Tag Archives: Daniel Dromm

Op-ed: Why we need Mayor de Blasio’s pre-k plan


| oped@queenscourier.com

COUNCILMEMBER DANIEL DROMM

As chair of the NYC Council Education Committee, it is a priority of mine to see Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten plan enacted. The only viable way to ensure that our children get this extra year of education is to create a tax on the city’s most wealthy residents to help fund it.

Before teaching fourth grade for 25 years, I directed a preschool in Harlem. I saw firsthand how an extra year of socializing and learning helped set up these young learners of all social and ethnic backgrounds for a more productive educational career. Study after study has shown that quality pre-k works.

Pre-kindergarten isn’t just for the children.  It also lends a helping hand to their parents, especially single parents. At the first Education Committee hearing that I chaired on February 12, I heard from parents about how pre-kindergarten combined with after school care allows them to work a full day. Without pre-k, working mothers and fathers have to scramble to find someone to care for their children and often times have to scrape the bottom of their bank accounts to pay for childcare.

I believe it is not too much to ask of those who are making $500,000 or more a year to fund the program with a small tax increase that equals the price of a cup of latte from Starbucks every day. I totally disagree with those who say these wealthy residents may leave the city. New York City is the greatest city in the world and everybody wants to be here. Wealthy residents won’t leave just for the price of a cup of coffee. A tax on the wealthy is the right path.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to fund a statewide program without a designated tax has its pitfalls. Former Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson walked 150 miles to Albany to shine light on the unequitable amount of education funding NYC receives and won a court judgment for city schools. A decade later, more than $4 billion of that money has never made it to our public schools. That’s why we need a dedicated tax – a lockbox – to fund this program.

Pre-kindergarten is a win-win plan for everyone. It gives all children a better start with a chance at a better future. It gives parents the support they deserve to further contribute to the city’s vibrant economy.  And, most importantly, it provides New Yorkers with a bright future.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm is chair of the NYC Council Education Committee. He was elected to the New York City Council in 2009 and represents District 25 (Jackson Heights & Elmhurst).

 

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Melissa Mark-Viverito elected as next City Council Speaker


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYC City Council Flickr/Official NYC Council Photo by William Alatriste

Melissa Mark-Viverito was unanimously elected as the next City Council Speaker Wednesday by the 51-member body, becoming the second most powerful politician in the city and the first Latin-American to take the spot.

“We will work together, because that is what New Yorkers expect and that is what New Yorkers deserve,” she said. “We unite for a more equal and just New York.”

The two-term East Harlem councilmember first declared victory on Dec. 19 after receiving support from 30 council colleagues — more than the 26-majority vote needed.  Reports later surfaced that city officials wanted a unified backing behind Mark-Viverito.

Shortly before the Jan. 8 vote, her opponent, Daniel Garodnick, conceded and sealed Mark-Viverito’s win with a hug in the City Council chamber, followed by cheers from their fellow councilmembers.

“In the spirit of strengthening the council, which animated my candidacy from the start, I now formally concede to the next Speaker of the City Council – my colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito,” Garodnick said. “I look forward to working with [her] … She is a smart and committed public servant, and we have worked extremely well together in the past.”

Garodnick also vowed to do his part to “resolve any rifts” the process may have caused among colleagues.

Mark-Viverito is also the first Puerto Rican woman and the first member of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus to take the Speaker spot.

Several Queens councilmembers supported Mark-Viverito from her December announcement, including Daniel Dromm, Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich and Jimmy Van Bramer.

They confirmed their support at the Jan. 8 vote, along with the remaining Queens delegation.

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras called Mark-Viverito a “passionate advocate for reform” to “bring transparency” to city government.

“We owe it to the people to elect a strong and principled woman,” she said.

Mark-Viverito said the vision for the “new City Council” is one of “unity, independence, integrity, transparency and accountability.”

Her agenda includes fighting for affordable housing, improving the city’s education system, raising the minimum wage and uniting for the city’s first responders.

“This council will be unified,” she said.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito says she has support to become next City Council speaker


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYC City Council Flickr/Official NYC Council Photo by William Alatriste

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito is claiming she will have enough votes in the City Council to become its next speaker.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, Mark-Viverito, who represents District 8, said she has the backing of 30 councilmembers and councilmembers-elect, including Queens members Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich and Jimmy Van Bramer.

