Archive for the 'News & Features' Category

Sean Henry (Source: Henry campaign)

State Senate candidate Sean Henry is putting issues of homelessness and poverty at the center of his campaign to unseat Senator John Sampson. For Henry it’s a personal battle, having emerged from homelessness in a story that could have been penned by Horation Alger.

The East New York resident was profiled by DNAinfo earlier this week, reflecting on his own history of homelessness growing up in Chicago.

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson's district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson’s district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

His parents split up in the 1980s and he was left in the care of his unemployed single mother. They shuffled between the homes of family members, struggled to put food on the table, and eventually landed in homeless shelters.

Throughout that, Henry worked his way through one of Chicago’s leading high schools, joined ROTC and enlisted in the Army Reserve. With help from the G.I. Bill he went on to obtain an undergraduate degree and then a graduate degree at NYU.

He began working for the city’s Department of Homeless Services, advocating for those whose challenges he knew better than most.

From the profile:

If elected, Henry said he wants to fight to eradicate homelessness, not just build new shelters in neighborhoods like East New York.

“We have a record amount of people in shelters and we have to get them out, but we have to get them out long term,” Henry said.

Rather than spend money to house families in shelters, city and state agencies should instead spend money on resources to keep them in their homes, like social workers and housing attorneys, he said.

“We’re spending the money anyway, if they’re going to a shelter,” Henry said. “So why not spend much less and keep families in their home?”

Henry also emphasizes education and more resources to the area’s impoverished schools, as well as fighting for affordable housing.

Henry blasts Sampson’s inability to represent the district while being mired in legal troubles. The pol is facing charges for allegedly stealing more than $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed homes to finance a political campaign, as well as separate charges for lying to the FBI about a liquor store he owned.

The charges have apparently kept Sampson busy. During the legislative session this year, he uttered just one word and introduced no legislation. And Henry said Sampson has utterly failed to obtain Superstorm Sandy recovery funds to hard-hit Canarsie.

“I’m sorry for John,” Henry told DNAinfo. “But he just has too many legal issues and can’t do the job.”

Check out the full profile.

Source: flickrized/Flickr

Is your kid the next Roger Federer or Anna Kournikova? They could be, and now there are free programs at local schools to help them get there.

The New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) organization launched their free community tennis summer programs for kids earlier this month, and registration continues to be open.

The program provides free use of tennis racquets, qualified instructors and lessons to kids ages 5 to 18. Participants will learn the basics of tennis strokes and how to rally, and then be put to the test in competition with others of similar skill levels.

The summer season kicked off July 7, but there are no deadlines to register and no wait lists to slog through. Registration is done on-site, and parents or guardians must accompany the child during the registration process. It’s a six to eight week program which runs three to six hours a day, five days a week – although schedules vary from site to site.

Locally, kids can sign up and begin playing at the following area schools during the days and times indicated:

  • Andries Hudde Junior High School Playground2500 Nostrand Avenue – Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Site director: Bob Spigner
  • P.S. 238 – 1633 East 8th Street - Wednesday and Thursday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. – Site director: Colin Clarke
  • P.S. 229 – 1400 Benson Avenue - Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. - Site director: Colin Clarke
  • McDonald ParkMcDonald Avenue at Avenue S – Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Site director: Gennady Shuminov

More information can be found here. The full list of sites citywide can be found here.

Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten

Yaakov Weingarten (Source: vosizneias.com)

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ordered Midwood Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten and his wife, Rivka, to pay more than $520,000 for setting up phony not-for-profit organizations claiming to benefit Israel and then using the donations as their personal piggy bank.

The Weingartens were busted last summer, accused of operating a call center out of 1493 Coney Island Avenue in Midwood to raise millions of dollars through 19 separate charities. The scammers claimed the funds would go to programs in Israel or to religious activities. But prosecutors say the charities never existed, and the funds instead went to Weingarten and his family.

Weingarten, 53, withdrew more than $2 million from the charity bank accounts between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors said. They used the funds to pay for mortgages on their two homes, remodeiling expenses, personal vehicles, video rentals, dental visits and even a trip to Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. They attempted to hide their shenanigans by transferring funds between the non-profit accounts. It appears the setup was too difficult for even the Weingartens to keep track of; they bounced more than 2,100 checks, resulting in more than $65,000 in donations being wasted on bank overdraft fees.

On Wednesday, the judge ordered the Weingartens to forfeit $522,315 as part of a civil judgement. Approximately $360,000 of those funds will go to two Israeli charitable organizations that carry out actual programs similar to the ones Weingarten claimed during his phony fundraising pitches to donors: the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the preeminent pediatric hospital in Israel, and United Hatzalah of Israel, a leading Israeli volunteer emergency medical services organization.

