Archive for the tag 'government'

Akselrod (l) and Cymbrowitz (r)

Akselrod (l) and Cymbrowitz (r)

Nobody beats the ‘witz, at least not in the 2014 primary elections.

Fourteen-year incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz won his party’s nod for reelection to the 45th Assembly District last night in one of the closest elections in the borough. But it was a solid victory for the local pol, who bested challenger Ben Akselrod by a margin nearly double that won during his 2012 matchup against the same candidate.

Cymbrowitz gave his victory speech just before 11pm last night, when his team had tallied up initial reports from approximately 70 percent of precincts.

“It was a terrific campaign. We more than doubled our victory from two years ago,” he said of the preliminary numbers that came in before all votes were counted. “I want to thank every part of my community … This was really very, very special.”

Preliminary results from the Board of Elections show Cymbrowitz with 2,137 votes, or 57.2 percent of the total, versus Ben Akselrod’s 1,599 votes, or 42.8 percent. In both percentage and actual votes, Cymbrowitz showed sizable gains over his opponent, who he beat by just eight points, or 294 votes in 2012. The margin this year was 538 votes, or 14 points.

Voters may not have seen the last of Ben Akselrod in this campaign season, however. The candidate filed an opportunity to ballot on the Republican line, a procedure that could have him in the general election if he organized enough write-in votes from Republican voters yesterday. The Board of Election will take several weeks to count, review and certify those ballots to make it official.

The win appeared to surprise some political observers, who believed Cymbrowitz’s strength had been diminished by the growing political influence of Russian and Jewish voters in the district that they believed would fall more heavily to Askelrod, who is both Russian and Orthodox Jewish.

It was a tough fought and, at times, nasty campaign, with allegations of voter harassment on the Sabbath, mysterious race-tinged fliers, and anonymous phone calls that attacked the incumbent’s wife for not being Jewish.

Cymbrowitz alluded to one of those negative attacks in his victory speech.

“I particularly want to thank [my wife] Vilma for not only being a great support, but keeping her cool when she had to when the attacks started coming,” he said.

Cymbrowitz will now move on to the general elections on November 4, where he’ll face off against Mikhail Usher, who is running on the Conservative Party line, and possibly Akselrod on the Republican line.

Primary Day is upon us, so we’ve compiled some information to make voting as easy as possible.

  • Polls are open from 6am to 9pm. You can find where you should vote, as well as see a sample ballot, here. For example, neighbors living in the 45th Assembly District (Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Midwood) are going to see a ballot that looks like this.
  • If you need further help locating your polling place, you can call the city’s voter phone bank at 866-VOTE-NYC.
  • The city Campaign Finance Board also has a good resource page, detailing how and where to vote, who your candidates are, district maps and more.
  • The city Board of Elections has said that polling places should be accessible to handicapped voters, but if you find barriers to voting, you can call the Brooklyn Board of Elections at (718) 797-8800.
  • Additionally, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office will operate a statewide election day hotline, at which you can speak with attorneys about problems at the polls, which will be open until the polls close at 9pm. Schneiderman is encouraging voters to report issues or problems at polls by calling (800) 771-7755 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov at any time until 9pm.

And, of course, if you encounter problems at the polls, you can let us know in the comments below or by emailing editor@sheepsheadbites.com.

Statewide Races

Every Democrat in New York State has the opportunity to vote in today’s primary, in which Governor Andrew Cuomo is being challenged for the party’s nod on the left by both Zephyr Teachout and Randy Credico. Cuomo is expected to win by a wide margin, but the race is being seen as a measure of dissatisfaction against the incumbent. Teachout, a Fordham professor who lives in Fort Greene, has been embraced by the city’s progressives for criticizing Cuomo as a lackluster economic moderate who has failed to come through on a promise to clean up Albany. The third candidate, Credico, who is also running on the Green line, is prioritizing reforms in the criminal justice system primarily by legalizing marijuana and releasing non-violent offenders.

There is also a Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, where Cuomo’s handpicked choice Kathy Hochul is being challenged by Teachout’s running mate, Tim Wu. Hochul, an upstate moderate and former Congressional representative, has been on the ropes for most of the campaign, defending her liberal record to progressives. Both Wu and Teachout have used her as a prop to suggest Cuomo is more conservative than he lets on. Wu’s priorities are fighting corruption and dismantling corporate monopolies, while Hochul is focusing on the NY DREAM Act and the Women’s Equality Act.

For more on these candidates, check out the League of Women Voters’ Vote411.org project and WNYC’s Election Guide, both of which include questionnaires and profiles of each.