“I am humbled to have the support and confidence that my colleagues have placed in me. Today is the culmination of over two decades of my work at the grassroots, in non-profit organizations, in labor and as a public servant. I know that my fellow members will work with me in the City Council to create more inclusive legislative body where every member’s voice is heard and validated,” Mark-Viverito said.

She will only need the support of 26 members, when the vote for speaker takes place on Jan. 8.

Mark-Viverito received the backing she needed when Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio convinced Brooklyn Democratic Chair Frank Seddio to support her, according to published reports.

But her remaining opponent, Councilmember Dan Garodnick, isn’t giving up, and called her statement “premature,” reported Politicker.

The Queens councilmembers issued the following statements in support of Mark-Viverito:

Daniel Dromm
“I am proud to have been one of NYC Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s earliest supporters. Having a bright, dynamic, independent and committed progressive as the leader of the Council is truly exciting. Mark-Viverito will continue to be a voice for the voiceless. Her connection to the people is her greatest strength. I congratulate her on her victory as the next Speaker of the NYC Council. This is a great day for New York City!”

Julissa Ferreras
“I’m proud to be helping to elect the first Latina Speaker of the New York City Council. Melissa is a friend and an impressive leader. I look forward to working with her to move our community forward, improve our schools, create good jobs and improve green spaces. Today is a great day for all New Yorkers.”

Daneek Miller
“I know and am thrilled with Melissa Mark-Viverito as our speaker and lead voice. We share common interests I know the council will move forward with a progressive voice.”

Donovan Richards
“Melissa Mark-Viverito has been a staunch advocate for the families of Southeast Queens and New York City for decades,” said Council member Donovan Richards. “Whether it was fighting for progressive issues such as paid sick leave days or reforming stop & frisk, she has continuously been on the front lines for our communities. This is why I stand with her in support of her candidacy to become the speaker of the New York City Council.”

Eric Ulrich
“I want to congratulate my colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito on winning a hard-fought race for Speaker of the City Council. I am happy to be part of a diverse coalition of councilmembers and look forward to working with them in a bipartisan fashion on behalf of the working and middle class families in my district and throughout the five boroughs.”

Jimmy Van Bramer
“I am enormously proud to vote for a progressive and the first Latina to lead our great body. I am equally proud to elect a woman, who as Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, a body I have stood with since day one, has dedicated her life to ending injustice in all its forms including discrimination and violence against the LGBT community. The unending struggle for a more just city continues, and working together with Mayor-Elect de Blasio, I know our best days are ahead of us.”

 

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Op-ed: We cannot forget the Philippines


| oped@queenscourier.com

STATE SENATOR TOBY ANN STAVISKY

Just over a month ago, the strongest storm ever recorded crashed into the coast of the Philippines. Wreaking devastation over large swaths of Southeast Asia, Typhoon Haiyan has affected over 12 million people in the region and claimed thousands of lives. Even today, the death toll continues to rise. At press time, the latest count was over 6,000 casualties.

It sometimes can be difficult to fathom the magnitude of a storm’s destruction and damage from half a world away. When the victims do not share our common traditions, history or culture, we may feel only remotely affected but that does not diminish the need to help others.

I and many of my Filipino constituents have seen this growing apathy towards the storm’s aftermath, evident in waning press coverage and conversation about the disaster. Our feelings were confirmed by a recent Pew poll which found more Americans were following news about the healthcare rollout than the aftermath of Haiyan. Fundraising numbers also corroborate this—one week after the typhoon hit, Americans raised about $33 million for relief efforts compared to $300 million in the immediate wake of Haiti earthquake in 2010.

So let us be clear—the disastrous denouement of Typhoon Haiyan was total and utter destruction for millions.

New York had a very small taste of the damage that natural disasters can bring when Hurricane Sandy struck our shores just over a year ago. Our friends and family in Staten Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island watched as their cherished homes and livelihoods were swept away by the storm surge. And as New Yorkers, we responded and rallied around our neighbors.

I urge the people of Queens to see the victims of Typhoon Haiyan just as they saw and were moved to action by the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I urge you to treat them as your friends, your family, your neighbors.

Which for many residents of the 16th Senate District, is true. According to a recent Asian American Federation analysis, Filipinos make up the fourth-largest Asian group in New York City, with most Filipinos living in Queens. The 16th Senate District alone is home to more than 10,000 Filipinos who mostly live in Elmhurst and Woodside, more than any other district in the state.

Last week, my colleagues Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and I joined many Queens-based Filipino groups to observe the one-month anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan at a candlelight vigil and to review fundraising progress.

