Tag Archives: David Weprin

PHOTOS: Preview of new QNS.com website at Queens Museum party


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Corazon Aguirre

Businesspeople, elected officials and other movers and shakers from across Queens came to the Queens Museum Wednesday night to get a glimpse of QNS.com, the future Internet home of The Queens Courier, Ridgewood Times, LIC Magazine and BORO magazine.

The preview party allowed guests to mingle with one another and learn more about the new website, which will launch this summer. QNS.com will continue to provide the expansive news coverage of The Courier and its sister publications while also incorporating social media elements, enabling residents from Astoria to the Rockaways to interact with one another on a variety of levels.

Courier President and CEO Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Co-Publisher Joshua Schneps welcomed several notable guests to the preview party, including state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymen Ed Braunstein and David Weprin, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Deputy Queens Borough President Melva Miller and former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. Representatives of City Councilmen Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblyman Francisco Moya were also in attendance.

Following a reception, guests headed into the museum’s famous Panorama — a scale model of New York City — for a formal presentation on the new website. Stay tuned to find out the power of QNS.com.

In advance of the launch, Facebook users are invited to like the new website’s Facebook page.

 

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David Weprin won’t run for brother’s City Council seat


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

File photos

There won’t be another Weprin switcheroo at City Hall.

Assemblyman David Weprin ruled out a run last week for the City Council seat that his brother, Mark Weprin, will vacate soon in order to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs, according to a spokesperson for the assemblyman. David Weprin will instead seek re-election in 2016.

The Weprin brothers previously traded legislative seats. David Weprin occupied the 23rd City Council seat for eight years before making a failed run for city comptroller in 2009. Mark Weprin — then occupying the Assembly seat previously held by their late father, Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin — ran for and won his brother’s City Council seat.

After Mark Weprin stepped down from the Assembly to become city councilman, David Weprin won his brother’s and his father’s former Assembly seat in a 2010 special election.

Many observers believed David Weprin would jump at the chance of returning to City Hall after Mark Weprin announced his resignation from the City Council on May 11. According to the New York Observer, David Weprin told supporters on May 14 he would stay in Albany, noting that he was recently promoted to the Assembly’s leadership by current Speaker Carl Heastie.

“I’ve decided that I plan on running for re-election to the Assembly,” David Weprin was quoted in the Observer article. “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve accomplished so far in the Assembly. I think I have a lot more to do. I’ve developed a lot of seniority in a short time — a lot of people have left.”

Once Mark Weprin’s City Council resignation takes effect, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to call a special non-partisan election to be held within the following 60 days. Each candidate must obtain their own ballot line; political parties cannot nominate a candidate, but may make endorsements.

Former Assemblyman and Deputy Queens Borough President Barry Grodenchik already confirmed his interest in the race. Other potential candidates include Dominic Panakal, chief-of-staff to Councilman Rory Lancman; attorney Ali Najmi; and former City Council candidates Bob Friedrich and Steven Behar.

The 23rd Council seat covers all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Hollis Park Gardens, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.

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Councilman Weprin to leave seat for Cuomo administration


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/file photo

Updated Tuesday, May 12, 12:35 p.m.

Councilman Mark Weprin gave his two weeks’ notice to the people of his district Monday, as he announced his departure from the City Council to take a job with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Weprin, 53, who has served in the 23rd Council District seat since 2010, is poised to become Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs. He didn’t set a specific date when he would leave office, but in a statement, Weprin indicated his resignation would take effect “within the next two weeks.”

Prior to his City Council election, Weprin served for 15 years in the state Assembly, holding the seat previously held by his late father, former Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin. Mark Weprin was elected to the City Council seat in 2009 to succeed his brother, David, who made an unsuccessful run for City Comptroller.

David Weprin then won a special election in 2010 for his brother’s and father’s former Assembly seat.

“It has been an honor to represent eastern Queens as an elected official for 21 years,” Mark Weprin said in a statement Monday morning. “It has been my privilege to serve the people and families of my neighborhood. I am proud to have helped the communities I have represented to continue to be wonderful places to live, work and raise a family.”

At the start of his second City Council term, Mark Weprin was elected in January 2014 as chair of the City Council’s Queens delegation. He was also named chair of the Zoning and Franchises Committee and serves on the Land Use, Education, Economic Development, Oversight and Investigations, and Technology committees.

