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Anthony Bianchi. (Source: homereporternews.com)

Anthony Bianchi. (Source: homereporternews.com)

It can be difficult to get elected to a political position in this country, sure. Well, if it seems a daunting task, you can always hop-skip-and-jump to the other side of the globe and get elected to the city council of a small Japanese municipality.

According to a story by the Home Reporter, this is the true tale of Bensonhurst native Anthony Bianchi, who is currently serving on the City Council of Inuyama, as the first elected American in Japan’s history.

The Home Reporter describes how Bianchi’s improbable story began in Bensonhurst and somehow ended up on the other side of the world:

His journey has been a long and successful one. After graduating from Xaverian in 1976, Bianchi attended New York University. Ever since he was young, his goals reached far beyond Brooklyn. “I was interested in Japanese culture a long time ago,” he said. “I had a chance to visit Japan in 1988 and I decided it would be interesting to live in a foreign country.”

Shortly after graduating from NYU, interest developed into reality. Once he moved to Japan, Bianchi joined The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, which aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations. He also became an English teacher in 1988.

Eventually, Bianchi wanted to get explore the political sector of Japan. “I decided that I needed to get things done and to do something from a different perspective,” said Bianchi. “So I decided to run for city council and left it up to the voters.” Bianchi won the election and became a councilmember in 2003, making history in the process.

Incredible. Right now, as Bianchi’s final term is coming to an end, he is working on a book about Japanese politics and the importance of being politically engaged in one’s community.

Source: WhereYouEat.com

We told you about plans to bring a new bagel store, Bagel Chief, to Bath Avenue near Bay Parkway back in September.

The storefront was still being worked on at the time, replacing Lucky Jade, a short-lived internet gaming cafe that was shuttered as part of a citywide crackdown on such establishments after local pols complained they were fronts for quasi-legal gambling operations.

We’ve now learned via WhereYouEat.com that Bagel Chief at 2169 Bath Avenue is up and running. It’s open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Source: SheepsheadBites.com

Source: SheepsheadBites.com

City Councilman-elect Mark Treyger expressed concern that muni-meters could be the target of identity thieves bent on stealing money from unsuspecting motorists. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is reporting that Treyger wants the Department of Transportation (DOT) to install additional security around muni-meters in light of an identity theft scam that targeted the meters on Long Island.

As the world gets increasingly more digitized, the risk of identity theft grows as credit cards are flashed for the most mundane tasks. The Daily Eagle relayed the details of a New York Times report that proves this point:

Earlier this month, police on Long Island arrested five suspects, including a husband and wife, who allegedly planted cameras in ticket vending machines at Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stations hoping to record customers’ credit card numbers as they purchased tickets.

The New York Times reported that authorities discovered the hidden cameras hidden in several LIRR ticket vending machines. As soon as the attempted identity theft was discovered, authorities quickly warned LIRR customers to check their credit card and debit card accounts for signs of unauthorized activities…

The identity theft ring was busted when two of the suspects returned to an LIRR station in Sea Cliff to retrieve the hidden camera, authorities said.

The suspects who were allegedly behind the scheme, Valer Zaharia, 38, his wife Teodora Zaharia, 27, Niculae Petre, 45, and Dorin Husa, 37, have been charged with identity theft and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

The cameras were also found in Metro-North stations in Westchester.

The news of this particular identity theft scam has led Treyger to leap into action, demanding that the DOT increase security around the meters.

“When New Yorkers use their credit card on city muni-meters, they need to be confident that the city is doing everything possible to protect them,” Treyger told the Daily Eagle. “Identity theft is a serious crime, and it can happen to literally anyone. You can never be too careful. Criminals are getting smarter and smarter, and we must be using cutting edge technology to our advantage to protect New Yorkers.”

In the meantime, whenever using your credit card in public now, I recommend that you squish your body as close as possible to the machine to make sure that no camera or other tricky onlookers get a clear view of your digits.

While it is difficult to find those silver linings in events as destructive as Superstorm Sandy, stories of bravery and heroism have surfaced, centering on people saving lives in the face of horrendous circumstances. The New York Daily News is reporting that a group of MTA employees helped rescue a group of residents and themselves in the storm’s worst moments last year.

The amazing acts of heroism involved the rescue of four transit workers trapped in a Coney Island facility, a man and woman who had abandoned their car on Neptune Avenue, and an elderly lady gripping on to a fire-alarm box who was submerged up to her neck in water. The New York Daily News described the rescue effort undertaken by a determined group of MTA workers:

All would escape, thanks to a rescue operation that started with signals division maintenance supervisor Michael Watt and superintendent Eric Williams answering a radio call for help from their four trapped colleagues…

Watt and Williams had just evacuated the signals facility and arrived at another transit building on Bay 50th St. when the emergency call came in.

