Tag Archives: New York

Israel takes 3rd Congressional District


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

A Long Island-based representative has won both re-election and slices of Queens territory.

Democratic Congressmember Steve Israel claimed victory over his three challengers in the newly-redrawn 3rd Congressional District with 58 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results.

The 53-year-old from Dix Hills boasted 87,799 votes, while his main contender, Republican Stephen Labate raked in 62,305, early poll numbers showed, with more than half of precincts reporting. Libertarian Michael McDermott gathered 992 votes and the Constitution Party’s Anthony Tolda only a meager 224.

“I’m honored to have been elected in this new district,” Israel said. “It’s been a very tough week in our community, and I know the election was the last thing on most people’s minds. But I think it really shows [how] strong our community is. People didn’t have power, they didn’t know where to vote, they didn’t have gas to get to the polls, but they still got out and exercised their civic duty.”

The congressmember’s district was previously located entirely on Long Island in Suffolk County. But newly-redrawn lines mean portions of northeast Queens — Bay Terrace, Beechhurst, Whitestone, Douglaston and Little Neck -– are now in the 3rd District.

Israel has been representing the district since 2001 and ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. He was re-elected two years ago, beating Republican challenger John Gomez for the seat by 16,509 votes in Suffolk County.

“Now Democrats and Republicans must join together to rebuild our community, restore it[s] power lines and reignite the middle class,” Israel said.

Hurricane Sandy updates: Subway “has never faced a disaster as devastating” as yesterday: MTA CEO


| editorial@queenscourier.com

storm

10:30 a.m.

Statement from MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota:

The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots.

As of last night, seven subway tunnels under the East River flooded. Metro-North Railroad lost power from 59th Street to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson Line and to New Haven on the New Haven Line. The Long Island Rail Road evacuated its West Side Yards and suffered flooding in one East River tunnel. The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel is flooded from end to end and the Queens Midtown Tunnel also took on water and was closed. Six bus garages were disabled by high water. We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery. Our employees have shown remarkable dedication over the past few days, and I thank them on behalf of every New Yorker. In 108 years, our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now. All of us at the MTA are committed to restoring the system as quickly as we can to help bring New York back to normal.

10:15 p.m.

A second person has been reported dead in Queens from Hurricane Sandy, according to authorities.

Police said a woman was electrocuted at 105th Avenue and 135th Street in Richmond Hill at approximately 7:45 p.m.  Reports indicate she stepped in an electrified puddle, though police could not confirm at this time.

A man was killed earlier when a tree fell on his house in Flushing.

10 p.m.

Bloomberg updated residents on Hurricane Sandy:

- Con Ed expects outages to last at least through the morning, possible longer.

- New York University Hospital power is out along with a backup generator, patients are currently being moved.

- 9-1-1 is receiving 10,000 calls per hour, 10 times the normal rate.  The calls are overflowing their lines.  Bloomberg said that unless you are in an emergency, do not call 9-1-1, dial 3-1-1.

8:20 p.m.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Sandy has made landfall along the coast of Southern New Jersey.

7:45 p.m.

A 30-year-old man died after a tree fell on his Flushing house near 46th Avenue and 166th Street at approximately 7 p.m.  There were no other injuries reported in the incident, police said.

6:50 p.m.

About 100 firefighters are on scene as part of an 8th Avenue building has collapsed.  According to the Daily News, no injuries are being reported at the four-story, 25 unit building on 8th Avenue and 14th Streets.

5:55 p.m.

Public transportation likely to remain shutdown through tomorrow.

5:50 p.m.

The highest surge in the Rockaways, in the Battery and on Staten Island between 6:30 and 10:30 p.m., said Bloomberg. In parts of the city that are on the Long Island Sound, the peak surge will be between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

5:45 p.m.

Bloomberg asked residents to call 3-1-1 for downed trees and limbs, not 9-1-1, so the lines can remain open for emergencies.

5:30 p.m.

Mayor Bloomberg updates New Yorkers on Hurricane Sandy.

 

4:10 p.m.

The Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge will close immediately due to high winds. The George Washington, Verrazano, Marine Parkway, Whitestone, Henry Hudson and Throgs Neck bridges will close at 7 p.m.  Midtown Tunnel and RFK Bridge to remain open for now.