As deputy secretary for legislative affairs, Mark Weprin will reportedly serve as a liaison between Cuomo and leaders of the Assembly and state Senate on various matters.

“I have known Governor Cuomo for most of my life, and he is a leader of incredible talent,” Weprin added. “I look forward to this next step in my public career.”

Once the councilman’s resignation takes effect, the mayor must call for a non-partisan special election to be held within 60 days. Each candidate must secure their own party line; the established political parties cannot nominate a candidate of their own, but they may make an endorsement.

The 23rd Council District includes all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Hollis Park Gardens, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.

As for who may replace Weprin in the City Council, one contender has already emerged — former Assemblyman and Deputy Queens Borough President Barry Grodenchik. He confirmed his interest in running for the seat in a phone interview with The Courier on Tuesday.

Other potential contenders, as reported in the New York Observer, include Dominic Panakal, chief-of-staff to Councilman Rory Lancman; local attorney Ali Najmi; civic activist and former City Council candidate Bob Friedrich; and former City Council and Assembly candidate Steve Behar.

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Briarwood station name shortened


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Assemblyman David Weprin

What’s in a name? A lot, according to the MTA and local subway riders.

The subway station formerly dubbed “Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard” will now simply be known as “Briarwood” after a name change on Friday. State Senator Tony Avella, Assemblyman David Weprin and Briarwood Community Association President Seymour Schwartz unveiled the renaming outside the station, which is located near the Briarwood library at the intersection of Main Street and Queens Boulevard.

The original name of the station came from its proximity to Van Wyck Boulevard, a thoroughfare later widened and converted into the Van Wyck Expressway. Residents have long campaigned to have the name changed to avoid confusion for newcomers finding their way around the community.

“It took us 14 years, but we did it, and the initiative taken on our behalf by our representatives, Assemblyman David Weprin and state Senator Tony Avella, helped us to reach this terminal goal,” said Schwartz.

“It is about time that the name of this neighborhood’s only train station reflects the people who live here, not a street that once ran through the area,” Avella said.

The station is served by the E and F subway lines and is adjacent to the Van Wyck Expressway, a major thoroughfare running from JFK Airport to Northern Boulevard.

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Op-ed: Reintroduction of a non-resident commuter payroll tax makes no sense


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY LARRY PENNER

New York State Assemblyman David Weprin’s bill for reintroduction of a non-resident commuter tax is an old, recycled idea periodically proposed by many others, missing the potential economic consequences that might occur after implementing it.

In today’s global economy, boundaries that end at the city line between NYC and the surrounding suburbs mean very little. We are all neighbors and thankfully there has never been a Berlin Wall between us. The United States is in economic competition against other nations. Within the USA, residents of the northeastern states compete against other state coalitions based in other regions. Our metropolitan New York area comprising NYC, Long Island, northeast New Jersey, Hudson Valley and parts of southwestern Connecticut are in competition against other metropolitan areas around the nation and world. I work in NYC. My wife and I travel around the five boroughs enjoying shopping, dining, going to the movies, visiting museums and taking advantage of the diverse neighborhoods.

Each weekday, several hundred thousand Long Island and other suburban residents travel to jobs in NYC — the economic engine of our metropolitan region. Many others enjoy sporting events, the theater, museums, restaurants and shopping. A growing number of NYC residents have become reverse commuters to jobs in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties along with New Jersey and Connecticut. Other NYC residents attend sporting events, shop, dine and visit other places on Long Island. It is naive to believe that NYC can survive economically in today’s ever-changing global economy without Long Island and the rest of metropolitan New York. The suburbs around the Big Apple are equally dependent on the success of NYC.

Residents of Long Island and NYC in the end have much in common. We should work together as neighbors and not adversaries. Reintroduction of a commuter tax on one set of non-residents could trigger an economic tariff war among neighbors. With the financial crises on Wall Street followed by our economic recession several years ago, thousands of commuters residing outside of NYC lost their jobs. These jobs have never come back. Between the downsizing of many Wall Street firms along with conversion of many offices and older buildings in the financial district into residential units, these loss of jobs have become permanent. As a result, the reintroduction of any non-resident commuter tax will not bring in the same level of revenue as was the case during the 1990s when it was last in place. It could result in a retaliatory commuter tax by Nassau County, other impacted suburban counties or neighboring states on NYC residents. At the end of the day, everyone could lose with implementation of any non-NYC resident commuter tax.

