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Archive for the tag 'politicians'

Source: Flickr/24736216@N07

Source: Flickr/24736216@N07

Several elected officials from both sides of the bridge say they are boycotting today’s 50th anniversary celebration for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, due to the MTA’s proposed fare hike, which would raise the bridge’s cash toll to $16.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo are among those who said they won’t attend stating, “there is nothing to celebrate until our city’s commuters can finally receive the Verrazano toll relief that they deserve.”

Also boycotting the event are Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Senator Marty Golden, and Deputy Leader Councilman Vincent Gentile. 

The MTA released this statement in response:

The MTA is disappointed that several elected officials have chosen not to attend the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the engineering and architectural marvel that for the first time united all of New York City’s five boroughs for all drivers across America’s longest vehicular suspension bridge.

The round-trip toll at the Verrazano is exactly the same as the round-trip toll to cross all major MTA Bridges and Tunnels crossings, and the proposed 4 percent increase is applied exactly the same across all those crossings.

Councilman Gentile is also upset that there will be no commemoratory events in Bay Ridge, saying the MTA has rebuffed all of his suggestions to include the southwest Brooklyn neighborhood.

One of Gentile’s suggestions was to eliminate the bridge toll for the bridge’s anniversary, or at least reduce it to 50 cents, which was the fee the day the bridge opened.

“The MTA completely ignored Bay Ridge in this historic half-century celebration of a bridge we share with Staten Island,” Gentile said. “I found that to be ill-advised and unacceptable, especially in light of the fact that we were denied a celebratory procession across the bridge as was done for the 25th Anniversary.”

A spokesperson for the MTA said there will be a Verrazano Bridge exhibit in Brooklyn at the Transit Museum, cannons will be fired today from the Brooklyn side, and two groups of schoolchildren from Brooklyn participated in art and photography projects for the event.

Source: katerha via flickr

Source: katerha via flickr

The first City Council hearing on a proposed mandatory fee for plastic bags at grocery stores and supermarkets took place yesterday, and it’s already proving to be one of the most divisive issues to come before the usually lockstep Council body.

Capital New York reports:

The bill, Intro. 209, is being championed by Council members Brad Lander of Brooklyn and Margaret Chin of Manhattan and would impose the fee on all plastic and paper bags issued by grocery stores, bodegas, liquor stores and the like in city limits. The intent is to cut back on the estimated 100,000 tons of plastic bags that find their way to the rivers, streets and trees in the city and encourage New Yorkers to use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags constitute 2 percent of the city’s waste stream.

… Supporters maintained the 10 cents does not constitute a tax as no money would go to government coffers. Store owners would keep the 10 cents on each bag.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped opponents from describing it as a tax. One of the most vocal opponents so far has been Councilman David Greenfield.

The Daily News reports:

“Quite frankly, I’m ashamed to sit here today and talk about actually raising taxes on New Yorkers,” said Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), who said he buys 30 bags of groceries for his family every Thursday night. “Now I’m going to have to pay three bucks extra a week.”

While proponents like Lander and Chin, who represent some of the city’s tonier districts, argue that such fees have successfully reduced the use of plastic bags in cities including Washington D.C., other elected officials say that it would unfairly hurt low-income families.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch is instead proposing a “recycling education campaign” to urge New York City residents to scale back on the roughly 9.37 billion disposable bags used in the five boroughs every year, most of which ends up in landfills.

“While our environmental goal should be to enhance programs which encourage recycling, the absolute wrong way to accomplish this worthwhile objective is by implementing a tax on plastic or paper bags,” said Deutsch in a statement. “I would rather support a recycling education campaign than support a tax, imposing an unfair financial burden on so many.”

Deutsch noted that though the bill’s provisions exempt food stamp recipients, not all of the city’s cash-strapped residents are on food stamps.

The de Blasio administration and Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have not taken a position on the bill.

Igor Vaysberg, a staffer for CM Treyger, listens to ideas from community members at an October 20. Photo by Aliza Chasan

Staffer Igor Vaysberg listens to ideas from community members at an assembly on October 20. (Photo by Aliza Chasan)

By Aliza Chasan

When the small group of community members was asked if they were happy with the way the government spends their money, the room was silent. Hands shot up moments later when residents were asked what changes they wanted to see in their communities.

On November 10, Councilman Mark Treyger wrapped up the last of three community assemblies as part of District 47’s progressive participatory budgeting [PB] initiative. Treyger has allocated $1 million of discretionary funds for residents’ ideas. District 47 – which includes Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Sea Gate and Coney Island – is among 24 of the city’s 51 districts to sign up for PB.

