Wednesday, July 26, 2017

13th City Council Candidatess Forum on City Island

  It was a little unexpected of some of the things that went on at last night's candidates forum on City Island There were those who thought questions might be slanted against current Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, and those who felt that there might be some soft questions for City Island resident John Doyle. That did not happen even though there were a few people who did not get called on with questions for candidate Doyle. This was a City Island Civic Association meeting, and it was said that only City Island residents would be able to ask questions of the candidates.
  In opening statements (of which candidates Marjorie Velazquez, John Cerini, and Egidio Semitelli were at the Community board 10 meeting also going on at the same time) began with candidate Victor Ortiz spoke of the city's failure on Rodman's Neck, and local community needs. Candidate Mark Gjonaj spoke of his experience in the State Assembly, his 14 years as a resident of City Island, that he will work with those who have endorsed him such as senator Klein and Assemblyman Benedetto. He also mentioned his wives work as a nurse, and to vote for Nurse Roberta's husband Mark Gjonaj. John Doyle spoke of growing up on City Island, fighting for the community, that he wants to do the same thing for the entire 13th council district, and of the broken machine in Albany. Candidate Alex Gomez said that he was a regular person like those in the audience, and they should vote for him.
  Questions came next - to Mark Gjonaj a question on women's health and integrity to a mailing he sent out touting his record on women's rights, but he voted against the ten point woman's health plan. Gjonaj answered that he was for nine of the ten points, but would not let someone other than a doctor perform abortions as in point ten. Candidate Doyle said that the mailer said it was all ten points not just nine, and that Senator Klein voted for the bill. Candidate Gomez said that he was disappointed that this was still an issue in 2017. 
  Next question to all - how do you plan to make City Island more resilient? Gomez - An emergency evacuation plan needs to be put in place. Ortiz - No evacuation plan for the island. Doyle - Not many public facilities on the island, he would try to bring Emergency Management Services to the island and to all parts of the district in question. Gjonaj - would send out a survey to find the needs. Said that the island is not ready for another super storm. 
  There was a question on vacant waterfront properties which brought answers - Gomez, important to preserve the 100 year old buildings - Cerini who just came from the CB 10 meeting said he wants the CB to have more say, and the power to veto proposals. Doyle - wants a part time urban planner to propose downzoning. Gjonaj - mentioned that while living on City Island it was like a vacation home that he wants to keep that type of living, Ortiz - cur option on CB's, BP's office, and mayor's office allows overdevelopment. 
Candidates Velazquez and Semitelli came in at the end, with the high point being after candidate Doyle gave an his closing speech, Semitelli said that he was voting for Mr. Doyle, to say later that he was only joking. photos are below.

Above - Candidate Victor Ortiz
Below - Candidate Mark Gjonaj

Above - Candidate Alex Gomez
Below - Candidate John Doyle

Above - Candidate Marjorie Velazquez
Below - The now infamous photo of candidate Egidio Sementelli with candidate John Doyle.

Former New York City Police Officer Merlin Alston Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison For Drug Trafficking And Firearms Offenses

  Joon Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Former New York City Police Officer MERLIN ALSTON, was sentenced this afternoon in Manhattan federal court to a prison term of 20 years for participating in a long-running conspiracy to distribute approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine in the Bronx while he was an active-duty police officer, as well as for using firearms to protect members of that conspiracy. ALSTON was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, who presided over a two-week jury trial last year at which ALSTON was convicted on all counts.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated: “Merlin Alston betrayed his city and his shield. Instead of serving and protecting the citizens of New York City, as he swore an oath to do, Alston served and protected drug dealers, participating in a long-running conspiracy to distribute hundreds of kilograms in the Bronx. For his criminal betrayal that included sharing confidential police information with drug dealers, Alston was convicted by a jury and now sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.”
According to court papers and evidence admitted at trial:
From 2010 to 2014, ALSTON, who at the time was an active NYPD police officer, conspired with others to distribute large quantities of narcotics. ALSTON personally delivered approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine during that time, and in total members of his conspiracy delivered approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine. In addition, ALSTON provided armed security to a cocaine trafficker, using a shotgun and his NYPD service weapon to do so. ALSTON also provided confidential information about law enforcement operations, including arrests and surveillance, to several Bronx drug dealers.
In addition to his prison sentence, ALSTON, 34, of the Bronx, was sentenced to five years of supervised release.
Mr. Kim praised the DEA, the FBI, the NYPD, and the New York State Police for their outstanding work in this investigation. He also thanked the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York for its invaluable assistance.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Additional Charges In Connection With The Murder Of Jessica White

  Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced charges against WANDY TEJADA for the June 11, 2016, murder of Jessica White, who was killed by a stray bullet while watching her children play in the playground of the John Adams Houses in the Bronx, New York. TEJADA, who was previously arrested, was charged in an Indictment returned yesterday by a federal grand jury. The case is assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
STIVEN SIRI-REYNOSO was previously arrested and indicted for his role in the murder of Ms. White.
Manhattan Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “Our office has been committed to finding and prosecuting those involved in the senseless murder of Jessica White, who was killed while watching her children on a playground in the Bronx. Today’s indictment will not return Ms. White to her family, but we hope it provides some solace to know that the men who allegedly took her life will be held to account.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “This case clearly shows that the violence of street gangs affects innocent bystanders, not only those directly involved. While simply watching her children, a mother lost her life to selfish, careless violence. The alleged actions of these gang members demonstrate blatant disregard for the lives of the members of their communities. Eradicating street gangs remains among the top priorities of the New York Office, as we will not tolerate the destructive impact that they have on our residents.”
NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill said: "Our commitment to investigating crime—particularly a homicide as senseless as Jessica White—is unwavering. We will continue to pursue those who commit homicides, as senseless as the one alleged, with relentless focus."
According to the allegations in the Indictment[1] and statements made in court proceedings:
June 11, 2016, Jessica White was struck and killed by a stray bullet while sitting on a bench watching her three children play on a playground at the John Adams Houses where she lived. SIRI-REYNOSO, a member of the “Dominicans Don’t Play” or “DDP” street gang, was engaged in an ongoing gang dispute between the DDPs and the rival “Trinitarios” street gang involving among other things, SIRI-REYNOSO’s drug sales near the John Adams Houses. On the night of June 11, 2016, Trinitarios members tried to attack SIRI-REYNOSO. In retaliation, SIRI-REYNOSO sent TEJADA to shoot at the Trinitarios. One of the bullets fired by TEJADA struck and killed Jessica White.
SIRI-REYNOSO, 24, and TEJADA, 17, both of the Bronx, are charged in an Indictment with one count of murder through the use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence, and aiding and abetting the same. SIRI-REYNOSO faces a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment, and TEJADA faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the NYPD.
The charge contained in the Indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

SAGE Condemns the Trump Administration's Ban on Transgender People in the Military

SAGE will not stand by quietly as the Trump administration continues its attempts to erase members of the transgender community -- this time from the ranks of the U.S. military, in which they have patriotically served for generations.

There are an estimated 135,000 transgender veterans, among them countless elders. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality's 2016 U.S. Trans Survey, more than half of transgender people over the age of 75 -- and 40 percent of respondents between the ages of 65 and 74 -- are veterans who fought valiantly for our country and our freedoms.

President Trump's blatant act of discrimination against trans service members is yet another example of his pattern of marginalizing, erasing, and discriminating against trans people. That pattern includes the current effort by the Trump administration to erase transgender elders from a critical federal aging survey that allocates billions of dollars to vital elder services.

SAGE is aggressively fighting the administration's erasure of transgender people. As a testament to that commitment, this Monday we submitted more than 6,000 letters from all 50 states demanding that the Trump administration restore transgender elders to the annual survey.

President Trump's most recent anti-transgender policy statement discounts and disrespects the professionalism of all of our troops, undercuts our national security, and harms our country. Our military and our nation are better than this. SAGE is pushing back against the Trump administration's latest efforts. Thank you for standing with us.


Statement from State Senator Gustavo Rivera on Current Administration's Ban of Transgender Americans From Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

  "It is appalling, but not surprising, that this administration continues its attempt to destroy President Obama's legacy. This time around, this administration took the dreadful decision to ban transgender individuals from serving in any capacity within the U.S. military. 

Transgender Americans on active duty and in the reserves are neither a disruption nor a burden. These American patriots have served and continue to serve our nation with the dignity and the courage that only a few can claim to possess.
This discriminatory directive will undoubtedly set us back as a country in our ongoing pursuit to make every American equal under the law. I want to reiterate my unconditional support to the transgender community in New York State and across the country as they face another vile assault to their rights. As a member of the New York Legislature, I will continue working diligently to provide them and our brother and sisters in the LGBTQIA community the support they need and deserve."


  Throughout August, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Public Engagement Unit has planned events citywide to help New Yorkers access resources and information from the Tenant Support Unit, Home Support Unit and GetCoveredNYC.

