Tag Archives: Jimmy Van Bramer

Sunnyside community calls for arrests in violent mugging of 81-year-old


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

A Sunnyside community is outraged and looking for justice after an 81-year-old legally blind man was brutally punched and robbed inside a bank during broad daylight.

On Oct. 26 at about 9:23 a.m., William Eichhorn was approached by two suspects after he withdrew money from an ATM at the Chase bank at 46-10 Queens Blvd. The suspects, described as two heavy-set black men in their 20s to 30s, “brutally punched” Eichhorn in the face and stole $100 in cash and a debit card before fleeing the scene, authorities said.

The surrounding community, Eichhorn’s family and local officials are now asking for the public’s help in identifying and catching the suspects.

“This community is united in making sure we catch these two vicious criminals and lock them behind bars because if they would dare to attack Mr. Eichhorn in broad daylight in this bank and knock him to the ground, in a crime that could have been much worse than it was, they would do this to anybody,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in front of the Chase bank after he helped the 108th Precinct hand out flyers with surveillance photos of the suspects.

According to police, surveillance footage shows the suspects following Eichhorn inside the bank that Sunday morning.

“I had a wonderful life here before this event and I hope to continue to have one in the future, and I hope we don’t have any more incidents like this,” said Eichhorn, who has frequented the bank without any issues in the past. 

Photos courtesy of NYPD

Photos courtesy of NYPD

According to family members, after Eichhorn was attacked, an unidentified “good Samaritan” heard his cries for help and came to his aid, calling 911 and escorting him to the precinct.

“What is important to note is that this is a racially diverse community, it’s a community that is just a community of good people that stand by one another and this is not something that normally happens here and the entire community is outraged,” said MaryAnn Gasparro, Eichhorn’s daughter.

Police are offering a reward of up to $2,000 for any information leading to the arrests of the suspects. Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime stoppers website or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

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Community rallies to find driver in Queens Boulevard hit-and-run


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

The Woodside community is looking for the driver involved in a hit-and-run on Queens Boulevard that has left one man clinging to life.

According to officials, on Thursday at about 1:35 a.m., the victim, who is still unidentified, was struck on the westbound center lane of Queens Boulevard and 60th Street by a dark-colored Ford SUV as he attempted to cross the thoroughfare. The driver fled the scene.

Currently the victim, described as a Hispanic male in his 20s or 30s, is in critical but stable condition at Elmhurst Hospital, authorities said.

Members of the surrounding Woodside neighborhood gathered on Friday at the intersection to call on the public to help identify the driver involved in the incident.

“The person that struck the young man and left him to die on this street should turn themselves in right away and face the consequences of his/her actions, because what this person did was leave a young man to die,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “It’s one of the worst things that one human being can do to another.”

 

Van Bramer’s Justice for Hit-and-Run Victims Act, created after the councilman’s district faced three fatal hit-and-runs last year, was signed into law on Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio. It allows the city to establish civil penalties of up to $10,000 to drivers who are found guilty of fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run. The bill will take effect starting Dec. 29.

Students of the Towers Play-N-Learn nursery school cross Queens Boulevard where a man was critically injured in a hit-and-run early Thursday morning.

Students of the Towers Play-N-Learn nursery school cross Queens Boulevard where a man was critically injured in a hit-and-run early Thursday morning.

“Accidents are horrible and terribly unfortunate,” said Jerry LoMonte, resident of the Big Six Towers co-op apartment buildings, located across the street from the collision site. “[Leaving] the scene of the accident is horrible and criminal, and we need to protect ourselves against that.”

Also present at the Friday morning rally was Elizabeth O’Hara, director of Towers Play-N-Learn nursery school, which is also located across the street of where the hit-and-run occurred. She was joined by six students holding signs that read “Please Slow Down, I have small feet,” and “Please stop at the crosswalk.”

DSC_0833

O’Hara asked drivers to slow down while driving on Queens Boulevard and to stop at the crosswalk before getting to the red light.

