Tag Archives: NYC city council

Weprin vies to become next Council speaker


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

It’s off to the races for six legislators looking to become the next City Council speaker.

Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens, Dan Garodnick, James Vacca, Anabel Palma and Mark Weprin are vying to replace incumbent-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is term-limited.

Quinn was voted to lead the Council, the city’s de facto second most powerful office, in 2005.

Weprin, the top Queens candidate in the race, was elected to the Council in 2009 after 15 years in the Assembly. He is campaigning on a promise that he will not run for higher office and is not term-limited in 2017.

“I am not running for the mayor of the City of New York,” Weprin told The Courier. “I can spend all my time being the best speaker I can be. I think one thing that has been lacking in previous speakers is they have all been running for higher office.”

Mark-Viverito, an ally to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, is considered a top contender for the seat.
Candidates have been taking part in forums throughout the city, though councilmembers will internally vote on a new speaker January 4.

 

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Council vote OKs Bayside school on Keil Bros. site


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A controversial proposal to build a school in Bayside sailed through the City Council last week, despite the community’s overwhelming opposition.

The city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) needed the Council’s final ruling in order to go through with plans to build a new elementary school at the site of the Keil Bros. Garden Center and Nursery.

Owners of the popular garden center sold their 210-11 48th Avenue property to the city for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.

The City Council approved the application last Thursday, with only Queens legislators Mark Weprin and Peter Vallone Jr. voting no.

“I had opposed the school because I didn’t think it was the best site for a school to begin with,” Weprin said. “I wasn’t even convinced about the need for the school.”

Nearby homeowners said the 456-seat institution would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

The contentious plan even led to two rowdy residents threatening SCA officials in May, when the proposal was first presented to the public at a heated Community Board 11 meeting.

The board had just shot down the application in an advisory vote when a male resident threatened to break an SCA representative’s legs and a woman allegedly followed another official in a car, The Courier reported.

“The community is very much against it,” Weprin said. “The Department of Education decided we needed a school there. I haven’t met anybody in the community who is dying to have a school there.”

But many local educators who support the plan said the new school would relieve heavy congestion in the district’s 21 elementary schools. At least three schools have had to put classrooms in space originally meant for libraries or music rooms, according to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of CB 11.

The SCA said its site selection process began in 2008. The authority honed in on the Bayside location this April. The DOE did not comment on when construction would begin.

Meanwhile, a battle still brews between the district’s state senator and its new councilmember.

State Senator Tony Avella claims Councilmember-elect Paul Vallone snubbed the community by supporting the proposal behind closed doors.

Vallone, who does not cast a Council vote until January, has “never voiced support for the school site,” his spokesperson said.

“Tony must not have gotten the memo — he’s not the councilman anymore,” said spokesperson Austin Finan. “Moving forward, Paul Vallone will not be responding to the lies perpetuated by Senator Avella who has clearly demonstrated he is more focused on personal vendettas than he is the future of northeast Queens.”

 

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Mayor Bloomberg files suit to stop law making it easier to sue city over profiling


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

From the City Council to the courts.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday against the City Council to challenge a law that would make it easier for people to sue the city in discrimination cases.

The mayor’s latest move in the battle over the controversial Community Safety Act only targets the profiling measure and doesn’t include the law that creates an inspector general.

The profiling law will expand biased-based protection from ethnicity, religion and national origin to age, gender, sexual orientation and other categories. It allows individuals to sue in state courts and seek declaratory or injunctive relief, such as asking a judge change the city’s practices, instead of monetary damages.

Bloomberg said in the lawsuit the profiling law “exceeds the bounds of permissible legislation in the Council,” because changing criminal procedure law is restricted for the state legislature.

“There’s an important principle at stake here,” Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said in a statement. “Local legislative bodies should not be passing laws affecting the regulation of law enforcement activity in this way.”

The Community Safety Act was originally passed on June 26, following strong support from minority groups, who said they were being unfairly targeted by the Police Department. Statistics show cops stop-and-frisk minorities with about a 9:1 ratio to whites.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin recently ruled stop-and-frisk was being used unconstitutionally, but Bloomberg said the policy has resulted in lowering crime and gun possession and has filed to appeal the decision.

