Narrative NYC http://narrativenyc.org Tue, 22 Mar 2011 04:17:11 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.1 Clinton Hill Parents Wonder About PCBs, Health Problems http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1002 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1002#comments Wed, 26 Jan 2011 17:34:14 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1002 By Ina Sotirova

P.S. 270 in Clinton Hill is one of more than 700 schools in New York City built between 1950 and 1978, when PCBs were widely used in construction materials as diverse as light fixtures, carpeting, paints and windows, activists told parents as they arrived to pick up their kids one recent afternoon.

TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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Walking To Escape The Mundane http://narrativenyc.org/?p=996 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=996#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 21:58:01 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=996 By Pauline Eiferman

After climbing fifteen flights of crumbly metal stairs, Edward Tyrrell, 30, walked halfway around the huge derelict natural gas tower until he found the perfect viewpoint. “This is New York City,” he said, smiling. “You have an abandoned boat graveyard, a horse farm, and over there, in the distance, you can see downtown Manhattan.”

Photo by Pauline Eiferman.

Every few weeks, Tyrrell and his group of friends meet up to walk for 15 to 20 miles in a random part of New York City. But unlike most busy New Yorkers, they don’t walk to get anywhere. They walk for the simple pleasure of walking.

The name of their club is “Hey! I’m walking here.” Most of them are friends, or friends of friends, but there are always new people, and they all have one thing in common: they try to escape their mundane lives by walking.

Photo by Pauline Eiferman.

Their last walk was in November. They met under the “S” of the Staten Island ferry sign at 9 a.m., wearing big coats, gloves, hats and climbing shoes. The number of participants usually varies from five to a dozen, said Tyrrell. That day, there would be nine of them. They climbed the stairs up to the ferry and got on, excitedly. It was the fourth time that Tyrrell was leading this walk, but he said that every time was a completely different experience.

“I love the Staten Island walk,” Tyrrell said while the group was boarding the railway. “It’s actually one of the first walks I did with this group. It used to be longer, but I cut it down to 15 miles for today because it gets dark early.”

Tyrrell discovered “Hey! I’m walking here” two years ago. At the time, the club’s founder, Matt Green, 28, was still leading walks. The club was started in 2008, a year after Green, a Civil Engineer from Virginia, completed a five-day, 150-mile walk around New York City with a friend.

“In early 2008, I started thinking about doing a one-day walk over all the bridges that connect to Manhattan,” he said. “Even though I knew this walk would be over 30 miles long, it seemed less exciting in comparison to the multi-day walk I had done the previous summer. I had the idea of turning it into a group event as a way of adding something to it that my previous walk had lacked.”

Green met Tyrrell a few months later on a hot summer day, during a walk in the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. By the end of the walk, there were only four people left. Tyrrell and Green have been friends every since.

“I always joke that Matt Green is like a Christ figure,” said Tyrrell. “He taught us these lessons, he went off on a long journey, and even after he’s gone, we still keep the story going… Although he’s back now, resurrected, I guess you could say.”

The long journey Tyrrell is referring to lasted 152 days. Starting in March of last year, Green walked from Rockaway Beach, Queens, to Rockaway, Oregon – 3,100 miles – on his own. He stopped leading walks on his return and turned over the responsibility to whoever was interested.

“Matt Green is a walking guru,” said Tyrell. “He’s what inspired me to do these long walks. I mean, I walked before him, but not in the same way.” Tyrrell took on the legacy.

Planning a route usually takes about a day. Tyrrell puts his itineraries on the club’s website, www.burnsomedust.com, and waits for others to reply, to start organizing the trips.

A good walk, according to Tyrrell, is when you can see places you’ve never seen before and do things you would never do otherwise. This is why Tyrrell and the others love the Staten Island walk. As Liz Kravetz, 30, passed a big branch to Tyrrell so he could cross a muddy stream leading to the abandoned boat graveyard, she explained how energized the walks made her.

“You see so much interesting stuff and you walk so much, that, at the end of the day, you really appreciate your dinner,” she said, laughing.

The tour explores the industrial shores of Staten Island, crosses woods and landfills, and finishes in a small Sri Lankan restaurant. Tyrrell’s favorite part is climbing the derelict natural gas tower. “Every time you think that you know New York City, every time you think that you’ve seen it all, you’ve been on every corner, there’s nothing new, you find something like this,” he said, pointing at the view. “And it’s just a whole new place.”

As the group prepared to walk, he gave last minute instructions. “Always be looking out for yourselves. This is not so much me giving you a tour so much as it’s like a bunch of friends going out, walking on the shore. We’ll never get very lost, but never stay too far behind or too far ahead,” he said.

During the week, Tyrrell works in an insurance company. “I’m an actuary,” he said. “But I don’t expect you to know what that means.” He added that the walks were a nice break from the Excel number crunching he does every day.

“I guess even actuaries can be eccentric people, and long walks like this probably appeal to them more than most other folks,” he said.

Most of the walkers talked about their jobs with a hint of irony. One said she was planning on quitting hers this week. Another described his as the non-glamourous part of the film industry.

For every 10 people he tells about the club, Tyrrell said that nine people will say “good for you, enjoy that.” But one person won’t need further explanations, he will just want to be there. “There’s something about it that just appeals to certain people,” he said.

Brooklynite Tom Brander, 28, is one of these people. He heard about the walks through an email listing called Nonsense New York last April. He works for a consulting company that contracts out for I.T. jobs to big banks. “It’s really exciting, as you can tell,” he jokes.

“At my job, I usually sit at a desk all day, so it’s a nice change of pace to get out and get 20 miles in,” he said, while the group was looking for a hole in the metal fence that blocked entrance to the woods. “I don’t have time to go to the gym, you know. You leave the house it’s dark, you come back, it’s dark… You almost feel like you miss out on all this stuff. But when the weekend comes, your chance is renewed.”

Like most of the members, Brander said he started walking on his own in Brooklyn before joining this group. “I didn’t realize there was anyone this crazy out there until I met up with them and I thought ‘Hey, this is kind of normal!’” he said.

But for many of the other walkers, this is more than just normal. Abbie Smith-Howe, 27, said that for her, going on these walks was exhilarating.

“You get a more full experience of the neighborhood and the areas, not only visually but you get the smells and the sounds,” she said. “You’re exploring. Whereas driving, you’re just whizzing by. It’s a totally different philosophy altogether, I think.”

As the group climbed onto a slippery wood platform that led to a boat carcass, she stayed behind to admire the shore longer. She was the only walker who hadn’t brought a friend along, and she said she liked to walk on her own more.

She joined the club in February, and her first walk was the day after it had snowed three feet. “It was the most fun I’d ever had on a Saturday that I can remember. It was awesome.”

Walking has often been associated with spirituality or therapy. Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg started ritual walks around Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco. In his essay “Walking,” the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote that walking was much more than a physical activity, “it requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker.” He said it showed appreciation and respect to nature, and to oneself.

The founder of the club, Matt Green, agrees. “Simply put, I like to walk because it makes me feel good about myself and the world around me,” he said.

“I think the physical exertion is good for you, both mentally and physically. And as I learned over the couple of years, walking with others can be quite an enriching social experience as well. You form intimate bonds with people you’ve only seen a couple times, because the times you’ve seen them, you’ve spent large portions of the day together, sharing a unique experience,” he said.

For years, walking clubs have flourished all over the country. The largest walking club organization, the American Volkssport Association, has a network of more than 300 registered walking clubs. According to Nicole Rogers, the executive director, the association counts 12,000 memberships. “When we add the family and friends who walk with those members,” she said, “ we estimate our total number of walkers at 25,000.”

Rogers said that while older members walked to get some exercise and a sense of accomplishment, more and more young members were joining walking clubs for their social dimension, and to spend some outdoors family time.

According to Green, creating the club was a turning point in his life. He said that today, most of his friends in New York were people he has met through walking.

“Walking with others is just way more fun,” said Tyrrell. After a 10-minute lunch break in a small pizza restaurant at 2pm, he rounded up the group and zipped up his coat. At least four more hours to go, he said, smiling.

“You know the old line that says “why do you climb Mount Everest? Because it’s there?” he asked. “Well why do you go on a 15-mile walk in a random part of New York City? It’s just there and it’s awesome.”

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Rogue Taxidermists Create New Life– and New Species http://narrativenyc.org/?p=975 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=975#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 21:41:56 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=975 By Nathan Hurst

Five skinless, red heads ringed by a mane of tawny fur protruded from just one black, bald body. Each plastic-looking face was contorted into a grimace or scowl, with opaque, lidless eyes staring in all directions.

“This is a 5-headed zombie rabbit that I killed in Iowa a while back,” said Annie Michaelson, holding it up for the audience to see.

Beth Beverly and Elke 2.0. Photo by Nathan Hurst.

“How do you kill something that’s already dead?” asked someone in the audience.

“In this case, one boot stomp … one stomp per head,” Michaelson responded, lifting a black-booted foot to demonstrate.

Michaelson’s zombie rabbit, called “Tunnel Vision”, won her the prize for Most Twisted at the Secret Science Club’s 5th annual taxidermy contest, held December 7 at the Bell House in Brooklyn. “And in this company, being the most twisted is a real honor,” added one judge.

Taxidermy is making a comeback in a big, if non-traditional way, according to Mike Zohn, the keynote speaker. The contest, held in conjunction with the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists, offered evidence of taxidermy’s new popularity in the 400 people it attracted and the 25 contestants who showed alien skulls, a Phoose (half pheasant, half goose) and even a Ubiquitous Wolpertinger from Munich, Germany, called Charlie. (Like any good Wolpertinger, Charlie sported duck-feet, wings, horns, a bushy tail and fangs.)

Zohn, last year’s overall champion and owner of Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop in Manhattan, is featured in a new Discovery Channel series, “Oddities”, which began airing Nov. 4.

“All of a sudden this renewed fascination with taxidermy is everywhere,” Zohn said. “As you can see, it’s here too. Tonight, there’s a line out the door.”

The club’s blog explained eligibility requirements: “Taxidermy (bought, found, or homemade), biological oddities, articulated skeletons, skulls, jarred specimens—and beyond, way beyond.”

And the way beyond featured prominently. Takeshi Yamada is a fixture at the taxidermy contest. Wearing a beret, a suit and a mound of Mardi Gras beads, the art teacher and medical assistant from Coney Island carried a sea rabbit, a duck-footed chimera with a forked tail. Yamada, who was the 2006 grand champion, showed a set of intricate, hand-made alien skulls. His premise: the devils and dragons familiar in mythology are actually remnants of aliens who settled, naturally, on Coney Island.

The Secret Science Club meets monthly at the Bell House, and combines lectures on the weird and far-out with science themed drink specials and audience participation. The club originally grew together with he taxidermy contest, out of a 2006 book written by two of the club’s founders, Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, called Carnivorous Nights, said Dorian Devins, also a founder and curator. They started the taxidermy contest to promote the book, which is about a quest to find the Tasmanian tiger on a “safari gone slightly unhinged.”

Not all the entrants in this year’s contest were unhinged. Summer Santoro’s spotted hyena, Rowsdower, was large and natural looking, and earned Best Taxidermy for Santoro (though she did not mount it herself, but purchased it on Staten Island). Best in Show went to Beth Beverly, a professional taxidermist from Diamond Tooth Taxidermy in Philadelphia. Her mounts, Elke 2.0, a white rat terrier and Grazyana, a Polish hen, were realistic, but adorned with tassels, high heels and lace.

“What I like to do with pets is give them what they could have had in spirit,” Beverly said. Elke had been the pet of an acquaintance, and the Polish hen and a Russian hen she wore on a headdress belonged to a friend.

“Unfortunately, my friend who raises chickens has a lot of casualties,” she explained. “This one laid eggs. They were delicious.”

If the taxidermied animals (and aliens and mythical creatures) didn’t exactly resemble their creators, they each offered a little insight into the rogue taxidermists. Daisy Tainton won First in Panache for a mystery creature she made, a sort of yin-yang of fox skins, mounted onto an old tabletop and twisted into one gaping mouth.

“This is what happens in my nightmares when my grandma’s furs come alive and come to get me,” she said. Asked what she was going to do with her creation, she responded: “I guess it’s going to hang over the bed.”

“No, it won’t,” yelled her boyfriend, from the audience.

