Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The way things work for the Machine

From the NY Times:

All of this might have Democratic Party leaders — Representative Joseph Crowley is the party boss in Queens — wailing and rending palm cards. Except that isn’t how it works in Queens. Power and money are found not so much in the voting booth as in the machine-controlled judicial conventions that pick judges, and in the courthouse on Sutphin Boulevard.

That is where you find Surrogate’s Court, otherwise known as widows and orphans court. This court appoints guardians who make handsome fees processing the estates of those Queens residents who die without wills.

To enter this court is to stumble upon Ponce de Leon’s own spring, an eternal source of easy money for the politically wired. The Surrogate’s judge appointed the public administrator, Lois M. Rosenblatt, who is a fierce and battle-tested elections lawyer, Democratic division.

Ms. Rosenblatt reappointed the court’s counsel, who for about a millennium has been Gerard J. Sweeney. In 2010, Mr. Sweeney’s office pulled down $2.284 million administering estates. This year has been slower; through the end of October, his take was $993,764.

As legal sinecures go, it is bearable.

Mr. Sweeney’s law firm on Queens Boulevard is a beehive of Queens Democratic worthies; Michael Reich and Frank A. Bolz III are partners and top party officers.

The geographic metaphysics of their party membership is curious. All three “Queens” Democrats — Messrs. Sweeney, Reich and Bolz — live on Long Island. The current Surrogate’s judge, Peter J. Kelly, is admirably frank about the ways of this world. He even frames the questions for you.

“Do I know Sweeney’s related with the Democratic Party and close to Congressman Joe Crowley?” the judge offers. “I would be a moron if I didn’t know that.”

That's a lot of drugs...

From the NY Post:

A drug thug was busted in the middle of a Sports Authority parking lot in Queens on one of the busiest shopping days of the year — with 20 kilos of coke in his trunk, cops said yesterday.

Kwame Deschamps, a 27-year-old licensed barber from Lynn, Mass., was acting suspiciously Saturday in the store’s lot on Woodhaven Boulevard in Forest Hills, police said.

Cops investigated and reported finding in his car’s trunk more than $600,000 in cocaine and about 4,000 OxyContin pills, which can go for up to $20 a pop, or a total of $80,000.

Deschamps was arraigned and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

He had been arrested in Massachusetts in 2009 for marijuana possession, according to police.

Boyland busted again!

From NY1:

It was a familiar walk out of the courthouse for William Boyland Jr. Tuesday, but it was a victorious march last time.

In a twist, it was Boyland fighting those old charges that allegedly led to some of the new ones, which can land him in prison for 30 years.

Federal prosecutors allege that Boyland proposed some real estate opportunities to a pair of would-be developers when he was short on legal funds last April.

He offered up a lucrative deal in an Atlantic City hotel, allegedly for the right price. Unbeknownst to Boyland, the developers were agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they were recording it all.

The Daily News has a better account. What a stooge!

Hotels didn't pay taxes

From the Daily News:

TOURISM IS booming in New York, despite the struggling economy, but the cash-strapped city carelessly allowed a group of hotels to avoid paying millions in taxes, a new city audit has found.

The Bloomberg administration initially failed to collect a total of $8.9 million from 92 hotels and hostels over the last decade — and that does not include fines or interest, according to the audit by city Controller John Liu’s office.

The problem, the audit showed, was that hotels are allowed to voluntarily register with the city after they open for business. Liu’s auditors found that 64 hotels and 20 hostels and bed-and-breakfasts never bothered to do so. Another eight were caught underreporting what they owed.

Housing slump hits Queens hard

From the Daily News:

Queens homeowners are feeling the pain of the housing slump.

The volume of home sales in the borough fell by 9% in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year, according to a report from NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

The decline exceeded the drop in home sales citywide, which measured 4%.

Queens also stood out when it came to declining property values. Prices in the borough have depreciated 30% from their peak levels, which were reached in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brooklyn is better but will never be "back"

From City Journal:

The problem is that these boutique businesses have a limited impact on the borough’s total economy. For all their energy and creativity, Brooklyn’s young entrepreneurs tend to have few employees, and they’re not likely to be hiring large numbers in the future. The factories of the past employed hundreds, if not thousands; Dumbo alone once had three firms that each employed more than 1,000. Today, Etsy, one of the area’s more successful companies, has a staff of just 180. The old Brooklyn Navy Yard now rents space to 275 businesses, employing 5,800 people. That’s an impressive rise from 3,600 in 2001, true. But compare it with the Yard at its World War II peak, when it had 71,000 workers, or in 1959, when it employed “only” 15,000. Even Brooklyn Brewery has only about 50 employees, small potatoes when you consider that Schaefer Beer’s Brooklyn factory—now a luxury building called Schaefer Landing—once had 1,000.

There are numerous reasons for the disappointing employment stats. For one thing, Brooklyn’s young companies often appeal only to niche markets, usually people like their owners. For another, they benefit from the technology-improved productivity of manufacturing throughout the United States; it takes fewer workers to produce beer or chocolate than it did in the past. And if the firms do grow and hire a lot more workers, chances are that they’ll relocate. It’s extremely expensive and endlessly aggravating to transport raw materials into, and finished products out of, a borough strangled by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Young businessfolks also face the familiar hurdles of all New York City firms: high taxes and burdensome regulations. It’s enough to bum out even the most idealistic hippie-entrepreneur.

Brooklyn’s story, then, doesn’t lend itself to a simple happy ending. Instead, the borough is a microcosm of the nation’s “hourglass economy.” At the top, the college-educated are doing interesting, motivating work during the day and bicycling home to enjoy gourmet beer and grass-fed beef after hours. At the bottom, matters are very different. Almost a quarter of Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents live below the poverty line—in the housing projects of East New York, in the tenements of Brownsville, or in “transitional” parts of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, all places where single-mother poverty has become an intergenerational way of life. Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the area’s population on welfare did decline markedly, but the number of Medicaid recipients almost tripled, to nearly 750,000. About 40 percent of Brooklyn’s total population receives some kind of public assistance today, up from 23 percent a decade ago.