The Tenant Support Unit engages and provides assistance to New Yorkers who may be at risk of displacement or experiencing harassment in zip codes covered under the Human Resources Administration (HRA)’s Anti-Harassment Tenant Protection legal service funding. In addition, TSU proactively engages New Yorkers who may be eligible for the Department of Finance’s Rent Freeze benefits to assist them through the application process. Outreach specialists go door to door to inform tenants of their rights, identify any housing-related issues and connect them with a range of resources, such as anti-eviction legal assistance, to keep them in their homes. In addition, outreach specialists’ partner with elected officials and community groups to hold weekly office hours and attend local events.

The Home Support Unit partners with landlords and brokers to identify apartments for clients transitioning out of shelter with rental subsidies. HSU partners closely with the Human Resources Administration, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and community-based providers to match prospective tenants to apartments, coordinate viewings, and navigate landlords and brokers through the City’s leasing process. Specialists remain engaged with the landlord even after lease signing to ensure new tenants are supported and have access to resources that help them remain stably housed.

The Homebase Outreach Team proactively engages families at risk of entering shelter to connect them to Homebase, a homelessness prevention program that provides casework services and referrals to existing resources. Specialists make phone calls and attend community events to provide families at risk with information about the preventive services available in the community and, when appropriate, help them access those services, so they avoid entering shelter.

GetCoveredNYC is a citywide initiative to enroll New Yorkers in health insurance and provide them with access to primary and preventive care at NYC Health and Hospitals. The initiative is a partnership between NYC Health and Hospitals, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Human Resources Administration and MetroPlus.  The initiative includes a robust team of outreach specialists, who proactively go door to door and call uninsured New Yorkers to discuss their health insurance options, schedule them for free in-person enrollment assistance and case manage them through the enrollment process. In addition, the initiative launched a city-wide paid media campaign to promote the importance of coverage and how New Yorkers can receive free in-person enrollment assistance – including calling 311 or texting CoveredNYC to 877877.
For more information on these initiatives, New Yorkers can call 311 or visit

The Bronx

August 1
10 A.M. – 12 P.M.
Community Food Pantry at Highbridge
1363 Ogden Avenue
Bronx, NY 10452
(Home Support Unit)

August 1 (Weekly on Tuesdays)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
Assemblyman Blake’s Office
780 Concourse Village West
Bronx, NY 10451
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 1 (Weekly on Tuesdays)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
State Senator Rivera’s Office
2432 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10458
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 2 (Weekly on Wednesdays)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
Assemblyman Blake’s Office
780 Concourse Village West
Bronx, NY 10451

August 3 (Weekly on Thursdays)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
Assemblyman Pichardo’s Office
2175 Jerome Avenue
Bronx, NY 10452
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 3 and 17 (Biweekly on First and Third Thursdays)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
Assemblyman Joyner’s Office
910 Grand Concourse Ave
Bronx, NY 10451
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 3 and 17 (Biweekly on Thursdays)
11 A.M. - 6:30 P.M.
University Neighborhood Housing Program Refuge House
2715 Bainbridge Ave
Bronx, NY 10458
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 3
3 P.M. – 6 P.M.
Grand Concourse Branch – New York Public Library
155 East 173rd Street
Bronx, NY 10457
(Tenant Support Unit)
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 4 and 18
10:30 A.M. – 2 P.M.
Assemblyman Rivera’s Office
1 Fordham Plaza
Suite 1008, 10th Floor
Bronx, NY 10458
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 5
12 P.M. – 5 P.M.
7th Annual Bronx Summer Walks
Burnside Ave between Jerome and Davidson Ave.
Bronx, NY 10453
(Home Support Unit and GetCoveredNYC)

August 10
3 P.M. – 6 P.M.
Francis Martin Branch – New York Public Library
2150 University Ave.
Bronx, NY 10453
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 15
11 A.M. – 3 P.M.
Council Member Gibson’s Office
1377 Jerome Avenue
Bronx, NY 10453
(Tenant Support Unit)

August 15
11 A.M. – 3:30 P.M.
Morris Heights Health Center
National Community Health Center Week 2017 Family Funday
E 156th Street and Cortlandt Ave.
Bronx, NY 10451
(Home Support Unit and GetCoveredNYC)

August 16
11 A.M. – 3:30 P.M.
Morris Heights Health Center
National Community Health Center Week 2017 Family Funday
137th Street and Brook Ave.
Bronx, NY 10454
(Home Support Unit and GetCoveredNYC)