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Corona Ads and New Jordans in Times Square: Is This the DREAM Act’s Last Chance? http://narrativenyc.org/?p=973 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=973#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 21:32:40 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=973 By Albert Samaha


Carlos Hernandez didn’t want to get his shoes scuffed. He had just bought the new re-released Jordan XIII’s for a bargain– Just $100! $65 off!– three days earlier. A prized possession for any 15-year-old. So as the other youth activists, including his older brother Jose, converged upon the red steps of Duffy Square in late November, Carlos peeked down nervously. Dozens and dozens of feet, of soles caked in grime and gum, zigged and zagged on every side of him. One misstep and the pristine white leather would be soiled, perhaps permanently. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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For White Marijuana Users, Odds Of Arrest Low http://narrativenyc.org/?p=967 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=967#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 21:28:36 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=967 By Albert Samaha

Gary Sanders and Connie Wilson wanted to buy some marijuana, so they hopped on the L Train and headed east one night in October. The Friday evening rush hour crowd had already passed, so they were able to find seats. Sanders’s leg bounced up and down. He stared at the gray linoleum subway floor. They were going to a concert in a few hours and the logistics of the night strained his mind. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Courtesy of Flickr/warrantedarrest/City Limits

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Is No Labels Something New? http://narrativenyc.org/?p=957 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=957#comments Fri, 24 Dec 2010 08:40:43 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=957 By Meghan Keneally

Sure, it was new. In the undeniably partisan climate of today’s American political scene, still reeling from the divisive tactics of attack ads used during November’s midterm elections, the idea of Democrats and Republicans coming together definitely seemed novel and different.

But was it really?

The launch of No Labels, a bipartisan organization that intends to become a nationwide grassroots movement working to eliminate hyper-partisan vitriol from the national debate, was billed as a time for politicians of all shades of red and blue to come together for a common cause. In the end, the event was a recycled mix of previously-fresh political tactics and a load of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, with the occasional Republican-turned-independent defector thrown in for good measure.

To read more, click here.

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A Christmas Card from Brownsville http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1015 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1015#comments Mon, 20 Dec 2010 05:01:57 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1015 By Arvin Temkar

Wilbert Harris shifted uncomfortably on a Chinatown sidewalk while tourists and bargain hunters hurried past. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his leather jacket, and the brown hood of a sweatshirt was wrapped firmly over his head. It was getting colder, and he hadn’t sold a single Christmas card.

The cards were laid out neatly on a white, foldable plastic table in front of him, the bottom of each card strapped to the table with one of the bungee cords he’d used to help cart the entire operation on the train from his home in Brownsville. Some of the cards flapped open in the wind, playing tinny electronic clips of songs like “I Wish You A Merry Christmas,” before being whipped shut again.

“Maybe I’ll have to send these to my family,” he said, looking down at the rows of untouched merchandise. “I’ve got a bunch of stamps at home. My wife knows a lot of people.”

Harris, 45, is unemployed, but entrepreneurial. He has been looking for long-term work for 18 months, and is without unemployment benefits. Now, he’s doing what he can to add his wife’s income. But the odds have been against him— he is black, has been in jail, and he’s from Brownsville.

Brownsville, a neighborhood in East Brooklyn, is faring worse in this recession than other New York City neighborhoods. It has a higher unemployment rate than the city’s 9.2 average— 15 to 20 percent according to a study in May by the Fiscal Policy Institute. Violence is rising— the neighborhood became one of the most dangerous in the country after a spate of shootings (11 in 15 days) in July. Even the infant mortality rate has gone up— last year it was more than twice the national rate, nearing that of Mexico’s. The neighborhood is almost 80 percent black.

At a pre-Thanksgiving community dinner at the Brownsville Recreation Center, New York City Comptroller John Liu acknowledged a fact that is being hidden by the city’s uniform unemployment rate. Certain neighborhoods— those that are largely black and Hispanic— have severely higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city.

“We can’t let the mayor, or anybody, sweep that fact under the rug anymore,” he said.

A 2010 report by the Community Service Society of New York, an urban poverty advocacy organization, shows that black men in New York City experienced the largest absolute increase in unemployment during the recession, going from 9 percent in 2006— which is about the city’s average now— to 17.9 percent in 2009.

Nationally, the data mirrors what’s found in the city. Black men over the age of 20 had an almost 17 percent unemployment rate in November, while white men were just over 9 percent, according to the bureau of Labor Statistics.

Results are even more staggering when considering the “underemployed”— those with part-time jobs but want full-time jobs. The city’s total underemployment rate was 16.2 percent in October. No statistics are available for East Brooklyn.

Brooklyn College sociologist Greg Smithsonian said that black communities are hit hardest in recessions for several reasons, from people’s level of education to employer discrimination. These cyclical setbacks make it harder for the communities to grow.

“It’s like the old adage,” he said. “When the economy gets a cold, black people get the flu.”

Harris, whose background is in construction and maintenance, is now looking for a full-time job. Losses in the construction and manufacturing sectors during the recession have been particularly hard on black men, who hold a disproportionate number of those jobs.

Karrie Scarboro, 42, is Harris’s wife. She had also been out of work for three years, and didn’t start working again until about a month ago. She said her family— Harris and the six children who live with her (one with a baby)— have been living off of child support checks sent weekly from a previous marriage. The family’s rent in public housing was lowered to $113 a month during the time neither of them were working, but it’s risen to $358 because of her two jobs. Scarboro, who did not graduate from high school, wasn’t able to find a job as a bus matron, her previous occupation, although she didn’t want to look outside the East Brooklyn area. In her spare time she took care of neighborhood children, and volunteered at the Brownsville Partnership, a homelessness prevention organization, where she now works part-time. She now also works part-time at Councilwoman Darlene Mealy’s office.

Harris, who did graduate from high school, has not stopped looking for a job. His goal is to find steady work as a janitor, or custodian. He has never had a secure job, bouncing between construction contracts that could last from a week to a year. He supplements periods in between jobs by selling merchandise on the street. But this time, his idea didn’t work out.

“I bet they’d take ‘em if I was giving them away,” he said, half-jokingly.

“It would be different if I were selling those purses,” Harris said pointing to a nearby table laden with various knock-off brand name bags. But he’d figured Christmas cards were legal, and would sell, given the season, so he bought seven boxes of 12 cards each, wholesale, hoping to make a profit.

Some goods, like DVDs and purses, sell better than others, but selling those products is illegal. He’d made a little money some years back hawking titles like “The Passion of the Christ,” and “Shrek,” while the movies were still in the theaters, but now he is trying to stay legit— “for my family and me” he said. His driver’s license was dangled in a display slip around his neck, in lieu of a vendor’s permit, for extra measure.

“Right now I’m trying to stay my ass out of that particular system,” he said, referring to the year and a half he’d spent locked up for stolen property.

Smithsimon, the Brooklyn College sociologist, said that “people have to hustle.” He said that street vending is common practice, but very difficult. It does, however, allow people with unfavorable backgrounds to be self-employed with low capital.

“You don’t need an employer so you can get around the fact that employers have discriminatory attitudes about race or your criminal record,” said Smithsimon.

Discrimination is prevalent, he said, and race matters just as much as criminal background. He pointed to a study by Devah Pager, a professor at Princeton University, that showed that it is easier for a white person with a criminal record to get a job interview than a black person without a criminal record.

Despite all this, Harris has high hopes. He is enrolled in Workforce 1, an employment service partnered with the city, and had three job interviews last week. He says that he’s applied to many jobs— 12 at least, that fit his particular skills. He also gets called in sometimes for small construction and renovation projects, but those rarely last more than a few days. If nothing else works out, his next idea is to sell winter scarves and hats, purchased from the wholesale district on 28th street, on the street again.

This might be harder. Smithsimon said that it’s “practically impossible” to get a street vendor license from the city to sell anything other than printed material, like books or Christmas cards. “It comes from a mistaken impression that store owners have that street vendors are hurting them,” he said.

Harris doesn’t know why the unemployment rate in Brownsville is so high, but he expects it has something to do with a lack of opportunity in the area. The small neighborhood is dominated by public housing projects— the largest concentration in the country— and a walk from the Rockaway Avenue train station to the next one, Junius Street, reveals little more than tall, bleak projects, on one side of the road, and houses with cluttered and overgrown lawns on the other.

Smithsimon said that while most residential neighborhoods don’t have a lot of jobs, there is certainly a stigma associated with where you live. In one study, Harvard anthropologist Katherine Newman found that some fast food restaurants in Harlem wouldn’t hire people with addresses in public housing.

Growing up in the neighborhood in the 1980s, Harris said he heard gunshots outside every few minutes. Most of his friends are now dead or in jail. But crime is significantly down— at least compared to then. Without a change in the unemployment situation, however, he thinks there might be problems.

“I think more people are financially stressed, or financially depressed, because they don’t know where the next dollar is coming from. That brings about anger, and at times it can bring about violence,” he said. “You have people who have never committed a crime before in their life doing things they never thought they’d be forced to do.”

Though Smithsimon doesn’t know whether things will get that bad, he said that this recession will certainly make it harder for the working class to reach the middle. An increase in poverty will affect life expectancy, health care outcomes, obesity, depression, and social mobility. And for Harris, it could mean more hustling to make ends meet.

Finally it was too cold to stay outside. After three hours with no luck, he packed up his things, but remained optimistic.

“I feel like things are gonna change for me as long as I keep looking for a job,” Harris said.  “Like this didn’t work… but I gotta keep trying.”

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BPL’s $15,000 Prize Helps Man Open Restaurant http://narrativenyc.org/?p=943 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=943#comments Fri, 17 Dec 2010 01:21:54 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=943 By Arvin Temkar
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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ROWN HEIGHTS — Since winning $15,000 in a business plan competition from the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) five years ago, Sydney Wayman, a longtime entrepreneur, has been working on a project close to his heart — and stomach. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Syd’s Serious Sandwich Shop. Photo by Arvin Temkar.

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Mabuhay Manny! Fried Lumpia and Cold San Miguel in Queens http://narrativenyc.org/?p=933 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=933#comments Tue, 14 Dec 2010 23:11:50 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=933 By Albert Samaha

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verybody knows what happens to Filipinos when Manny Pacquiao fights. They know it because TV announcers and boxing experts always mention it, as if telling a canonical truth: when Manny Pacquiao fights the streets of the Manila clear… crime stops… the armies fighting a civil war on the southern island of Mindanao call a ceasefire…TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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New Park Slope Store Sells Items Once Used in Movies http://narrativenyc.org/?p=922 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=922#comments Tue, 14 Dec 2010 23:04:57 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=922 By Marium Sattar

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ARK SLOPE — Customers at Film Biz Recycling might find a chair that Alec Baldwin sat on in the television show “30 Rock,” or a chopping block that was used on the set of the show, “Top Chef.”

This week, Film Biz Recycling will open its doors on President Street in Park Slope after moving from the industrial part of Long Island City in hopes of finding a busier neighborhood for the business. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Film Biz Recycling. Photo by Marium Sattar.

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Art, According to the Immigration Services http://narrativenyc.org/?p=917 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=917#comments Mon, 13 Dec 2010 20:37:58 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=917 By Pauline Eiferman

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hat is art? For centuries, philosophers and critics have debated the question. Andy Warhol pushed the boundaries of art when he showed off his Campbell’s soup cans paintings in the 1960s. A decade later, the writer Tom Wolfe raised a furor when he deemed a modern sculpture “the turd in the plaza.”

Dictionaries today describe art as a visual object or experience, created by a person with skill or imagination. But for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for delivering visas to foreign artists, it takes more than that to be an artist.

The Sri Lankan pop star M.I.A., for example, had sold 190,000 copies of her first album in the United States when she applied for an artist visa in 2007. Her request was denied, so she had to record her second album in the UK.

So what exactly is art, according to the U.S. Immigration Services? “That’s a very interesting question,” said an officer when contacted. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

According to the agency’s website, “a person must possess extraordinary abilities or have demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement, and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.” These are the qualities required in order to obtain an O-1 visa, which allows artists to work in the U.S. for a period of up to three years.

No one else was available to comment.

But if extraordinary abilities can be hard to prove, recognition is quite the opposite. Alejandro Filippa, a lawyer specializing in immigration, said that two things were significant in the application for an artist visa: having received press and having good letters of recommendation. The words “talent,” “skills” and “imagination” weren’t mentioned once. But he did say that the artist visa was nicknamed “the celebrity visa.”

“Immigration evaluators are not experts in art,” he said. “Applicants must submit a portfolio to prove that they are doing something artistic, but what really sets them apart is their notoriety.”

According to the U.S. Department of State, 9,368 O-1 visas were issued in 2009, and 1,721 were refused – nearly one in five.

The application process is less than unclear. Artist advocates have spoken against the system, which they say has become cumbersome and expensive since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The League of American Orchestras, for example, criticized the many last-minute changes and cancellations due to visa problems.

In response, the Citizenship and Immigration Services pledged to speed up and improve its visa operation. But there is a long way to go.

It took Erik Schjerven, 30, a year and three months to complete his O-1 application. The Norwegian soap opera actor received his visa in June, after compiling a 170-page long application and pay legal fees of more than $5,000.

Among the documents required for an O-1: more than five mentions of the applicant in the media, at least 10 reference letters (by famous people if possible), a sponsor, proof of a full bank account, a professional plan for the coming three year, and a portfolio.

Schjerven said he spent nights at the national library in Oslo to research articles written about him, which he then had to get translated from Norwegian to English.

