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Former Council Member Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor

Ruben Wills pleaded guilty to non-disclosure of a personal loan on Monday, November 13.  The guilty plea was for one misdemeanor count for not divulging a loan on his 2012 report with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.  This past summer, Wills was convicted on felony charges of grand larceny, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records.  He was sentenced to two to six years in prison, required to pay a $5,000 fine and restitution in the amount of $32,874.  The former Council Member will not serve additional time for the misdemeanor. 

The former Councilman recently filed a claim against the City of New York for mistreatment during his stay at Riker’s Island.  For four days after being convicted by a jury in July, Wills spent that time on Riker’s Island.  During the time of his confinement, he is alleging maltreatment which left him in pain and confined to a wheelchair. 

During his tenure, Wills took a leave of absence from the City Council to deal with an undisclosed health issue. 

Wills represented South East Queens from 2010 until his conviction.  Adrienne Adams was elected to fill his seat.  She will be the first woman to hold the seat. 

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Voters Say No to Convention and Make History in Southeast Queens

New Yorkers rejected having a constitutional convention by wide margin.  Eighty three percent of voters said No to the proposition.  Unions came out strong in favor of a No vote and that message seemed to be delivered on Election Day. 

New Yorkers did say no to public officials collecting pensions if they are convicted of certain felonies.  The second proposition on the ballot on Election Day was whether or not a public official would retain his pension if convicted of a felony.  73% of voters say yes to cutting pensions of felons including governor appointees, town managers and CEOs, heads of government departments, judges and state employees who are designated policy makers.  This initiative applies to future convictions and is not grandfathered. 

Land use in the Adirondacks and Catskills has been authorized for use.  The third initiative on the ballot was for the authorization to use 250 acres of forest preserve.  This land will be eligible for use by towns, villages and counties that have no viable alternative in their quest to address specific public health and safety concerns.  In addition, bike trails and some utility lines will be located within designated areas that cross preserved lands. 

New Jersey now has a Democratic Governor.  Phil Murphy succeeds Governor Chris Christie.  Governor Christie leaves office with the weight of the Bridgegate and Beach closing scandals and contentious campaign connections to President Donald Trump resting on his shoulders.  Former president Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder had been campaigning to turn the Virginia and New Jersey Governorshipsin to Democratic Control.  Virginia has also elected a Democratic for Governor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio handily won another term.  Despite big ticket issues including homeless shelters, affordable housing and the MTA’s summer of hell, Mayor de Blasio succeeded in his bid for reelection with 67% of the vote.  Scott Stringer was re-elected as City Comptroller and Letitia James was reelected as Public Advocate.  Both won their re-elections by wide margins. 

Eric Gonzalez won his bid for Brooklyn DA.  Eric has been in the acting president since the passing of Ken Thompson. 

Melinda Katz won re-election as Queens Borough President.  Staten Island is the only borough with a Republican Borough President.  Of the other 4 borough presidents, who were all incumbents that faced Republican challengers, Katz’s Republican opposition received the largest number of votes.

Adrienne Adams

Southeast Queens welcomes its first woman to its City Council District 28 seat.  Adrienne Adams was officially elected to replace the seat vacated by Ruben Wills who was convicted on charges of corruption.  Council Member I Daneek Miller won a landslide victory against his challengers with 95% of the vote.  Council Member Donovan Richards ran unopposed in this election cycle.  He is currently running for City Council Speaker. 

Council Member I Daneek Miller

City Council Member Eric Ulrich retains his seat in a race that was contentious in the end.  The Republican won 66% of the votes against his Democratic challengers. 

City Council Member Mathieu Eugene was re-elected and primarily winner Alicka Ampry Samuel won the seat for City Council in District 41. 

