Tag Archives: Claire Shulman

BP library powers could lead to censorship: former trustee


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre  / File photo

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2:15 p.m.

The power of the Queens borough president to remove trustees from the Queens Library board could set the institution on the slippery slope to state censorship, one former trustee told The Courier.

George Stamatiades, a longtime Long Island City civic leader who spent two decades on the library board was removed — along with five other trustees — by Katz, who was granted the power to fire board members through recent legislation during a bitter battle over who controls the library.

Stamatiades said that much sway over the library board could be dangerous.

“Today, she gets rid of the board members,” Stamatiades said. “Tomorrow, through her influence, she says, ‘Hey, don’t buy any more of these books.’

“And then next week, she says, ‘Hey, get rid of all these books.’”

And, Stamatiades said, such power could lead to government monitoring each person’s reading habits.

“Next thing she’ll say is, ‘I want to know what books the community is reading,’” Stamatiades said. “Then it’ll be, ‘I want to know who’s reading them.”

Stamatiades, who was appointed to the board by former Borough President Claire Shulman, said that neither Shulman nor her successor Helen Marshall ever demanded specific action on any issue.

“Based on his comments, Mr. Stamatiades clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Neither I, the mayor, the Queens delegation of the City Council, the entire New York State Assembly, almost the entire New York State Senate nor the governor has commented on the content of materials at the Queens Public Library,” Katz said in a statement.

A firestorm erupted over the salary and spending practices of library boss Tom Galante and the board’s refusal to open the library’s books to city auditors. City funds — about 85 percent of the library’s budget — are routinely audited but the board steadfastly refused to make all of the financial data available to the city.

After much back and forth, state legislators passed a law giving Katz the ability to remove members for cause.

Last month, she ousted six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. All six of the trustees forced out by Katz appealed for reinstatement but were shot down by Katz in early August.

“The removed trustees, including Mr. Stamatiades, have fought against transparency into how library resources are spent and do not feel that they are accountable to the taxpayers of the city of New York,” Katz said. “My goal is to assure the people of Queens that their money is spent on furthering the educational purpose of the library. We need to end the static and get to work on advancing the purpose of the library.”

The six also filed a federal lawsuit against Katz, seeking to be returned to their positions, revocation of the state law that allowed for their ouster and money damages from Katz personally.

Court papers revealed the board hired former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct to investigate information leaks from within the library.

The judge hearing the suit against Katz, U.S. District Court judge Roslynn Mauskopf, recused herself on Monday because of her long-standing friendship with Jones.

Stamatiades, who initiated the whistleblower probe, said 19 board members voted in favor of the investigation. But, he said, library staffers were uncomfortable investigating their bosses as were the library’s legal staff, so the job was outsourced to Jones.

“We needed an independent person,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein held a hearing on a motion from the ousted trustees asking for a temporary restraining order against Katz. He recommended to the trial judge that the motion be denied. The former trustees have until Aug. 29 to appeal the recommendation.

Doug Grover, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said the former trustees could not Let Katz’s actions go unchallenged.

“They brought this action to assert the independence of the Library and the right of every trustee to act without political interference,” Grover said.  “They are understandably disappointed by today’s outcome but remain true friends of the library and hope for its continued success.

“The trustees are evaluating their legal options in light of the decision today.”

Away from court, Mary Ann Mattone, a mayoral appointee to the library board, announced her resignation in a letter to de Blasio.

Mattone said she served on the board for 16 years “without blemish”  and is a member of the Queens Library Foundation.

But, she wrote,” I can no longer urge my friends to participate because of the acrimonious atmosphere that has been created.”

 

Stamatiades looked back fondly on his service to the library and said his commitment to the institution stemmed from love of his neighborhood.

“I guess it’s because I care about my neighborhood and the people around me,” he said. “There’s no other reason. If that’s bad … what can I tell you?”

He also said he being a library trustee was a blessing.

“If you could go to [a literacy class] graduation and hear a grandmother say, ‘I can now go home and read to my grandchild because of the Queens Library,’ well, you’d be going something,” he said.

 

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Priscilla Morgan, founding board member Noguchi Museum, passes away


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Sara Wasilausky, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York

Priscilla Morgan, a long-time supporter of the arts and a founding board member of Long Island City’s Noguchi Museum, has passed away, according to published obituaries. She was 94.

