Tag Archives: State Senator James Sanders

Leaders vow to save and expand St. John’s Hospital at community forum

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

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If only one thing could be taken away from the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital forum on March 13, it’s that “St. John’s is not closing.”

The phrase was repeated numerous times by leaders of the hospital during the meet-and-greet event, which featured hospital chair Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, CEO Richard Brown, a representative from the State Department of Health, and Steve Kramer, executive vice president of the hospital’s employees’ union, 1199 SEIU.

State Senator James Sanders put the forum together to allow residents a face-to-face conference with the leaders to answer the community’s concerns about the future of the hospital.

Instead of closing, everyone in the room was focused on how the hospital and health care in the Rockaways would expand.

“My job is to make sure that nobody deviates from the path,” Sanders said. “The bottom line is we are going to save this hospital and we are heading north.”

Brown announced updates on the expansion of the hospital’s emergency department.

The project will cost an estimated $9 – $10 million, and double the size of the emergency department. The construction will be carried out in three phases over nearly two years. The expansion is lengthy because the emergency department will continue to stay open during construction.

Residents, who have complained the department is too small, hope the expansion could happen sooner.

“Yes, it’s terrible,” said Rockaway resident Anita Hunter, who was born in the hospital and whose sister currently works there. “You can barely walk in there. There are so many people lined up outside the examination room.”

Residents also used the forum to hasten the possible merger between the hospital and Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which would allow St. John’s to expand its services and resources.

Brown said the merger was still in the discussion phase. He said metaphorically that St. John’s is “dating” the Long Island organization, but not yet “married” to them.

“What we in this room are looking for is to see St. John’s be a first class hospital,” Kramer said. “We ask you, Bishop and CEO Brown, to make moves as quickly as possible to expedite the merger.”

Perhaps the most exciting statement made at the meeting, though, was Sanders declaring he would like to see the shuttered Peninsula Hospital used as an additional emergency department. The room was immediately filled with cheers.

“I didn’t take this job to lose,” Sanders said. “I didn’t come on to be in charge of the dismantling of health care in the Rockaways. I believe in this place and I believe we can do better.”



Stringer wants to create Sandy Audit Bureau if elected comptroller

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Manhattan Borough President and City Comptroller candidate Scott Stringer announced a plan to create a Sandy Audit Bureau within the Comptroller’s office if elected.

The Sandy unit, a team of “professionals and experts,” would track the incoming $15 billion in federal aid and ensure the post-storm recovery money is spent “wisely and efficiently.”
Stringer said when that amount of money comes in, there must be a “laser focus on every single dollar.”

“Nine months after Sandy, the winds have subsided but we still have to confront the challenge of protecting our shoreline communities from the next great storm,” Stringer said. “The Comptroller’s office is uniquely positioned to serve as the city’s watchdog over all Sandy-related funds.”

Furthermore, Stringer plans to provide an online resource, The Sandy Tracker, that will allow residents to follow how the city is spending storm-related dollars. In the event of fraud or abuse, there will be an established 24-hour hotline for taxpayers to report any instances of the sort.

“Since Sandy, the Rockaways has seen an increased flow of resources dedicated to addressing post-storm issues,” said State Senator James Sanders. “Merely having these resources, however, is not enough. There needs to be a system of accountability.”

Sanders, Councilmember Donovan Richards and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder joined Stringer during his announcement on Tuesday, August 6 and reiterated their endorsements for Stringer’s candidacy.

“Every penny that was raised for Sandy victims and every government dollar that was spent during the relief and recovery effort must be accounted for,” Goldfeder said.
Richards said his constituents simply want “a hand up, not a hand out.”

“This is a common sense bureau,” he said. “During our recovery, accountability and transparency are extremely important.”



Community wins fight against liquor store near Springfield Gardens school

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The southeast Queens community has successfully shut down a proposal to put a liquor store mere steps from Springfield Gardens High School.