One of the most important aspects of the O-1 is the sponsor or employer. Applications are often denied when immigration examiners aren’t convinced that a proper professional relationship exists between the applicant and the sponsor, said Filippa. “This is particularly difficult for artists, as they are traditionally self-employed or freelancers.”

Schjerven called all of his contacts to find the perfect target, until he met a famous producer who agreed. “I think that really helped my application,” he said. “I owe a lot to him.”

“The immigration offices favor people that they’ve heard of,” said Melanie Crean, a professor of media design at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City. “It’s understandable. If you knew nothing about art, then you’d do the same. So museums, famous schools, celebrities, big non-profits are definitely valued for sponsors.”

Crean said that she had written dozens of recommendations letters for students and friends. “Computer programmers, computer graphic artists, interactive design artists… Everyone I’ve written for has gotten a visa.”

But not everyone is lucky enough to meet famous producers or teachers from recognized schools. An Australian artist who declined to give her name because it could jeopardize her visa application said that the process reinforced the hierarchy of the art world.

“You have to be acknowledged by recognized art institutions, you need press from mainstream or expert media, you need to have shows in places they’ll have heard of,” she said. “It’s not actually about the art.”

Most of the young woman’s work comes in the shape of performance pieces and body art, like piercings. She doesn’t have a traditional portfolio or showreel, which might make it more difficult for her than if she were a visual artist or an actress.

This November, she quietly celebrated her two years in the country. She entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, which lets visitors stay in the country for three months. She traveled to France a day before her three months were up, so that she could re-enter the U.S. on a new tourist visa. She did it again three months later. By that point, she knew it would be hard pulling it off a third time.

The 25-year-old started applying for an O-1 visa five months ago. She said that so far, it had already cost her $4,000 in legal fees and hours of work every week.

“I couldn’t do it without a lawyer,” she said, after explaining she nearly had a mental breakdown because of all the work required. “A lawyer knows how to approach the case, and everything you need to design the perfect application.”

Being white, a woman, and from Australia is definitely helpful, she said. But she was nervous. “My art is abstract and often questions the establishment,” she said. “I don’t know if it can hurt me. I’d like to think not, but maybe that’s naïve.”

Whatever their specialty, O-1 applicants have many constraints. One of them is the fact that they have to be employed by their original sponsor during their entire stay in the U.S. Another is that they can only practice the discipline that they’ve applied for.

That’s why Schjerven applied as an actor/script consultant/director/copywriter/linguistics coach. His sponsor works in a small Manhattan production company, where Schjerven reads scripts and assists him with odd jobs around the office. He will only be able to work as an actor if it’s through his sponsor.

“I miss going to castings,” he said, adding he couldn’t legally have an agent. “Working in this country is like an exclusive nightclub that you’re not a member of,” he said. “You just really want to get in.”

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SWAN Helps Women Veterans http://narrativenyc.org/?p=910 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=910#comments Sun, 12 Dec 2010 20:51:40 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=910 By Simone Gorrindo

Veterans Day didn’t end on November 11 for Service Women Actions Network, a New York-based national advocacy organization for women veterans. After marching in the Veterans Day Parade, it hosted events throughout the following week, promoting veteran authors and sponsoring a panel discussion on gay and minority rights in the military.

SWAN, founded in 2007, took part in the parade for the first time this year. Supporters from around the country joined the organization to promote recognition of women’s service and struggles in the military. The 40 veterans, bundled in coats and scarves, incited some of the parade’s loudest cheers, but in their military and civilian lives, these women often occupy a lonely role.

“People don’t understand how significant it is to be recognized,” said Genevieve Chase, American Women Veterans executive director and founder. She is an Afghanistan veteran who marched with SWAN.

“Some of us have military stickers on the back of our cars, and veterans will ask: Did your husband serve? When you say, ‘No, I did,’ they just look at you, confused,” said Chase.

Women have served in the U.S. military since the Army and Navy Nurse Corps were established in the early 1900s. Now, more of them are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any conflict since World War Two. Yet their service often goes unrecognized. Forgotten warriors, they return to roles that convention has laid out for them, feeling apart from the brotherhood of veteran soldiers.

“Many don’t identify as veterans,” said SWAN Policy Director Greg Jacob, 40, of Manhattan, an ex-Marine. “Some come back home to fulfill a caretaker role and compartmentalize that part of their life.”
These women soldiers remain a minority in the barracks, making up 14 percent of all active duty forces, according to the United States Department of Defense. Many find themselves in isolated stations, outcasts among dozens of men.

Marcher Olga Mireles, 47, of San Diego, a Navy reservist who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan several times, was the only female guard on her compound in Iraq, a detainee prison center. She worked nights as a guard: the ration was 12 U.S. soldiers guarding 500 prisoners. She survived the experience by acting tough, “going into bitch mode,” and making sure she didn’t carry her rifle “like a girl.”

“If you don’t hold your own ground, you get a lot of shit within your own,” Mireles said.

“Within your own,” is an expression common to these women, one of the many slang phrases soldiers create to replace the jargon that cloaks the military in secrecy. Within their own, women are sexually harassed, raped, and pressured by higher-ups to give them sexual favors. Within their own, their reports of these offenses often go unaddressed.

Mireles said a friend is dealing with that right now, struggling to get support from the military authorities.
“When it comes up to the forefront, it gets ugly,” Mireles said. “They either address it or they bury it. If the guys are all buddies, not much is gonna be done about it.”

According to a 2003 study, nearly a third of women veterans report that they were sexually assaulted or raped in the military, and many of these soldiers suffer in silence. Some 80 percent of these rapes are never reported at all, according to the Department of Defense.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Nicole Steffey, 22, bused in from King of Prussia, Pa. to march with SWAN. She said she was raped in 2008 by a fellow soldier at her base in North Carolina, then shunned and tormented after she reported the offense two months later. Steffey’s commanders told her to “suck it up,” but SWAN helped her get honorably discharged after she and her mother came to the group for help.

She suffered panic attacks after the assault, and has since undergone treatments at three different therapy centers. She is on a cocktail of medication that eases her nerves and keeps her afloat.

“They told me: You’re strong, you can deal with it. This happens everyday on the streets,” said Steffey, holding back tears.

“Yeah,” her mother injected. “But not by your own brother.”

Any soldier will tell you that looking out for fellow servicemen is essential to a platoon’s survival. And, as women are ending up in combat with increased frequency, that support is more important for them than ever.

Yet when they return home seeking help in the aftermath of trauma, their wounds often go untreated. Women, technically banned from combat, are being turned away from Veterans’ Affairs hospitals.

“What’s happening is women are coming back from deployment, coming to the VA with PTSD, nd they’re saying there’s no way you have PTSD because women don’t see combat,” said Jacob. These women are defending convoys and handling 80-pound machine guns. They are shooting and being shot at. They are raiding homes, frisking Iraqi and Afghanistan citizens, and driving Humvees along roads that are littered with homemade bombs. And many, like male soldiers, are addicted to the life.

“It changes you, living with all that adrenalin,” said Mireles. “Afterwards, you can’t do anything else, so you just keep deploying.”

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Dream Deferred for Undocumented Students http://narrativenyc.org/?p=907 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=907#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 23:20:19 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=907 By Tatiana Sanchez

W

hen friends asked Francisco Curiel if he would be applying to college, he wanted to tell them he’d submit applications to schools like New York University or Columbia. Instead, he said he didn’t know.

In early November, Curiel, 18, of Astoria, said he felt anxious that he might not be able to continue his studies after high school because he came to the country as an illegal immigrant at age 15. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Residents Call Maurice Ave. A Drag http://narrativenyc.org/?p=895 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=895#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 23:14:22 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=895 By Ryan Maye Handy

M

aurice Avenue, the dividing line between Maspeth and Woodside, is wide and newly repaved. It runs along the expansive Mt. Zion cemetery, through a neighborhood that is part residential, part industrial. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Jimmy Van Bramer is flanked by Liz Crowley and Assemblywoman Marge Markey.

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Children of Illegal Immigrants Demand Equal Opportunities http://narrativenyc.org/?p=860 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=860#comments Sat, 04 Dec 2010 17:30:09 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=860 Audio Slideshow by Ina Sotirova

Times Square’s larger-than-life advertising campaigns provided the backdrop for this November 28th rally for the DREAM Act that was part of a country-wide effort led by illegal immigrant students.

First introduced in 2001, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would allow undocumented youths who have grown up in the U.S. to become legal residents, opening doors to higher education and financial assistance, military service and employment.

Those opposed to the DREAM Act say it would reward undocumented immigrants and encourage continued illegal immigration. Concerns have also been raised that, if passed, the proposed legislation would take education spots and tuition assistance away from American students. Nevertheless, a public poll from June showed overwhelming (70%), bipartisan support across the country.

This November 28th rally was part of a country-wide effort led by illegal immigrant students, who mobilized in local communities and on Capitol Hill.

The latest version of the controversial bill was passed in Congress in early December, but rejected in the Senate just before the holidays that also marked the end of the Democratic Party’s majority in Congress.

The Dreamers from Ina Sotirova on Vimeo.

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Finding Cash in Trash http://narrativenyc.org/?p=848 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=848#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 22:00:09 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=848 By Huini Gu

N

ovember marked the anniversary of amendments to the New York State Returnable Container Act, more widely known as the “bottle bill.”

An amendment added in 2009 expanded the definition to cover nearly all beverage containers, including bottled juice, iced tea, coffee, and water. This change broadened the amount of money that could be earned by the city’s redeemers, or “canners.”

A Day’s Work. Photo by Huini Gu.

But easier money has lured more people into the business. Among the growing competition are many elderly Chinese citizens.

“I see a new face twice a week,” said a man calling himself “Canman,” who has been collecting recyclable cans all over Manhattan for 25 years. “Seventy-Five percent of the collectors are Chinese now. Sometimes they come as a family, both the husband and the wife.”

For most New Yorkers, recycling bottles for cash is not something new. By feeding an empty bottle into a reverse vending machine at a supermarket or grocery store, a slip of paper redeemable for five cents inside the store pops out.

But it is not easy for residents to cash in these days. To feed in two six-packs of beer bottles left from last night’s party, there is a good chance you may have to wait in a line for an hour or more because of the activity since the new law. So a growing number of these “professional” redeemers–who troll for recyclables from restaurants, bars, and office buildings–dominate the lines which form outside redemption machines.

With huge full bags of recyclables stacked in a shopping cart or hanging over their shoulder, it takes an average of 15 minutes for these redeemers to finish putting all the plastic bottles, glasses, and cans.

Lau, in her 60s, who only revealed her last name like most Chinese recyclers, was originally from Canton Province in China. No taller than 4’9’’, she had to stretch to reach the 6’5’’ vending machine hole.

For every bottle fed, the amount on the screen would increase by five cents. After she finished inserting all 240 bottles, the figure showed $12.

Lau starts her can-hunting at 10 A.M. and ended at 3 P.M. Normally, she would be able to collect three to five full bags of recyclables, which translates into a daily income of $36 to $60. Winter is a bad time for people like Lao. Less beverages are consumed which means there are fewer items to collect.

“At my age, without knowing any English, barely can I find any job here,” Lau said in a thick Cantonese accent. “Rummaging through garbage is not that bad. At least I still get to exercise.

“I am new to this. My cans and bottles are mainly from roadside trash bags. Some of the other veterans who are familiar with the restaurant or bar owners can make as much as a hundred or more dollars a day.”

Not long after Lau finished, another Chinese woman in her 50s approached, pushing a dolly piled with three boxes. She opened the top one, revealing rows of green Tsingtao bottles.

But even restaurants and bars are not guaranteed sources of income. A woman who wanted to remain anonymous said two restaurants that used to supply her with bottles recently went bust. She has to secure new sources.

“I can hardly introduce [them to] any sort of work if they speak no English,” said Karl Gluck, who works at Chinatown Manpower, a community organization helping to look for jobs for Chinese-speaking people. “If there are job openings for non-English speakers, it will be tough manual labor which naturally excludes the elderly.”

The woman who remained anonymous said she begin working as a professional recycler until 2008, when she was fired by the clothes factory where she left with uncured back pain. Like Lau, she also viewed can-hunting as exercise.

“Every five minutes we have to change the bags inside the machine when the canners line outside,” said Juan Fernandez, manager of C-town market who leases three reverse vending machines. The C-town market in the Smith Alfred House, a housing project located in downtown Manhattan, is a popular spot where large groups of professional recyclers gather.

Before the machines were introduced seven years ago, the recyclables had to be handed over the supermarket counter for redemption. It was then the supermarkets’, or retailers’ job to categorize the bottles and cans according to the brands.

Now with the new machines, this hassle is gone and the canners can make more money because the recyclables do not have to be handed over the counter.

“They now make our work a lot easier,” said the supermarket manager.

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Atlantic/Pacific’s Ocean of Noise http://narrativenyc.org/?p=829 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=829#comments Thu, 02 Dec 2010 22:07:45 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=829 By Nick Jardine

T

he Bell Room, a spacious Brooklyn bar, is situated somewhere among the industrial wasteland that lies between Red Hook and Park Slope.