4 p.m.

Governor Cuomo held anothe update on Hurricane Sandy

“Storm is as expected so far,” Cuomo said. “Sandy’s fury is still coming to be coming tonight.”

The worst of the storm may begin at 6 p.m. this evening.

Cuomo announced the deployment of 1,000 National Guardsman, mostly on Long Island.

3:20 p.m.

Governor Cuomo announced the Tappan Zee Bridge will close at 4 p.m.

3:15 p.m.

Danny Ruscillo, president of the 100 Precinct Community Council, said there was flooding around manhole covers in some areas of Breezy Point and Neponsit this morning, but it seems to have subsided.

The Parks Department was still out trying to build sand barricades this afternoon. Some of the barricades, however, were destroyed by this morning’s surge, according to Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder. The Parks Department has been trying to restore the damages before the next major surge.

Firefighters have been going around the peninsula to help people evacuate or get to their homes, the assemblymember said.

2:30 p.m.

All CUNY schools cancelled classes through tomorrow.  The stock market will also be closed for the second consecutive day due to the storm.

12:50 p.m.

President Barack Obama briefed the country on the storm expected to make landfall over the next couple of hours.

“This is going to be a big and powerful storm,” Obama said.

He said the fact that governors and local officials have had a couple of days of coordination has allowed municipalities to be prepared as best they can.  He also said resources will be available following the storm for areas hit hardest.

12:10 p.m.

The city will continue to run buses at public housing in Zone A for the next hour attempting to evacuate all residents before it becomes too dangerous to do so. Evacuation centers throughout the five boroughs are still accepting residents.

About 3,100 people — 73 pets —are currently in one of the centers along with about 3,000 volunteers.

The city has also increased effort to reach homeless residents on the street.

“Its just dangerous to be out on the streets when the winds are this high,” Bloomberg said.

Noon

Senator Charles Schumer is asking FEMA to expedite aid to New York.

“No question we will need the $26 million limit,” Schumer said. The senator wants the agency to skip the preliminary steps and pronounce a major disaster declaration for the area.

11:50 a.m.

Sanitation workers were out today collecting garbage and will pick up tomorrow where possible. Crews will also be attempting to clear roads of downed limbs.

11:40 a.m.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that city schools will remain closed tomorrow.  He said there is no chance public transportation will be running by tomorrow morning.

After-school activities and Public Schools Athletic League events will also be cancelled.

11 p.m.

Storm surges have already approached Hurricane Irene levels, said Howard Glaser, director of state operations, with Hurricane Sandy still hundreds of miles away.  The total storm surge New York saw in last year’s storm reached about nine and a half feet.  Predictions for Hurricane Sandy forecast up to an 11.7  foot surge, which would break the record 10.5 foot surge of Hurricane Donna in 1960.

Governor Andrew Cuomo spent yesterday touring the state and is confidant in New York’s preparation for the storm.

“In a cruel irony, the consistency of the exposure has helped us getting more prepared,” Cuomo said.

Despite preparation, the storm still presents great danger, he said.

“Citizens do not have to be on the road,” Cuomo said. “You do not need to be going to the beach to take pictures. Don’t be fooled by looking out the window and saying its not that bad.”

10:45 a.m.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels will close today at 2 p.m. Bridges will remain open as of now.

9:15 a.m.

The Food Bank for New York City will continue to  to distribute food to operational soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers and agencies in non-evacuated parts of the five boroughs.

“Food Bank For New York City is actively working to fulfill two main priorities: services to our members and services to the clients of our kitchen and pantry,” said President and CEO Margarette Purvis. “The storm takes on a whole new dimension for our network because we’re at the end of the month when many families find themselves using our programs because their resources have run out. With this in mind, maintaining services for our neediest neighbors during this time of crisis is critical. We’re also contacting our most active member agencies to determine food supply needs and are preparing to send emergency trucks as available.”

8:45 a.m.

Con Edison is reporting a power outage in Rosedale, Queens that is affecting 1,022 customers there, and is currently responding to it. To report any service loss, call ConEd at 1-800-752-6633.

8:00 a.m.