The shop was set to move into a new building on North Conduit Avenue, right across the street from the high school. Councilmember Donovan Richards, State Senator James Sanders and the community rallied against the proposal and won the fight when the New York State Liquor Authority rejected the proposal in June.

“I’ve seen what alcohol can do to a child’s life,” said resident Cookie Kojak. “We want to make sure this is it and [the owners] don’t try again.”

According to state law, a liquor store cannot open within 200 feet of an educational facility. The liquor store itself, located inside the new shopping mall-style building, would have exceeded that distance.
Regardless, the site’s close proximity to a high school left the community feeling uneasy.

“The environment which [the students] occupy has to promote their development, not deter it,” Richards said.

He added that establishing a liquor store in this area is an “abomination” and doesn’t depict “who we are as a community.”

“Developing young minds and constructing them into leaders is very crucial,” Richards said.
Once the neighborhood high school’s dismissal bell rings, hundreds of students flood Springfield Boulevard and North Conduit Avenue. Officials worried with such a great number of minors walking around, some of them could wander into the proposed liquor store.

In another case, Richards said, a minor could have the opportunity to pay somebody of age to buy them liquor from the nearby site.

Platinum Realty, owners of the building, let Gurmel Singh, the hopeful liquor store owner, sign a lease to set up shop. But since the liquor authority stepped in, their plans have been squashed.

Community leaders and local officials hope to instead use the building for more educational purposes, such as a library or “some sort of tutoring center,” Richards said.

Platinum Realty and Singh did not return requests for comment.



Zimmerman verdict reaction felt from Florida to Queens

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

From television to the streets to social media, people all over the nation — and the borough — are reacting to the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

The trial against Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin lasted roughly three weeks. In the end, on Saturday, July 13, the defendant was acquitted of second-degree murder based on reasonable doubt.

Last year, Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch in his Florida community, said he saw Martin walking at night acting suspiciously. Zimmerman, who was armed, pursued Martin. After an exchange, the details of which took center stage at the trial, Zimmerman shot Martin in what he said was self-defense.

Congressmember Gregory Meeks, a former prosecutor, said he understands “in detail” how the criminal justice system works and that no matter the case’s circumstances, “neither the presentation of the evidence or the evidence are always accurate predictors of a jury’s decision.”

“Our justice system says we must abide by a jury’s decision,” he said. “But abiding by a jury’s decision does not require that we agree with it.”

Similarly, Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries denounced the verdict.

“Once again, the court system has failed to deliver justice in a racially-tinged matter that involves the killing of an innocent, unarmed African-American male,” he said.

Councilmember Eric Ulrich was one of many who took to Twitter to share their views on the verdict and spoke in favor of the courts.

“[The] Zimmerman verdict is proof that innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is still the cornerstone of the justice system,” he said. “The rights of the accused cannot be compromised by the court of public opinion. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial.”

Ulrich also said he was “extremely disappointed with the amount of race baiting [sic] and political pandering” on the social media site.
Protestors flooded city streets Sunday night following the verdict to express their opposition to the acquittal.

State Senator James Sanders held a panel discussion analyzing legal aspects of the trial and events that led to the murder, including how to move forward to “ensure that an injustice like this does not happen again.”

Jeffries, Meeks and other elected officials held a press conference on Monday, July 15 to request the Department of Justice consider prosecuting Zimmerman for civil rights violations. The NAACP has called for the same measure.



Rockaway ferry service extended through Labor Day

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Rockaway residents rejoice: ferry service has now been expanded through to Labor Day.

The weekday ferry service between the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan will continue to operate on its current schedule, now all the way through early September.

“Continuing [the ferry’s] operation through Labor Day weekend is critical in addressing transportation needs and an integral piece of the rebuilding and revitalization puzzle,” said State Senator James Sanders. “It’s a valuable tool for getting hard working people to their destination, including their places of employment.”

