2015-02-11 / Political Page

Mayor Presents Ambitious Plan

A year ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio sprung a surprise as he highlighted his first budget request with a call to fund pre-kindergarten education expansion far beyond dimensions previously considered.

Surprisingly, his request was well accepted and the funding needed to accommodate his plan was approved.

Last week, in his State of the City address, the mayor called for dealing with the city’s present and future affordable housing need, and building a system of ferry travel between Manhattan and outer boroughs. Those proposals got a mixed reception in some quarters, but were more warmly received by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, whose reaction was quick.

“Mayor de Blasio has outlined a plan that is good for our families and therefore good for Queens.”

Katz was also “elated that permanent ferry service will be coming to the Rockaways,” a position that will probably be echoed by large segments of the community.

...de Blasio’s housing plan calls for building over the massive Sunnyside railroad yards and creating the housing site atop the roof over the rail yards. That immediately drew opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a “go slow” reaction from Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris. ...de Blasio’s housing plan calls for building over the massive Sunnyside railroad yards and creating the housing site atop the roof over the rail yards. That immediately drew opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a “go slow” reaction from Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris. But for others, de Blasio’s housing plan calls for building over the massive Sunnyside railroad yards and creating the housing site atop the roof over the rail yards. That immediately drew opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a “go slow” reaction from Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris.

Several hours after de Blasio unveiled the Sunnyside plan, a spokesperson for Cuomo issued a statement saying the yards are partly controlled by a state agency and were “not available for any other use in the near term.”

Nolan said in a statement, “I have grave concerns about Mayor de Blasio’s plans as expressed in today’s… address. There are many questions that must be asked.” Nolan also said she was supportive of Governor Cuomo’s concerns about the Sunnyside Yards.

As for Van Bramer, he said he spoke with the mayor “at some length before… his speech… I shared his vision, but I also shared my concerns about his Sunnyside Yards proposal.”

Gianaris (D–Western Queens) said in a statement he agreed Western Queens “needs more affordable middle class housing… but it is critical that the discussion regarding Sunnyside Yards includes the community and focuses on providing the additional infrastructure we desperately need.”

(We will return to a further report on Cuomo’s, Nolan’s, Van Bramer’s, and Gianaris’ comments later in this article).

Borough President Katz said in her statement issued after the mayor spoke, “The creation of affordable housing for families and especially for seniors thus far has not kept up with demand, contributing to the inherited housing crisis.

The mayor’s housing proposal, she said, “…will bring us closer to meeting that demand.” Katz continued,” Queens is pleased that the mayor is placing this as a top policy priority for his administration and has included emerging neighborhoods like Long Island City and Flushing West.”

Katz said Queens is “especially thrilled with the mayor’s commitment of capital investment to create 10,000 units of senior affordable housing. We want to keep our elders living close to their families, help them live independently and with dignity. We will work with the administration to bring as much of the units as possible to Queens.”

As for the mayor’s plans for ferries, Katz said, “Queens is elated that permanent ferry service will be coming to the Rockaways by way of Mayor de Blasio’s Five-Borough Ferry System. She noted, “Mayor de Blasio has laid forth a real capital commitment and a 2017 launch, and the restored Rockaway Ferry will be a boon for residents as an economic generator for an affordable transit option.

Katz had set goals for affordable housing and renewed ferry service for the Rockaways in her recent State of the Borough address.

Returning to other pols’ position on the mayor’s Sunnyside Yards proposal:

Cuomo: Recently, the governor disagreed with de Blasio on the future of the railroad yards, saying they shouldn’t be put in play because they figure in the MTA’s plans for the completion of the East Side Access project, which creates a terminal for the extension of Long Island Rail Road service to the east side of Manhattan at the Grand Central terminal.

Another proposal built around the Sunnyside Yards was to move the Javits Center from Manhattan’s west side to the Sunnyside Yards and make the Javits site available for affordable housing there and in Sunnyside. De Blasio reportedly rejected that plan because it originated with Dan Doctoroff, a former Deputy Mayor in the early Michael Bloomberg administration. This plan might still be alive for Cuomo, which could explain why he shot down de Blasio’s latest idea for the rail yards, a couple of hours after it left the mayor’s lips.