All U.S. stock and options trading will be closed on Monday because of Hurricane Sandy and may be closed on Tuesday as well. It’s the first time the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has shut down for an entire day because of weather since 1985 when Hurricane Gloria hit the city. Yesterday, sandbags  were placed in front of the NYSE in anticipation of the storm.

10:40 p.m.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a high wind warning for the area as Hurricane Sandy’s gusts are expected to pick up beginning tomorrow morning.

The warning will remain in effect from Monday at 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Sustained winds are forecasted to reach 30 to 50 mph with gusts up to 80 mph, according to the NWS.  The strongest winds are expected Monday afternoon through the night.

A significant threat to life and property exists from winds of this strength, the NWS said.

Downed limbs, trees and power lines could be widespread in this weather.

10:15 p.m.

Along with high schools and grade schools closing tomorrow, Queens colleges also cancelled classes.  Queens College, York College, Queensborough Community College and LaGuardia Community College are all closed tomorrow.

8 p.m.

President Barack Obama granted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request for a federal emergency declaration as Hurricane Sandy is about to strike New York.

The declaration allows the state to receive assistance and resources to aid in evacuation, sheltering and other measures.

“Once again, I thank the president for his quick response to my request for a federal emergency declaration which will apply to the entire State of New York. We appreciate the federal government’s support as we continue to prepare for Hurricane Sandy,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York yesterday ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

6:30 p.m.

The Staten Island will cancel service beginning at 8 p.m. from the St. George Terminal and 8:30 p.m. from the Whitehall Terminal. East River Ferry Service is suspended through tomorrow. PATH trains will shut down at midnight.  Amtrack will cease operating northeast corridor serivce at 7 p.m. and nearly all service on the eastern seaboard on Monday, including Acela Express, Northeast Regional, Keystone and Shuttle trains.

4:30 p.m.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg held another press conference at 4 p.m. to update residents on preparations for Hurricane Sandy.

“If you have not yet left Zone A, please get to public transportation as soon as possible,” the mayor said.  Zone A areas must be evacuated by 7 p.m. tonight.

Buses are being sent to all public housing in Zone A to transfer residents to evacuation centers throughout the borough.

Fliers have been posted and staffers are knocking on doors and making calls to ensure residents leave NYCHA housing in the vulnerable areas.

Elevators, water and heat will begin being shut down at 7 p.m. in these buildings.

There are no plans to close bridges or tunnels at this time. the mayor said.

Cuomo announces stricter DUI laws


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Stock image

Booze, cruise and lose. New York is cracking down on intoxicated drivers.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced an initiative to remove drivers with repeat alcohol or drug-related driving convictions from New York’s roads.

According to Cuomo, these more rigid regulations, enforced by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), will make the state among the toughest in the nation against drivers who persistently get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

“We are saying ‘enough is enough’ to those who have chronically abused their driving privileges and threatened the safety of other drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” said Cuomo. “This comprehensive effort will make New York safer by keeping these drivers off our roadways.”

Every year, more than 300 people are killed and 6,000 injured on roads throughout the state as a result of drunk driving.

Over the past few years, the percentage of crashes resulting in an injury where the driver had three or more alcohol related convictions has increased, spiking from 22 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010.

Current law dictates that individuals with multiple DUI offenses cannot permanently lose their licenses. Under New York State law, the only scenario where a license could be indefinitely removed is if they have two alcohol or drug related convictions stemming from crashes that resulted in physical injury or death.

Under the new regulations, the DMV will deny applications for reinstatement of a license if the applicant has five or more alcohol or drug-related driving convictions during his or her lifetime or three or more alcohol or drug-related driving convictions in the last 25 years as well as one other serious driving offense during that period. Serious driving offenses include a fatal crash, accumulating 20 or more violation points within the last 25 years, or having two or more driving convictions each worth five or more points.

Forest Hills attorney Rochelle Berliner, who represents individuals busted for drunk driving, said cases where clients have multiple DUIs are uncommon.

“It’s a tough state to have a DUI arrest,” said Berliner. “There’s not a lot of flexibility with the district attorney’s office and this is going to make it worse.”

According to Berliner, penalties for drinking and driving vary depending on the county in which the arrest occurs and the perpetrator’s blood alcohol level during the police-administered Breathalyzer exam.