For an insider’s view of primary day, check out the guides from the New York Observer and Capital NY.

Local Races

Locally, the two races to watch are for the 45th District of the State Assembly and the 19th District of the State Senate.

Incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz is fending off a challenge from Ben Akselrod for the Democratic ticket. Akselrod lost to Cymbrowitz in 2012 by just a few hundred votes. Cymbrowitz has spent much of his campaign discussing his legislative record, especially in his role as chairman of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Committee, and arguing that his seniority in the legislative body will allow him to do more for the community. Akselrod has largely sought to seize on popular resentment of the government’s response to Superstorm Sandy, as well as positioning himself as the faith values candidate for the Jewish community. You can read our coverage of Cymbrowitz here, and Akselrod here.

In the 19th District of the State Senate, incumbent John Sampson is fending off challenges from two well-organized candidates, Dell Smitherman and Sean Henry, as well as other contenders. Sampson is in hot water with the law, and is awaiting trial on charges of embezzling $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed homes to be used for a failed political campaign, as well as for lying to federal investigators. Smitherman, a union organizer, has lined up the backing of organized labor. Henry, an advocate for the homeless, has performed well in fundraising and is pledging to address issues of poverty and foreclosure plaguing much of the district. Read our coverage of Sampson, Smitherman and Henry.

– Additional reporting by Ned Berke.

A DOT speed-enforcement camera sits at this location, fining people who fail to slow down after exiting the highway. (Source: Google Maps)

A DOT speed-enforcement camera sits at this location, fining people who fail to slow down after exiting the highway. (Source: Google Maps)

While opponents of a camera-enforced speed trap on a Belt Parkway exit ramp cry foul, the Department of Transportation says “tough luck.”

The agency said it has no plans to move the speed enforcement camera placed on Shore Parkway at the end of the highway’s Ocean Parkway exit ramp, despite complaints from neighbors and a local City Council member that it’s unfair and undermines the program’s credibility.

A spokesperson for DOT would not confirm the placement of the camera, saying it’s the agency’s policy not to disclose camera locations. However, the spokesperson added that there are no plans to relocate any cameras in Southern Brooklyn.

Moreover, the spokesperson disputed the assertion that it’s a “gotcha” location, noting that the ramp is approximately 400 feet long, enough distance to slow down from highway speeds, and that a sign has been placed indicating that the speed limit is 30 miles per hour.

Violations are not issued to motorists going 10 miles or less over the speed limit, the spokesperson added.

That answer isn’t good enough, said Councilman Mark Treyger. The pol’s office has been flooded with complaints from ticket recipients and yesterday he called on the agency to move the camera closer to Ocean Parkway.

“I don’t think that [the DOT] even addressed my concern. No residents asked them to measure the length of the exit ramp,” said Treyger. “We didn’t ask them to measure how long it is. We asked them, in the interest of public safety, to move it where pedestrians are actually using [a crosswalk].”

Treyger said he’s going to appeal to the agency to reconsider the location. His office will also begin notifying residents to be aware of the camera.

The councilman, a former school teacher, said the placement of the camera does little to protect students at nearby Lincoln High School or other pedestrians, since it’s not placed near a pedestrian crosswalk.

“To my knowledge I don’t believe any pedestrians are crossing near exit ramps for highways,” Treyger said. There is no sidewalk on the highway side of Shore Parkway where the camera is placed.

By moving it just a few hundred feet up the block to the Ocean Parkway intersection, they can catch motorists who are speeding through crosswalks. The current placement instead has the appearance of enforcement for revenue-generating purposes, the pol suggested.

“The goal of the speed cameras is to protect public safety and make sure people are abiding by laws. But when you place them in these ‘gotcha’ locations it really threatens to undermine the credibility of this program. We want to save lives, but ‘gotcha’ locations in my opinion don’t accomplish that goal,” he said.

Clarification (3:00 p.m.): The camera itself is in Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s district, not Treyger’s – although many affected by it are in Treyger’s district. We are reaching out to Deutsch’s office as well.

camera-1

Neighbors are crying foul over what appears to be a high-tech speed trap, after learning that the Department of Transportation placed a speed enforcement camera where they say speeding is unavoidable.

The camera is placed adjacent to Lincoln High School on Shore Parkway, between West Avenue and Ocean Parkway. It’s perched just above where the Belt Parkway exit ramp leads into the service road – catching drivers while they’re still decelerating from highway speeds.

