Tag Archives: State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky

Stavisky, Markey, Sanders win primary


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File photos

Three incumbent Queens elected officials have easily taken the win in the Democratic primary.

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1999 and is the only female member of the state Senate from Queens, won the race with 4,981 votes, holding onto 57.3 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results.

The Forest Hills resident ran against S.J. Jung, a Flushing resident, activist and president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey also won the primary with 1,880 votes and 75.2 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results. She has represented the 30th Assembly District, comprised of Maspeth, Woodside and parts of Long Island City, Middle Village, Astoria and Sunnyside, since 1998.

In the race for the 10th District, state Sen. James Sanders Jr., who was elected in 2012, took the win with 5,898 votes and 74.5 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results.

Photo via Twitter/@tobystavisky

Photo via Twitter/@tobystavisky

In other statewide elections, incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily defeated his two competitors at 61.7 percent with 93.2 percent of the precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. His running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul, also took the win with 59.7 percent of the votes. 

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John Messer stops bid for state Senate


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy John Messer


Oakland Gardens lawyer John Messer is dropping his third bid to unseat 14-year veteran state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky in District 16, which includes Flushing, Bayside, Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows, among other areas.

“I look forward to continuing to work together to make our community a better place to work and live. However, for personal and business reasons, I will not be a candidate in this election season,” said Messer, who announced his decision through a press release on June 9.

Messer, who holds a master’s degree in government and politics from St. John’s University, ran an unsuccessful race against Stavisky in the 2012 Democratic Primary, losing the race to the incumbent after receiving 41.9 percent of the vote. The Queens Courier reported in 2012 that Messer spent $351,000 of his own money in the campaign.

Messer hoped two years ago that the redrawn District 16, which included a 53 percent Asian population, would give him an advantage, since his wife is Chinese-American, and because the primary was just a head-to-head battle between the candidates.

Messer’s first attempt in 2010 was a three-way primary election with Isaac Sasson, a retired professor and cancer researcher.

“We’re not ruling out a run in the future,” Messer said. “We have so much support in the community now, everyone knows we are here to stay.”

 

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John Messer ‘seriously considering’ another State Senate run


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

John Messer is mulling over another State Senate run, he told The Courier.

“I am dedicated to this community, which is why I have been driven towards public service and am seriously considering a run for New York State Senate,” he said.

It would be the Oakland Gardens attorney’s third try at defeating incumbent State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who has held the seat for nearly 15 years.

Most recently, Messer lost a contentious two-way Democratic primary to Stavisky in 2012. 

The heated race was waged principally on negative campaign attacks. Stavisky won 58 percent of the vote.

But Messer said he has not lost momentum since then.

“I believe now, more than ever, that this is a community I want to represent,” said the 43-year-old small business owner. “If anything, it’s a stronger feeling.”

“There are things you to look at before you decide to run — finances, family,” Messer said. “We’ll make a decision soon.”

Mike Murphy, a Senate Democratic spokesperson, said Stavisky has been a “vocal ally” for middle class families and recalled Messer’s previous losses.

“She enjoys wide support from all corners of her diverse district and has now defeated Mr. Messer twice despite the fact that he has spent over $1 million,” Murphy said. “The voters of the district see Mr. Messer for what he is — a Republican surrogate.”

The district encompasses parts of Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Rego Park, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Jackson Heights.

 

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P.S. 203 rings in Year of the Horse with Lunar New Year celebration


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Melissa Chan

The majestic horse was the star of the show Friday at P.S. 203’s Lunar New Year assembly.

Students from the Bayside school shuffled into the auditorium, under the cover of the 12 Chinese zodiac calendar animals.

One by one, each ornately decorated animal paraded down the halls, before giving center stage to the mare with the pink bow.

“It takes a whole school — parents, teachers, children, everyone — to really make this event happen,” said Principal Carole Nussbaum.

Planning for the hour-long assembly began in October, Nussbaum said.

Students celebrated with Chinese and Korean dances and songs, and a buffet of cultural treats.

“I am always impressed by the talent and passion of the students of P.S. 203,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, “and that is a reflection of the excellence of the staff and administration here.” 

