Tag Archives: karen koslowitz

Barry Grodenchik receives support from female pols

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

Several prominent female politicians in Queens threw their support to Barry Grodenchik in his bid for a City Council seat at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Bayside Hills.

“It is my delight to stand with some of the great women leaders of this county, my wife included,” said Grodenchik, who has served as an assemblyman and deputy Queens borough president. He is running as a Democrat for the District 23 City Council seat vacated in June by Mark Weprin, who left to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was the most high-profile name at the event to support Grodenchik, which was held at the Bayside Hills clock on 50th Avenue and Bell Boulevard. Grodenchik is currently on leave from working in the borough president’s administration as an aide, and the two were once rivals on the 2013 campaign trail, which Katz ultimately won.

The two Democrats also worked side by side in the office of former Borough President Claire Shulman, who served from 1986 until 2002.

“He is committed, and he is strong, and is a great advocate for the people of Queens,” said Katz, adding that Grodenchik has the experience to have a real impact in city politics.

Two local councilwomen who would be Grodenchik’s colleagues, if elected, also spoke highly of his career of service to the city.

“Barry is someone who knows what to do and how to get it done,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, who represents Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in District 29. “I have seen him in action not just with me, but with many of my colleagues in government.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of District 30, which encompasses Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, and parts of Woodside and Woodhaven, pointed to Grodenchik’s efforts to aid victims of domestic violence as part of his wealth of experience, as well as other important initiatives in which he has taken part.

Grodenchik is one of six Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for the 23rd Council District seat in the September primary. The winner of that race will face presumptive Republican nominee Joe Concannon in the November general election for the right to serve the remainder of Weprin’s term, which expires in 2017.


Koslowitz replacing Mark Weprin as Queens City Council delegation chair

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter/@JimmyVanBramer

Karen Koslowitz was named Thursday to lead the Queens City Council delegation in place of the outgoing Mark Weprin, who will officially resign his City Council seat next week.

Koslowitz is in her second stint as City Council member representing the 29th District, which covers all or parts of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill. Several of her colleagues, including Paul Vallone and Jimmy Van Bramer, took to Twitter to announce her election.

“I will do my utmost to maximize the effectiveness of my fellow Queens legislators in advocating for the interests of Queens,” Koslowitz said in a statement. “I am both humbled and gratified by the confidence that they have placed in me today.”

Weprin had led the Queens City Council delegation since 2014, but last month announced he would step down from the City Council to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs.

Weprin tweeted on Thursday morning that next week would be his last in the City Council, and that he officially starts with the Cuomo administration on June 15. When he first announced his resignation on May 11, Weprin indicated that he would be out “within the next two weeks.”

Once Weprin’s resignation takes effect, Mayor Bill de Blasio will call a special, non-partisan election to occur within the following 60 days. Each candidate must secure their own ballot line; political parties cannot officially nominate a candidate, but may make an endorsement.

The winner of the special election will be sworn into office immediately upon certification of the results, but must run again in the November election for the right to fill out the remainder of Weprin’s term, which ends in 2017.

The 23rd District seat covers parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.  After Weprin resigns, it will remain vacant until a successor is elected. During that period, staff members will handle constituent services under the auspices of the City Council speaker.


Op-ed: A human life is worth far more than $50

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


A constituent contacted my office informing me that she had been injured while riding in an Access-a-Ride vehicle.

The circumstances were that the driver of the van had been texting while driving and rear-ended a vehicle. She wanted to know, among other things, what was the penalty for such behavior. I researched the matter, wanting to know myself what were the penalties.

You cannot imagine my disbelief when I discovered that under existing law, if your texting while driving contributes to someone’s death the punishment is a fine ranging from $50 up to $200.

Imagine someone losing their life due to another’s willful negligence and $50 settles the matter. I decided to attempt to do something to criminalize this type of behavior.

I will submit to the New York City Council for their consideration on April 28 a resolution calling upon the state legislature to criminalize “distracted driving” that results in death or serious injury. Distracted driving is defined in law as “using a hand-held electronic device while driving.” I am urging Albany lawmakers to create laws which make distracted driving that contributes to a death a felony, and that which causes serious physical injury, as defined in the state Penal Law, a misdemeanor.

The City Council does not have the legislative ability to pass a felony sanction, only the state. This is why Albany needs to be petitioned in the form of a Resolution.

