Tag Archives: Leroy Comrie

Katz campaign raises over $280,000 in quest for Borough Presidency


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Melinda Katz is taking a lead in campaign finances for the borough presidency as her campaign announced the former politician has raised more than $280,000 in the last four months.

“I am so appreciative to our hundreds of donors and their support for my candidacy,” Katz said in a statement. “Our fundraising success is a reflection of how well our message is being received among Queens residents.   The campaign, based on improving the lives of all Queens residents by increasing economic opportunities, and striking the proper balance with the needs of a community is resonating.”

The campaign has roughly $250,000 on hand; $40,000 of which can be matched by the city’s match fund, adding an extra $240,000 to her war chest, according to a campaign statement.

Katz, who hasn’t been in office since 2009, nabbed an endorsement from former Mayor Ed Koch last month in the hotly-contested race for Borough Hall.

She faces off against Councilmembers Peter Vallone and Leroy Comrie; State Senators Jose Peralta and Tony Avella; and former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik – who stepped down from his position last month to run.

Vallone is reported to still lead on the fundraising front, having capped out how much he could raise some time ago.

 

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Queens schools may be phased out


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

For months, the Department of Education (DOE) had been evaluating city schools’ progress reports, noting those that were in danger of closing. The process is continuing, and now several Queens schools could possibly be phased out.

This process, which eliminates one grade at a time from the troubled schools, will be finalized after a vote this coming March. Public School 140 in Jamaica; Law, Government and Community Service High School in Jamaica; and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship High School in St. Albans are all on the chopping block. P.S. 156 in Laurelton faces a possible truncation, which will eliminate its middle school.

“We expect success,” said DOE Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “Ultimately, we know we can better serve our students and families with new options and a new start.”

However, the community is not taking the news lying down.

“I will continue to press the administration to keep these schools open,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “Many people at these schools work extremely hard to give their students the best education possible, but the city makes their jobs much harder by not allocating the proper resources and ignoring community input.”

Sternberg countered this claim, saying that the DOE has listened to the community and provided support services to the low-performing schools based on their needs, but it is time to take action.

However, Comrie said the city standards used to measure schools are “confusing, arbitrary, and hindering, rather than helping, to improve the education system.”

The Law, Government and Community Service High School in particular was one school with a good reputation, and according to Comrie, was asked by the DOE to take in more students. However, while they took in the additional students, they were not given the extra resources needed to accommodate them.

Citywide, 22 schools are facing phase-outs, two are looking at possible closure, and two more could be truncated.

Previously, J.H.S. 008, I.S. 059 and Flushing High School faced closure, but have since passed the DOE standards and will remain open.

“We expect every school to deliver for our students, and are working hard to offer families more high performing choices,” said Sternberg.
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What City Council members wish for their constituents in 2013


| editorial@queenscourier.com

2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Avella announces borough president run


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Tony Avella

A northeast Queens legislator has joined the large circle of Democrats vying for next year’s borough presidency.

State Senator Tony Avella, 61, announced he will run to replace outgoing Borough President Helen Marshall.

“I think Queens needs a voice, and I don’t think we’ve had that,” said Avella, who won re-election to his Senate seat earlier this month. “The office of the borough president could be much more involved in handling the borough-wide issues. I just think we could do a much better job.”

The former two-term city councilmember said he is “continually frustrated” at unhandled problems in Queens, including tree maintenance, curb replacement and school issues.

Superstorm Sandy, Avella said, could have also been less devastating if the borough leader fought for resources that instead went to other parts of the city.

“It runs the gamut,” he said. “What really made the decision for me was the lack of preparation and response to Queens after the hurricane. I thought the office of the borough president could have been much more visible and much more active.”

Other big name Democratic candidates who have announced their intent to vie for the seat include Councilmember Leroy Comrie, State Senator José Peralta and former legislator Melinda Katz.

Councilmember Peter Vallone and Deputy Queens Borough President Barry Grodenchik are also rumored to be eyeing the position.

“I think I have widespread name recognition throughout the borough,” Avella said. “I think I take a much more hands-on approach, which I think is really necessary.”

Avella said he would seek an endorsement from the Queens County Democratic Committee but would run regardless of the party’s support.

MCU cuts ribbon on southeast Queens facility


| tcimino@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy MCU

Municipal Credit Union (MCU) has expanded its footprint in Queens with the opening of its new branch in Springfield Gardens.

