Tag Archives: Senator Michael Gianaris

Pols call for redesign of Queensboro Bridge exit ramp after deadly accident


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Senator Michael Gianaris' Office

After an off-duty NYPD officer was killed when her car smashed into an exit ramp off the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, local elected officials are calling for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to put an end to deadly accidents.

Elisa Toro, 36, a 10-year NYPD veteran who was assigned to Manhattan’s 17th Precinct, was heading off the bridge’s exit ramp around 1:50 a.m. on Tuesday when she struck a guardrail, then a cement barrier, said police. The car then flipped onto its passenger side, hitting a vacant storefront on Queens Plaza South at Crescent Street.

Toro, a Bronx resident, was pronounced dead at the scene. No one else was injured in the accident, said police. The investigation is ongoing.

Following a series of accidents at the same site in 2011, State Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan sent a letter to the DOT demanding the agency redesign the ramp and continue to improve temporary safety measures. These procedures would include higher barriers and other measures that could help lessen the danger for pedestrians and storefront, until the exit ramp is redesigned.

“No one else should have to die before the city realizes that this exit ramp is fundamentally unsafe,” said Gianaris. “We stood here two years ago asking for a complete redesign of the off ramp, and instead we got new signs and a couple barriers. The time for half measures is gone. We need a safer exit ramp before another tragedy occurs.”

Gianaris asked the DOT to improve traffic safety in the area and redesign the bridge’s exit ramp, after a series of accidents in 2011. But a redesign of the exit ramp was “ignored” and only “additional signage and minimal barriers” were added, according to Gianaris. The barrier, which was destroyed in a 2011 crash, was never replaced, he said, and could have protected the storefront in Tuesday’s accident.

“The east bound off ramp of the Queensboro Bridge is clearly a death trap,” said Van Bramer. “Cars are still flying off this bridge, into store fronts, and putting the lives of pedestrians and motorists in jeopardy. It is clear that the Department of Transportation has not done enough.”

 

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Long Island City lights up for the holidays


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer's Office

The Long Island City community came together to welcome the holidays and make the season bright.

Over 100 residents young and old gathered with local elected officials and community leaders on Tuesday night to celebrate the holidays by lighting festive snowflakes along Vernon Boulevard.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer worked together with JetBlue to a secure a $5,000 grant to bring the holiday lights to the thriving neighborhood.

The holiday celebration included Christmas carols sung by students from P.S. 78, led by Gianna Cerbone-Teoli, owner of Manducatis Rustica located at 46-33 Vernon Boulevard.

The night also included readings of special Christmas stories by the fireplace of LIC BAR, located at 45-58 Vernon Boulevard, and a performance by local jazz group, The Charlie Brown Christmas Trio.

 

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Costa Constantinides wins City Council District 22 race


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Costa Constantinides is making history and will now serve the community he has called home his whole life.

The lifelong Astoria resident has been elected to fill Peter Vallone Jr.’s seat in City Council District 22 and represent Astoria, Long Island City and parts of Jackson Heights. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, he won the race with 66 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

“The voters have spoken,” said Constantinides. “I feel very humbled about the weight of what this means and the faith the people of this district have put in me.”

His win marks the first time since 1974 that a member of the Vallone family does not hold the seat in District 22. Before current Councilmember and term-limited Peter Vallone Jr. was elected to represent the district, his father, former Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. held the seat.

Constantinides celebrated his victory together with his wife, four-year old son, family, friends and supporters as the Democratic winner in the general election on November 5 at Raven’s Head Public House in Astoria. He was also joined by State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Michael DenDekker.

“I’m looking forward to representing each and every one of the 160,000 constituents of this district and making sure that government works for them and that they have a voice in City Hall that is going to fight for them every single day,” he said. “That’s why I decided to run for City Council.”

According to Constantinides, he is the first Greek American to be elected into the City Council.

In September, Constantinides took the win against attorney John Ciafone and longtime Community Board 1 member Constantinos “Gus” Prentzas in the democratic primary.

In 2009, he was elected to serve as the Democratic District Leader for the 36th Assembly District, Part A. He also served as Legislative Director and Deputy Chief of Staff to Councilmember James F. Gennaro where he assisted on key legislation.

Some of the main areas Constantinides hopes to address when taking the seat in January are better environmental protection including reducing traffic congestion, expanding open space and investing in clean energy. He also hopes to improve schools for the children in his district and plans to clean up the streets, by prioritizing the increase of corner garbage pickups and funding a street sweeping program like the Doe Fund.