Opponents of the Community Safety Act believe the profiling bill will tie up the Police Department in court.

Last week a Queens black man was the first person to file a lawsuit against the city over alleged illegal stop-and-frisk, following Scheindlin’s ruling.

Allen Moye, 55, of Jamaica, was stopped three years ago and arrested, but charges were dropped, according to reports.

Queens opponents of the new laws are supporting Bloomberg’s lawsuit.

“I am hopeful that it will be successful in overturning the most dangerous bill ever enacted and removing the handcuffs the City Council has placed on our police officers,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., “All this legislation does is hand over control of the NYPD to the courts and control of our streets to violent criminals.”

The City Council now has 20 days to file a response.

 

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City Council overrides Bloomberg’s Community Safety Act veto


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter / @MarkWeprin

The New York City Council voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the controversial Community Safety Act.

The act contains two bills, one that will create an inspector general to oversee the activities of the police department and have subpoena power, while the other bill will make it easier for people to sue the NYPD over racial profiling.

The racial profiling bill override passed 34-15 on Thursday and the inspector general bill override passed 39-10. The profiling measure will go into effect 90 days after the vote and the inspector general will be appointed by the new mayor in January.

Bloomberg expressed his disagreement with the override in a statement after the City Council meeting and vowed to fight the bills before they go in effect.

“Make no mistake; the communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City’s historic crime reductions,” Bloomberg said. “It is a dangerous piece of legislation and we will ask the courts to step in before innocent people are harmed.”

Opponents of the bills believe that the NYPD doesn’t need to have another monitor and that the racial profiling bill will cause officers and the police department to be tied up in court, instead of fighting crime.

“The role to have permanent oversight of the police department belongs to the police commissioner, belongs to the City Council members who serve on the Public Safety Committee, which refused to pass these laws to begin with,” Councilmember Eric Ulrich said. “This is not going to lower crime; the only thing it’s going to lower is the moral of the police department.”

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who was against the bills, missed the vote to move his daughters into the University of Notre Dame. “The city just became less safe,” Vallone tweeted.

Supporters of the bills believe that minorities were unfairly targeted by the stop-and-frisk policy and the bills were necessary to stop racial profiling.

“This vote for me is a very easy one,” Councilmember Mark Weprin said. “I have no choice but to vote what I believe in my heart. And I feel very strongly that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. This is a policy that needs to be reformed.”

Supporters also believe that the bill will improve relations between the cops and minorities.

“By reforming this policy, these residents will be less likely to second guess a police officer’s intentions and be more willing to help them in their investigation,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “I am proud to vote with my colleagues in overturning the mayor’s veto and would like to thank them for helping to make this city a safer place to live.”

 

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District 19 candidate Shafran wants to clean up City Council


| editorial@queenscourier.com

One candidate has a plan to clean up the city council.

Austin Shafran, who is running in the District 19 race, believes the key to fighting government corruption is to limit politicians’ outside influences, and take the power out of their hands and put it into the local community.

“Our community isn’t getting the fair share we deserve because of the corrupting influence of outside business interests.

For our voice and our needs to be heard at City Hall, we must clean up the corruption and create an honest and effective government that gets things done,” said Shafran.

His three-point proposal targets conflicts of interest for councilmembers and their employees, and makes sure funding is fairly distributed among districts.

Shafran would like to prohibit all outside employment from which city councilmembers receive income. The ban would make the position “full-time” and eliminate outside corrupting interests, he said.

Councilmembers would still be allowed to derive profits from stock and bond investments, personal and family trusts, retirement funds or through inheritance, he said.

Another plan point would eliminate conflict of interests arising from lobbyists.

“We need to take the ‘who you know’ out of government,” said Shafran.

His proposal bans city-registered corporate lobbyists and their firms from lobbying family members who are elected to public office and elected officials they work for as campaign staff or consultants for the duration of the term immediately after the most recent election cycle.

His final point ensures local communities have a final say in what projects receive funding from the city council, and every district receives an equal share.

“It’s the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Shafran said [his campaign] “is about protecting our neighborhoods through public service,” and that is why he is proposing his plan.