“We have to get out of here,” superintendent Steve Miller said from his office. “You have to come back and get us.”

Watt and Williams jumped into their MTA Suburban. By the time they reached Neptune and Stillwell Aves., the water was up to the SUV’s door handles. “It had to be moving 15 mph,” Watt said. “It was fast and dangerous.”

The MTA employees trapped inside the facility— Miller, superintendent Sal Ambrosino, and signal maintainers Colombo Solimo and Kevin Puma — couldn’t push open the doors. The water outside was too high, the pressure too great. The building’s windows were locked from the outside, one of the men said.

Members of the group headed to the garage and opened a roll-up door. Afraid the electronic controls would short out if they waited much longer, they opened the door. The ensuing torrent into the garage was so powerful it picked up 5-foot-tall “gang boxes” easily containing more than 100 pounds of tools.

“I was walking down a narrow hallway towards the garage when a 4-foot wave comes shooting throughout the building,” Miller said. “The water’s up to my chest.”

The four fought their way to the Suburban, which was idling on a bit of higher ground on Neptune Ave. Miller waded to the building and shut the roll-down gate to protect the facility from any looters.

“There’s millions of dollars worth of equipment in there,” Watt explained.

Miller, a certified rescue scuba diver, helped the young man and woman reach the Suburban. She was hysterical, screaming “my mother, my mother,” the transit workers recalled.

“I looked down the street and I see this older lady holding onto the fire box,” Miller said. “She’s about 100 to 150 feet away, and the water’s up to her neck.”

Miller and the young man waded to the woman and, taking one arm each, pulled her back to the Suburban.

Wow. The incredible actions of the team has put them in contention for a Hometown Heroes in Transit award, a special award put together by the MTA, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the New York Daily News that honors transit workers who give extra effort in helping their communities. Best of luck to all the nominees on their amazing work.

Honestly, in a culture that makes spectacles of rewarding the accomplishments of actors and athletes, the Hometown Heroes in Transit award is an honor that actually means something. It puts into perspective what really counts in our society.

After spending more than three years behind bars awaiting trial, a man accused of the attempted murder and assault of Borough Park Shomrim members has been acquitted, although he has been found guilty of the illegal possession of a firearm.

The 2010 incident saw David Flores, 37, open fire on a group of Shomrim members who he says surrounded his car, convinced that he had been masturbating in front of local children. He struck four Shomrim members before being wrestled to the ground, and he himself was left bruised and with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Jurors also acquitted Flores of the public lewdness charge.

The jury placed much of the blame for the incident on the Shomrim, volunteer neighborhood watch members who are often the first called to a suspected crime scene in Orthodox Jewish communities, according to the Daily News.

“The Shomrim can’t decide if they’re going to be judge, jury and executioner in the middle of the street,” said juror Niccole Person of Bed-Stuy, after the verdict was handed down in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

“They’re not cops,” said another juror, Marco Wylie.

… Flores’s lawyers claimed self-defense, describing an angry mob surrounding and banging on their client’s car and attempting to drag him outside.

“Call the police,” a groggy Flores told medics who treated him even though cops were at the scene at that point.

“Instead of calling the police, somebody made the mistake of calling the Shomrim,” defense lawyer Douglas Appel said.

While the Borough Park Shomrim’s chief said he accepts the jury’s decision, Assemblyman Dov Hikind was outraged. He places the blame on the outgoing district attorney.

“It’s beyond comprehension,” said Hikind. “Four unarmed people shot and hospitalized. How was this sick individual not found guilty? How could the DA possible lose this case? Now Flores is out and capable of creating more mayhem? This is our justice system upside down. It’s insane!”

Flores isn’t out though. He still faces five to 15 years for illegal possession of a firearm.

Source: Otto Yamamoto via Wikimedia Commons

The following is an unaltered press release from the offices of Councilman Vincent Gentile:

Councilman Vincent J. Gentile is slamming a revised proposal of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2008 congestion pricing plan calling it “dead on arrival” in south Brooklyn.

“Congestion pricing” was a proposed traffic congestion fee for vehicles traveling into or within Manhattan. Opposition to the proposed plan was so overwhelming it was never put to a vote in the New York State Assembly.  The 2008 plan would have charged drivers up to $9 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“As far I’m concerned, this new version of an old plan is dead on arrival,” Councilman Gentile said. “We will not sock motorists with new tolls in exchange for some ephemeral pledge to improve transit services somewhere.”