 

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Korean seniors and Flushing McDonald’s owner reach peace


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A group of Korean seniors and the owner of an embattled Flushing McDonald’s have come to a truce, Assemblymember Ron Kim announced Monday.

The feud between the two parties was a “cultural miscommunication,” said Kim, the state’s first Korean-American elected official.

It began when a cluster of about 20 seniors made the corner eatery on Parsons and Northern Blvds. their favorite hangout, taking up seats for about eight hours every day, The Korea Times and New York Times first reported.

The extended stays have kept others from patronizing the McDonald’s, franchisee Jack Bert said.

“I’m sure you can imagine any business would find this situation to be difficult,” he said in a statement.

As part of the compromise, Bert agreed to hire Korean-speaking staff members and extend the 20-minute sitting limit to one hour, except from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I’ve been proud to serve this community for nearly 20 years, and my restaurant has been happy to welcome these customers for years,” Bert said.

“I was confident that once we were able to sit together and talk, we would come to a positive resolution that would create an environment where all customers who wish to enjoy this restaurant would have the ability to do so.”

The seniors agreed to abide by the new sitting hours and be transported by the Korean Community Services to meet at local senior centers during the fast-food restaurant’s busy hours.

The dispute, at its peak, led to four police interventions since November, according to the Times.

David Choe, 76, one of the group’s regulars, told The Courier he was insulted to be asked to leave.

“This is my town,” he said. “I’m happy people are taking us seriously now. Before, nobody really cared about this matter.”

It even sparked a boycott last week amongst a trio of Korean activists. Outraged, they called for a worldwide boycott of McDonald’s throughout February.

“Senior citizens have been working hard their whole lives. They should be respected,” said Christine Colligan, co-chair of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York, who led the protest. “This is the core of Koreatown. I cannot believe this is happening here.”

Kim said the culture clash also stemmed from a lack of resources for seniors.

“What we’ve done over the last few days is make sure both parties understand where each other is coming from and have some compassion,” he said. “This was a small business owner trying to survive and a small group of seniors trying to find a social space.”

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said the compromise represents Flushing’s tradition of respect.

“It goes back hundreds of years,” she said. “It’s a peaceful community, and it’s going to continue to be a peaceful community.”

 

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Residents unhappy over tax hikes on northeast Queens co-ops, condos


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Elijah Stewart

ELIJAH STEWART

Bayside-area residents say they are getting fed up with what they believe to be unfair tax increases on co-ops and condos throughout northeast Queens.

“They look at it as they might as well buy a house, which is a larger down payment, than come here and pay enormous amounts in taxes,” said John DePasquale, general manager at Alley Pond Owners Corp., a self-managed co-op in Bayside.  

The unhappy apartment owners say this problem stems from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s lack of action in pushing for a new state tax code that would eliminate the high tax increases on middle-class co-op and condo owners. They hope the next mayor will take action on the issue.

Warren Schreiber from the Presidents’ Co-ops & Condos Council, which represents more than 100,000 owners, said northeast Queens has been hit the hardest by the increased tax evaluations.

“There have been double-digit and in some cases triple-digit increases in tax evaluations,” said Schreiber.

The city Department of Finance lists private homes as Class 1 properties. This means their assessed value, which is set at six percent of the property’s market value, cannot be increased more than six percent a year.

However, co-ops and condos are listed in Class 2, along with rentals and other revenue streamed housing. Their assessment value is 45 percent of the property’s market value, and there is no cap on yearly assessment increases.

While the property tax code is a state law, it is up to the mayor to request changes to city tax classifications.

“Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessor Rudy Giuliani have always opposed changes in the classification system,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

Stavisky said the property classification system for co-ops and condos is unfair and has led to inconsistencies in tax assessments throughout the city. She said she’s working closely with Assemblymember Edward Braunstein to address this issue.

“We’re just part of a middle class that continues to get squeezed harder and harder,” said Arthur Getzel, a teacher at P.S. 26.  Getzel, 59, said many co-ops in the area have been forced to charge higher maintenance fees due to increased tax assessments.

Kevin O’Brien, a recently retired co-op owner at Bell Park Gardens, agreed that the tax situation is unfair.

