Tag Archives: Bob Friedrich

District 23 candidates debate on affordable housing, services for the elderly


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Potential voters gathered at the Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose on Monday to watch contenders for the vacant 23rd City Council seat tackle the issues in a debate hosted by the AARP and sponsored by The Queens Tribune and The Queens Press.

Democrats Barry Grodenchik, Bob Friedrich, Rebecca Lynch, Ali Najmi and Celia Dosamantes will be competing in a Sept. 10 primary along with Satnam Singh Parhar, who was absent from the debate. Former NYPD Captain Joe Concannon, the sole Republican candidate in the race, also participated in the forum.

Questions ranged in topics such as candidates’ support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, the possible extension of mayoral control over city schools, increased services for the elderly and the possibility of additional legal and legislative protection for tenants.

Grodenchik said that he did not think that enough was being done to support the affordable housing already existing through the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

“I am extremely concerned that this administration is really not attacking, in a good enough way, the deterioration of the 200,000 NYCHA units,” Grodenchik said. “Every single one of those is an affordable housing unit.”

Concannon made it clear that he was against affordable housing plans that could result in high-density zoning and oversaturation in a particular area.

“It has to do with service in the area, oversaturation and the destabilization of our police services, our fire services and our sanitation services,” Concannon said.

On the issue of mayoral control over city schools, Lynch said it was an imperfect system that was needed at the time but should be replaced with a long-term solution.

“Mayoral control was a fix needed for a system that was plagued by patronage and the worst bureaucracy,” Lynch said. “That one-year extension was a political high jinks that really does nothing for our teachers, our principals, our school system in terms of being able to plan for the future.”

Friedrich was eager to speak on the issue of how to find an appropriate location for a new school to ease overcrowded classrooms.

“To dump a school in the middle of a street, where residents live, where there is no parking where they’re going to have kids walking up and down, littering and putting garbage is completely inappropriate,” Friedrich said, “and we need to make sure that the local community is always engaged in those conversations, which is not currently being done.”

Dosamantes outlined her stance on the “Close to Home” juvenile justice reform initiative designed to help keep youth close to their home communities.

“When you’re trying to rehabilitate youth offenders, you can’t put them in a community where they’re going to re-engage in a crime,” Dosamantes said. “You have to put them in a place where it’s positive and it’s going to promote them to advance themselves.”

Najmi said that as part of his effort to increase senior services, he would secure greater funding for the city’s paratransit system Access-A-Ride and in-home services such as the Citymeals-on-Wheels program.

“We need to make sure that is a program that’s fully funded. We need to expand it and get more people involved,” Najmi said. “I think there’s a lack of awareness with [Citymeals-on-Wheels]. We need to do a better outreach.”

The candidates are looking to fill the seat that Mark Weprin vacated in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Concannon in the Nov. 3 general election.

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District 23 candidates speak on co-op taxes, services for the elderly at Queens Courier debate


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Julie Weissman

Potential voters were in the North Shore Towers Cinema on Wednesday to watch contenders for the vacant 23rd City Council seat tackle the issues in a debate sponsored by the North Shore Towers and The Queens Courier.

Democrats Barry Grodenchik, Bob Friedrich and Rebecca Lynch will be competing in a Sept. 10 primary along with Ali Najmi, Celia Dosamantes and Satnam Singh Parhar, who were absent from the debate. Former NYPD Captain Joe Concannon, the sole Republican candidate in the race, also participated in the forum.

Questions ranged in topics such as the possible tax reclassification for co-ops and condos, the regulation of Uber drivers in NYC, increased services for the elderly and the creation of group homes for developmentally disabled persons across Queens.

Concannon made it clear that he aimed to make public safety a priority as his major platform. He took a stand against a bill passed by the City Council in 2013 to increase oversight of the NYPD and expressed support for the continuation of the “stop-and-frisk” initiative openly criticized by Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. He also spoke out against what he dubbed as the “hug-a-thug” program to eliminate bail for low-level offenders in the city.

“The council has handcuffed and blindfolded our Police Department here across the City of New York, and we only need to look at recent newspapers to have an account of what’s going on,” Concannon said.

