Tag Archives: Congressmember Gary Ackerman

Former Congressmember Gary Ackerman backs City Council candidate Austin Shafran

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos by Angy Altamirano

Former Congressmember Gary Ackerman has endorsed Austin Shafran, candidate for District 19 of the City Council.

On Monday, July 22, Ackerman announced he would be endorse his former community liaison.

“Austin is a lifelong member of our community who has the integrity and experience to serve our community honestly and effectively,” said Ackerman. “Austin is the strong voice we need fighting for northeast Queens in the City Council.”

Ackerman represented northeast Queens from 1983 to 2013. As a congressmember, he helped bring forth legislation including the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Wall Street reform and other laws.

Shafran started his public service career with Ackerman. According to the former congressmember, while Shafran worked for him, he noticed how much he cared for the community.

“The proudest moment in politics and in life is earning the respect and support of someone you admire, and there is no one I look up to more than Gary Ackerman,” said Shafran. “Working for Congressman Ackerman, I saw how government could work and get things done for our community. Gary has been a personal and professional inspiration for me, and I will work every day to continue his legacy of service for our families, seniors and children.”



Cuomo administration mainstay resigns to run for Queens City Council seat

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Austin Shafran

A former mainstay in the Cuomo administration has officially announced his intent to run for City Council.

Austin Shafran, 32, resigned from his post as vice president of public affairs for Empire State Development (ESD) on January 18 to enter what is now a four-way Democratic primary race for the 19th District.

“I’ve played a leading role in Governor Cuomo’s efforts to make government work better, cost less and produce more for taxpayers,” Shafran said of his ESD job, “and now I want to put that same record of results to work for the communities I grew up in.”

He will take on Democratic State Committee Chair Matthew Silverstein, former Assemblymember John Duane and attorney Paul Vallone — the son of former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. and brother of Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

The primary winner will likely face off with incumbent Councilmember Dan Halloran in the November election if no other Republican contenders surface.

Shafran is the Democratic leader in the 25th Assembly District. The ESD’s mouthpiece for nearly two years, he also served as senior advisor to the agency’s head, Kenneth Adams. Prior, he was a community liaison for former Congressmember Gary Ackerman and communications director for then-Councilmember David Weprin.

“Working with Congressman Ackerman and Governor Cuomo, I’ve developed the experience and the clear vision to deliver better schools and safer streets and an economy that works for middle class families,” Shafran said. “Those are things that we’ve been lacking in these communities for the past four years. We can do better.”

The district extends from College Point to the borders of Nassau County.



Congressmember Gary Ackerman won’t run for re-election

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

US House of Reprenative Gary Ackerman

Following 15 terms in the House of Representatives, Congressmember Gary Ackerman has announced he will not run for re-election – providing an unanticipated conclusion to a 34-year political career.

Ackerman decided not to seek a 16th term despite the likelihood that his seat would be spared under the Congressional redistricting process. His announcement has reportedly baffled many of his Congressional colleagues, who assumed he would seek re-election with the primary-free backing of the Democratic Party virtually assured.

The 69-year-old Democrat, who was elected to Congress in 1983, currently represents the 5th District, which encompasses the North Shore of Queens and Long Island. His term of office will end on January 2, 2013.

“The residents of Queens and Long Island have honored me with their trust and support for the past 34 years, first as a New York State Senator, and for the past 15 terms as a member of Congress,” said Ackerman. “I’ve been truly privileged to have had the opportunity to fight for the beliefs of my neighbors in both the State Capital and in the halls of Congress. During my years in Congress, it has been my pleasure to address the needs of thousands of individual constituents and to influence domestic and global policy while serving on the Financial and Foreign Affairs Committees in the House. I am most thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country and my community.”

The congressmember went on to say he expects to continue to be aggressively and passionately involved with local and global issues related to his district. He most recently made headlines for arranging the release of Queens-native Ilan Grapel, who spent months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.

Upon learning of his decision, Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Ackerman as a fearless global ambassador.

“When Gary Ackerman and I visited Israel at the start of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, rocket alarms went off as we visited the police station in Sderot. As everyone scrambled into the bomb shelter, Gary was cool and collected, which is exactly how he went about business in Congress for more than three decades,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The borough of Queens – and the people of Israel, Africa and so many other areas of the world – have rarely had a stronger ally in Congress, and our entire nation will miss Gary’s encyclopedic knowledge of foreign policy and so many other issues.”

Ackerman, who was first elected to public office in 1978 when he won a seat in the New York State Senate, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as the ranking member of its Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He is also a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Born in Brooklyn, Ackerman was raised in Flushing and is a graduate of Queens College.

