Tag Archives: Bill de Blasio

PHOTOS: US Open gets underway in grand style at National Tennis Center

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Dominick Totino Photography

The eyes of the tennis world are again on Queens for the next two weeks as the best players in the world seek the coveted U.S. Open championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Festivities leading up to the tournament’s start on Monday began last week with two fun-filled days of activities. Queens Day on Aug. 26 offered guests a range of events and programs centered around the “World’s Borough,” while Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day on Aug. 29 featured music, entertainment, tennis exhibitions and other activities geared at the younger generation of tennis fans.

The real business of the tournament got underway on Monday with the start of the two-week U.S. Open tournament, headlined by a grand opening ceremony in the evening on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Billie Jean King herself helped welcome guests, while Josh Groban and Vanessa Williams performed for the crowd.

Though Day One of this year’s open featured a few surprising upsets, including the ouster of Ken Nishikori, last year’s open runner-up, the men’s and women’s top seeds — Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams — were both victorious in their first-round matches.

When eyes weren’t on the action, fans across Arthur Ashe Stadium did their share of people watching, and they weren’t disappointed in finding a number of celebrities in attendance such as Alec Baldwin, Katie Couric and Ben Stiller.


City drops its appeal of court’s decision against Willets West development

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Economic Development Corporation

Updated Friday, Aug. 21, 9:43 a.m.

Plans for the redevelopment of Willets Point took another hit Wednesday, this time from the City of New York.

The de Blasio administration announced it would not participate in an appeal of a State Appellate Court’s decision blocking the construction of Willets West, a million-square-foot mall on the Citi Field parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood. The court declared that the parking lot is city parkland, and that the parties involved did not reach an agreement to replace parkland lost in connection with the project, violating a state mandate.

The withdrawal came after failed negotiations between the city and the project’s main developers — Queens Development Group (QDG), which includes Related Companies and Sterling Equities — over plans to speed up the creation of affordable housing within the larger redevelopment plans for Willets Point. That demand, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, was not viewed by the developers as being economically feasible.

It also marks a stark reversal for the city, which previously supported the mall’s creation under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has thus far spent more than $400 million in purchasing land in Willets Point to make way for the neighborhood’s transformation from an industrial hub to a commercial and residential community.

The source, however, claimed the city’s decision was not a matter of philosophical differences between administrations, noting that the city apparently attempted to leverage the impending appeal into the expedited creation of affordable housing at Willets Point.

“They threw out the baby with the bathwater,” the source said, adding that the city was calling upon the developers to “take a leap of faith” and make a commitment to affordable housing at Willets Point without offering secure economic means to get the job done.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, in an official statement, acknowledged that the city desires “significant improvements that would mean that the public would also see a healthy mix of affordable and market-rate housing, delivered on a real time frame.”

“Nearly half a billion dollars is an enormous public investment to make when the only guarantee is a shopping mall. The deal as it stood did not require any affordable housing actually be built,” Glen said. “We know a lot has gone into this project, and we hope that this team will continue to work towards that goal with us.”

Nevertheless, Queens Development Group is pressing on with its efforts to overturn the Appellate Court’s decision on Willets West and the redevelopment of the area as a whole, according to spokesman Phil Singer.

“We are committed to the redevelopment of Willets Point and are confident that our appeal of the Appellate Court’s ruling will be successful,” Singer said in a statement. “The QDG plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, provides an additional $3 billion private investment which will finally clean up the long-contaminated land at Willets and provide the facilities and infrastructure for a brand-new neighborhood.”

Regarding the city’s push for affordable housing, Singer indicated the QDG supports the de Blasio administration’s efforts and is “committed to significantly accelerating the housing portion of this plan.”

“But those efforts need to be backed by a financially viable model,” he cautioned.

Opponents of the Willets West plan hailed the city’s withdrawal from the appeal effort.

“I am pleased to hear that the city administration has decided not to appeal the Appellate Division’s unanimous and well-reasoned decision,” said state Senator Tony Avella in a statement. He charged that the developers, by continuing the appeal, “have refused to see the fundamental flaws in the Bloomberg plan in all its variations.”

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007.  (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Willets Point saga has gone on for nearly a decade. Back in 2007, the city put forth a multibillion-dollar vision of turning industrial Willets Point into a neighborhood featuring more than 5,000 new apartments, many of which were to be reserved as affordable housing. Businesses in the area, however, banded together in an effort to thwart the city’s acquisition plans; many of them eventually settled and agreed to relocate to the Bronx.