“The things that we talked about resonated in this campaign and I feel we have a mandate now to get those things accomplished,” he said.

Constantinides was running against Republican Daniel Peterson, Green Party candidate Lynne Serpe, Independent Danielle De Stefano and Populist Party candidate Gerald Kann.

“I’m looking forward to fighting for the people in this district,” said Constantinides. “The next step is to go out there and start fighting.”

Queens pols face Bronx rivals in first Battle of the Boroughs Bowl


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Politicians turned into playmakers for a special touch football game.

Queens and Bronx politicians faced off in the first ever Battle of the Boroughs Bowl at Monsignor McClancy High School in East Elmhurst Sunday.

The touch football event was organized to raise money by collecting donations, with all proceeds going to the United Service Organizations (USO) and the Wounded Warriors Project.

“At the heart, the core of this little fun outing that we are having, where hopefully no one will be hurt, is a really serious intent, and that intent is to help our veterans,” said Assemblymember Mike Benedetto, who is chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The lawmakers in attendance ranged from all levels of government, including City Comptroller John Liu, State Senator Mike Gianaris, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., Assemblymember Mike DenDekker and many more.

“Off the field and out of the office it’s good to have a personal relationship with your colleagues,” said DenDekker, who helped organize the event.

In addition to playing for a good cause, many of the politicians competed for city bragging rights.

“It’s friendly, it’s a fundraiser for our veterans, but its also serious business,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “We’re obviously competitive people, we are used to winning. And I am anxious to demonstrate to the people of my district that I can play football even though it’s been 20 years.”

In the end, Queens lost to the Bronx, 20-19.

 

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Maspeth residents and leaders are split over arts center


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Knockdown Center/Ariana Page Russell

Maspeth leaders and residents are ready to rumble over the Knockdown Center.

The center, a former glass and door factory turned arts hall, has hosted everything from weddings, Tiki Disco parties and even a mini-golf art exhibition since last year. Now, owners are applying for a license from the State’s Liquor Authority (SLA) to serve alcohol for future events at the 52-19 Flushing Avenue site.

But the center has recently come under fire from local leaders and residents, including Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, Senator Michael Gianaris, City Council candidate Craig Caruana and civic organizations, such as Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET).

“Bringing the arts to our neighborhood is good, but it’s a terrible idea to allow a club to serve alcohol to 600 to 5,000 people at dance parties, raves and concerts right across the street from residents’ homes,” Caruana said.

The industrial castle-like building in which the Knockdown Center operates is more than a century old.

Owners redid some of the inside and installed new windows, but kept most of it original so as to preserve the structure.
The immediate neighborhood consists of other manufacturing buildings and residential apartments.

Musical events will be held in the center and owners plan to host a flea market every Sunday  from Oct. 20. Some feel the facility has potential.

“I’m not against it right now as it stands,” said Anthony Nunziato, chair of civic group Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force. “I like the structure. I just want to make sure it’s workable in the community. It’s a place that’s been vacant in the community for years. By right, they can take it down and turn it into condos.”

Gary Giordano, Community Board 5 district manager, said as of last week he had not received any complaints of past Knockdown Center events. Giordano did say that owners may need to take into account transportation, security and respect for the community for future events.

The center, which officials said has been operating under temporary permits, is in the process of obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy from the Department of Buildings. Max attendance at past events was about 800 people, said Tyler Myers, Knockdown Center manager, but owners estimate it can hold 8,000 people.

“We are working with them to discover what a workable capacity would be for the building that we would also feel comfortable operating,” Myers said. “I think the Knockdown Center represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring something really unique and really special to Maspeth certainly, but also the New York community at large.”

Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, who also represents Maspeth, is in full support of the center, saying that it could bring economic growth.

“Manufacturing has been moving out of that area, a lot of those buildings are just warehouses and are not producing many jobs,” Crowley said. “I only see that it brings a benefit in creating good jobs.”

 

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Costa Constantinides wins 22nd Council District primary race


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos By Angy Altamirano

After months of campaigning, Costa Constantinides is one step closer to filling Peter Vallone Jr.’s seat in City Council District 22 and representing Astoria, Long Island City and parts of Jackson Heights.