The staff there are friendly but too cool to smile. They don’t serve food, but at the drop of a hat (or a five dollar bill) they will produce a swathe of take-out menus from behind the bar, allowing you to order some dinner if you haven’t eaten. They look like ordinary, young Brooklinites, making them distinct from everyone else outside Kings County.

Atlantic/Pacific’s John Herguth. Photo by Nick Jardine.

Out back is a large faux-barn, home to a stage and sparkling lights. For a few extra bucks, you can have the privilege of watching live performers every night. Alternatively, you can get free entry by befriending a band while bending the truth about your importance.

Above the stage, a picture of a mighty buffalo is hung. It fits. Just like the buffalo, the juggernaut that is pop music is almost extinct.

“Pop” is no longer an adequate way of describing music. Blame the youth of today; blame the Backstreet Boys if you must, but today “pop” is a loaded word. It conjures up images if artificialdom; of fluorescent colored plastic and reality television.  It is a dirty word; it is not cool to be a “popstar.” It’s not rock and roll enough.

Fifteen years ago, Brooklyn-based Atlantic/Pacific would have been described as making pop music. Now they make a genre-bending mix of psychedelica and folk; another band categorized, for the sake of ease, under the umbrella of “alternative” music.

Tonight the band hosts their album-release party at the Bell Room. Though there will be five of them on stage, Atlantic/Pacific are really a duo. Old friends, Garrett Klahn and John Herguth, are the heart and lungs of the band. Their twin vocals drive each tune along. Without either of them, the group dissolves.

The two couldn’t be more different. On a conference call, ten hours before they were due to take the stage, it became clear that Garrett was the mouth; John the ears. Now Garrett struts around the bar while John seams to float. Garrett looks weather-beaten and worn; John fresh and scruffy.

Playing in front of their hometown crowd is something Garrett describes as, “both horribly frightening and exciting at the same time.” I introduce myself to him fifteen minutes before Atlantic/Pacific’s set starts. He’s pumped, wired even, he slaps my hand and thanks me for the interview earlier, before turning away and walking towards an exit.

“I’ve got to stop Garrett drinking,” says his manager to me, storming after him. I head in to the arena, Blue Moon in hand, anticipating something special. Garrett and John had assured me earlier that tonight was different from usual. Their friend, Kevin Campbell (who shares his name with a distinctly average English soccer player) has created a slideshow to be displayed on a large projector screen behind the band. He’s as much a performer as they are.

I walk down to the front of the stage and begin a conversation with a boy who looks no older than 15, let alone 21. He’s a photography student, a hefty camera slung around his neck, and a hefty piece of metal sticking out of his lip. As we talk an identical student appears next to him. Same camera; same piercing; they must be brothers. Or lovers. They’re long time fans of the band.

Atlantic/Pacific come onstage later than they said they would. I blame an over-zealous, though perfectly pleasant, support act. No one else seems to care; they’re all friends of the group.

The opening chords ring out. Mouths drop, some out of awe, some out of exhaustion.

“I’ve got work tomorrow!“

“You don’t work!”

“Yes I do, I’m updating my blog.”

The smell of marijuana (or peppermint, I struggled to distinguish) drifted across the room. Bodies swayed from side to side. It’s all you can do to this music. What was branded a launch party, is really a launch soiree. It’s more akin to a casual glass of wine in the company of friends than a drug-fuelled mass orgy in the comfort of strangers.

There is no doubt that the music is captivating. Swirling looped beats twinned with echoing guitars create an ocean of noise carrying away members of the audience, their eyes closed as they cling to every note.

Meanwhile, Kevin’s slideshow is taking me on a journey. We’re flying through the streets of New York; now we’re surfing on the west coast. Suddenly we’re watching a man with a red cape dance with a bull. A hundred pairs of black-rimmed spectacles are fixed on the backdrop, which initially portrayed the band’s mantra, “Let’s Get Lost.”

Wave after wave of sound fills the oversized room.

The vocal melodies are harmonious though rumbustious. The pair describe the relationship between their voices as “intimate. ” It’s an uncomfortable but entirely justified description of their singing. The delicacy of the melody is juxtaposed with Garrett and John’s rough-and-tumble vocal chords. It’s like being kissed gently by a man (or woman) with a scruffy goatee. Like petting and stroking your loyal, adorable pet porcupine.

The show ends after 45 minutes. I’m almost certain the support acts before them played more, but it doesn’t matter for this is Atlantic/Pacific’s night. Everyone is here for them.

The band’s album is called “Meet Your New Love.” I was curious about the title. Did this mean it was a weapon of mass seduction? Would it aid me in my romantic endeavours?

Earlier, Garrett had told me that I could easily woo women using the record. “You’ve got the tools, now there’s no excuse!” he joked (I’m not sure if he realized I was being serious when I asked if I could use his music for this purpose.) With this in mind, I hurried out as the band finished playing and waited for one of the members to come and sell me a CD.

John glided over, graciously accepting my payment and thanking me once again for “making out.” On reflection, he could have been saying, “making it out,” but I just smiled and shook his hand.

The two photo-twins appeared, nervously striking up conversation with their new demi-idol.

“Do you remember us?” one asks.

“Of course I do,” replies John, contented but not overly enthusiastic. He’d ask them to stick around for a drink if they weren’t so damn young. He told me I should stay for at least one. It’s already past midnight on a Thursday.

Meanwhile, Garrett clinks glasses with friends in the bar, gulping down a cocktail. He could drink now; his manager would have no complaints. This was, after all, a night for celebration.

As I leave, he removes himself from his friends and offers me another high-five. He’s calmer, but the infantile-like excitement is still evident through his tobacco-enhanced smile.

“What did you think?” sounds the rhetorical question that Garrett already knows the answer to.

“I loved it, really loved it. I bought the CD, see?” my telegraphed reply.

He giggles, the same pre-show excitement ebbing back to his weathered face. He slaps my hand again, I feel he’ll be at the bar for a while, living his “pop and roll” dream. Why not?

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Coney Island Boardwalk to be Concrete http://narrativenyc.org/?p=793 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=793#comments Thu, 02 Dec 2010 20:47:41 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=793 By Ryan Maye Handy

I

n late October the Brooklyn Division of the Parks and Recreation Department broke the bad news to the District 13 Community Board: Coney Island’s wooden boardwalk is going concrete.

Their decision is part of a mayoral effort to revitalize Coney Island. While the parks department will be ripping up boards and pouring concrete, Zamperla, an Italian amusement park company, will be closing and remaking some classic boardwalk restaurants, like Ruby’s Bar and Grill.

The Parks and Recreation Department has a total of $30 million in funds for the project, according to press agent Meghan Lalor.  Local Assembly members Steven Cymbrowitz and Alec Brook-Krasny donated $10 million to the project.

The sections of boardwalk in front of the “historic areas” of Coney—the amusement park—will remain wood, Lalor added. A synthetic plastic lumber material is being used to renovate Steeplechase Pier, another amusement park strip near Coney Island.

“The use of concrete in other sections and underneath will not only be environmentally sustainable, but will also save large amounts of money for both installation and on ongoing maintenance,” Lalor wrote in an email.

The concrete slabs will cost $90 per square foot, while a wood replacement would cost $138 per square foot, according to Lalor.

District 13 Community Board member Pat Singer said the community has been desperate for a boardwalk renovation for years. This was just not the solution they expected.

“I don’t want to see the Riegelman Highway. I prefer the Riegelman Boardwalk,” she said.

Although opposed to a concrete boardwalk, Singer admitted that current wooden version is not without faults. When the Army Engineer Corps built the wooden walk 69 years ago, they stuffed wet sand under the boards, causing them to rot, Singer said.

“Some nails on the boards stick up two inches—you could get a toe stuck on those and go down. A guy even told me once that he stepped on board and it went up like a seesaw,” she added.

Although maintaining a wooden boardwalk has proved difficult, local Ida Sandov feels that concrete will pose its own problems.

For Sandov, chair of a non-profit shoreline maintenance group, the Natural Resources Protection Assocation, concrete is the least practical choice. Concrete conducts heat, which is not ideal for bare-foot strolling, she pointed out. Sandov is also worried that, like the brick apartments lining the shore, the concrete will erode in the salt air.

But Sandov’s greatest worry is for the future of Coney Island, now that the Parks department intends to split it between the old and the new.

“It will create a 2-tiered Coney island! The amusement park part will have the original boardwalk and to hell with everybody else—you get the concrete,” she exclaimed.

For Sandov and Singer, the fight to preserve their boardwalk is not over. Rainforest Relief, a local activist group that promotes the use of synthetic wood materials in parks, will hold a community meeting on November 17th to discuss alternatives to concrete.

But for many New Yorkers, the boardwalk dilemma is more than just a choice of material—it’s personal.

“I am flipped out about the concrete,” said Pat Ritter, 54, a life-time Brooklynite.

Ritter used to spend most Friday nights on the boardwalk, watching fireworks and eating peppers and sausage at Ruby’s Bar and Grill. After 76 years on the boardwalk, Ruby’s was forced to close when Zamperla, the amusement park company, did not renew its lease.

“This is ours. How can they change that after all this? Today it’s this, tomorrow it’s that,” Ritter said.

For Vito Viloante, 65, the transformation is tantamount to an identity crisis. The retired policeman, who was raised on hot dogs and the soft Coney sand, considers the best part of Coney is its signature wooden walkway.

“I once saw this couple walking up to the beach. They were obviously tourists—you know, he had the sweater around his shoulders and everything. And he says, ‘Hey, there really is a boardwalk!’ It’s like a urban myth or something,” Viloante recalled.

“How will the song go now?” he wondered. “‘Under the Concrete’?”

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Fall brings compost to western Queens http://narrativenyc.org/?p=782 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=782#comments Thu, 02 Dec 2010 19:05:51 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=782 By Marium Sattar

T

he New York Department of Sanitation reduced leaf pickups in the past two years, so members of the Western Queens Compost Initiative decided to take matters into their own hands, turning unwanted dry leaves into rich soil supplements through composting.
Donors deposited bags of leaves at Socrates Sculpture Park on Nov. 20 at one of a series of “leaf drops” organized by the group to prevent leaves from ending up in landfills. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Kimberly Kern gathers leaves for the Western Queens Compost initiative. Photo by Marium Sattar.

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Haitians Rally Against Home Depot http://narrativenyc.org/?p=740 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=740#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 18:32:18 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=740 Photo Essay by Ina Sotirova

A

t a Nov. 6 rally in Harlem, demonstrators called upon the Rev. Al Sharpton to support Ludin Pierre, the owner of a staffing agency, who claims Home Depot stopped working with him because he is Haitian.

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Bronx Fathers may be in the dark about new Fatherhood Initiative http://narrativenyc.org/?p=736 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=736#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 18:26:05 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=736 By Tatiana Sanchez

F

athers were welcomed with warm faces, friendly greetings and tables full of information at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in November, as the New York City Housing Authority launched the second location of its Fatherhood Initiative in the East Bronx.















Photo by Tatiana Sanchez.

But for most of the four-hour event, these tables went unvisited. Few fathers showed up.

Representatives from organizations such as the New York City Department of Education and Visiting Nurse Service of New York filled the gymnasium at 11 a.m. Brochures, sign-up sheets, and some activities for kids showed dads all the resources that will be available to them through the initiative.

The New York City Housing Authority’s Fatherhood Initiative was launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in July. It aims to provide a positive environment to fathers and their children so that they strengthen their relationship through educational workshops and recreational activities. Fathers participate in these workshops once a month for one year. Additional youth workshops will be held once a week.

One of the initiative’s main objectives is to make educational, human resource, and social services available to fathers under one umbrella, according to Eric Cumberbatch, the Housing Authority senior program manager for Brooklyn community operations.

“It would give them all abundance of resources immediately,” said Cumberbatch, who described the initiative as a “one-stop” shop.

But with poor attendance and little knowledge of the event, the program’s effectiveness stands in question. Compared to the 100 or more fathers and children who attended the program launch in Williamsburg just a few months ago, Bronx fathers may have been absent not necessarily due to lack of interest, but lack of program outreach.

The launch of the initiative at the Williamsburg Community Center in July was previewed with press announcements, flyers and newspaper advertisements that were carried out by a recruitment team and a focus group of community leaders.

Cumberbatch feels that the same outreach efforts that were done in Williamsburg need to be carried out in the Bronx and in future locations in other boroughs. He didn’t answer how much the program costs the housing authority.

Ilia Rodriguez, the housing authority’s director of Bronx communications operations, said outreach for the launch of the Fatherhood Initiative included posting flyers in every development center in the Bronx, reaching out to tenant associations, and sending out an email blast from the Bronx Borough President, Rubén Díaz Jr.

But when asked why she thought the Bronx turnout was so low, she simply said she didn’t know.

