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Hero Cops Acknowledged at Community Council Board Meeting

by Karen Clements

It was thanks to the quick thinking of two officers from the 113th Precinct that a one year old’s life was saved.  Officers John Simicich and Tim Molinet intercepted a call going to 911 and responded. 

They were able to transport the baby to Jamaica Hospital ahead of EMS while performing chest compressions.  The 113th Precinct Community Council Board thanked the officers with certificates of appreciation and gifts. 

They were then invited to take part in their King Day Trivia Challenge where they won the challenge! 

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Inauguration of First Woman for City Council District 28

Council Member Adrienne Adams (k.clements)

by Karen Clements

It’s official!  Adrienne Adams is now the first woman to serve as a Council Member for District 28.  Sunday, January 14, was the inaugural ceremony.  Her term began just after she won the November election as the seat was vacant.

‘The heart of the community’ was the theme of the event which highlighted the various components of the Council Member ascension to City Hall.  That consisted of educational volunteerism, activism and government service.

The Council Member’s resume included support of local area schools and education through volunteering and as a member of the Education Committee of Community Board 12.  Her own educational background was displayed by her sorority, Epsilon Pi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  The members planned and hosted the event.  Adams’ has long championed civil rights and the inaugural program included remarks from heads of local rights groups National Action Network, Queens Chapter and Jamaica Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Yvonne Reddick, District Manager, represented Adams’ governance experience reflecting her years as chairperson of Community Board 12.

Family was a key statement at the inauguration and ‘grandmother’ was a title the new Council Woman embraced, happily proclaiming that status several times from the podium.  Her children, grandchildren and family members occupied the first full row of the seating.  They were equal in number only to the many elected officials and civic leaders that were in attendance.

Top levels of in government for which Adams will now serve were in attendance: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  They were accompanied by several members of the Council. 

Most of the elected officials that spoke on her behalf made mention of her good character.

“Leaders who make us proud, show us what we aspire to be,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“She got here the old fashioned way, she earned it,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.  “There is no one better suited than Adrienne,” he said point to her long history of community service.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson called Adams “a fierce woman who can lead”.  He said her Community Board tenure was “requisite experience to serve on the City Council”.  The speaker promised support.  “I have her back.  What she needs, I will give to the best of my ability,” he said. 

Adam’s church affiliation was represented at both the beginning and end of the ceremony.  The invocation was performed by Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, Senior Pastor Greater Allen Cathedral.  The Benediction was performed by Rev. Dr. Calvin Rice, Senior Pastor, New Jerusalem Worship Center.  There was an inter-denominational prayer during the ceremony. 

Assembly Member Vivian Cook represented the contingent of District Leaders and spoke about their choice of Adams as a candidate.  “When we had a choice to make…maybe everyone [did] not agree,” she said.  “I am extremely happy to have been able to play a part in making her the first woman of Council District 28”.  The decision to place Adams on the ballot without going through the petition process received criticism from several news organizations.  Cook also gave remarks on behalf of the Democratic Party.  “On behalf of the Party, thank you.  We know you are going to do well.  We love you.  We are here for you,” she said.

The new council woman was introduced by her Southeast Queens City Council colleagues, I. Daneek Miller and Donovan Richards.  During the campaign, these three had touted their union as a positive ‘triple threat’ for the community.  “The three of us have been sent by God to defend the institution of Southeast Queens.  We now have a new member of the team.  We were missing a woman in the mix,” said Council Member Richards.  He said her first vote in the Council showed that Adams was “unbossed and unbought”. 

Council Members (l to r) Donovan Richards, Adrienne Adams, I Daneek Miller

During her inaugural address, the council member vowed assertively that “we would be heard at City Hall.  When I go, you go.”

She encouraged all to be a part of volunteering and advocacy.  “I encourage you all to join Community Board 12, join a committee…be the change that we need to see,” she said.