I was proud to stand with them that night and I pledge to stand with them until the rebuilding effort in the Philippines is finished. I hope you will join us.

Contributions can be made to the American Red Cross specifically to support Philippine typhoon relief at www.redcross.org. Various Filipino such as organizations Gawad Kalinga are also accepting donations and are able to deliver services with very low overhead costs.

If you are unsure if a non-profit is reputable, you should check their rating on Charity Navigator.

Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate and the first woman to Chair the Senate Committee on Higher Education. She currently represents the 16th Senate District.

 

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Bill would allow noncitizen residents to vote in municipal NYC elections


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File photo

New York may become the first major city in the country to allow noncitizen residents to vote in municipal elections.

At a joint hearing on Thursday, May 9, the City Council’s committees on immigration and on government relations considered new voting legislation. It would allow immigrants who have been legally in New York for six months under designations including green cards and student visas to vote in mayoral, city council and other local elections.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Immigration Committee Chair Daniel Dromm along with 34 of the 51 councilmembers. Dromm noted that this level of support would make the bill immune to mayoral veto.

“I feel this is important because it will really empower a community like mine,” said Dromm. “I feel that it is wrong to deny the people the right to participate in the community they live in.”

The next step for the bill is to go to the floor of the whole City Council for a vote by the end of the year.

“We have the votes, so it’s a good chance that this will happen,” said Dromm. “We’re not going to give up, no matter what happens. This will change politics in New York City forever. By bringing more people in, it would shift the priorities.”

The bill is coming under fire for the six-month time requirement.

According to Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., that is not long enough for someone to be allowed to vote in elections affecting the community.

“The current proposal has a ridiculously low time period to be in this country to even consider someone for voting,” said Vallone. “Six months is basically someone on a student visa. That doesn’t indicate any desire to spend the rest of their lives here.”

Call for gun control as Corona murder remains unsolved


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Debra Greene received a call at work last April that changed her life forever. Her oldest son, Theodore Malcolm Greene, had been shot on his way home by an unknown perpetrator and by the time she reached the hospital, Theodore was gone.

One year later, there are still no answers for this grieving mother who said all she wants is closure and justice.

“It’s not easy, there’s no closure,” said Greene. “I fight with anger all the time. Someone had to have seen something.”

The 26-year-old victim had been coming back from celebrating a friend’s birthday in Manhattan when he was approached at approximately 5 a.m. and shot 21 times in front of 98-25 Horace Harding Expressway in LeFrak City on Friday, April 20.

Greene said all she knows is that there had been a fight at the club that night, but that through surveillance videos, police noted her son was not a part of the quarrel.

“None of this makes sense to me,” said Greene. “I would like to know, I would like justice.”

Now, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and Senator Jose Peralta have come together to urge local residents to speak up and help solve this murder. An additional $2,000 has been pledged to the initial $22,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.

“A killer is free in New York City and we don’t know who that is,” said Dromm. “By increasing the reward amount, we are sending a strong message that we are not giving up on our search.”

Peralta said the community needs to denounce gun violence loudly and help save another similar incident from happening.

“Guns are a plague in some Queens communities,” said Peralta. “I will continue my fight to get them off of our streets and to put violent criminals in jail.”

Dromm also addressed the recent vote in Congress surrounding gun control.

“It’s a total disgrace,” he said. “We have to, as Americans, realize that gun violence affects our communities, affects families, affects mothers. When a mother loses a child, their life is never the same again.”

Along with lending his support in helping solve the LeFrak City murder, Peralta emphasized the need to pass firearm microstamping, which would allow guns and ammunition to become easier to track with markings on shell casings left behind at crime scenes. This method, Peralta believes, could have already helped solve Theodore’s murder.

“It will take all of us working together as neighbors and friends to bring peace to the lives of the family of Theodore Greene and at least some comfort,” said Peralta. “These bullet cases could be the difference between finding the killer and not.”

In the meantime, Greene passes the site where her son was cut down every day.

Some days, she said, are better than others. But some days, reality hits and she remembers her “smart boy” who had plans for a future.

Officials are asking anyone with information on this incident to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS.

 

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Online dating dangers highlighted after murders of two gay men


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilmember Daniel Dromm’s Office

Two similar murders of gay men within the last few weeks have highlighted the dangers of online dating, particularly in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, the New York Anti-Violence Project and other community leaders are now stressing safety to make sure that people get to know someone a little bit better before inviting them home, especially if they meet on the Internet.