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Bill proposed in honor of Baruch student who died in frat hazing ritual


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy New York Daily News

Following the fraternity hazing death of a 19-year-old Queens man, a local politician is proposing a law that could prevent a similar tragedy.

Assemblymember David Weprin introduced a bill on Sunday, known as Michael Deng’s law, that would ban all physical conduct and activities by fraternities during initiation or affiliation ceremonies. Anyone who takes part in these activities would be guilty of hazing in the first degree, according to Weprin.

The bill honors Baruch College freshman Chun “Michael” Deng. The teen, who was from Oakland Gardens, died from head injuries during an unsanctioned Pi Delta Psi event in Pennsylvania in December, according to authorities and the fraternity’s National Executive President Andy Meng.

Deng was reportedly one of several pledges on the trip who was forced to wear weighted bags and navigate a path through a yard, while being repeatedly knocked to the ground.

Earlier this month, his death was ruled a homicide.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Officials tweak contentious T Building plan


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A controversial plan to turn the historic T Building into housing for mental and chronic health patients has slightly changed, but it is still on the table, The Courier has learned.

In late 2012, Queens Hospital Center (QHC) was in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to develop the dilapidated 10-story building on its Hillcrest campus into 251 units of affordable housing for people with low-income and chronic health conditions.

Residents would include veterans and people suffering from psychiatric diagnoses or a range of illnesses, from diabetes to AIDS.

The bid was met with fierce opposition from a coalition of civic leaders and elected officials, who said the “questionable population” could put children at nearby schools in danger.

Now a new version of the project is being bandied about, said sources close to the hospital and confirmed by local leaders.

Hospital officials hope to compromise and house fewer patients than originally proposed. The number is still up in the air, but a source said there would still be more than 100 patients.

“The plan keeps changing, but never actually gets formally introduced,” said Councilmember Rory Lancman, who learned of the new concept last week. “I don’t know if this idea will gel into a plan more than the last one.”

Several proposals are on the table, said Celia Dosamantes, a spokesperson for Assemblymember David Weprin, though the Comunilife plan is still front and center.

“There is room for discussion, which is good news,” she said.

Last month, Community Board 8 approved a resolution to demolish the T Building after a request from State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblymember Nily Rozic.

“This building is in serious disrepair,” Avella said, adding that it costs the hospital $2 million a year to maintain. “Money that is going into that building is taking away from patient care. That building should come down.”

But Queens preservationists are appealing to the city and state to save and landmark the former tuberculosis clinic.

“This hospital is part of a great war against disease, poverty and hardship,” Queens Preservation Council Chair Mitchell Grubler said.

The next step for the site heavily depends on money.

Funds for the multi-million dollar housing unit have not been secured yet, sources said, and it was unclear how much it would cost to dismantle.

“It’s hard to distinguish between a plan and merely an idea that isn’t going anywhere,” Lancman said. “Last time, there was all smoke and noise and nothing ever came of it.”

Queens Hospital Center spokesperson Cleon Edwards said officials are still working to find a resolution that “seeks to balance concerns” of the community with the hospital’s “obligation to provide high quality healthcare services to its patients.”

Comunilife did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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Op-ed: Prohibit the installation of tolls


| oped@queenscourier.com

 STATE SENATOR TONY AVELLA

Once again, congestion pricing plans, which include the imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, have been circulating throughout the city.  Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg first began to push his own congestion pricing plan in 2008, I have been vehemently against congestion pricing in any form whether it is through charging drivers a fee to enter Manhattan or through the implementation of tolls on the East River bridges.  Congestion pricing in any form is nothing more than an undue tax on working and middle class families and small businesses. That is why I recently held a press conference with Assemblymember David Weprin, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Queens Civic Congress, announcing legislation I will be introducing in the State Senate that would prohibit the installation of tolls on any bridges controlled and operated by the City of New York, which include the East River bridges.

The imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, including the Willis Avenue, Third Avenue, Queensborough, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, is not a revenue-generating option that the residents of this city should be forced to endure.  Such tolls would place an unfair burden upon Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan residents who would be forced to pay to travel between the boroughs.  Given the always increasing cost of living in the city and with constant bus and subways fare hikes, city residents are in no position to again face another huge increase in their daily living expenses.

Penalizing businesses, especially small businesses, and individuals for using their cars is not a viable option or solution for reducing traffic.  New Yorkers still need to get to work and conduct business and raising taxes should never be the first option.  It would have a devastating effect on those families near or at the poverty level.  Everyone agrees that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit.

A popular plan being circulated by an organization called Move NY, led by former Transportation Commissioner Sam Schwartz, would charge all drivers that enter Manhattan by crossing either the East River or 60th Street a toll, while drivers on bridges linking the other boroughs, would see their tolls go down.  According to Move NY, this would lead to more funds dedicated to transportation in the region, with the majority of it going to improved transit service.

In a perfect world, this plan could work.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in the real world, where the next fiscal crisis could be just around the corner.  What happens to this plan then?  What happens when the legislature raids the funds dedicated to transportation, which has happened time and again? How can this plan guarantee that the tolls for the outer borough bridges don’t go up again, when more funds are needed?  As the saying goes, there are only two guarantees in life-death and taxes.

In the end, congestion pricing and any plan to impose tolls on the East River bridges is merely another revenue generating plan, not a traffic-reducing plan.  It should be the responsibility of the leaders of the city to find ways of decreasing traffic congestion without placing a new fiscal burden upon those who can least afford it.

Avella represents the 11th Senate District

 

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Queens legislators balk at plans to toll East River bridges


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A plan to reduce five Queens bridge fares by nearly half is not worth tolling free city crossings, some borough lawmakers say.

Under a proposal by transportation coalition, Move NY, drivers in the cash lane would have to pay $7.50 one way and $15 round trip to travel across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Ed Koch Queensboro bridges. 

It would also cost the same amount to cross 60th Street in Manhattan, north and southbound.

As a trade-off, E-ZPass tolls on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial bridges would be lowered by 47 percent. Cash fares on those bridges would go down by 33 percent.

“We toll nearly every single crossing between every borough in the five boroughs of New York City already, yet we’re giving over half a million folks a free ride,” said Move NY Director Alex Matthiessen. “It’s not fair to transit riders and certainly not fair to other drivers, who are paying through the nose in tolls.”

The electronic tolling plan, which would require no booths, would raise $1.5 billion in net revenue toward improving the state’s mass transit infrastructure, create 35,000 new jobs and restore bus service cut in 2010, Matthiessen said.

Motorists paying cash would be billed by mail, easing gridlock by dispersing traffic throughout the city, according to Matthiessen and Kendra Hems, president of the New York State Motor Truck Association.

But some Queens legislators balked at the idea.

“I am skeptical about tolling the free bridges because once the free bridges are tolled and the infrastructure is in place, we all know from experience that it would be very hard to reverse that,” said Assemblymember David Weprin.

The plan also failed to get support from Councilmember Eric Ulrich and State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who have been fighting to eliminate the $3.75 cash toll residents have to pay on the Cross Bay Bridge to enter the Rockaways.

“Imposing tolls on motorists on bridges that are currently free is not the right way to go,” Ulrich said. “The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s not ‘take this or that.’”

While the Cross Bay Bridge toll has been a “major thorn” in the community’s side, Addabbo said the swap is not enough.

“At this point, cutting it in half would ease the pain by half,” he said. “It would still be half the pain.”

It also costs residents on the peninsula the same amount to get into Brooklyn on the Gil Hodges.

State Senator Tony Avella said the rates, while discounted in the first year, would only increase annually. He plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit tolls on East River bridges.

“The two things for sure in this world are death and taxes,” he said.

Move NY is led by Sam Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner. The ambitious tolling plan is in its drafting stage, officials said, and still requires public input.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have tolls at all,” Hems said. “But, unfortunately, we do and we have this inequity right now.”

THE COURIER/File photo by Walter Karling

 

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Pols and Sikh Cultural Society respond to alleged Sikh hate crime


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Just days after a Sikh professor at Columbia University was brutally attacked, the Sikh community and elected officials gathered in Richmond Hill to speak out against what is being investigated as a hate crime.