 

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NYC may raise tobacco purchase age to 21


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

If City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has her way, drinking won’t be the only thing that becomes legal at 21.

Newly proposed Council legislation would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in the five boroughs from 18 to 21.

The change would make NYC the first major U.S. city to have a minimum smoking age above 19 years old.

“Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age 21,” said Quinn, who announced the legislation today along with Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and representatives from leading health advocacy organizations. “By delaying our city’s children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we’re decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city.”

Although the city has cut the smoking rate over the last decade through measures such as banning smoking in bars and raising cigarette prices, the rate among youths has remained consistent at 8.5 percent since 2007, according to a statement from Quinn.

“Considering that 85 percent of U.S. smokers begin their deadly habit before they reach age 21, this legislation would help prevent more youth from succumbing to an addiction that could cost them their lives,” said Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

 

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City Council strips Dan Halloran of funding power


| mchan@queenscourier.com

DAN HALLORAN

The City Council has voted to strip disgraced Councilmember Dan Halloran of his committee assignments and power to allocate funding.

Halloran faces federal charges for allegedly playing a key role in a conspiracy and bribery scheme to rig the mayoral election, authorities said.

Power to distribute funds in the 19th District now falls to Speaker Christine Quinn’s office and the Council’s entire Queens Delegation, according to Councilmember Leroy Comrie, the delegation’s chair.

“The entire delegation will be working closely, regarding funding, in consultation with his staff and all of the groups,” Comrie said. “It will be a delegation collaborative effort, working with the community and all the groups that have requested funding.”

Bayside and College Point residents in Halloran’s district recently voted to create kayak and canoe launches in Little Bay Park and restore a cultural institute as part of the city’s participatory budgeting process.

Halloran’s spokesperson Kevin Ryan said the Council will “most likely honor” the votes despite the funding freeze. But sources said the $1 million initiative could be in jeopardy.

“We’ll try to do as much as we can to keep the participatory budgeting,” said Comrie.

Meanwhile, a handful of state elected officials are fighting for a hand in allocating the district’s city funds.

“I have a real problem with someone from outside the district placing money,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “We know the district better than anyone else. We want to make sure the groups that deserve the funding in this district get the proper funding. That would be terribly unfair if the groups are disenfranchised.”

Avella and three assemblymembers who represent parts of the district have placed calls to the Speaker to be part of the decision making process.

“That’s not okay in my opinion,” Avella said. “None of them know the groups in this district.”

 

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City Council passes resolution calling for speed cameras


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Local lawmakers are telling drivers to slow down.

On Wednesday, March 20, the City Council approved a resolution calling on the state Legislature to pass a law allowing New York City to set up a speed camera pilot program. It would test 20 to 40 speed cameras installed at high-risk locations across the city for five years, according to the Council, which said one in four traffic deaths in the city is caused by speeding.

“The speed cameras would not photograph the driver or disseminate the license plate number of the vehicle,” the Council said in a release.

Fines would range from $25 to $50 for speeding between 10 and 30 miles above the speed limit and $100 for driving more than 30 miles above the speed limit.

“If we can save the life of just one child by reducing the speed of vehicles in our city, this pilot program will have served its purpose,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who sits on the Council’s Transportation Committee and helped spearhead the resolution. “We are obligated to protect the lives of our city residents and introducing a speed camera pilot program in New York City will help reduce excessive speeding in areas that have been plagued by drag racing, excessive vehicular crashes and pedestrian collisions.”

One accident where speed may have been a factor is the death of a nine-year-old Sunnyside girl, Hallie Geier, who, in 2004, was hit by an SUV in front of Van Bramer’s home.

Following the incident, Van Bramer and the Council worked to have the Department of Transportation (DOT) install speed humps on the block.

But more needs to be done according to the Council, and the DOT agrees.

After releasing 2012 traffic safety statistics this week, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is calling for “swift state authorization for the city to use speed-camera enforcement for the first time, with a priority given to streets near schools with documented speeding.”