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Forum Supports No Vote on #ConCon

by Karen Clements

“Change can be good, but it can also be bad,” said Leroy Gadsden, President of the NAACP Jamaica Branch. Gadsden was speaking at Congressman’s Gregory Meeks’ update breakfast on October 23 on why the organization is supporting a No vote for the upcoming ballot initiative for a NY State Constitutional Convention (ConCon).
The concerns for holding a convention were the endangerment of the state of unions which have been an important component of the advancement of civil rights for women and minorities. In addition, he was concerned about the makeup of delegates and what the current political climate would have on pending change.
“How can you change things if you don’t have a presence,” he asked. Gadsden noted that downstate might only see a representation of 11 delegate seats at ConCon.
Other Elected officials from the city council and state legislature present at the breakfast spoke against ConCon including Council Members Rory Lancemen and I. Daneek Miller and Assembly Members Hydnman. NYS Senator Leroy Comrie spoke at length about why he is advocating a No vote on the ballot initiative.
“Every major union is against this. They are worried about its impact on labor benefits and pensions,” said Comrie.
Comrie also spoke about other states that lost the right to have unions as a result of their constitutional conventions. He believes ballot initiatives are a way that the constitution can be changed.
The Senator also addressed the composition of the current legislature, with a breakaway group putting Republicans in the Majority, as a parallel to how ConCon would be set up.
He expressed frustration at trying to work on election reform, and more, only to have his efforts blocked. “We can’t get a bill… a hearing,” he said.
He also had condemnation for Governor Cuomo who he said “is not helping” the situation. “Three men in a room is not constitutional,” he said referring to the perception that deal making is done with only the Governor, State Assembly Speaker and Senate majority leader.
The initiative for a State constitutional convention will be on the ballot in the November 7, 2017 election. Voters are reminded to turn over the ballot in order to cast their vote. §

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Fixes for Long Lines to Shorten Wait Times Coming to Rochdale Village Post Office

The Rochdale Village Post Office will be putting new practices into place to deal with long lines and wait times.  “These changes are coming real soon,” said Bernice Williams, Manager Jamaica Post Offices. 

Managers Bernice Williams and Kahlil Wilson recently addressed issues Rochdale Village residents were having with mail delivery, particularly their seniors.  The senior community had issues with late day and/or missed deliveries.  Late mail deliveries are a particular concern for seniors as they do not want to venture out after a certain hour to conduct business.

The reason some Rochdale Village residents had begun to see changes in the delivery schedule of its mail was due to the recent retirement of a carrier on its route.  The usual work day of a postal carrier ends at 5PM.  Replacement carriers were shifted into a new schedule to familiarize themselves with the route. 

The Rochdale Village post office will be creating a ‘seniors only’ line.  It will also have lines based on services.  As lines for stamps and money orders tend to move faster, having a separate line for various services can decrease overall wait times. 

Bernice and Kahlil stress that they are there to help address the needs of customers as well as complaints. 

 

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Obamas Choose Kehinde Wiley for Portraits, Read Review of Wiley Exhibit at BAM

Kehinde Wiley Portrait

The top floor of the Brooklyn Museum is filled with iconic images from art as far back at the fifteenth century.  There are images from the Byzantine Empire, stain glass iconic images like Saint Ursula and the Virgin Martyrs, the sculpture Morpheus from Jean Antonie Houdon.  Images that have inspired individuals and cultures for centuries. 

Only now, they have been reinvented by artist Kehinde Wiley who has transformed these iconic images to include African American men in an exhibit titled ‘A New Republic’.

“Painting is about the world we live in.  Black people live in the world.  My choice is to include them.  This is my way of saying yes to us,” Kehinde Wiley.

Recreating the original work by posing these men in the same positions as the iconic portraits, the artist has transformed not only the classic images but reconstructed a story of a new world of inclusion. 

Busts which have been used to depict nobility, kings and presidents, are featured in the exhibit represented by Black men.  These men, with their heads high and prideful, sport a hoodie, an afro pick, a thick chain with a cross. 

Stained glass windows have been recreated with images of men in the poses of saints and angels with brown faces.  Oil canvases dominate the walls with images of heroes, warriors and innovators. 