Morgan died peacefully at her Manhattan home on Sunday, March 30, the New York Times reported.

“She was a great friend and a major figure in the art world,” said former Borough President Claire Shulman, who met Morgan through the late Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi.

Describing her as charming, warm, intelligent and classy, Schulman said she will miss Morgan’s friendship.

Born in Poughkeepsie in 1919, Morgan began her career in radio production and later became an agent, working with theatrical talent, according to her alma mater Vassar College. Morgan soon formed the Priscilla Morgan Agency, which was bought by the William Morris Agency in 1955.

She met the composer Gian Carlo Menotti in Italy in 1958 and eventually helped bring to the USA his Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, a performing and visual arts event, according to the college.

Morgan, in addition to being a founding member of the board, was also the first Honorary Life Trustee of the Noguchi Museum. She spent the last decades of her life “furthering artistic causes and nurturing friendships across many generations,” a Times obituary said.

“Priscilla Morgan was a remarkable woman. Her love for Isamu Noguchi and by extension his museum will continue to guide us. The board and staff of the Museum mourn her passing.” said Director Jenny Dixon.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Children’s Aid Society, according to a Times obituary.

 

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Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sworn in by Mayor de Blasio


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was officially sworn into office Thursday in a star-studded political gathering.

“It’s an exciting time for me,” said Katz, in front of hundreds of supporters and a lengthy list of dignitaries. “I’m humbled and I’m honored to be the Queens Borough President.”

The 48-year-old Forest Hills mom of two was installed Jan. 9 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the help of Congressmember Joe Crowley.

“I have to tell you that Melinda brings so much to this job,” de Blasio said. “She has a real passion for the people she serves. She loves this borough. I can tell you that because I’ve seen her stand up for Queens many times.”

The mayor said the “exemplary” and diverse borough “epitomizes the American Dream.”

“Melinda Katz gets to be the person who brings all those beautiful strengths together and makes this borough work for the people,” de Blasio said.

The newly elected borough president, dedicating the night to her parents, took her oath of office with her hand upon her father’s copy of the Old Testament.

Crowley, citing Biblical figures, said he hoped for Katz “the wisdom of Moses, the leadership of Joshua and the valor and the strength of Esther.”

“She possesses many of those qualities and more,” Crowley said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to see her grow.”

The standing-room-only ceremony at Queens College’s Lefrak Concert Hall also featured U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and dozens of Queens legislators.

Katz’s partner, Curtis Sliwa, and the couple’s two sons, Carter and Hunter, watched from the audience.

Katz, a former member of the City Council and state Assembly, was elected Nov. 5 to be the 19th borough president of Queens. She succeeds Helen Marshall, who held the seat since 2001.

Her plans for the borough include making the Rockaway ferry permanent and pushing for more primary and urgent care facilities.

“Let’s move it forward,” Katz said. “Let’s make it a place for families to have everything they need right here in the borough of Queens.”

“My only wish is I never let you down,” Katz said.

 

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Longtime Queens borough president aide to retire


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Dominick Totino Photography

The right-hand woman to the last two Queens borough presidents is retiring after 30 years in Borough Hall.

Alexandra Rosa, chief of staff to Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall, will leave at year’s end. She plans to transition into the nonprofit sector.

“I feel that it’s time to move to the next stage of my life, and I’m happy to do that,” she said. “I’m grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to serve the borough of Queens.”

Rosa, 59, helped Marshall develop strategies for investing more than $650 million in capital budget items over a decade. She also played a key role in strengthening the public library system and expanding the borough’s cultural centers.

“So much of the borough has changed,” Rosa said. “We’ve gone through tremendous struggles. On the other hand, we’ve seen tremendous triumph.”

The top aide said Queens, like the rest of the city, was rocked by Sept.11, Superstorm Sandy, a recession and foreclosures.

But the borough came out swinging, with more senior housing, the renaissance of downtown Jamaica and new economic potential unleashed “through the power of zoning,” Rosa said, pointing to newly approved developments in Willets Point and western Queens.

On a smaller platform, the newly opened Children’s Library Discovery Center, a 14,000-square-foot hands-on science and technology-focused exhibit in Jamaica, was one of the most memorable for the outgoing aide.