To make matters worse, according to Crain’s New York Business, Brooklyn’s unemployment rate doubled between 2008 and 2009, a considerably higher rise than in Manhattan, Queens, or Staten Island. When manufacturing jobs do become available, they tend to require skills that high school graduates—and dropouts—lack. East New York and Brownsville also remain the highest-crime areas in New York.

And no one believes that’s transitional.

Post calls for Liu's resignation

From the NY Post:

Some 13 employees at Chang’s McSam Hotel Group and his Comfort Inn in Flushing dropped $800 each into Liu’s coffers. Over at W&L Construction, which has worked on properties Chang developed, 19 more employees gave Liu $800 each, for a total haul of more than $15,000.

If Liu returns those donations, he’s essentially admitting that he knows Sam Chang & Co. were the real source of that funny money.

But if he keeps the Chang checks, he’s holding on to donations that seem mighty likely to be illegal.

Either way, it looks like Liu is in a fix.

Fact is, this man has no business playing any role in city government — least of all as comptroller, where he’s trusted to oversee the city’s $65 billion budget and billions more in pension investments.

Which is why he needs to drop the act and resign immediately.

Things are only going to get uglier for John Liu from here on. He should spare the city the taint of his presence and get himself gone. Now.

Sounds an awful lot like commentary posted here over the weekend...

30-year wait for potty is over

From the Times Ledger:

Thirty years after a man walked into a Community Board 7 meeting to request a toilet at a public park — in Flushing of all places — the city has taken up his project.

John Byas, now 78, said tears came to his eyes when he was informed that the city Parks Department would construct a restroom in the park across from IS 237, at 46-21 Colden St.

“I fought like hell for this,” Byas said on a recent walk toward the grassy strip where the city had already begun digging up the foundation for the johns, which are set to be operational in about three months.

Byas has lived in Flushing since 1974, when the neighborhood was a different place.

Where the handball and basketball courts, baseball diamonds and community garden now sit across from the school there was once a patch of untamed foliage.

According to Byas, it served little function besides a dumping ground for criminals who wanted to get rid of evidence.

But by the late 1970s, the sport facilities and garden had all been built.

With one notable omission.

There was no bathroom in the park, and the children who played on the fields and the senior citizens who socialized and toiled in the garden could often not even get into the school across the street, he said, since the doors were locked.

The aptly named John Liu, now city comptroller, agreed to dish out $250,000 to build the WC from discretionary funds he enjoyed as a councilman [in 2009].

The funds were not immediately available, and it took two years for them to work their way through city agencies, culminating in the announcement by Parks two weeks ago that a facility would actually be built.

It will house both boys and girls restrooms — the first containing two toilets and four urinals and the second containing three toilets.

The public toilets will finally provide a basic service to his community, he said, which should not have had to wait through a turn of the century.

Now here's something you don't see every day

From Scouting NY:

I was driving down 27th Ave in Astoria the other day when a rather large tree in front of an auto body shop caught my eye. Nothing too special about a random tree…but something didn’t seem right…

…And then I realized: was that tree growing through the auto body shop??

Community ends up with nothing after wide-scale condemnation

From the Wall Street Journal:

It was supposed to be a breakthrough victory for Harlem residents and a model on how to settle raging land-use disputes.

But more than 2½ years after Columbia University brokered an agreement with community groups — exchanging a lucrative package of benefits for the area's blessing of the university's expansion into West Harlem — local officials and residents are complaining that the fruits of the deal remain a mystery.

Political squabbling over control of the benefits has left nearly $3 million in Columbia-donated funds idling in a bank. The group administering the largest chunk of benefits, the West Harlem Local Development Corp., doesn't have an office, a website or a staff. The corporation hasn't made public any reports of its activities.

As required, Columbia has directed funds to pay for an agreement compliance officer hired by the state and a tenants attorney to advise residents on evictions. But no one has been retained.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who enforces the state's charities law, has subpoenaed the nonprofit corporation, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars but never registered with his office.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ever-changing Flushing

From the NY Times:

Ms. Goldberg, 98, lives in a 19-story apartment house in Flushing, Queens, one of two neighboring buildings that were erected for survivors of the Holocaust. When she moved there in 1978, she said, her neighbors formed a tight community of predominantly Jewish refugees like her who had fled to the United States from Austria or Germany.

“We had parties,” Ms. Goldberg said, her voice barely above a whisper. “We had card games. It was our people. We had Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in our apartment.”

Now, she said, “It’s completely changed — I have no neighbors here.”

For Ms. Goldberg, the transformation has been steady and overwhelming. Of the 326 residents in her building, now only 31 are Holocaust survivors, and only 7 of them are German or Austrian.

The new neighbors are friendly enough. But she said: “We do not talk. We say hello, goodbye. But that’s it. They don’t speak German. They don’t speak English. They speak Russian and Chinese. Sometimes they just shake their heads.”

This is actually a very fascinating article showing how different groups live together and tolerate each others' presence, but don't really know each other. Not only that, but most people aren't interested in knowing each other.

Heavier rigs headed our way?

From Fox 5:

Large trucks on America's interstates could become 20 percent heavier. The Coalition of Transportation Productivity, a group of more than 100 major shippers including Coca-Cola and The Home Depot, is supporting legislation in Congress that, proponents say, would increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

In 2009, nearly 300,000 trucks were involved in crashes in the United States, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Safety advocates argue heavier trucks may cause more serious accidents. But proponents of the legislation say increasing the weight limit would actually reduce the number of trucks on roads, making them safer.

