2013-02-20 / Political Page

Crowley Invites NRA Head To NYC After His Misguided Rant

Stung by the National Rifle Association leader’s characterizations of New York City as a “hellish world of lawlessness” and using it to argue against reasonable gun policies, Congressmember Joseph Crowley invited him to come here and reconsider his misconceptions about us.

“Instead of the productive dialogue that the American people want to see on solutions to prevent gun violence, Mr. Wayne LaPierre delivered a bizarre manifesto that insults the people of New York City just as they are rebuilding from a tragic natural disaster,” Crowley declared.

In a letter to LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, Crowley offered to show him the communities affected by the storm and their rebuilding efforts. The Queens/Bronx lawmaker also invited him to visit with New York police officers and healthcare professionals that are “on the front lines against gun violence every day”.

Congressmember Joseph Crowley Congressmember Joseph Crowley “Far from the post-apocalyptic wasteland that you describe, what I saw in my hometown after one of the most devastating natural disasters was New Yorkers coming together and helping one another, just as we’ve always done after a crisis,” Crowley wrote in the letter.

Crowley said he also expressed concern with LaPierre’s belief that greater numbers of guns on the streets is a solution that will protect our children and reduce deaths from gun violence. On the contrary, said the lawmaker, police chiefs across the nation who are responsible for keeping our communities safe, have expressed support for common-sense gun policies like those proposed by President Obama.

“While the concern you expressed for New Yorkers’ well-being is touching, I assure you that what we need in the aftermath of Sandy is not more guns and fewer safety measures. And what we need is not to have the hard work of our police officers disparaged by those who think citizens should take the law into their own hands,” Crowley’s letter to LaPierre concluded.

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. Crowley, the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus in Congress, is viewed as one of the leaders of the gun control effort being debated in Washington.

MENG’S BILL PASSES HOUSE; COVERS CHURCHES’ COSTS FIGHTING ‘SANDY’: Many houses of worship throughout New York City were damaged even as they fought valiantly to keep their doors open to offer shelter to Hurricane Sandy’s battered victims. But now that the crisis has passed, ironically the federal government slammed the door shut when the saviors come to call seeking help to repair the damages wrought by the storm.

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney Congressmember Carolyn Maloney But Congressmember Grace Meng may have found a way to place houses of worship on a level playing field with other nonprofit organizations seeking disaster assistance from FEMA. Under her bill seeking to aid them, criteria that are neutral with regard to religion are cited which were accepted by Congress in previously enacted laws providing financial assistance to nonprofit institutions, including houses of worship.

Meng’s bill passed its first test last week as Congress, with bipartisan support, passed it and sent it along to the Senate. As the bill was called up, the freshman Democratic lawmaker from Flushing declared:

“The decision to hold a vote on this important legislation is great news for the many houses of worship that desperately need to repair or rebuild their facilities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Three-and-a-half months since the storm wreaked havoc on our region, houses of worship— and the millions of Americans who benefit from the social services these institutions provide— continue to be denied the same treatment that is afforded to other non-profit entities. This is unfair and wrong and must change. And it will change if this critical legislation becomes the law of the land. I urge all my colleagues in Congress to support it.”

Meng, who took a seat in Congress for the first time only last month, came prepared. She cited several precedents for federal aid to disaster damaged religious institutions. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress overruled FEMA’s refusal to provide assistance to damaged churches. And in 2002, after a Seattle earthquake, the Justice Department intervened to order FEMA to assist religious organizations damaged by the quake.

VALLONE APPLAUDS MENG’S SUCCESS: When Meng introduced her bill to aid storm-ravaged houses of religion several weeks ago, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) was quick to introduce a bill calling on the federal government to pass Meng’s bill. Vallone’s bill, co-sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was recently voted out of the Finance Committee.

Upon hearing of the passage of Meng’s bill last week, Vallone sent congratulations and noted: “Our houses of worship were helping Queens when the government wasn’t, and now they need our help. Turning our backs on them now would be adding insult to injury—first the storm devastation and then, despite the charity they have displayed for centuries, we abandon them. I applaud the House for passing this bill and congratulate Congressmember Meng for this important step.”

BP CANDIDATE VALLONE UNVEILS CAMPAIGN TEAM: Peter Vallone Jr., one of several candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for Queens borough president, announced he has hired two of the city’s leading political consultants to oversee his campaign. They are Hank Sheinkopf, a Brooklyn-based political operative; and Mercury Public Affairs, headed by Austin Finan, which has managed and consulted on a number of recent Queens election contests.