Nolan: The Ridgewood lawmaker, who had Sunnyside added to her district in the last reapportionment, quickly took Cuomo’s side in the Sunnyside Yards argument because when the idea was floated recently Sunnyside residents immediately and loudly rejected it. As Nolan put it, “I am extremely supportive of [the governor’s] concerns that long term planning must be considered in any development of Sunnyside Yards.

Nolan added, “I know I speak for mass transit users as well as the many residents and businesses and cultural and educational hubs in western Queens when I say true community review is needed. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo in Albany to review any city plans that hurt my community. Thank you Governor Cuomo.”

Gianaris: The Senator issued the following statement: “Mayor de Blasio is right that Western Queens needs more affordable middle class housing so we can maintain the character of our growing neighborhoods. It is critical that the discussion regarding Sunnyside Yards includes the community and focuses on providing the additional infrastructure we desperately need. Any future development must bring with it more and better schools, new parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line. I look forward to working with the mayor to make sure our existing community is consulted and protected as this process unfolds.”

Van Bramer: City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside) issued the following statement: “I applaud Mayor de Blasio for taking on the challenge of making our city more affordable for all. And I support the goal of finding new ways of building more units of housing. My district was a focus of the speech today, and while there are some places where density is appropriate, there are others where it clearly is not.

“This morning I spoke with the mayor at some length before his State of the City speech. I share his vision, but I also shared my concerns about his Sunnyside Yards proposal. He was respectful of the issues I raised, and we agreed to continue to dialogue on this critical piece of his agenda.

“Some parts of my district are high density, and some are low density. Each are unique, and the character of these neighborhoods is worthy of protection. When we are talking about building more housing we also need to talk about schools, parks, cultural spaces, live/work spaces for artists and meaningful transportation enhancements in western Queens.

“I’ll continue to work with this administration on ensuring more affordable housing gets built for future generations while also fighting for the people and neighborhoods I represent today.”

VALLONE: ‘BRING FERRY SERVICE TO NE QUEENS’: Jumping on Mayor de Blasio’s ferry service expansion bandwagon, Councilmember Paul Vallone is again demanding that the city implement ferry service in Northeast Queens.

Last May, Vallone (D-Bayside) and Councilmembers Koo (D-Flushing) and Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) wrote a letter to the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the mayor expressing their support for ferry service locations at Fort Totten in Bayside and the Citi Field Marina in Flushing.

The lawmakers said these sites have the potential to be “enormously successful” due to the demand from local communities, economic viability, lack of other transportation options in Northeast Queens and the availability of existing docks at the proposed sites.”

Additionally, they pointed out that ferry service would provide much needed relief from overcrowding on the number 7 subway line. And Vallone said in the light of the mayor’s proposal on ferry expansion, he is sending a letter to the de Blasio administration pushing their idea.

Vallone stated, “I applaud the mayor’s expansion of ferry service across the five boroughs, but am disappointed at the absence of any plan for Northeast Queens. I will continue to push for ferry service out of Fort Totten and the Citi Field Marina. A ferry at the cost of a MetroCard ride would go a long way to combat the lack of affordable transportation alternatives for those living in Northeast Queens.

GOLDFEDER ENCOURAGED BY FERRY TALK: Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder (D–Rockaway), who has been waging a fight for ferry service to the Rockaways, said he was encouraged by the news that came out in Mayor de Blasio’s speech about broader use of ferries, but added “…our families and small businesses are suffering today and need service implemented immediately.”

“Our ferry dock at Beach 108th was disassembled and shipped away overnight,” he recalled, adding, “It should not take two years to bring it back. Our struggling families deserve equal access to transit, just like every other resident in this city, and I will not stop fighting until this is a reality.”

ADDABBO: PROMISE BY MAYOR THAT SANDY VICTIMS WILL BE REIMBURSED: State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach) said Mayor de Blasio, in his speech said, “…each and every reimbursement check for Superstorm Sandy victims would be given out by the year’s end.” The lawmaker found it “very encouraging and I hope realistic.”