Either way, many state transportation officials worry about the impacts of heavier loads on their roads and their budgets.

The proposed legislation would allow individual states to opt out, leaving an open question as to whether the U.S. continues its patchwork of weight limits, or whether the heavier trucks become the new normal.

Liu accused of making more crap up

From NY1:

City Comptroller John Liu is facing allegations he inflated salaries for security guards employed by city contractors, all for political gain.

Two private security firms are suing Liu, saying he unfairly hiked the minimum hourly rate as high as almost $19, including benefits.

That is up from a minimum rate of $11.50 in 2007.

Critics say Liu made the change to curry favor with organized labor as he prepares for a much rumored run for mayor in 2013.

A spokesman for the comptroller says his office received the complaint and will review it.

This is not the first time Liu has been accused of unfairly hiking the prevailing wage, as a similar suit was filed last year involving moving companies.

Meanwhile, the comptroller continues to be on the hot seat in regards to his fundraising, after a prominent supporter was arrested and charged with wire fraud for allegedly funneling money to the campaign using illegal straw donors.

Living Wage at Willets Point: What happened after this video was shot?

From Willets Point United:

The New York City Economic Development Corporation has solicited developer firms to implement the Willets Point development, on the basis of a Request for Proposals ("RFP") that contains NO living wage provision. However, that plainly contradicts the announcements and testimony of union officials during 2008.

This 4-minute video compilation shows union officials during 2008 announcing, and testifying to the New York City Council on the record regarding, an agreement that requires a living wage provision to be included in the Request for Proposals seeking developer firms to implement the Willets Point development.

No matter what the unions may now have us believe, it is quite clear from this video that:

(1.) The unions unequivocally state that a living wage provision is "guaranteed" and "required" to be included in the Willets Point RFP, and that this has been memorialized in a written and signed agreement (i.e., there is no wiggle room);

(2.) The agreement to include a living wage provision in the Willets Point RFP was "critical to labor's support on this [Willets Point] project";

(3.) The agreement was consistent with the ideology of the local City Council member (Hiram Monserrate), without whose consent approval of the proposed Willets Point development would have been unlikely;

(4.) The local City Council member forewarned that in the future, the City of New York might attempt to avoid implementing agreed labor provisions, but that the City must honor its commitments to labor and to the City Council;

(5.) The City Council requested, and union officials agreed to provide to the City Council, a copy of the written agreement pertaining to the the inclusion of a living wage provision within the Willets Point RFP. Therefore, that agreement is part of the record on which the City Council based its decision to approve the proposed Willets Point development.

Now that the City has reneged on its commitment to include a living wage provision within the Willets Point RFP, who will challenge this? Will the unions -- whose agreement apparently has been violated by the City -- bring a lawsuit to require a new RFP that includes a living wage provision? Will the City Council act? Will law enforcement?

Or, were union officials exaggerating, or perhaps deceiving themselves, during 2008?

Letter grades for food carts

From the NY Post:

A Queens lawmaker has drafted a bill that would mandate posted letter health grades for street-meat sellers.

State Sen. José Peralta (D-Queens) is introducing a measure this week that would require local health departments to come up with a letter-based scale similar to the city’s current restaurant-grading system, following a Post report on the worst of the wurst violators.

“Consumers should know if what they are eating meets certain safety standards,” he said. “If they have an ‘A,’ you’ll eat there. If they have a ‘C,’ maybe not.”

At present, patrons have no way of knowing whether the dirty-water dog they’re about to digest actually deserves the sobriquet. The city Health Department does not publish online inspection results, let alone grades.

Right, but we learned recently that the ones who get bad grades can get them changed to good grades after a hearing. So grading doesn't really tell us anything about the sanitation standards of the vendor.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Can he get any creepier?

From the NY Post:

Well, he already had the porno-sounding name.

Disgraced former pol Anthony Weiner stepped out to do some Black Friday shopping in SoHo sporting a moustache reminiscent of the one made infamous by adult-film legend John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes in the XXX-rated 1970s.

The randy Queens ex-rep — who was forced out after it was revealed that he’d sexted pictures of his Congress member to numerous women — toted a shopping bag as he and pregnant wife, Huma Abedin, hit the stores.

Perhaps his new look is a sign that he has turned over a new fig leaf. After all, the scandal revealed that he’s not a fan of hair anywhere on his body.

LaGuardia's swiss cheese tower replaced

From the NY Times:

Loved or hated, the old control tower was undeniably a traveler’s milestone. Spotting it from the cabin of a Lockheed Electra or a Boeing 727 meant you were really back in New York. No other airport had anything quite like this porthole-pocked cynosure; a hometown creation by Wallace K. Harrison, the consummate New York establishment architect of the mid-20th century, who designed the Trylon and Perisphere for the 1939 World’s Fair and went on to play an important role in Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center and the United Nations.

After the construction last year of a $100 million, high-tech, high-security tower at La Guardia, with a control cab 198 feet above the tarmac, Mr. Harrison’s odd creation was doomed. The old tower, sitting athwart Concourse D, was reduced to a four-story stub over the summer. It is still recognizable as a remnant of its old self but is hard to see from any but the closest vantages. In recent weeks, workers have prepared the vestigial structure for use as storage space by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

City program doesn't cut it

From the Daily News:

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has spent $33 million on an “alternative enforcement program” that was designed to crack down on the slumlord owners of the most rundown tenements.

Under the plan, the city identifies 200 buildings a year that have a high number of violations and orders landlords to make repairs within four months or face penalties. If the owner balks, the city does the repairs and bills for the work.

At the program’s inception, then-commissioner Shaun Donovan, who is now President Obama’s housing chief, vowed the city would “not tolerate unsafe conditions for tenants.” His agency promised to commit enough inspectors to “ongoing monitoring” to make sure buildings “don’t fall back into disrepair.”

Often, that’s exactly what happened.