Touches of humor can also be found in the work.  In the recreation of the painting of Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass by Jacques-Louis David, Wiley re-images a Timberland clad man as the Black warrior.  The warrior is complete with bandana tied urban style instead of the traditional bicorne hat the emperor wears.  The rock in the Wiley painting has written on it ‘Bonaparte’, just as in the original painting, but is accompanied by the name ‘Williams’ to indicate the presence of a Black man. 

The detail in the paintings is elaborate and exquisite from the soles of the converse sneakers, the sagging pants and the individual braids and locks.  The use of traditional urban attire in the works seems to say that, even in everyday wear, there is nobility. 

The artist also includes women in the exhibit.  They are similarly featured in iconic works.   The trio of female busts is a must see. 

The title of the exhibition is also a connection to an iconic classic, Plato’s ‘The Republic’.  In that classic work, thinkers define the world around them.  Here Wiley imagines ‘A New Republic’ where today’s man is part of that dialog.

The exhibit is a necessity for those who want to visualize themselves higher, loftier and greater, for those who envision a world of inclusion and for those who conceive and contemplate themselves as part of the new Republic.§

This exhibit was on display at the Brooklyn Museum during March and May 2015.

Photos: From the Wiley Exhibit (k.clements)

 

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Hip Hop Pioneers at St. Albans Library

DJ Divine

MC Davy Jay, DJ Divine, DJ Casino, Livio G…

These names may not be household names, but they represents artists one who paved the way for the likes of Jay Z, Kayne West and Kendrick Lamar.  They are just a few of the Queens Hip Hop Pioneers featured in a photo exhibit curated by Queens Library’s Hip Hop Coordinator, VJ Ralph McDaniels.  On Thursday, June 15 the St. Albans branch of the Queens Library hosted an opening day reception to welcome the exhibit to its new temporary home. 

McDaniels, Video Music Box’s VJ is a legend in his own right and was inducted into the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture for his work.  McDaniels’ has been documenting the story of Queens Hip Hop for the Library.  That has included past conversations with FUBU Founder Damon John and Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC. 

The pre-Father’s Day reception assembled many of the legends depicted in portraits from the exhibit.  As they gathered for the event, talk turned to dollar vans and block parties as friends celebrated the portraits new location. 

“Some of us didn’t talk to each other back then, but we battled,” said MC Davy Jay.  “When we started the blocks had a crew and that crew battled against another crew.  It wasn’t about all this gang stuff”.

At the time, these pioneers, some who are now grandfathers, didn’t know they were playing a significant role in the creation of what is now a billion dollar industry.  These men were merely on their grind.  Some juggled work and school while passionately displaying their craft at area parties and on the stage.  While many now have new careers and pursued very different life paths, some still work in the recording industry and encourage others to investigate careers outside of being an entertainer.  However far they may have strayed from their musical beginnings, they quickly returned as the reception turned into an indoor jam!  With vinyl scratching and old school callout and shout backs, the crowd was on its feet waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care. 

“Like Beef Fried Rice with Extra Duck Sauce/I’m running things and I’m called the boss” chanted MC Davy Jay to a familiar back in the day beat.

Pioneers took their turn on the mic while others, like Livio G, took time to spin. 

The exhibit will continue its tour through Queens stopping at various branches throughout the system.  McDaniels will continue documenting Queens’ hip hop history which will be accessible in Library archives. 

Originally published on Jun 22, 2017 and printed in July 2017 Issue of Communities of Color News.

 

 

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Mayor de Blasio’s Town Hall at August Martin HS

Mayor Bill de Blasio

On Monday, October 16 residents converged on August Martin High School for a Town Hall featuring Mayor de Blasio who referred to Southeast Queens as a “legendary civic minded area”.  The forum was cosponsored by Borough President Melinda Katz, who opened the event with reflections on the Queens, Senator James Sanders, Jr. who served as the moderator and several local civic organizations. 