“Online, things might appear better than they really are,” said Dromm. “But you don’t really know someone until you meet in person.”

According to police and published reports, a recent murder victim, David Rangel, a 53-year-old public school teacher who was found strangled under the couch of his Jackson Heights home on January 27, may have met his killer online.

On February 9,  Joseph Benzinger, a 54-year-old gay man from Middle Village, was found dead lying on the floor of an Elmhurst hotel, also strangled, with a shirt wrapped around his neck.

Last week, Benzinger’s alleged killer, a 23-year-old Manhattan man, Lleuyel Garcia, was arrested and charged with robbery in addition to murder. Authorities believe that Benzinger and Garcia may have had a prior sexual relationship, but it wasn’t clear if they met online.

In both cases there were no signs of forced entry.

Though police don’t believe that the two murders are connected, their circumstances are enough to cause concern for some.

“These recent tragic incidents show us that this is the time for our community to join together to recognize that we not only deserve safety, but that we can create it,” said Ejeris Dixon, deputy director in charge of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

According to Dromm, the Anti-Violence project has seen an uptick in LGBT dating violence.

“A lot of it comes from having hooked up with people online,” he said.

With the uptick in mind, Dromm felt it was important to make the LGBT community, as well as others, aware of online dating risks and how they can minimize them.

If you do decide to meet up with someone you were introduced to online, said Dromm, meet in a public place.

“Go to your favorite café and make sure the waiter sees who you are with. If you meet someone in a bar, let the bartender know who the person is,” he said. “Go to your favorite café and make sure the waiter sees who you are with.

“Nobody is ever 100 percent safe,” said Dromm. “But [these tips] can discourage somebody from taking advantage of another person.”

 

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Arrest in Queens Boulevard motel murder


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Authorities have arrested the person allegedly responsible for the murder of a Middle Village man found dead inside a Queens Boulevard motel last weekend, said police.

Lleuyel Garcia, 23, of Manhattan, has been charged with second degree murder in the death of 54-year-old Joseph Benzinger, as well as criminal possession of stolen property and tampering with physical evidence.

According to the NYPD, at 11:50 p.m., Saturday, February 9, Benzinger was found dead on the floor of a room at the Crown Motor Inn at 74-01 Queens Boulevard.

The Daily News reported that cleaning staff at the $45 per-hour Elmhurst motel discovered Benzinger in the room with a shirt wrapped around his neck.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm along with community leaders, held a press conference Tuesday, believing that the motel murder and other recent killings of gay men may be connected. But NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told WCBS 880 that they do not appear to be related.

“”Despite the arrest, it is vitally important that we continue to remain vigilant. The other murders committed against gay men remain unsolved but I am hopeful that the NYPD will capture the perpetrators,” Dromm said Thursday. “Again, I want to urge everyone that it is always important to practice safety whether meeting people online or in person.”

 

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Queens celebrates Winter Pride


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Hundreds gathered at the Astoria World Manor to fete distinguished guests at the Queens Pride Committee’s 20th annual Winter Pride event.

The January 26 gala, which honored Congressmember Grace Meng, Dr. Marjorie Hill and Out Astoria, raised funds to support the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade and Multi-Cultural Festival as well as a film series and other events aimed at increasing the visibility of the LGBT community in Queens.

Public figures in attendance included City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, and councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer and Daniel Dromm, who founded the Queens Pride Committee two decades ago.

“Twenty years of Winter Pride celebrations in Queens have helped to build a strong lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement in the borough,” said Dromm. “When I first started this celebration only one or two elected officials attended. Now it has become the most important ‘political’ non-political event.”

 

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What City Council members wish for their constituents in 2013


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

2013

The Queens Courier asked the City Council what they wish for their constituents in 2013. Here are some of the responses:

Speaker Christine Quinn: To help New Yorkers still reeling from Sandy recover fully and quickly, & rebuild New York City to protect New Yorkers from the impact of climate change.

Daniel Dromm: To see comprehensive immigration reform including the Uniting American Families Act (for families headed by same sex couples) and the Dream Act passed by Congress in 2013.

Mark Weprin: My New Year’s wish for my constituents is that a bipartisan spirit will appear in Washington, leading to fiscal sanity and sensible gun laws.

James Gennaro: They should have good health, the comfort and peace of a strong faith, abiding happiness, freedom from want and love and compassion for others.