In the campaign’s first two years, the department targeted 400 buildings totaling more than 1,200 apartments. Nearly half — 45% — are still in the program because they still have a high number of serious violations or failed to repay the city for repairs.

In addition, the city has recovered from landlords only $10 million of the $23 million spent on repairs even as the cost of renovations rose from $3 million in fiscal 2008 to $11 million in fiscal 2010, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Times pokes around Glendale

From the NY Times:

Inside its cemetery sandwich, Glendale is long and narrow, extending about two miles from west to east and sometimes less than half a mile from north to south.

Roughly 30,000 people live here, according to census figures. German-Americans have had a strong presence for more than a century, and in recent decades East European immigrants have gravitated here. There is also a strong Hispanic presence, although blacks and Asians are scarce.

There is an appealing variety of housing, most dating to the first half of the 20th century. Off the main roads like Myrtle, the streets are serene, and many are canopied by large trees.

One-family brick Tudors, both attached and detached, are probably the most exclusive of the homes, but attractive colonials with tiled roofs provide competition. There is also a big supply of semidetached and two-family wood-framed colonials, many with driveways. A few streets are lined with handsome six-family brick buildings.

Wow, you'd think from this description that Glendale is crap-free. Good thing we know better. I wonder why they never mention the "new luxury housing stock" like the Durow's site?

That's quite a stretch

From CBS New York:

The evidence at the ongoing corruption trial of New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook includes a mundane $5.55 receipt from McDonald’s for a burger and a medium Sprite. A receipt from Dunkin’ Donuts shows a charge for an unremarkable $2.50.

But the one from a deli near City Hall for a Snapple and a bagel sandwich is harder to digest.

The total: $177.64.

Federal prosecutors say Seabrook submitted the receipt for reimbursement — and that it wasn’t an innocent misprint. Instead, they call it convincing proof of how he doctored expenses and used other tricks to line his pockets and line up jobs for his girlfriend, sister and others close to him.

The 60-year-old councilman “operated his own corrupt, City Council-funded friends and family plan,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in announcing the charges last year.

Seabrook has company: In the past two years, a steady parade of local and state lawmakers and their staffers has been accused in federal courthouses in Manhattan and Brooklyn of abusing their authority for personal gain.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Children of illegals remain uneducated

The next time someone argues that illegals should remain in the country because they work hard and their kids succeed, please show them this NY Times article:

About 41 percent of all Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in the city have dropped out of school, according to census data.

No other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent, and the overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent, the statistics show.

This crisis endures at the college level. Among Mexican immigrants 19 to 23 who do not have a college degree, only 6 percent are enrolled. That is a fraction of the rates among other major immigrant groups and the native-born population.

Moreover, these rates are significantly worse than those of the broader Mexican immigrant population in the United States.

The problem is especially unsettling because Mexicans are the fastest-growing major immigrant group in the city, officially numbering about 183,200, according to the Census Bureau, up from about 33,600 in 1990. Experts say the actual figure is far larger, given high levels of illegal immigration.

...educators and advocates say that unless these efforts are sustained, and even intensified, the city may have a large Mexican underclass for generations.

These problems extend throughout the swelling Mexican immigrant diaspora in the New York region. They have also afflicted the population of second-generation Mexican-Americans: While educational achievement is far higher among American-born children with Mexican ancestry, it still lags behind the rates of most other foreign-born and native-born groups, according to census data, which was analyzed by Andrew A. Beveridge and Susan Weber-Stoger, demographers at Queens College.

Syndi Cortes, 19, one of five children of Mexican immigrants in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, said she dropped out after getting pregnant at 16. She had already been cutting most of her classes, she said, and so had most of her Mexican and Mexican-American friends.

Last year, she tried to resume school, but her mother, who was working long days as a housecleaner, was opposed to day care and forced her to drop out again to look after her baby.

We are encouraging and protecting millions of illegal immigrants from countries that do not value education, view a woman's role as that of a baby factory, and live off the backs of taxpayers, while prohibiting people from better-educated countries, who are practically guaranteed success stories, from setting foot into the States. This is yet another Ponzi scheme that is costing Americans and legal immigrants big time.

Furthermore, the reason many of these folks can't learn English is not because they don't want to, it's because they never learned to read and write in their own language. When mom and dad pulled you out of school in 3rd grade so you could help them work, you don't have time for book learning. In turn, you can't help your own kids when it's their time to learn and don't feel the need to encourage them to study hard because it wasn't a priority where you came from. It's a sad situation, but one we can't and shouldn't be responsible for trying to fix.

Let's also realize that legalization means a guaranteed minimum wage. Which means the incentive for employers to hire illegals has been removed. This sets up a situation where they are now directly competing with Americans for retail and other low-level jobs rather than just the "jobs Americans won't do" like farm labor and slaughterhouse duties.

Damned if I know what the answer is, but neither amnesty nor the status quo are it.

Radioactive trains in Glendale

The attached photo was taken about 1:30 PM on Saturday, November 19, 2011. The rail cars were parked on the overpass, a few feet from homes businesses and Mafera Park. They are clearly labeled with the symbol for radioactive contents. The name of the company on some of the cars was "Ice Service Group" (Industrial, construction, environmental). So in addition to having Stink Trains of construction and demolition debris and municipal solid waste next to our homes, schools, and parkland, are trainloads of radioactive material coming into the heart of our NYC neighborhoods now? For more photos go to: CURES.

Johnny thinks he's slick

From CBS New York:

A spokesman for the campaign of New York City Comptroller John Liu says about $20,000 in contributions have been returned after federal authorities began investigating the politician’s fundraising.

George Arzt tells The New York Times in Thursday editions that “refunds are a standard process of campaign committees.” And he says it has been the policy of Liu’s campaign to refund any contribution “when a question is raised.”