The Town Hall began with a report from the Mayor on key area initiatives and then the floor was opened to questions.  As per typical de Blasio Town Halls, city agency heads were on hand to address any questions in their specific area.

The opening report was a mix of feel good initiatives with the caveat that “a lot of challenges” remain.  Among the items were a decrease in crime, area anti-violence work which reported “not a single murder” in its catchment area for the past three and half years.  There will be upcoming legislation to address illegal dumping with raises in fines for both first and repeat offenders.  Sanitation enforcement efforts will be doubled in the area. 

The Mayor reminded attendees afterschool programs are free for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  District 27 will take the lead on full day pre-kindergarten for three year olds prior to its citywide rollout.  He announced a $1.7 million dollar investment in a library at August Martin HS. 

The Mayor was at ease in the setting and addressed every question head on.   No question went unanswered or was out of bounds in the long town hall that, at the end, squeezed in as many questions as possible.  de Blasio was straightforward with his responses and reached out to agency heads when needed.  However, most often all that was needed was assurance that an issue would receive follow up.  There was no election time promises or pleas for support.  This Democratic stronghold seemed supportive of its Mayor, but was not bashful about asking challenging questions.

Subjects which were the focus of the most questions included affordable housing, oversaturation of shelters, quality of life and protections for the vulnerable.

Affordable housing will increase in the area for seniors including 150 units through the Northeast Towers annex.  Seniors, the disabled and most vulnerable have priority for affordable housing.  Units will be allocated at a ratio of 50% from the local Community Board area and 50% overall. 

Small Business Services Commissioner Gregory Bishop

In terms of the oversaturation of shelters, the Mayor offered his plans to reorient the approach to shelters.  Individuals will be sheltered in their own borough, the same Community Board they originate from, in an effort to keep individuals connected to their social networks.  The Mayor pledged to “get out of the hotels,” an effort that will take several years.  There will also be job training and education housed within the shelter. 

The Mayor was most forceful in his response to the privatization of NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority).  “We will not allow for privatization,” he said.

On the subject of the effect closing Riker’s Island will mean to Southeast Queens, those leaving will be given transitional jobs in an effort to redirect their path.  “The goal is never to see the inside of a jail cell again,” he said.  New facilities to house inmates will be opened in four of the five boroughs.  The former Queens house of detention, which is adjacent to the court houses on Queens Boulevard, has been tentatively named as the Queens location.  It is the only site in Queens under consideration and the best fit as it formerly functioned as a detention house. 

On education, the Mayor said the city is not looking to create additional specialized schools and it will take state legislation to make changes to the current testing and makeup of those schools.  There is a goal to align graduation rates to college readiness.  “It will take a long time,” said the Mayor concerning those efforts.   The Mayor supports charter schools which meet public school standards.

There will be a $2.6 million upgrade to Bryne Park and a $4.6 million dollar upgrade to the Jamaica Park playground.  Cameras will be added to Baisley Houses and $2 billion dollars have been allocated to address and end the flooding in Southeast Queens. 

What can be done to improve Access-a-Ride?  “There needs to be more convenient and more flexible vehicles,” the Mayor said after educating residents that MTA holds the responsibility for Access-a-Ride.

The Mayor said body cameras will go a long way to holding police accountable to violence in communities, he connected the proper city agencies with those who asked about jobs for veterans and the formerly incarcerated and for those seeking support for civics works.  Attendees were reminded that the certification process for Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBE) has been revamped to a more streamlined format.  The city has set the goal that 30% of government contracts will be allocated to M/WBE.

“It will be a community center again,” said the Mayor regarding the Baisley houses community center which has been shuttered for years. 

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JSPOA Celebrates 45 Years

Happy Birthday! For a senior citizen, you look more vibrant everyday.

The Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA) celebrates its 45th year of providing services to seniors in Southeast Queens. 