In Queens, if a first-offending individual’s blood alcohol level is relatively close to .08 — the legal limit in New York State — they have an increased chance of getting the misdemeanor infraction of impaired. Logging a blood alcohol level over .18 is known as aggravated and results in harsher consequences.

Berliner said she understood why there are constant efforts to increase the severity of the penalty for drinking and driving. However, the attorney was not completely convinced that the law will keep people from operating a car while intoxicated.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect a huge number of people but it just keeps increasing the negative penalties for a person who gets caught driving under the influence,” said Berliner. “It’s better to get people the help they need before they get to that point.”

War chests, war of words increase as primary approaches


| tcullen@queenscourier.com


As primary campaigns for the 15th State Senate District came to a close, campaign funds and mudslinging came to a head.

Although Councilmember Eric Ulrich outraised opponent Juan Reyes by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Reyes camp spent $9,000 more to sway voters before polls open, according to 11-day Pre Primary disclosure reports released by the Board of Elections.

At the opening of the period, which began on August 13, Ulrich’s war chest boasted $352,758 — well above the Reyes balance of $22,117. During this time, while raining $11,000, the Reyes camp spent more than $26,000; Ulrich for Senate, which raised $1,800, spent $17,218.

During the campaign, Ulrich received a plethora of endorsements, and with that, campaign donations. In the July periodic report filed by Ulrich for State Senate, the New York State Republican committee wired $250,000 into the campaign’s account.

The latest report showed a high number of Friends of Juan Reyes’ transactions went toward campaign mailing material.

A string of mailers sent by the campaign in the week leading up to the primary took potshots at the councilmember, sparking upset and allegations of insensitivity from Ulrich’s campaign.

One particular mailer included a photo of Ulrich’s head superimposed on the body of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev — who led the USSR for nearly 20 years — adorned with several medals.

“Comrades! The glorious party leadership has already chosen Comrade Ulrich as your new senator,” the mailer reads. “Do as you are told and obey them.”

Ulrich spokesperson Jessica Proud noted the mailer could be offensive to the Eastern European demographic that lives in the reshaped 15th Senate District.

“This senate district is home to many Eastern Europeans who fled Soviet oppression for freedom here in the United States,” she said. “For [Reyes] to use images of that horrible period is deplorable.”

But if anyone were to understand the mailer, it would be the Eastern European demographic that left the former Soviet Union, said Gerry O’Brien, who runs the Reyes campaign. “They’re the kind of people who understands this best — they get it,” he said.

The same mailer, directed at different opponents, had been sent out in the past, Proud noted. She referred to one mailer against former state senate candidate Stephen B. Kaufman in a 2004 GOP primary in the Bronx, a Democratic assemblymember who was backed by the state Republican party.

The photo is nearly the same, although with Kaufman’s head superimposed on Brezhnev’s body, and uses the exact same wording — with the exception of “Comrade Kaufman.”

16 Queens schools face shutdown by state


| brennison@queenscourier.com

File photo

After seven Queens high schools won a nearly yearlong battle with the city to remain open, the institutions — along with 10 other borough schools — find themselves on a state list of schools that need to shape up or shut down.

New York state education officials unveiled a list of 123 schools in the city that face closure by the 2014 school year if improvements are not made. The list is made of schools in the bottom 5 percent on test scores and graduation rates.

Twenty-two borough schools also made the state’s list of the best in New York.

Six Queens high school were marked for turnaround by the city — which would have closed and reopened the institutions under new names — before a judge overruled the decision. Now, the schools again find themselves on a list that might mean their closure.

“The state’s new system more closely resembles the city’s school Progress Reports by recognizing growth and measuring students’ college and career readiness. This year, 55 schools were recognized for their strong performance and fewer schools were identified as struggling,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said.  “There is still more work to do, and we will continue to support our struggling schools while holding them accountable to the high standards our students deserve.”

The Queens schools include 12 high schools, three middle schools and an elementary school.

The schools are: Newtown High School, Grover Cleveland High School, Flushing High School, Martin Van Buren High School, Beach Channel High School, August Martin High School, Richmond Hill High School, John Adams High School, Excelsior Prep High School, Jamaica High School, Long Island City High School, William Cullen Bryant High School, M.S. 53, J.H.S. 8, I.S. 192 and P.S. 111.

