Dems Blast Delayed Vote On Sandy $ Aid
Two weeks after Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R–Ohio) set off a storm of protest from Democrats and even some Republicans by refusing to let the House vote on the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy financial aid bill, President Barack Obama finally signed an aid bill last Sunday, 66 days after the storm had wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard.
The bill signed by the president authorized distribution by FEMA of $9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims in New York and New Jersey. The White House said the funds would help 100,000 flood claimants to get started rebuilding their homes.
Still to be acted upon by Congress is approval of $51 billion more in storm aid funding. Boehner has promised to hold a vote on it January 15, and the Senate has promised a vote the following week.
But judging from the House Republican majority’s 67 “no” votes on the $9.7 billion aid bill previously approved, there’s no telling what the result will be if, as promised, the vote on the $51 billion is taken next Tuesday. It could bring a similar outcry from public officials, from Governor Andrew Cuomo on down, that greeted Boehner’s dillydallying on the bill previously.
At that time, Cuomo declared: “This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented. The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty. That tradition was abandoned in the House… The people of our state can no longer afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games.”
Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) said at the time, referring to the Republicans’ failure to act, “I wonder, if they walked along the beaches of Breezy Point, Staten Island or Seaside Heights, if they could stomach the devastation, stomach the lives lost, homes destroyed or families still displaced, stomach the businesses that are closed and, in many places have been lost.… The Republican leadership in Congress brought this House to a new low….”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the U.S. Senate’s passage of the bill, and urged the House “to quickly pass this legislation… time is of the essence and any delay will further impede our ability to rebuild, impacting not only the city’s economy, but that of the entire nation”.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) met the House GOP’s indifferent attitude by declaring it had “turned its back on families still suffering from Hurricane Sandy, and was indefensible and shameful”. And the newest Democratic congressmember, Grace Meng (Flushing), stated the Republicans’ “decision to not vote on the crucial aid package… is outrageous and unacceptable. In not holding a vote on this vital relief, the GOP turned its back on New Yorkers in their time of need.”
Meanwhile, local Republican lawmaker Councilmember Dan Halloran (Whitestone), called for “a new Sandy relief bill without the unrelated pork in the current bill from the Senate”. It would “provide nothing but desperately needed relief for actual storm victims in the Northeast”.
Halloran said the Senate-drafted bill “contains more than $20 billion in spending not directly related to Sandy damages” and charged “both Republicans and Democrats have played a dangerous game with our citizens’ money and it’s one we can ill afford to continue”.
VALLONE STIRS SOCCER FIELD DEBATE: While much of the previous discussion about a major league soccer stadium in Queens has focused on Flushing Meadows- Corona Park as the location of choice for the facility, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. last week also called on Major League Soccer (MLS) to instead bring its planned franchise to Queens, but to play its home games at Citi Field, which is owned by the N.Y. Mets.
Vallone (D–Astoria), whose term in the Council will end this year, and who has announced he will run for Queens borough president in November, said in a statement, “While I’m sure MLS would prefer its own stadium, what’s most important is what works best for the people of Queens. This is a great way to have the best of both worlds in the world’s borough.”
However, in springing the idea to have a Queens entry in the MLS league play its home games at Citi Field, Vallone explained he has refused to support an independent stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park “without first ensuring actual outreach to the Queens community is performed and without knowing specifics regarding the replacement of the park land”.
On the other hand, Vallone said, with a stateof the-art stadium recently constructed in Queens (Citi Field) with taxpayer assistance, he believes there is no need to confiscate the borough’s park land to establish a soccer team. He also pointed out that Citi Field has already hosted soccer games, including the international clash between Greece and Ecuador, and the MLS has stated they are hoping to use the stadium’s parking lot during home games—indicating that the Mets’ schedule would not interfere with the soccer franchise. Vallone also said he has also spoken to Mets officials, who he says have assured him they are “very interested and fully capable of handling an MLS franchise at Citi Field”.
While many people have been receptive to a major league soccer field in the huge park, in fact the largest public park in the borough, there have been some who would balk at building a huge stadium, which would accommodate as many as 25,000 spectators at games, brought there in thousands of vehicles crowding into the park.