“At various times Queens Boulevard has been referred to as the Boulevard of Death but the truth is Queens Boulevard is surrounded by life,” Van Bramer said. “We have got to come to a place where this boulevard is no longer viewed as the Boulevard of Death but instead the Boulevard of Life.”

The hit-and-run investigation is still ongoing.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Local leaders, advocates call for public’s help to find fatal LIC hit-and-run driver


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Kumar Ragunath was on his way to start the second day at his new job at the Holiday Inn in Long Island City, but never made it.

The 64-year-old grandfather was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run on March 7 after being struck on Northern Boulevard and 40th Road. Police found Ragunath at 10:25 p.m. unconscious and unresponsive with severe head trauma and a broken leg. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital where he died the following day from his injuries.

Now, the Long Island City community is asking for the public’s help in finding the driver, who fled the scene in a dark colored Chevy Blazer.

“Kumar was a grandfather, he was a father, he left a family broken and grieving and that happens every 30 hours in this city,” said Juan Martinez, general counsel and legislative director of Transportation Alternatives.

Street safety advocates, elected officials and local leaders gathered Friday morning to call on the public to help track down the driver of the hit-and-run and also to emphasize the need of more speed and red light cameras on borough streets.

“We are here as a community to say never again and as we have pledged, every single time there is a serious injury and fatality to a pedestrian or cyclists we are going to speak out,” Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said. “We are determined people, determined to make every single street safe”

Last month, four people were hit by a driver while they were waiting for a bus on Northern Boulevard and 48th Street. In December, 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was fatally struck on his way to school at a Northern Boulevard intersection in Woodside.

“We need to change the laws,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, who introduced a bill in the Senate, which would charge drivers who continue to drive without a valid license and are in an accident that causes serious injury or death with vehicular assault. “We’re going to keep up the fight in the state legislature to make sure that New York City gets the attention it deserves, the safety it deserves.”

Van Bramer also added that Northern Boulevard is one of the deadliest roadways in Queens and he hopes it will be included as part of the first 50 thoroughfares to be focused on in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative.

“Northern Boulevard screams for inclusion in Vision Zero,” he said.

Earlier this week Borough President Melinda Katz announced that the Borough Board had approved a package of expense and capital budget priorities that it wants included in the city’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

One of the priorities is improving traffic and pedestrian safety in Queens through increasing the number of Slow Zones, installing more pedestrian countdown signals and speed cameras, and increasing police presence.

 

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Leadership roles go to Queens councilmembers who supported speaker


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Official NYC Council photo by William Alatriste

Several important leadership positions went to Queens representatives Wednesday who showed support for newly-elected City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito last month.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer retained his position as chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, but was named majority leader.

“It has always been my goal to play a meaningful leadership role in this new, Progressive Council. The opportunity to serve in the second highest position in the Council… is one I relish and am truly humbled by,” he said.

He was rumored to be in the running for Finance Chair along with another Queens elected, Julissa Ferreras, who got the appointment. She was previously Women’s Issues Chair.

“As the first woman and first person of color to ever chair the Council’s Finance Committee, I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to further serve the people of our great city,” she said.

Van Bramer and Ferreras were two of six Queens councilmembers to back Mark-Viverito for the speaker position in December, along with Daniel Dromm, Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards and Republican Eric Ulrich, in contrast to the wishes of their county’s Democratic and GOP leadership.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a former public school teacher, is now the Education Committee chair after previously heading the Immigration Committee.

Ulrich was appointed chair of the Veterans Committee, Miller chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee and Richards chair of the Environmental Protection Committee.

Additional chair positions went to Elizabeth Crowley, the Fire and Criminal Justice Services, Karen Koslowitz, the State and Federal Legislation Committee, Peter Koo, the Landmarks Public Siting and Maritime Uses Sub-Committee, Mark Weprin, the Zoning and Franchises Sub-Committee, Ruben Wills, the Drug Abuse Sub-Committee and Paul Vallone, the Senior Centers Sub-Committee.

 

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Van Bramer, Ferreras in running to head Council finance committee: report


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photos

After showing support last month for newly-elected Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Queens Councilmembers Julissa Ferreras and Jimmy Van Bramer are the top contenders to head the Council’s finance committee, according to Politicker.

