2015-05-20 / Political Page

Weprin Quits City Council, Lands Job With Cuomo

In a surprise development, Councilman Mark Weprin is resigning his position in city government, ending a 21-year career as an elected official and taking a job in the Cuomo administration.

In a prepared statement, Weprin (D–Queens Village) stated: “Today, I am announcing that I have accepted a position in the office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, where I will be working as Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs. I will therefore be resigning from the New York City Council within the next two weeks.”

But that’s not the end of the story. Soon after Mark Weprin’s announcement, his brother, David, as state Assemblyman told reporters that he’s thinking about running for the City Council to try to win his brother’s seat.

David Weprin’s announcement is surprising because, as he said in his announcement, “I haven’t ruled it out… I did represent that district for eight years (from 2002 through 2009 and I thought I served it well.”

“It has been an honor to represent Eastern Queens as an elected official for 21 years, first in the New York State Assembly and then in the New York City Council. I will be forever grateful for both opportunities.” “It has been an honor to represent Eastern Queens as an elected official for 21 years, first in the New York State Assembly and then in the New York City Council. I will be forever grateful for both opportunities.” But, returning to Mark Weprin’s farewell announcement, he said, “It has been an honor to represent Eastern Queens as an elected official for 21 years, first in the New York State Assembly and then in the New York City Council. I will be forever grateful for both opportunities.”

Mark Weprin’s political career started in 1994, when he was elected in a special election to replace his father Saul in the Assembly after his father died unexpectedly. At the time of his death, Saul Weprin was finishing his 23rd year as a lawmaker, and during the final three years, he was serving as Assembly Speaker.

Saul Weprin was also one of the best Democratic District Leaders in the borough, leading an organization that was active and successful. One of this most successful members turned out to be Mario Cuomo, who, the story goes, joined the organization to get a first-hand look at politics-inaction when he was considering running for office. It turned out to be a good choice. He had a great relationship with Saul Weprin.

Mark Weprin was also paying attention, following his dad’s example and made the most of it when he succeeded him as the Assemblyman representing the eastern district in Queens.

Mark Weprin stated in his announcement regarding a career change: “It has been my privilege to serve the people and families of my neighborhood. I am proud to have helped the communities I have represented to continue to be wonderful places to live, work, and raise a family. Through my office I have served tens of thousands of constituents become active participants in neighborhood schools, and worked with countless community leaders. I have advocated on behalf of seniors, fought for local schools, and stood as a champion of children and families living with autism.”

Looking ahead to his new job, Weprin said: “In the office of Governor Cuomo, I will continue to serve the people of New York. I have known Governor Cuomo for most of my life, and he is a leader of incredible talent. I look forward to this next step in my public service career.”

Judging from our personal knowledge of Mark Weprin as an Assemblyman, he was, for the most part, in Albany when the legislature was in session, and likewise at City Hall for working sessions of the Council. That is also the feedback we’ve gotten from others who have covered Albany over the years.

STAVISKY STATEMENT ON PAN AM HOTEL: The de Blasio administration is under fire for its shelter program, including the transitional shelter at the former Pan Am Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Flushing) was against approving the former hotel as a temporary city shelter and she recently announced she’s against it now as a proposed permanent shelter. Here’s her full statement::

“Over the past year, I have been monitoring the management of the transitional shelter at the Pan Am Hotel and have shared information about the shelter with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on several occasions. In November, I testified against the contract approval at the city’s public hearing based on evidence that the facility was being mismanaged.

“I am delighted that the Comptroller reached the same conclusion that the poor management of the facility endangers both the health and safety of the families in the shelter and of the surrounding community. I fully support the Comptroller’s decision to reject Samaritan Village’s contract to operate a permanent shelter at the site until all of these issues have been resolved. I look forward to working with the Comptroller and the Mayor to find a solution for the shelter that best serves the needs of everyone.”

TRIBUTES TO NAVY MAN VICTIM IN AMTRAK WRECK: State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, whose districts include the Rockaways, paid tribute to a favorite son, Justin Zemser, a United States Naval Academy student who was a passenger on the ill-fated Amtrak train involved in last week’s smash up and never made it home for a visit.