“This camera seems to be conveniently placed so close to the exit ramp that you are almost guaranteed to set off this speed trap,” said neighbor Connie C., who was shocked to find a $50 ticket in the mail for a July 22 drive past the location. “[It's] positioned right in between the exit ramp and the entrance ramp, so basically they have you either way. As you are accelerating to get onto the ramp to enter the highway or coming off the highway at 50mph. I thought is seemed quite fishy.”

(UPDATE [September 4, 2014]: The DOT will not relocate the camera. Read that story here.)

Approximate location of the camera, between the exit and entrance ramps. (Source: Google Maps)

Approximate location of the camera, between the exit and entrance ramps. (Source: Google Maps)

Connie, who said she generally supports the use of speed cameras, isn’t the only neighbor to notice. Councilman Mark Treyger’s office said they’ve received numerous complaints and the pol is outraged at the apparent money grab.

“The role of speed cameras is to reduce speeding and increase safety in appropriate locations around our neighborhood. They should not be placed in locations like the start of an exit ramp because this ‘gotcha’ location plays into fears of many that these cameras are solely revenue generating machines,” said Treyger.

The pol is urging the DOT to move the camera closer to Ocean Parkway, where they’ll have more time to slow down after exiting the highway.

“Speed cameras can have an important role to play in our efforts to eliminate fatalities on city streets, but placing them in highly questionable locations threatens to undermine this program’s credibility,” he said.

Per a report this week, there are 23 active speed cameras operating near school intersections. They’ve issued 183,000 tickets since the first cameras came online in January. That number is about to skyrocket to 140 total speed cameras after Albany approved the expansion earlier this year.

The Department of Transportation did not return a request for comment on this article. The DOT said they will not move the camera, as the 400-foot-long ramp provides enough room to slow down safely.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and challenger Ben Akselrod sought to distinguish themselves from each other at a candidate’s forum for the 45th Assembly District organized by the Manhattan Beach Community Group last week. Although the rivals agreed on many issues, the two expressed different approaches to campaign financing and improving traffic safety, among a few other disagreements.

Cymbrowitz, Akselrod

Though the campaigns have been in full swing for many months, the two candidates for the Democratic primary had not yet done much to set themselves apart ideologically. Aside from an uninspiring dust-up over nominating petitions, voters had only the incumbent’s record and his challenger’s claims from his 2012 campaign to base their vote until Wednesday’s forum.

The two differed on public financing of campaigns, an initiative that watchdogs say would limit or eliminate the influence of special interests. Public financing sets caps on how much contributors can give to a person seeking office, and offers matching funds for small donations from individuals. New York City has a public financing system for the City Council and other citywide posts, while Albany does not.

Akselrod said he opposes public funding because the public should not pay for it.

“We have too much money going through government and this is where it shouldn’t be. We have numerous examples of people running for office … for one single reason, to get matching funds. I do not want people’s money to be involved in a campaign,” he said.

He did not provide any examples of such candidates. Public financing proposals all impose far stricter spending controls on campaign funds than Albany currently has, and funds cannot be used for personal expenses.

Cymbrowitz threw his support in for public financing, in line with the majority of Democrats in Albany. Public financing of campaigns has so far been blocked by Senate Republicans.

“For the last six years I’ve voted in favor of [public financing] … it has not passed the state legislature because the Republican Senate has not voted in favor of it,” Cymbrowitz said. “We’re very hopeful that this year after the November election the governor will put in a campaign finance program that Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate will be able to vote for.”

Akselrod, however, did say that ethics reforms would be at the top of his priority list. One area he hopes to see reform is in the use of discretionary funding, a small pot of money pols are given to distribute to groups in their district. The challenger said he hoped to implement something along the lines of participatory budgeting (although his words were “participatory democracy”), a program in the Council where the community itself proposes and votes on such items.

Cymbrowitz pointed out that this year is the first time in five years that state legislators were given the funds. He didn’t directly answer the moderator’s question on how more controls can be put on the spending, but did note that the funds are used to keep non-profits and community organizations funded. He said oversight is provided by the agencies that the money is allocated through, which have their own criteria, not the legislators who steered it.

On road safety, both candidates said that enforcement technologies like speed cameras were not enough (and outright opposed by Akselrod). Cymbrowitz said more police enforcement was necessary, and expressed hope that the new leadership at the 61st Precinct and in the citywide administration would be more responsive. Akselrod pushed his proposal, first made in June, for mandatory driving courses in high school.

The event was cordial and the two rarely interacted with each other. They agreed on most issues including:

  • Medical marijuana – in favor of the limited program that passed in Albany earlier this year, and oppose full legalization and legalization of smokable forms of medical marijuana.
  • Moreland Commission – Governor Andrew Cuomo should not have disbanded it. Cymbrowitz said he looks forward to the Attorney General continuing the investigations.
  • Democratic National Convention in Brooklyn  - both said they were for it, noting the potential increase in economic activity.
  • Charter schools – a good initiative, but co-locations with public schools should be stopped.
  • Term limits for Albany legislators – they both opposed term limits, saying elections were sufficient.