Before putting a shovel in the ground, the city is also required to remediate decades of pollution left by industry there and develop basic infrastructure such as sewer and water lines. Completion of the redevelopment is currently projected for 2026.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the city and Sterling Equities — which owns the New York Mets and Citi Field — announced plans for Willets West, including a large mall, a movie theater complex and a 200-room hotel. Opponents of Willets West filed suit, pointing out that the former Shea Stadium site where the mall is to be built is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — a claim that the Queens Supreme Court dismissed in 2014 but the State Appellate Court accepted this year.



EXCLUSIVE: City’s first lady talks with The Courier about education, mental health

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Calling Queens “a model” of what New York City can be, the city’s first lady Chirlane McCray outlined her efforts to expand education and mental health programs in an exclusive interview with The Courier.

McCray sat down with Courier Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis following an open forum in Kew Gardens on mental health issues affecting Queens residents on Monday. She and her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, have made a concerted effort toward focusing on mental health issues and breaking down barriers preventing New Yorkers in need from obtaining access to appropriate care.

Providing residents with proper access to mental health services and other basic needs is essential to a healthy city both in mind and body, yet many New Yorkers have been deprived of them in recent years, according to McCray.

“Having the resources to have a roof over your head, access to food, clean air, arts, physical education, so many other things we consider common sense and basic, yet we take them away,” she said. “When you strip them away from a community, what do you expect to happen?”

McCray stressed the importance of the city not only providing basic services to its residents but also using programs to develop role models for the city’s youth.

“There are so many” mentoring programs “but we need more,” she said. “Through the Mayor’s Fund, we have instituted a youth employment center” powered through donations from local businesses which provide “jobs for young people.”

“But it’s not just jobs,” McCray added. “It’s internships and mentoring young people year-round. We’ve doubled the number of jobs since last year, and we want to do even more in the coming months.”

The city is also expanding its mental health resources through special clinics aimed at helping 62,000 students in need. The universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) also plays a critical role in a child’s mental health and long-term education, she noted.

“One of the reasons why pre-K is so important is to reach the children early,” McCray said. “We want children to be assessed, evaluated early because if they have challenges in the classroom, they’re not going to get the kind of education they need.”

The first lady also noted that the NYPD is receiving additional resources not just to tackle crime, but also to address the mental health needs of crime victims.

“We’ve actually put money into making sure that in every precinct, there will be someone trained in” handling domestic violence cases “and working with victims,” McCray said. “We’ve never had that before.”

This effort, she remarked, will help develop “a different kind of relationship” between the NYPD and the communities it serves.

The full interview can be viewed below.



Queens lawmakers celebrate Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer's office


Updated 12:21 p.m.

Same-sex marriage is constitutional, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision issued Friday morning, the court overturned state-imposed bans on same-sex marriage. The court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry under the 14th Amendment through the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

“The fundamental liberties” in the Due Process Clause “extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs,” according to the decision.

Queens lawmakers and gay rights advocates – including City Councilman Daniel Dromm – expressed delight in the decision in statements issued Friday morning.

“Marriage is finally equal,” said Dromm, who is one of Queens’ two openly gay City Council members. “No longer will there be gay marriage or heterosexual marriage – just marriage. As someone who has been in the gay rights movement for over 40 years, it is difficult to express my sentiments. I never thought I would live to see this day. God bless America.”

Dromm will join other Queens LGBTQ activists and supporters on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., to celebrate the Court’s decision.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who is the second openly gay Queens City Council member, released a statement Friday together with his husband, Dan Hendrick.

“Today’s Supreme Court Decision is a landmark ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. Make no mistake, this decision is historic and breathtaking in its recognition of the equality inherent in love,” Van Bramer said. “We have been moved to tears this morning, knowing that the pain and stigma of being unequal is lifted. Of knowing that our relationship and our love is recognized by our country and is just as valid, beautiful and equal as any other.”

“Thanks to today’s ruling, same-sex couples across the country will no longer be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to issues regarding the family,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said. “This is a great day for those who believe in the dignity of all people.”

“History will remember this day as a watershed moment, a day when ‘we the people’ took another major step toward justice in our enormous and enduring struggle to form a more perfect union,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley.