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) wrote: “My deepest condolences and prayers go out to the family of Justin Zemser, a Rockaway resident who passed away as a result of the Amtrak train derailment Tuesday night. News of his passing was reported by the media. I understand Justin was returning home from his studies at the United States Naval Academy. Many in Rockaway, including my staffmember, Sandee Doremus, had known Justin since he was a child and knew him to be a good Rockaway neighbor. Justin’s commitment to serve our country is still and always will be greatly appreciated.”

Goldfeder (D–Rockaway) offered: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of United States Naval Academy student and Rockaway Beach resident Justin Zemser in last night’s train derailment. In his short life, Justin served as an inspiration to all our families in Rockaway and exemplified the very best our community has to offer.

“As a lifelong resident of Rockaway, I feel proud to have been a neighbor to this true American hero. Our families have faced such great hardship in recent years following Superstorm Sandy and it is through the service and leadership of young men and women like Justin that we managed to come together in our recovery.

“As a father of two young children, my heart goes out to the Zemser family at the loss of their only son. I extend my most sincere condolences to them during this time of unimaginable pain.”

MALONEY OPPOSES ABORTIONS AFTER 20TH WEEK: Addressing a proposed bill that would impose a ban on abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) stated:

“Abortions after 20 weeks are rare and represent just 1.5 percent of pregnancies that are terminated. In almost all of these cases, the women choosing an abortion are doing so because there is a problem with their pregnancy that affects their fetus or their own health.

Maloney added: “A previous version of this bill required rape survivors to report their assault to law enforcement. This new bill gives women the option of going to a state-certified counselor instead. But the entire premise, that women must provide ‘proof of rape’ is preposterous and hurtful to women who have already faced incredible trauma that most members of Congress cannot begin to fathom.

The lawmaker further stated: “The decision by Republicans to interfere with medical choices in this way is unconscionable and unconstitutional. In states where these bans have taken effect, women have been denied medically-necessary abortions, putting their health at risk.”

The lawmaker concludes her response: “This is another politically-motivated assault on women’s health designed to rile up the right-wing. The good news is that these attacks almost always backfire when the public becomes aware of just how extreme they are.”

CROWLEY’S DIVERSITY OF U.S. ARMED FORCES AMENDMENT ADOPTED: The US House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to recognize the diversity of members of the United States armed forces, which was offered by Congressman Joseph Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus.

Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) said, “The amendment recognizes the diversity of servicemembers, including a variety of national, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as religious traditions, and calls for continued promotion of diversity in our armed forces.

Crowley is a leading voice in Congress calling for an end to the presumptive ban on Sikhs serving in the United States military and led a successful, multi-year effort to secure greater hate crime protection for religious minorities.

Crowley stated, “We are a stronger nation, and a stronger military, because of our rich diversity. Our armed forces bring people of all backgrounds, of all religions together in defense of our country, and my amendment demonstrates our commitment to continuing the long and proud tradition of welcoming servicemembers from every walk of life.”

MALONEY BACKS IRAN-U.S. TREATY ACT: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney announced she had voted for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed the House by a 400-25 vote. Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) said the bill would, if it passes the Senate, require that “Congress be given an opportunity to review any final international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program before the President could waive or suspend any sanctions on Iran that were imposed by Congress.

Maloney explained, “Throughout the negotiations, I have remained cautiously optimistic that our top diplomats could craft a deal that would stop Iran’s development of nuclear weaponry and avert the need for military action.”

“Given the severe implications for our national security, the security of Israel and the global community, and the danger that a nuclear Iran could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, I believe that it is absolutely necessary for members of Congress to oversee and review any final agreement before it takes effect.”

ASSEMBLY PASSES SIMOTAS BILL TO REDUCE INFLUENCE OF BIG MONEY IN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS: The Assembly has passed a bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, which aims to reduce the ability of special interests to make nearly unlimited campaign contributions to political candidates and campaigns. The legislation, the Astoria lawmaker explained, would make limited liability corporations (LLCs) subject to the same contribution limits as all other corporations.

“Choosing one corporate structure over another should not entitle an individual to make outsized contributions,” Simotas added.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration and may face tough chances of winning passage.

Simotas explained; “Unlike individual donors and other corporations, LLCs do not face corporate donation limits.” She said the legislation which she championed restricts LLCs to the same $5,000 contribution limit as all other corporations. The lawmaker pointed out, “This would increase transparency in elections and accountability in government by protecting against individuals contributing above the legal limits.”