Weingarten previously pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud, allowing him to escape time behind bars. However, he and his associates, Simon Weiss and David Yifat, are barred from any fundraising or charitable activites in the state of New York. He also faces five years probation, and has already paid $90,685 in restitution as part of the criminal charges.

The judge ordered the dissolution of 11 actual non-profits used by Weingarten, as well as eight that existed in name only. They are as follows:

  • Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Inc.;
  • Shearim, Inc.;
  • Bnei Torah, Inc.;
  • Chesed L’Yisrael V’Chasdei Yosef, Inc.;
  • Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.;
  • Pulse Foundation, Inc.;
  • Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.;
  • Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Congregation Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Shearim Hayad L’Torah Center for Hatzalah L’Shabbat and Chesed L’Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Israel Emergency Center;
  • Magen Israel;
  • Hayad Victim Assistance Fund;
  • Lmaan Hatorah;
  • Our Children;
  • Zaka Israel;
  • Yaldel Simcha Yisrael;
  • Yad Yisrael.

“We are committed to fighting to protect everyday New Yorkers, particularly those who want to use some of their hard-earned money to support charitable causes, because there has to be one set of rules for everyone,” Attorney General Schneiderman said via press release. “My office will use all the tools at our disposal to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous fundraisers for sham charities.”

Borough President Eric Adams and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito / File photo

Following New York City’s sixth drowning death on public property this season, Borough President Eric Adams is calling for a trio of reforms to prevent future drownings.

Adams made the proposals during a press conference yesterday on the boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue, just yards away from where 10-year-old Takara McDuffy was pulled from the water on Tuesday and pronounced dead.

Alongside Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, Adams pushed for water safety reforms to be made at both the city and state levels.

The centerpiece of his proposal is an initiative to require water safety and swimming education in all schools. Adams’ office said they’re working with Coney Island’s State Senator Diane Savino to push the measure in Albany. The proposal would require teaching about the dangers posed by water and provide swimming lessons beginning in the second grade.

Takara McDuffy (Source: Facebook via Daily News)

Takara McDuffy (Source: Facebook)

“Although it’s a beautiful place to be, it could be a very dangerous place if we’re not taught how to be safe in the environment,” said Adams. “Because there’s no clear format of teaching water safety, our children and families are recklessly going to the water’s edge believing that this beautiful ocean is a toy.”

McDuffy’s life might have been saved with such knowledge, Adams suggested. The 10-year-old had been playing on the jetty at Stillwell Avenue after lifeguards went off-duty; she and her sister fell into the water. Neither knew how to swim, and good Samaritans spotted them struggling and dove in, but only McDuffy’s 9-year-old sister could be saved.

Adams and Treyger are also calling for increased enforcement on the becahes after it closes. Treyger said he wants to see the Parks Department boost the number of Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers, and task them with ordering beachgoers out of the water once lifeguards go off-duty.

“We need more PEP officers, not just simply volunteers,” said Treyger. “Particularly when the beach is closed and swimming is over, patrol the beaches to make sure there are no children of families left in the water.”

The Parks Department already has 15 PEP officers stationed on Brighton Beach and Coney Island beach, according to PIX11.

The borough president’s office said they’re also pushing to require CPR training for every city worker, which could provide a veritable army of trained lifesavers across the five borough. A drowning or choking victim can be spared death or brain damage by cutting CPR response time by as little as two minutes, and increasing the number of people trained to provide assistance could drastically reduce response time.

Adams’ staff is looking at legislative options to make the training mandatory.

tayba

Source: Google Maps

UPDATE (4:21 p.m.): The Times has more on both incidents. On the Midwood incident:

On Friday evening, outside a prayer gathering preceding the nightly meal, men in a white Lexus flung eggs at three elderly worshipers entering a mosque on Coney Island Avenue. “This is for your Allah!” the vandals shouted.

And on the Bay Ridge incident:

Two days later, just as dawn broke on Sunday, 25 blocks away, a group of teenagers rolled past the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge seven times in a car, blaring with makeshift sirens and lights. “Burn to the ground!” they chanted as they waved Israeli flags. When the car stopped, a young worshiper retaliated by hurling a bottle, nicking one of the hecklers on his nose and hands.

UPDATE (4:13 p.m.): We just heard back from sources at the 61st Precinct, who tell us that the two incidents appear to be separate. Those in the vehicle involved in the Midwood incident did not wave Israeli flags or display anything related to Israel or Judaism. From a white vehicle, they pelted the worshipers with eggs. Both incidents are being investigated by the Hate Crimes Task Force.