So, how does one return contributions to people who didn't donate them? Do you write a refund check to the bundler, thereby admitting guilt? Or do Mrs. Wang and Mr. Woo get some early Christmas bonuses?

From the International Business Times:

For one Flushing Democratic strategist who has known Liu for years, the future for Liu, a Democrat who served as Flushing's City Councilman from 2001 to 2009, can be boiled down to one sentence.

"He's either going to be the next mayor or he's going to go to jail," the Democratic strategist told the IBTimes Tuesday.

The Flushing Democratic strategist believes that Liu will run as long as he does not end up behind bars before Election Day.

Too many fines for small businesses

From AM-NY:

Fines given to small businesses for first-time violations may be a big headache for owners, but they're also a big money maker for the city.

The Public Advocate's Office will release its "Red Tape Report" on Tuesday outlining how businesses are getting financially squeezed for easily correctable violations, such as printing errors on receipts or insufficient signage.

Meanwhile, the city's Department of Consumer Affairs expects to earn more than $10 million in revenue from fines in fiscal year 2012, up from $6.8 million in 2009, according to the report.

"They're just trying to kill my business. I'm pretty upset," said Tony Juliano, co-founder of XES Lounge in Chelsea. The bar was recently hit with a $500 fine for lacking certain smoking-related signage that Juliano said he didn't know was required.

He said he's previously permitted smoking throughout his backyard patio, but was also fined after inspectors considered the area the same as a sidewalk cafe -- even though the bar doesn't serve food.

(Water, however, is still considered "food" by the city.)

There he goes again

From the NY Post:

Fanciers and critics of Michael Bloomberg alike, take note; there are signs he’s noodling once again about making an independent run for president.

At a press conference in Staten Island, he declared: “The failure of the supercommittee to come to an agreement is just a damning indictment of Washington’s inability to govern this country.”

He went after Obama especially: “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership in difficult situations. I don’t see that happening. . . This partisan paralysis and political cowardice is defining Washington, and we just cannot afford to have that continue.”

That’s the kind of talk we heard from Ross Perot before he decided to take the plunge and run as an independent in early 1992.

None of this comes anywhere near demonstrating that Bloomberg will run. We do know he took the idea seriously last year and spent a considerable amount of money researching the possibilities.

I suppose he'd live on 79th Street because it's better than the White House?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unions allow EDC to walk all over them

From City Hall News:

In June 2008, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Stuart Appelbaum, stood on the steps of City Hall to praise the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Along with several other powerful union bosses, Appelbaum touted the EDC plan to jumpstart a long-stalled, $3 billion project at Willets Point in Queens, because he said it would lead to the creation of so-called “living wage” retail jobs for his workers – paying a minimum of $10 an hour.

“It won’t just mean thousands of jobs,” Appelbaum said. “It will mean thousands of construction and permanent jobs that pay prevailing wages and living wages.”

Appelbaum’s contentions that his members could expect living wage jobs at Willets Point were based upon by a letter penned in April 2008 by Robert Lieber, then the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, to the then-head of the city’s umbrella labor organization, Gary LaBarbera.

“NYCEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the City’s living wage and health benefits standards,” Lieber wrote. “The proposal must explain how the proposed tenanting plan maximizes the number of jobs that meet these criteria.”

Yet this May – when the EDC put out a 125-page request for Willets Point proposals to developers – there was not a single mention of living wage jobs. It did state that developers had to hire construction contractors who would pay prevailing wage and that some building workers would get prevailing wage salaries—but retail workers were left out completely.

Ah, ok. So memory isn't failing me. I remember quite clearly that living wage was part of the Willets Point deal that the Council voted on in 2008. So the City is allowed to renege on its promises and no one bats an eyelash? Well, let's see...Hiram's gone, Katz is gone, Lieber's gone, Marshall is still around but she's useless. Who is going to call the administration out on the carpet for breaking their promises? Whether or not you agree with a living wage, a deal is a deal, and the Council factored living wage into the equation when they voted on the project.

And where are the unions now? Shouldn't they be protesting this major duping by filing lawsuits and holding rallies on the steps of City Hall? You got the rug pulled out from under you, peeps and have been made to look like fools. Why are you taking this lying down? Where are your cojones?

Unions take pay cut at Atlantic Yards

From the Brooklyn Paper:

Union workers are coming to Bruce Ratner’s rescue — again! — agreeing to take massive pay cuts to pave the way for the first residential building at Atlantic Yards, a cut-rate, pre-fabricated tower to rise next to the Barclays Center.

Labor unions provided crucial support for Ratner when his controversial, $5-billion project was moving through the approval process five years ago in exchange for a promise of high-paying jobs. But the agreement currently being negotiated between union leaders and Ratner, workers would give up millions of dollars in pay to allow the developer to move forward with the cheaper, modular building.

It is unclear how much money will be lost to laborers, but carpenters make as much as $90 an hour in wages and benefits at real construction sites, but only $30 per hour when working inside the kind of factory where Ratner will build the pre-fabricated units.

Many union leaders merely shrugged when asked about the pay cuts, suggesting that if the workers don’t give back, the project might not go ahead, leaving laborers with no work at all.

Truck traffic continues along Grand Avenue

From the Times Ledger:

Large trucks continue to use Grand and Flushing avenues in Maspeth after the city Department of Transportation instituted a traffic plan last summer prohibiting the trucks from barreling through those streets, business owners on the commercial strip said Friday.

The bypass plan was designed to route trucks that enter and exit the Long Island Expressway around the commercial and largely residential portion of Maspeth. Instead of using Grand and Flushing avenues, the trucks now travel down 58th Street and travel up Maurice Avenue.

The plan, developed by the city Department of Transportation, was approved in July by Community Board 5 after nearly a decade of debate.

“They come by anyway, regardless,” said Al Elayni of Carpetorium Inc. & Decoration, at 64-12 Flushing Ave. “I haven’t noticed much of a difference.”