Gentile continued: “Before we raise the issue of charging drivers to enter Manhattan or creating new revenue streams for infrastructure improvements, we need to talk about a real, sustainable commitment to bringing fast and reliable public transportation to the outer boroughs. Give me real on-time, frequent service on the R, N and D trains and then maybe we’ll talk.”

In many areas, New York City is still very much recovering from Hurricane Sandy underground. The MTA is in the midst of a 14-month project to repair flood damage inflicted on the R line by the storm which the agency said is so extensive that the tunnel will basically need to be completely rebuilt.

Work is being done around the clock to restore the Montague Street tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan in order to return it to its condition before the storm. In addition, crews are hard at work protecting and reinforcing vulnerable subway stations, tunnels, storage yards and other equipment from future storms and coastal flooding.

Gentile sees this as no time for fanciful proposals.

“We should be working towards real, tangible goals such as 24-hour R-train service, more reliable express trains, better bus service, and permanent restoration of a south Brooklyn ferry. That is what people need right now – not another fee and another toll!”

Even the proposed toll reduction on the Verrazano Bridge doesn’t work.

“Drivers in the south Brooklyn neighborhoods I represent use both the Verrazano and the East River bridges extensively – the same constituent who might benefit from a reduced toll on the Verrazano Bridge will then turn around and get socked with a new toll on the Brooklyn Bridge! That’s what we call robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

A note of context: Governor Andrew Cuomo has also said that the plan is unlikely to go anywhere.

Source: formulanone/Flickr

The New York City Council is considering legislation that would cut the speed limit citywide from 30 mph to 25 mph, and the legislative body’s leadership is hoping to see it passed before the end of the year.

The new bill took shape last week, evolving from legislation originally proposed by Councilman David Greenfield that called for 20 mph limits “on all streets fewer than 60 feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.” It would only affect single lane, one-way streets.

A state law, though, interfered with the lower limit. Streetsblog writes:

DOT told the council in October that state law permits the city to set speeds at 15 to 24 miles per hour only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, or if a street is within a quarter-mile of a school.

To set speed limits at 20 mph citywide, DOT suggested lobbying Albany to change the state law before passing a local law.

(WNYC created a map showing that most streets are close enough to a school. Still legislators sought to up the limit.)

In addition to slashing the speed limit, the bill will require the Department of Transportation to introduce at least seven new “slow zones” every year, each covering five blocks. Slow zones are areas of reduced speed limits to 20 mph on roadways selected for a history of accidents, proximity to schools and community concerns.

According to the New York Times, Council Speaker Christine Quinn is hoping to see the bill passed before the end of the year, when much of the Council’s members will be ousted by term limits. The paper also reports that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supportive of the effort and waiting for the final bill. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is likely also in favor, given that he has called for an expansion of slow zones, but a spokeswoman said it is still being considered.

Some in the taxi industry are apparently opposed to the bill, reports the Daily News. One representative testified to the Council, saying that changing the speed limit would cause confusion for drivers and give the city an opportunity to dole out more revenue-generating tickets. (Updated)

UPDATE (December 4, 2013): A representative for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade e-mailed to say that not all in the taxi industry are opposed to the proposal. The MTBT is the largest taxi trade group in the city, and issued the following statement of support:

For over 60 years, MTBOT has made safety a priority for the thousands of drivers it represents and the millions of passengers they serve. That is why we strongly support Int. 535, a life-saving measure that would reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph exclusively on residential side streets, making the City safer for our drivers, passengers and neighbors.

This important bill should not be used as an excuse to target drivers for tickets, but rather it should bring all New Yorkers together for a common goal, to make our streets safer, especially for our children and elderly residents. Research shows that 20 mph residential speed limits work—including in London and Tokyo, where reduced speed limits have cut the number of fatal crashes on residential streets by as much as half.

It’s time New York joined other major cities in passing this sensible, life-saving legislation. MTBOT calls upon the Department of Transportation to support Int. 535 and make our streets safer for all New Yorkers.

Greenfield

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

Councilman David G. Greenfield is inviting all community members to suggest locations where the next round of pedestrian countdown signals should be installed at dangerous intersections around Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst. The city previously installed countdown clocks at Councilman Greenfield’s request to improve pedestrian safety at busy intersections throughout the district, including along Ocean Parkway and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Additional countdown signals will now be installed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) after residents voted for them earlier this year as part of the participatory budgeting initiative. With that in mind, Councilman Greenfield is now asking residents to suggest intersections where they would like the new round of countdown signals installed to make crossing easier and safer for everyone, especially children, seniors and the disabled.