Sheinkopf, who has had many professional contacts with the candidate’s father, the former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., is often sought for his opinions on major political stories.

In a 35-year career, Sheinkopf’s clients have included former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Bloomberg. For Vallone, he will focus on political strategy, high level communications planning and media relations assistance.

Vallone also announced that Martha Ayon, Queens organizer for Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign, will serve as Vallone’s campaign manager. Vallone said he will kick off his campaign on March 11 at Ovelia in Astoria, alongside special guest Congressmember Joseph Crowley, chairman of the Queens Democratic Party organization.

Getting right to work, Sheinkopf said in a statement, “The Vallone family has fought for the people of Queens for decades… and Peter Vallone Jr. continues that tradition into the future.

“More than just an advocate for public safety, education and the environment, along with many other policy issues, Peter and his family have been defenders of diversity and tolerance… That is the spirit we need representing this borough, bringing all people together and making it one united Queens.”

Finan and the Mercury team have managed and consulted on a number of Queens races over the years, the most recent, Meng’s winning campaign as the first East Asian woman elected to Congress.

Finan stated, “The Vallone name is synonymous with Queens, representing a long-standing commitment to public service. Councilmember Vallone has carried that mantle for years as an assistant district attorney and for over a decade as a member of the New York City Council, where he has fought for well-paying jobs, better schools and safer streets as chair of the Public Safety Committee.”

LIU, PERALTA BLAST HOTEL’S LEASE: According to a new audit by City Comptroller John Liu, a lease of city land in Times Square to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in 1998, allows the hotel to purchase the land under the hotel for $19.9 million, far below its present value of $193 million.

The lease had been negotiated by the Giuliani administration, Liu said, but he feels, “There is an opportunity here to renegotiate this deal in a way that could bring millions back for taxpayers.”

According to the audit, Liu said, the hotel also owes the city $3.6 million and failed to keep proper records that would help the city to determine whether it has received all the money that is due to the city.

Marriott responded to Liu’s findings, saying they did not understand the “hotel deal”, and the Bloomberg administration, which has a running feud with the comptroller, said through a spokesperson, “Looks like John Liu has run out of things to audit….”

However, state Senator Jose Peralta (D–Jackson Heights) agreed with Liu’s “scathing audit”, and stated, “While this administration did not negotiate these extraordinarily unfavorable terms for the city, it needs to act on behalf of taxpayers before the Marriott Marquis is in a position to buy the city land for perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars below market rate when the lease expires in four years.”

Peralta, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for Queens borough president, also noted that, “The comptroller’s audit argues that the city can reopen the lease and renegotiate the terms because of a breach of contract created when Marriott failed to produce, upon auditors’ request, financial records the company was required to maintain under the agreement.”

SIMOTAS ‘RAPE’ BILL GAINS, LOSES: Assemblymember Aravella Simotas’ “Rape Is Rape” bill gained the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo last week in Albany, but lost the backing of a legislator who initially co-sponsored the bill.

Simotas (D–Astoria) has introduced the legislation on behalf of a rape victim, Lydia Cuomo, no relation to the governor. No attempts were made to seek his backing for the bill, but last week, amid much lobbying and discussion of the legislation, a spokesman for the governor suddenly announced that the governor was “supportive” of the bill, nothing more, but it might swing some “yes” votes for the measure.

However, early last Tuesday, Assemblymember Catherine Young, an Upstate Republican, was trying to whip up support for the bill, but later in the day she had switched to the opposite side, citing concerns she had that it would be difficult to obtain convictions the way the bill was drawn.

Here’s what the bill’s all about: In August of 2011, Ms. Cuomo, 26, on her first day as a teacher in The Bronx, was suddenly being assaulted at gunpoint by a drunken, off duty cop named Michael Pena.

Subsequently, Pena was found guilty of menacing Cuomo and threatening to kill her, had anal sex with her and forced her to perform oral sex on him—but he did not rape her by penetrating her vagina, which present law defines as rape.

Pena was found guilty on several counts but not for rape.

Under Simotas’ Rape is Rape Bill, she defines rape as criminal sexual conduct, rather than sexual intercourse, “To ensure that rapists cannot escape facing the full consequences of their actions based on a technicality.” The Astoria lawmaker re-defines Rape in the First, Second and Third degrees “to include oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct, and aggravated sexual conduct, in addition to sexual intercourse as an element of these rape charges”.