“It’s something I was able to participate in from its earliest stage of an idea to opening and seeing children engage in exploring the exhibits that were there,” Rosa said. “That was a real beginning-to-end experience.”

Marshall is term-limited and will give up the seat she held since 2001 to Melinda Katz.

Earlier this month, Katz tapped Councilmember Leroy Comrie to be her deputy borough president and Jay Bond, a former longtime aide, as chief of staff.

Rosa said the new administration under Katz will take the borough to the next level and continue the path of progress.

“I’m going to miss working for some really great people. We’ve done some tremendous things together,” Rosa said. “Life is about change, and this is a new phase that I’m embracing.”

 

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Op-Ed: The power of the position


| oped@queenscourier.com

BY CLAIRE SHULMAN

Why the borough president, I am asked.

The 1989 Charter has the council voting on both land use and budgets, so what do you do to warrant the existence of the office?

I will tell you.

I can best describe it by telling you what we did before and after the 1989 Charter revision.

My staff and I were determined to make a difference in Queens.

Before 1989 we had to negotiate for money; after 1989 the borough president got five percent of the enhancements in the expense budget and five percent of the capital budget. Queens got 33 percent of the five percent capital money, which enabled us not only to build, but to influence the construction of the following institutions:

  • Queens Museum of Art
  • New York Hall of Science
  • Queens Hospital Center
  • Flushing Town Hall
  • Family Court
  • Civil Court
  • Queens Theatre
  • Queens Zoo
  • Roy Wilkins Park and Recreation Center
  •  Creedmoor Educational Company
  •  Flushing Library
  • P.S.1
  • Townsend Harris High School
  • SE552, $100 million sewer project to relieve flooding in SE Queens
  • American Museum of the Moving Image
  • Flushing Meadows swimming pool and ice skating rink
  • BP and the mayor’s office get Fort Totten from the feds

These are just a few things we accomplished which makes the borough president’s office one of the best bargains in New York City.

We helped to enliven the cultural life of Queens, thereby creating a harmony in a very diverse population. We were involved in so much, none of which was mentioned or prohibited in the Charter.

For example we spent five years saving non-eviction conversion co-ops, thousands of units that helped cooperators, renters and neighborhoods survive.

There are many people currently running for this office because they want to continue the effort.

This is a big city and one cannot know everything, so local government, the planning boards, the council and the BP’s office are our good government.

Together we help deliver services through the Borough Cabinet where it is needed and deal with land use issues and budgets through the Borough Board.

If borough presidents didn’t exist it is my opinion that Manhattan would walk away with all the resources that currently cover major projects in Queens.

I will continue to advocate for the office of borough president and the relative autonomy of our great borough.

Don’t fool yourself — if you are elected by a county of two million people, that’s power and everyone listens!

Claire Shulman was the first female borough president, serving from 1986 until 2002.

 

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Former Borough President Claire Shulman to appear on NY1’s ‘Wise Guys’


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

A television segment made famous by late mayor Ed Koch, NY1’s “Wise Guys” is going to get a new featured politician, former Borough President Claire Shulman.

Airing Tuesdays at 7 and 10 p.m. “Wise Guys” appears on the cable channel’s hour-long political news and opinion program “Road To City Hall,” hosted by Errol Louis.

Schulman, who served as borough president from 1986 until 2002 and was the first woman elected to the position, will discuss the week’s political issues along with former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato and former State Assemblymember Roberto Ramirez.

Ed Koch, who personally knew Shulman and was mayor when she became borough president, regularly appeared as one of NY1’s “Wise Guys.” The show even honored him on his 88th birthday in December just a couple of months before his death.

 

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Koch WAS New York


| editorial@queenscourier.com

BY CLAIRE SHULMAN

Welcome to my bridge! Welcome to my bridge!

That was Ed Koch, son of Polish immigrants, who became the mayor of the world’s greatest city.

That same opportunity exists today and continues to attract immigrants to our shores looking for a better life. After serving in the Council and Congress, Ed became mayor at a critical time for the city. We were virtually bankrupt and for the first time people considered leaving town for a better future elsewhere.