There is no question that cellphone use is a major factor in the carnage that we are witnessing on the roadways. A study by the National Safety Council concluded that:
• Reported cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
• Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
• 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
• Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
• Answering a text takes away your attention for about 5 seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
• Texting while driving causes a 400 percent increase in time spent with eyes off the road.
Despite this clear correlation between distracted driving and vehicular accidents, the public does not seem to be serious about the gravity of the situation. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control:
• 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
• 69 percent of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cellphone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

It was too many years before society took drinking and driving seriously. The time has long past whereby distracted driving needs to be recognized statutorily for the menace it is.

A human life must be worth more than 50 dollars.

Councilwoman Koslowitz represents the 29th City Council District, which includes all or parts of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Rego Park and Richmond Hill.


Op-ed: Councilwoman Koslowitz opposes term limits for community board members

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


A bill has been introduced in the New York City Council which, if enacted, would mandate term limits for members of local community boards. Community boards are advisory groups that deal with a wide range of issues within the boundaries of the district. They work with government agencies and public officials to maximize the effectiveness of services in the district, review and make recommendations on plans for commercial and residential development, submit an annual budget recommendation to categorize district needs and are generally concerned with any matter that impacts the district. The members of the board, which can number up to fifty, are not paid for their service.

When I nominate an individual to the borough president to be appointed or reappointed to a community board, I am looking for an individual whose presence on the board will enhance the work of the board as a whole. Those individuals, whose professional background or community activism will “add value” to the board, are the people who I want to appoint and retain.

For example, a developer comes before the board seeking a favorable recommendation to the City Planning Commission on a zoning variance for a commercial development. Having an architect on the board, to provide the board with depth and guidance would be a valuable asset. Should the board have to lose such a valued member just so we can have “new blood”?Local community boards, like their legislative counterparts, function with a committee system. The board does not have the capacity to research and investigate each and every issue as a whole board. So, matters are assigned to committees to make recommendations to the whole board. The committee recommendations are generally adopted by the whole board and are rarely rejected outright. The reason I mention this is because any resident can become a non-voting member of a committee. They can participate in all the activities of a committee except voting. An individual volunteering to be a non-voting member of a committee can and does contribute to the board process.

I realize the phrase “term limits” has a sort of universal appeal. Community boards are not legislative bodies. Community boards are composed of individuals, committed to the betterment of their neighborhood, who serve in an unsalaried capacity. In every two year appointment cycle, there are sitting board members who do not seek reappointment because of reasons of health, changing residence or simply no longer having the ability to contribute the time that the position calls for. Practically speaking, there is now and always has been substantial turnover in compositions of boards.

Lastly, permit me to take up the technical aspect of this issue. Currently, if a local council member wants “new blood” on his/her community board, that power to replace sitting board members already resides within the office of a council member. By statute, every two years, the borough president in consultation with the respective local council member determines which members are to be reappointed. If a council member wants to force the issue of turnover, this can be achieved under existing law. A council member, like me, who does not subscribe to the “new blood for the sake of new blood” ideology, should not have their appointment prerogative constrained by a term limit provision.

Effective board members are not easily replaced. Indeed, there have been some board members in the past who have rendered such distinguished service that they could never truly be replaced. Should valuable, capable and committed board members be cast out for the sake of a fresh face? I think not. When and if Intro 585/2014 comes before the entire council for a vote, I will be voting in the negative.

Karen Koslowitz is a member of the New York City Council, representing the communities of Forest Hills, Rego Park, and parts of Maspeth, Kew Gardens and Elmhurst.


Proposed carriage horse ban finds strongest opposition among city lawmakers from Queens

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Ricardo Zappala/Flickr Creative Commons

Opponents of a controversial bill that would ban carriage horses in the city can count on lawmakers from Queens as their biggest group of allies in the City Council.

Among the 14 council members from Queens, six have announced they will be voting against the bill that was introduced on Dec. 8 at City Hall. Only two Queens lawmakers are backing the bill and the other six remain undecided as of the night of Dec. 9.

“We are not going to be fooled by those who say that banning horse-drawn carriages is an animal rights issue. This is about political promises and money,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who joined a rally by carriage drivers and union leaders on City Hall steps on Dec. 8 before the bill was introduced.

“Banning the horse carriage industry would harm tourism, leave hundreds of families without jobs, and condemn these beautiful horses to join the tens of thousands of unwanted American horses that are sold each year to slaughterhouses and glue factories,” Crowley said.

Lawmakers from Queens who oppose the bill are Costa Constantinides, Mark Weprin, Rory Lancman, Daneek Miller, Karen Koslowitz and Crowley.