She also encouraged residents to not sit idly by.  “Every resident of this District…you are all valuable members of our community that can help shape our community,” she said. 

The racist words of President Donald Trump filtered into the event by many speakers.  The new council woman also used those words as a means to affirm her commitment to the District. 

“We have a problem in the White House…We have devolved from refinement to rubbish…#45 has now disparaged citizens of El Salvador and Haiti….and Africa,’ she said.  “El Salvador is in District 28…Haiti is in District 28,” she said to applause.

“We will not be silent in the face of such disgusting racism to the people who have come to these shores to pursue life, liberty and justice,” she said. 

The new Council Woman mentioned her approach to her office.

“I will continue to have the mindset of a servant, not a celebrity.  I will challenge the status quo and adopt bold policy and imagine the unimaginable for the sake of a neglected community. 

She specifically addressed the Indo-Caribbean community that comprises a fair share of the District and came out in large numbers during the campaign.  “You have been underserved on many levels.  But your voice too will be heard through my leadership,” she said.

Her opponent, Richard David, who had been credited for bringing the Indo-Caribbean community to the polls, was given a seat on the dais and asked to perform the roll call of dignitaries present at the event.  She acknowledged David in their race during the speech.

She ended her address by talking directly to the community. 

“We are a great District…but you must be the change.  You must volunteer.  You must sacrifice and you must pay it forward because you are the heart of the community. 

The long event ended with a taste of what everyone hoped for, a song.  Adams’ might now be known as the first woman to hold this council seat, but in the community it was her singing that those present clamored for.  She obliged with a few chords of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.

 

 

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Rikers Island Detention Center Closing Summer 2018

George Motchan Detention Center is set to close this summer.

The jail on the Rikers Island complex currently houses approximately 600 men.  The Mayor’s administration says the closure is possible due to the decrease in the city’s jail population which dropped below 9,000.

There have been numerous reports of abuse and violence at the facility. 

In 2014, a pattern and practice of conduct was found to violate the constitutional rights of adolescent male inmates.

The closure is not believed to result in the reductions of Department of Corrections staff.  It will, however, limit the amount of overtime for DOC staff which will allow for key staff training and support in other areas. 

This closure will bring the total number of Riker’s Island facilities to eight from nine.  This is the first planned closure since the Mayor’s office announced in March its plan to close the complex and create a smaller jail system.  The city will be looking to identify sites that can replace the existing jails on Riker’s Island.  The Queens Detention Complex in Kew Gardens has been tentatively named as a possible site.

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Daddy Diaper Law set to take effect Summer 2018

by Karen Clements

 

Beginning July 2018 all public buildings will be required to provide diaper changing stations to all parents, regardless of gender.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed into law Intro 1241-A, affectionately referred to as the Daddy Diaper Law. 

It was 2016 when then President Barack Obama signed into law the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation Act or BABIES Act.  The law required changing tables in all public federal buildings in both male and female restrooms.  This ended the practice of providing changing tables only in women’s restrooms. 

“As a dad, I know first-hand how frustrating it can be to handle diaper emergencies in public without a changing station” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement about the law.  He acknowledged that “men have to change a lot of diapers.”  Many believe these bills are steps towards improving gender equality.

Baby changing tables are familiar fixtures in women’s and family restrooms.  Dads in need of assistance would have to finds ways to adapt to their environment.  This inequity made sharing parenting roles challenging.

The bill affects public buildings only.  Private facilities are not affected, but most likely to follow suit in the near future.   

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Governor Expands Opportunities for Minority Businesses to Obtain Government Contracts

Procurement Fair at Queens Borough Hall

On December 29, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Minority and Women Owned Business (M/WBE) Bill S6513B.  The law will increase the City’s discretionary spending to $150,000 from its previous level of $20,000.  It will also allow the City to consider a firms M/WBE status when using the best value procurement. 