Addabbo also stated: “Making our community whole again is long overdue, and I hope this year can bring heaps of progress for those still wading through the storm’s wake.” He said he meets with storm victims every Wednesday and looks forward to continuing “our working relationship” until each and every resident credibly seeking assistance gets the help they need.

GIANARIS DECRIES PLACING SEX OFFENDER AT WESTWAY: State Senator Michael Gianaris blasted the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for placing a convicted sex offender, James Bryant, at the Westway Motor Inn, breaking their promise to the community, Gianaris (D–Western Queens) declared.

Gianaris stated, “I am alarmed at the recent news that a convicted child molester has been placed at the Westway facility after we were assured that location was meant to house families with children,” said Senator Gianaris. “The continuing lack of information and transparency sur- rounding the Westway is extremely troubling and validates the community's concerns about this location from the start.

“Bringing a sex offender to our streets unbeknownst to nearby residents is downright disturbing. The City should immediately reconsider its plans for this location in light of this news.”

PERALTA SLAMS ‘OUTRAGEOUS ACTION’ AT WESTWAY: “Today's story is the latest in the string of truly outrageous actions taken by Department of Homeless Services (DHS) at the Westway Motor Inn,” state Senator Jose Peralta (D–Jackson Heights) charged.

“The moving of a dangerous sex offender to a facility that houses families and children is purely unacceptable,” Peralta stated. “This serves as a prime example of the bureaucratic games that have plagued my constituents and residents of the Westway for months. However, DHS is now playing games with the safety of the very same families they exist to serve. I strongly condemn the relocation of Bryant and call upon DHS to remedy this situation immediately.”

GIANARIS: ‘MTA LEAVES W. QUEENS STRANDED AGAIN’: After nearly two days of disastrous subway service in western Queens at the beginning of last week, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Western Queens) has had enough, so he issued the following statement blasting the MTA for leaving riders out in the cold”:

“In the past 24 hours every train line connecting Queens to Manhattan experienced significant problems and that is unacceptable,” said Senator Gianaris. “Service disruptions like this are far too common for those of us who live in western Queens, especially during this freezing cold winter. The MTA left too many commuters out in the cold this week and that needs to change quickly.”

CROWLEY CHEERS MARITIME COLLEGE FUNDING BY OBAMA: Congressmember Joseph Crowley last week applauded President Obama’s inclusion of $5 million in his budget to design and replace the aging training ships at our nation’s six State Maritime Academies (SMA) including the SUNY Maritime College in The Bronx.

In December, Crowley led 25 bipartisan congressmembers in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget, urging the agencies to develop and support a plan to replace the aging fleet.

“I’m thrilled President Obama recognizes the very serious need to replace these aging ships so that we can ensure SUNY Maritime College and all of our nation’s maritime academies continue to serve at the forefront of maritime education, Crowley said. The Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus added, “Our maritime industry is an essential part of our nation’s economy and national security, and we must ensure our maritime academies have the resources necessary to continue developing highly skilled mariners. That starts with replacing the aging vessels where they are being trained.”

Crowley (D–Queens/the Bronx) continued, “Aging multi-mission vessels is a serious challenge facing our nation’s maritime industries. While the average age of the ships is 35, SUNY Maritime College’s Empire State VI is 52 years old, well past its useful lifespan.

“Without new vessels, the SMAs, including SUNY Maritime College, will not have sufficient means to train future generations of maritime workers, not to mention 70 percent of the nation’s new United States Coast Guard licensed officers each year. This would harm thousands of students from all 50 states who receive training at the academies.”

In addition to providing federally mandated atsea training for maritime workers, Crowley said, multi-mission ships also serve on missions related to national emergencies, including natural disasters.

Crowley concluded, “The inclusion of this funding in the President’s budget is an important first step. As the President’s budget requests come through Congress, I will work to secure this funding so our Maritime Academies can finally utilize ships that meet today’s training demands.”

GILLIBRAND APPLAUDS VETERANS’ SUICIDE PREVENTION ACT: Passage of a bill aimed at helping to reduce military and veteran suicides by improving mental health care and enhancing suicide prevention resources received final passage last week in the upper house, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, an original co-sponsor, announced.