August 18
10:30 A.M. – 1 P.M.
Evelyn Place Senior Center
2 Evelyn Pl.
Bronx, NY 10468
(Tenant Support Unit)

Bronx Borough President - Bronx Summer Concert Series

Senator Jeff Klein calls on AMTRAK and NYC DOT to replace hazardous fence outside Bronx school that’s been damaged since Hurricane Sandy

Fence outside The Bronx Charter School for the Arts has been endangering the safety of students for four-and-a-half years

Senator Jeff Klein on Tuesday stood outside the Bronx Charter School of the Arts with Principal Brenda Daniels, faculty members, parents and students to call on AMTRAK and the city’s DOT to finally take action and replace a rusty, jagged fence next to the Longfellow Avenue school that’s jeopardized the safety of students since it was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

In this day and age, and in this city, it is unacceptable for such a simple repair to be put off for this length of time,” said Senator Klein. “While these two agencies pass the buck over who owns what, our children are being subjected to this unnecessary safety hazard. Today I urge the city’s DOT and AMTRAK to come to an agreement and take action.”

“We are grateful for the fact that Senator Klein is making the safety of children a priority. We look forward to a quick resolution, as the safety of our students is paramount,” said Principal Brenda Daniels.

Senator Klein in February 2017 organized a meeting at the site between his office and representatives from AMTRAK and the city DOT to determine who owns the downed fence, and therefore who’s responsible to replace it. At the meeting, AMTRAK officials claimed the fence, and the wall it’s attached to, was transferred to the city in the 1950s. However the city has no record of that alleged property transfer. Neither agency has taken ownership of the fence since it was damaged.

The fence is attached to a concrete wall that separates the dead end block where the school is located from the adjacent AMTRAK train tracks. Nearly half of the metal fence is toppled over into the street. The wall even has artwork devoted to the Bronx Charter School of the Arts.


“We have come to the moment of truth. Republicans are voting to take health care from millions of Americans. The only thing that can stop them is millions of Americans standing up and raising their voices. Let Congress know they cannot send us back to a time when families were forced to choose between going to the doctor and feeding their kids – not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

-Engel On President Trump Banning Transgender Service Members in the Military

  Congressman Eliot L. Engel released the following statement:

“Today the President has taken steps to weaken the strongest military force in the world by banning transgender individuals from any form of military service. This decision is disgraceful, discriminatory, and severely insulting to all current and future transgender service members who want nothing more than to serve the country they love. The language the President used in announcing his decision, stating our military ‘cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail’ is brazenly ignorant of how the military operates and the contributions transgender service members are already making. The United States of America faces grave threats from evil forces every day. We need every person who is willing and capable to help face those threats.

“Every day we struggle to make our society better, but this decision by the President to exclude certain patriots from service does the exact opposite. Discrimination doesn't make America great. This decision cannot stand and we must do everything within our power to fight it.”


  Today, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) released the following statement and written testimony as part of today’s MTA hearing to address New York’s subway and transit crisis.

“The subway system is the lifeblood of our city’s economy, providing transportation for millions of New Yorkers who are wholly reliant on subways for their daily commutes to work and ability to traverse the city we all know and love. I commend MTA Chairman Joe Lhota in his efforts leading the MTA as it is much-needed as we work to improve a subway system that is in crisis,” said Rep. Espaillat. “With track derailments and fires, poor elevator service, and frequent delays negatively affecting the lives of my constituents, I look forward to working with MTA Chairman Lhota to ensure straphangers in Harlem, East Harlem, upper Manhattan, the Northwest Bronx, and throughout the City of New York have a subway system they can rely upon and be proud of today and in the future.”

This past Saturday, Rep. Espaillat hosted a community forum to hear from transportation experts and commuters on how to improve a subway system that is not working for working-class New Yorkers. In a letter prior to today’s MTA hearing, Rep. Espaillat presented MTA Chairman Lhota recommendations on how to best resolve the subway crisis and shared constituents’ responses in a letter on how the subway crisis directly impacts commuters.

Major Property Tax Relief on the Way for Senior & Disabled Homeowners thanks to the IDC

Cuomo signs into law SCHE/DHE program expansion set to help thousands more live affordably in New York

Members of the Independent Democratic Conference celebrated Governor Cuomo’s signing of Senator Diane Savino’s legislation to expand the Senior Homeowners’ Exemption (SCHE) and Disabled Homeowners’ Exemption (DHE).