Fraud was all in the family

From the Daily News:

A Queens man who posed as a federal agent and boasted that he could get friends off the terror watch list has been convicted of conspiring with his wife and daughter to dupe hardworking immigrants out of nearly $2 million.

Shane Ramsundar, his wife, Gomatee, and their daughter, Shantal, each face hundreds of years in prison for conning members of Queens’ West Indian community into believing they could get them federally seized property at dirt-cheap prices.

“The jury has rightfully branded the defendants as con artists who preyed upon and unscrupulously exploited members of their own immigrant community who were in need of assistance,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown after the conviction late Tuesday. “The victims were betrayed by the defendants who turned their American Dream into the American nightmare.”

Ramsundar, 52, met many of the 19 victims at Hindu temples near his South Richmond Hill home, and passed himself off as a holy man, prosecutors say.

Over six years, the Ramsundars duped victims into thinking they could sell them properties in Queens and Florida seized from tax evaders and drug dealers before they went up for public auction.

Shantal Ramsundar, 23, laundered cash through her bank accounts and held her father out as a federal agent, and Gomatee Ramsundar, 47, conned victims into thinking her husband could get them green cards , prosecutors say.

Kicked to the curb on Thanksgiving Eve

From NBC New York:

Occupants of five residential buildings in Brooklyn are temporarily homeless after Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Special Enforcement slapped a vacate order on the structures just 24 hours before Thanksgiving.

The city said the owners of 89, 91, 95, 97 and 99 Stockton Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood have been operating an illegal hotel without proper fire protections.

Not only that, they all seem to have SROs in their cellars, so it's not that they simply have short-term leases. It's hipster heaven.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Council GOP celebrates Thanksgiving

Ozone Park hole fixed

From NY1:

A huge hole in Ozone Park, Queens has finally been filled. Last week, NY1 For You looked into how it sat uncovered for over a month after National Grid replaced a gas main line, causing concern in the neighborhood.

After residents called NY1 For You, NY1 contacted National Grid, and they filled the hole immediately.

The eyesore is gone, parking spaces are back, but most of all, residents say they're happy it's safe again.

Once again, if you want something fixed and calling 311 does nothing, call the media.

Civic group pushes to landmark carousel

From the Forum:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That is the message the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) is sending when it comes to their most recent push to turn the historic Forest Park Carousel into a landmark.

Looking to gather support from local groups, WRBA announced last week the formation of a landmarking committee dedicated to preserving the carousel — a goal that has been nearly two decades in the making, according to block association members.

At last week’s monthly meeting, Ed Wendell, the block association president, said the association would soon reach out to several local civic groups, including the Woodhaven and Richmond Hill historical societies, Richmond Hill Block Association, Richmond Hill Civic Association, and others in order to push toward landmark status for the iconic structure.

Smith to Occupy NBA

From the Daily News:

With local businesses losing money and neither side in the NBA lockout willing to negotiate, one city official is planning to follow the philosophy of the downtown protesters and occupy the NBA.

As a prelude to what state Sen. Malcolm A. Smith calls a “national movement,” the Queens Democrat will lead a group of restaurant owners, season-ticket holders and disgruntled basketball fans in demanding refunds and gathering signatures on a giant petition Wednesday in front of Madison Square Garden.

And if David Stern and Billy Hunter don’t settle their differences in the next four weeks, Smith said the protest will move across the country in “A Day of Solidarity” on Dec. 11. Smith said he has contacted officials in Chicago and Los Angeles who are willing to organize similar protests in front of their respective NBA arena.

Douglaston cottage restored

From the Queens Gazette:

The Community Church of Douglaston and the Douglaston Little Neck Historic society recently celebrated the renovation and restoration of one of the oldest cottages in Douglaston, the church parsonage.

Part of the church’s two-acre campus at 39-50 Douglaston Pkwy, the parsonage is hidden from view from the street by shrubs and is situated at the end of a long gravel drive.

The house had fallen into disrepair in recent times and the church has reclaimed this charming building for the new pastor, the Reverend Linden DeBie and his family.

The oldest part of the cottage is a typical one and a half story vernacular style Long Island farmhouse dating to the 1850s. If one looks closely the ancient shape is still visible under some of the 20th century additions including a front porch and second story dormer. The house originally featured two rooms, a living room and dining room on the first floor with a fireplace and two bedrooms on the second floor. It is also likely that it once had a one-story kitchen wing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More toxic material to be dumped into Jamaica Bay

From Sheepshead Bites:

A proposal to allow deicing chemicals and other toxins from John F. Kennedy International Airport to flow freely into Jamaica Bay has sparked a heated debate between city and state agencies and local stakeholders around New York City’s most important federal parkland.

According to environmental watchdogs at the meeting, runoff of water and chemicals from JFK airport remains a major contributor of pollution to Jamaica Bay, and modifying current permits could make matters worse.

The DEC representatives outlined the plan, adding that they have already curtailed the dumping of ethylene glycol, a type of antifreeze.

But those improvements haven’t been enough, said [activist Don] Riepe. He said testing done by the Ecowatchers still showed toxic materials in the waters.

Julia has the last laugh

From the Daily News:

Julia Harrison is having the last laugh.

These days Harrison, 91, smiles as her enemies twist slowly in the wind as she gazes from her fourth-floor co-op on Union St. in Flushing.

“Every dog has his day,” Harrison says. “In 2000, John Liu, the arrogant little pup, walked into my living room here and announced that my political career was over. I showed him the door.”

Today Liu is in the middle of a federal campaign finance investigation, dashing his mayoral dreams and threatening his political future. Meanwhile Harrison was recently reelected as Democratic female district leader from AD 22 Part B.

“I don’t mean to gloat,” Harrison says, “but I won’t say I’m not enjoying it.”