Will Turner’s district disappear?

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


A federal magistrate’s recent re-drawing of state congressional lines leaves Congressmember Bob Turner as the odd man out.

Magistrate Roanne Mann’s revised maps released on March 6 would eliminate Turner’s Brooklyn-Queens district and may reportedly force him to run for the same seat belonging to Congressmember Gregory Meeks in a Democratic and heavily African-American area.

According to published reports, State Senate GOP officials fought to protect Turner while Assembly Democrats pushed for his district to be eliminated.

“The redistricting plan introduced today by the Special Master is just another step in the process,” said Turner, who won a Special Election last year to fill the seat of disgraced Congressmember Anthony Weiner. “I am prepared to run in whatever district I reside in once the final lines are adopted.”

Mann was appointed by a panel of three federal judges to create a redistricting plan eliminating two of the state’s 29 congressional seats after legislative leaders were unable to come to an agreement. The elimination of the seats was reportedly mandatory due to national population shifts over the past decade.

The magistrate’s proposed map is not final however, as her draft is expected to boost talks between state legislative leaders who are now aware of the court’s direction.

If the legislators are unable to pass their own plan by March 12, Mann’s map will become final, due to the need for congressional candidates to choose what district they will run in before they begin circulating nominating petitions on March 20.

Congressmember Gary Ackerman has already come forward and announced he plans to run for re-election in the new Sixth Congressional District should the magistrate’s lines become final.

“The new Sixth Congressional District is a fantastic district in Queens where I grew up, went to public school and college, and started my family and my business,” Ackerman said. “It contains my political base and longtime roots, and I have had the privilege of representing approximately 90 percent of it during my 34 years in the State Senate and U.S. Congress.”

Assemblymember Rory Lancman, who represents the 25th Assembly District, has also stated he “looks forward to run for Congress when the lines are finalized.”

Pols betting on Big Blue

| brennison@queenscourier.com

While Las Vegas collects action on this weekend’s big game, local politicians are also looking to parlay Big Blue’s Super Bowl run into big winnings.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Boston counterpart, Thomas Menino, made a friendly bet on the big game — and if the Giants beat the New England Patriots on Sunday, February 5, four lucky fans will score a trip to Boston to celebrate in their territory.

“New York sports teams have a history of cleaning up when they go to Boston — and now our fans will have a chance to do the same,” Bloomberg said. “Any New Yorker not too tired from salsa dancing Sunday night will be able to enter an online lottery for the chance to win.”

Bloomberg, who will be attending the game in Indianapolis, is asking New Yorkers to show their support for the Giants by donning blue on “Big Blue Friday.”

A winner will be chosen from the champion’s city for an all-expense paid trip to the losing city.

The trip to Boston will include: four roundtrip tickets on JetBlue, a two-night stay at the Ritz Carlton, dinner for four at Legal Seafoods Harborside and the Top of the Hub restaurant, four tickets to a performance at the Citi Performing Arts Center, four box seats at a Bruins or Celtics game at the TD Garden, a behind-the-scenes-tour of the newly expanded Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, a Duck Tour ride, a VIP tour of the personal diaries of John Adams at the Boston Public Library, a VIP tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery and a photo with Menino.

Other local politicians are trying their luck with their New England counterparts, too.

Congressmember Gary Ackerman wagered matzo ball soup and a corned beef sandwich from Ben’s Best Deli in Rego Park against New England clam chowder and clam rolls from Congressemember Mike Capuano.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will also be chowing on chowder if the Giants come out victorious. She anted some New York-style cheesecake against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s offer of clam chowder.

Ilan Grapel arrives in Queens

| nkarimi@queenscourier.com

Ilan Grapel has arrived back in Queens, landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, October 29 after months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.

Grapel was released from jail on Thursday, October 27 and flown to Israel, where he was reunited with his mother Irene and Congressmember Gary Ackerman on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. He then departed for the U.S. early Saturday morning.

He was released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Ackerman’s office, after being accused of spying for Israel and spending more than four months behind bars in Egypt.

“Grapel’s attorney, Abbe Lowell really helped win the case along with Ackerman,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.
Grapel, who holds joint U.S. and Israeli citizenship, was volunteering for a group aiding Sudanese refugees in Egypt, while staying at a youth hostel. According to reports, he was detained by police who saw him carrying a protest sign at a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in June. Grapel was accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport.

Grapel graduated early from Johns Hopkins University, speaks fluent Arabic and Hebrew, served in Israel’s armed forces and had internships with Israel’s high court and in the Queens district office of Ackerman.