Together with his wife, 4-year old son, mother, family, friends and supporters Constantinides celebrated his victory as the Democratic candidate in the Primary elections on September 10 at Raven’s Head Public House in Astoria. He won the race with 4,295 votes, holding onto 55.8 percent of the votes.

“I’m humbled by the faith people in this district have put in me,” said Constantinides. “I look forward to having a discussion about the issues that matter to people in the general election, but tonight I’m still celebrating and so proud of the people I worked with, our campaign team.”

The lifelong Astoria resident was joined by Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, State Senator Michael Gianaris and District 24 Councilmember James F. Gennaro during his celebration.

“I’m excited, but at the same time I understand the faith and the gravity of what they’ve [the people] asked me to do,” said Constantinides. “They’ve asked me to represent them in city government, to stand up for them, to make sure they have a voice and I’m looking forward to being that voice for them and making my case in the general election on why I have the best vision to move our district forward.”

Before running for City Council, Constantinides was elected as the Democratic District Leader for the 36th Assembly District, Part A in 2009. He was also Deputy Chief of Staff for Gennaro.

“Costa is all heart, this is what he is, this is what he’s about,” said Gennaro. “He’s all love, love for his family, love for his community, love for his work, he’s passionate about it.”

Some of the main issues on Constantinides’ campaign include improving education, healthcare, public safety and improving Astoria.

In the primary race Constantinides was running against long time community board 1 member Constantinos “Gus” Prentzas and attorney John Ciafone, who ran against Vallone in 2001.

“In a three month period that we had, I think we ran an extremely well campaign,” said Prentzas, who took in 1,701 votes. “We were able to put out the message that we are very concerns about Astoria. I wish Costa the best and I’m to continue being a voice and more active, more now to make sure the people that supported me have their concerns heard.”

Constantinides will now run against Republican Daniel Peterson, Green Party candidate Lynne Serpe and Independent Danielle De Stefano in the general election on November 5.

Whoever wins the seat for District 22 in November, will mark the first time since 1974 that a member of the Vallone family does not hold the position. Before current Councilmember and term-limited Peter Vallone Jr. was elected to represent the district, his father, former Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. held the seat.

 

Citi Bike share program headed to Astoria


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola

Citi Bike is coming to Astoria.

Although the Department of Transportation (DOT) has yet to set a timetable as to when the Citi Bike share program will be coming into Queens, Senator Michael Gianaris has announced he has worked with the DOT to include Astoria in the future plans.

“Citi Bike will be a great addition to Astoria, which has a growing cycling community and is already one of the most bike-friendly neighborhoods in the city,” said Gianaris.

Astoria now joins Long Island City and Sunnyside as future locations in the borough for the Citi Bike share program.

Long Island City was supposed to be part of the Citi Bike’s initial phase which debuted in May but was pushed back after equipment damages from Superstorm Sandy caused a delay.

The DOT previously told The Courier that although the expansion into Long Island City was delayed, it is working to bring the Citi Bike stations to the neighborhood as soon as possible. “Bike share will allow people to enjoy the neighborhood in a fun and healthy way and will help people more easily travel around western Queens, an area in dire need of better mass transit,” said Gianaris.

 

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Long Island City neighborhood calls for traffic safety improvements


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Benjamin Fang

ANGY ALTAMIRANO AND BENJAMIN FANG

As the Dutch Kills neighborhood in Long Island City continues to grow, local politicians and residents are calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve traffic safety.

“The city must ensure that its priority remains the safety of neighborhood residents,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “We are trying to be proactive on this side of the plaza and make sure that the residents and people who are staying in hotels here are safe as they walk the streets and visit all the new businesses.”

According to Gianaris and Dominic Stiller, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, there have been six to seven car crashes and accidents over the past several months at intersections in the neighborhood from 38th Avenue and 40th Avenue to 21st Street and 30th Street.

Through a petition, residents are asking the DOT for curb extensions, speed bumps, more four-way stop signs, new stop signs and enforcement of existing traffic laws to reduce speeding and unsafe driving as well as enhance pedestrian safety.

“This is a topic where lives can be saved,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “We don’t want to wait until someone dies here before the Department of Transportation takes all of these really good suggestions.”

A DOT spokesperson said safety is department’s first priority. Nicholas Mosquera added the DOT has met with Gianaris to discuss safety enhancements at 39th Avenue and 29th Street, an area which the agency is reevaluating for extra stop signs and marking upgrades. The DOT is also inspecting the Queensboro Plaza area to figure out if there are any additional methods needed to increase safety.