“The holier-than-thou assemblyman who led the march on City Hall demanding my resignation was Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin,” she says. “Today he’s doing 10 years in a federal pen for corruption, including stealing $90,000 from a Little League. The other self-righteous hypocrite who tried to end my career is Alan Hevesi, who got caught stealing public money. He’s also doing time.”

Sam's got Johnny's back

From the NY Post:

Many of the low-paid maids, truck drivers and janitors who donated to embattled Comptroller John Liu’s campaign coffers are connected to businessman Sam Chang, the budget hotel king of New York, records show.

Liu, a mayoral hopeful, received at least $29,600 from donors who owe some or all of their income to Chang, according to 2013 campaign data from the city Campaign Finance Board.

The donations from Chang, his employees and business associates, come as investigators from the US Attorney’s Office are swarming around Liu’s campaign records looking for fund-raising violations and possible illegal overseas contributions.

Chang, who has run as many as 37 midrange and budget hotels in the city, had no comment, according to a secretary at his Great Neck office. He personally gave Liu $800 on July 1.

Six other employees of Chang’s company, McSam Hotel Group, also donated $800 on July 9, records show, and another had donated in June.

Also, on July 9, six employees of Chang’s Comfort Inn Flushing each gave $800.

EDC outsources Willets Point sewer project

From the Daily News:

A New Jersey company has snared lucrative contracts to build a sewer system for Willets Point, angering critics who say the job near Citi Field should go to a city firm.

Cruz Contractors signed deals in May and July for $36 million of work for sewers at the mix of auto body shops and junkyards by the Mets’ stadium.

Cruz inked the two pacts with a construction firm hired by the city Economic Development Corp. to redevelop the gritty industrial zone.

News of the deals came out recently through a Freedom of Information request by Willets Point United, a group that opposes the redevelopment plans.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called Cruz’s hiring a “disgrace.”

“City residents are out of work, especially construction workers,” Avella said. “Why can’t we give our people these jobs?”

Interesting thing is that announcements of contract awards are usually treated with great fanfare by EDC, with press releases containing quotes from electeds which are regurgitated by the local press. For this one, the information had to be FOILed by the group fighting the development. I guess this time EDC felt they wouldn't be able to piss on local people and convince them it was raining.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's about time...

From Fox 5:

The Obama administration has extended its crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants, notifying 500 companies across the nation in recent weeks that the government will inspect their hiring records.

The surge in so-called silent raids is the first to occur in the government's new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. In the year ended Sept. 30, the US audited 2,496 companies, topping the previous year's tally of 2,196.

The audits of employee records by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, can lead firms to lose large numbers of employees and face lower productivity and steep legal fees.

The audits can result in civil and criminal penalties. Companies can be fined, barred from competing for government contracts and be hit with criminal charges of knowingly employing illegal workers and evading taxes.

An ICE spokeswoman confirmed that employers across the US had been asked to turn over their I-9 employment eligibility forms and other documents to the agency.

ICE did not name the businesses being investigated.

Flushing's Dr. Feelgood

From Fox 5:

A doctor who practices at a clinic in Queens has been arrested and accused of selling numerous prescriptions to a drug abuser who overdosed several times and eventually died, according to authorities.

Police arrested Dr. Stan Li on Saturday at his clinic, Medical Pain Management, in Flushing. He was arraigned in Manhattan on Monday on 15 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and 5 counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

He is accused of giving prescriptions for painkillers, including oxycodone, to Michael Cornetta, of Queens, between May 2009 and August 2010, according to the city's special narcotics prosecutor and the NYPD. During that time, Cornetta overdosed at least twice and then died after another overdose in November 2010, officials said.

Li pleaded not guilty, and the judge set bail at $500,000 bond or $100,000 cash.

Cheats and frauds

From Fox 5/AP:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is upgrading technology used to combat a swindle of the nation's $64.7 billion food stamp program that diverts as much as $330 million annually.

The goal is to decrease food stamp trafficking, where retailers trade customers lesser amounts of cash for stamps. Authorities say the stamps are then redeemed as usual by merchants at face value, netting them huge profits.

The practice is a federal criminal offense. Authorities say the crime has brought 597 convictions nationwide and recovery of $197.4 million since 2008.

From the NY Post:

As the state looks to root out Medicaid abuse, the office charged with investigating fraud in the program has shrunk to just four people.

The state Office of the Welfare Inspector General is half the size it was in 2007 and about a third its size of a decade ago.

There are just two special investigators left on staff — down from six in October 2007.

OWIG handled 217 investigations in 2007 but merely 109 last year.

From the NY Post:

The State Liquor Authority is cracking down on tax-dodging city bodegas that smuggle cases of beer in from New Jersey.

A growing number of local shop owners load up their vans and trucks with beer from Jersey discounters to save nearly $6 a case in fees and taxes.

From Metro:

The city announced yesterday that it is suing a Manhattan smoke shop that allows patrons to roll their own cigarettes, only days after a Queens man was arrested for allegedly selling thousands of counterfeit, untaxed cigarettes.

New York has filed suit against Island Smokes, a Chinatown-based shop that city officials say evades cigarette taxes by providing customers with tobacco, rolling papers and access to machinery that rolls their cigarettes for them.

“They are trying to get around the law by claiming they’re not in the business of selling cigarettes when they clearly are,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Island Smokes argues that they don’t sell manufactured cigarettes and therefore cannot be taxed.

The suit comes after the Queens district attorney office filed charges against Abdus Shahed, 31, on Friday and confiscated 5,000 cartons of cigarette from his home in Woodside, Queens. Officials also found $96,000 in cash there. Nearly 2,000 of those cartons were counterfeit, officials said.

Court rules against taxpayers in pork lawsuit

From Capital Tonight:

The state’s highest court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of 50 taxpayers who challenged state government’s constitutional authority of doling out economic development grants and tax breaks to private companies.