 

 

Workers’ compensation rates reduced for first time since 2008


| Phertling@queenscourier.com


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that New York state employers will see a reduction in workers’ compensation premium rates for the first time in four years.

Policyholders will see a decrease of 1.2 percent, the first reduction since 2008.

The rate reduction is a result of efforts by the governor’s administration over the past 18 months to modernize, improve efficiency and decrease waste in the workers’ compensation system.

“For years, the workers’ compensation system has been too costly for businesses and ineffective for injured workers,” said Cuomo. “With the new measures implemented by the state, and our continued work together with the business and labor communities, we will remain on track to create a system that works better for both employers and employees.”

Originally, the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board recommended a cost increase in their annual loss cost filing. However, after reviewing all the filings and written submissions, the board determined to cut costs.

Benjamin M. Lawsky, superintendent of financial services, believes Cuomo is leading New York in the right direction for all businesses, both large and small, throughout the state.

“This is the right decision on rates at the right time,” said Lawsky.

Cuomo also announced that the last measures of the 2007 Workers’ Compensation Reform Law, which secured necessary benefit increases for injured workers and cost reductions for businesses, have now been fully implemented by the state. The Workers’ Compensation Board will now focus on creating a new set of guidelines to help modernize its systems with technology and to continue reducing waste and abuse in the system.

“The cost of workers’ compensation coverage remains a significant competitiveness issue for New York State business,” said Heather Briccetti, CEO of the New York State Business Council. “We look forward to working with the administration and other stakeholders on next steps in improving the system.”

 

Gianaris bills would make NY toughest on guns


| brennison@queenscourier.com


In the wake of multiple massacres across the country and an increase in shootings citywide, a state politician is calling for New York to become the nation’s leader in gun control.

State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced a bevy of bills in Albany that would strengthen the state’s gun laws, making them the toughest in the country.

“There’s been a rash of incidents not only around the country, but in New York. It’s clear that gun violence is getting out of control,” Gianaris said. “I think people in this state are fed up, they’re saying enough is enough, it’s time to make some sensible changes to keep guns off the street.”

Shootings in the city are up 12 percent this year, the senator said.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which ranks states on the strength of their gun control laws, ranked New York fourth in the nation behind California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Gianris worked with the Brady Center on the bills that, if passed, would strengthen the areas the Brady Center found the state to be weak — firearm trafficking and background checks.

Purchasers of firearms would also be required to complete a safety training course, limit purchases to one per month and close several loopholes.

Similar laws are already on the books in New York City, where residents can only purchase one firearm every 90 days, a bill sponsored by Councilmember Peter Vallone.

On the national level, Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to call out President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for their relative silence on guns.

“Just two weeks after the tragedy in Aurora, we’ve seen another mass shooting,” the mayor said Monday in Richmond Hill. “And still the two presidential candidates have not given the American public a plan to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

He said his attempts to reach out to the candidates have been met with “deafening silence.”

“The two presidential candidates cannot continue avoiding an issue that is one of the most serious threats we face as a nation,” Bloomberg said.

Gianrias agreed federal intervention is necessary.

“Ultimately, the best answer would be a solution coming out of the federal government or Congress, because we can improve New York as best we can and we should, but there is still guns coming in from out of state because other states have even more lax laws.”

Cuomo announces crackdown on designer drugs


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the governor's office

New regulations will help crack down on the rapidly expanding synthetic drug industry, the governor announced on Tuesday.

“The actions we are announcing today attack the problem by helping our law enforcement officers enforce the rules, expanding the list of banned substances used to manufacture bath salts and imposing tougher penalties so those who sell these drugs are held accountable,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The state’s Department of Health expanded its list of prohibited drugs and chemicals to include dozens of more substances used to make synthetic drugs. Penalties were also stiffened allowing store owner selling the substances to be charged with possession of an illicit substance and face time behind bars.

Distributors of the drug were skirting laws by tweaking the drug’s ingredients to avoid substances banned by the state’s controlled substances laws.

These “designer drugs” include bath salts and synthetic marijuana sold under names such as White Lightning, Tranquility, Zoom and Blaze.

In June and July, there were 120 emergency room visits as a result of bath salts after just 39 all of 2011, the governor said. More than 300 calls were made to the state’s Poison Control Center in the year’s first six months after only 20 in 2010, the center said.