The DOT has also launched an outreach initiative in the area and positioned street safety managers to help pedestrians and bicyclists near Dutch Kills Park.

“This initiative is part of a citywide campaign to educate and promote shared responsibility for everyone using the streets,” said Mosquera said.

 

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Liquor Authority votes no booze for Astoria bikini bar


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

The girls can show some skin, but cannot serve guests some drinks.

On July 2, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) rejected a liquor license application from the owners of Racks, a restaurant and bar that owners are seeking to open at 19-26 Steinway Street.

During the SLA meeting, local politicians and residents showed up to voice their heavy opposition to the bar, where female servers would be wearing bikinis.

“A place like Racks is wholly out of character with the family-friendly neighborhood of its proposed location,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, whose office has heard a large community outcry against the bar. “Astoria does not need scantily-clad women performing lap and pole dances a stone’s throw away from a playground, middle school and our neighbor’s homes.”

According to Simotas, the proposed adult establishment would reduce property values, increase the need for additional law enforcement and damage the community.

“I tip my hat to the State Liquor Authority for listening to our community and helping preserve the character of our neighborhood,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “This decision is a victory for our quality of life and for the thousands of families raising their children in Astoria.”

In April, Community Board 1 voted against a liquor license recommendation for Racks. But the board added that the owners could still set up shop and even feature topless adult entertainment.

Kerry John Katsorhis, the lawyer for Racks, could not be reached as of press time. During the April meeting, he said children would not have to pass by the bar to get the playground.

 

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Pols want to speed up bike share expansion in western Queens


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola

With the much-anticipated Citi Bike Share scheduled to begin by the end of the month, local politicians are calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to speed up expansion into western Queens.

On May 9, DOT set the Citi Bike Share’s start for the week of Memorial Day for annual members who sign up by May 17. The program is slated to open to daily and weekly members on June 2.

The program, which is operated by NYC Bike Share, will offer specially designed, durable bikes at docking stations around the city. Members can rent the bikes with special keys. They be available 24 hours a day year-round for 30 to 45 minutes at a go depending on the user’s membership plan.

The DOT plans to set up bike stations in Long Island City and Sunnyside within the year. Those are the only parts of the borough currently set to be covered by Citi Bike Share.

“Our community has worked for years to make western Queens more bike-friendly, and our efforts have been largely successful,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “I am pleased to see that Long Island City is included in future plans, and I hope that the program will be quickly expanded to more western Queens neighborhoods.”

In recent years, western Queens has been the recipient of many bike-related amenities. Queensboro Bridge now features improved bike access. Also, developments like the Queens East River and North Shore Greenway have delivered transportation alternatives to and from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Gianaris and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer will continue to work with DOT, Citi Bike Share and local groups to speed up the process of bringing bike stations to Long Island City and the rest of western Queens.

“While we are initially placing the stations in the densest contiguous parts of the city that would generate the most use of the bikes, there will be a chance to expand in the future based on demand and resources,” said DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel.

You can find a map of stations included in the current plan at citibikenyc.com/stations.

 

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Astoria man arrested for apartment arsenal had previous weapons charge


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

image007

An Astoria man with an arsenal of illegal arms and ammo was busted by police after neighbors allegedly heard shots fired from his home.

Michael Millazzo, 53, was taken into police custody after firing shots into the air outside of his apartment on Shore Boulevard at around 10 a.m. on Sunday, August 26. Video footage obtained by police shows Millazzo firing the gun and returning inside the building before walking back outside, grabbing something off the ground and re-entering the complex.

According to the district attorney, Millazzo said he fired the gun to test it out and admitted the item he retrieved off the ground outside was the shell casing that discharged from the pistol when he fired.

While conducting a search of Millazzo’s residence on August 31, officers uncovered a .40 caliber Glock, a 9mm handgun, 20 .40 caliber magazines, six high-capacity rifle magazines, 32 machetes and roughly 10,500 rounds of ammunition. The fully-stocked storeroom also contained nearly five dozen knives, multiple tasers, brass knuckles and handcuffs.

According to the DA, the weapons had been purchased from various businesses and private owners over the Internet.

In 2004, Millazzo was convicted of attempted criminal possession of an assault weapon in the third degree.
Police could not say why Millazzo owned such an extensive weapon collection or what he intended to do with it.