Original post:

A group of hooligans circled mosques in Midwood and Bay Ridge over the weekend, shouting anti-Muslim slurs and pelting worshipers with eggs, according to local religious leaders.

NY1 reports:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says a car circled a Bay Ridge mosque while its passengers waved Israeli flags and yelled anti-Islamic slurs Sunday morning.

A spokesman for a Sheepshead Bay mosque says a similar incident happened there Friday, but the group in the car also threw eggs at elderly worshipers.

JPUpdates identified the Sheepshead Bay mosque as Tayba Islamic Center, located at 2165 Coney Island Avenue, just south of Avenue R in Midwood. According to that outlet, the incidents were caught on surveillance cameras and the video has been turned over to police.

The incidents came to light during a press conference on Tuesday hosted by the Islamic Society Center of Bay Ridge, where the actions were condemned by local politicians and Jewish and Muslim religious leaders.

JPUpdates reported on their statements:

“We will not tolerate the desecration of any type against churches, mosques and synagogues in this city,” State Senator Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) declared.

“At this center, we have been with good relationships with everybody around us—all the neighbors around us, irrespective of their religion, irrespective of their ethnic origin—we are good with everybody,” Dr. Husam Rimawi, President of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, said.

… Councilmember Vincent Gentile read a statement on behalf of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I am appalled by the reports of intimidation and harassment against mosques in New York. We have seen this ugly side rear its head before. Our city has also spent many years trying to heal and bridge divides,” Mark-Viverito said. “All people have the right to worship freely, without threats. Religious freedom is a core principle of our nation and protected by the Constitution.”

.. “It really breaks my heart,” Jewish community leader Douglas Jablon said. “We are relatives — we have the same grandfather, and we should act like it,” he said.

“It makes me very deeply sad that anyone would behave in a harassing way to someone else’s worship,” Rabbi Valerie Lieber of the Kane Street Synagogue said. “I know many people are very upset about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. And yet there are appropriate ways to express yourself — not to harass other people.”

Sampson (File photo)

State Senator John Sampson, facing three primary challengers and multiple federal corruption charges, has the backing of Brooklyn’s top Democrat even as his reelection chances look bleak.

The influential chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee, Frank Seddio, says that the organization is not formally backing the embattled pol. Seddio, however, is also a district leader in Sampson’s area and the head of the powerful Thomas Jefferson Club. In those capacities, he’s tossed his hat in with Sampson.

“I’m the local district leader in this area. John Sampson represents almost my entire political district, 59 percent of my district, and he’s been our senator for the last 18 years,” Seddio told City & State. “So our club is supporting him. The county (Democratic committee) doesn’t take positions on these types of things.”

Seddio has put his attorney to getting Sampson challenger Dell Smitherman, considered a leading contender for the seat, kicked off the ballot. The attorney, Bernard “Mitch” Alter, has formally requested that the Board of Election toss out hundreds of petitions – signatures needed to get on the ballot – which would leave Smitherman out of the race.

Sources told City & State that Seddio views the race as a test of his leadership within the county party, not just within the Jefferson clubhouse that Sampson is a member of.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the inner workings of Brooklyn politics described the situation differently, linking Seddio’s support for Sampson directly to the official Brooklyn party organization.

“Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is taking two races very seriously and as a test of his leadership,” said the Brooklyn political insider. “The first is the recently vacated seat of Eric Adams, and the second is the Sampson seat. He is doing everything he can … to ensure that John Sampson is protected and reelected.”

While the county organization might not be formally backing Sampson, there’s little to differentiate between Seddio’s wishes and that of county. Having Seddio’s support, for example, could give Sampson access to campaign donors eager to curry favor with the county boss, not to mention that it’s already given him access to election lawyers as the petition process shows.

Similarly, Seddio’s influence as county boss extends to all of his other roles, insiders say.

One insider with a Democratic club told Sheepshead Bites that Seddio was unhappy with the group after they released their first batch of endorsements, which included Smitherman. Seddio requested that he be consulted on future endorsements – a request that was granted as the club needs Seddio’s approval as a recognized chapter of the Democratic party. In that role, he was able to vouch for his candidates as district leader and head of the Thomas Jefferson Club, but his words were given extra consideration because he’s county chair, the insider said. (The insider notes that they now consult with him on all endorsements, although they do not always endorse the candidates Seddio supports.)