“When we passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011, New York sent a message to the nation that it was time to end one of society’s greatest inequities, and I am thrilled to see the court join us on the right side of history,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Today, we are proud New Yorkers and proud Americans. Today, progress marches on.”

“One of my proudest moments as a legislator was my vote for marriage equality in New York State; today I am equally proud that the United States Supreme Court extended these rights to all Americans,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas. “This ruling sends a strong message that bigotry and intolerance will not be the law of the land.”

“Our country will finally afford millions of Americans the rights they have always deserved, but until now were unable to exercise,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Today, this country is richer – filled with more equality, more acceptance, and more love than yesterday. And for the people of this city, where the movement for LGBT rights began in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, we can be proud that we helped blaze the trail to this great victory.”

“From this moment on and for generations to come, marriage equality is a civil and human right for LGBTQ couples and no one – no matter where you live in this country or who you love – will be denied that right,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“As has been said, ‘the arc of history is long and it bends in the direction of justice,” said Sen. Charles Schumer. “Thank you to five Supreme Court heroes for helping bend it a little sooner.”

The court was ideologically split in its decision, as Justice Anthony Kennedy – regarded as its most moderate member – sided in the majority with the court’s four liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. The conservative wing – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito – voted in the minority.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court

Photo courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court


Mayor adds Lunar New Year holiday to NYC public school calendar

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Mayor Bill de Blasio came to Flushing Tuesday morning to announce that the Lunar New Year will be an official public school holiday beginning in the 2015-16 school year, allowing students of Asian descent to celebrate with family without missing class.

The mayor made the declaration at P.S. 20 in Flushing, which counts 75 percent of the student body as being of Asian descent. The Lunar New Year has already been added to the NYC public school calendar and will take place next year on February 8.

“There was a lot we had to balance to get this right,” said de Blasio, who cited difficulties in ensuring that the state-mandated 180 yearly school days fit into the plan. “It took some work, but it happened.”

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña emphasized the importance of keeping a steady education schedule for the 1.1 million students of the city and offered her support of new holiday. To make up for the school hours lost, two separate half-days already in the calendar will be lengthened to become full days of classes.

“Taking time off to honor people’s heritage is also important,” said Fariña.

This is the second time de Blasio had made moves toward cultural inclusion in the school calendar. In March he also declared the two holiest days in the Islamic calendar, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, as official public school holidays.

The mayor was joined by a host of officials and community leaders who had long been advocating for the change.

“For too long, families have been forced to choose between celebrating this important cultural holiday and sending their child to school,” said Councilman Peter Koo, a Shanghai native. “By including Lunar New Year in the school calendar, New York City shows that we are an ever-evolving city that takes pride in the cultural traditions of its diverse populations.”

“This holiday is not about kids just getting a day off from school,” added Assemblyman Ron Kim, who attended P.S. 20 as a student himself 30 years ago. “It’s about the City of New York telling hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans that their culture and heritage is part of the American fabric.”

Kim and Koo, along with Rep. Grace Meng and many other prominent members of the Asian-American community, have all pushed for the mayor to establish the school holiday after de Blasio promised to do so while on the campaign trail in 2013.

After seeing no movement forward in the initiative for the Lunar New Year, Kim took on the responsibility of pushing it forward himself this year by authoring state legislation which would have given all New York children the day off. While that bill is still pending, Kim has said that he would lay aside the legislation in the interest of collaborating with the de Blasio administration.


City budget agreement brings more cops, six-day library service

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter/@JimmyVanBramer

More than a thousand new police officers will be hired and six-day library service will be restored in Queens and elsewhere under a $78.5 billion budget agreement that Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced late Monday night.

“This budget is a reflection of the responsible, progressive and honest process we’ve built over the last year and a half,” de Blasio said. “We’re strengthening the NYPD’s ranks, devoting new officers to counter-terror work and neighborhood policing, while securing vital fiscal reforms in overtime and civilianization.”

“This early, fiscally responsible budget will uplift New Yorkers in every neighborhood across the five boroughs,” Mark-Viverito added. “From establishing a citywide bail fund, to creating new jobs for young adults, to strengthening the city’s commitment to veterans and hiring 1,297 more NYPD officers to keep us safe, our budget makes New York City a better place to call home.”

The spending plan allocates $170 million toward the NYPD to bolster its roster by 1,300 officers. In the weeks leading up to the agreement, the mayor and speaker differed on how many new officers to hire (de Blasio initially sought 500; Mark-Viverito wanted 1,000).