It passed unanimously in the Senate after passing in the House of Representatives, and now heads to President Obama’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it into law.

Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) stated, “The brave men and women who served our country deserve access to quality mental health care, and I was proud to co-sponsor this important bipartisan legislation to prevent future suicides.

“According to a VA study, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicides each day in the United States.”

The lawmaker explained: “Too many of our veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms are taking their own lives. This bill will improve critical services by evaluating and improving existing VA mental health programs, providing enhanced resources for transitioning veterans, and addressing the shortage of mental health professionals by creating new incentives that attract them to the VA. We owe it to the heroes who served our country to ensure they get the help and care they need to stop this crisis of veteran suicides.”

Gillibrand said the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act addresses the suicide crisis by increasing access to mental health care and capacity at VA. The bill requires the VA to create a centralized website for all information regarding mental health services and addresses the shortage of mental health professionals by creating new incentives, including authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program to attract and retain mental health professionals.

Gillibrand explained the bill aims to improve the quality of care and enhance accountability by requiring evaluations of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA. It also seeks to develop a community support system for veterans by establishing a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members with access to VA mental health care.

The bill is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011, Gillibrand said. He earned a Purple Heart after getting shot by a sniper’s bullet while deployed in Anbar Province, near Fallujah in 2007. After recovering, Hunt redeployed to southern Afghanistan and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2009. Before taking his own life, Hunt suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and struggled to receive adequate care at his local VA hospital.

KIM WELCOMES HEASTIE: Assemblymember Ron Kim (D–Flushing) had a generally upbeat impression of newly-installed state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, judging from his press release welcoming Heastie to his new post. Kim wrote:

“For every crisis, downturn, setback, or failure, we have an opportunity to move forward in a stronger way. Our democratic process fundamentally has given us the tools to bounce back. The question is whether we will take advantage of this opportunity to improve the way we function as an institution.

I’m confident that Assemblyman Carl Heastie has the vision and leadership to make the ‘People’s Chamber’ not only more effective again, but also more equitable. He shares the values of working and immigrant families, and understands the struggles of the outer boroughs. I look forward to bringing him back to Flushing soon to reintroduce him to our community.”

FEMA CHANGES MIND, SENIORS DON’T HAVE TO PAY BACK: The Federal Emergency Management Agency often must make tough decisions, saying “no” to someone just hit with a disaster, but it swallowed hard recently when it ruled that 30 senior citizens living in an assisted living facility in Rockaway, who had been ordered to pay back funds they received following Superstorm Sandy, now will not have to pay back the funds after all.

According to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Assemblymember Phil Goldfeder (D–Rockaway), FEMA officials had sent out letters to the lucky 30 stating that “the debt had been cancelled and all collection activity has stopped.”

Schumer stated, “Requiring that some of our most vulnerable Superstorm Sandy victims at Belle Harbor Manor repay thousands of dollars in aid was a devastating request for many of these individuals, and I am pleased that FEMA has reversed course.”

Goldfeder said, “I’m pleased that FEMA has decided to do the right thing, at least for the residents of Belle Harbor Manor, but every family deserves relief. Our local families that received additional FEMA aid through no fault of their own should not be subjected to recoupment. I will continue to work with Senator Schumer until all our families have the assistance they need and deserve.”

The lawmakers explained that last November, FEMA unexpectedly said that Belle Harbor Manor residents had to pay back much of the Sandy disaster aid they were initially granted after the storm because it was supposed to have gone to those who sought temporary housing.

However, Belle Harbor Manor seniors were moved around after the storm to various statefunded shelters, and they used the funding they received on necessary items.

Schumer explained, “Many of these elderly residents live on fixed incomes and were using Sandy aid in legitimate ways to finally get back on their feet after the storm. FEMA’s understanding of these extreme circumstances and end to this recoupment process is the right thing to do.”

Neither FEMA nor the lawmakers provided any figures about how much money was involved.