Ferries will continue to depart from Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive and stop at Pier 11 in downtown Manhattan, with free transfers between Pier 11 and East 34th Street. The service will continue to start in the Rockaways at 5:45 a.m. and depart regularly until 9:20 a.m. Regular service will resume during the evening rush, and one-way fares will remain $2.

Additionally, beginning July 4th, enhanced weekend service will launch between the Rockaways and Pier 11 every Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day. The city has also agreed to assist in subsidizing an additional boat to expand the service. Weekend service may be altered based on ridership demand.

Since the ferry’s opening in November following Sandy, average ridership is roughly 700 passenger trips a day.

“The Rockaways was hit hard by Sandy and it needs all the help it can get to get back on track,” said Councilmember James Vacca, chair of the Council Committee on Transportation. “The continuation and expansion of the ferry service will provide much-needed relief for residents and small business owners who are hard at work in rebuilding a stronger Rockaway.”

Visit newyorkbeachferry.com for a full list of schedules and fares.



Huntley speaks: Ex-State Senator alleges charges were in retaliation

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

Former State Senator Shirley Huntley says the investigation that led to state charges against her last year stemmed from political decisions she made in Albany.

Speaking with political commentator Roy Paul in Springfield Gardens, Huntley — who is set to go to federal prison next month — said State Senator Malcolm Smith tried to have her investigated after she failed to vote for him as senate leader.

She said her problem was not with the charges against her, to which she pleaded guilty, but the way in which she was indicted by state officials.

She said after a witness came to her with the information, she realized Smith was trying to have her looked into. Huntley alleged Smith first took the information to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who Huntley later confronted.

“Tom said to me ‘I can’t go into detail, but this is not my idea’,” Huntley said. “He says, ‘It came to me from Malcolm Smith, and after I decided there was no reason to go forward, I was told to give it to [Attorney General] Eric Schneiderman and he would take care of it.’”

Smith’s office said he has no comment on matters relating to Huntley.

Federal official arrested him on April 2 on charges of trying to make bribes for a Wilson-Pakula certificate. The document would have allowed the longtime Democrat to run for mayor of New York City as a Republican. Smith and accused co-conspirators have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Huntley turned herself in to the attorney general’s office on August 27, 2012. She was charged with helping cover up embezzlement through a nonprofit she helped establish. The investigation was a joint effort between the offices of Schneiderman and DiNapoli.

Huntley went on to lose a September primary to current State Senator James Sanders.

A spokesperson for DiNapoli said the office has no comment and is cooperating with law enforcement agencies.

A spokesperson for Schneiderman said Huntley’s allegations were null, calling them a last-ditch effort before she heads off to jail.

“Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to rooting out political corruption is the reason he was the first prosecutor to indict Shirley Huntley,” said Damien LaVera. “It’s no surprise that a criminal who is going to jail for lying and stealing is lashing out at the prosecutor who brought her to justice.”

Although the case never made it to state court, Huntley pleaded guilty to federal embezzlement charges for stealing atotal of $88,000. She has been ordered to pay it back and was sentenced to 366 days in prison.

During the sentencing, it was revealed that Huntley taped several elected officials last summer for the FBI. But prosecutors said some information she provided was not trustworthy enough to give her a cooperation bargain.

Huntley said Schneiderman, who was a senator before he became attorney general in 2011, butted heads with her several times – both in the chamber and on his campaign.

First, she said, they disagreed on voting out former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. Schneiderman had been a leader on the effort to expel the former Elmhurst lawmaker, while Huntley said she did not believe the Senate was a law enforcement body.

Further, while she supported Schneiderman’s attorney general campaign, she alleged Schneiderman asked her to defame his primary opponent, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

“I was not a fan of Kathleen Rice because I don’t know her. But I was not going to do anything that was going to damage her reputation,” Huntley said. “I was not going to go to black folks and tell them they need to jump up and down and yell Kathleen Rice is a racist, and she only locks up black people. I was not going to do that because that is not how I do business.”




Robbers allegedly steal parts from Jamaica senior center’s vans

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A senior center robbery has left administrators picking up the pieces.