On how to better improve senior services, Lynch said that she would have three courses of action. Her top priority in this respect would be to improve affordable housing options.

“If we don’t have people being able to stay in their homes, it doesn’t matter if the services are here,” Lynch said.

Lynch added that accessible transportation is a must for seniors to be able to utilize important services, calling for more reliable bus services and a weekend bus along the Little Neck Parkway route. Seniors also need more funding for existing programs, such as those of the Samuel Field Y and local senior centers, she noted.

As the president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op, Friedrich was eager to speak on the issue of tax reclassification for co-ops and condos as single-family homes. He highlighted his time organizing city hall rallies to fight for lower taxes for co-op owners, and said that the valuation of co-ops should be capped to prevent further tax increases.

“I could tell you what I’m going to do, but I’d rather tell you what I’ve been doing,” Friedrich said. “I’ve been the number one advocate in the City of New York fighting to protect our co-ops.”

Grodenchik was supportive of the creation of group homes in Queens for developmentally disabled people. He made a distinction between these facilities and those used to relocate convicted youth offenders, saying that the former population was among the most vulnerable in the community. He also said that in his 10 years of working in the office of former Borough President Claire Shulman, he has found that community complaints submitted after the installation of these group homes are very rare.

“This is about the most vulnerable people in our society,” Grodenchik said. “How a society is judged is how it takes care of its people who are least fit to take care of themselves.”

The candidates are looking to fill the seat that Mark Weprin vacated in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs. The district contains all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Concannon in the Nov. 3 general election.


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District 23 City Council seat competitors square off in Bellerose


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Candidates seeking to fill the 23rd Council District seat that Mark Weprin previously held were face to face for the first time Tuesday in a debate hosted by the New American Voters Association (NAVA) at the Bellerose Jewish Center.

Democrats Barry Grodenchik, Celia Dosamantes, Bob Friedrich and Satnam Singh Parhar will be competing in a Sept. 10 primary along with Ali Najmi and Rebecca Lynch, who were absent from the debate. Former NYPD Captain Joe Concannon is the sole Republican candidate in the race.

A previously unannounced candidate, Michael Foubister, also came forward to claim a space in the debate to the surprise of many, including the event’s organizers, who seemed not to know who he was and had not included him in the program.

Although he was allowed to participate in the NAVA debate, Foubister later admitted that he did not have all the signatures needed to petition for the ballot, and The Courier confirmed that he was not listed in Board of Elections records as of July 16, the last day to file for inclusion.

Candidates were asked to speak on a variety of topics, including their legislative agenda, the amount of funding they planned to allocate to public education and charter school alternatives, and their biggest community initiatives in issues close to home.

The candidates were united on many issues, with some even agreeing with positions held by their opponents during their own turn to speak. All five have been involved with rallies against a proposed juvenile detention center planned for a residential street in Queens Village. Most agreed to increasing public school funding, and were against increasing the number of vouchers for charter schools.

Parhar, a businessman who has operated several successful clothing stores and a construction company, said that his legislative priority would be to lower utility bills. He believed that as a self-made businessman he could relate to taxpayers’ increasing worries on the price of living in the city.

“People cannot afford their bills. People cannot afford taxes. People cannot afford sewage and water bills,” Parhar said. “Think about our street lights. Think about our potholes.”

Concannon focused on the effect that public policy has on public safety. The former NYPD member challenged former Councilman Weprin for the District 23 seat in 2013 under the Reform Party line.

“One thing I learned as a cop is, a well-educated child has very little interaction with the police department at all,” Concannon said. “So I believe well-educated kids, well-educated families, and funding libraries is a part of that.”

Bob Friedrich, a well-known civic organizer who is also president of his Glen Oaks co-op, said he wants to fight policies that do not serve the outer-borough needs of District 23 well, such as instituting tolls on free East River crossings and a 10-cent grocery bag surcharge.

“That’s another Manhattan-centric proposal where people go to the local bodega in Manhattan with one shopping bag,” Friedrich said. “In this part of Queens, often we come by car, we do a week’s worth of groceries, and that’s going to add a thousand dollars to your shopping bill every year. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Candidates expressed strong views on a controversial City Council vote that may limit drivers hired by Uber, a mobile phone application that enables users to summon a livery car and intends to add 10,000 new workers this year. Once elected, the winning candidate will take part in the decision, which was just stalled for four months while a study examines the company’s impact on the city’s traffic and environment.