According to the mayor’s office, the city stands to save $70 million by reforming NYPD overtime and increasing the number of civilian employees within the department.

The city will also allocate an additional $36 million to the Queens, Brooklyn and New York public library systems, enabling them to offer six-day library service at all branches. The Queens Library last had six-day service in 2008; the policy was eliminated as a result of budget cutbacks in subsequent years.

Other components in the budget agreement include the following:

  • $17.9 million toward implementing a breakfast in the classroom program at 530 schools, serving over 339,000 children;
  • a $1.8 million expansion of the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program;
  • $1.5 million to expand the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness;
  • $5 million to expand inspections of and make improvements to dilapidated conditions at boarding homes across the city; and
  • $1.3 million to the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for efforts to stop drug-related violence.

The budget covers the city’s 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1 of this year; city lawmakers had until June 30 to reach a budget agreement.


Mark Weprin’s former City Council seat won’t be filled until November

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Jeff Xie

Mark Weprin officially left the City Council on Sunday, June 14 — apparently three days too late for a non-partisan special election to fill his seat.

Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed on Monday that the vacancy will be filled at the Nov. 3 general election, and that the political parties will nominate candidates for the election in the Sept. 10 primary.

According to a spokesperson for the city Board of Elections, a non-partisan special election cannot occur if the vacancy occurs between 60 and 90 days of the scheduled September primary. Had Weprin resigned before June 11, the mayor would have been obligated to call a non-partisan election.

Weprin had announced in May he would step down from the City Council to join the Cuomo administration as deputy secretary for legislative affairs. At the time, he said he would leave within two weeks, but ultimately delayed his departure.

Following the traditional election format now leads to a competitive Democratic primary among previously announced candidates including former Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik; Rebecca Lynch, former assistant commissioner with the New York City Community Affairs Unit; Celia Dosamantes, former aide to Assemblyman David Weprin and Rep. Grace Meng; attorney Ali Najmi; and former City Council candidate Bob Friedrich.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face the Republican nominee in the general election. Sources close to the Queens County GOP identified retired NYPD Capt. Joe Concannon as a probable candidate.

Once the general election winner is certified, he or she will be sworn into office immediately and will fill out the remainder of Weprin’s term, which expires in 2017.

Regardless of the outcome, the 23rd Council District — which includes Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village — will be without a voice in the City Council through November. Constituent services are continuing to function from the district office, and staff members are forwarding and following up on any complaints or service requests received.


Queens Library CEO appeals for more city funding

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Queens Borough Public Library

With a little more than a month until the city’s budget deadline, the Queens Borough Public Library is urging elected officials to make a much-needed investment in its system.

The Queens Library, along with the Brooklyn and New York public libraries, recently launched the “Invest in Libraries” campaign, which aims to engage New Yorkers in the debate and convince city lawmakers to provide an additional $65 million in combined funding in the 2016 fiscal year budget, which takes effect in July.

Queens Library’s Interim President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey outlined the campaign in an exclusive interview with The Courier Thursday. The Queens Library seeks an $18.2 million funding boost from the city, a drop in the bucket in a budget projected to meet or exceed $70 billion.

Should Queens Library receive the extra funding, Quinn-Carey claimed, it would restore the library’s funding level to that of 2008 and open the door toward adding more than 200 new jobs, expanding existing educational programs and restoring six-day service throughout the system. Since 2008, the library lost 20 percent of its funds, pared jobs and eliminated six-day service at two-thirds of its 62 branches.

Quinn-Carey charged that increasing library funds is a concept that aligns with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to increase economic opportunity for all New Yorkers.  For instance, the extra funds would enable Queens Library to expand its English as a second language program, which was held at 40 branches and proved so popular that some potential students were turned away due to a lack of available seats.

“This is really an investment not only in the traditional library system but also community engagement,” she said. “This is giving communities a greater chance of success.”

Additionally, the Queens Library is also seeking capital funds to renovate many aging, yet heavily used branches such as the Corona, Rego Park and Far Rockaway locations. De Blasio set aside $300 million in the city’s 10-year capital plan to renovate libraries, but Quinn-Carey noted the actual projected costs exceed $1.4 billion.

Quinn-Carey and the Queens Library have spent the better part of a year working to repair its image following a scandal centered around its former president and CEO, Thomas W. Galante. He came under fire early in 2014 after it was revealed that he collected a nearly $400,000 annual salary, ordered a six-figure renovation of his office and made other lavish expenses at a time when the library cut jobs and services due to funding cutbacks.