“Now that the public has voted to install more countdown clocks, I want to hear from the residents who walk around our neighborhoods and know exactly which streets and intersections are most in need of safety upgrades. The whole idea of participatory budgeting is to let residents make decisions about what their community most needs. That’s why I am inviting everyone to contact me with the locations they would like to see these important and life-saving pedestrian countdown signals installed,” said Councilman Greenfield.

Immediately after taking office in 2010, Councilman Greenfield began working with the DOT on a plan to install pedestrian countdown signals at some of the area’s most dangerous intersections, including all of the major Ocean Parkway crossings in the district. The signals feature an LED countdown of the number of seconds a pedestrian has to cross the street and help improve safety by informing the pedestrian when the light will change and by helping pedestrians avoid getting stuck on narrow medians mid-crossing in the middle of traffic.

Based on the popularity of the countdown clocks that were installed along Ocean Parkway and elsewhere several years ago, residents voted this past spring during participatory budgeting to allocate funding for approximately 10 more signals each in Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst. In response, Councilman Greenfield has set aside $606,000 in the city budget to fund this initiative.  With the DOT now preparing to move forward with that project, and in the spirit of participatory budgeting, which lets the public decide exactly how $1 million is reinvested locally, Councilman Greenfield wants to hear from residents regarding which intersections they think the signals are most needed.

Councilman Greenfield has made improving the safety of local streets a main focus since taking office. He works closely with the DOT on the installation of traffic signals and calming measures around the district, especially in response to concerns from the public.

“While we have made great progress over the past few years to improve the safety of our neighborhood streets, recent tragedies are a reminder that much work remains. We all play a part in helping to make our roads safer, so I urge the public to contact me with their suggested locations for these countdown signals,” said Councilman Greenfield.

To suggest a location for the placement of the countdown clocks planned for intersections around Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, contact Councilman Greenfield by phone at (718) 853-2704, by e-mail at dgreenfield@council.nyc.gov or via Twitter at @NYCGreenfield. Councilman Greenfield will pass along the most suggested streets to the Department of Transportation.

I wish our subway escalators were as cool as D.C.’s. (Source: blmiers2/Flickr)

D LINE

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Tuesday to Friday, D service runs local in both directions between 59 St-Columbus Circle and 145 St., and operates in two sections:

  1. Between 205 St and Bedford Pk Blvd.
  2. Between Coney Island and Bedford Pk Blvd.

N LINE

All times until October 2014: there are no N or R trains running between Court St, Brooklyn and Whitehall St, Manhattan. Late Night N (11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and weekend R trains operate via the Manhattan Bridge. No service at Jay St-MetroTech, Court St, Whitehall St, Rector St, Cortlandt St, and City Hall. Use alternate service and stations on the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, or C instead.

From 10:15 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, Ditmars Blvd-bound N trains skip 39 Av, 36 Av, Broadway, and 30 Av.

R LINE

All times until October 2014: there are no N or R trains running between Court St, Brooklyn and Whitehall St, Manhattan. Use alternate service and stations on the 2, 3, 4, 5, A or C instead.

Weekday R service (6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.) operates in two sections:

  1. In Brooklyn only between Bay Ridge-95 St and Court St.
  2. In Queens and Manhattan only between Forest Hills-71 Av and Whitehall St.

F LINE

From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Monday to Friday, F trains are rerouted via the A in both directions between W 4 St and Jay St-MetroTech. There are no F trains at B’way-Lafayette St, 2 Av, Delancey St, East Broadway, and York St. Free shuttle buses, D and J trains provide alternate service.

From 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Avenue U, and service operates in two sections:

  1. Between 179 St and Avenue X.
  2. Between Avenue X and Coney Island. Trains run every 20 minutes.

grimm

It’s been a while since there’s been an update into the federal investigation of Congressman Michael Grimm’s fundraising. In fact, the whole case has been pretty mum since we wrote last November that the House Ethics Committee halted their own investigation, deferring to officials at the Department of Justice that were looking into the same matters.

Last week, though, the Daily News hit the House committee for an update, and discovered that the investigation still remains open.

The Ethics Committee continues to defer to the feds. Both are looking at whether Grimm solicited and accepted contributions illegally from foreign donors and documented them improperly.

“The baseless allegations … remain without merit,” a Grimm spokeswoman told the Daily News.

The case centers around contributions sought with the help of Ofer Biton, an Israeli man who allegedly raised $500,000 for Grimm’s 2010 campaign in exchange for help obtaining a green card.

Biton pleaded guilty to visa fraud in August. He is a former aide to Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a prominent Israeli rabbi with a large following in New York, and allegedly used his connections with the rabbi’s flock to raise the funds for Grimm.