A City Council source told Politicker negotiations over the finance chair appointment are underway this week and “announcements could be coming soon.”

When contacted by The Courier, both Van Bramer and Ferreras had no comment to the Politicker report.

Mark-Viverito has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Van Bramer and Ferarras were two of six Queens councilmembers to back Mark-Viverito in December, in contrast to the wishes of their county’s Democratic Party leadership.

Mark-Viverito has so far only appointed members to the Council’s rules, privileges and elections committee.

Those members include Councilmember Donovan Richards, the only Queens representative on the committee.

The remaining committees are expected to be announced at the Council’s next meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

 

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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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Star of Queens: Christian Amez, Business Enterprise instructor, Woodside on the Move


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Amez

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Christian Amez has worked with Woodside on the Move for about five years, starting as an aide in the afterschool program. He ultimately created his own year-long class, the “Business Enterprise” program. It teaches children, in grades four and above, various financial literacy and math skills. From learning how to create a budget, to understanding credit and loans, these students ultimately create their own business plans and professionally pitch them to community leaders.

Woodside on the Move has served the Community Board 2 district for over 30 years, providing youth and cultural development programs all across Woodside and its surrounding neighborhoods.

BACKGROUND:  “I’m a first-generation American born in Queens. My family moved from Peru to Woodside, then finally Sunnyside,” said Amez. “Having grown up attending public schools in both neighborhoods (I.S. 125 and P.S. 150, respectively), the two are synonymous with home to me, so I spend a great deal of time getting to know my neighbors and participating in community outreach.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My biggest challenge here had to be one I shared with Woodside on the Move, and that was our rally in May 2012 to restore funding for the afterschool and summer programs we host at P.S. 11 and 152,” said Amez.

During this time he said he had never seen so many students, parents, and community members engaged in what was a collective time of need.

FAVORITE MEMORY: The outpouring of support during the 2012 rally became Amez’s favorite memory at the organization.

“Soon after, due to the efforts of our executive director, Adrian Bordoni, all our staff, and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, we succeeded in temporarily restoring funding. In the following months, even more support came from Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who donated hundreds of school supplies for the children to prepare for their upcoming school year,” said Amez.

INSPIRATION: “I went through a very transformational time while studying finance. A lot of businessmen and women dream of becoming CEOs or billionaires, but why create one success story when you can create many,” asked Amez. That is what inspired him to work at Woodside on the Move, where the organization can improve the future of the city locally from the ground up, starting with the children.

 

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Queens incumbents sweep re-election bids


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

LIAM LA GUERRE AND MELISSA CHAN 

All Queens City Council incumbents slid back into their seats after Election Day, some very comfortably, while others overcame contentious races.

In District 32, which pitted Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich against Democrat Lew Simon, the race came right down to the wire. Ulrich was eventually declared the winner with 53 percent of the vote to Simon’s 47, but the challenger has not yet conceded defeated.   

In another contentious race, incumbent Elizabeth Crowley of District 30 won 59 percent of the vote against political newbie Craig Caruana, who took 41 percent. Caruana gained support following an endorsement by mayoral candidate Joe Lhota and a fierce debate with Crowley.

Popular Democratic incumbents Peter Koo of District 20, Karen Koslowitz in District 29 and Mark Weprin of District 23 easily won their re-election bids this year after facing off with third-party candidates.

Koo swept his opponents — Evergreen Chou, Martha Flores-Vasquez and Sunny Hahn — by obtaining nearly 80 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count. Koslowitz beat Jon Torodash, who ran on the Civic Virtue line, by more than a 90 percent margin.

Weprin, a contender for City Council Speaker, beat back a late challenge from retired police captain Joseph Concannon by taking 84 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

Concannon, who was running under the Reform Party, began a pointed bid against Weprin on August 8, with numerous police union backings, soon after the incumbent voted in support of two controversial police oversight bills in the Council.

South Queens Democratic incumbents Ruben Wills of District 28 and Donovan Richards of District 31 also dominated their races.