The library lost political and financial support, and local elected officials such as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sought to change the library’s board of trustees after it resisted calls to force Galante out of office and fully open its financial books. Legislation enacted by the state in June empowered Katz and de Blasio to remove eight library trustees who supported Galante and resisted calls for full financial disclosure.

The board of trustees was stocked with new members by September, when it forced Galante into a leave of absence. Quinn-Carey was named as his interim replacement, and Galante was subsequently fired in December.

Quinn-Carey said she and the reconstituted board are working closely with the government to reform the library system. It engaged audit firms to assess the library’s risks and expenses. Steps were also taken to make the library more transparent; the library is now in compliance with the Freedom of Information Law and posts expense records on its website.

“These efforts and a reform of policies and procedures should reassure the public that the library is a great institution and still able to deliver these great services,” Quinn-Carey said.

Click here for more information about the Invest in Libraries campaign.


City comptroller sends back Pan American shelter contract

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Plans to make the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst a permanent homeless shelter hit a roadblock Monday when City Comptroller Scott Stringer refused to sign a city contract for its operation.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the nonprofit group Samaritan Village previously agreed upon a five-year, $42.4 million contract formally establishing 79-00 Queens Blvd. as a permanent transitional housing shelter.

Stringer, however, sent the contract back to the mayor’s office as a result of concerns regarding conditions at the Pan American. The NY Daily News reported earlier this month that the shelter was suffering from vermin infestation. Last week, a fire also broke out in one of the units. There were no injuries reported, but the family in the affected unit was forced to relocate to another shelter.

The comptroller similarly voided a DHS contract for another shelter in Manhattan.

The comptroller vowed not to approve the contract until his office “receives assurances that anyone staying in these facilities will be safe” and “all outstanding violations and complaints have been corrected.”

“In March, the NYC Department of Investigation released a report that highlighted unacceptable living conditions in our city’s shelters and raised significant issues about how the Department of Homeless Services identifies and cures health and safety violations,” Stringer said in a statement. “We simply can and must do better on behalf of the 60,000 people, including nearly 25,000 children, who are under our care.”

The announcement came hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in Corona the creation of an inter-agency shelter repair squad designed to find and correct any violations in city homeless shelters.

Stringer applauded the mayor for the announcement and added he is looking forward “to working closely with this group to meaningfully change the way the city procures and operates our homeless shelters.”


Hoping for Lunar New Year holiday, lawmakers move to end Brooklyn-Queens Day

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com


State lawmakers introduced on Tuesday a bill that would eliminate Brooklyn-Queens Day from the New York City public school calendar.

The measure sponsored by state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky aims to clear a day on the calendar to permit public schools to close for the Asian Lunar New Year in the winter. Brooklyn-Queens Day, which falls on the first Thursday of June, marks the foundation of the first Sunday schools in both boroughs during the 19th century.

For decades, local Protestant churches celebrated Brooklyn-Queens Day with parades through their communities, but the parades stopped in recent years as Protestant congregations plummeted. The last major Brooklyn-Queens Day parade took place in Ridgewood in 2009, ending a century-long tradition.

Nevertheless, schools in Brooklyn and Queens remain closed the first Thursday of June, but many of them use the day for staff development.

The bill states that “there is no reason to continue this anachronistic holiday in state statutes when there is pressure to increase the time students spend in school.” However, Stavisky noted, the elimination of Brooklyn-Queens Day gives the city Department of Education (DOE) flexibility in adding another holiday such as Asian Lunar New Year.

“As a former teacher, I understand the mayor and the Department of Education have a mandate to make sure students are receiving as much classroom instructional time as possible,” Stavisky said. “But educating our students and allowing them to observe important cultural holidays should not be opposing goals. I believe that removing the now defunct Brooklyn-Queens Day and replacing it with the Lunar New Year is a pragmatic solution that the mayor and the Department of Education must consider.”

Among those who joined Stavisky at a Tuesday press conference in Flushing in support of the bill were state Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymen Ron Kim and Edward Braunstein, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and City Councilman Peter Koo.

“The history of Brooklyn-Queens Day demonstrates how observance of this day on the public school calendar has changed over the years to meet the changing demographics of our city,” Koo said. “Today, approximately 15 percent of our New York City public school students identify as Asian-American, and we must take this into consideration as we prepare the school calendar for future years.”