Jimmy Van Bramer: I wish for my constituents a healthy and happy year full of joy and with far fewer tragedies. I want more understanding and appreciation of our uniqueness as people, a safer world at home and abroad.

Peter Vallone Jr.: I hope for the Queensboro Bridge back, and I hope other boroughs keep their hands off of our stuff.

Eric Ulrich: Health, happiness, and prosperity in the new year and a return to normalcy for those affected by Sandy.

Karen Koslowitz: I wish all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I am hoping that the year 2013 brings new opportunities, friendships and successes for all.

Dan Halloran: I wish my constituents a New Year full of peace, prosperity and a renewed sense of pride in our neighborhoods, as we continue to preserve our community’s character.

Leroy Comrie: I hope that we have a healthy, happy, prosperous, and protective new year. Also that people stay charitable, that we can continue to look out for each other and be supportive of those in need.

 

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Dromm, DRUM lead rally after Bangladesh factory fire


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

With his handheld camcorder, Gulam Sarwar Harum swept through the chanting crowd, capturing their faces and voices as they bellowed for the workers who perished in a fire in a Bangladesh factory.

“Workers’ rights and human rights! Workers’ rights and human rights!” they yelled, waving homemade signs etched with English and Bengali cries for justice.

“We feel that they are a part of us,” said Sarwar Harum, a member of advocacy group Desis Rising up and Moving (DRUM). “We have to speak on behalf of them.”

South Asian immigrant workers, representatives of DRUM and Councilmember Daniel Dromm rallied at the Jackson Heights Plaza to demand corporate accountability among major American companies that subcontract product assembly to workers overseas. Tensions peaked several weeks ago after a fire in a Bangladesh garment factory that yields merchandise for retailers like Walmart, Sears and Disney claimed 114 lives.

“Workers lost their lives for profit so some organization could make money,” said Fahd Ahmed, DRUM’s Legal and Policy Director at the gathering on Thursday, December 6.

Speakers called for an independent and transparent investigation into the cause of the fire as well as full and fair compensation to workers who were injured and reparations made to the families of the deceased. The group hopes other American brands will become aware of the dangers of unethically sourced goods — and that the human toll is far greater than the money saved by the companies.

Dromm, whose district contains a large Bangladeshi population, believes it’s important for issues abroad to impact stateside, as the corporations involved are based in the United States.

“It’s an American company that really is at fault for this fire,” said Dromm. “It’s the corporate greed of a company like Walmart that allows substandard-type conditions to exist in those companies that they contract out to.”

According to Dromm, the factory, which made girls’ shorts, could have provided better conditions for their workers if brands were willing to raise the price of their items by just a small amount — allowing employees to operate in healthier, safer environments and earn more than the average Bangladeshi salary of $37 a month. Dromm said the retailer’s desire to remain competitive among their price bracket rather than use ethical methods to source their merchandise was “unconscionable” and the reason Walmart and companies like it will struggle to establish stores in New York City.

“Walmart will never get into New York City,” said Dromm. “I will fight them to the very end.”

Cops nab suspect in sex assault of 2 Queens girls


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Police nabbed a Brooklyn man for the alleged sexual assault of two young girls in their Queens apartment building.

On November 12, around 7:10 p.m., the suspect entered a Jackson Heights apartment building and went into the laundry room, said police, where he sexually assaulted two girls, aged 4 and 9.

Mario Lopez, 52, was arrested and charged with sex abuse and endangering the welfare of a child among other charges.

The area’s councilmember, Daniel Dromm, planned to hand out leaflets with a photo of the suspect today to raise awareness of the incident.

“We will not tolerate a crime of this nature in our community,” said Dromm.

Quinn announces free legal services for immigrants


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Starting October 1, 30 locations throughout the five boroughs will offer free legal services for immigrants.

“Thousands of immigrants who contribute to our economy, our culture, our city are often unable to pursue full citizenship because of prohibitive legal costs,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who announced the services  Monday.

Quinn, who was joined by Council Committee on Immigration Chair Daniel Dromm and Committee on Finance Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., said that the confidential, quality counseling will help those applying for green cards, deferred action and U.S. citizenship, and with other legal services.

The City Council secured $600,000 in funding for the program and has partnered with CUNY Citizenship Now!, which already provides free legal services for immigrants at six full-time centers and one part-time.

The program that launches next month will offer weekly or monthly access to lawyers at Council district offices over the next year.