Wills won more than 95 percent of votes over his challenger, Mireille Leroy, while Richards, who won a special election less than a year ago, took about 92 percent of votes.

Three Queens legislators ran uncontested in both the primary and general elections. Julissa Ferreras of District 21, Danny Dromm of District 25 and Jimmy Van Bramer in District 26 were all automatically re-elected.

 

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Pol helps bust LIC rock gym owner for alleged bribery attempt


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of Mike Wolfert

In the midst of ongoing turmoil in city politics, one politician has helped bring a Long Island City business owner to justice for an alleged bribery attempt.

According to the Department of Investigation, Mike Wolfert, owner of a rock climbing facility called The Cliffs, received a Stop Work Order for failing to obtain the correct permit to convert a large warehouse into a 30,000-square-foot climbing arena. An unannounced inspection by the City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) reportedly prompted the order.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said on April 10, he received a “disturbing” and “inappropriate” message from Wolfert allegedly asking for help with the violations. The message allegedly offered to provide assistance promoting Van Bramer’s campaign in return for the favor.

After reading the email several times, Van Bramer believed the only appropriate response was to tell the City Council’s General Counsel, who then notified the Department of Investigation (DOI). The tip led to a four-week undercover investigation of Wolfert.

“I don’t believe there was an option here, I had an obligation to report it,” said Van Bramer. “I’m not a hero. Every elected official, if presented with something like this, should always respond like this.”

According to a criminal complaint issued by the district attorney, on two occasions Wolfert allegedly paid a total of $1,094 to a DOI undercover investigator posing as a DOB inspector offering help getting the Stop Work Order withdrawn.

Wolfert is charged with bribery in the third degree and unlawful continuance. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison for the bribery charge and fines up to $25,000 as well as up to a year in prison for the unlawful continuance.

“We’re grateful that at a time when some people are succumbing to corruption, this was reported to DOI,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. “Cutting corners illegally and paying off city employees is not acceptable.”

Michael Lambert, Wolfert’s lawyer, declined to comment at this point in the investigation. Wolfert also declined to comment.

The Cliffs was expected to open this month, but is now looking to open its doors in July.

 

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Rally to save after-school programs for more than 47,000 kids


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Come summer, 2,400 children in the borough will lose access to their mainstays outside of school.

Officials have told the Queens Community House at J.H.S. 190 and the Samuel Field Y at M.S. 158 that due to budget cuts, they must close their doors on July 1.

“The constant attacks on day care and after-school programs have to stop,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards. “Every time a new budget is proposed, the children are the first to suffer.”

Elected officials rallied together with parents, kids and the Campaign for Children on Wednesday, April 24 against $130 million in citywide cuts to after-school and child care programs proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The cuts are poised to affect more than 47,000 children total.

“Children are so important to us,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “The world is theirs. We want these centers to stay opened.”
Those gathered on the steps of Borough Hall urged Bloomberg to fully fund the programs in his Executive Budget, which is expected to come out this month. If the cuts are not reversed, thousands of children will lose access to the programs, which advocates say “provide critical educational opportunities.”

“I hope they get the mayor to stop from cutting our program because after-school really works,” said Jordon Taylor, 12, a student at P.S./I.S. 116 Q. “Without it I’ll just go home, do homework and it’ll just be boring.”

Cutting the programs will also mean parents have to find a safe place for their children while the mothers and fathers work.

“All working parents need a trustworthy place for their children,” said Marisol Pagan, a single mom who works full-time and relies on an after-school program at P.S. 50 for her first grader son. “Without after-school, where will my child go while I am at work? For families in need, these services help us stay out of poverty and reach our goals.”

“If we love our children, we should find programs for them,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “We should never propose to cut the programs that help educate children. We need to do more after-school, not less.”

Library expansion breaks ground in memory of Queens activist


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Their eyes looking to the skies in memory of a lost beloved leader, elected officials drove their golden shovels into the dirt to break ground on a long-anticipated library expansion project.

“It feels so good to be standing here today, knowing that construction is beginning,” said Queens Library President Thomas Galante at the Friday, April 19 ceremony.