According to Stavisky’s office, city public schools in Asian-majority neighborhoods report absentee rates as high as 80 percent on Lunar New Year, which is “the most important cultural celebration on the Asian calendar.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation declaring two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as school holidays beginning this September. Koo criticized the mayor in March for failing to grant the same holiday status for the Asian Lunar New Year.

Last December, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation granting the DOE greater flexibility to close schools on cultural and religious holidays. By law, all New York City public schools are required to hold at least 180 school days every year.


City’s pot policy change divides Queens residents, pleases pols

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYC Mayor Office's Flickr


Borough residents are on both sides of the debate over the city’s recent change in policy over marijuana possession arrests, while several local politicians see it as a progressive move.

“Historically, these types of arrests have disproportionately targeted poorer, young men of color,” Councilman Donovan Richards Jr., said. “Rethinking the administration’s approach to marijuana possession is a key to ending the misguided reliance on ‘stop and frisk’ and rebuilding the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police.”

According to the new policy, if police find someone in possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, officers will issue a summons instead of arresting the individual. The new policy, which comes into effect on Nov. 19, is not a blanket rule. The change is valid only if the person has identification and if no arrest warrant has been issued for him or her. Individuals carrying marijuana will still be subject to arrest if the type of possession indicates intent to sell, if the individual has an outstanding warrant, or if the individual is in certain locations such as a school.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras is also in favor of the change, calling it a move in the right direction.

“This policy change is one of many steps towards rebuilding those communities of color, like my own, that have been disproportionately jailed and suffered in the long term; it reflects the progressive, forward-thinking direction in which our city and this Council are moving,” she said.

Councilman Rory Lancman, who chairs the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, focused on the effect of the policy change on the overburdened legal system, saying that this change will allow prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys to concentrate on violent crimes. He added that he looks forward to “further reducing the over-policing in communities of color, and addressing the collateral consequences of even mere violations for undocumented immigrants caught in the criminal justice system.”

Queens residents were not as supportive, and even saw the change as potentially dangerous.

“It is not a good idea. There should be more rules covering this. What if someone is on a high and drives a car? This will add more dangerous people on the road,” Bayside resident Robert Posner said.

But others agreed with the looser punishment.

“It’s not right but I am OK with it,” Alda Gomez said. “So long as they don’t sell it or it is not a big amount or they are next to a school, if it is only for themselves, it’s okay.”

Jose Valencia believed it was a good start.

“Eventually law has to change towards legalization,” he said.



Mayoral administration removes Success Academy Jamaica proposal

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

One thousand children need to find somewhere else to go to school come September.

These students had applied to Success Academy Jamaica, a new charter school that had been slated to open this fall, but now Mayor Bill de Blasio has axed the plan.

Before former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term ended, he approved the co-location of Success Academy Jamaica with August Martin High School. The charter school would hold 200 kindergarten and first grade students and ultimately grow to a 500-student school, kindergarten through fourth grade.

But on Feb. 27, de Blasio withdrew this proposal, along with eight others citywide. Three Success Academy schools were canceled entirely. Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz led a rally Tuesday in Albany, flanked by thousands of students, teachers and charter school supporters, opposing de Blasio’s decision.

“The previous administration handed over these proposals, and we have had to review all of them under inflexible deadlines,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “As enrollment deadlines approach, we considered the thousands of families that could be affected. Under the circumstances we inherited, [we] believe this is the best approach.”

The Department of Education (DOE) said it does “not believe new elementary schools should be opened on high school campuses.”

“Overall, we have heard concerns from high school communities, as well as elementary level ones, about this practice. We believe high school campuses should serve high school students,” DOE officials said.

Without the school, local youth can attend nearby schools P.S. 233, P.S. 45 and P.S. 354.

“More than 1,000 families have applied so far for a seat at Success Academy Jamaica,” said Kerry Lyon, a spokesperson for the charter school. “We will continue fighting to open this school and give those parents the high quality education they are demanding for their kids.”



Mayor, city hope to fix pothole problems brought on by heavy snow

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A record-breaking winter has left city streets in disrepair, with new potholes popping up every day.

In less than seven weeks, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has filled 27,000 potholes in Queens and 113,131 citywide – the “most potholes ever filled at this point of the year in the history of New York City,” according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

To facilitate and accelerate the road repairs, the city has allocated an additional $7.3 million to the DOT.