A hot line was also set up for residents to report establishments selling the illegal substances.

Stiffer federal laws were put into place recently, but the governor said local law enforcement officials for will be able to pursue perpetrators under state laws for the first time.

 

Update: Cuomo signs bill banning tanning for children under 17


| lguerre@queenscourier.com


Queens teenagers who want glowing, bronze skin may soon have no choice but to burn at the beach.

The New York State Senate and Assembly recently passed legislation to outlaw the use of indoor tanning parlors for teens 16 and under, to help protect the kids from the dangers of skin cancer from ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitting devices.

The bills were delivered to Governor Andrew Cuomo on July 6, and became law on July 16 with his signature.  The law takes effect in 30 days.

“Exposure to UV radiation can be extremely harmful, particularly for younger people, and this new law will help protect teenagers from the heightened risk of skin cancer that can come from using indoor tanning devices,” Cuomo said. “This legislation recognizes that many tanning salons are small businesses facing economic challenges, however, protecting our children must always be our first priority. I thank Senator Fuschillo and Assemblymember Weisenberg for their hard work on this legislation.”

“Research has shown that indoor UV tanning can significantly increase the chances of developing skin cancer and that the rays produced by indoor tanning machines are far more intense than those produced by the sun,” said Senator Charles Fuschillo, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “This legislation would help protect children from something that could cause them serious harm later in life.”

The bills, S2917 and S3083, strengthen the state’s current law, which prohibits tanning for kids under the age of 14 and allows teens between ages 14 through 17 to receive indoor treatment with parental consent.

The law would also require 17 year olds to show parental consent to tanning salons.

Indoor tanning before age 30 increases a person’s chances of getting cancer by 75 percent, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

UV emitting tanning devices are classified by the IARC in the highest level of cancer risk, placing them in the same category as asbestos and cigarette smoke.

“Melanoma as you may already know is the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer,” said Dr. Carol Huang, a dermatologist at Queens Crossing Dermatology in Flushing. “If detected early, it can be effectively treated, but if discovered late, it can metastasize. A ban on teenage tanning would be beneficial to their health.”

Local officials are also behind the bill, praising its foresight.

“The law will attempt to reduce total lifetime exposure to concentrated UV light and cut associated risks,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, who sits on the Health Committee and supported the measure.

The original draft of the bill was intended to outlaw tanning for all teens under 18, but was altered to accommodate small business.

“Small salons thought if we went up to 18 it would be detrimental to business,” a representative of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said. “We view this change as a reasonable compromise.”

However, tanning companies aren’t buying lawmakers’ approach to sizzle their business. The Indoor Tanning Association is rallying support to shut the proposed changes down, as well as others like it around the nation.

“I don’t see why it’s so necessary, we are regulated already,” said Vanessa Staffa, director of operations in Queens for Beach Bum Tanning — a popular chain that owns six locations in the borough. “There are still going to be people going to the beach or online and purchasing home units, irresponsibly, because there will be nobody to regulate them.”

James Oliver, CEO of Beach Bum Tanning, added that indoor tanning should be a personal or at least parental decision and not taken away from the government.

But a local teen disagreed.

“It’s fair,” said Whitestone resident Taylor Lamacchia. “Sixteen-year-olds don’t know what’s best for them. If their friends are tanning they will also tan.

Lamacchia, 18, who has been tanning frequently since she was 16 to improve her appearance, added, “Parents want to be their children’s friends so they take them tanning at a young age to help them fit in, but they are truly putting their children at risk.”

Gas prices begin to climb


| brennison@queenscourier.com

gas 1

After reaching 2012 lows, gas prices have ticked up each of the last two weeks.

The average New York City price at the pump has risen to $3.81, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, six cents higher than a week ago.

New Yorkers are paying the same amount to fill up as they were a month ago, but the prices are headed in opposite direction. Last month gas was in the midst of a nearly three month decline.

At this time last year New Yorkers were paying $4.05 for a gallon of gas.

Nationally, the average cost for a gallon of gas is $3.40, 2 cents higher than a week ago.

 

‘Landmark’ tax relief on the way for co-op and condo owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com


Co-op and condo owners left in the lurch after state lawmakers originally closed the year’s session without passing key pieces of legislation will not be forsaken for long, officials pledged.

The Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reached an agreement on “landmark” tax relief legislation that will be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“In the short term, the city has issued tax bills for the current fiscal year based on the current tax abatement rates,” Silver said. “When the legislation is signed into law as promised by the governor, we anticipate that the new lower rates will be effective retroactive to July 1.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them “high and dry” last week after lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one-, two- and three-family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement. Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc., also counted his potential losses, saying his community would lose out on about $1 million.

But local elected officials said co-op owners need not worry about tax increases in the near future. The abatement, which expired June 30, will be continued until the State Legislature reconvenes later this year to pass a new plan, they said.

Assemblymember Ed Braunstein said it was “highly likely” the legislature would also pass his bill, which would increase abatements for middle class co-op owners from 17.5 percent to 25 percent this year and over 28 percent in three years.

“Co-op owners should be encouraged that relief is right around the corner,” Braunstein said.

Meanwhile, co-op and condo community leaders said they remain hopeful for a more permanent, long-term fix on annual valuation spikes.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

Still, a proposed “8/30” valuation cap — which would have limited property tax increases to 8 percent per year or 30 percent over five years — was not passed, and Friedrich said he does not expect a solution to be reached for another year.

“I am optimistic, but actions do speak louder than words,” he said.

Cuomo calls for decriminalization of marijuana possession


| brennison@queenscourier.com


Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced plans to urge lawmakers to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York.

Private possession of marijuana is currently a violation and Cuomo said this change would bring consistency and fairness to the law.

Carrying less than 25 grams of marijuana in public would become a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $100 rather than a class B misdemeanor. Smoking and selling the drug in public would remain a crime.

The governor said that more than 60 percent of the people arrested for possession of marijuana were young and 94 percent were minorities.

“The effect of a criminal conviction of a young person can alter the trajectory of their entire life,” Cuomo said at the press conference in Albany.

It was also largely a city issue with 94 percent of the arrests coming within the five boroughs.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement today in support of changing the law.

Last year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a directive to his officers to issue violations, rather than misdemeanors, for small amounts of marijuana that come into open view during a search.

“The governor’s proposal today is consistent with the commissioner’s directive, and strikes the right balance by ensuring that the NYPD will continue to have the tools it needs to maintain public safety — including making arrests for selling or smoking marijuana,” Bloomberg said.

 

Updated “I Love NY” logo is heartless


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Governor Andrew Cuomo's office

New York’s iconic “I Love NY” campaign is now heartless.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced an update to the memorable “I Love NY” campaign featuring different New York-centric items replacing the logo’s heart.

“This campaign reinvents one of our state’s great assets — the ‘I Love NY’ icon — which is known the world over as one of the most successful advertising symbols ever,” Cuomo said. “This campaign brings that icon to life in order to highlight all of the things people love about New York.”

Among the objects standing in place of the heart are thoroughbreds, wine glasses and Niagara Falls.

The “I Love NY” logo was originally created in the mid-70s by Milton Glaser.

Glaser recently told the New York Post that he was contacted to be part of the new ad campaign only after significant work had been done.

“I saw one that said, ‘I Pizza NY.’ I don’t get it,” Glaser told the Post.

Residents can remake the logo with what they adore about New York online at www.iloveny.com or submit@followyourheartny.com. Select drawings may be used to replace the heart in “I Love NY” in new ads focused on New York’s many different experiences in future campaigns.

The new ads are part of a $5 million tourism marketing campaign. The “I Love NY” ad campaign is expected to expand to feature other tourism seasons in the future.

Top headlines from around the web


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The-Afternoon-Roundup2

24-year-old man gunned down on quiet Queens block

A 24-year-old man was shot and killed on a quiet Queens block early Saturday, cops said.

The victim, who was not immediately identified, was gunned down in front of a Galway Ave. home in Jamaica about 4:15 a.m., police said.

Read more: Daily News

 

Scorned Q69 bus rider torments driver with fliers after he declined her advances

She boarded his bus with purpose, approaching the man behind the wheel, and slipped the note with her name and number into his hand.

MTA bus driver Tony Burns thought it was a transit ticket. He unfolded the white paper and saw the handwritten message — and didn’t know what to think.