Simotas also noted, “Closing this loophole will put an end to the use of LLCs as a means of avoiding donation limits. It is of the utmost importance that our electoral system works for all New Yorkers without undue influence from unlimited donations.”

Simotas’ sponsorship of a bill which aims to reduce the influence of major corporations that take advantage of the LLCs will be welcomed by good government groups that have charged that some candidates who benefit from large contributions are prone to support the big corporations who made them when they come seeking favorable legislation.

KATZ APPROVES POST-SANDY RECOVERY ZONING AMENDMENT: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has announced her approval of the zoning amendment to remove barriers that have slowed the post- Sandy recovery process. The amendment is the result of Katz’ hurricane relief task force and the de Blasio administration’s Build it Back overhaul, which prioritized interagency collaboration and community engagement to accelerate the recovery.

Katz said the approved Citywide Flood Resilience text amendment had been proposed by the Department of City Planning, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery. It covers Sandy-impacted neighborhoods in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

The proposed amendment must next be approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before it can take effect.

Katz reported that “in the wake of Sandy, thousands of properties are being elevated, repaired and rebuilt to comply with flood-resistant construction standards and to protect property owners against higher flood insurance premiums. Yet the city’s existing Zoning Resolution includes a number of restrictions on construction that have inhibited such recovery efforts.

Katz said, “The amendment facilitates the elevation of existing homes and the resilient reconstruction of significantly damaged or destroyed homes by simplifying the process for documenting non-compliance and non-conforming uses, removing disincentives for property owners to make resilient investment, and establishing a new zoning envelope so that rebuilt homes fit the visual character of the neighborhood.”

Katz continued, “This is a vital text amendment that will finally relieve the red tape that had burdened entire neighborhoods and prevented thousands of homes from fully rebuilding since Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to joint interagency collaboration, home and property owners will soon be able to rebuild their homes to their original form prior to the storm, with improved flood resiliency elements. While many in the communities damaged by Sandy may have long given up, the message from the city is that we have not given up on you, and we hope to re-engage you in the recovery process to make our neighborhoods whole once again.”

The need for the amendment emerged from Katz’ Hurricane Relief Task Force, which brings together multiple local, state and federal government agencies, elected officials and civic leaders to one table to discuss relevant recovery and rebuilding issues. The resulting proposed amendment is a testament to Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 overhaul of Build it Back, which prioritized effective interagency collaboration and increased community engagement in the planning process.

MENG’S LEGISLATION WOULD INCREASE SMALL BUSINESS EXPORTS: Legislation to assist small businesses that sell or seek to sell their products abroad has been proposed by Congresswoman Grace Meng, the top Democrat on the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.

Meng’s legislation, called the Increasing Small Business Exports Act, would direct the Export- Import Bank (Ex- Im- Bank), the official export credit agency of the United States, to increase the amount of financing it dedicates to support small businesses that export United States goods to international markets, specifically expanding the amount from 20 to 25 percent.

Meng (D–Flushing) explained that the Export- Import Bank provides United States governmentbacked loans to businesses that are unable to secure capital from private lenders. More than 85 percent of its transactions directly benefit American small businesses, she noted.

Meng stated, “Small businesses are the backbone of the economy and the prosperity of America is dependent upon their success. That’s why government must do all it can to help entrepreneurs succeed, and boosting the amount that Ex-Im Bank dedicates to small businesses would go a long way towards accomplishing that important goal. It would help create jobs, stimulate our economy and allow businesses to better compete in foreign markets across the globe.”

STATE DEC REPORT ON HYDROFRACKING DUE ANY DAY: State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., notified us that the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has informed his committee that it has completed the Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Hydrofracking in New York State, and will be releasing the report itself to the committee, and the public, “within the next 10 days.”

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach), a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, stated that, “After seven years, more than 260,000 public comments, an extensive scientific examination of the impacts of hydrofracking on our environment and the public health, and a full consideration of the potential benefits and shortcomings of this method of high-volume gas drilling, it appears that fracking is on its way to being completely banned in New York State.”

The lawmaker states, “As a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, and simply as a New York resident who cares about the quality of our drinking water, our air, and other natural resources, I am pleased that this 2,000 page report thoughtfully and thoroughly considers all aspects of this controversial drilling technique, which blasts water, sand, and any number of unpronounceable and potentially dangerous chemicals deep into the ground to extract natural gas.