“If you go to any other co-op development here, Windsor Park, Windsor Oak, Hollis Court, they’re all going to say the same thing,” said O’Brien, 43. “They don’t understand why we’re paying so much property tax for a small number of square feet.”

Others worry about the effect on older owners.

“I think the tax increases are going to push the elderly people out,” said Jennifer Santaniello, 48, of Hollis Court. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to afford to live in Queens.”

A co-op since 1983, Hollis Court currently houses 376 families, according to Santaniello, and 60 percent of its residents are elderly.

Schreiber said the city’s co-ops and condos house tens of thousands of working-class people who are the backbone of the city.

“What many people don’t understand,” said Schreiber, “is that without the money from the co-ops and condos, the city would go bankrupt.”

 

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Call to reinstate free parking at Pomonok Community Center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Visitor parking spots that were once free will now cost a Pomonok community center roughly $2,700, officials said.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), since partnering up in March with Greystone Parking Services, has come under fire for spiking some annual parking rates at 43 citywide developments.

Now it is facing more heat for billing the Pomonok Community Center $272 for 10 visitor spaces that used to be complimentary.

“The new parking fees at the Pomonok Community Center are outrageous and unacceptable, and NYCHA must repeal them immediately,” said Congressmember Grace Meng. “They’re treating this parking lot like it’s their own business, and it’s a business gone bad.”

The Pomonok Community Center at the Queens Community House provides meals, activities and cooling stations during hot weather to more than 50 seniors who visit daily, officials said.

“It’s unconscionable that NYCHA and Greystone are extorting money from senior citizens,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

Monica Corbett, president of the Pomonok Resident Association, said the center is a second home to residents even outside the neighborhood.

Parking is already limited, she said, since Queens College and P.S. 201 are around the corner.

“The nearest senior center is not close nor is there an after-school center that serves children from K-5 grade,” Corbett said. “To ask staff and participants to pay for parking is asinine.”

Local leaders said hundreds of residents have complained to Greystone about a slew of issues — including months-long waits for parking permits and multiple cars being assigned to one spot — to no avail.

“The current policy is extremely shortsighted and threatens the operation of the center,” said Assemblymember Mike Simanowitz.

NYCHA did not immediately comment.

 

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Pols: Lunar New Year should be school holiday


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of State Senator Daniel Squadron's Office

Flushing and Chinatown lawmakers are still pushing to get the city to recognize Lunar New Year as an official school holiday.

“It’s time we show the proper respect to the Asian-American community,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “Lunar New Year is a time when families, from near and far, come together to celebrate.”

Absence rates in some city schools climb 80 percent on the first day of the Lunar New Year, elected officials said. Though observing students are “excused,” the absence is marked on their record.

“On the day of the Lunar New Year, classrooms are emptied out,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “People should not have to choose between spending their most important holiday with their family and going to school.”

Legislation in the State Senate and Assembly would establish Lunar New Year as a school holiday for districts with an Asian-American population of at least 7.5 percent based on the 2000 Census.

Flushing is the only neighborhood in Queens to meet the criteria, along with Chinatown in downtown Manhattan.
The bill had been introduced years ago, but no movement has been made, officials said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has reportedly rejected the idea in the past. His office did not comment.

“Lunar New Year is a time of coming together and renewal for the nearly one million Asian New Yorkers of different ethnicities who celebrate the holiday,” said Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality. “It is not the same if someone cannot be home to celebrate with the family and the community.”

 

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Co-op tax relief bill passed by Legislature


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The State Legislature has passed a long-awaited tax relief bill for city co-op and condo owners, despite a cluster of lawmakers who voted against it.

The bill, approved by the State Senate and Assembly, includes raising a partial tax abatement from 17.5 percent to 25 percent and extending the J-51 program to June 30, 2015. 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, and the J-51 gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements.

“This is a major victory for the vast majority of co-op owners in northeast Queens, including thousands of senior citizens on fixed incomes,” said Assemblymember Ed Braunstein.

But seven Democratic state senators and seven Democratic assemblymembers opposed the omnibus bill, which included a measure that gives tax abatements to 15 plots in midtown and downtown Manhattan being developed as luxury condominiums and office buildings.