Presently, there a thousands of visitors to the park, especially on weekends, including families with small children and teenagers who engage in athletic games. They would then have to share the park and be part of the crowds of spectators coming and going to soccer games whose loud and boisterous cheering would disturb others at play.
In a recent New York Times editorial, which mentioned that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MLS officials are holding discussions about a possible soccer stadium, it also mentioned that Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the nearby Corona district (and I quote from the editorial) “calls the park ‘the heart and lungs’ of a community that she says, ‘cannot afford to lose one inch of public green space’”.
However, Assemblymember Francisco Moya (also D–Corona) is reportedly strongly in favor of the soccer field in the park. So is state Senator Jose Peralta (D–Jackson Heights), whose district includes the park. Incidentally, Peralta is, like Vallone, running for Queens borough president, so it could turn into a debatable issue in the B.P. primary. Other Democrats seeking the borough presidency are: former legislator Melinda Katz and Councilmember Leroy Comrie (D–Jamaica).
Comrie officially kicked off his campaign this past Sunday, where Congressmember Joseph Crowley was listed as a “special guest”. Crowley doubles as Queens Democratic Party chairman.
GOP MAYORAL FIELD BROADENING: While former MTA chairman Joseph Lhota continues to consider running for mayor this year on the Republican line, and master grocer John Catsimatidis is running, while two other possible GOP candidates have expressed an interest in running for the job.
They are: The Rev. A.G. Bernard, pastor of the 35,000-member Christian Cultural Center in East New York, Brooklyn. The other is George McDonald, an advocate for the homeless, operator of the Doe Fund, which employs the homeless to do civic cleanups around the city. McDonald is set to announce he’s in it at Grand Central Station, where he’ll also introduce two top campaign staffers.
Bernard said he was urged to seek the GOP nomination when state GOP head Edward Cox suggested he consider running. Bernard, a Smithtown, L.I. resident, says he’s planning to move into the city shortly, to establish residency so he could run. Bernard’s background includes a past career in banking.
There’s the prospect of a crowded primary field since Lhota, Catsimatidis and Adolfo Carrion Jr., former Bronx borough president are good possibilities to run. Other signs of who may run could emerge after January 15, the first time financial disclosures will be revealed by the city Campaign Finance Board.
Money won’t be a problem for supermarket millionaire Catsimatidis, who probably won’t accept any city funds if he runs, but all four of the others figure to be in a bind for funds, and that could play a major role in their campaigns.
On the Democratic side, the only noise made last week emanated from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who charged that Mayor Bloomberg was involved in arranging that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will continue in his job if Council Speaker Christine Quinn gets elected in November.
De Blasio admitted in one news report that he doesn’t know for sure that the mayor had a hand in it, which makes it look like he’s just painting the mayor as a dealmaker because that always has a negative connotation to it. It also bolsters the perception that the mayor is paying back to Quinn because she was influential four years ago in getting the term limits law favorably changed to permit Bloomberg to run for a third term. Actually, all of de Blasio’s charges seem much ado about nothing.
The candidate that could be hurt by a future development is City Comptroller John Liu. One of his former fundraisers, Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan, wants Liu to testify on behalf of Pan in the latter’s trial on charges of conspiring to use straw donors to bypass contribution limits for Liu’s run for mayor this year. Liu’s attorney said Liu will testify “voluntarily and truthfully” at the trial, which is scheduled to start February 4 in Manhattan Federal Court. Liu is not charged with any crime.
Besides Quinn, de Blasio and Liu, the only other candidate is former City Comptroller William Thompson.
MENG GETS SEAT ON SMALL BUSINESS PANEL: Congressmember Grace Meng (D–Flushing), Queens’ newest congressmember, has been appointed to the Small Business Committee, her first assignment in Washington.
“I cannot be more excited about being chosen to serve on this critical committee,” said Meng. “Small businesses are the economic engine of Queens as well as the entire nation. They play a pivotal role in job creation and economic growth…”
The panel’s job is to protect and assist small businesses, oversee the many crucial issues affecting businesses, such as financial aid and regulatory matters.