Although the city experienced historic lows in annual traffic deaths last year, “fatal crashes overwhelmingly involved speeding (increasing from 49 in 2011 to 81 in 2012),” and were “the greatest single factor in traffic deaths.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly is also behind the speed camera plan, according to reports, and sent a letter to state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo expressing his support.

But the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) strongly disagrees with Kelly, and believes money for the program would be better used for other speed mitigating measures.

“Speed cameras are no substitute for live policing. Many speeders are unlicensed, some are operating under the influence and sometimes they are fleeing crime scenes or carrying weapons,” said PBA president Patrick J. Lynch. “Cameras let all those dangers slip by. Money spent on speed cameras would be far better used to improve public safety by hiring more fully trained police officers to interdict speeders.”

Photo courtesy of DOT

Final redistricting lines released


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Queens_Feb6

The final district lines that will go before the City Council were released on Monday, February 4, with moderate changes to the map that was released just two months ago. The new maps were released two days before the Districting Commission was to vote on the lines and discuss the changes district-by-district and borough-by-borough.

Several neighborhoods opposed the lines released in early December, mainly insisting the plans would divide neighborhoods and certain demographics. Independent residents and civic organizations made their unhappiness known at several hearings.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) opposed the December map, as the neighborhood would continue to be divided between two councilmembers. The district currently represented by Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley was essentially flipped with that represented by Councilmember Eric Ulrich.

Members spoke out against the lines at a January 14 hearing. WRBA President Ed Wendell said he was disappointed, but realized at this point change probably would not have come. He said the WRBA would “have to work twice as hard to get our elected officials’ attention.”

Kris Gounden, an Ozone Park resident who’s been active in the West Indian community, said he was disappointed that parts of South Ozone Park were still incorporated into the 32nd District, despite pleas by residents.

“We want someone that’s born of us,” he said. “That looks like us. That’s more likely to speak of our own interest.

 

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Residents fight against redistricting division


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence Cullen

In their last attempt before the maps went to the City Council for votes, residents told the New York City Redistricting Commission changes had to be made to keep neighborhoods such as South Ozone Park and Woodhaven in one piece.

“This isn’t about which district we end up with, this isn’t about which representative we get,” said Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) President Ed Wendell. “We just know that when we’re divided, it weakens our position.”

The Monday, January 14 hearing was the third before a final draft is sent to the City Council for a vote. Representatives have three weeks to vote either in favor or against the map; the new Council lines will be adopted if the legislature can’t come to a vote by deadline. The commission will re-explore lines after this latest round of hearings and make any changes it feels necessary.

Concerns about neighborhoods in Flushing and Bayside were addressed at the meeting — particularly Mitchell Linden, Broadway and Murray Hill — where many say the towns were split or dislocated from traditional districts. Councilmember , reading from a prepared testimony, called for the commission to keep these neighborhoods united, as they had been in the past.

Wendell, one of several WRBA members to speak, harkened back to the first draft of Council lines in which Woodhaven was almost completely in one councilmember’s district. The second draft, however, essentially flipped Woodhaven’s representatives and divided the area again.

Colin Bucca, another Woodhaven resident, told the commissioners continuing to keep Woodhaven in two would ruin the integrity and the character of the neighborhood.

“It’s not just equations on a spread sheet, it’s not just lines on a map, it’s people,” he said. “A neighborhood is defined by the people that live there. I live in Woodhaven; that’s my neighborhood.”

Many others spoke about neighboring South Ozone Park being placed in District 28, but wanted the western line of the district pushed to Woodhaven Boulevard — incorporating such landmarks as John Adams High School.
The desire for a unified Indo-Caribbean community has been the driving force behind this push, something that many in attendance spoke to.

“We are disappointed that South Ozone Park, part of the same community of interest, remains falsely divided along Lefferts Boulevard,” said Videsh Persaud, a program coordinator for the Indo-Caribbean Alliance. “While we appreciate the changes that were made in Richmond Hill, the process is incomplete without adjustments to South Ozone Park as well. These are part of the same community, and they must be kept in the same district.”

Kris Gounden, a community activist for the area, said residents want elected officials who understand their cultures and needs. Gounden said the city had suppressed the Indo-Caribbean community in south Queens and had stunted its ability to grow and prosper.

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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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