Primary elections will be held on September 9.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The following is a press release from the offices of Councilman Mark Treyger and Assemblyman Bill Colton:

Council Member Mark Treyger and Assembly Member Bill Colton are calling on the MTA to provide public notification within 24 hours of cases of confirmed bedbug sightings on any trains, buses or in stations. The proposal comes after a number of incidents involving bedbugs on several trains along the N line, in addition to trains on the Q and 6 lines. On Monday, an N train was taken out of service at DeKalb Avenue and a conductor received medical attention as a result of bedbugs. Currently, the MTA does not have a formal policy for informing the public about these incidents.

In response, Treyger and Colton are proposing state legislation, supported by a City Council resolution, requiring the MTA to take the same steps to inform its customers as it does for other emergencies or service delays, including social media outreach. In addition, the MTA would have to detail the steps it is taking to remedy these situations and protect the public’s health while using public transportation. This proposal has support from the Transport Workers Union (TWU), whose members have been impacted by the outbreaks. Council Member Treyger and Assembly Member Colton were joined at today’s press conference in front of the N train station on Kings Highway by District Leader-elect Nancy Tong and a number of residents who regularly use this line and are concerned about the lack of information from the MTA about the recent outbreaks. Council Member Treyger and Colton now plan to move forward with this legislation, putting a formal procedure in place to respond to outbreaks and notify the public.

“This is an important issue that the MTA has to take much more seriously on behalf of the millions of New Yorkers that ride its buses and trains, as well as its employees. The MTA has an obligation to inform the public of any bedbug sightings or outbreaks due to the health implications that are involved. However, the MTA must also consider the economic consequences of bedbug infestations in a home, especially for working New Yorkers who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars in fumigation or cleaning bills. The MTA can easily inform the public in much the same manner it does for service delays, and we deserve to know exactly what steps it is taking to respond to bedbug infestations,” said Council Member Treyger.

”The public has a right to know if there is a confirmed detection of bedbugs on trains or buses. The families of riders and transit workers must be given the opportunity to take protective measures to minimize the chance of bedbug infestation being transported to their homes and places of work,” said Assembly Member Colton.

“Families are rightfully worried about the disruption and large economic costs that bedbugs can cause, if carried into their homes. Families have a right to be informed as to how to protect themselves from this risk,” said District Leader-elect Tong.

Photo by Erica Sherman

Nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy came ashore, many of our neighbors are still struggling to rebuild. Local pols are trying to make it a little easier by bringing in-office services to the community.

Council members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch are both hosting reps at their offices from various agencies to help in the recovery.

Deutsch has a representative from Build it Back in his 2401 Avenue U office every other week, available by appointment only. After complaints from constituents that Build it Back was not readily accessible, even after the promises from the agency to ramp up its effectiveness, the rep is being made available to review cases one-on-one and cut through the red tape. Appointments can be made by calling the district office at (718) 368-9176, and the rep will provide help and insight, in addition to giving them a status update regarding their application.

Meanwhile, Treyger is working with The Legal Aid Society and the city’s Build it Back program to provide residents with free assistance at his 445 Neptune Avenue district office in Coney Island.

A representative from The Legal Aid Society will be at the office each Tuesday through mid-September to meet with residents still experiencing the impacts of Superstorm Sandy and to assist with the following issues: landlord/tenant disputes over repairs and rent abatements; Temporary Disaster Assistance Program (TDAP) vouchers or Section 8 vouchers received due to displacement by the storm; consumer debt collection; flood insurance issues; Small Business Administration (SBA) loans; and contractor fraud. The lawyer is available to meet confidentially by appointment or on a first-come, first-served basis on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In addition, a case manager from the city’s Build it Back program is available every other Monday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

To make an appointment at Treyger’s office for either service, call (718) 373-9673.

“Many storm victims still have difficult and important decisions to make, so it is imperative that they have someone they can turn to for reliable information and advice. I urge anyone who needs legal assistance as a result of Superstorm Sandy or help navigating the Build it Back program to take advantage of these programs available right here in the community,” said Treyger in announcing the service.

Source: Wikimedia Common

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be avoiding Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods that supported his electoral rival, Joe Lhota, including Sheepshead Bay and Bensonhurst, according to a report in the New York Observer.