Congressmember Gregory Meeks, Assemblymember William Scarborough, Councilmember Leroy Comrie, and District Leader Elmer Blackburne joined MCU president/CEO Kam Wong and board chair Mark S. Brantley in cutting the ribbon on the new full-service Springfield Gardens MCU branch, which is located at 134-66 Springfield Boulevard.

The Springfield Gardens branch is MCU’s second branch in Queens and first in the southern part of the borough. MCU’s other Queens branch is in Elmhurst. It is also the credit union’s first branch system-wide to have an e-banking center. The e-banking center allows members to conduct a wide range of banking transactions, including transferring funds between accounts, checking account status and applying for loans.

“MCU is excited to open its Springfield Gardens location,” said MCU President and CEO Kam Wong.”We have many members who work and live in this part of Queens, and our new branch will finally allow us to provide them with convenient and excellent service. We look forward to continuing and growing our relationship with the community and our members here.”

The Springfield Gardens branch is a full-service branch, offering teller service, staff to help members with a wide range of financial transactions and advice, 24/7 ATMs, and the credit union’s first e-banking center. The branch is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

Southeast Queens plagued by illegal vans


| editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

BY PAUL BUFANO
editorial@queenscourier.com

Esther Robinson passed up several unlicensed vans while she waited at the corner of Parsons Boulevard and Archer Avenue in the blistering heat. Although she was anxious to get home, she would only ride in a licensed van.

“There’s no doubt that some people would be afraid to ride in an unlicensed van,” said Robinson. “It depends on the driver, but I’ve been in many vans that weren’t following all the rules.”

Unlicensed commuter vans have been operating illegally in southeast Queens for about two decades, say officials. While some travelers appreciate the service they provide, there are many who do not. Critics attack the vans on two fronts: they say they are recklessly driven, and that they poach city revenue.

“Most commuters don’t even know to check to see if the van has a DOT (Department of Transportation) sticker or if the driver has a proper license,” said David Clarke, a DOT licensed driver. “They only find out it’s unlicensed when the van is pulled over by the police for running a red light or speeding.”

Most vans charge the same fee of $2, but the unlicensed vans tend to be quicker because they are usually speeding, he said.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1056 leads the opposition against the vans. ATU 1056 president and business agent I. Daneek Miller recently called for city and state agencies to address the problem.

“Our main goal is to deal with the dangerous and illegal manner that both licensed and unlicensed vans operate along MTA bus routes,” said Miller. “Forget about whether the vans are assisting some commuters, as they speed along bus routes they endanger citizens and result in us losing thousands of dollars a day. They are simply not helping the city and it’s just not fair.”

Councilmember Leroy Comrie wants to see unlicensed van drivers receive the tools to legitimize their business. The vans will be much easier to regulate once they are all legalized, he said.

“These vans have been institutionalized in the area over many years, and if they are going to create opportunities they should be helped,” said Comrie. “If we are able to eliminate the illegal vans there would be less competition and we would then have a better chance to enforce safe driving.”

Akeen Henry is an unlicensed van driver. He said he has no choice but to drive without a license because the current system makes getting one too difficult.

“I have a family to support and I need to make money, but these guys make it unfair to do it the right way,” he said. “They only say I’m breaking laws because they don’t want to share any of the money to be made.”

Residents have also raised safety concerns about the unlicensed vans, said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12.

“Our interest is the safety of the people boarding and riding these vans,” said Reddick. “Many times people are only interested in getting to where they have to go in the shortest amount of time possible, rather than whether it’s safe or not.”

Enforcement has to be stricter to keep the streets safe, said Reddick. The MTA, NYPD and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) have to work together in order to solve this problem, she continued.

“The NYPD predominantly enforces traffic laws that include moving and parking violations,” said officer Mark Costa of the 103rd Precinct. “The NYPD can enforce illegal vans, but it isn’t prioritized over issues involving crime and violence. Organizations like the TLC go after the issue in full force and have the manpower to do so.”

The TLC has stepped up its efforts by working with the NYPD to deal with the illegally operating vans in Queens, said Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the TLC.

“We have taken 300 unlicensed vans off the street this calendar year to date, so I would say we are dealing with the issue quite effectively,” said Fromberg. “We don’t have the manpower to properly address the issue alone, which is why we have been working with the NYPD. Riding these vans is a matter of convenience, but people can take some simple steps like checking for TLC plates to recognize if the van is properly licensed or not.”