“It goes to show that there’s no place in this city, this state or this country that’s immune to the dangerous gun culture that exists,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “It’s not just a problem in high crime areas.”

The senator, who recently passed legislation that limits the amount of guns a person can purchase within a certain time and increases background checks on individuals purchasing weapons, said Millazzo most likely obtained the guns at a rate higher than the new law allows.

Regardless of the incident, Gianaris still believes that Astoria remains a safe neighborhood.
“The reason we need more sensible gun laws is because there is no area that’s immune to gun violence,” said Gianaris. “All it takes is one person who’s not well to wreak havoc. It’s not a reflection on Astoria.”

Millazzo was charged with multiple counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, multiple counts of criminal possession in the first degree, reckless endangerment, firearms and firearms ammunition. He was arraigned on September 1 with bail set at $1 million bond or $500,000 cash, according to the DA. His next court date is scheduled for September 14

Pols: New district lines ‘as bad’ as before


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Recent revisions to district lines have done little to darn the disharmony between Republicans and Democrats.

The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — released its updated district maps on March 12, angering Democrats due to the miniscule modifications made over the past month.

The new lines, which no longer couple the districts of Senators Michael Gianaris and Jose Peralta, still combine the regions of Senators Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky. Slight changes were also made to the first-ever Asian American majority district created in the initial maps.

Despite their districts no longer being threatened, both Gianaris and Peralta have spoken out against the maps and are hopeful Governor Andrew Cuomo follows through on his pledge to veto any partisan proposals.

“The lines have barely changed at all,” said Gianaris, who called the pairing of himself and Peralta a harassment tactic. “The first proposal is the worst gerrymandering in the history of New York State, and the second proposal is 98 percent as bad. The real problem is the way they are dividing communities around the state and that is what has yet to be fixed. The best hope now is for the governor to veto the lines and let the court do it fairly.”

Frank Sobrino, a spokesperson for Peralta, says the situation is “bigger” than the two senators, and the new lines do not provide any progress from the initial maps, which were considered to be “blatantly partisan.”

“I want the governor to follow up on his commitment to veto these lines,” Peralta said.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR, says he expects the maps to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

“We expect these to be the final lines for the Senate and Assembly,” Reif said. “We held nine additional public hearings [across the state] and we made changes from what we were hearing from different communities.”

Along with the updated maps, LATFOR also introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan commission to draw district lines. Based on the bill, the commission would be composed of 10 members — two from each party from both the Senate and Assembly and an additional two members chosen by the initial eight.

If approved, the commission would be in charge of deciding district lines the next time they are up for revision in a decade — a length of time deemed unacceptable by many Democrats.

New district lines ‘as bad’ as before


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Recent revisions to district lines have done little to darn the disharmony between Republicans and Democrats.

The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — released its updated district maps on March 12, angering Democrats due to the miniscule modifications made over the past month.

The new lines, which no longer couple the districts of Senators Michael Gianaris and Jose Peralta, still combine the regions of Senators Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky. Slight changes were also made to the first-ever Asian American majority district created in the initial maps.

Despite their districts no longer being threatened, both Gianaris and Peralta have spoken out against the maps and are hopeful Governor Andrew Cuomo follows through on his pledge to veto any partisan proposals.

“The lines have barely changed at all,” said Gianaris, who called the pairing of himself and Peralta a harassment tactic. “The first proposal is the worst gerrymandering in the history of New York State, and the second proposal is 98 percent as bad. The real problem is the way they are dividing communities around the state and that is what has yet to be fixed. The best hope now is for the governor to veto the lines and let the court do it fairly.”

Frank Sobrino, a spokesperson for Peralta, says the situation is “bigger” than the two senators, and the new lines do not provide any progress from the initial maps, which were considered to be “blatantly partisan.”

“I want the governor to follow up on his commitment to veto these lines,” Peralta said.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR, says he expects the maps to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

“We expect these to be the final lines for the Senate and Assembly,” Reif said. “We held nine additional public hearings [across the state] and we made changes from what we were hearing from different communities.”

Along with the updated maps, LATFOR also introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan commission to draw district lines, a measure many politicians have been calling for. Based on the bill, the commission would be composed of 10 members — two from each party from both the Senate and Assembly and an additional two members chosen by the initial eight.

If approved, the commission would be in charge of deciding district lines the next time they are up for revision in a decade — a length of time deemed unacceptable by many Democrats.