At the meetings, residents filled yellow posters with Sharpie-scrawled ideas. They want street repairs, traffic cameras, bus and crosswalk countdown clocks, covered trash baskets, Wi-Fi and charging stations for parks, and bus shelters. Schools need technology upgrades, air conditioning, speed bumps, and stop signs.

“This exercise is really about empowering residents, so that residents have a direct say on how their tax dollars are at work,” says Treyger, who cites his experience as a high school teacher as his motivation for joining PB. “Equally as important, is that it’s been a great learning tool for the public to learn about the city budget process.”

The next step is for a selected group of volunteers to act as budget delegates, developing pitches into fleshed out plans and deciding which are financially feasible. Each plan will cost at least $35,000 and no more than $1 million – more expensive than replacing a stop sign, but less than building a new park from scratch. Finally, in April, constituents will vote on their favorite project.

“I want to make life easier for people in the neighborhood,” said Robert Whittaker, 40, a volunteer budget delegate. “This is the best way to do that – come here and get involved in the process.”

Another assembly goer, Maria di Graziano, 47, told us her neighborhood has been working toward PB for some time. Treyger, she said, is eager to help, which is a change from the past.

“Now it’s the community that has to get used to being present and involved and voicing their concerns,” she said.

Treyger says the goal of PB is to involve underrepresented voices in the democratic process, such as immigrants, the elderly, residents in public housing, and high school students.

Those efforts include translating flyers for the assemblies into many languages, reaching out to community organizations, and having community organizers like PBNYC and Community Voices Heard spread the word by canvassing door-to-door. Residents as young as 14 are invited to pitch ideas. To vote, community members must be 16 and have some relationship to the neighborhood, whether through work, school, or residency.

“There’s no monopoly on good ideas,” says Treyger.

To find out how you can get involved in PB, see the PBNYC website.

[With additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein]

donation clothing bin

The City Council passed a bill cracking down on illegal clothing donation bins Thursday.

The law – proposed by Councilman Vincent Gentile – penalizes organizations that put drop-off bins on the street with no intention of giving the collected garments to the needy. The bill allows the city to remove bins immediately, fining first-time violators $250 and repeat offenders $500. Previously the city would post a notice on the illegal bins, giving the owner 30 days to remove them..

The number of drop-off bins has skyrocketed in the last two years, jumping from 97 reported in 2012 to 2,093 this past June, reports the New York Daily News. Not only are the sketchy bins an eyesore, but many of them are actually scams, selling the garments for a profit overseas.

“These bins are illegal, unsafe, and undermine the efforts of the legitimate charities that actually collect clothing for those in need,” Councilman Gentile said in a statement. “This law will impose strict penalties on the shady companies engaging in this illegal practice. I want to thank City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverto and her staff for their diligent work on this issue.”

Clothing bins will also have to be registered with the city and owners will be required to report how much they collect.

Source: Flickr/potisch

Source: Flickr/jpotisch

A study highlighting the exorbitant cost of a proposed waste transfer station on the Upper East Side may provide ammunition for activists, community members, and pols fighting the planned Gravesend Bay waste treatment facility.

The study, conducted by the Independent Budget Office [IBO], found that the proposed UES garbage station would triple Manhattan’s garbage disposal costs, reports the New York Post:

The IBO said trash that now costs $93 a ton to ship to New Jersey and Yonkers for incineration would cost $278 a ton via the transfer station, which is ­under construction.

Over the next 20 years, the city could expect to pay $632 million, instead of $253 million, to get rid of Manhattan’s garbage, the report continues. The largest expense is attributed to the cost of building the facility and hiring employees to operate it. In addition, the UES facility would transfer trash via waterways, rather than the current railway system, which accounts for a jump in export costs.

Whether these figures are relevant to the proposed Gravesend Bay Marine Waste Transfer Station (1824 Shore Parkway, between Bay 41st Street & 26th Avenue) depends on the contract bids the city gets for the it, said Justin Bland, a budget analyst at IBO.

“The only big increase that I could see, that is unexpected, is if the long-term 20 year contracts are much more expensive than the current short term contracts,” said Bland.

The actual Southwest Brooklyn waste station will be cheaper; it is projected to cost $176 million in capital funds, considerably less than the $217 million UES facility. In addition, the Gravesend plant would process much more trash, reducing the overall processing expense per ton of trash.

Earlier this year, UES and Gravesend community members teamed up to protest proposed waterfront waste stations in their respective neighborhoods, arguing that the most effective way to manage the city’s waste is to increase recycling.

De-Blasio-Vision-Zero

Source: Flickr/nycstreets

A citywide speed limit reduction goes into effect tomorrow, November 7, dropping from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

Part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and make streets safer, the speed limit bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support over the summer.