 JSPOA was founded by Theodora Jackson, the Director of the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica’s Older Adult Program, in the 1970s.   Based on a church assessment, she noted there was a large demand for senior housing. The first senior housing complex, LIHFE (Low Income Housing for the Elderly) was erected on Jamaica Avenue and 170th Street.   In 1972, First Presbyterian asked CSS, a Manhattan nonprofit specializing in social services, to act as their parent agency to help provide services for seniors in the LIHFE building. In 1977, the program no longer needed the parent company’s assistance and incorporated on its own.

Today, JSPOA operates five senior centers, a program for victims of crime (elder abuse, domestic violence) and an employment program for seniors over 55 years of age. Over the years JSPOA has been known for its innovative programs such as their HIV/AID program Senior Educating Senior and Action Coalition. JSPOA has addressed senior food insecurity and sponsored shopping trips to supermarkets where seniors can access fresh and affordable food items.

It provides respite and resources for caregivers and continues to provide quality, innovative services and program to address the needs of seniors. Their motto continues to be “A total community working together to serve its elderly”.

JSPOA reminds the community that its seniors rock. Participate in any of its dances or galas and be prepared to experience a party of hooting, hollering and an untold number of booty-shakings and get downs. JSPOA also has a heart and sensitivity to seniors and their needs. They are not afraid to tackle the challenging issues of the time on behalf of their seniors.

“We want to continue to provide services to address the issues of today’s seniors and keep the agency a viable institution in the community,” said Executive Director Beverly Collier.§ Photos: JSPOA Gala 2014, Yolanda Abdul, Gala participant (k.clements)

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Election Challenges Plaque Mitchell Lama Cooperative

Rochdale Village

‘Nobody cares’.

That was the statement from a cooperator the day after Rochdale Village’s annual shareholders meeting.  Less than 100 individuals reportedly turned out for that meeting where cooperatives are given a report on the state of the Village.  Rochdale Village is the second largest Mitchell Lama complex in New York City with over 5,000 units. 

A week later, Rochdale Village failed to reach the quorum necessary for a valid election to fill open seats on its Board of Directors.  The Election Committee voted to extend the election another day in an effort to receive the additional 64 votes necessary for a quorum.  The cost…an additional $22,000 on top of the over $55,000 already spent on the election. 

What’s at stake?  Some believe Mitchell Lama Properties are facing privatization.  In Brooklyn, residents are fighting against the privatization of Starrett City, a Mitchell Lama Complex.  Brooklyn has lost 4,300 Mitchell Lama units since 1990.  This loss speaks directly to the issue of affordable housing with which the city is currently grappling.  In February 2016, the NYC Council Committee on Housing and Buildings had its first hearing on Mitchell-Lama housing in nearly seven years.  At the hearing the concerns of supporting the developments, protecting affordability and oversight were discussed. 

Elections are typically hard fought, but that is nothing compared to a Rochdale Village Board of Directors Election.  On the days prior to an election, apartments are typically inundated with negative material about candidates which contain anything from accusations of impropriety, assertion of criminal acts by candidates and allegations of corruption.  These materials arrive with no signature from those making the charges and very little evidence to substantiate them. 

Residents are also inundated with election materials: Palm cards, flyers, announcements, used to gain voter attention.  It is clear which candidates have the most finances as their materials come more regularly and are the most alluring: glossy papers and dynamic graphics.  In typically elections, candidates proudly display their parties backing and endorsements.  There is also a dearth of oversight and accountability. 

In a Rochdale Village Board of Directors campaign, there is little to no transparency regarding from whom and where campaign funds are derived.  That mystery has long opened the door to conspiracy theories of Rochdale Village’s Management company’s clandestine involvement in elections.  One such conspiracy theory is that company Managing the Cooperative is using its money and clout to influence the campaign and keep its desired Board Members in place.  Whether or not it is true can not be ascertained without transparency. 

Elected officials are typically hands off on the matter of Board elections and the Management of Mitchell Lama Cooperatives.   However, that may be changing.  Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, recently penned an op-ed and testified about the crisis of the Mitchell Lamas.  Although he was referring to Brooklyn sites and non-cooperative tenant occupancies, he makes some interesting points about Board oversight and city agencies that may be slacking. 