The outlet reports that de Blasio has held press conferences in neighborhoods where he performed well in November’s elections, but has failed to appear at all in the more conservative enclaves of Southern Brooklyn.

Mr. de Blasio, a Brooklynite, held press conferences in Democratic strongholds like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York over the first seven and a half months of his administration. But along the southern swath of Brooklyn–in neighborhoods including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Boro Park, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Mill Basin and Bergen Beach–Mr. de Blasio has not scheduled a public appearance since becoming mayor in January.

Mr. Lhota bested Mr. de Blasio in those southern Brooklyn neighborhoods, in some election districts winning as much as 80 percent of the vote. Citywide, Mr. Lhota was crushed, winning only 24 percent of the vote to Mr. de Blasio’s 73 percent.

Prior to the elections, de Blasio sightings were fairly common in areas like Manhattan Beach and Brighton Beach. After votes were cast overwhelmingly in favor of Lhota in those neighborhoods, he hasn’t been heard from. The Observer reports that some in the Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst neighborhoods are complaining of the same.

Public appearances are one measure of the mayor’s responsiveness to a community. Another could be the dispatching of high-ranking officials to those neighborhoods, and on that there appears to be mixed results. The Department of Transportation commissioner and Build it Back head have both engaged Southern Brooklyn communities and appeared responsive.

At the same time, the mayor’s office gave a last-minute denial to the Santa Rosalia Society’s request for a date change of the 18th Avenue Feast. The request was made to address community concerns about garbage pickup after the event, but the mayor’s office offered no explanation for the denial despite multiple requests.

Steven Cymbrowitz (l.) and Ben Akselrod (r.)

With two weeks to go before the September 9 primary elections, the Democratic candidates for the 45th Assembly District will attend a candidates night at the Manhattan Beach Community Group meeting on Wednesday.

The race is a reprise of the 2012 elections, with incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz fending off a challenge from Ben Akselrod. It’s been a particularly quiet race so far, although the candidates have traded barbs on such compelling issues as nominating petitions.

That could change during the 8:00 p.m. meeting at P.S. 195 (131 Irwin Street), where the two are both confirmed to attend and will face questions from the public about their views on various issues.

The group has hosted several debates and candidates nights for recent elections, and regularly asks tough policy questions submitted from group members and the broader public.

President Judy Baron emphasized to Sheepshead Bites that this event would be no different, and that all are invited to attend no matter where they live in the district. Questions can be submitted for consideration at the beginning of the event.

Sunny Skies

Source: Sunny Skies

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the preliminary recipients of $340 million in pre-kindergarten funding yesterday, including a couple in our area - Brighton Beach’s Sarah Winner Group Family Day Care and Sunny Skies Preschool.

Provided state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli approves the awards, Sarah Winner Group Family Day Care (2997 Ocean Parkway) will land $120,000 from the state and Sunny Skies Coney Island (2585 Coney Island Avenue) will receive $300,000 as part of a program that is awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for 81 school districts and community-based organizations across the state.

The funding, which is included in the 2014-15 state budget, is the first installment in the governor’s commitment to invest $1.5 billion over the next five years to build a statewide universal full-day pre-kindergarten program.

The city Department of Education is slated to land nearly $300 million to build its universal pre-kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds in the city – which stems from Cuomo’s promise to pay for such a program in lieu of Mayor Bill de Blasio raising taxes to pay for it, as the mayor had originally aimed to do upon taking office.

The funds slated for private daycare operators are to fill the gap in the number of seats required to meet the need, which the Department of Education alone does not have the space for.

“Training and educating young minds is one of the smartest investments we can make as a state, as studies demonstrate that pre-kindergarten has a long lasting, positive influence on our children’s education and future success,” Cuomo said in his press release. “The state budget this year included a major investment in early education, putting New York state on the path to become just the fourth state in the nation to establish universal full day pre-K. The awards we are announcing today will enable tens of thousands of children to attend pre-K classes, and represent another step in the State’s work to prepare our students to compete in the 21st century economy.”

As part of state and city officials push for a full-day pre-kindergarten program, numerous lawmakers and educators, including Cuomo and de Blasio, stressed that studies have shown that children who participate in early education programs are more likely to read at grade level and graduate from high school than those who do not.

“We are proud to have Governor Cuomo as a strong partner in making pre-K for All a reality for the children of New York City,” de Blasio said in the same release. “This funding represents a powerful commitment by the State to build a new, stronger education foundation that will transform our schools. We are working tirelessly to make good on this opportunity to deliver new pre-K options, improve existing ones and build a high-quality system that lifts up every child.”

The full list of recipients of the $340 million is available here.

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