Seddio’s support is about all Sampson can count on, though. The 18-year-incumbent and one-time head of the State Senate Democratic Conference has seen support dry up, raising only $34,000 for this year’s campaign. Smitherman reports having $47,000 on hand, and Sean Henry reported nearly $56,000. Both Smitherman and Henry have also scored crucial union endorsements.

Sampson was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Takara McDuffy (Source: Facebook via Daily News)

Takara McDuffy (Source: Facebook via Daily News)

A good Samaritan yanked a 10-year-old girl and her 9-year-old sister from the water at Coney Island beach after seeing them fall off a nearby rock jetty, but the older girl did not survive.

Takara McDuffy was pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital shortly after the 7 p.m. beach rescue near Stillwell Avenue. The medical examiner will determine the cause of death, but it is presumed to be a drowning.

The girls, from Staten Island, were playing at the beach with a group of family friends. Witnesses told reporters that they were playing on the jetty unsupervised and fell into the water. Bystanders jumped to action, and pulled both girls to shore.

The New York Post reports:

“People came rushing from all over to help out. It was horrible, it was chaotic,” said witness Ena ­McCaskill.

After a frantic, 10-minute search, a man found the girl floating about 100 yards from the jetty.

“He had a sound of desperation in his voice,” McCaskill recalled. “He was yelling for somebody to help him save the girl.”

Another good Samaritan administered CPR on the beach.

“A regular guy grabbed her and started doing CPR,” said witness Joseph ­Josephs, 24. “He was pounding her chest for a good minute. A lot of water was coming from her mouth.”

McDuffy’s parents lashed out at those who were supposed to be watching over their daughters, the Daily News reports.

The gathered friends and family demanded to know why little Takara – who could not swim – was apparently unsupervised by the group of adults she had gone to the beach with.

“It took a man to jump into the water and pull her out. Some man saw Takara’s body floating and he jumped in,” the family member said.

“Why wasn’t nobody paying attention? You was there all day and let her go in the water. Why wouldn’t you ask if she could swim?”

The incident happened less than an hour after lifeguards packed up for the evening. Swimming is prohibited at city beaches after 6:00 p.m., and there were no lifeguards on duty.

According to Borough President Eric Adams, it’s the sixth drowning death of the summer. Along with Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, Adams will hold a press conference near the beach today to reiterate his call for citywide reforms to make public beaches safer, and will also be distributing the following fliers sharing water safety tips.

Water Safety Tips

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by Diana Bruk

White Island, Marine Park inlet (Source: Google Maps)

White Island (Source: Google Maps)

A group of New Yorkers hailing from all five boroughs gathered early Saturday morning at the Marine Park salt marsh for a rare canoeing adventure to White Island. The three-hour, complimentary guided tour was the second and last trip of the season, and the island (which is wrapping up construction), is only accessible by water and currently closed to those unaccompanied by an Urban Park Ranger.

Our visit was one of the first opportunities to see the island in the final phases of a $15 million restoration that began in 2011. After years of erosion and naturally shifting wetland topography, White Island – also known as Mau Mau Island – was re-shored, cleaned up, purged of invasive phragmites, and replanted with native grasses to serve as a habitat for migratory birds.

Read about our trip to the wilds of White Island, and see the pretty photos.

grimm2Congressman Michael Grimm, facing a 20-count indictment on tax evasion, fraud and illegal hiring practices, may now head to trial in October, a month before elections.

SILive reports:

Speaking at a status conference in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gatta said that motion procedures and hearings in the case could be held by the end of September, with a trial to begin the following month.

… Gatta said that the discovery in the case is “not particularly voluminous” and that the case itself “is fairly straightforward.”

Grimm’s new attorney, Daniel Rashbaum, said that that “schedule may be OK. I don’t know yet.”

He sought a three- or four-week delay so that he could look at the evidence. By then, Rashbaum said, he’d have a better idea “what the discovery looks like in my mind.”

But U.S. District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen said she would give Rashbaum, who notified the court last week that he was taking over the defense, two weeks to “dive into the material.”

Prior to the conference yesterday, observers believed Grimm would not go to trial until after the November 4 elections, when he faces off against Democrat Domenic Recchia. If the prosecution’s request for an October court date is granted, it would be a significant blow to the pol, who will have to fight simultaneously for his seat and his freedom.

Source: beigeinside/Flickr

B LINE

From 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday, Manhattan-bound B trains run local from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park.

Q LINE

From 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Hwy.

F LINE

From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Monday to Friday, there are no F trains between Roosevelt Av and 21 St-Queensbridge. F service operates in two sections as follows:

  1. Between 179 St and Roosevelt Av.
  2. Between Coney Island and 21 St-Queensbridge.

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