This can be a game changer for small minority and women owned businesses that have struggled to do business with the City.  The City awarded over $98 billion in government contracts in fiscal year 2017.  M/WBE’s received $1.1 billion of that spending.  Black Businesses were awarded $50.9 million or 0.3% of those dollars 

This higher level of discretionary spending will allow businesses to avert the bidding process which can be lengthy and requires plenty of time and effort.  Things that are not luxuries for smaller businesses.  One business owner surmised that filling out a bidding proposal was equivalent to spending $10,000.  Another owner, who was awarded a government contract, conceded to making the investment to hire an individual to complete an RFP to increase his chances of procurement. 

This increased level of procurement will mean that city agencies representatives can disperse more dollars.  In 2017, the City extended its procurement fairs’ reach to the outer boroughs with smaller fairs and more opportunities to meet agency representatives.  However, many business owners viewed those fairs as mostly business card exchanges that led to little else.  This legislation has the potential to turn those card exchanges into real business opportunities. 

With Government dollars set to roll into Southeast Queens in the form of several projects and awards, doing business with the City, and State, is all the more important.  Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $10 million dollar grant for Downtown Jamaica revitalization.  The City Council approved a zoning plan for housing and commercial districts in Far Rockaway.  The Long Island Rail Road’s (L.I.R.R) $1.9 billion dollar third track project was introduced and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced upgrades to its Downtown Jamaica transit hub.  In addition, a $10 billion expansion of JFK International Airport was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

There was never a more important time for businesses to become certified Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBE).  To assist on businesses in becoming certified the City streamlined its application process, increased its outreach to the outer boroughs.  The City also created the Bond Collateral Assistance (BCA).  The BCA initiative grants loans to construction firms to assist with bond funding which are crucial to government procurements.  Loans are given in increments up to $500,000 at an interest rate of 3%. 

One of the bill’s sponsors, Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, represents sections of Southeast Queens.  She was recently reelected to the Assembly winning the special election to replace Assembly Member William Scarborough. 

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Black Businesses Path to Government Contracts in 2017

by Karen Clements

Lt. Gov Holchul announces grants for the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica

Government funding and large scale projects came to Southeast Queens in 2017. Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $10 million dollar grant for Downtown Jamaica revitalization. The City Council approved a zoning plan for housing and commercial districts in Far Rockaway. The Long Island Rail Road’s (L.I.R.R) $1.9 billion dollar third track project was introduced and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced upgrades to its Downtown Jamaica transit hub. In addition, a $10 billion expansion of JFK International Airport was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
With government dollars set to roll into the area, doing business with the City, and State, is all the more important. There was never a more important time for businesses to become a certified Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBE).
2017 saw a substantial effort by the City of New York to increase its number of certified M/WBE businesses. In addition, they set a goal to increase the number of M/WBE awarded government contracts to 30%. A goal the State matched.
With billions of dollars of business at the precipice, the stakes are high for M/WBE to grab a piece of the pie. However, very little dollars are awarded to M/WBEs. Lissette Camilo, Commissioner, Department of Citywide Administrative Services, announced in June of 2017 there are an estimated 84 million that her agency will be awarding in the coming fiscal year. “Yet we see little M/WBE entry,” she said.
To entice businesses to become certified, the City streamlined its application process. To assist businesses with the process of procurements, there was a plethora of fairs that connected businesses together with city agencies. In addition to its annual procurement fair in Manhattan, the City extended its reach into the outer boroughs for smaller fairs increasing opportunities for businesses to connect with agencies. The City also created a Bond Collateral Assistance (BCA). The BCA initiative grants loans to construction firms to assist with bond funding which are crucial to government procurements. Loans are up to $500,000 at an interest rate of 3%. Finally, the City introduced legislation to raise the amount of discretionary dollars city agencies could award. This would allow smaller businesses to avert the Request for Proposal (RFP) process and receive more contracts through those discretionary dollars. While that effort sits on the Governors desk awaiting a signature after passing in the legislature, the disappointment and lack of optimism by M/WBEs that they will do business with the government grows.  (Update: Governor Cuomo signed the legislation)
While business owners thought it was great to meet city agencies representatives, many owners saw it as no more than a business card exchange which led to little else. Most City agencies make their awards through larger contracts and not the smaller discretionary dollars, hence the need for the legislation. And most of the money for revitalization and upgrades will be awarded through million dollar contracts to larger businesses who respond to Request for Proposals (RFPs). This meant smaller businesses needed to connect with contract awardees, referred to as prime contractors.
Smaller businesses can respond to RFPs and Small Business Services (SBS) does offer training classes in doing business with the City and support in collecting the required documents for an RFP. However, completing an RFP requires plenty of time and effort. Things that are not in great surplus for smaller businesses. One business owner surmised that filling out an RFP was equivalent to $10,000. Another owner, who was awarded a government contract, conceded to making the investment to hire an individual to complete an RFP to increase his chances of procurement.
Mostly business owners noted that prime contractors, the ones you really must connect with, were often not in the room. While SBS facilitates plenty of meetings, most don’t include businesses that will likely be prime contractors. On the rare occasion the prime contractor is accessible, it is apparent that the stakes and competition are high.

