Archive for the tag 'politics'

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is backtracking on details of an overseas trip in which he spent more than $1,300 in campaign funds at a hotel, three restaurants and a gift shop in Barcelona and Germany, bringing guffaws from good government advocates.

The local pol’s European spending, first reported by the New York Observer, covered a three-day spree in February. Cymbrowitz’s campaign finance disclosures show he spent $189 at a souvenir shop in Munich, which he filed away as “office expenses.” In Barcelona, the assemblyman spent $819 at the five-star Hotel Majestic, and nearly $300 over four visits to three restaurants, including the top-rated tapas bar Cerveceria Catalana.

Asked about the spending by Sheepshead Bites following the Observer article, Cymbrowitz spokesperson Adrienne Knoll forward the following statement which was also sent to the Observer:

As the child of Holocaust survivors, I promised my parents I would do everything in my power to help Holocaust survivors and to not let our world fall into the destructive grips of fascism ever again. In keeping that pledge I made more than 50 years ago, I visited Munich, Germany, and had an opportunity to visit the Dachau memorial site, where more than 32,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed. During my visit I was reminded of the fact that one in four of the approximately 140,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States – 38,000 of whom live in Brooklyn, the majority of them in my district – are living at or below the poverty line.

After a number of Russian-speaking survivors in my district were denied benefits from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany due to bureaucratic snafus, my office intervened. To advocate on behalf of these Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors, I met with a board member from the Claims Conference during my trip to Munich, as well as with a number of board members back here in the U.S., in order to rectify the situation and to ensure that some small measure of justice is achieved.

I also met with city officials in Munich to discuss the issue of Neo-Nazism and how the German government works on putting together programs for the Jewish community to help Jewish seniors and children. As the state legislator with the largest Sephardic Jewish population in the state, I was invited to Barcelona to meet with city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations.

The spokesperson added the following, “[Cymbrowitz] went with other legislators. [The Observer] made it sound like a solo excursion and that wasn’t the case.”

However, after follow-up questions asking Cymbrowitz’s office to specify legislators were also on the trip, the spokesperson reversed course on that assertion.

“One correction….he didn’t go with other legislators. Sorry,” Knoll said, via e-mail.

In response to our request for details on his being “invited” to Barcelona, we received another e-mail stating, “He was not invited to Barcelona. That was an error. As the assemblyman who represents a large Sephardic community with roots in Spain, he went to Barcelona to meet with the remaining members of the Sephardic community to talk about the rise in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism.”

Cymbrowitz’s office did not respond to additional questions about the “city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations” he met with while in Barcelona, and declined to provide an itinerary or appointment calendar.

His office also declined to explain why $189 was spent at a souvenir shop and listed as “office expenses” for the campaign.

The expenses did not involve taxpayer money, and campaign finance regulations allow funds to be spent at the candidate’s discretion, so long as they can explain how it relates to their office they’re running for.

Cymbrowitz’s spending, though, has brought criticism from Common Cause, a good government group that advocates for tighter controls of campaign spending as well as publicly financed campaigns.

“This kind of conduct, using campaign dollars to stay at five-star hotels, to buy expensive souvenirs in exotic places, simply fuels the public cynicism about elected officials and campaigns,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause. “There should be clear delineation between what is and isn’t a campaign expense, especially since so many public officials don’t seem to have their own guidance system about what’s appropriate.”

Lerner said Cymbrowitz’s explanations – and back-tracking – doesn’t pass the sniff test, and reflects poorly on Albany culture.

“It’s kind of amazing. He’s trying to come up with justifications [for travel spending] after the fact. It just seems to be egregious to justify the spending at five-star hotels and restaurants in the interest of Holocaust survivors. It’s really kind of unbelievable,” she said.

She added that she doubted his claim of visiting Barcelona’s small Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, since most contemporary incidents are in central Europe.

“There seems to be tenuous connection [between visiting Spain and his duties as an office-holder] and there should be a full accounting of the facts and a precise record of his activities. Then voters can decide for themselves,” she said.

Signage for bus lane enforcement (Source: DOT)

Signage for bus lane enforcement (Source: DOT)

The B44 Select Bus Service route on Nostrand Avenue became the latest in the city to feature camera-enforced bus lanes, but a snag in mailing out violations and the functioning of the cameras themselves has caused drivers unaware of the new restrictions to receive dozens of violations months after the incident.

The Department of Finance and Department of Transportation conceded that the agencies had failed to send out the tickets in a timely manner, catching drivers unaware and allowing them to repeat the mistake.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch won the concessions from the agencies, who are now agreeing to suspend mailing and to review all violation that occurred on the route between March 17 and July 25. Motorists will still be fined, but only for the first violation they received, and refunds will be issued to those who have already paid.

“When people get a violation, it’s to educate them that they did something unlawful and they have to stop,” Deutsch told Sheepshead Bites. “Having it come to them three or four months later doesn’t serve that purpose. Given that it’s the newest SBS bus lane, a lot of people still don’t understand how it should be used even though there are signs posted.”

Deutsch said the cameras were also taking multiple photos of the same vehicles, causing additional violations for the same incident. He said the DOT has corrected that problem.

During active hours, a vehicle may only enter the bus lane to make a right turn, drop off passengers, or make or receive a delivery. More about bus lanes can be found in this DOT handout.

The violation carries a $125 fine, but with motorists unaware of the changes and not receiving the summonses promptly, they were fined multiple times. Deutsch said one constituent received approximately $7,000 in fines. He added that about two dozen constituents have already reported this problem to him, “but there’s a lot more.”

