people who showed up at the door were allowed in for free, if they said they couldn’t afford the fee.

A notice put out by the Orthodox Union Jobs Board last month also required employers to pay $200 to participate and not-for-profit groups, $100.

The controversial job fair fee was first reported by JPUpdates. The site said approximately 30 companies attended, paying the fees mentioned above.

The participants consisted mostly from middle aged, 18 and older to special needs kids. “Why are you charging me money to enter? I am unemployed,” one angry person, who refused to identify himself, told a staffer at the entrance. Another person, a lady who arrived at around 6:15 pm, was furious that she was still asked to pay the fee to spend the last 45 minutes at the event.

Hikind spent approximately two hours at the event, with campaign workers hanging posters on the wall and handing out palm cards. An update on the story says that the OU took issue with the blatant campaigning, and the pol had been told he would not be permitted to hang posters or to distributed literature.

The organization also defended the fee, citing expenses, but said they accommodated those who could not pay.

Hikind is running for reelection on November 4.

Source: mikey k/flickr

Source: mikey k/flickr

A dead man was found beneath Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk on Saturday, sparking an investigation into his death.

The man, who has not been identified, is described as a Hispanic man in his 40s. He was found at approximately 6:15pm near West 25th Street.

The Daily News reports that no foul play is suspected, but an autopsy will be done by the medical examiner to determine how he died.

Photo by Ben Cooper / LaunchPhotography.com

Photo by Ben Cooper / LaunchPhotography.com

With gorgeous weather slated for the rest of the evening, New Yorkers may be gifted a rare treat thanks to NASA: a first-of-its-kind rocket launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia should be visible just after sunset.

The egg-heads down south will be shooting the fiery phallus into space at 6:45pm. Hopefully the sun will have sunk below the horizon, making the otherwise clear skies dark enough to see it as it streaks through the atmosphere, but there’s really no guarantee.

The rocket, owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation, is capped off with a Cygnus cargo spacecraft that will make its way to the International Space Station. According to NASA’s info page, “Cygnus is loaded with about 5,000 pounds of science investigations, food, supplies and hardware for the space station and its crew.” It should reach its destination on November 2.

An example of what tonight’s launch could look like if the sun hits it just right. (Source: USCLA Dept. of Physics and Astronomy)

This is the fifth ever launch of the Antares orbital rocket, and the first time it’s blasting off after sundown, so nobody is really sure what you will be able to see. Making it even more dicey is that it’s not really happening at night, but rather at twilight.

We asked our resident space guru Ben Cooper, of Manhattan Beach, who photographs such rocket launches for a living, what to expect from tonight’s launch.

“This one won’t be quite as bright [as the one I photographed last year, seen above this post],” he said. “It is also possible that the upper stage exhaust will catch the sunlight and look like a white comet type thing. It’s hard to say what tonight will look like. The Antares rocket has never launched at night before. A similar past launch from California could look like [the adjacent photo] if it is impressive enough.”

The best places in the area to catch a view of the rocket is the waterfront along Southern Brooklyn. Plumb Beach, Manhattan Beach, the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Brighton Beach or Coney Island and the Shore Parkway greenway spanning Bay Parkway to the Verrazano are your best bets.

According to a map distributed by NASA, you should be able to see the rocket between 180 and 210 second after it launches, when it climbs high enough over the horizon. You can also keep tabs on the launch here, where NASA will host a livestream. Launch coverage begins at 5:45pm.

In the unlikely event that weather hampers the launch – it’s currently considered 99 percent favorable – it will be postponed until Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If you get a great photo, make sure to send it to nberke [at] bensonhurstbean [dot] com!

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Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The following was sent to us from our friends at the Gravesend and Bensonhurst NY Rising Community Reconstruction Committee:

Community residents and business owners in the Gravesend and Bensonhurst neighborhoods of Brooklyn are encouraged to attend a Public Workshop on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 to learn about the State-sponsored New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program. Attendees are invited to discuss the program with NY Rising Committee members and the project team, and provide input on how the community can be better prepared for future storm events. The communities of Gravesend and Bensonhurst are eligible for up to $3 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) assistance through the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to implement resiliency projects.

When: Tuesday, October 28, 2014, 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Where: Block Academy, 133 27th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

Who: Gravesend and Bensonhurst Planning Committee, NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program

Contact: Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, (212) 480-2321, info@stormrecovery.ny.gov

The New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program is one of several Storm Recovery Initiatives and was established to provide additional rebuilding and revitalization assistance to Communities severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The State has established the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program to facilitate community redevelopment and resiliency planning. For additional information, please visit http://stormrecovery.ny.gov/community-reconstruction-program.

grimm2

An e-mail shows that Congressman Michael Grimm requested illegal donations to his 2010 campaign, marking the first time the representative has been directly implicated in the probe of his finances since allegations first surfaced in 2012, according to an exclusive report by the New York Post.

The email, shared with a Post reporter by an anonymous source, is from Grimm to the organization of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, requesting $10,000 donations from six people – well over the legal limit of $2,400.

The paper reports:

“We have very little time, as I need to start collecting checks as soon as today or tomorrow,” Grimm wrote in the Oct. 18, 2010, missive to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto’s organization. “I think that if the Rabbi calls the six people and asks them to each write one check for the $10,000, then we can finish this in the next few days.”

Grimm went on to say he needed $190,000 to buy two weeks of television commercials and direct-mail solicitations.

“I can raise $120-$130 [thousand], but I must have the other $60,000 as soon as possible. Please e-mail me back, as I am very nervous and concerned about the final amounts of money,” he wrote in the e-mail, which was seen by The Post.

The Post’s source said that the money was given, but none of it showed up on his campaign filings. That would mean that, if true, it was funneled through multiple “straw donors” to hide the sources. Straw donors are phony donors who are given the funds to donate back to the campaign under their own names in order to keep it under the legal limit.

Diana Durand, a former flame of the congressman, pleaded guilty earlier this year to recruiting straw donors to give money to Grimm and another congressman in 2010.

Durand kept mum, and Grimm was not implicated in that case. While several instances of finance improprieties have surfaced around the congressman’s 2010 campaign, none have directly implicated the congressman of being aware of the schemes.

A spokesperson for the Grimm called the accusation “baseless,” and part of a “smear campaign.”

“The incredulous source of these baseless accusations has proven over four years to be nothing more than part of a smear campaign that does not warrant a response,” a spokesman told The Post.

Grimm’s contact in the Pinto organization, Ofer Biton, pleaded guilty to visa fraud last year, after the FBI claimed that much of the money needed to obtain a special visa for investors came from fraud and extortion. It had previously been reported that Biton sought help from Grimm in obtaining a green card after raising more than $500,000 for the pol through Pinto’s organization.

It was Pinto himself who sparked the probe into Grimm’s campaign after he told federal authorities that Biton and another close aide extorted the donations from his flock. Pinto was allegedly threatened by Israeli authorities to cease his cooperation with the FBI’s investigation or face charges in that nation; he was later charged with attempting to bribe officials.

Grimm faces unrelated charges of tax evasion, fraud and illegal hiring practices in connection to a Manhattan-based restaurant he once owned. Biton, too, seems to have a connection to the restaurant; the congressman’s former business partner in the venture, Bennett Orfaly, put up $30,000 for Biton’s bail. Orfaly also has ties to the Gambino crime family, according to a report in the New York Times.