NYC First Lady McCray opens 11th Annual Procurement fair.

The LIRR granted an opportunity for M/WBE businesses to connect with possible prime contractor for their expansion project. Antun’s of Queens Village was the event site and with over 1,000 businesses registered, the event took up the entire first floor of the space. The most surprising element of that day was its lack of diversity. Individuals who took part in the event were, by and large, white males. While there were women and minorities present, their numbers were comparatively small. The small window of opportunity, businesses had to meet with a representative from the possible prime contractor, was a five minute business pitch (if that long).
Then the responsibility is on the business to make things happen. Businesses that don’t get a contract, tend to believe that result is due to some failure on their part. Because the City is providing so much in terms of support and outreach, any failure or defeat in obtaining an award a business is facing must be of its own creation. Forget the years of racism, sexism, cronyism and nepotism built into the government contract awarding systems. So what there is a line for services that is 100 people deep with a day long wait that means putting your personal business matters on hold for the day. If no contract comes from that business’ effort keep trying is the message.
Communities of Color News (CofC) brought its frustration with the process to SBS’s offices. Representatives from CofC had been performing outreach, attending fairs and not receiving even basic acknowledgement of its efforts from city representatives. The fact of the matter was that the directory of city agency representatives was outdated at the time which, in part, accounted for some of the miscommunications. The feedback from SBS representatives was that the frustration being displayed by CofC News was not a productive means in which to conduct business and was most likely the reason for its lack of success. As such, it is was the fault of the businesses for not acting professionally that a procurement wasn’t made.
Eventually businesses stop attending the fairs. They must decide if the investment of man hours, time in spent in high heels/crisp suits making small talk and passing out business cards are worth the effort in the long run. Is it worth it to continue attending these fairs and meeting the same city agents at the same fairs while coming no closer to doing business with the City? It is disheartening watching Asian business owners at these events using Black women as representatives and seeing their contract award numbers increase.
Numbers from the Mayor’s office have been optimistic highlighting that they are close to reaching their goals. The City has certified over 5,000 M/WBE businesses which put them on track for meeting their goal of 9,000 new certified business by 2019.
The numbers from the comptroller’s office are revealing. The latest figures from the City Comptroller’s office for Fiscal 2017 (June 2016-July 2017) highlights contracts to M/WBE (Minority and Women Owned Business) at 6.2% of budget. The breakdown has African Americans receiving the smallest portion of that group. Asian American businesses receive 3.0%, (A figure that has grown over the last several years.) Contracts for Black American businesses at 0.3%, Women at 2.3% (also a figure that has grown over the last several years) and Hispanic American businesses at .6%. (Source NYC Checkbook.) The percentages for Black and Hispanic Americans have been holding steady of the last several years.
Couple this with the grim reality of an overall lack of businesses of color owned by people of color that live in the communities of color.
In June 2017, with the pending billion dollar JFK expansion on the way, a collective of Southeast Queens state legislature representatives hosted a community meeting. . It was a beginning conversation to connect businesses to opportunities and invite residents to learn and have a say in changes to infrastructure, transit and the environment as a result of the redevelopment. Business owners wanted to know how they get started in the process of connecting to this project and the criteria necessary in order to be considered for work. Civic and community leaders wanted to ensure there was oversight, guarantee Southeast Queens maintains a stake in the development. It was in the hopes of not being left behind. Because the JFK expansion is just in its preliminary stages, it was too early to get definitive responses.
But how will the story of this incoming revitalization differ from past efforts for communities of color. At that June meeting, residents pointed out that the AirTrains development did not include a station stop in the area. There is however, a station stop in Howard Beach.§