In a 4-2 ruling handed down today by the state Court of Appeals, Judge Theodore Jones wrote there were no grounds for suit despite the questioning “the wisdom of policy choices.”

Judges Eugene Pigott and Robert Smith wrote separate dissents, taking a more word-for-word interpretation of the constitutional argument in the suit.

Wrote Pigott:

“Unconstitutional acts do not become constitutional by virtue of repetition, custom or passage of time. But that is what the majority opinion holds today. The arguments made by these defendants are precisely the kind of claims that sully taxpayers’ view of our State government. It is unfortunate that the majority gives credence to those arguments and, as a result, deprives these plaintiffs – 50 New York State taxpayers who are attempting to exercise their right to air their grievances – of an opportunity to conduct the most basic discovery to support their claims.”

Developer thinks water-filled dumpsters improve LIC

From the NY Times:

ON a recent afternoon the view across Court Square, in eastern Long Island City, Queens, took in an auto body shop and parking lots, and aging factories beyond. The Citicorp Building and other office towers cast shadows across streets. Places to shop were nonexistent.

That view is about to change. The Rockrose Development Corporation has started construction on a 42-story rental tower with 709 apartments that is expected to be among the largest residential developments in the area — and one of the tallest buildings in the borough — when completed in 2013.

The apartments in the tower, which will be called Linc LIC, at 43-10 Crescent Street, will range from 450-square-foot studios to 1,400-square-foot three-bedrooms. They will have parquet floors and “Rockrose standard” flecked granite counters, and in many cases, washers and dryers, said Justin Elghanayan, a principal of Rockrose, which is led by his father, Henry.

The rents will be about 25 percent below those for comparable apartments in Manhattan, brokers say. They average $1,750 a month, for studios, and $4,150 a month for three-bedrooms, or about $38 per square foot.

“I think it’s about to pop,” Justin Elghanayan said of the Court Square area, as he gave a tour of the work site. Indeed, a bustling after-work social scene will be critical to attracting the younger renters whom Rockrose covets, said Mr. Elghanayan, who for similar reasons staged a sort of multiweekend pool party on a lot near his new building last summer. Called the Palms, the party featured three Dumpsters filled with water to splash around in, alongside beach chairs, and beer. “That’s the kind of energy neighborhoods need,” he said.

Mental note: LIC needs more noise and dumbasses serving liquor without a valid license...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fan is silenced by pols' money

From the Daily News:

Silence is golden for noise-addled residents of Hunters Point.

Noise abatement equipment recently placed on a large fan that exhausts fumes from a nearby subway tunnel has muffled its ear-splitting racket, according to state Sen. Michael Gianaris.

“The normal street ambient noise level is around 61 decibels,” said Gianaris, who is set to discuss the reduced noise levels at a news conference on Friday. “When the fan was operating it was around 80. Now with the muffler it’s around 62. This is a huge relief.”

MTA East River ventilator, located at 50th Ave. between 5th St. and Center St. ventilates the subway tunnel under the East River and is used during periods of construction.

Residents had complained the fan’s screeching wail led to headaches and sleepless nights.

Gianaris, along with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, cobbled together $700,000 in funds to pay for the noise abatement equipment.

Complaints about the noise have dropped dramatically, Gianaris said.

But he pointed out that it’s only one of the problems that has emerged as the Long Island City area continues to morph from a neighborhood of factories and warehouses to luxury apartments.

Girl falls down Kissena Park manhole

From A Walk in the Park:

A teenage girl was rescued by NYFD firefighters after falling through an open storm drain inside a Queens park on Friday night, A Walk In The Park has learned.

Amber Thom, 16, a student at Arch Bishop Malloy High School was walking with five friends in a wooded area inside Kissena Park near Underhill Avenue and 168th Street in Auburndale about 10:30 p.m. when she fell through an open storm drain, according to NYFD officials.

The girl was walking on a log when she slipped and fell approximately 15 feet straight down through an open man hole cover.

Friends climbed down the drain to help her but were unable to move her. Friends called 911 at 10:35pm.

Engine 299 arrived first at the scene within five minutes. Within 20 minutes Thom was lifted out of the hole by firefighters. By 11:21pm Thorn and two friends had been removed from the sewer drain. The teen was taken to Long Island Jewish hospital where she was treated for a broken leg.

The manhole cover was found beside the opening. According to neighbors teenage kids often gather in the remote area of the park and sometimes explore the underground storm drains.

Screenshot from Eyewitness News.

State leasing space when its buildings are empty

Human trafficking a major problem

From CBS New York:

Human trafficking is a bigger problem in New York than first thought, according to a new study.

Hofstra University published the study this month that claims there are 11,268 human trafficking survivors in New York state since 2000.

That number only includes the survivors who have come forward.

Gang melee/hit-and-run in Astoria

From the Daily News:

A 23-year-old man was jumped by a group and slashed in the back when a melee inside Amnesia, a club on Steinway St. in Astoria, spilled onto the street just after 4 a.m. closing time.

The driver of a champagne-colored vehicle who happened to be passing by the melee hit several club-goers, slammed into a parked Jeep Grand Cherokee and then fled the scene, cops and witnesses said.

Orlando Santos, 18, of Brooklyn, who suffered a dislocated hip after being struck by the hit-and-run driver, was arrested at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell in connection to the slashing attack. He was charged with gang assault.

A 28-year-old man was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital after being slashed
in the left side of his face during the brawl and struck by the hit-and-run vehicle, cops said.

A 25-year-old man was treated at Elmhurst Hospital for crash-related cuts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Honest graft as practiced by Congress

Sorry for the lack of content today. (Not feeling well.) But this 60 Minutes piece is worth the time you would have spent reading the local crap that would have been posted here today. Thank you to the reader who sent this in.