De Blasio put on the neon DOT jacket and filled one hefty Maspeth pothole Thursday alongside DOT officials who detailed their new “comprehensive pothole and maintenance plan to make filling faster and more efficient.”

Starting this weekend, the DOT will begin repaving roads where “we need to go above and beyond,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

They have additionally adopted new “cutting edge materials” and plan to partner with local engineering schools, national experts and the Department of Sanitation.

“This winter has been a challenge so far,” Trottenberg said. “We are not resting easy. We know there is going to be a lot more to do.”

The mayor said heavy snow over the past two months has brought “unprecedented” wear and tear to streets. The record snowfall brought upon an “intensified use of snow plows,” a freeze-and-thaw cycle on the streets, as well as increased salt-distribution, all of which have contributed to a significant number of new potholes.

“Winter 2014 has literally made it into the record books. It is a book we would like to close as quickly as possible,” de Blasio said. “This reality has caused us to have a performance level from the DOT we have never seen before.”

Fifty crews are working to fill the potholes, which take just a few minutes to complete depending on the crater’s size. The DOT primarily uses 3-1-1 complaints to target and repair streets.



Star of Queens: Cristina Furlong of Make Queens Safer

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo via Facebook


Following “too many” pedestrian deaths, Furlong and her group, Make Queens Safer, are trying to target reckless driving, one roadway at a time.

“Pedestrians sometimes don’t have the tools they need, they were never educated on the danger,” she said.

Her group is focusing on an education program, reaching out to everyone from the borough’s youth to local elected officials. The program includes a safe driver pledge for drivers to acknowledge patience and eliminate distraction while on the roads.


Furlong is a 10-year resident of Queens, currently living in Jackson Heights. She is an avid cycler and works as a tour guide for Bike the Big Apple, which provides bike tours through the five borough.

“As a cyclist, I’ve always been interested in safety. But when Laura [Newman, Make Queens Safer co-founder] posted a boy was killed by a drunk driver and put a call to action, I was 100 percent on board,” Furlong said. “We had to do something.”


“The best thing that’s come out of this is being able to support families who have suffered a lot,” Furlong said. “Mothers whose children were killed [by drivers], they have no place to go.”

After a vigil the group hosted for pedestrian victims, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference in Queens to announce his vision of zero pedestrian fatalities, appropriately titled Vision Zero.

“That was a memorable thing,” Furlong said. “Of all places, he chose Queens, recognizing that we have the highest pedestrian injury rate in the city.”


For Furlong, the biggest challenge her group faces is getting people to change their consciousness about reckless driving, she said. They frequently stop drivers on the street to relay safe driving tips, and aren’t always warmly welcomed.

“But we need to establish a responsibility behind the wheel,” she said.


“I think inspiration comes from the people,” Furlong said, referring to parents, family members and friends who have lost loved ones due to reckless driving.

“They’re always available and working so hard with us. I want them to know, hopefully, we’ll change things,” she said.




Mayor Bill de Blasio welcomes city to 2014 winter storm number six

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola

Updated 9:15 p.m.

A state of emergency has been declared as the Nor’Easter storm targets the five boroughs.

“Welcome to winter storm number six of the last six weeks,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the snow has come down “heavier and faster than the weather service had predicted last night.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Thursday morning “so that we can continue to effectively respond to the storm and aid communities in need.”

Cuomo said the state is adequately prepared with salt supplies, and said snow is expected to fall throughout the day at two to three inches per hour.

Ten to 14 inches are expected by tonight, de Blasio said, but could be affected by a mix of freezing rain and sleet.

The mayor continued to urge drivers to stay off the road, and said mass transit is the best option.

For the Friday morning rush hour, the MTA expects to run normal subway service, but some express service may run local because of track conditions, the transit agency said. Buses should run at 80 percent capacity.

The Long Island Rail Road plans to operate at 90 percent of its normal weekday schedule, and is canceling 14 morning rush hour trains.

The Department of Sanitation pre-treated roads and began salting roadways at 3 a.m. Thursday morning. “Extra efforts” were made to address tertiary roads as well, de Blasio said.

To track plowing progress, click here.

Alternate side parking regulations and garbage and recycling pick-up is suspended through Saturday. De Blasio said trash pick-up won’t be “in earnest” until Tuesday.

To check the city’s progress or sign up for regular alerts, click here.

With additional reporting by Cristabelle Tumola