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Focus on Black Businesses & Entrepreneurs During the Holiday Season

Coquito vendor at Brooklyn Bazaar
Wellness vendor at Brooklyn Bazaar

by KAREN CLEMENTS
editor@thecommunitiesofcolor.com 
During Black Friday Weekend 2017, The 5th Annual Stuyvesant Indi Winter Holiday Bazaar, set up a vendors marketplace in an expansive basement of a Brooklyn Brownstone on Quincy Street. With music in the background and space for children to be creative, the market had various vendors selling a wide variety of items including head wraps in ethnic fabrics, Afrocentric clothing, wellness products for skin and hair care, food and drink, jewelry, tee shirts, soaps, and fashion accessories. The marketplace was well presented and had something intriguing in each nook and cranny. A steady stream of interested individuals, made for many successful connections between vendors and consumers. Most importantly, it was a way to support burgeoning Black businesses, entrepreneurs and people of color with product dreams and ideas. The setting and seller were unique with items that rarely see the light of day in big box stores. It was the opportunity to purchase and share a statement gift of the holiday season: ‘I support businesses of color’. 
Vendor markets and Expos (VM&Es) are popping up more frequently across the boroughs to help local entrepreneurs and businesses promote themselves and their wares. While many might be used to seeing these types of markets during Kwanzaa week, having the option of visiting these markets prior to Kwanzaa means the African American holiday can get a portion of those precious season dollars.
Season dollars are typically reserved for the big box stores and they are tough companies to complete against. Their ease of accessibility, specially priced merchandise and one stop shopping enchant the consumer with the notion that his holiday wish list can be conquered with one store visit. This benefit alone makes it difficult for shoppers to select VM&Es.

Because VM&Es require thought and work. Most often customers don’t know exactly when and where these pop-ups will pop-up. Compare that doubt to the big box options with extended holiday hours for customers’ convenience. VM&E also present some sticker shock.
The holidays have conditioned consumers to expect deals, bargains and low, low prices. With VM&Es, the pricing is the biggest surprise. Many vendors do not display a price list, give a price range for items and do not accept haggling. This does not inspire consumer confidence and may invoke thoughts that the vendor prices vary for each customer.
To compensate for the shock, consumers should seek out vendors with clear pricing and those who can offer alternative purchasing options, like online shopping. This will enable doubtful shoppers, as well as satisfied consumers, a way to follow up and make a confident or continuing purchase. Also, enter with a budget and stick to it. If the overall holiday budget is $500, set aside a portion of that for local community stores and vendors.
With more and more individuals opting for online shopping with to-home delivery, visiting VM&Es becomes a way to gather with family and friends and shop in a more communal atmosphere and for a great cause…us! Isn’t that what the holiday season is about?§ 

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New Chair For Community Board 12