The new 25 MPH speed limit will affect all streets in the five boroughs, except those where a different speed limit is posted. Speed limits on highways will remain the same, and some “big streets,” which the DOT says have been designed to accommodate faster speeds, will remain at 30 MPH. Other streets — like those near schools — may have lower speed limits posted.

Eighty-nine new speed limit signs arrived at the city’s sign shop in Queens today, and workers will begin installing them on bridges, highways, and at city borders–all the “gateways” of the city. Over 3,000 signs are set to go up in the next year, costing the city over $500,000.

Initially, some local politicians criticized the bill. Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents portions of Midwood, Flatbush, and Ditmas Park, argued it was too broad to implement citywide, while Councilman Mark Treyger, representing Coney Island and Gravesend, argued it would negatively impact working class people on their daily commutes. (Neither councilman voted against the bill.) But no one is more furious than Denis Hamill, who suggested in a fiery Daily News editorial this week that road rage over the law may cause traffic deaths.

The NYPD vowed to use “discretion” while enforcing the law, but warned that anyone who exceeds the 25 MPH limit after today may be issued a summons.

grimm2

It was mostly a predictable day at the polls yesterday when it came to Southern Brooklyn races, including the reelection of two lawmakers currently facing federal charges.

The most high-profile race, of course, was that of the 11th Congressional District, in which incumbent Michael Grimm, who faces a 20-count indictment for tax evasion, staved off a challenge from Democrat Domenic Recchia.

Grimm came ahead with a 13-point lead, according to preliminary results provided by the Associated Press. He won 56,221 of the district’s Brooklyn and Staten Island votes, or 55.4 percent, to Recchia’s 42,786 votes, or 42.1 percent. A Green party candidate, Henry Bardel, picked up 2.5 percent.

Though the win itself was predictable – Recchia’s campaign gaffes became a national joke, and Siena polling showed Grimm with a 19-point lead in the days before the race – the margin is a significant victory for Grimm. In 2012, before the incumbent made headlines for the criminal charges, threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony, or having a romp in a bar bathroom, he had just shy of a six-point victory over then challenger Mark Murphy (the race was 52.6 to 46.4).

It appears the bad headlines has made Grimm even more popular among voters, or Recchia was just that much more unlikable than Murphy.

Once the dust has settled, we’ll take a look at how the vote broke down geographically to see just how much Brooklyn factored into Grimm’s reelection.

Sampson (File photo)

Sampson (File photo)

But Grimm was not the only Southern Brooklyn pol facing federal indictment to win re-election. After besting several challengers in the Democratic primary, State Senator John Sampson, who represents parts of Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin and Canarsie, took in 86.1 percent of the vote in last night’s general election.

Sampson is facing embezzlement charges, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes. Just days before the election, the pol’s legal team practically admitted to the swindle in a pre-trial hearing, but argued that it occurred outside the statute of limitations. It apparently did not hurt his electoral prospects, as he took home more than 10 times the number of votes as the second place contender, Republican Elias J. Weir.

Source: Brook-Krasny’s office

Source: Brook-Krasny’s office

If there were any surprises in local races on election night, it might be the showing of Republican Stamatis Lilikakis, who challenged Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny. The district, which spans Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and a sliver of waterfront connecting those neighborhoods, churned out a nail-biter as returns came in from poll sites. For the first half of the count, Brook-Krasny hovered between 50 and 51 percent. But as the night wore on, he took a dramatic lead, with 58.3 percent of the vote to Lilikakis’ 41.7.

This is another race we’ll be checking the geographic breakdown of, as it’ll be interesting to see which parts of the neighborhood snubbed Brook-Krasny.

Here’s how the rest of the races in Southern Brooklyn shook out:

Congressional

  • Congressman Hakeem Jeffries took home 91.9 percent of the vote, to Republican Alan Bellone’s 8.1 percent. Bellone did not actively campaign.
  • Yvette Clarke took home 89.5 percent to Republican Daniel Cavanagh’s 10.5 percent. Cavanagh did not actively campaign.
  • Jerrold Nadler won 87.6 percent of the vote to Conservative Ross Brady’s 11.9 percent.

State Senate

  • Senator Martin Golden had a strong showing against Democratic challenger James Kemmerer, with 69-to-31 percent of the vote. That’s significant growth compared to results in 2012, when Democrat Andrew Gounardes pulled in 41.9 percent to Golden’s 58.1 percent.
  • Senator Diane Savino did not have a challenger.
  • Senator Simcha Felder did not have a challenger.