Camera enforcement on the route will remain in effect, but the agencies said they will go through their records and contact those who received multiple violations. If you think you’re one of them, you can speed up the process of having the summonses tossed or receiving a refund by calling Deutsch’s district office at (718) 368-9176.

The site of the proposed development. (Source: CPEX Retail Leasing)

Rendering of the proposed development. (Source: CPEX Retail Leasing)

An enormous commercial development slated for Coney Island Avenue in Midwood is facing opposition for its proposal to cut out 74 required parking spaces, but its backers say it’s moving forward regardless.

The construction site at 1504 Coney Island Avenue, at Avenue L, is to be the largest retail development in the neighborhood, according to boasts from its leasing team. Councilman David Greenfield is calling it a “mega development,” saying it will feature more than 160,000 square feet of space. Zoning requirements call for a minimum of 346 parking spaces, but the owner has requested permission from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to scale that back to 272 spaces.

The site of the proposed development. (Source: CPEX Retail Leasing)

The site of the proposed development. (Source: CPEX Retail Leasing)

That’s unacceptable, according to the pol. The intersection is already home to one of the neighborhood’s most popular markets, Pomegranate, and adding more development without sufficient parking would bring that stretch of Coney Island Avenue to a standstill.

“I frequently drive by Avenue L and Coney Island Avenue and am stuck among double and triple-parked cars. It’s really ridiculous that anyone would suggest that the lack of parking is not a problem in this neighborhood. That is why I am fighting to make sure the community gets the required amount of parking for this new mega development,” Greenfield said in a press release.

The project’s developer expects the site to be a shopping destination, with a 50,000-square-foot department store as its anchor, with 25,000 square feet of additional retail and 3,400 square feet of office space. A 56,000-square-foot section of the building will be set aside for ambulatory medical care, and another 28,000 square feet will serve as community space and home for a non-profit, the developer’s representative, attorney Howard Goldman, explained during a meeting last week of the BSA. (The BSA is empowered to grant waivers to zoning regulations if the situation meets certain conditions.)

The parking would be underground, served by an entrance on Coney Island Avenue, and the building will use a robotic system to store and retrieve vehicles. According to Goldman, the system won’t requiring any on-street queuing which would otherwise lead to congestion.

Greenfield, who is also chair of the City Council’s powerful Land Use Committee, and Community Board 12 District Manager Barry Spitzer, who is also Greenfield’s deputy chief of staff, testified against the developer’s application, saying that the parking just isn’t sufficient in the neighborhood. Greenfield spokesperson Jane Carey, who testified on behalf of the councilman, and Spitzer both focused on double parking and truck traffic caused by Pomegranate, which only has 40 parking spaces. Though that may be Pomegranate’s fault, the BSA should enforce the parking minimum at the new, unrelated development to prevent the problem from getting worse.

Their plea appears to be in vain. Goldman said they’re going forward with the stated amount of parking whether or not the Board approves it – they’ll just reduce the medical office’s square footage, which requires more parking than other uses.

“If the request is not granted by the Board, it doesn’t mean the project won’t be built. What it means is that instead of the medical office, we will have the non-profit office space,” he said before the BSA. “So, matter of fact, it’ll be the same amount of spaces but a different mix of uses.”

Goldman added that, for all the bellyaching about parking, the new project will help ease the burden created by Pomegranate.

“This is a congested intersection. And the reason it’s congested is because there’s a very popular supermarket across the street called Pomegranate,” Goldman said, noting that their analysis showed congestion was worst on Thursday evenings and Friday afternoons. Pomegrenate’s parking “is really insufficient. Our garage’s excess capacity can handle some of that excess overflow from Pomegranate and the net result will be a benefit to the neighborhood, not a detriment to the neighborhood.”

The developer submitted a letter of support for the project from Pomegranate’s owners. The BSA has another hearing on the development scheduled for September 9.

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.

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.

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

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.

From the office of City Councilman Chaim Deutsch:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Source: Cymbrowitz's office

Source: Cymbrowitz’s office

The following is a press release from the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

Trash problems and summer heat are a bad mix, and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) says the city needs to do something about the problem now before Sheepshead Bay’s vermin population starts to soar.

In an effort to address quality of life issues throughout his district, the lawmaker took New York City Department of Sanitation Borough Superintendent Joe Lupo on a tour of Sheepshead Bay yesterday afternoon.

He invited Lupo to his district because many residents have reached out to him about trash throughout the neighborhood. In addition to overall filth in Sheepshead Bay, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz told the superintendent about the overflowing trash bins on Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue, the state of the Sheepshead Bay Road underpasses by the train station and along Shore Parkway, as well as trash along the Emmons Avenue median and Ocean Avenue.

Noting that the beauty of Sheepshead Bay attracts tens of thousands of residents and visitors each year, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz has partnered in recent years with the Department of Sanitation in an effort to encourage area merchants along Sheepshead Bay Road to sign up for Adopt-a-Basket, Sanitation’s volunteer program, which would help prevent public garbage cans from overflowing all over our streets.

The legislator also provided multi-modal funding for various beautification projects along the bay side of Emmons Avenue between Ocean Avenue and East 14th Street, which included newly-planted trees, new sidewalks, curb cuts, newly-painted railings, granite pavers, benches and covered trash receptacles. New decorative benches and trash cans recently capped off the much-anticipated project on the west end of Emmons Avenue.

In surveying the community, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz and Superintendent Lupo both agreed that immediate action needs to be taken. “While providing an aesthetically pleasing setting will encourage more people to enjoy the stretch of our waterfront, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our community remains clean,” said Assemblyman Cymbrowitz.

He said he looks forward to continuing to partner with the Department of Sanitation to address the problem.

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