“I look forward to reviewing the legally-binding final findings statement, which must be issued by DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens within the next 10 days. While the details are extremely important here, I hope that the Commissioner’s findings will ultimately put this deeply divisive environmental issue behind us once and for all. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make greater investments in clean energy technologies that also have the potential to create new green jobs for New Yorkers and improve our state’s economy.”

MALONEY, LUMMIS LEAD BI-PARTISAN OK FOR EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT: The Equal Rights Amendment, along with a bipartisan coalition of 170 cosponsors, has been reintroduced in Congress, Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) and Cynthia Lummis (R–WY) announced.

“Our legislation would finally put women in their rightful place: the United States Constitution,” said Maloney. “More than 90 percent of Americans believe the Constitution should guarantee rights equally for men and women. It’s time to secure that promise by passing the Equal Rights Amendment.”

“Wyoming has traditionally been at the forefront of equal rights for women and I am proud to carry on that tradition as Wyoming’s sole Representative in the House,” said Lummis. “The Equal Rights Amendment that we continue to garner support for is a golden opportunity to ensure a secure future for women’s rights.”

Jessica Newirth, President of the ERA Coalition, stated: “The ERA Coalition welcomes the re-introduction of legislation in the House of Representatives relating to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The inclusion of sex equality as a fundamental principle in the United States Constitution is long overdue. We applaud the bipartisan support for the ERA in the House and urge all Representatives to join Representatives Maloney and Lummis and the other cosponsors of this legislation to put the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution where it belongs.”

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was authored by Alice Paul and first introduced in 1923 as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” at the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the 1848 Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments,” considered the founding of the women’s rights movement in the United States. The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but was only ratified by 35 states before a Congressionally-set deadline for ratification expired on June 30, 1982, falling just three states short of the three-fourths necessary to amend the Constitution. The text of the Amendment introduced today differs from the original language as it includes the word “women.”

CROWLEY, DROMM SUPPORT ATI: As local, state and national leaders call for historic changes in the criminal justice system, members of the Alternatives to Incarceration/Reentry Coalition (ATI), which provides programs to reduce recidivism among ex-convicts, are requesting $2.73 million more than the $4.1 million they got last year from the City Council to support their efforts.

The increased funding will allow the coalition to expand its reach, further enabling the city to “break the cycle of incarceration.”

City Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D–Glendale) and Daniel Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) recently expressed support for the coalition.

Crowley said the “coalition’s success is evidenced by measurably lower recidivism rates among offenders. The programs also ultimately save the city money by providing an alternative to incarceration.”

Dromm stated, “By offering first time, low level offenders the opportunity to turn their lives around… their programs have the added benefit of saving the city money.”

SCHUMER: ‘MAKE GATEWAY PARK MORE ACCESSIBLE’: Sort of thinking out loud, US Senator Charles Schumer points out to us in a release that President Obama recently announced the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which aims to introduce America’s youth and their families to public land and waters.”

Building on that, he notes that the President’s program idea coincides with the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration in 2016.

So he joins them and comes up with the thought that… “expanded transportation options would help move forward this initiative by making sure all students can easily access the Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA)”.

Thinking big, because Gateway is spread out from Jamaica Bay to Staten Island and New Jersey, Schumer called on the US Department of the Interior (DOI), which covers Gateway, “to work collaboratively with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York City to help make the Gateway Area better accessible by public transit.”

Specifically, Schumer urged DOI to dedicate funds towards a comprehensive transportation plan to best connect Gateway Park with existing transportation infrastructure.”

The powerful pol, who’s in line to become the next Democratic leader of the US Senate, says, “Despite the fact that Gateway National Recreation Area is located in a densely populated area amongst an economically diverse community, the unique potential of the invaluable urban park is hamstrung by insufficient public access to all it has to offer—from beaches, to camping, to biking, to birding, to fishing, to just plain hanging out in a rare and wide open space.”

The lawmaker declared; “The Department of the Interior needs to make sure that kids and families of all economic abilities are able to experience Gateway, and that’s why I’m strongly urging NPS (National Park Service) to work alongside the MTA to develop a comprehensive transportation plan that will better connect the park to neighboring communities.”

Schumer notes that Gateway is located in the most densely populated region in the country and could attract thousands upon thousands of visitors from New York alone; however he’s aware that it is difficult to get to by public transportation.

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