Heidi Morales, associate public information specialist for the New York City Housing Authority, said in an email, “NYCHA did an excellent job in its outreach…as is typical of many inaugural events, attendance numbers at first can seem low.”

Leonardo Torres, a Bronx resident, attended with his kids, Monica, 13, and Lenny Jr., 9. Torres said he had no idea what the launch was about but came because his friend, Omar Branch of Friends to Fathers in the Bronx, who represented the organization at the event, recommended he come. Friends to Fathers provides a variety of resources to dads who have had run-ins with the legal system.

Another Bronx resident, Jonathan Machuca, 27,came because his mother suggested he do so. Machuca, who attended with his son, Steven, 8, and daughter Sheyla, 5, considers himself a responsible parent that is trying to be present in his children’s lives.

But not all Bronx fathers think like Machuca. Nearly 40 percent of all households in Bronx Community Board 9, which includes eight East Bronx neighborhoods, are headed by single females, according to 2009 data from the New York City Department of City Planning.

One hour into the event, only four to five fathers were present. Representatives from the organizations sat and watched a small number of children run across the otherwise empty gym floors, as their tables remained unvisited and their pamphlets untouched.

Several organizations said they were unaware of the event until they were asked to attend at the last minute.

The few number of fathers in attendance does not signify disinterest but shows lack of outreach, according to Vincent Thomas, outreach assistant at the Bronx Fatherhood program, which teaches fathers to become more engaged with their children.

“If they’re given an opportunity to better themselves, they will take it,” said Thomas.

Thomas, who has been with the organization for eight months, said that fathers who find out about their program are genuinely interested in it, whether or not they are in a relationship with the child’s mother.

Approximately 70 fathers are a part of the Bronx Fathers Program. Between 150 and 160 participated in the program in 2009.

The success in Williamsburg is testament to the fact that fathers want to be engaged, Cumberbatch said in an email following the event.

But Rodriguez, like Thomas, thinks that word of mouth is more effective in the Bronx community. Torres and Machuca were both informed of the event by someone else.

“Someone told me that next time I should visit every barber shop in the community,” said Rodriguez with a laugh.

Photo by Tatiana Sanchez.

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“He’s for the poor people”: South Bronx residents maintain support for Obama at Midterm http://narrativenyc.org/?p=723 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=723#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 18:10:54 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=723 By Albert Samaha

B

olivar Rexach likes playing bingo. And voting. So minutes after casting his ballot on Tuesday, he rolled his electric wheel chair to the the South Bronx’s Melrose Senior Citizen’s Center cafeteria to set up for the afternoon bingo game. Something about those white ping pong balls bouncing around in that big round cage gives him a rush hard to find in old age. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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The Sixth Grade Score Drop: How one principal addressed the middle school transition problem http://narrativenyc.org/?p=709 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=709#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 18:02:01 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=709 By Albert Samaha

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n July, the New York City Department of Education released the results of this year’s English and math exams. Once again, District Seven in the South Bronx displayed a familiar pattern: significant drops in scores between fifth graders and sixth graders. In the five years since the standardized testing was implemented, an average of 10 percent fewer sixth graders in the district pass the tests than fifth graders. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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NYC Parks Leads the Way with Greenroof http://narrativenyc.org/?p=684 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=684#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 17:52:35 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=684 By Nathan Hurst

O

n a gray November day, the mild temperature fails to belie the coming winter.  The muted browns and greens atop the 5-Borough Administrative Building on Randall’s Island, however, tell a different story.

Part of the 5-Boro roof, Randall’s Island, New York. Photo by Nathan Hurst.


The building’s green roof isn’t so green this time of year, with native prairie species reduced to clumps of brown stalks.  Only a few—mostly low, hardy thick-leaved plants—cling to their photosynthesis this late in the season.  But even during the winter, the roof is doing its job as a temperature-moderating, water-saving, carbon sink.

The 26,000 square foot green roof of 5-Boro is one of the largest in New York City, and it helps improve the building’s energy efficiency, water runoff, biodiversity and appearance.  The roof hosts 21 different research plots as an experiment to compare green roof systems.

John Robilotti is the senior project manager and the driving force behind the 5-Boro green roof.  When Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced PlaNYC in 2007, Robilotti and parks department Chief of Technical Services Artie Rollins decided to put together a green roof.

“Before that, the parks department didn’t have a single green roof,” Robilotti said.  “Shouldn’t we be leading this movement?  We did this basically on a lark, a shoestring budget, and it was successful, and it kind of grew and grew.”

Only 800 square feet when it was established in 2007, the roof was expanded to 16,000 in 2009.  This summer, 10,000 more square feet were added, including a 4,000 square foot vegetable garden, to make it the fifth largest in the city, according to Greenroofs.com, a news outlet.

But the most important thing about 5-Boro isn’t its size.  Robilotti set up 21 unique blocks of green roof systems.  They vary based on the type of growing medium (soil), the dept of that growing medium and the type of plants on top.

The different systems mean the 5-Boro roof is especially useful as a research and educational facility.  The plots can be compared to find out what plant/soil combinations grow the best, require the least maintenance, what the optimal depth and type of soil is and even where the most insects can be found.

Those bugs are the focus of research by Melanie Smith a master’s candidate at Columbia University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology.  She is performing the first green roof invertebrate study in New York on 18 roofs (some green and some bare) including 5-Boro, to find out which host the most insect diversity.

Although Smith hasn’t finished the comparison, she was able to explain the “heat island” effect.  Studies based on weather data have shown New York City to be several degrees warmer in the summer than the surrounding suburbs.

A green roof “insulates the building better, so in the winter you get less heat loss, whereas in the summer it helps cool it,” she said.

Temperatures in 2008, for example, averaged about 60 degrees cooler on a green roof than on a traditional black one, found a study by Stuart Gaffin, associate research scientist at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research.  Gaffin measured temperature differences on a roof in Queens that was divided into black, white and green (vegetated) sections.  His study described traditional rooftops as contributors to heat island effect and sewage overflow and called green roofing an “urgent priority”.

Robilotti has seen the difference peak even more dramatically.  He has measured temperatures of 175 degrees on part of 5-Boro’s roof that isn’t green, but said the green roof can keep it down in the 90s.

Because most roofs are insulated anyway, Robilotti said the greatest energy savings come from reduced air conditioning costs: the air conditioner intake for most buildings is on the roof.  It requires much less energy to cool 95-degree air than air at 175 degrees.

Green roofs affect more than just the heat index of a city.  They are habitats for wildlife, from bees to butterflies to birds—even a pair of red-tailed hawks frequents the roof, said Robilotti.  A couple of picnic tables on the 5-Boro roof, shaded by a trellis of vines, offer evidence that green roofs can be people habitat too.  He calls it “found” or “reclaimed” real estate.

“It really turns an unusable space, for a minimal amount of money, into a usable space,” he said.

The parks department is now searching for more found real estate in the form of recreational buildings where they could make green roofs accessible to the public.

Another benefit of green roofs is reduced storm water runoff.  5-Boro can hold enough water to contain one inch of rainfall, according to Robilotti.

New York City has a combined storm and sewer system.  During a storm, water runs off rooftops, feeds into the system and eventually funnels into the same wastewater treatment plant as sewage.  When there is too much water, it bypasses the plant, said Robilotti.

“So not only the storm (water) goes straight into the waterways, but the sewer water does too, which is not a pretty thought,” he said.

The largest single plot on 5-Boro’s roof is made up of the low, hardy, thick-leaved groundcover of the Sedum genus.  Sedum is relatively low maintenance and resistant to heat and water stress.  The parks department got a grant to purchase 6,000 square feet of it from Xero Flor, an international company that sells green roof systems across the United States.  Xero Flor has provided plants for about 40 or 50 roofs in New York City, according to Technical Director Clayton Rugh.

Though the systems are expensive ($7 per square foot and up, without installation), a roof with vegetation over it can last much longer than the normal roof lifespan of 12 to 15 years, Rugh said.

“If you put a green roof over it, you protect it from ultraviolet light and heat cycling, so you can make the roof materials last 30 to 50 years,” he said, which helps offset the higher initial cost.

The vegetable garden in this year’s addition to 5-Boro featured 4,000 square feet of green peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, squash, various tomatoes and lettuce, said Robilotti.

“It did very well, first season,” he said.  “We planted a whole array of vegetables, several types.  We had—you name it.”  Robilotti wasn’t able to say what became of the produce, or whether it was safe to eat.

Green roofs are known to absorb particles, including respiratory irritants and carbon dioxide, but there is no conclusive evidence that pollutants can be absorbed and then consumed in urban produce.  Up above the roof garden the sound of—and presumably some of the pollution from—the Triborough Bridge filtered down over 5-Boro.

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State Senator and Others Arrested in AIDS Housing Protest http://narrativenyc.org/?p=662 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=662#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 17:28:20 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=662 By Nathan Hurst

T

om Duane and 17 AIDS housing advocates blocked traffic and were arrested on Broadway on Tuesday, Nov. 9, in a protest of Gov. David Paterson’s September veto of an AIDS rent cap bill. The bill, which easily passed the State Senate and Assembly this summer, would have capped the amount people with HIV or AIDS spend on rent at 30 percent of their disability income.

James Lister and State Sen. Tom Duane block traffic. Photo by Nathan Hurst.


The arrests were a planned part of a rally organized by the New York City AIDS Housing Network, Housing Works, bill sponsors Duane (D-Manhattan) and Assembly Member Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) and other advocacy groups. Duane and other protesters spoke to a crowd gathered at City Hall Park before carrying an “AIDS Housing Saves Lives” sign into the street and sitting down.

“Some of us are going to spend the day—and maybe longer—in jail. But that’s nothing to the imprisonment that Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson are forcing people with AIDS to live in every day,” said Duane.

“There is no excuse for this veto,” he went on. “It’s just cruel, it’s just rotten, it’s just mean and we’re not going to let them get away with it.”

Neither the governor’s office nor the mayor’s returned phone calls about the rally, but in statements after the veto in September, both cited budget constraints as the primary reason they did not support the bill.

“The state cannot incur financial obligations that it does not have the resources to fund, or impose such burdens on its counties, cities and towns,” said Paterson in a press release.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the governor’s decision.

“This is not the time for unfunded mandates, no matter how well-intentioned,” said Bloomberg in his own press release.

One protester who lives with AIDS is Wanda Hernandez. She explained that, because the HIV/AIDS Service Administration is the only rental assistance program in the state that does not cap rent at 30 percent, she is left with less than $12 per day for living expenses.

“Housing is really the difference between life and death for people with AIDS,” Hernandez said.

“The good news is, this bill will pay for itself,” she went on. “What we cannot afford is to continue paying for emergency shelter when it saves money and lives to keep people in their homes.”

Gerald Deyounge, 44, said he has HIV, student loans and an eviction notice from his landlord because he can’t afford his rent. A U.S. Army veteran, he said he was going to the Veterans Affairs office after the rally to try to get emergency transitional housing.

“We are very upset and very angry that the governor on many times said he would support it and then at the last minute he vetoed it,” said Deyounge.

But the bill has been vetoed. Even the governor can’t undo a veto, explained James Lister, 56, an advocate who has AIDS and is at risk of losing his West Village apartment. When the governor reviews the budget at the end of the year, he will have the opportunity to submit additional items for funding using leftover money.

Lister wants the governor to “go to the legislature and say ‘We have this little bit of money, not everyone is going to get their bills, this is the one I’m behind’.”

Later, Lister gave a speech, “Why have I decided to get arrested?” to the gathered protesters.

The governor “has left me with no options,” concluded Lister. Then he too walked into Broadway in front of a backed-up line of cars and busses, which stopped and waited without much reaction. He sat behind the line of protesters with his hands around his knees, silent and somber while everyone else cheered and protested. After about 10 minutes, the police lifted him up, strapped his hands with plastic handcuffs and led him off in a waiting truck.



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Groups Aim To Green Newtown’s Brownfields http://narrativenyc.org/?p=652 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=652#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 07:42:33 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=652 By Marium Sattar

The area around Newtown Creek, known for decades as a toxic wasteland, is due for a makeover. Several community groups have received funding to revitalize the area surrounding the creek, which divides Queens and Brooklyn, but the question remains: what to do?

Just one month after the creek was designated as a Superfund site, three organizations came together at a meeting on Oct. 28 to plan redevelopment of the surrounding area. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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Pizza Proves Undoing of Eating Champ Kobyashi http://narrativenyc.org/?p=606 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=606#comments Thu, 18 Nov 2010 19:14:04 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=606 By Nick Jardine

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akeru Kobyashi screamed in anguish as a line of reporters waited outside his dressing room. He had been branded a failure, and he was upset. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Kobyashi reflects his shortcoming. Photo by Nick Jardine.

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Protesters Demand Harsher Sentencing of Juvenile Rapist http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1033 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1033#comments Fri, 12 Nov 2010 03:41:32 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1033 By Laura Rena Murray

On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of a hundred women gathered outside Manhattan Family Court to protest a proposed probation sentence without jail time for juvenile counselor after he pleaded guilty to rape and sexual assault of three girls in his care.