“By placing attorneys in Council district offices where the need for reliable legal services are most needed, Citizenship Now! will have a tremendous impact on our immigrant communities.  These services are desperately needed and CUNY Citizenship Now! is extremely well equipped to provide them,” said Dromm.

Seven offices in Queens will have weekly free services, including Dromm’s  Jackson Heights office, and two will have them monthly.

Queens Council district offices with weekly services:

James F. Gennaro
185-10 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows, 718-217-4969

Daniel Dromm
37-32 75th Street, Jackson Heights, 718-803-6373

Ruben Wills
95-26 Sutphin Boulevard, Jamaica, 718-206-2068

Julissa Ferreras
32-33A Junction Boulevard, East Elmhurst, 718-651-1917

Leroy Comrie
113-43 Farmers Boulevard, Albans, 718-776-3700

Eric Ulrich
93-06 101st Avenue, Ozone Park, 718-738-1083

Peter Koo
135-27 38 Avenue, Suite 388, Flushing, 718-888-8747

Queens Council district offices with monthly services:

Daniel J. Halloran
166-08 24th Road, Whitestone, 718-631-6703

Karen Koslowitz
118-35 Queens Boulevard, 17th Floor, Forest Hills, 718-544-8800

 

For a full list of locations, visit www.council.nyc.gov/immigration.

 

Leaders, merchants reach deal on Jackson Heights plaza


| brennison@queenscourier.com

DSC_0182w

An agreement reached by store owners and local leaders aims to rid a year-old Jackson Heights plaza of vagrants and begin bringing business back.

A pedestrian plaza on 37th Road between 73rd Street and 74th Street, which consists of mostly South Asian businesses, opened in September 2011 to create a court for residents to walk, sit and relax, but local businesses said it instead drove customers away.

Stores complained the plaza was plagued with homelessness, drunkenness and crime, forcing some shops to close early.

To combat these problems a nonprofit partnership — Social Uplift Knowledge and Hopes Initiative (SUKHI) — was formed to take ownership of the plaza, make it a vibrant shopping area and deal with the issues that arose there.

“This plaza without amenities, safety measures, development and management would create problems, and that’s what we saw,” said Agha Saleh, founder of SUKHI.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm said it was not easy to reach this “historic day” at a Friday, August 10 press conference announcing the agreement.

“We have gone beyond any differences that we may have had in the past,” Dromm said. “We have established a relationship of trust.”

SUKHI — a Punjabi word meaning prosperity and happiness — was formed by husband and wife Saleh and Shazia Kausar, the group’s president.

Kausar said the partnership changed what was a nightmare into “a dream of prosperity.”

“If we don’t work together, we will lose everything,” said Kausar, who also owns a shop on the block.

DOE Fund workers are now cleaning the plaza thrice daily and security cameras are being installed.

Events are also planned for the plaza including an Eid Bazar and Chand Raat Festival that will take place from August 16 through August 20.

“The object of this plaza is to promote this area, to bring more customers from outside,” said Mohammed Pier, president of the Bangladeshi Merchants Association.

Saleh said his dream for the plaza is a place where residents “can walk and talk and enjoy music every single night.”

“A small block, but very vibrant.”

More middle school seats coming to Jackson Heights


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Alex Florez

Students corralled in overcrowded classrooms may soon be able to stretch their legs while exercising their minds.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm and Borough President Helen Marshall celebrated breaking ground on I.S. 297Q — a new middle school, expected to open in the fall of 2014 in Jackson Heights — at a ceremony on Tuesday, August 7.

The school, which will house sixth through eighth grades, will add 400 seats to District 30 in an effort to alleviate severe crowding. The new four-story building will boast central air, 12 standard classrooms and administration offices, as well as a special education building and specialized accommodations for science, music, art and physical education courses.

Dromm, a former public school teacher for more than 25 years, emphasized the demand for adequately sized classes.

“Smaller class sizes allow teachers to cater to individual student needs,” said Dromm. “I.S. 297 and other new schools are a necessary investment in the future of our students and I will continue fighting to see more neighborhood schools in Jackson Heights.”

According to a spokesperson from Dromm’s office, 1,350 seats were added to district schools, including 600 elementary positions, when P.S. 280 opened in 2010. An additional 350 seats were created when a new wing was added to P.S. 13 in LeFrak City.

“We are thrilled with the additional classrooms because our middle schools are very overcrowded at this point in time,” said Jackson Heights Beautification Group President Ed Westley. “We need more but this is a welcomed start.”