Rene Cheatham Hill

by Karen Clements
editor@communitiesofcolornyc.com
Community Board 12 (CB12) has a new chairperson. Rene Cheatham-Hill was voted in as Chairperson at the Community Board Meeting on November 15, 2017. The question is, will the win be legitimate.
The Board had to elect a new chair as its former chair, Adrienne Adams, resigned. Adams was elected to City Council District 28 and stepped down from her duties with CB 12.
The Board was prepared for the upcoming election but hit a roadblock due to eligibility requirements.
In order to be eligible to run for Board chair, candidates must have 70% attendance with the board over the course of a year. Because this was a special election, the October 2017 meeting was the cutoff point to determine attendance eligibility. But Borough Hall disagreed.
“The Community Board must consider tonight’s attendance as to who is eligible,” said Shurn Anderson from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office.
This news did not sit well with board members. By laws state that an election should be held at the first meeting after the vacancy. Board members felt they had followed that rule for past elections which was the basis of candidate determinations. What made this election different? Did this revelation invalidate previous elections?
As a result, the issue before the board was whether or not it should take the chance to go against Borough Hall and hold its election anyway not factoring in the night of the election for eligibility or would it have the election and include the current meeting.
Board members voted to have the election and not include the night of the election for eligibility. Anderson will report back to CB 12 as to which sections of the by-laws were in question regarding its determination. CB 12 can review the section and redraft if necessary.
In the end, Edward McKay, the Boards first Vice President and acting Chair was not eligible to run. Secretary Rene Cheatham-Hill bested candidates, Joan Flowers, Michelle Keller and Maxine Allen in the election.
The new chair will be sworn in at the next meeting. §

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Advocacy Group Needs Residents to Help Improve Access-A-Ride

Emma Rimawi    

Missed appointments, vehicle breakdowns, taking long, circuitous routes, being subjected to rude personnel and leaving individuals stranded at night.  Who would pay for a transportation service that subjected its passengers to these, and even more, egregious occurrences?

Sadly, disabled and senior populations are subjected to these events each and every day when using the Access-A-Ride service.  On, Thursday, November 30 residents gathered in Cambria Heights to tell their stories.  It was the beginning of an effort to reform Access-A-Ride.

AARRG!, the Access-A-Ride Reform Group, is a coalition of four groups that are hoping to make changes in a service that is severely in need of improvement.  The groups include the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Center for Independence of the Disabled NY (CID-NY), Mobilization for Justice and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.  Representatives from those organization were on hand to guide residents in what is needed to help advocate for better service.  The first step is telling customers’ stories. 

Access-A-Ride provides transportation for people with disabilities (either permanent or temporary) which prevents their use of accessible mass transit.  The system is governed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  The service works either in place of mass transit or as a feeder service, connecting individuals to mass transit.  It operates within the same cost structure of the MTA. 

In order to use the service, individuals must apply and demonstrate their need.  Disabilities which require use of the service can be visible (i.e. lost limbs) or invisible (i.e. social anxiety or medical).  Applicants must then demonstrate their need in order to be approved.  Once approved, to use the service individuals must request a reservation at least a day in advance for each trip.  Passengers can have up to two guests and one Personal Care Attendant (PCA) join them for the ride.  The PCA rides at no cost. 

Most of the residents in attendance were Access-A-Ride users as evident from the many walkers, scooters and wheelchairs which dominated the space.  The attendees were open about their struggles with the service.  Although most individuals present had a visible disability that, by no means, limited their desire to get around the city and live a full and active life.  In fact, it was a point of a contention.

“We deserve to be treated like everyone else,” said Eman Rimawi.  She is the Access-A-Ride Campaign Coordinator and Organizer for the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.  “Just because I am disabled doesn’t mean I don’t have a life.  A lot of us work.  They are shocked to hear that we have jobs, families, significant others.  If you are disabled, that [doesn’t] automatically mean your life is over,”

Eman is a daily user of the service.  She commutes from Throgs Neck and is very outspoken about her experience and how the community of the disabled is treated.  “By the time you get home its 10 o’clock at night…You pee on your front steps,” said Eman of the long routes she has traveled using the service. 