Simotas later explained, “Lydia’s courage in coming forward to shed light on this important issue is truly inspiring. It’s our obligation to respect survivors by ensuring that what any person would recognize as rape is unequivocally called rape by the law.”

MALONEY HAILS $270 M FEDERAL AID FOR ‘SANDY’ RECOVERY: On Monday morning at Battery Park in Manhattan, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney hailed the announcement of more than $270 million in federal funding from three federal agencies to help NYC recover from Superstorm Sandy.

•Secretary Ray La Hood, U.S. Department of Transportation, announced $250 M in Federal Highway Administration funding to repair roads, bridges and tunnels.

•FEMA announced $10,877,000 in recovery grants for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

•Also from FEMA, $17,220,651 for the city Department of Sanitation.

Maloney stated: “This desperately needed funding helps make good on the promise that the federal government will be there to help disastertorn regions recover from cataclysmic events like Superstorm Sandy. This was the secondcostliest natural disaster in American history and it struck the most densely populated region of our country.

“With this federal aid, and more to come, we will ensure that New York City fully recovers and that the areas that were damaged are built better than before. I applaud the Obama administration for getting this funding to our communities as quickly as possible.”

MALONEY: REAUTHORIZE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT: Following the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), reauthorization last week by a bipartisan 78-22 vote, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens, Manhattan) urged the House GOP leadership to bring the measure up for a vote.

“The time for the House to act is now,” said Maloney, a former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues and a principal champion of the Debbie Smith Act to provide federal funding to process DNA evidence in a timely manner, for which the Senate renewed the funding while passing the VAWA.

Maloney stated, “Government has no greater responsibility than protecting the lives and health of the citizenry it serves, and quick reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will help get rapists off our streets, and take care of survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.”

Maloney charged it was “unconscionable” that House Republican leadership allowed VAWA to expire more than 500 days ago, despite the fact that the Senate had reauthorized this landmark legislation with bipartisan support in the last Congress.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) and Congressmember Grace Meng (D–Flushing) also urged House Speaker John Boehner to pass the far-reaching bill.

SEEKING SAFE CONSTRUCTION FOR UNDERGROUND PIPELINES: A bill that would increase the penalties relating to underground facilities and ensure that both excavators and operators follow the appropriate rules when they lay underground pipelines was voted out of committee last week, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) reports.

The bill would increase the penalties for negligence regarding underground pipelines, updating the penalties enacted decades ago, increasing from $1,000 to $5,000 for the first offense and from $7,500 to $15,000 for each succeeding offense.

“Bringing the penalties up-to-date would ensure the safety of Western Queens,” said Nolan, who joined with Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and CB 2 Chairman Joe Conley to draw up the bill.

ADDABBO GETS KEY WAGERING POST: With the legislative clock already racing toward approval of major casino wagering for New York state, state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. has won a key committee assignment for the 2013-14 session—appointment as the ranking Democratic member of the senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering.

To frame the appointment another way, if the Democrats controlled the senate, Addabbo would be the chairman of that powerful panel, which has a major role in deciding whether racing and wagering bills pass or get sidelined.

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach), who played a major role in bringing the Resorts World Casino New York City near Aqueduct Racetrack to Queens, said about his new committee assignment:

“With ongoing discussions about permitting full casino gambling in New York state, and with the Resorts World Casino operating in my district at Aqueduct Raceway, I am looking forward toward fulfilling my new responsibilities (in his new committee role).”

Addabbo, who has been a member of that committee since becoming a senator several years ago, continued, saying, “I am very concerned about the issue of full gaming in New York, which is set to go before the voters for their consideration in November as a constitutional amendment on the ballot. In addition, I am hopeful that Resorts World will continue to live up to its potential as an economic engine and source of good jobs for my constituents.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo is the chief guiding force in the state, banking on full casino gambling in the state. For many, many years, as casino gambling took hold in many other states and filled their treasuries, many past governors and legislatures were unable to win authorization for casinos, and New York dollars helped fill the coffers of other states instead of being spent here.

So Cuomo will have the legislature in his sights watching closely for them to give second passage to the constitutional amendment permitting creation of casinos. After that, the state’s voters must pass the constitutional amendment in a referendum vote and the casino industry will at long last come to New York state.

Discussions have already begun among the governor and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos about how many and where the first casinos will be authorized in the state. Maybe one will materialize in Ozone Park.