Grodenchik, who has endorsements from major Democratic players such as Mark Weprin and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, supported expanding Uber as a force catering to the economy and transportation needs of northeast Queens, which he felt was often forgotten by City Hall.

“We live here in eastern Queens right on the Nassau border where we’re often forgotten. I will be a person to raise his voice to support economic opportunities for the people in this community,” Grodenchik said. “Uber is a success story and it employs thousands and thousands of people. We need to encourage those success stories.”

Dosamantes, a former deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Philip Ramos, executive assistant for Rep. Grace Meng and communications director for David Weprin, supports an Uber expansion because it could be developed into a resource within the city to employ able workers. She has previously stated that job creation is a major focus in her campaign.

“What’s most important to our district, what’s most important to our community, is job creation,” said Dosamantes, who added that increasing living costs have caused more and more New Yorkers to struggle when making ends meet. “When you take away any type of job opportunity that gives New Yorkers good paying jobs, that gives New Yorkers the opportunity to have a chance to provide for their families and take care of them, I don’t support the mayor for that.”

Mark Weprin vacated the 23rd District seat in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs. The district contains all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.

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Op-ed: Seven-point plan


| oped@queenscourier.com

BOB FRIEDRICH AND EASTERN QUEENS UNITED

Last week, a convicted killer escaped from the state-run Creedmoor Psychiatric facility in Bellerose, where he was being held for observation.

This is a serious concern to the civic leaders of this community and other nearby community organizations.

Creedmoor is located in an area of single family homes and is very close to Glen Oaks Village, a co-op community of 10,000 residents. It is situated across the street from a children’s playground in Alley Pond Park, one of Queens’ largest parks.

The escape was also brazen for the ease in which it was accomplished. Exchanging clothes with a visiting friend was enough to allow a convicted killer to walk out undetected and into the neighborhood.

The stunning failure in security by the State Office of Mental Health has been a sore point with community leaders for many years.

The state has consistently failed to provide adequate funding to properly secure this large institution and as a result, numerous incidents have occurred which has put a strain on the already over-burdened local police precinct.

The time has come for real and serious action. Community leaders and local elected officials are calling for a full investigation and a security plan of action in which all stakeholders in the community must be involved.

Eastern Queens is a wonderful part of the city and is fortunate to have an active and vocal group of civic associations that seek to protect the quality of life of the communities they represent.

These civic associations represent thousands of folks that live along the tree-lined streets that surround Creedmoor. We are confident that elected officials, affected agencies and other community organizations will work together to resolve the security issues plaguing the Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital.

Responding to this breach in security at Creedmoor, a coalition of more than a dozen civic presidents have issued a seven-point plan of action, which you can read below:

1. A full investigation of this incident.

2. Adoption of a comprehensive security plan for the entire Creedmoor campus that would prevent a recurrence of a similar incident in the future.

3. NYS Office of Mental Health must provide the resources to fund a proper level of security.

4. Disclosure and transparency as to the type of individuals being housed at Creedmoor.

5. A Community Notification Protocol to provide immediate alerts of dangerous situations.

6. A similar review and assessment of security at nearby Zucker-Hillside Hospital.

7. The inclusion of nearby civic associations and other stakeholders in the outreach and development of a security plan.

 

Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose Hillside Civic Association

Bobby Sher, president of the Bell Park-Manor Terrace Co-op

Michael O’Keeffe, president of the Creedmoor Civic Association

Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op

Michael Castellano, president of the Lost Community Civic Association

Bruno DeFranceschi, president of the North Bellerose Civic Association

Judith Cohen, president of the North Hills Estates Civic Association

Richard Hellenbrecht, president of the Queens Civic Congress

Angela Augugliaro, president of the Queens Colony Civic Association

Jim Trent, president of the Queens County Farm Museum

Mo Ishmael, president of the Queens Village Civic Association

Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association

Rhonda Kontner, president of the Royal Ranch Homeowners Association

 

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‘Landmark’ tax relief on the way for co-op and condo owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Co-op and condo owners left in the lurch after state lawmakers originally closed the year’s session without passing key pieces of legislation will not be forsaken for long, officials pledged.

The Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reached an agreement on “landmark” tax relief legislation that will be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“In the short term, the city has issued tax bills for the current fiscal year based on the current tax abatement rates,” Silver said. “When the legislation is signed into law as promised by the governor, we anticipate that the new lower rates will be effective retroactive to July 1.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them “high and dry” last week after lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one-, two- and three-family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement. Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc., also counted his potential losses, saying his community would lose out on about $1 million.

But local elected officials said co-op owners need not worry about tax increases in the near future. The abatement, which expired June 30, will be continued until the State Legislature reconvenes later this year to pass a new plan, they said.

Assemblymember Ed Braunstein said it was “highly likely” the legislature would also pass his bill, which would increase abatements for middle class co-op owners from 17.5 percent to 25 percent this year and over 28 percent in three years.

“Co-op owners should be encouraged that relief is right around the corner,” Braunstein said.

Meanwhile, co-op and condo community leaders said they remain hopeful for a more permanent, long-term fix on annual valuation spikes.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

Still, a proposed “8/30” valuation cap — which would have limited property tax increases to 8 percent per year or 30 percent over five years — was not passed, and Friedrich said he does not expect a solution to be reached for another year.

“I am optimistic, but actions do speak louder than words,” he said.

Pols argue over whose co-op/condo legislation is best


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A coalition of co-op and condo owners in northeast Queens had one message for its elected officials after arguments erupted over whose bill was best: no more lip service.

“What you see is the dysfunction in Albany. This isn’t a Republican-Democrat issue. It’s about homeowners who don’t want to be pushed out of their homes,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. and cofounder of the President’s Co-op Council.

The Council — which represents about 100,000 co-op shareholders — joined close to one dozen elected officials and more than 900 concerned Queens residents at North Shore Towers on April 12 to rally for action against the city for another year of property tax spikes.

While Friedrich said a solution could not be reached without the cooperation of state lawmakers, some electeds — with pointed fingers — turned the meeting into a heated political debate.

“There’s been a little too much lip service tonight. I sat here and got madder and madder as I listened to every speaker,” said Senator Tony Avella. “We had an opportunity last year, and we blew it because of politics on both sides of the aisle.”

Currently, there are three bills on the table in Albany on how to address the issue, which Avella said is a clear sign of disconnect between state leaders who he said may each be pushing for their own legislation to pass.

“It’s not that the Republicans don’t want to move the bill to address this — it’s which bill should they support? Which one gets passed? This has to stop. I don’t care if it’s my bill or somebody else’s bill, but this has got to stop. We’re not working together,” he said.

Avella’s own bill, which he called the “best solution,” would create a new property tax class — called Class 1A — for co-op and condo owners. He said the bill would provide the same protections that exist for Class 1 properties, capping any single yearly tax increase at 6 percent and 20 percent over a five year period.

An earlier law put forth by Assemblymember David Weprin would propose similar provisions, classifying co-ops as Class 1 and capping increases at the same percentage, while other legislation by Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember Ed Braunstein would see co-ops paying only 75 percent of their legal fees in a successful certiorari suit. They said the law would also stabilize assessments for two years following a successful challenge, capping spikes at 3 percent to prevent the necessity of an additional proceeding.

Councilmember Mark Weprin fired back, saying each elected official was in fact “working hard” together to create a solution by this year.

“With all due respect, you’re the one who hasn’t been to most of the meetings,” Weprin said. “This is a very delicate situation, but to say that people here are just giving lip service is just nonsense. This is not about whose bill we’re going to sponsor. We’re all trying to solve a problem here, and I think we’re all open to whatever solution we can get adopted that will save co-op owners. That’s the goal here, and that’s why I took a lot of offense.”

Senate and Assembly officials have only until the end of June this year to agree on one single bill and have it passed by both Houses, Weprin said. While the City Council is not directly involved in the legislation process, Weprin said councilmembers have an upper hand in trying to get the mayor on board.