On Wednesday, June 12, an unknown number of thieves made their way to the Robert Couche Senior Center in Jamaica.

They allegedly took two catalytic converters from the center’s two vans, which are used for transporting the seniors.

Without the converters, which change internal combustion into less toxic fumes, the vans cannot be driven.

“We’re here a long time and we’ve never had any problems,” said Eleanor Kelly, the center’s executive director. “I was shocked.”

The day after the theft, one of the center’s drivers showed up at the Farmers Boulevard site to pick up seniors. He discovered a catalytic converter was missing, and administrators immediately contacted the 113th Precinct.

The vans hold 20 people apiece and make at least four trips every day. They are not just for transporting seniors to and from the center. They are also used to bring people to off-site activities during the day.

To compensate for the vans being out of commission, the drivers used their personal cars to pick up the seniors, Kelly said.

“I have such dedicated drivers,” she said. “But we couldn’t bring in nearly the amount of people we usually do.”

Kelly was told the catalytic converters are a popular target and sell for around $1,500. While the robbery took her and other officials by surprise, she said, “it takes something like that to make you realize these things can happen.”

State Senator James Sanders and Councilmember Leroy Comrie have been in touch with the center in an effort to support the seniors.

“All centers with meal and transportation programs are vital to maintaining a high quality of life for our seniors,” Comrie said. “We cannot have them derailed by criminals seeking an illegal profit.”



Op-Ed: On corruption: Silence = Consent

| oped@queenscourier.com


Conventional wisdom says that a politician surrounded by external scandals should be silent or issue pious pronouncements. Conventional wisdom is wrong. One must never be silent in the face of apparent corruption. Silence, sadly, equals consent.

I understand that “all have sinned and have fallen short…” and I pray to be able to live up to the standard that I am about to set. However, the truth is still the truth, no matter who falls short – including me.

In light of the troubling allegations against my colleagues in the Senate, Assembly and City Council, it is important that we all pause for a moment and remember that the Bible enjoins us to pray for our leaders. In the face of such turmoil, one can understand why.

I understand that all are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, this is a critical opportunity for the people of the State of New York to reflect on what they deserve from their leaders, and what their responsibility is to their leaders. As the prosecutors do their job to uncover the truth and pursue justice here, we must not be armchair quarterbacks, but must fully engage the discussion of what is wrong in the system and how we can use this as an opportunity to find workable solutions.


When New Yorkers choose their leaders, they are making a crucial investment into not only their futures, but into the futures of the next generation. This investment of time, resources and the invaluable vote should be made into individuals displaying integrity, honesty, vision, hard-work and compassion.

Anyone who accepts the call of politics should understand their responsibility to youths, adults and elders. Frankly, if you don’t think you can do it, don’t enter or get out!


It must be acknowledged that the failure of government to truly be transparent and to open up the recesses of power to the checks of the people has played its part. Continuance of the three men in a room (now four men), and other such closed-door unchecked decision making, lures some individuals to seek power that isn’t subject to appropriate oversight.


I am constantly searching for the 25th hour in the 24-hour day, and 60 hour work weeks are not uncommon. The state will benefit more from transforming the position into a full-time job, which it is, from the part-time one it currently is. The state legislature should be made full-time, the compensation should be raised and legislators should be prohibited from having outside employment, which all too often either creates direct conflict or, at the very least, gives an appearance of conflict.


In addition, the failure of everyday people to know who their representatives are and what their representatives are supposed to be doing has also contributed to unchecked misbehavior. How many of our residents know the difference between a city councilmember, an assemblymember, a state senator and a congressional representative? Where do their representatives work? And what are their roles? Or who even knows who their representatives are for that matter! This ignorance allows good, hard-working representatives to be lumped in with the few who bring disgrace and shame to the office.

This tragedy has provided us with an opportunity to combat this problem. I propose that we open up government and make it more transparent, raise the pay of our representatives — and remove the lure of searching for more money — and everyone take it upon themselves to learn the legislative and political process and all of those involved in it. If we do these things, we will make it more difficult to steal and less forgiving if you do.