The $10 million renovation project at the Kew Gardens Hills Library was a longtime pet project of Pat Dolan, a Queens activist who was struck and killed by a car last November. She was 72.

“Her memory lives on,” Galante said. “The library she loved so much is now officially located on Pat Dolan Way, and this [expansion] will be her legacy to the community. We will always know she is looking on.”

There will be an extra 3,000 square feet of space when the branch at 72-33 Pat Dolan Way reopens in 2015, officials said.

The library will also have twice as many computers, a bigger meeting room, an energy-saving roof and larger, separate spaces for adults, teens and children.

“This will be a fantastic library. It’s going to be a great place,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “Libraries are important because they’re full of knowledge. Little children, teenagers, seniors—they’re good for everyone to absorb knowledge.”

The branch closed for construction on February 22. A temporary library is open at 71-34 Main Street, library officials said. Nearby branches are also located in Hillcrest, Briarwood and Pomonok.

 

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branch

Long Island City park secures funding for Sandy repairs


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Paul

A beloved Long Island City park, nicknamed “Shady Park” for its signature tall trees, will finally regain some of the shade Sandy took away.

Working together with the Friends of Shady Park — a group of neighbors advocating for the repair of Andrews Grove Playground – Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer’s office has secured $10,000 in private funding from JetBlue and Warner Bros. to help restore the 2.3-acre park to its original state.

Andrews Grove, located on 49th Avenue between Fifth Street and Vernon Boulevard, received significant damage to its play equipment, safety surfaces, fencing and immense trees from Sandy.

Sheila Lewandowski, co-founder of Friends of Shady Park, recalled being heartbroken as she looked out of her window and saw trees fall one by one during the storm. She started Friends of Shady Park with Caroline Paul the day after.

“Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer’s efforts and his success in securing the funds to restore Shady Park is like healing our hearts. We can’t wait to help replant the first tree,” said Lewandowski.

The park reopened in December, yet a damaged section remains closed for repairs.

“It’s a changing community, and this park was one of the gems that continues to bring all generations together,” said

Lewandowski. “It’s something very special about it that crosses generations, and it appeals to people whether they’ve lived here for 60 years or they just moved in.”

Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates

 

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City speed camera program hits a red light


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Albany has put the brakes on the city’s speed cameras.

Despite a push from the Department of Transportation, the City Council, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, the State Legislature failed to include funding for the program in the 2013-2014 budget passed last week.

“I think the wrong decision was made by the Republican leadership of the State Senate,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “It’s unfortunate because speed cameras would and can save lives. I hope that somehow [the State Legislature will] be able to pick this up again before the end of the session and pass the bill.”

Although it was initially supported by the Assembly, it faced opposition in the Senate, including local representatives Dean Skelos, Martin Golden and Simcha Felder.

Bloomberg publicly lambasted the three state senators during a press conference on Wednesday, March 27.

“Why don’t you pick up the phone and call your state senator and ask why they allowed that child to be killed?” Bloomberg said according to reports.

Recently-released data from the Department of Transportation showed that speeding was “the greatest single factor in traffic deaths.”

If the pilot program, which requires the state’s approval, does eventually move forward, it would install 20 to 40 speed cameras at high-risk locations throughout the city.

Drivers would face a fine of $25 to $50 for speeding between 10 and 30 miles above the limit and $100 for going 30 miles above it.

 

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3rd Annual Queens World Film Festival ready for its close-up


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Queens World Film Festival

The 3rd Annual Queens World Film Festival is just around the corner, with organizers and filmmakers from near and far ready to take the stage.

“Brooklyn has an identity, Manhattan has an identity, everyone has an identity, except for Queens,” said festival director Katha Cato who arranges the event along with her husband, Don. “Everybody needs to understand this is a great place to see films and to make films.”

The festival, which brings together international and local filmmakers, will take place from March 5 – March 10 and feature 104 films, with 19 works from Queens. The films include shorts and feature lengths, documentaries, animation, fantasies, LGBT, “regular ol’ boy meets girl,” and many more.