Read more: New York Post

 

City Council Speaker Quinn Celebrates Her High-Profile Same-Sex Marriage

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn married her longtime partner Kim Catullo in Chelsea on Saturday in the highest profile same-sex wedding to take place in New York to date. Read more: NY1

 

Police Search For Sunnyside Sexual Attacker

Police are looking for a man they say sexually attacked a 19-year-old woman late Wednesday in Sunnyside, Queens.

This victim, who asked NY1 to conceal her identity and alter her voice, says she was walking home when the man pinned her against a fence on the corner of 41st Street and 43rd Avenue. Read more: NY1

 

Convicted Lockerbie Bomber Dies

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person ever convicted in the 1988 explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland of a plane flying from New York, has died. Read more: NY1

Raising the Minimum Wage in New York: What Government Could and Should Do.


| editorial@queenscourier.com


By Assemblywoman Grace Meng

On Tuesday, I joined with my colleagues in the State Assembly in voting to raise New York State’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.  I voted for and co-sponsored this bill because it will have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of working families here in Queens and throughout New York.

In these difficult times, with our economy still recovering from the excesses of Wall Street and unaccountable banks, this was a chance to vote to help working families, build our economy, create jobs and stand up for the people who make our city, state, and nation work.

First and foremost, raising the minimum wage helps working people and working families make ends meet. Across the nation, but especially here in Queens, the cost of everything has gone up while wages remain stagnant. Rent, utilities, subways and buses, higher education, and groceries have all gotten more expensive while take-home pay has shrunk and jobs have become fewer and further between.

Arguments against raising the minimum wage, from conservative politicians and right-wing think tanks – which generally center around the claim that increasing take home pay for low wage workers leads to fewer workers being hired – have been proven false time and time again.  And when paired with appropriate support for small businesses, such as tax credits and assistance in winning government contracts, boosting the minimum wage has actually been show to be an economic stimulus.  How does increasing the minimum wage grow our economy and create jobs? More money in the pockets of working people means more money spent in our communities. Minimum wage workers aren’t parking their money in overseas bank accounts or investing in risky hedge funds. They’re spending in their neighborhood by shopping at local supermarkets or local clothing stores, fixing their apartments or homes, and improving their quality of life.

Every dollar added to the local economy generates at least two to three more dollars in increased economic activity. When supermarkets and groceries get busier, they hire to keep up or give more shifts to the workers they have. Restaurants and coffee shops near busier stores get busier too, and then they also need to hire. More activity on local streets benefits public safety. Inside homes, more money means less food insecurity, less stress, more focus, and more opportunities for our children, who are the ultimate and most important beneficiaries of all this positive activity.

The NYS Senate Republican Majority has not yet indicated their support of this vital measure. Negotiations there continue.

Raising the minimum wage is about our shared priorities and the best way for our government to grow out of this recession. Too often, politicians discuss fixing the economy solely by focusing on our wealthiest citizens and corporations – how much to tax them, how much to regulate them, how much to expect from them.  While we certainly need to discuss whether or not the wealthiest among us are doing their fair share, we also need to discuss the direct ways in which we can raise up middle and working families.

Above all, government’s job is to maintain an even playing field and define not just what we could do, but also what we should do.

Wealthy people and large corporations could move their money overseas to shield their themselves from taxes, but should they? Investment banks could, and have, bet their own money against their client’s investments and somehow get away with not calling that a massive conflict of interest, but should they? Global retailers can bribe foreign officials and defend massive employment discrimination suits while also lobbying to open stores in New York City, but should they?

New York could raise the minimum wage, and should be on the side of all the working and middle income families who are one unexpected medical bill away from being poor. New York could support businesses as they invest in our communities, and should be in the business of encouraging safe homes and healthy families.  New York could and should be a national leader in showing how government, business, and working families can emerge from despondent times, not just through top-down policies that privilege a few, but from grassroots community development driven by a realistic and practical increase in our minimum wage.

In the end, increasing the minimum wage is about making sure we are doing those things we should do -  making New York a better place to live, work and create jobs.  It’s about doing not only the right thing, but the smart and responsible thing.  By any measure, raising the minimum wage passes these tests. I hope State Senate Republicans come to agree with this common-sense conclusion.