 

Jamaica’s trashy situation


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Joe Moretti

Not long after Joe Moretti moved into his Jamaica apartment nearly two years ago he realized there was a problem.

The former Long Island City resident noticed his new neighborhood had a trash crisis, the result of illegal dumping in the LIRR tunnel on 170th Street as well as excessive littering in private lots, streets, sidewalks and even in St. Albans Memorial Park.

“This is not a way for a community to be,” Moretti said. “I had never seen anything like this. The more I walked around in Jamaica, the more I would see garbage. This had to be addressed.”

Moretti, a self-proclaimed clean-freak, began to contact the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), media outlets, and various community leaders at least once or twice a week for what he called “an embarrassment.”

As a result of his inquiries, many areas around his neighborhood have been cleaned repeatedly. However, the trash is reappearing. So Moretti is planning to start a grassroots organization with other locals that share his passion to combat the problem.

“It’s becoming too much for one person to do,” he said. “One voice is fine, but it’s better and more powerful if there are more behind it.”

According to Moretti, the problem is threefold. It starts with people who litter instead of throwing garbage in trash cans. Property owners are also to blame, he said, because many do not clean their lots and sidewalks. Finally, he said community leaders aren’t following up with the issue.

“The problem is going to be addressed,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12.

Reddick said CB12 has been asking business and land owners to clean their lots, the sidewalks and 18 inches from the curb into the street.

“If someone dumps a black bag in front of your door and you don’t see who did it, it becomes your job to remove it,” Reddick said. “You can’t wait for collection day.”

Reddick has also urged business owners to use the DSNY’s Adopt-A-Basket program, by which they can monitor chained litter baskets provided and collected by the city agency to prevent overflow.

Moretti and public officials agree that the DSNY is not to blame, because the agency has cleaned lots and picked up trash when contacted, and even posted violations and warnings to property owners that have neglected cleaning practices.

Moretti’s area in Jamaica has two scheduled weekly pickups, and residents should call 3-1-1 for any complaints of dumping or trash in private lots, said a DSNY spokesperson.

“Anything behind a fence is private property,” said Keith Mellis, of the DSNY. “We can’t just go in there and clean it.”

He added dumping, which has fines up to $20,000, is a hard issue to deal with because “it takes place in the wee hours of the morning.”

Councilmember Leroy Comrie said the garbage problem won’t go away in the near future if the community mindset and habits stay the same. It’s the reason he is willing to back Moretti’s grassroots organization.

“The only way we can do that [cleanup] is have a real campaign to get people a real respect for their neighborhood,” Comrie said.

Queens politicians eyeing run for borough president


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

bp

Although Helen Marshall still has one year left on her third term as borough president, several big names are rumored to be eyeing a run for the job.

Councilmember Peter Vallone said that although he hasn’t made an official announcement yet, he’s seriously considering running for the borough presidency. Vallone, who currently represents Astoria, said he’s been traveling throughout Queens and getting a good reception from residents.

“I’m getting a great reception,” he said. “I am very pleased with the amount of support we’re finding.”

Vallone went on to say he would further his work in the city council if elected borough president.

“I’ve lived every day of my life in Queens,” he said, “and I’ve been fighting for Queens for the last 10 years.”

About $1 million has been raised for Vallone’s campaign, which he said is significantly higher than any other potential candidate.

While State Senator Jose Peralta’s office could not comment as to whether he is considering running, a committee has been formed called “Peralta 2013,” according to the State Board of Elections (BOE). The committee is active and is listed as a local committee for Queens County, said John Conklin, a representative from the BOE.

Another councilmember expected to run is Leroy Comrie, who currently represents the 27th District in the borough.

At deadline, Comrie was not available to discuss his interest in running for the spot. A campaign page on Facebook, however, was created in December 2011.

Others who have been rumored to run for BP were not able to confirm or deny a potential campaign.

Families devastated by cuts to Jamaica senior center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

FRIENDSHIP CENTERw

Some seniors in southeast Queens may soon lose their “friends.”

The Friendship Center — a program under the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA) — relies heavily on funding from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to support its rehabilitative programs. However, due to fiscal constraints, the agency said it could no longer support the program after July 1.

“It’s devastating. I just can’t even believe that they did this,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of JSPOA.