Tony Simmons worked for the Department of Juvenile Justice and admitted to raping one girl and sexually assaulting two others while he was transporting them to Manhattan Family Court. All three were under the age of eighteen at the time they were assaulted by Simmons. Each attack occurred in the court building at 111 Centre Street in Manhattan.

The National Organization for Women and other anti-violence advocates gathered to demand an investigation of Supreme Court Justice Cassandra Mullen who proposed a probation sentence for Simmons. Tamika Mallory, director of the National Action Network, called the sentence a “miscarriage of justice” and demanded an evaluation of Mullen’s record and past “slap-wrist rulings.”

“In this case, young Ashley and those other women were raped twice,” Mallory shouted. “Just like they were raped by Tony Simmons, they were also raped by the justice system.”

Protesters held up signs outside of Manhattan Family Court and shouted “Rape is a real crime! Simmons should do real time!” The group was largely female, and included women of all ages. A 67-year-old woman joined the crowd as she was walking home and shouted in unison after learning about the case. “We just don’t want people to get away with crimes like this,” she said when asked why she chose to join the rally. “It’s kind of sad that we have to do this now, you know, after all these years. But we really do have to change the law, for the better.”

One of the girls Simmons admitted to raping was fifteen when he attacked her. He raped her in the basement of the court building before escorting her to her scheduled court appearance.

“It was said that this man had cookies and condoms on a shelf,” said Jean Bucaria, deputy director of NOW NYC. “So how many girls, how many girls did he attack over the years? How did this go unnoticed? It’s absolutely shocking.”

Stephanie Joson, 29, talked about her fears of lowering the standards of rape prosecutions and the possibility that Mullen’s sentence would encourage rapists. “People in the community see acts like this, the absolute minimum punishment, it adds to the normalization violence against women and how it’s just a part of life, something that women and girls have to go through. And that’s really not okay,” Josen said.

Each year, 4.8 million women experience physical assault and rape as reported by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Females under the age of twenty-five experienced higher rates of sexual violence than adult women according to the U.S. Department of Justice 2009 statistics.

Another protester, Matt Borden, 31, was one of three men present at the rally. He expressed his dismay at the lack of male support and called for more accountability. “Men are the ones doing the raping so we need to be here,” he said. “We need to be out. We need to be more involved in the movement to stop it.”

On Monday, Mullen is scheduled to give a final ruling after the probation department weighs in on the proposed sentencing. Mallory holds little hope for seeing Simmons served a jail sentence and warns against the repercussions of this case. “Young women’s lives are looked at as a joke in this system,” said Mallory. The National Organization for Women is planning to attend the hearing sporting purple ribbons in silent protest. Bucaria’s voice was weighted with dismay when she asked, “If we can’t prosecute this case, how can we prosecute any case?”

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City Receives Federal Grant For Radiation Detectors http://narrativenyc.org/?p=586 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=586#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:49:10 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=586 By Kate Poole

Five months after tourists and residents fled Times Square due to a bomb threat, a group gathered on Sept. 26 just two blocks from where the smoking SUV had been to address an even worse possible scenario: a dirty bomb.

An $18.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office was announced by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and N.Y.P.D. Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism Richard Daddario. The funding will allow city officials to purchase 4,500 radiation detectors, which will be installed at tunnels and bridges and accompany mobile police units on routine patrols.

The grant came under the federal Securing the Cities initiative, which launched in 2006 and aims to keep dirty bombs and other nuclear devices out of major metropolitan areas.

“As we’ve repeatedly seen, New York City is the No. 1 target for terrorists around the world who want to harm Americans,” said Gillibrand. “The threat of a dirty bomb is one of the most serious dangers that our law enforcement and security operations face.”

A dirty bomb is an explosive device that involves radiological materials according to Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor and terrorism expert. Unlike conventional nuclear bombs, which create powerful, damage-inflicting explosions, dirty bombs create small explosions but spew dangerous radiological material. In recent years, authorities in various countries have uncovered several dirty bomb plots. None were successful.

Even with new funding, monitoring nuclear activity in the metropolitan area will not be an easy task.

“On average, an estimate of 600,000 vehicles enter Manhattan every day,” said Gillibrand. “With so much traffic coming through our city, we must remain vigilant and stand ready to protect our city from the threat of this terrorism.”

There are concerns, however, regarding the efficiency of radiation detection systems. While the devices will alert authorities to dirty bombs entering the city, they can also target trucks carrying medical equipment. Radiological material in adjacent hospitals can also impact readings.

“The mapping for the whole city has already been done to know where radiation levels are higher, such as in hospital areas, to avoid false positives,” said Gillibrand. While detecting false positives is still plausible, she claims that despite this possibility, the real value is in catching a terrorist.

A benefit of the radiological sensors may lie in their presence alone, according to Hoffman. Terrorists would only discover the effectiveness of the sensors by testing them, and that may not be a risk they are willing to take in the first place.

“It carries with it a significant deterrent quality that perhaps we don’t recognize,” he said.

Moving forward, Daddario hopes to develop an integrated security system throughout the metropolitan area.

“We’ve worked very closely with police departments and our regional partners in New York State, Connecticut, and New Jersey,” he said. “We’ve provided them with thousands of pieces of equipment and we have trained them.”

The commissioner believes this system is necessary for not just regional but national security. When it is complete, according to Daddario, it will be a model for all communities across the United States.

Hoffman sees the new funding as fitting for the considerable repercussions that a dirty bomb could cast on a targeted area.

“Recovery can take decades because of the half life of radiological material. Because the consequences alone would be so enormous I think it’s a threat that we have to think very prudently about,” he said.

Jack O’Brien, a New York City resident, was near Times Square in May when the failed car bomb attempt occurred. While he described the event as nerve-wracking, the new precautions the city is taking to prevent dirty bombs makes him feel safer.

“I hope it helps, there’s a huge bridge and tunnel crowd in the city so it would be nice to know that they’re safe as well as we’re safe here in the city itself,” he said.

The grant will not be the last infusion of cash for the Securing the Cities program. Gillibrand’s legislation will provide $20 million for the initiative in the upcoming year, as well as $10 million in each succeeding fiscal year.

This long-term approval of funds will help avert future budget cuts so that the new safety programs against dirty bombs and radiological attacks can carry on.

“At one time such a threat was inconceivable, now we know, it is all too real,” said Daddario.

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Manhattan Madam Plans to Keep Fighting http://narrativenyc.org/?p=581 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=581#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:15:18 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=581 By Meghan Keneally

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ristin Davis was the only gubernatorial candidate in the state—if not the nation—standing in a bar at 11 p.m. last night in a mini-dress and high-heeled boots waiting for the election returns to come in. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE


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Cuomo Does Dicker, Pledges to Change Culture and Live in Gov Mansion http://narrativenyc.org/?p=575 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=575#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:10:42 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=575 By Meghan Keneally

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overnor-elect Andrew Cuomo laid out his agenda on Fred Dicker’s radio show this morning, saying that it was his goal to change the culture of Albany, but adding that politicians should fear the will of the voters in light of Tuesday’s elections. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Quinn Calls Out Board of Elections for Incompetence http://narrativenyc.org/?p=565 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=565#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:04:57 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=565 By Meghan Keneally

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ity Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that the Board of Elections needed to come under the oversight of the mayor’s office after conducting another election riddled with errors and incompetence. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Bloomberg Reaches Back Into Private Sector for New Schools Chancellor http://narrativenyc.org/?p=553 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=553#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 18:00:42 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=553

By Meghan Keneally

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n naming Cathie Black, an executive at Hearst Magazine, to take over for schools chief Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is continuing his tradition of naming private sector executives to run public sector agencies. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE


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October Declared First Gay Youth Empowerment Month http://narrativenyc.org/?p=556 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=556#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 17:55:36 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=556 By Pauline Eiferman

Michelle Riddle was a teenager when she fled from her hometown in Alabama three years ago. Gay teenagers weren’t welcome there, and transgendered people even less so. When she arrived in New York City, she ran out of money and was forced to live on the streets.

“I know how it is to be hurt and abandoned by loved ones,” she said on Thursday, during a gay youth rally on the steps of City Hall. “I’m not gonna lie, I did try to end my life more than once.”

Riddle managed to turn her life around when she found a shelter that accepted her for who she was: a transwoman. Now 19, she is an active member of FIERCE, a gay rights advocacy group for youth of color. She still lives in a shelter but participates in campaigns to help homeless gay teenagers in New York.













Photo by Pauline Eiferman.

On Oct. 21, she participated in a rally on the steps of City Hall with other gay youth and advocacy groups. As the youth took turns in telling their stories, Susan Haskell, deputy commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development, and New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn took the microphone.

“Far too many of our youth have suffered,” said Quinn. “I join them in declaring October to be the first annual gay youth empowerment month.”

Haskell then presented an official framed proclamation, signed by Mayor Bloomberg. Other politicians including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilman Daniel Dromm, were present to show their support.

The teenagers cheered. Riddle was wearing a red dress and matching red stilettos, which she soon took off because her feet hurt, she hugged her friends.

Although they all knew that this was a symbolic move, many said this kind of attention was the only way to move their cause forward.

Homelessness is a major risk for gay youth. There are between 1.6 million and 2.8 million homeless young people in the United States, according a study published in June by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. The study showed that a disproportionate number of those youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Still, there are no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of homeless gay youth.

Suicide becomes more of a danger when a gay or transgender youth becomes homeless. This October was a particularly dark month. Tyler Clementi, 18, a student at Rutgers University, New Jersey, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a roommate webcast a sexual encounter he had. He was the fifth gay youth to kill himself in three weeks across the country, from the East Coast to California, where Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself.

Thousands of others suffer the same fate every year, say gay rights advocacy groups, said Carl Siciliano, the director of the country’s largest organization dedicated to homeless gay youth, the Ali Forney Center. He added that associations like his lacked two things: resources and attention.

Of the $4.2 billion that the government spends annually on homeless assistance programs, less than five percent ($195 million) is dedicated to homeless children and youth, the Center for American Progress study found.

The Ali Forney Center helps to reinsert them into society by providing them with safe housing, medical help and the social support they need, said Siciliano.

It counts 57 small home-like shelters scattered across New York City, which house residents between the ages of 16 to 24. About 80 percent are black and Latino, and many have mental health problems or are substance abusers, according to Siciliano. Around 15 to 20 percent are HIV-infected.

Residents can live up to two years in transitional homes, if they prove that they are willing to work. Over the past eight years, the center has housed over 6,000 youth, and none of them have committed suicide, said Siciliano.

Still, he added that organizations like his had a long way to go. Last year, the Ali Forney Center lost half a million dollars in funding for its program. But Siciliano believes 2010 will be different. “We received three federal grants,” he said. “It’s the first time we’re getting so much money.”

Siciliano was 22 when he came out to his father. He says they never spoke again. When he started working with the homeless, he noticed that many shelters were homophobic. He founded the Ali Forney Center in 2002. The teenagers in his residences have very specific needs, he said.

Though he agreed that Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement could help raise awareness, he said that resources were still scarce.

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth don’t have equal access to any environment where youth are supposed to be receiving help: families, schools, community organizations…”

He added that the help had to come first from the gay community, which, he said, didn’t focus enough on problems faced by their youth. “What happens to these teenagers is more horrifying than what happens to adults,” he said.

He feared that this lack of attention could be detrimental to future financial help from the government.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We’re like Dorothy and the tin man, you know, we just started walking the yellow brick road. And we’ve got a long way ahead of us.”

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Ruby’s Final Last Call in Coney — Maybe http://narrativenyc.org/?p=550 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=550#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 17:48:43 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=550 By Simone Gorrindo
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle

CONEY ISLAND —

The smell of hot dogs and fried food wafted down Coney Island’s boardwalk on Saturday, a hint of summer in the cold, salty air. Hundreds had gathered at the iconic bar Ruby’s to protest a Coney Island landlord’s decision last week to evict the bar and eight other longstanding boardwalk businesses.

“This is our final last call,” a family friend of the bar’s owners yelled through a microphone at the beginning of the event. “Or maybe not. Let’s see who we can persuade.”

TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Brooklynites turned out to support Coney Island. Photo by Simone Gorrindo.

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Bamboozling Bicycles are “Ghana” be Great http://narrativenyc.org/?p=512 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=512#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 17:32:37 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=512 By Nick Jardine

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an “Fence” Huanea, 22, stands in the spacious Brooklyn studio he’s just agreed to manage. Several feet above him hang about a dozen bicycle frames– all constructed from bamboo.

Bamboo Bike Studio, Brooklyn. Photo by Nick Jardine.


“Bamboo bikes have been around since the 1800s, but never on any large scale,” says Huanea, fetching a frame down from the ceiling with a lengthy bamboo pole. “This one’s mine.”

Red Hook’s Bamboo Bike Studio has offered customers the chance to make their own bicycles for the past two years. By fusing standard bike components with an all-bamboo frame, consumers create their own lean, green, cycling machine.