STAVISKY NAMED TO CONFERENCE POST: State Senator Andrea Stewart- Cousins, the recently elected leader of the Democratic Conference, has named state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) assistant democratic leader for Conference Operations.
Stavisky said she was honored by the appointment. “As the first woman from Queens elected to the state senate, I was proud to see Senator Stewart-Cousins become the first female legislative conference leader in New York state history. Her selection of my Queens colleague, Michael Gianaris, as her deputy is a welcome addition to the leadership team and I look forward to working with them…”
Stavisky added: “When we return to Albany, critical decisions will demand action. We must enact strong, sensible gun control measures— including a ban on assault weapons. We must help the business community and spur job creation, and as ranking member of the Higher Education Committee, ensure that access to quality, affordable college education is available, including the millions of immigrant New Yorkers who should have that opportunity under the DREAM Act.”
MARSHALL BERATES CONGRESS’ FAILURE TO ACT: Using words like “unprecedented” and “unconscionable” to describe Congress’ failure to pass the full $61 billion Hurricane Sandy financial aid package last week, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall demanded immediate action on the rest of the relief package.
Part of the package—$9.7 billion—was passed last week, and $60 billion remains to be approved at a session on January 15.
More than two months after the hurricane struck and devastated neighborhoods in the Rockaways, parts of Long Island and Queens, “we are still waiting for Congress to recognize the scope of this tragedy”, said Marshall. “It is shocking and sad that some members of Congress choose to put politics ahead of the basic needs and well-being of those who were hit hardest by this superstorm.”
COUNCILMEMBER CROWLEY PRAISES FDNY: Citing the city Fire Department’s “exceptional work” during 2012 in keeping fire fatalities at a record low (58 deaths), Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D–Glendale) pledged “to keep firehouses completely staffed and operational” during 2013.
Since 2009, Crowley stated, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed closing as many as 20 fire companies during budget negotiations. But, she argued, “Our fire department is the city’s first line of defense in any emergency and my colleagues in the city council, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have refused to let budget cuts compromise New Yorkers’ safety.
The lawmaker, who chairs the Fire Committee in the council, added: “We can’t afford cuts to firehouses, and I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure the FDNY receives the required resources to keep us safe.”
Crowley noted that the council has fought back against the mayor’s proposed cuts each year, ensuring that every firehouse remains open and fully staffed.
Crowley was prompted to issue her aims to keep the FDNY at top capacity by news reports announcing that fire fatalities in NYC during 2012 had been kept to a record low 58 deaths in 2012, down from 66 in 2011. At the same time, in 2012, demand for FD services was at an all time high, according to Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, which is one of the reasons the city council has fought to keep firehouses completely staffed and operational.
GOLDFEDER SEEKS SAND DREDGING OF ROCKAWAY BEACHES: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has received a request from Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder for immediate replenishment of the sand that Rockaway beaches lost when battered during Hurricane Sandy.
The hurricane removed close to one million cubic yards of sand from the beaches when the storm struck, Goldfeder (D–Rockaways) estimates. In the interim, New York City parks and sanitation workers have been clearing sand displaced by Sandy and are building mounds along the beaches to shield the community from additional flooding.
Goldfeder declared, “Our neighborhood is suffering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and we must act immediately to protect our families and community from impending storms. It has been over two months since the storm ravaged our community and it seems that little has been done to replace the missing sand.”
Goldfeder praised the city and state agencies for providing some sort of temporary relief, but “the Army Corps of Engineers must step up and rebuild the beaches immediately to provide our community with the protection and peace of mind we deserve…,” said Goldfeder.
LIC ADVOCATES PROTEST 7 TRAIN SHUTDOWN FOR 13 WEEKS: Public officials, businessmen, cultural organizations and residents in Long Island City united in a protest against the MTA’s decision to cancel No. 7 train service for 13 consecutive weekends in the near future.
The many cultural organizations in the area would especially be damaged and hurt by the weekend closures, they said, because the vast majority of cultural performances and attendance take place on weekends.