CROWLEY, MALONEY RESPOND TO JOBS REPORT: Congressmembers Joseph Crowley and Carolyn B. Maloney on February 9 issued the following statements on the Department of Labor’s January jobs report which announced that the economy added 257,000 non-farm jobs in January and the unemployment rate is at 5.7 percent. January marked the 59th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, the longest streak on record.

Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), said, “With the addition of 257,000 private sector jobs and significant growth in manufacturing and construction industries, our economy is off to a strong start this year and our recovery continues to make progress, as today’s jobs report demonstrates.”

Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus continued, “Now, we must build on this progress and ensure that every American feels the benefits of a stronger economy. Instead of continuing their fascination with repealing the Affordable Care Act and manufacturing crises – this time, jeopardizing funding for the Department of Homeland Security – Republicans should join Democrats in working to enact an agenda that creates jobs, boosts paychecks, encourages investment, and puts American families first.”

Maloney (D-NY) stated, “2015 is off to a very good start. January marks the 59th straight month of private sector job growth and today’s employment report is another strong sign that our economy has turned the corner. But too many people are being left behind. We must continue to push for a middle-class agenda like the one outlined by the president in his budget – one that invests in education, rebuilds our infrastructure, accelerates job growth and provides tax relief for the middle class.”

Maloney, the Ranking Democrat of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee added, “This week Republicans attempted for the 56th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to strip millions of its protections. Americans are tired of this political posturing and want us to get to work on a middle class agenda. I couldn’t agree more.”

Maloney was the first woman to Chair the Joint Economic Committee during the 111th Congress.

MENG INTROS FAMILY CARE SAVINGS ACT: Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC) joined with Congressmember Grace Meng (D-NY) on February 9 to introduce H.R. 750, the Family Care Savings Act. H.R. 750 raises the cap on dependent care flexible spending accounts from $5,000 to $10,000 and indexes the cap amount to inflation.

“Over the past 30 years, costs have risen drastically for American families with the cost of childcare being no different,” said McHenry. “As a first-time father I have gained a new appreciation for the significant expenses parents face when raising children. This change is a common-sense reform to better address the budget realities faced by so many American families.”

“As the mother of two young children, I can attest firsthand to the staggering costs of child care,” said Meng. “It is essential that we help parents deal with these types of rising expenses, and raising the cap on this kind of flexible spending account is an easy and common-sense way to do it. I urge my colleagues in Congress – many of whom are parents or grandparents themselves – to pass this important piece of legislation.”

The dependent care FSA was originally created as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and is designed to help American families plan and budget by using pretax dollars to pay for expenses related to the care of children, disabled spouses, or elderly parents. The current cap of $5,000 was originally set in 1986. It applies to children under the age of 13, anyone who is physically or mentally unable to care for themselves, and any adult whose care is predominantly paid for by another person. Minimum and maximum contribution amounts to dependent care FSAs are set by employers.

Flexible spending accounts (FSA) are a savings vehicle established as part of employer-sponsored health insurance plans. They allow employees to save a share of their earnings for qualifying expenses which typically include medical or dependent care. The money is pretax dollars deducted directly from employee’s paychecks.

CONSERVATIVES CALL FOR TERM LIMITS: Conservative Party Calls for Term Limits For Legislative Leaders, Committee Chairs and Elected Officials. Conservative Party State Chairman, Michael R. Long was in the state’s capitol in Albany, for the 48th Annual Conservative Party Political Action Conference, where statewide party leaders and activists gathered to hear speakers on topical subjects and release their 2015 Legislative Program. The following is a statement they released:

“Unfortunately, far too many legislators have yielded to the tawdry temptations of public office and are subject to spending years in prison. Many have called for various reforms to end this cycle of corruption, and yet the ethics reforms have done little to end the quagmire of Albany.

“The New York State Conservative Party strongly recommends term limits across the board. Legislative Leaders should be limited to no more than two sessions and committee chairs should be limited to two sessions. All elected statewide officials must be limited to eight years, and members of the Legislature must be limited to a total of eight years in each house.

“There have been numerous reforms passed in the last few years and nothing has changed. Term limits, across the board, is the only viable reform and one of the party’s top priorities in the legislative session.”

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