But the bikes aren’t designed just for New Yorkers. The studio’s volunteers are taking the project from Brooklyn to Africa.

As frames are mounted on to racks, ready to be worked on by the weekend’s clientele, the materials to build an entire bamboo-bike factory are sailing towards Ghana. They were packed into the shipping freight by the studio’s own volunteers.

Backed by a Ghanaian investor, unable to be named, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the studio’s staff consists of about eight volunteers. Building the bikes is more of a passion than a business. Ghana is the main priority.

“It’s a way to get super-cheap transportation into the hands of people who need it,” says Huanea. While an American customer pays $632 to construct a bamboo bike in the Brooklyn studio, Ghanaians will be able to purchase one for $50 to $60.

Chinese-made steel bikes are available in Ghana for about $100. The average yearly income in a Ghanaian household is $2,200 according to a 2005 study by The Globalist.”

Sean Murray, a former botany teacher, co-owns the studio. As the prospect of a bike factory in Ghana progresses to reality he can hardly contain his excitement.

“I can’t wait, I can not wait!” says Murray, talking about the prospect of workers in Ghana mass-producing the bikes. “I have made about 350 bikes in my life. They’re going to make three bikes a day. These guys are going to be fantastic!”

In preparation for the project, the studio now uses a strain of bamboo imported from Mexico, nicknamed “iron bamboo” in botanical circles, to build their bikes. This is more representative of the stiffer species of the plant found in Ghana.

Murray said that he and a few others will head out to Ghana at the end of the year to help potential bike technicians set up the factory.

According to Murray, some Ghanaians currently spend about five hours of their day walking from place to place. A bike could cut this down to a single hour. “It’ll free enough time for school,” he says.

Though the weekend workshops at the Brooklyn site are starting to generate some revenue, there’s not enough for any salaries.

Murray, a botany high school teacher, is not the only member of the workforce who has a second job. Huanea works in a restaurant in Chelsea. Other members, such as Greg Schroy, who only joined the project a few months ago, are currently working for nothing. All volunteers are under the age of 30.

The project is still in financial need. Information published on the Earth Institute’s website appeals for a donation of $80,000 in order for the factory to meet its goal of producing 20,000 bikes a year. The group declined to discuss the specifics of how the project was being financed.

They see no problem with the product though. Bamboo is vastly available in Ghana and it grows quickly. Murray is adamant that the wood is more than suitable for the mass production of bicycles.

“The bicycle is probably the most useful thing next to the computer,” he says. “And this is the best way of making the best thing.”

The finished product. Photo by Nick Jardine.

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Conference Offers Second Chance for Brooklyn Inmates http://narrativenyc.org/?p=506 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=506#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 17:20:41 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=506 By Ryan Maye Handy

E

arly this week the Kings County District Attorney’s Office hosted a workshop geared towards helping former inmates transition back into life in New York City.

The two-day conference offered training to more than 200 parole officers and social workers, and focused on giving communities the tools to help returning felons. They spent Monday and Tuesday in seminars that addressed the difficult topics of how to introduce sex offenders back into neighborhoods, and how to motivate former inmates to succeed in life on the outside.

On Monday afternoon, District Attorney Charles Hynes welcomed the guests to the conference, thanking them for being part of his re-entry initiative.

“The easiest thing I do is put people it jail, it doesn’t take a lot of intellect,” Hynes said in his remarks, adding that the much harder task is keeping people out of prison.

Hynes, who has been the district attorney since 1989, pioneered “ComALERT,” Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together, in 1999. The program offers former inmates educational and substance abuse programs, along with GED classes and employment counseling.

Hynes said that he has been often criticized for his “soft-on-crime” policy that focuses on educating ex-offenders and lowering re-arrest rates.

“People complain that [ComALERT] is a hug-a-thug program, but if you reduce felons, don’t you reduce victims?” Hynes said.

Addressing the crowd after Hynes was Sean Byrne, the acting commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Byrne recognized the difficulty of finding jobs for convicted felons in a time when few jobs are to be had.

But employment and housing getting them housing is key to public safety, Byrne said.

“Nearly all offenders will eventually go free, and we must lessen the chances that an offender will re-offend. So their unemployment problem is our unemployment problem,” he said.

On Tuesday night, conference guests adjourned at the Polytechnic Institute, across the street from the Brooklyn Supreme Court for entertainment provided by Fortune Society, a New York City-based shelter for former prisoners. They watched a play produced by the Fortune Society. “The Castle” featured four ex-convicts—recently released from the shelter—who took turns narrating their sordid prison experiences.

Vilma Ortiz Donovan, 48, the only woman, spoke with tears in her eyes as she recalled her second time in New York State prison two years ago.

“There is nothing in the prison atmosphere that makes you want to change,” she said. Wanting to change comes after seeing what you have missed, she added.

After 30 years in prison for murder, Angel Ramos, also 48, said that there is an inspirational novelty about the non-prison world. He smiled as he recalled walking down the sidewalk on his first day as a free man.

“I stepped in dog shit—and I was so happy!” he exclaimed. “I hadn’t stepped in dog-shit in 30 years.”

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Middle schools lose sports programs as demand for city funding increases http://narrativenyc.org/?p=494 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=494#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 17:03:53 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=494 By Albert Samaha

I

n front of his sixth grade math class, Matt Kelly keeps his back straight and sentences short. He speaks matter-of-factly and limits his facial expressions to stern and very stern. He marches up and down the rows with his hands clasped behind his back and shoots stiff-necked glares at any student daring enough to peek at a classmate’s pop quiz. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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Diaz Jr. Pulls for DiNapoli in Little Watched Race http://narrativenyc.org/?p=484 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=484#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 16:58:22 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=484

By Tatiana Sanchez

A

t 7:30 a.m. last Tuesday, the bustle of a busy Bronx morning had a different sound to it. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. greeted commuters at the Parkchester subway station, asking them to re-elect DiNapoli in the upcoming election. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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Evicted Williamsburg Tenants: Jail Criminal Landlords http://narrativenyc.org/?p=464 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=464#comments Mon, 01 Nov 2010 04:59:29 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=464 By Simone Gorrindo

O

n a warm Sunday at the end of September, residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn took advantage of the springlike weather and spent the afternoon outside. Couples walked hand in hand along Bedford Avenue. Thin girls sat poised on benches like fashion ads. It was a day that felt, as Williamsburg often feels, like a dream, a dream where nothing of consequence ever happens.

Until a band of angry Brooklynites came marching down the sidewalk and woke everyone up.

“Jail criminal landlords!” a white-haired man yelled through a megaphone. The group of 40 marchers——old, young, Puerto Rican, Polish——chanted with him. “Mayor Bloomberg, do your job. Stop harassment now!”

These were the members of Williamsburg-Greenpoint Mobilization Against Displacement, a coalition of North Brooklyn community housing organizations and tenants’ associations. They made their way up to North Eighth Street, where they stopped at a four-story walk-up brick building that had been padlocked and papered with eviction notices. Some of the marchers used to call this building home. For the past year, they’ve been fighting to get it back.

At the end of June, residents of 172 North Eighth St. filed a lawsuit against their landlord, Jamal Alokasheh. They accused him of sabotaging the building in order to evict them, an accusation he firmly denied. The tenants asked the New York City Housing Court to appoint a new manager for the building, but the judge has not yet come to a final decision. The coalition gathered on Sunday to protest the court’s delays, and to ask the city to jail Alokasheh for an illegal eviction.

“If my building was on fire, and the firemen did nothing, it would be a scandal,” said Anna McCuskar, 30, the youngest of the displaced tenants who spoke at the rally. “But our homes are being taken away from us and no one does anything.”

The tenants claimed that just two days after purchasing the building in May 2009, Alokasheh destabilized it by digging two feet beneath its foundation. They said Alokasheh told them he was creating a basement. Someone noticed the soil piling up on the sidewalk, they said, and called a complaint into the city.

The New York City Department Buildings ordered the tenants to vacate the premises immediately, and the landlord locked them out.

“And now we think it could’ve been him,” said longtime tenant Peter Pawlak, 50, referring to the whistleblower. “It was the easiest way to get everyone out.”

A landlord sabotaging his own building might seem odd, but to Pawlak, who works as an architect, it made perfect sense.

“The landlord wants to turn it into a condominium,” said Pawlak. “Who cares if it gets demolished?”
Alokasheh had a different story to tell.

“I think Peter’s the one who called the city,” said Alokasheh by phone. “Peter, he is the one who’s the head of the them; he’s the one who engineered the whole thing. He told me, ‘I know the name of the game. I will make your life miserable; I will make you lose the building.’”

Someone must have put it in the tenants’ heads, Alokasheh said, that Williamsburg is expensive and “you can squeeze $125,000 out of your landlord” as a buyout, a much higher bid than the one thousand dollars he said he offered to each tenant after they were forced out.

“These guys are not interested in moving back in,” said Alokasheh. “These guys are looking for money.”

He argued that the building’s foundation was unsafe before he purchased it, though he said he was “clueless about this” at the time. There were never any plans to build an office, he said, and never a pile of soil. He would welcome the tenants home, he said, if he had the money to fix the problem, which he estimated would cost him almost $1 million.

When the Williamsburg waterfront was rezoned, the city gave the Williamsburg-Greenpoint Mobilization Against Displacement coalition several million dollars in funding to combat potential displacement. That funding has run out, and the group is fighting to get it renewed, said Shaekar Krishnan, a lawyer at Brooklyn Services Corporation A, the firm that is representing that tenants free of charge.

“This area is blessed with organizations,” said Marty Needelman, the firm’s head lawyer and a 40-year resident of Williamsburg. “But these organizations are falling apart because of a lack of funding.” In Manhattan, the city has consolidated similar groups into one organization, “making it look,” Needelman said, “like they’re serving everybody.”

The residents believe they will win eventually, said Jack Bikowski, a housing advocate with the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, but the question remains for how long.

New York’s surge of renewal continues, and does not appear to be losing any speed. Many displaced residents in Williamsburg were once gentrifiers themselves, people who moved to the neighborhood because the rent was cheap.

“I have surely been helpful in gentrifying Williamsburg,” said Eliza Axelson-Chidsey, 27, a resident who moved to the neighborhood during college. “I have to say, though, eventually that same wave runs me out of town too. I can’t, and maybe won’t ever, pay the prices some of the ugly new and cheaply made apartments go for around here.”

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Mosque Construction Protested in Sheepshead Bay http://narrativenyc.org/?p=456 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=456#comments Fri, 29 Oct 2010 22:14:50 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=456 By Ryan Maye Handy

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ine miles east of the Park51 fracas at Ground Zero, another mosque in Brooklyn is facing opposition.

On a late September Sunday, more than 50 residents of Sheepshead Bay lined up along Voorhies Avenue to protest the mosque construction across the street. The crowd chanted “No mosque!” and waved homemade signs. One woman stood in front of the group, furiously waving a yellow poster that read: “NO MOSQUE. 1 GOD.”

Clustered in front of the empty lot were Muslim residents. Entire families had turned up to defend their mosque. Mothers and daughters in headscarves were waved signs proclaiming “Not All Muslims Are Terrorists!” and fathers and sons were shouting, “Racists go home!”

This was the second protest last month targeting the proposed mosque on Voorhies Avenue. Organized by a the Bay People, a neighborhood activist group created specifically to combat the mosque, the protests have aired local concerns about the amplified noise from calls to prayer and added the traffic that would accompany a new mosque. The Bay People believe the presence of a mosque would decrease real estate values in the neighborhood. Their protests have been countered by demonstrators from the Muslim American Society and New Yorkers from other neighborhoods, all rallying against what they see as local intolerance in the guise of quality of life complaints.

Susan Gerber, who has lived in Sheepshead Bay for 30 years, stood behind a podium shortly after 11:30 a.m. to address the Bay People.

“You all know there were hundreds of mosques built in this city that were not protested. Why? They were built in appropriate places, not sandwiched between houses!” she shouted. “This is like putting a restaurant in a closet.”

The stretch of Voorhies Avenue surrounding the lot is a silent block of brick bungalows. There are no commercial buildings, and the largest structure in the area is P.S. 52, an elementary school just around the corner from the proposed mosque site.

Standing in the crowd of Bay People, Vladimir Melmet, an 11-year resident of the area, described “the nightmare of double-parking” he said the community endures every school day. Like those around him, Melmet was quick to point out that the mosque poses the threat of traffic, not Muslims.

“The biggest problem is how small it is,” he said. He pointed to the narrow strip of sidewalk in front of the site, which was crowded with pro-mosque demonstrators.

One of the Bay People’s main organizers–a man who gives his name only as “Bobby”–has admitted that although the parking situation worries him, he also dislikes the idea of an Islamic religious presence in the neighborhood.

“Imams preaching hatred, we don’t want this in the neighborhood. We don’t want this around our kids,” he said.