The Jamaica-based senior center offers free services to mentally and physically frail elders, who commonly suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression. In addition to providing meals and socialization activities, the center hosts psychiatric clinics once a week.

Friendship’s mental health programs originally received $443,000 annually from the DOHMH, Collier said, but funds were cut in half last year. While the other half was restored through community support and discretionary funds, Collier said rallying to raise 100 percent of funding this year would be near impossible.

“It would be very difficult to maintain Friendship for this population without the department’s money. And sending this population to your average run-of-the-mill center is not an alternative because they are not able to participate and socialize with mainstream seniors,” Collier said.

The center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 65 to 75 seniors who use the center daily, according to the executive director.

The decision to strip the center’s funding has devastated caregivers like Brenda Lacey, whose 93-year-old mother has been going to the center for close to 14 years.

“This has been our lifeline. This is [my mother’s] livelihood,” Lacey said. “I feel terrible because this might be my mother’s demise. For her not to have those people in her life, it would be like losing a family member for her.”

Lacey said she plans to look into other mainstream regular senior centers, but fears her mother will not adjust well to the changes.

“She might not be able to cope. The people wouldn’t understand her like they do at Friendship,” she said. “I’m just praying. It really needs to stay open.”

Eleanor Williams said she’s nervous her 73-year-old husband, Harold, may revert back to depression if the center closes.

“Before Friendship, he was at the point where he was suicidal. He was at the hospital several times at months on end,” Williams said. “Once he got to Friendship, it really brought him totally out of his shell. If you had seen this man a year ago, you would say it wasn’t the same person. Right now, I don’t know where to go from here.”

Meanwhile, Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Ruben Wills said they are “aggressively working” to make sure Friendship keeps its doors open.

“This program is something we should be duplicating throughout the city — not cutting,” said Wills, whose grandmother used the center before her passing. “I don’t know what it is with these budget cuts, but the city seems to always target the most vulnerable population. It’s going too far at this point.”

Wills said he will be posting an online petition on his web site — www.rubenwills.com — later this week in addition to targeting different ways to secure funding.

“This is really unjust. This is really crazy,” he said.

Councilmember Leroy Comrie is standing up for non-profits


| editorial@queenscourier.com


By Councilmember Leroy Comrie

As many in Queens will tell you, there are many non-profit organizations throughout the borough that have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Non-profit organizations have traditionally been exempt from paying property taxes on buildings they own and provide services in, like churches and non-profit affordable housing developers. However, the city has recently decided to require these organizations to verify their non-profit status or risk losing their property tax exemption. In some cases, these organizations would cease to exist without the property tax exemption. 

 Within the past month, the city has sent two notification letters with forms that the organizations are required to fill out to keep their exemption status. Out of the thousands of letters that were sent out, there are still 3,928 organizations that the city is waiting to hear from, and 738 of them are located Queens.

 For small organizations that do not have dedicated administrative staff, like many churches, this can be burdensome as they prepare to help people during this holiday season, especially considering the short notice they received – all verification forms are due December 5.

 One of them is Oneness Pentecostal Tabernacle on Linden Boulevard. They have a small staff but have been a staple in the community for many years. They recently fed people who were looking for a meal on Thanksgiving, and every Saturday they assess the needs of the neighborhood and give away food to the homeless. Unfortunately, they do not currently have a staff person dedicated to handling their finances, taking away time from the Pastors from running these programs. 

 While verification of these facilities may be necessary, it comes at a precarious time. It is during these hard economic times that members of our community seek out these services most. Yet, the city has suddenly required these organizations to verify their property tax exemption status and the eligibility of their facilities, and have only provided a small window of time to do so. Whether this was done intentionally or not to capture future revenues is uncertain. What is certain is that organizations will be required to exert what little time,  energy and resources they have in turning around these forms, instead of concentrating on providing critically needed services.

 The struggling economy has forced those of us in government to make tough decisions and many of these organizations have seen their funding dramatically slashed, at the same time, families in Queens have also had to tighten their belts, and many are desperately looking for any help they can get. With so many people unable to afford their mortgages, rent, health insurance, and other necessities, this is not the time to impose onerous information requests from organizations that help people in need.