Supporting the bill to ban carriage horses are Paul Vallone and Daniel Dromm, who is one of the co-sponsors. Peter Koo, Erick Ulrich, Ruben Wills, Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer have yet to make up their minds.

Dromm repeated his support of the measure, issuing a joint statement with Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, after the bill was introduced in the Transportation Committee, saying the measure “will increase the welfare of our horses by taking them off of our streets and to a safe haven where they can thrive.”

The effort to ban carriage horses is being fought tooth and nail by the roughly 350 drivers and other workers involved in the business and several labor unions.

If approved, the legislation would ban the use of horses in the city by 2016. In a bid to create new jobs for the carriage drivers, the city would offer free training and the right to get at the front of the line for a green-cab license, without having to pay the $6,000 fee.
The bill also would fine any of the horse owners $25,000 if they sell their horses for the “purpose of slaughter.”

But Crowley says the measures aren’t enough to help drivers and stable hands who would be out of work.

“We need to be realistic about what is being proposed: 300 New Yorkers could be unemployed at the stroke of a pen,” she said in a letter released this week. “Not only are these good jobs, they are union jobs. We cannot forget that labor unions have been an essential force in increasing and protecting the middle class.”



Parents fight potential cuts to after-school programs

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Amanda Dimick, a single mother of four, couldn’t hold back her tears as she spoke of what the after-school child care Beacon Program means to her and her boys.

“I find myself spreading myself thin between my four children,” she said, as her voice cracked. “I don’t know what I would do without the [Beacon] program.”

All across the city, the group Campaign for Children is teaming up with after-school programs and calling for long-term investment from elected officials to create stable, sustainable, high-quality child care.

According to the Campaign, city-funded child care programs, such as Beacon, face “constant uncertainty and instability.”

Last year, after-school programs faced a potential $170 million budget cut, but the Campaign and its partnering programs prevailed, restoring the full budget, after dozens of citywide rallies, phone calls and letters to elected officials. This year, although no budget cuts have been announced yet, the Campaign is calling for the same.

“[Beacon] enables me to put in more time at work,” said Dimick at a town hall meeting at the Queens Community House Beacon on Wednesday, January 17.

Dimick, whose four boys are all under 12 years old, said that when she needs to spend time focusing on work, she knows she can rely on the staff to be valuable role models for her children.

“They say it takes a community to raise a child, and that’s definitely been my situation,” she said.

“I’m going to fight for you,” assured Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, who was a single parent of two and said that after-school programs “saved her” when she had to go to work.

“This mayor has to recognize that our children are very important,” she added.

Warren Fink lives with just his 11-year-old daughter, Miriam, who has been going to the Beacon program for years.

“When I wake up in the morning, I need a purpose,” he said. “And my purpose is my daughter. [At Beacon,] I feel that my daughter is surrounded by wonderful people, and she’s learning as she’s growing.”

Fink spoke for many parents when he said that closing the program puts much more pressure on working parents, and could potentially put the kids on the streets after school.

The next step for the Campaign and concerned parents is to make their voices heard, and ensure that long-term investments are made in child care and after-school programs.



What City Council members wish for their constituents in 2013

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


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.



Forest Hills seeks flood fix

| MKirk@queenscourier.com


Rene Alkalay, owner of Genesis Tree of Life, a yoga and wellness center on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, is furious that area flooding has cost him nearly $75,000.

“I want to know what you’re going to do to put me back in business,” he said at a town hall meeting on Thursday, September 27.

After being awash in complaints from Forest Hills residents regarding sewage flooding into their homes following heavy rains, Councilmember Karen Koslowitz and Community Board 6 invited the community to air their grievances directly to city officials in the hopes that a solution could be found.

A line of more than 30 people formed in the packed assembly room of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, where residents, some more vocal than others, expressed their concerns to employees of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

What ensued was a two-hour forum of tales of fecal-matter-filled water spouting out of drains, gallons upon gallons of sewer water flooding into basements, toxic mold growing on walls, skin inflammations, and cars, furniture and other belongings damaged beyond repair.

Ron Green, who lives on Yellowstone Boulevard, described a tactic he used during one storm that involved clogging his toilet with a towel and placing two sandbags on top of the lid before sitting on them. In the end, not even that could prevent a shower of feces from spraying out of the toilet, he said.

“It was like a fire hose,” he said.

Clay artist Ginnie Shaknis has seen her apartment flood three times due to heavy rainfall this summer. With the help of a friend, they bailed over 200 gallons of water out of her home. Lately she’s been dipping into her supply of clay to use as a way to clog her drains.