“For too long, the Mitchell-Lama portfolio has lacked funds for regular maintenance and oversight, and many of the boards overseeing these buildings have run amok, playing their own rules while ignoring the needs of residents who generally do not participate in the voting process. Instead of safeguarding the integrity of the Mitchell-Lama program, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) have allowed these select boards to defy the rules regarding apartment allocation, contracting and financial reporting. This needs to change, for the sake of those living under these conditions, and to restore accountability and integrity in the system.”  -Eric Adams

Rochdale Village cooperators have long been trying to receive real attention for its issues from HPD and DHCR.  During the period leading up to its extended one day election, several cooperators were trying to put a face on what they consider unfair promotional practices.  Flyers for one group of candidates were removed from Village wide bulletin boards while another group’s flyers remained in place. 

Jamaica Queens is currently slated for revitalization supported by city and state funds.  Its Downtown area is already seeing developments of hotels and apartments, a portion of those are said to be filled with affordable housing.  The area also has one of the highest concentration of homeless shelters.  JFK International Airport, currently slated for a billion dollar renovation is less than a mile away from Rochdale Village, the Jewel of Jamaica.  This $75 million dollar Mitchell Lama Cooperative exists in the midst of it all.

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Police, Community and Clergy Gather for Healing

Members of Beacon of Peace participate in Interfaith Service

“What can we do in the face of senseless acts of violence…in times of unrest and natural disasters,” asked Father Francis Colamaria from Saint Helen’s Church.

This question was put in the form of a prayer at NYPD’s Patrol Borough Queens South’s Interfaith Prayer Service.  The service, held on Tuesday October 10 at the Sikh Cultural Society, brought together faith leaders, community and law enforcement to share prayers and invite community wide fellowship. 

“The relationship between NYPD and the community is growing stronger,” said Bhai Gurdev Kang of the Sikh Cultural Society.  His prayer was for stronger partnerships and future peace.  “Working together [we can] stand and face any challenge,” he said.

The interfaith service welcomed faith leaders from houses of worships representing various religions across South Queens to lead those present in prayer.  At a time when current events are filled with tragedies from natural disasters and domestic terrorism, it was a means of coming together.  Love and togetherness were the central themes of all the prayers that evening. 

Reverend Greta Gainer Anderson from Greater Allen A.M.E prayed for the strength of togetherness.  “Bind the people of the city of New York to each other and to law enforcement,” she prayed.

Pandit Vishal Maraj from the Hindu Learning Foundation prayed a blessing for police officers.  “May they be the guiding force behind governance,” he said.  Maraj also prayed “that no one suffer.  Peace. Peace. Peace.”

Reverend Ehjaz Nabie from the Faith Assembly Church prayed for “peace, love and unity”.

Rabbi Shlomo Nisanou from the Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim prayed that those gathered know “how fragile the world is…Nothing is forever.”  He prayed that those present “love yourself as you love your friend.  This included the community,” he prayed. 

Bishop Erskine Williams from New Seasons Family Worship Center who also serves as the President of the 103rd Precinct Community Council Board prayed for love and unity.  “[Let us have] love, peace and unity between police and community for the common good of both of us,” he prayed.

“With all the political, social and religious events happening in the US and the city, it is so wonderful that we all come together, sharing faith, and unified as a community,” said Assistant Chief David Barrere.  He invited attendees to fellowship after the service.

Commissioner Marco Carrion from Mayor DeBlasio’s Community Affairs Unit reiterated the Mayor’s commitment to “build police/community relationships”.

After the service, law enforcement, clergy and community gathered for fellowship in the Temple’s hall.  With plenty of food and laughter, individuals of various communities, religions and ages came together to meet and greet.  There were photo opportunities with NYPD leadership, selfies and conversation.

“We join together to keep our neighborhood safe,” said Carrion.