 Accountability, transparency and accurate reporting are essential to ensure compliance, but there has to be a better methodology employed that allows organizations, particularly ones with very little staff to respond to these requests in an efficient and timely manner. Some 738 organizations in Queens have yet to respond to the city’s notice. While I work with my fellow City Council colleagues to reach out to these groups, I will not only advocate for more time to complete these forms, but ask why, while we are still struggling to get the economy moving again, we are suddenly burdening institutions that have been serving people for years by threatening to take their resources away?

 For organizations that need help obtaining the forms, or any other questions, please contact my office by calling (718) 776-3700.

 May everyone have a happy and safe holiday,

 Councilmember Leroy Comrie

 

Police arrest 15 year old for sex assaults


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

groperw

Police believe they have seized the sexual deviant that has terrorized southeast Queens for the past month – and he is not even out of high school.

The NYPD arrested a 15-year-old black male on October 23 who they consider to be responsible for the recent pattern of sexual attacks in the area.

“We’re confident that he is the person we’ve been looking for,” said Chief James Secreto, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Patrol Borough Queens South.

The Queens Special Victims Unit identified the perpetrator in a surveillance video they received from a store, during which the teenager was recognized wearing his distinct Polo jacket with a tiger on the back.

The suspect, who is a resident of Springfield Gardens, has already been identified by two victims whom he allegedly assaulted earlier this month in Laurelton.

The first incident occurred at approximately 1:18 a.m. on October 9, when the pervert approached a 40-year-old female, pushed her to the ground, repeatedly punched her in the face and attempted to rape her. The victim suffered a myriad of injuries, including severe bruising to her eyes, lacerations to the inside of her mouth, a nasal fracture requiring surgery, a laceration to her cheek requiring stitches, severe abrasions to both of her knees requiring debridement and contusions and swelling to the rear of her head.

According to the charges, the suspect also attacked a 24-year-old female on the evening of October 16, approaching her from behind and placing her in a headlock before repeatedly striking her in the back of the head and face. The victim reportedly suffered a lacerated lip, lacerations to the inside of her mouth, bruising, swelling and pain to her face and bruising and contusions to the rear of her head.

“The defendant is accused of prowling the streets and preying on vulnerable women,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “The offenses that the defendant is accused of committing are crimes of violence that posed a serious threat to public safety and which warrant vigorous prosecution.”

The perpetrator has been charged with two counts of attempted rape, one count of attempted sexual abuse, one count of sexual abuse, two counts of sexually motivated assault, one count of assault with intent to cause physical injury and one count of sexually motivated assault with a weapon.

He was arraigned on October 24, and his bail was set at $150,000. The suspect’s next court appearance is scheduled for October 28.

Due to his age, the teenager faces two and two-thirds to eight years in prison if convicted as a juvenile offender.

The suspect is also being placed in numerous other lineups to investigate his connection to the string of incidents in the area.

There have been five sexual attacks in southeast Queens this month, the first occurring on September 22, when a 44-year-old female was sexually assaulted while she entered her home in Queens Village. Three of the five incidents were against women getting off the Q85 bus at 225th Street.

On October 13, a 20-year-old woman was raped in the vicinity of 108th Drive and Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica. The suspect has been described as a black male between the ages of 20 and 23, approximately 180 pounds, sporting a Caesar-style haircut, a black bandana, a black, waist-length, leather jacket and dark jeans.

The attacks have caused widespread public outrage and fear, and community leaders are emphasizing the importance of remaining safe by being aware.

“It is starting to get darker earlier and it is important that people know how to keep safe when walking home,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “There have been five reported sexual assault cases this month alone, and we want to put a stop to this rising trend.”

A town hall meeting addressing the incidents was held on October 24 at the Robert Johnson Family Life Center in Jamaica.

During the meeting, NYPD Community Affairs and Special Victims Units of the 103rd, 105th and 113th Precincts answered questions and informed residents of safety awareness techniques.

Officials also referenced the closure of the Baisley Park Houses Community Center in Jamaica, which left kids with one less place to congregate safely.

“We need to respond as a community to try to take our children back,” said Comrie. “We can’t rely on our government.”

John Chiam of Crime Prevention urged people not to openly display cell phones or any technological devices while walking home and emphasized the importance of community involvement in assisting the police.

Dennis Chambers, the owner of Zen Masters Dojo on Linden Boulevard, led a group of children and women in a demonstration of self defense, and Safe Horizons, a victim assistance agency, provided people with whistles.

Additional reporting by Alexa Altman.