Dr. Prabhjot Singh was walking through Harlem on Saturday, September 21 when more than a dozen attackers shouted slurs such as “Osama” and “terrorist” before grabbing Singh’s beard and beating him to the ground. He suffered a fractured jaw in the attack, according to a family friend.

“You are not suffering alone,” said Assemblymember David Weprin outside the Sikh Cultural Society. “Hate crimes against any group of people are intolerable and preventable.”

Weprin stood alongside Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, City Councilmember and Public Advocate candidate Letitia James, City Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Mark Weprin and the Richmond Hill Sikh community, who all condemned the crime against Singh.

“We have to stand up each and every time there’s a biased attack,” de Blasio said.

He added the city should use “aggressive policing” against violent, biased crimes as well as utilize “every tool” to make sure these attacks don’t happen again. He specifically noted educating youth in schools about different religions.

Sona Rai, Singh’s friend and spokesperson, said that Singh is out of the hospital and already back at work. He now wants to give his attackers an opportunity to ask about his faith and his connection to the community, Rai said.

Rai, also a board member of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, added that the overwhelming support in response to Singh’s incident has given him a “renewed sense” of how important his work is.

“The best way to deal with hate crimes in the city of New York is to come together,” James said. “We must respond forcefully as one community. Our differences are really are greatest strengths.”

 

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Op-Ed: Election equality long overdue


| oped@queenscourier.com

STATE SENATOR TOBY ANN STAVISKY AND ASSEMBLYMEMBER DAVID WEPRIN

Last Friday, we joined many leaders of the South Asian community from across Queens to commend the Board of Elections for its plan to provide voter assistance in Bengali for the upcoming elections.

While we were heartened by the plan put forth by the Board of Elections, which would include translated ballots at 60 Queens polling sites and expanded language assistance, these necessary improvements to our election process are long overdue.

On October 13, 2011, the Census Bureau indicated that Queens County was required under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance to Bengali-speaking voters. Since then, four primary and general elections have come and gone and Bengali-speaking citizens, 60 percent of whom have limited English proficiency, have not been provided the assistance they deserve to fully participate in our democratic system.

To live in, to work in and to vote in Queens is to be a part of one of the most diverse communities in our state. This diversity must be reflected in our electoral process.

We have been assured that the Board of Elections will follow through with their plan to provide Bengali language assistance in the upcoming primary and general elections, critical contests that will decide the future of our city.

Also on the ballot this November will be six constitutional amendments, including casino gambling. An informed electorate is essential in determining how to vote and voters need to understand these proposed amendments.

We also urge the state legislature to reconsider our bill that directs the Queens Board of Elections to provide written language assistance in Punjabi in addition to the languages currently available.

We’re both so proud to represent such vibrant communities made up of voices from all over the world. Now it’s time to make sure those voices, no matter if they’re English-speaking, Bengali-speaking or otherwise, are fully heard this coming Election Day.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky represents District 16 and Assemblymember David Weprin represents the 24th Assembly District. 

 

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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.

 

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Weprin fined for comptroller campaign violations


| mchan@queenscourier.com

doc4cbef60961af74912417281-270x405

A state legislator was penalized thousands of dollars after the city determined his run for comptroller was fraught with violations.

According to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), Assemblymember David Weprin owes $28,184 in total penalties and $325,561 in public funds repayments for a dozen violations his failed election campaign for comptroller committed in 2009.

The offenses include accepting over-the-limit contributions and donations from corporations and unregistered political committees, the CFB said. The campaign also failed to file daily pre-election disclosure statements, did not provide bank statements and did not report or document transactions and credit card expenditures.

Weprin’s 2009 camp was fined close to $4,000 alone for making improper post-election expenditures and $100 for failing to demonstrate that spending was in furtherance of the campaign.

Jen Berkley, a spokesperson for the lawmaker, said the campaign entity and its funds no longer exist after more than three years have passed since the unsuccessful bid.

“This kind of came down to a very small amount of money, not that it shouldn’t be repaid if there is a proper entity to repay it. The issue here is that there is not,” she said. “It’s the downside to an investigation that takes close to four years. We’ll do whatever we can to accommodate and cooperate with the Campaign Finance Board.”