“I’ve seen bills drafted, signed and passed in 12 hours. We just have to work together,” Weprin said. “I thought [the meeting] was a good case of democracy in action.”

Tree maintenance at root of problem


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Bob Friedrich

If a tree falls in Glen Oaks Village, and no one assumes responsibility for clearing it, does it cause damage?

Homeowners in the eastern Queens co-op are irritated over what they feel is a lack of effort by the city to clear dangerous tree roots and repair damaged sidewalks.

Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village, the largest garden apartment co-op in New York, demands the city take action.

New legislation, initiated by Friedrich and reinforced by Senator Tony Avella, would modify the current law that forbids residents from pruning street trees — ones located between the sidewalk and the road — holding the city responsible for damage done within co-ops by falling branches.

According to Friedrich, Hurricane Irene incurred over $59,000 in damages to Glen Oaks Village, ripping out roughly 100 trees and flooding several residents’ basements.

Since the storm, Friedrich said he has asked the city to remove the visible stumps and turned-up roots – something they promised to do within 90 days of the hurricane, according to Friedrich. He says the city has yet to take action.

“I refer to this area as ‘Queens, the forgotten borough,’” said Friedrich. “If you drive through Manhattan, you see all the resources they have. Bike lanes and trees. We can’t even get our curbs repaired. The city is inattentive to the needs of people in Queens.”

According to Friedrich, the city is accountable for repairing sidewalks damaged by trees during storms when it occurs in front of a single-family home. Friedrich feels this is an “issue of fairness and equality,” as according to him, residents of co-ops are responsible for paying higher taxes.

“The city has been doing an abysmal job and we’re really fed up,” said Friedrich. “We need them to step up to the plate.”

Friedrich added that many of Glen Oaks Village’s residents are senior citizens, vulnerable to falls and at risk of tripping over lifted tree roots.

According to a representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation, the city removes hanging limbs, dead trees and tree debris located on public property, including public sidewalks.

While property owners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance, owner-occupied, one-, two-, and three-family homes with sidewalks affected by the roots of curbside trees are eligible for free repair under the Parks Department’s Trees and Sidewalks program.

Since the program began in 2005, more than $18 million has been allocated to fixing over 9,200 trees and sidewalks throughout the city, including nearly $9 million to repairing damages in Queens.

 

Residents rally against redistricting at public hearing


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Christina Chang sat calmly in the front row of the hearing room, unshaken by the raging crowd surging behind her. In her hands she held a homemade, neon sign that read “Minority Votes Should Count.” She wore a crisp white T-shirt stenciled with the word “MinkWon.”

It means “civil rights” in Korean.

Representing her group, MinkWon, part of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy (ACCORD) — a non-partisan, pan-Asian association reflecting community interests — Chang came to stand for the strength of her neighborhood and the voice of her people.

Residents and officials crammed into a hearing at Queensborough Hall on Tuesday, February 7, combating the redistricting they feel has divided their neighborhoods and diminished their voting power. Based on population transfers noted in the 2010 Census, redistricting resulted in Queens Democrats believing the procedure was an effort by Republicans, who represent the majority in the state Senate, to pit seat holders against one another.

“Allow the public to speak first! This is a public hearing!” yelled Bob Friedrich, founder of Eastern Queens United, which advocates for maintaining unity among ethnically-diverse neighborhoods.

“This is one of the most important meetings we’ve ever had,” said Borough President Helen Marshall, quieting the rowdy audience. “Minority votes should count. We’ve got to make sure the lines are drawn properly.”

Local government officials took to the microphone to state their opinions to the audience and members of the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), which held the hearing.

Senator Michael Gianaris referred to the recent redistricting as “disgraceful manipulation” and a “vain attempt to deny minorities a vote.” Armed with maps of Hempstead and Westchester, Gianaris indicated areas of high minority populations and their dissection.

“[This redistricting] is more than just the fragmenting of communities. The procedure and product has been taken as borderline racism,” said Councilmember Ruben Wills.

Freidrich hopes that LATFOR will redraw district lines, reuniting ethnic communities.

If they fail to do this, Freidrich says he will consult the governor, who intends to veto the plan, according to spokesperson Matt Wing.