A wholesale depression settled in and the exuberance that generally described us was gone. It was 1978 and in came this whirlwind guy from Greenwich Village with his enormous energy and a strong belief in the city.

He literally lifted our spirits and every day raised his arms and loudly proclaimed that New York City is alive and well. He restored glamour and industry to the city of promise.

He hired the best people and set to crafting a budget that the city could afford and yet survive.

His confidence in the city caught on, and the grumbling over cuts was no longer an issue.

He really understood how to make government work. He will be remembered for many things, including rehabbing vacant apartments into affordable housing in the Bronx and other parts of the city.

Who can forget driving the Cross Bronx Expressway looking at flowers painted on the windows of thousands of empty apartments?

Once I took Ed to the Astoria Motion Picture Center to watch Sidney Lument direct the “WIZ.” Astoria is now of course home to Kaufman Astoria Studio, which was long ago Paramount Studios Circa1898.

Ed and I stood on the darkest part of the enormous stage and watched Diana Ross dance down the yellow brick road right into Ed’s arms. You can’t imagine his excitement. This was right up his alley and of course media was part of his life. But most of all he understood the importance of bringing the motion picture and television industry back to New York City and was forever a supporter of the project.

During the early 1980’s the New York City film industry did almost zero in economic activity and now the latest number is $7.1 billion. What a leap forward.

The scandal of former Borough President Donald R. Manes in 1986 during Ed’s watch caught him by surprise and of course he was most distressed and it took a while for him to recover, but recover he did and the old bounce returned. He always supported me during that terrible time for which I am eternally grateful.

Some people think that one scandal will close his legacy but I don’t think so. His saving the city from financial disaster and returning the city to its greatest will forever be his legacy and history will treat him well. For a short but important time New York City was Ed Koch and Ed Koch was New York City.

 

Claire Shulman is former Queens Borough President. 

AG: Development Corporations lobbied illegally for projects


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Three city development corporations have admitted to illegally lobbying the City Council to win approval of their favored projects, including a much-contested plan to revamp Willets Point, the state attorney general said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (FWCLDC) — headed by former borough president Claire Shulman — and the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) settled charges of attempting to influence legislation in connection with development projects in Willets Point in 2008 and Coney Island in 2009, according to a three-year investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The projects require City Council approvals pursuant to the state’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). But local development corporations (LDCs) are barred by statute from influencing legislation.

“These local development corporations flouted the law by lobbying elected officials, both directly and through third parties,” Schneiderman said.

According to probe findings, the three agencies attempted to create the appearance of independent grassroots support for the projects by concealing their participation in community organizing efforts. This included ghostwriting letters and op-eds and preparing testimony for unaffiliated community members, Schneiderman said.

The EDC — the city’s economic development arm — also played a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities of the other LDCs, he said.

The nonprofit organizations will now have to reform their practices to comply with the law and end lobbying for development projects. They will also have to comply with mandatory training, and the EDC will have to publicaly disclose any funding provided to other LDCs.

The EDC intends to restructure, according to spokesperson Jennifer Friedberg, and cease to be considered an LDC. Doing so, she said, would allow the company to legally influence legislation and “operate freely in areas that are necessary and appropriate for it to achieve its economic development mission.”

The agency, which formerly claimed to not have known a “clear definition” of influencing legislation, will not be subjected to fines or penalties as part of the settlement.

Robert Bishop, a lawyer representing FWCLDC, said the group also plans to comply with the new agreement.

“The LDC is a great organization that does great things, and we will continue to do great things,” he said.

Shulman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the mild rebuke from the state is drawing heat from the city comptroller, who said the restructuring alone is insufficient and pushed for organization officials to be held accountable.

“While these revelations of illegal lobbying are alarming, we cannot say that they come as a surprise,” said Comptroller John Liu. “For some time, this mayor has been using the EDC to create ‘astroturf’ groups to support his agenda, reward allies and dole out welfare to wealthy corporations.”

Willets Point United members said the investigation confirms their original suspicions that the entire land use review process was based on fraudulent and illegal behavior. They urged the city to end all recent and future actions regarding the area’s development.

“Our properties were put at risk by an illegal scheme, and we were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect our constitutionally protected rights against a municipality and its front group engaged in activities that were rife with fraud,” the group said in a statement.