Others had similar stories and complained of an archaic system that wastes time, money and fuel. 

Drivers travel blocks out of the way and venture down side streets customers would dare not use alone.  When making reservations, customers must repeatedly give their information.  Customers complain of lateness for scheduled pickups and for delivery to appointments.  There is a lack of empathy as drivers refuse to return passengers home when it is obvious that the appointment will be missed due to the lateness of that pickup.

“We have to wait for them, but they don’t wait for us,” said Ms. Gulston to the agreement of several in the room.  “The driver is close, but he cannot find you, then you lose your booking,” said a customer from Brooklyn.

Access-A-Ride Vehicle (MTA)

Sitting while others are being picked up was a complaint routinely agreed upon and confirmed by Senator Leroy Comrie.  The Senator’s office secured the room for the meeting and assisted with transportation to the meeting due to a last minute venue change. 

“They are sitting there waiting for their Access-A-Ride.  They are too afraid that they won’t get Access-A-Ride for their next trip if they take ride from a friend,” said the Senator of a problem he has witnessed regularly on Sunday mornings when he visits and attends area churches. 

There were complaints about the long travel times to Manhattan, the unwillingness to pay bridge and tunnel tolls and the lack of understanding of Queens addresses, many of which include dashes that need to be recognized for GPS route guidance. 

There were concerns about drivers who watch movies or play video games while operating the vehicles.  Some drivers inappropriately speak to customers with some women complaining of lewd advances.  While those gathered felt some drivers are great, many felt some drivers have no business dealing with this population and don’t know their way around New York City. 

“I live my life through those drivers. I appreciate them.  [But] some can’t think for themselves.  I leave my life in their hands,” said a frustrated Joan Silaco whose stories included missed early AM pickups.  “They are my lifeline.  I use them every single day.” 

Customers are often left stranded and have to rely on other means, including additional funds (with little in the way of reimbursement) and even mass transit, to get a return trip home. 

Representatives from the advocate group said that the MTA refutes the notion of widespread problems with the service.  Those in attendance had horror stories about the complaint process as well.  Attendees were dissatisfied with the long wait times to file a complaint by phone and only a form letter response and little else.  Customers were advised to file a complaint not only with Access-A-Ride, but with the Public Advocates office, 311 and the Mayor’s office. 

“We need you to advocate with us,” said Shane Anderson from CID-NY.  “Thousands use it and depend on it every day.  [There is] a level of service that is outrageous”.

The coalition is relatively new.  It received a grant to begin the process of organizing customers for advocacy.  Adding to their to-do list will be examining the possibility of access to bus lanes for Access-A-Ride vehicles and cultivating research to develop a lawsuit.  They contend it is a long fight and that this is just the beginning. 

“I’m in this for life.  I’m committed.  I live this every single day.  It annoys the heck out of me.  Paying for a service that is so terrible,” said Eman. 

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Free Projects Available to Help Residents Clear past Convictions

Gov. Cuomo

The Legal Aid Society and the Legal Action Center are two groups that have new projects to help individuals get their records sealed.

In October, Governor Cuomo signed into law that New Yorkers who have not been convicted of a crime in the past 10 years can have up to two prior convictions sealed.  This excludes individuals convicted of violent felonies and sex crimes.  According to the Office of Court Administration, there are approximately 300,000 people with misdemeanor offenses 10 years or older. 

Having a clean record can help individuals attain public housing and employment.  Although employers are legally barred in New York from considering a person’s criminal record in the hiring process, many advocates believe the stigma of a conviction hinders and influences employment. 

District attorneys have 45 days to object to the request for sealing of the record and judges have final approval. 

Forms and instructions to seal a conviction are available at the Office of Court Administration’s website. 

Those interested in taking advantage of the pro bono lawyer services should contact the Legal Aid Society (legal-aid.org) or the Legal Action Center(lac.org).