“That’s 10 years from now,” Sobrino said. “Each and every single Republican signed a pledge before they ran last time supporting an independent process. They didn’t say they were going to fix the situation 10 years from now. They said they were going to fix it now.”

Bill would stiffen sex offender penalties


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

In an effort to keep the public safe from sexual abuse, the New York State Senate has passed a bill increasing the penalty for repeat offenders.

The Senate has approved legislation introduced by Senator Michael Gianaris which excludes time spent in prison from the 10-year period during which the actions of a repeat sex offender are deemed “persistent sexual abuse.”

Under the current law, criminals who commit certain sex crimes on multiple occasions can count time they are incarcerated towards the decade-long period in which they are subject to harsher penalties.

“Repeat sex offenders must be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Gianaris said. “By specifically directing the exclusion of any time during which a person was incarcerated from the 10 year look back period, this bill would more effectively hold the offender accountable under the law.”

The legislation has yet to reach the Assembly floor for a vote, but if passed there, it will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing.

“This bill is intended to prevent sex offenders who repeatedly target women and children from finding leniency in legal loopholes,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who co-authored the bill. “The legislation’s passage in the Senate is an important first step towards ensuring that individuals who commit persistent sexual abuse face the full consequences of their crimes.”

Senate Redistricting plan is divisive


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Newly-drawn district lines may pit Senate Democrats against one another in a political dogfight.

Under the proposed plan, which was designed by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair Michael Gianaris would face off with Senator Jose Peralta for the right to represent a single, heavily Hispanic district.

“With this brazenly political proposal, Senate Republicans have done more to hurt the cause of fair and independent redistricting in one day than advocates like myself have done to advance the cause after years of advocacy,” Gianaris said. “Today, Senate Republicans return us to the days when Albany was the most dysfunctional capital in the nation by bringing Tom DeLay’s brand of politics to New York. The people of this state will not stand for it, and neither should we.”

Peralta echoed his senatorial partner and potential rival by calling the new lines “egregious.”

“This is a case of petty, election-year politics as arrogant as it is obvious,” Peralta said. “The pledges to redistricting reform by Republicans clearly are not worth the ink used to sign them. If they have at least minimal respect for voters, Republicans will spare New Yorkers further hypocrisy and keep to themselves ridiculous claims that their bold-faced power grab was done in the name of minority enfranchisement.”

Longtime Senator Toby Ann Stavisky would also be matched against Senator Tony Avella — who assumed office in 2011 — sparking speculation that the GOP’s goal is to maintain its slender majority in the Senate by eliminating a number of incumbent Democrats.

The GOP lines also create the Senate’s first Asian-majority district in Flushing. The plan would expand the Senate to 63 members by creating a new seat in a reportedly Republican-dominated area outside of Albany, as well.

“We believe our plan is fair, legal and it protects minority voting interests,” said Scott Reif, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR. “We are very proud of the fact that we create the first Asian-American majority district in Queens centered in Flushing. We also maintain or strengthen every single African-American and Hispanic district in the city. This plan is based on population shifts which occurred over the last 10 years. There are a number of incumbents who are put together in the same district, but this is not based on politics. It is based on demographics and actions that the task force took are to protect minority voting rights.”

According to Reif, nine public hearings will be held throughout the state, during which the public can offer feedback on the plan. LATFOR will hold a hearing for Queens on Tuesday, February 7 at 3 p.m. in Room 213 of Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens.

Peralta, who believes there should be an independent process and commission drawing the lines, believes the notion that the plan was designed to unite communities is preposterous.

“Republicans say it is about brining communities together, but they divided the LeFrak buildings into two districts,” said the senator. “They took the southern part of my district in Elmhurst, which is highly Asian, and they divided it into two districts. The gerrymandering is hurting people because it dilutes the power of the vote. It dilutes the ability for people to come out and choose a candidate that matches their needs.”

Various community groups have expressed outrage over the district map, due to the lines’ dissonant effects on their neighborhoods.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) has strongly objected the plan, which divides the neighborhood among three different senators.

“LATFOR’s decision to split up a one-square-mile neighborhood among three different senators is bewildering and has no basis in the character, demographics or needs of our community,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, WRBA’s communications director. “When it comes to the Senate lines, the people of Woodhaven are being treated as pawns in Albany’s gerrymandering games.”

According to published reports, Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to veto the plan, which he deems partisan.

Repeated attempts to contact the governor’s office went unreturned.