“This bill only benefits the rich,” said State Senator Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. “It is a multimillion [dollar] program of rent exemptions and abatement for landlords who renovate their buildings.”

Diaz said he feared capital improvements under the J-51 program would lead to landlords raising rents on their tenants.

“To vote for this bill, we might be sending the message, an impure message, that we are only working for the landlords and against the tenants,” Diaz said.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said she voted in favor of the bill because of the vital abatements to city co-op and condo owners but believed the abatements to luxury developments were a “giveaway of city money.”

“The developers would be building this anyway. They don’t need the tax abatement,” she said. “We unfortunately can’t pick and choose the parts of the bill we want to vote for.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan said he was “outraged” the abatement extensions were put into a packaged bill and “rushed through the Rules Committee onto the Senate floor with only 30 minutes’ notice.”

“The bill subverted the normal committee process and required an ‘up or down’ vote, which was difficult as the bill contained some provisions that gave me and my Democratic colleagues pause,” he said.

The bill requires another Senate vote before Governor Andrew Cuomo can sign it into law.

Its assurances come after panic spread throughout co-op and condo communities at the end of June, when the Legislature adjourned session without extending the J-51 program and the expired abatement.

A pair of audits released last year by the city’s comptroller office found the Department of Finance 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.

 

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Pols push for more languages on ballot


| mchan@queenscourier.com

DSC_0113w

Two elected officials and a coalition of South Asian community leaders pushed for the passage of a bill that would put Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi on ballots and election material in the borough.

The bill, co-sponsored by State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember David Weprin, would direct the county’s Board of Elections (BOE) to provide written language assistance in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi on ballots, signs, voter mailings, employee and volunteer training material and information on the BOE’s web site.

The legislation, Weprin said, would increase voter turnout at the polls and voter access.

“The growing South Asian community in Queens is highly focused on civic engagement,” Stavisky said. “We must pass this bill to make life easier for people who are simply trying to exercise their rights.”

Democratic District Leader Albert Baldeo, who was defeated in a tight Senate race in 2006, said the lack of languages on the ballot negatively impacted his run.

Baldeo said he lost by a very small margin — some 387 votes — during his failed try at election in the 15th District because “the minority vote was suppressed.”

“There are many instances of people getting sent away from the polls, people who were actually discouraged from voting from poll site workers, because there was no assistance to speak to them in their language or in written materials,” said Baldeo.

While Weprin said the BOE had raised concerns over the print on the ballot getting too small, a spokesperson said the agency has not yet taken an official stance on the matter.

There is only one week left to get the green light for the bill since the legislative session is scheduled to end June 21.

Ground broken at Willets Point


| brennison@queenscourier.com

WilletsPt-20w

After years of planning, protests and public hearings, ground was broken at Willets Point — marking the first physical step in the area’s redevelopment.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined at the Thursday, December 1 ground breaking by New York City Economic Development President Seth W. Pinsky, New York City Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Councilmembers Julissa Ferreras and Karen Koslowitz, Borough President Helen Marshall and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

“The development of Willets Point and the benefits that it will provide for the entire city cannot become realities without a multimillion dollar investment in infrastructure improvements that have been needed for many years,” said Marshall.  “Expanding the city’s sewer network and increasing storm water drainage in the area will address longstanding issues and put new development on a firm foundation for the future.”

The infrastructure work is estimated to cost $50 million and will include construction of a sanitary sewer main and reconstruction of a storm sewer and outfall. This phase should be completed in 2013.  The construction will mostly occur between October and March, so as not to interfere during the baseball season with Citi Field which sits next door to Willets Point.

Bloomberg called Willets Point “New York City’s next great neighborhood.”

A plan for the redevelopment of Willets Point was announced by Bloomberg in 2007.  Since that time, the city has been able to acquire nearly 90 percent of the land.  Nine private property owners remain in the projects Phase 1 area, according to the city.

The plan for Phase 1 includes up to 680,000 square feet of retail, up to 400 units of housing — 35 percent of which will be affordable — a hotel, two acres of open space and parking.