State Assembly

  • Sheepshead Bay’s Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein took in 87.3 percent of the vote to Conservative challenger Sura Yusim’s 12.7 percent.
  • Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz bested his challenger, Ben Akselrod, with 54.4 percent of the vote to Akselrod’s 42.3 percent. This is the fourth race in a row that he’s defeated Akselrod, after winnin in both the 2012 primary and general (Akselrod ran as a Democrat, then as a Conservative) and this year’s primary and general (he ran as a Democrat, then as a Republican).
  • Bensonhurst Assemblyman Bill Colton beat Republican challenger Joseph Baranello 71 to 29 percent.
  • Borough Park and Midwood Assemblyman Dov Hikind defeated Republican Nachman Caller 78.4 to 21.6.
  • Assemblyman Peter Abbate, representing Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst, received 76.2 percent of the vote to Republican Henry Lallave’s 23.8 percent.
  • The 59th Assembly District, representing Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park and Mill Basin, and vacant since Alan Maisel resigned to take a seat in the City Council, was secured by Democrat Roxanne Persaud, who bested Republican Jeffrey Ferretti 73.8 to 26.2.

For all results from last night’s general election, check out WNYC for AP results.

Colton led a similar rally in August 2012.

Colton leads a rally against the waste transfer station in August 2012.

Assemblyman Bill Colton filed a legal brief on October 22 challenging Supreme Court Justice Burt Bunyan’s ruling for the city to move forward with plans to build a garbage station near Ceasar’s Bay, arguing the decision was contradictory to the judge’s previous findings.

“We believe the Judge’s split decision, as written, is inconsistent with its own findings. Judge Bunyan found the [Sanitation] Commissioner’s decision to be rational in substance, but irrational in procedure,” Colton said in a statement. “How can a decision be rational if the procedure used to make that decision is irrational? Judge Bunyan’s ruling is clearly contradictory.”

The Gravesend community and environmental activists have been protesting the waste transfer station for health and safety reasons since 2012, drawing bipartisan support from pols. An 87-year-old cancer survivor even joined the fight, claiming the nearby toxins had contributed to her illness.

Toxins found in Gravesend Bay waters in 2013 supported arguments that the station might further dredge up pollutants and create health problems for the family neighborhood.

This summer, Gravesend community members banded together with residents from the Upper East Side to fight waste transfer station plans in each of their respective neighborhoods. The Upper East Side station is also still being contested.

Colton said he believes the community will be able to stop the garbage station from opening, and vowed to continue filing appeals until they achieve their goal.

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.

grimm

The trial of Congressman Michael Grimm, facing tax fraud allegations and other charges, has been postponed until February 2. At a hearing on the postponement, prosecutors hinted that some of the charges could be split from the indictment and prosecuted in a separate trial.

During a hearing on Tuesday, Grimm’s defense landed a minor victory, winning the postponement from an early December date until February 2 so that they can review materials. Prosecutors turned over approximately 100 hours of recorded conversations, including 10 hours conducted in a foreign language. The defense team said they’d need extra time to review them because, “I’d be sitting at my desk for two full working weeks,” said defense lawyer Jeffrey Neiman, according to the Staten Island Advance.

The judge also denied Grimm’s legal team’s request earlier this month for information from the prosecution that they thought would prove the investigation was the result of a political witch hunt and professional vendettas. That included knowing the involvement of particular FBI investigators and the role played by a prosecutor now running as a Democratic candidate for State Assembly.

The judge found the claims without merit, calling it “unsupported and random speculation.” The New York Times reports:

Prosecutors pointed out that there were 10 other cases involving cash payrolls to avoid taxes from 2012 to 2014, making it hard for Mr. Grimm to argue that he alone was selected. Mr. Kaminsky, they said, never acted with improper motive and was only one of several prosecutors involved in the investigation. As for the idea that the office chose Mr. Grimm for his politics, the other elected officials the office prosecuted in the last four years were Democrats, prosecutors said.

The judge is still mulling a motion to dismiss three perjury-related charges on the basis of jurisdictional issues. Because it pertained to his Manhattan-based restaurant, the defense argues that charges should have been filed in the Southern District of New York, not the Eastern District, which is where he’s being prosecuted.

The Advance notes:

Prosecutors conceded the jurisdictional issue, but Judge Pamela Chen stopped short of dismissing those three counts without prejudice Tuesday, as Grimm’s defense team is still seeking to dismiss the entire case, perjury charges and all, arguing “selective and vindictive prosecution.”

“In effect, the venue motion is really a separation motion of the perjury and obstruction counts, effectively resulting in two trials for the price of one,” Gatta said. “We’re happy to oblige the defendant if he wants two trials.”

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