Weprin and his 2009 campaign treasurer are still jointly liable for settling the $28,184 debt for penalties, said CFB spokesperson Eric Friedman, even in the absence of a campaign committee.

The assemblymember will not have to repay the $325,561 in public funds out of pocket, Friedman said, but as long as he has a financial obligation to the CFB, he cannot receive public funds for another citywide election.

“We audit every campaign carefully,” Friedman said. “These are things we take very seriously, and that’s reflected in the results.”

Sikhs, Liu call for NYPD uniform reform


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

City Sikhs say they no longer want to be forced into choosing between their religion and a career as a police officer.

Comptroller John Liu along with the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs started a petition calling on the city and the NYPD to modify the policy prohibiting headdresses and requiring officers to keep their beards short.

Simmering for years, the issue returned to the forefront after six Sikhs were killed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August. Many Sikhs felt the shooting resulted from a lack of knowledge about the religion — a misunderstanding many say is furthered by the uniform requirements in the NYPD, effectively preventing followers from serving.

“Changing these policies would show that New York City deserves its reputation as a global capital of religious acceptance,” said Liu, who also sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg following the shooting requesting the policy change.

In August, an NYPD spokesperson said Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under their cap. Beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said.

A large majority of the city’s 30,000 to 40,000 Sikhs live in Queens.

“New York City, which is home to such great diversity, should be more considerate and open to those communities that have decided to make this city as their own,” Harpreet Singh Toor, chair of public and external affairs at the Sikh Cultural Society.

A policy change would not only benefit Sikhs, but any member of a religion that requires head coverings or beards.

The petition also points to the fact that other forces throughout the country permit religious garb while serving.

“Sikhs can and have served as police officers successfully all over the world,” said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. “The NYPD needs to understand that its ban on Sikh service is both wrong and illegal.”

A bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Weprin, was passed by the city council last year that required employers, including the NYPD, to “accommodate religious practice, unless doing so would create undue hardship.”

The bill did not require the department to make any changes, though litigation remains a possibility, Singh said.

Assemblymember David Weprin also introduced a bill in Albany that would address uniform agencies allowing individuals to wear their religious attire.

Sikhs dispute NYPD policy banning beards, turbans


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

With police protecting gurdwaras throughout the city, Sikh worshippers replete with beard and turban will find no officers who look like them.

Police policy prohibits headdresses, preventing many practicing Sikhs from joining the force. Officers in the NYPD must also keep their beards short.

“For this past decade, especially since 9/11, [Sikhs] have been the target of insults, of hate crimes of misunderstandings, of discrimination, even along official channels of government,” said City Comptroller John Liu, who called for the NYPD to amend its policy.

Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition, pointed to other police departments around the country that allow officers freedom to wear religious clothing.

“The idea that [Sikhs] can’t be police officers in the neighborhoods that they grew up in New York City is utterly ridiculous,” he said.

Close followers of Sikhism do not trim their hair; the religion also requires members to don a turban.

“Until we have a Sikh employed in the NYPD with a beard and turban, we will not be really understood,” said Harpreet Singh Toor, media consultant for the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill. “It makes us feel like we are less of an American than anyone else.”

Until recently, Sikhs who were MTA employees were required to wear the logo on their headdresses — a policy that ended in June. Soldiers in the U.S. Army have received individual exemptions to wear a turban while serving.

“It’s very important that government itself, particularly law enforcement, is not excluding our community if we’re even going to make a dent in this larger public perception that turban equals terrorist,” said Singh.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said approximately 19 Sikhs currently work for the police department, but for many who steadfastly practice the religion, that’s not an option, Liu said.

“Sikhs are forced to choose between a career and a religion,” he said.

An NYPD spokesperson said Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under the their cap. Beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said.

A bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Weprin, was passed by the city council last year that required employers, including the NYPD, to “accommodate religious practice, unless doing so would create undue hardship.”

The bill did not require the department to make any changes, though litigation remains a possibility, Singh said.

Weprin’s brother, Assemblymember David Weprin, also introduced a bill in Albany that would address uniform agencies allowing individuals to wear their religious attire.

Toor said he holds out hope that one day Sikhs will be able to serve and protect the mayor like he is protecting them.

“That’s the America we’re dreaming of,” he said.