Among the public officials talking up, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Western Queens) blasted the MTA: “The all too frequent and unacceptable disruption of the 7 train continues again with its closure for more than a dozen consecutive weekends with very little notice.”
Gianaris added that while he understood the need for track maintenance, “such lengthy repairs are detrimental to our local economy”. He urged the MTA to make greater efforts to provide suitable shuttle service to minimize the effects on local residents.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn declared, “Here we go again! The MTA is once again failing to recognize the lifeline that the 7 train represents to so many Queens residents and businesses.”
Added Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside): “The cultural organizations, businesses and people of Long Island City deserve better.” He called the 7 line the “lifeblood” of the Hunters Point-Long Island City community and added:
“Cutting off service for such a long period… while this community is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy is a travesty and shows the MTA’s disregard for… the fastest growing community in New York City.”
Van Bramer’s colleague, Councilmember Peter Koo (R–C–Flushing) stated: “The MTA continuously shows a blatant disregard for its customers by raising fares and diminishing services. Additionally, the Flushing community is outraged that the MTA… would disrupt 7 train service during the Lunar New Year after promising last year they would be more sympathetic.”
Van Bramer called on the MTA to implement FASTRACK along the affected stretch of the 7 train, to increase the frequency of shuttle buses…, and to schedule occasional summer weekend service.
GIANARIS: B24 WEEKEND SERVICE THRU SUNNYSIDE: State Senator Michael Gianaris also announced that Western Queens commuters will have access to a convenient mass transit option which began this past
Sunday namely that the B24 bus line will begin weekend service. Gianaris said he had received notification from the MTA announcing the restored service, which was made public last July as part of the MTA’s $17.8 million service investment announcement.
Gianaris explained the B24 line runs between Greenpoint and the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza via Sunnyside. On Saturdays and Sundays, the bus will run from Greenpoint to Williamsburg from 5 a.m. to 12:42 a.m. and, from Williamsburg to Greenpoint, it will run from 4:55 a.m. to 1:27 a.m.
The lawmaker stated: “The restored weekend service on the B24 line is a good start to the new year as Sunnyside commuters will be able to travel more easily throughout their neighborhood. While restoration of the B24’s weekend service is a step in the right direction, I will continue to push the MTA to reinstate all Western Queens mass transit cuts, whose loss has greatly impacted the lives of our commuters.”
In September, Gianaris was successful in extending the Q103 bus line service on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City by 40 minutes each weekday. He continues to push for restored weekend service on that line as well.
PERALTA, VAN BRAMER URGE SUBWAY SECURITY CHANGES: Following the second New Yorker’s death after being shoved off a subway platform, state Senator Jose Peralta (D–Jackson Heights) and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer have urged the MTA to enact or expand existing proposals, initiatives and pilot programs to strengthen or improve subway safety and security.
After Sunando Sen, an Elmhurst resident, became the 54th victim on subway system tracks in 2012, they said, after he was pushed off the 7 line subway platform at 40th St.- Lowery station, Peralta stated, “In less than a month, two of my constituents have been pushed onto subway tracks and killed. I urge the MTA to immediately act on common-sense measures to improve rider safety and security.”
Earlier this month, he said, another constituent, Elmhurst resident Ki-Suk Han, had been pushed to his death off a 49th Street station platform.
Also commenting after Sen’s death, Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside) stated Sen’s tragedy “highlights the need to seriously examine platform and subway station security protocols. New Yorkers rely on their subway system every day and must be safe going to and from work. These proposals have been enacted in other large cities, merit serious consideration by the MTA, and I hope ultimately will be implemented.”
The two legislators also want the MTA to consider an example from London, where the subway system features drainage pits that guard against flooding, but also have been shown to halve the risk of death when people fall or are pushed on to the tracks.
Among the proposals made by Peralta and Van Bramer were:
•More security cameras at more stations and ensuring they are operational.
•Installing sliding doors on subway platforms in as many stations as it is financially feasible to do so.
•Raising awareness about the Customer Assistance Intercom system, or “talk back boxes” on platform columns to communicate with station agents in event of emergency.