Egypt to release Queens native

| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo by Nargas Karimi Daniel Grapel, Ilan's father, answered media inquiries outside his Oakland Gardens home.

The Prime Minister of Israel announced that Ilan Grapel, the Queens native and law student arrested during the Egyptian uprisings in June, will be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office.

Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving African refugees. Ilan arrived early in an effort to experience the country when he was arrested in June accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

“Ilan’s release is terrific news,” said Ackerman. “We cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed and that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

Grapel, 27, worked with Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, as in intern in the summer of 2002.

“Ilan is a wonderful young man who loves Egypt and the Egyptian culture. He’s a person deeply committed to the cause of humanity and bringing people together, and just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ackerman.

“I still reserve my emotional opinion because we have to wait until he actually crosses the line, before that nothing is 100 percent guaranteed until it actually happens,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.

Details surrounding the timing of Grapel’s release have yet to be released.

Egypt and Israel close to a deal for Queens resident

| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s Office    Egyptian officials arrested Queens native Ilan Grapel in June and accused him of spying for the Israeli government.

An Oakland Gardens law student is close to a ticket home after being arrested on spy charges in Egypt during their uprisings this past summer.
As reported in The New York Times, Ilan Grapel, 27 – who has dual citizenship with the United States and Israel – would be exchanged for 80 Egyptians who had been arrested over the Israeli border on drug and other charges. The deal would be the second mass exchange after Israeli soldier, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
According to Congressmember Gary Ackerman, the timing of the proposed trade for Grapel is not contingent on the success of the Israeli-Palestinian exchange but “makes it conducive to try to move these things within the same general time frame.”
“I can tell you that he is not a spy,” said Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “I’m doing everything I can on a daily basis to be sure he is being well treated and to convince the powers that be he is not a spy and to secure his release.”
Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006, according to reports. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving Sudanese refugees. He was arrested in June and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the Egyptian uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
“We are grateful to the people that are holding him that he has not been mistreated,” said Ackerman, who once employed Grapel as an intern.
After being questioned whether or not Grapel’s family has had any contact with him, Ackerman took a long pause.
“I didn’t want to go this far. I was able to arrange for his parents to meet with him for what we thought was going to be an hour or so. It turned out to be three hours. We got them in and out of Cairo without notice [just before Rosh Hashana].”
While he would not say he was optimistic, Ackerman said he is “hopeful” that a deal will be made soon.

Hundreds Rally to Save Postal Service

| mchan@queenscourier.com


Hundreds of postal workers rallied in Bayside on Tuesday, September 27 to save the nation’s postal service and to seek support for a bill they say would pull the postal service out of its financial shortfall.

As part of a national campaign, all 435 congressional districts throughout the country united in their common cause to spread awareness about the real root of the deficit — a congressional mandate that requires the United States Postal Service (USPS) to “pre-fund 75 years worth of future retiree health benefits within just 10 years,” according to national postal unions.

According to the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the legal mandate costs the USPS $5.5 billion annually and accounts for 100 percent of the postal service’s $20 billion losses over the past four years.

“We’re asking for a little leeway to be allowed to dip into that fund to cover day to day expenses if needed or to make arrangements so there would be some cash flow,” said Trevor Stuart, president of the Mail Handlers Union branch in Flushing.

More than 200 postal workers and supporters gathered outside Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office to spread awareness of the proposed legislation, H.R. 1351, that seeks to alleviate post office deficits.

“You’re still people on the job working to really deliver in a real substantial way for the American people,” said Ackerman, a cosponsor of the bill. “You work every single day no matter how tough the weather, six days a week – and some of you even more. Let’s keep it that way.”

Mail handler John Dreyfus told The Courier that he’s concerned for his future.

“We’re already rushing around because people have already been moved around or let go. If we have to move, I would have to work two or three times as hard. It’s just going to be a little more difficult. Something has to give here.”

Dreyfus, 58, works at the Queens Processing and Distribution Center in Flushing.

Due to drastic declines in mail volume, state and nationwide, the center may be closed or consolidated, according to the USPS. It joins 255 other centers nationwide that are at risk of being shut down.

“I met a lot of good people here. I would be sad to see this facility go because I really feel like it supports a great community here,” he said.

According to the USPS, annual mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to decline. Total first-class mail has dropped 25 percent and single piece first-class mail — letters bearing postage stamps — has declined 36 percent in the same timeframe.

“Has the mail gotten less? Yes,” said Mark Sobel, NALC director of the Flushing branch. “Is it ready to go out of business? No.”