HALLORAN LAUNCHES RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN: Joined by more than 100 constituents, supporters from both sides of the aisle, labor union reps and key political figures, Councilmember Dan Halloran officially kicked off his re-election campaign last week.

Seeking a second four-year term as the council’s Northeast Queens representative, Halloran was joined for the major occasion by former state Senator Frank Padavan, the iconic Republican who served for 38 years in Albany; his GOP colleague at City Hall, Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R/C–Ozone Park); his party’s mayoral hopefuls, Joe Lhota and George McDonald; a representative of a third Republican mayoral aspirant, John Catsimatidis; former state Senator Serphin Maltese, the ex-Queens Republican Party leader; and former Councilmember Mike Abel.

Lhota, the former chairman of the MTA and a leading hopeful to become his party’s candidate for mayor, announced at one point when asked if he endorsed Halloran, responded enthusiastically: “I more than endorse him, I want him to win.”

Halloran, a Whitestone attorney who won his first term as councilmember four years ago, declared after being introduced by Padavan:

“This campaign is about three things: neighborhoods, neighborhoods and neighborhoods. This is a very special district, where I was raised and have lived my entire life. It’s built around a core of one- and two-family homes that we’ve worked hard to own. We need to fight to keep us from becoming just another part of the ‘big city’.

“Our district has received more funds in the last three years, despite the Democratic majority in the council, because we’ve fought hard, made the right decisions and delivered for the people of Northeast Queens. We need to continue the fight to make sure our community has the voice in local government it deserves.”

Halloran scored an unexpected victory in 2009, winning in a heavily Democratic district. He faces the same situation, although the district has been redrawn and he has the advantage of having been the councilmember for the past three-plus years.

While Halloran is not expected to have any Republican challengers to becoming the GOP nominee in the November election, Democratic voters seem likely to have a party primary to decide who will face Halloran in the general election in November.

At this writing, the proposed new city council lines under the redistricting plan that will be in effect for this year’s elections in Queens, have been approved by the special Redistricting Commission and are awaiting a final vote by the city council.

Halloran represents the 19th council district presently and has been supporting the proposed new 19th district drawn up by the Redistricting Commission.

MARSHALL ISSUES IMMIGRANT SERVICES INFO: A comprehensive listing of services available to diverse newcomers to America living in Queens has been published by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. The 78-page Immigrant Services Directory features members of Marshall’s Immigration Task Force, a network of non-profit organizations, government agencies and legislative offices committed to promoting immigrant integration throughout the borough. Two helpful indexes enable readers to search for entries by languages spoken and by geographical areas served.

Marshall noted, “With more than 47 percent of our population born abroad, Queens is the most multiethnic county in the nation. Immigrants make significant contributions to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of our borough and city. They also face unique challenges as they strive to integrate into American society.

“I commend the members of my immigration Task Force, who collectively work with tens of thousands of immigrants each year. I thank them, along with my staff and interns, for all their efforts in preparing this long-awaited directory. I am also grateful to my colleagues in public office whose legislative aides attend task force meetings, and to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the New York Immigration Coalition for our long-standing partnerships.”

The B.P. said the directory will be available on the Immigrant Affairs page of the borough president’s Web site: www.queensbp.org. For more information on how to obtain a print copy, contact the Borough President’s Immigrant Affairs Division at 718-286-2741.

CONSERVATIVE PARTY OPPOSES EARLY VOTING: The state Conservative Party issued a statement last week in which the organizationPRINT) came out in opposition to a proposed bill in Albany which would establish early voting in future elections throughout the state.

“At a time when counties are drowning in debt and demanding mandate relief, the last thing needed is another unfunded mandate that would require county boards of election to be open an additional 14 days for 11 hours in a general election and for an additional seven days in a primary,” the statement said.

“This unfounded mandate,” it added, “is far too expensive to be given serious consideration.”The bill pending in Albany follows a pattern where early voting has been established in many states where, following the introduction of computerized voting, the process of voting has become longer, and during regular or traditional voting hours, long lines have become more frequent, inconveniencing voters who sometimes leave without voting.

Proponents of early voting argue that the factors cited in the previous paragraph have the unwanted effect of influencing the true outcome of an election, as occurred in Florida in the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It finally was decided by the U.S.Supreme Court, which awarded the election to Bush.

The Conservative statement says its charge about early voting being an unwanted mandate adds to fiscal burdens being passed along to county boards of election. In addition, it argues, current voting hours are long enough for everyone to find enough time for voting.

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