This year, the IDC fought to increase the income eligibility for the SCHE and DHE programs which provide major property tax exemptions to residents living on fixed incomes. Seniors could potentially save upwards of $1,000 a year through the exemption.

Senator Savino’s legislation, which received support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, raises the income cap for SCHE/DHE to $50,000 for a full 50% property tax exemption and to $58,400 for a partial exemption, which will provide much-needed relief to New York City homeowners. The eligibility levels have not been raised since 2006. The current income limit for a full 50% reduction is just $29,000.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh carried the legislation through the Assembly.

“Our seniors and disabled New Yorkers, who live on fixed incomes, deserve to reside in their communities without the fear of losing their homes. Many of our senior citizens choose to age in place in the neighborhoods where they’ve raised their families, worked and enjoyed throughout their lives. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important legislation into law. I look forward to helping my constituents sign up for this savings,” said Senator Savino.

“Our seniors deserve to live out their golden years without worrying that they can no longer afford their homes, the places where they raised their children and hold cherished memories. It is important that for seniors and disabled homeowners living on tight budgets we create an affordable New York by bringing real property tax relief by raising the income eligibility for SCHE and DHE to 2017 levels. I’m proud that the IDC has been the driving force behind this policy and I thank Governor Cuomo for recognizing the importance of this initiative,” said Senator Jeff Klein.

“Giving property tax breaks to more seniors and people with disabilities who own their homes is an important step forward in our continuing efforts to ensure that our communities are affordable. This law will help thousands of New Yorkers to remain in their homes and their neighborhoods,” said Assemblymember Kavanagh. “I thank Senator Savino, Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Heastie, Governor Cuomo, our colleagues in government in both parties, and all the advocates, seniors, and people with disabilities who supported this critical legislation.”

The law will take effect soon after the New York City Council passes legislation to enable the raised income levels, which is supported by Mayor de Blasio and was included in his Executive Budget.

At that point, a 120-day window will open up for people to apply for the program for this year.  Those with applications already on file that were rejected this year will be re-processed for eligibility.  If a qualifying resident already paid taxes, the city’s Department of Finance would issue a credit.

On average a homeowner who qualifies for the program under the expanded income threshold could save up to $1,750 a year.

This proposal would also increase the cap for partial exemptions to $58,400, with property tax exemptions provided to qualified senior and disabled homeowners on a sliding scale.

SCHE/DHE at $50,000 (Proposed)
 Income Range
$57,500 - $58,400
$56,600 - $57,499
$55,700 - $56,599
$54,800 - $55,699
$53,900 - $54,799
$53,000 - $53,899
$52,000 - $52,999
$50,100 - $51,999
$50,001 - $50,999
$0 - $50,000

Members of the IDC said the new law would create affordability for residents living on fixed incomes.

“With living costs always going up, unfortunately more and more New Yorkers are having a difficult time keeping their homes, especially Senior Citizens and New Yorkers with disabilities. They fought hard to buy and keep their homes, so I am glad the income eligibility for SCHE and DHE will soon increase, which will help some of our most vulnerable homeowners. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing this vital and important piece of legislation into law,” said Senator Jose Peralta.

“Keeping up with the ever rising cost of living in the city can be difficult enough for the average New Yorker. This is especially difficult for the senior and disabled homeowners of our boroughs. Expanding the SCHE/DHE program will go a long way in helping New Yorkers on a fixed income continue to live close to their families in the city that they helped build. I applaud my IDC colleagues for never quitting when it comes to fighting for the most vulnerable of New Yorkers,” said Senator Tony Avella.
“HDFC co-ops are a crucial part of the 31st Senate District's affordable housing stock, and the expansion of this program to help seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities stay in their homes is a welcome step towards preserving affordability in the area. Seniors and people with disabilities often have limited mobility and depend on community support, so making it easier for them to stay in those communities will increase their quality of life as well as improving the life of the community at large,” said Senator Marisol Alcántara.

“Property taxes represent an affordability challenge particularly important to New York City seniors and those living with disabilities. This law takes a step forward in meeting that challenge. Recognizing the unique circumstances these households face and accommodating their needs means keeping our communities whole. I am proud to be a part of meaningful action to make our communities more affordable and to work in partnership to keep more money in the pockets of these New Yorkers. Thanks to Senator Savino, Senator Klein, Governor Cuomo, and all my colleagues in government for their leadership on this issue. Now on the ground, in our communities, we need to ensure seniors and those living with disabilities take full advantage of this exemption,” said Senator Jesse Hamilton.

The IDC’s push to increase eligibility received praise from numerous advocacy groups.