When asked how much financial damage she has suffered, Shaknis said, “I can’t even say anymore. It just keeps happening and happening.”

Edward Coleman, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations at the DEP, essentially told attendees that there is nothing the agency can do. Because the sewers are designed to handle one-and-a-half inches of rain per hour, the city is only liable for damage done to peoples’ homes when rainfall exceeds that amount. Since none of the storms this summer surpassed that quantity, it is unlikely that residents will receive any compensation.

Attendees who brought up their issues were asked to provide information to the DEP regarding the locations of suspected faulty storm drains. Several residents also cited occasions in which they contacted the DEP with concerns of overflowing storm drains and detached manhole covers and received a response they found unsatisfactory — or no response at all. The DEP took down information from these residents and said they would look into these matters.

Koslowitz asked the DEP employees what she could do to help her constituents affected by the flooding.

“As a single councilmember, there’s nothing you can do,” said Mark Lanaghan, assistant commissioner of Intergovernmental Affairs. “The purpose of meetings like this is to learn about things we didn’t know about and to have issues brought to our attention.”

Sandra Crystal has been living in Forest Hills for the last 50 years. Her apartment building flooded on two occasions this summer.

“Who’s your boss?” Crystal asked the panel when it was her turn at the microphone. “If it’s the mayor, then that’s who we need to talk to. If the mayor lived in Forest Hills, something would be done about it.”

Koslowitz said she found the meeting to ultimately be “very frustrating.”

“We received no answers. We have to look into different ways than before. Since 2007, this situation has been prevalent. It’s unacceptable that nothing can be done. I’m going to see what I can do, alert the mayor’s office and look for answers.”

Queens councilmembers score high on environmental report cards

| mchan@queenscourier.com

The scores are in — and Queens councilmembers have fared well above average in their most recent environmental report cards.

According to the New York City League of Conservation Voters’ (NYLCV) annual “Environmental Scorecard,” a record number of 22 out of 50 councilmembers achieved perfect scores. Queens, the runner-up borough, trailed the Manhattan delegation — which scored the highest average of 95 — by two points, while Brooklyn stood firm with 92 points, Staten Island with 88 and the Bronx with 76.

The annual survey examines voting and sponsorship records on 11 bills covering green buildings, transportation, sustainable food, waterfronts, clean energy and more, said officials at the nonprofit organization.

The average score for the city was 90 out of a possible 100 — up significantly from the 68 point average the Council netted last marking period from 2008 to 2009.

The borough’s top scorers included Queens Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley, James Gennaro, Karen Koslowitz, Eric Ulrich, Peter Vallone, Jimmy Van Bramer and Mark Weprin. Each of the seven lawmakers racked up 100 point averages.

“This particular scorecard really shows that just about everybody in the Council has a very good track record on this very important set of issues,” said Gennaro, who serves as chair of Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. “It sort of energizes us to stay the course and keep pushing on in many environmental issues that we’re currently working on. This scorecard really provided some inspiration to carry on.”

Still, not all numbers were high across the board.

The northernmost borough in the city raked in the top three lowest scores. Bronx representatives Larry Seabrook and Annabel Palma both received 64 points, while Councilmember Helen Foster flunked with 36 points.

Foster did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Apple store coming to Queens?

| brennison@queenscourier.com

A local developer has planted the seeds to land a store that is the “apple” of shoppers’ eyes.

The Heskel Group, located in Forest Hills, has been trying for many years to lure an Apple store into the Queens area.

“I’ve been working on it for a long time,” said Heskel Elias, founder of the Heskel Group. “Nothing is written in stone; nothing concrete.”

Though an Apple spokesperson said the company has not made any announcements regarding any new stores, politicians and residents alike are excited for the possibility.

“I think it would have a great effect on the borough and Forest Hills,” said Councilmember Karen Koslowitz.  “It would have a great economic impact.”

The councilmember said she is an Apple store shopper and is tired of having to travel to Long Island or Manhattan to shop.

“We need an Apple store in Queens,” said Rob Howard, a student at Queens College.  “Whenever you want to get your phone, computer or iPod serviced, you have to travel all the way into the city.”

The Big Apple already has six of the technology giant’s stores, but only one — in Staten Island — outside Manhattan.

Austin Street provides a perfect location, the councilmember said, thanks to its easy accessibility.

“It’s wonderful that stores, like Apple, recognize there is great need for them to come into our neighborhoods,” she said.  “Queens is a great place. I’m very excited about it.”