The six day festival begins at 8 p.m. at the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria with a block of seven films and will also honor City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer for his years of service to the borough.

The opening night films include five international, one from Brooklyn and one animation movie called “Planet Utero” from Queens filmmaker Faiyaz Jafri. Along with Jafri, other Queens films include William Cusick’s feature narrative “Welcome to Nowhere” and Flushing native Adrian Manzano’s “BQE.”

The celebration of independent films will continue at venues such as the Jackson Cinema in Elmhurst, The Secret Theatre in Long Island City and the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights.

“It’s all about bringing people together,”said Cato.

The films are divided into different blocks based on subject and will each have a host organizing the night. Guests will also have the opportunity to interact with filmmakers in Q&A sessions afterward.

“You want people to talk, to be engaged in the film. Whether they enjoy them or not,” said

Cato. “We are trying to build community here.”

Also, 50 guests will be able to reserve a package for a “Dinner and a Movie” night on Wednesday, March 6. Hosted at Armondo’s Italian Restaurant in Elmhurst, the $50 price tag includes a cocktail, appetizer, entrée and dessert. Once the film lovers have enjoyed their dinner, they will be able to take a walk down to The Jackson Cinema and enjoy a film block called “Grace Under Fire.”

On the final night of the festival, films will be awarded Crystal Globes and all winning films will be rescreened at The Secret Theatre.

“We really hope that all of New York picks up their ears and listen to what’s happening in Queens,”said Cato.

Tickets for the festival are $10 for regular admission and $6 for students and seniors and can be purchased online at www.queensworldfilmfestival.com. To reserve a package for “Dinner and a Movie,” call Armondo’s at 718-429-8552.

 

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Long Island City murder leads to calls against gun violence


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The shooting of a 27-year-old aspiring hip-hop artist near the Queensbridge Houses is raising clamor among politicians and community activists fighting against gun violence.

The victim, Francisco Leal, 27, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest around 10 p.m. on Saturday, February 2 at the corner of 21st Street and 41st Avenue. While the NYPD has released surveillance footage of a suspect, Leal’s killer has yet to be caught.

When Suga Ray, a teacher, activist and childhood friend of Leal’s heard his friend had been fatally shot in the neighborhood where they grew up, his first reaction was “heartbreak.” Ray said Leal had a great personality, loved creating music and cared deeply about his community.

“Since we were kids, he always said he wanted to make a better way for his family, himself and the community,” said Ray. “He always wanted better than what we had.”

According to the NYPD, there have been 99 shootings citywide from January 1 through February 3, 2013.

“There’s an epidemic of gun violence, both here at Queensbridge and the city and across the country,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who organized a rally following Leal’s death. “How do we bring young people away from guns, away from violence and into a better place?”

The councilmember believes increased programs for young people, including after-school programs, partnerships with libraries and cultural and athletic programs keep kids out of trouble. Last year, the Bloomberg administration proposed to eliminate all after-school programs and according to the Campaign for Children, after-school programs faced cuts of around $170 million. While after-school programs were saved in 2012, discussions about slicing programs in 2013 continue.

“Those kinds of programs are absolute life-savers, especially for low-income families where there aren’t more available options,” said Van Bramer.

The city’s flailing unemployment rate, Van Bramer added, is a factor in the upswing of violence.

“If there’s no help, if there’s no jobs, if there’s no economic self-sufficiency, people can gravitate towards things they shouldn’t be involved in,” said Van Bramer.

April Simpson, the newly elected president of the Queensbridge Resident Association, said ending violence is not just the responsibility of the police, but rests on residents as well.

“Someone lost a child last night. That could be my child tomorrow. That could be your child tomorrow. We need to say something. We need to take back our communities. We need to come together as one. We can’t protect our children if we’re sitting around and we’re not saying anything.”

Ray believes the key to ending youth on youth violence is to provide more opportunities which teaching people about inner peace and channeling aggression into positive outlets such as art and music — a passion of his late friend’s.

“That another young person would want to take another young person’s life is disheartening,” said Ray. “It happens so much. It’s happened to so many of my friends. It’s heartbreaking.”

 

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