State Senator James Sanders represents the 10th District.

Anger over parking rate hikes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The Department of Transportation (DOT) could be taking extra money out of commuters’ pockets this summer.

The organization made a proposal to increase fares up to 233 percent for municipal lots, and residents aren’t looking to pay up.

Councilmember Donovan Richards held his term’s first press conference outside one of those lots at the Rosedale Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train station, where commuters travel day in and day out, paying to park in the lot.

“This is attacking our pocketbooks, our expenses and this is just something that we cannot tolerate,” said Alfred Osbourne, Rosedale resident and permit holder at the LIRR lot, who is still recovering from Sandy. “I have other bills, and now to get hit by this? It’s unsustainable.”

Richards said that this increase is “unwarranted,” and “nothing but greed.” Although no numbers are finalized, the increase would go up from the current $110 monthly rate for parking, said Osbourne.

“We cannot afford these steep increases that they are proposing,” said Richards. “Considering the current economic climate facing working families in my district, this . . . increase would disproportionately affect residents.”

State Senator James Sanders, Richards’ former boss and mentor, also attended the press conference to voice his support for his prior chief-of-staff and opposition to the proposed increases.

“What will this increase result in?” he asked. “A better maintained area? Will it be safer? [Is the DOT] putting up signage or walkways? I would argue no.”

Sanders said he will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Richards on this issue. The two suggested alternative means for the city organization to get the money it needs, such as cutting from corporate subsidiaries.

“Look at them before forcing everyday citizens to take it out of their pockets,” said Richards.

However, a DOT statement said that the parking rate adjustment is the first at the Rosedale lot in many years.

“Bear in mind that there are only 12 permit holders at this lot, and that their effective daily parking rate is increasing from approximately $1.15 to $1.40, still well below the market rate for parking in this area,” said the statement.

The DOT also said it received no comments on the rate from Rosedale permit holders.



City Council candidates meet in public forums as special election draws closer

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The race is on, and candidates for the 31st City Council District are sprinting through a series of public forums.

“We want to know their vision for the community,” said Dwight Johnson, president of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton.

Nine candidates have filed to run for Councilmember-turned-Senator James Sanders’ seat: Jacques Leandre, Michael Duncan, Donovan Richards, Selvena Brooks, Saywalah Kesselly, Marie Adam-Ovide, Earnest Flowers, Pesach Osina and Allan Jennings.

The Laurelton civic association hosted one of five public forums in which each candidate was given the opportunity to answer questions directly from the community.

Osina, Flowers and Jennings were not present, but the six attending candidates made clear their stance on each issue.
Flooding, a rampant problem throughout the district, is something that each candidate knows needs to be fixed, but each has different proposals on how to do so.

“We are living on top of water,” said Duncan. “Unless we dredge the area, nothing will change.”

Brooks believes the solution lies with rebuilding the sewer system’s infrastructure. Kesselly, on the other hand, thinks the area should first have a systematic analysis, and from there funds can be properly allocated to fixing the flooding.

Many residents were concerned about how the district’s education system was going to improve, and Leandre, for one, believes that partnering with local enterprises could benefit students and get them career-ready.

Adam-Ovide, Community Board 8 District Manager, sees a future with smaller class sizes, and more after-school and internship programs. Richards, Sanders’ former chief-of-staff, would like to invest in schools long-term, providing more technology and library resources. Duncan, former PTA president and community activist, believes that more parent involvement is the key, and that the community needs to look within to fix the problems.

When it came to topics such as stop-and-frisk, all candidates were against the controversial policy, and believed it unfairly targeted their young people.

“We need to find a better way to combat crime in the community,” said Leandre.

On the topic of police programs, all candidates also agreed that an extra precinct presence in southeast Queens is necessary.

“We want the theme here to be making progress together,” said one resident.

The special election for the 31st District will be held Tuesday, February 19.