Bobby said he wasn’t anti-Muslim, adding that his son used to play with a Muslim neighbor’s son in the park across the street. Should a Muslim family choose to build a house on the property, he added, he would raise no objection.

“Look, you put a residential house here? I’ll bake a cake and serve it to you,” he said.

Bobby gets particularly mad at outsiders who have adopted the mosque cause. Those people include Elaine Brower, a Staten Island resident and organizer for the NYC Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, an activist group, who was at the protest on Sunday morning. She stood on a stepstool leading chants.

“Racists go home! Racists go home!” Brower bellowed at the Bay People.

Brower compared her efforts to those of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi during the 1960s. “There’s a movement to vilify Muslims. Wherever this is a problem, we’ll be there,” she shouted over the crowd.

Peter Hogness, another pro-mosque activist, T-shirts designed by his son that displayed three versions of “I HEART NY” but with Jewish, Muslim and Christian symbols replacing the heart.

Khaled Yafi, a Muslim father whose children attend P.S. 52, said he noticed the protest atmosphere becoming more malicious and anti-Muslim.

“The problem is ignorance. If they understood us, then they’d accept,” said Yafi, who has been living on Voorhies Avenue for 15 years. “If they deny freedom to us, then they don’t deserve it, like Abraham Lincoln said,” he added.

Some people stayed out of the fray. Irene M., who asked that her last name not be used out of fear that she would be called anti-Muslim, watched the proceedings from her porch.

“Eventually it’s gonna get bad, and I’m going to go in my house,” she said.

Like her neighbors, Irene worries about traffic and lower real estate values. She said a neighbor had already sold her house, worried that she would not be able to do so after the mosque arrived.

Irene insisted that, no matter what the Bay People said, Muslims are welcome in the area. “People are yelling, ‘No Muslims!’ But we have Muslims in our area! They’re talking out of two sides of their mouth,” she said.

Before the rally broke up, the Bay People led the crowd in singing “God Bless America.” As the song came to an end and people began returning to their homes, one man yelled into the crowd.

“Allah Bless America! Yahweh Bless America! God Bless America! It’s all the same,” he cried.

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Maloney Debate Recap: The Huge Health Care Bill http://narrativenyc.org/?p=405 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=405#comments Wed, 27 Oct 2010 17:25:11 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=405 By Albert Samaha

C

arolyn Maloney had her second of three debates last night against Republican Ryan Brumberg and vigorously defended her support of the health care reform bill and emphasized her reputation as one of the hardest working members of Congress.

The debate, which also featured Conservative Party candidate Timothy Healy, drew lively yelps and applause from the audience of 80 or so people, as Maloney and Brumberg replicated the national dance between Democratic incumbents and Republican challengers: Maloney pronounced her role in passing credit card reform and 9/11 health care bills and Brumberg presented his plan to change the character and course of Washington. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Carolyn Maloney.

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Grace Dodge High School Faces Uncertain Future http://narrativenyc.org/?p=385 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=385#comments Wed, 27 Oct 2010 17:04:17 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=385 By Simone Gorrindo

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ot long before the new school year started, Roberto Hernandez, the principal of Grace H. Dodge Career and Technical High School, walked briskly through the hallways, pointing out murals that students and teachers had painted. In the cafeteria, he came to one: Pizza places, corners stores, and basketball courts.

“I love this one,” Hernandez said, “because this is the neighborhood.” A Bronx native, Hernandez started his third year last month at Grace Dodge as principal. It may be his last.

In June, the Department of Education added Grace Dodge and six other Bronx public schools to a list of 34 failing schools in the city that will be overhauled in the coming year. Hernandez has been working to improve the students’ test scores and graduation rate, but the 1,380-student school located on Crotona Avenue near East Fordham Road is still struggling. Teachers complain the DOE has set them up for this struggle, stealing away Grace Dodge’s best students for its new charter schools. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Grace H. Dodge Career and Technical High School. Photo by Jeanmarie Evelly

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Willing to Die for Equal Rights http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1026 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1026#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 03:33:15 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=1026 By Laura Rena Murray

Shortly after 11 p.m. on a recent Monday in downtown Manhattan, a biting fall wind ruffled a banner that read, “Homophobia kills.” It was held by a man and woman lying prostrate on the cold sidewalk. They said they were willing to die for equality.

“The idea of me dying? We’re already dying,” explained demonstrator Alan Bounville, 34. “I could walk down the street and someone could smash me with a rock because I’m gay and I would die that way. And that happens. The reality is that L.G.B.T. people are dying. We’ve always been dying.”

For the past 34 days, a small group of L.G.B.T. activists have been holding a non-stop vigil called “Queer SOS” outside the campaign office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Their goal? Pressuring her to file the American Equality Bill, proposed legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act to include protections for L.G.B.T. citizens. If Gillibrand hasn’t filed a bill by Tuesday, they say they will start a water-only hunger strike.

The group recently gained a powerful ally in Lieutenant Dan Choi, the Army officer-turned-figurehead in the fight to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Choi calls the vigil groundbreaking and said the group is “causing righteous tension.” He’s been joining the activists outside Gillibrand’s office. One evening he read aloud excerpts from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” to keep the group’s spirits up.

However, most mainstream L.G.B.T. organizations won’t comment on the vigil and want to distance themselves from the activists. They feel that Gillibrand is a staunch supporter of gay rights and that targeting her is self-sabotage.

The Queer SOS activists, led by Bounville and Iana di Bona, 30, are quick to say the vigil isn’t an attack on Gillibrand.

“A year ago, Gillibrand took a stand on this and said she supported our inclusion in the Civil Rights Act,” said activist Todd Fernandez, 45. “She’s running for re-election on that platform and we’d like to see some action.”

The activists say they want to hold Gillibrand accountable to a stand she took in an October 2009 interview with a gay online publication, Towleroad.org.  During the interview, Gillibrand expressed her support of a broader civil rights bill that would include the L.G.B.T. community and said it would be worth fighting for.

“I truly believe that this gay rights agenda is the civil rights march of our generation,” Gillibrand said in the interview. “That kind of bill would be transformational.”

Gillibrand’s office declined to comment on the vigil and would not say whether senator intended to file such a bill. Gillibrand’s press secretary, Glen Caplin, deferred commentary to one of her strongest supporters, Richard Socarides, former White House advisor to President Bill Clinton.
Socarides backs Gillibrand and said although the idea behind the American Equality Bill is a good one, this might not be the best time to introduce it. According to Socarides, Gillibrand is trying to come up with the right language for an inclusive bill that will attract the largest possible number of co-sponsors. Legistlative timing, he added, can be complicated. “If this protest draws attention to this or brings us one step closer to a bill like this, I don’t think anyone can find fault with it,” said Socarides.

The Queer SOS activists acknowledge that Gillibrand has been a strong ally for the L.G.B.T. community. She co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and has been working to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell alongside Choi, who has called her “our best friend.” However, they argue that working on legislation one bill at a time, such as Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Defense of Marriage Act, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, isn’t good enough. “There’s a belief out there that we should fight these things piecemeal, one at a time,” said Bounville. “The reality is that there’s no partial equality.”

The Queer SOS activists aren’t shy about their critiques of the mainstream L.G.B.T. organizations that have shied away from talking with them or offering support for their efforts. They don’t believe organizations like Human Rights Campaign or the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce represent the “voice of the people.” They argue that the gay rights agenda has been co-opted by organizations that are too busy lobbying legislators to pay attention to the needs of the community.

Choi agrees. He believes the leaders of the L.G.B.T. community and its mainstream organizations are in a crisis.  “It’s even more disgusting that you have these gay elites that place more value on their political ties,” Choi says.  “The L.G.B.T. community has been tied at the hip with the D.N.C. for entirely too long.”

The Queer SOS activists believe they have more freedom to pressure Gillibrand because they aren’t part of a larger organization, which might feel obliged to remain on good terms politically during an election season.  Fernandez says that, by remaining independent, Queer SOS can “allow a truly organic movement to emerge out from underneath the thumb of the command-control system other organizations engage in.  So it’s intentionally free.”

New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center declined to comment on the Queer SOS vigil. Other groups have told the activists that, by pushing for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, they risk opening it up to additional conservative amendments that could strip away rights from other minority groups.

The deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Darlene Kipper, says that it takes all kinds of levers to create change, including carefully crafted direct actions. However, Kipper cautioned against making rash changes to the Act. “As with all amendments to existing laws of this magnitude that impact multiple constituencies, any substantial changes to the Civil Rights Act must be approached prudently and with full awareness of potential consequences in the context of a changing congressional landscape,” Kipper said.

Former Atlanta ACT-UP activist Joe Birdsong, 40, joined the vigil on Oct. 16. He points to the long scar running across his cheek as the impetus for his gay activism. The scar is the result of a 1988 hate crime he experienced in the Bronx. Birdsong agreed that hate crime legislation is not enough and that citizens included in the Civil Rights Act have full protection. He said that the fact Barack Obama was elected president illustrates his point.

“The law made it okay for him to be African American,” Birdsong said.  “The KKK no longer lynches people.”  He also mentions the recent attacks on gay men in the Bronx and at renowned gay bars such as Stonewall Inn and Julius.  “Not only are we being attacked in the streets, they’re coming into our bars,” Birdsong said.

Brooklynite Jonathan Willner, 53, has been stopping by the vigil daily since his first visit on the third day.  He spends several hours with Queer SOS every evening and said he is motivated by the recent gay teen suicides.  “It’s up to all of us who have good lives to make the world better for all the kids who are suffering,” he said.

The American Equality Bill they are trying to pressure Gillibrand to pass was created by former senior counsel of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Karen Doering, and philanthropist Juan Ahonen-Jover.  Doering isn’t involved in the vigil and recommended an amicable approach to advocating for the bill.  “I don’t think we should ever be adversarial with our friends as we try to pass legislation,” Doering cautioned.  “But if the vigil is a friendly, cooperative way to keep the presence known and the pressure on, I think that’s great.”

Ahonen-Jover is more forceful in his stance and believes that it is necessary to have this kind of legislation introduced now.  “Equality is a moral imperative and it is easy to legislate,” he said.  “Delays and excuses are playing politics with people’s lives.”  Without L.G.B.T. inclusion in the Civil Rights Act, he insisted, gay Americans will remain second-class citizens.

Bounville and di Bona are resolute in their commitment to maintain the vigil until Gillibrand takes decisive action. They plan to begin preparations for the fast on Monday evening. According to di Bona, they are willing to die if Gillibrand does not file the bill. “I’m going to do this until I can’t do it anymore,” he said.



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Pawn Shop Protested In Crown Heights http://narrativenyc.org/?p=369 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=369#comments Thu, 21 Oct 2010 19:22:54 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=369 By Arvin Temkar
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle

CROWN HEIGHTS —

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new pawnshop has residents worried that Crown Heights will backslide to the neighborhood’s pre-gentrification era — a time when, as New York State Sen. Eric Adams put it, people were woken up by gunshots, not alarm clocks.

Then again, some residents don’t mind the shop. But the debate over the business, set to open this week, is more nuanced than old versus new. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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We Don’t Talk about Dreams: As City Closes Group Homes, Some Fear Kids Will Funnel Into Streets http://narrativenyc.org/?p=360 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=360#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 17:41:17 +0000 dm2021 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=360 By Albert Samaha

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he large kid in the hallway is demanding an iron. He’s six feet six inches tall, with the girth of a power forward, and occupies the width of the corridor, blocking the main artery of the house. His voice rises, reverberating through the adjacent living room and out the window for all the world to hear.

“Yo, I need the iron, son!”

It seems Edward Fabian has arrived just in time. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

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HIV/AIDS Bill Is Vetoed, Man Fears Losing Home http://narrativenyc.org/?p=335 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=335#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 17:30:05 +0000 Arvin Temkar http://narrativenyc.org/?p=335 By Nathan Hurst

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ames Lister is on the verge of homelessness.  He has lived in his West Village apartment since 1979, which he pays for with disability income he receives because he has AIDS.  Now he is one step closer to losing his home.

New York Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill in September that would have helped ensure housing for people who have HIV or AIDS and receive income assistance.  The bill would have subsidized their housing, capping rent payments at 30 percent of the tenant’s income, but it didn’t have a clear source of funding, said Paterson.

Assembly member Deborah Glick, (D, lower Manhattan), who introduced the bill, said an override was unlikely.  In the original vote, the measure passed 84-54, far short of the two-thirds majority required to overturn the veto.

“I don’t know that we have a clear path,” said Glick, who may reintroduce the bill in a different form to overcome the governor’s objections. “It’s a little bit on hold to see where we are post-election.”

Lister remembered exactly when he heard the news: 12:05 am, Sunday, Sept. 19.  He didn’t sleep that night.

“I felt totally helpless,” he said.

Access to affordable housing is especially important for the HIV/AIDS community, said Terri Smith-Caronia, vice president of New York Advocacy and Public Policy at Housing Works, a non-profit AIDS service organization.

“AIDS tends to be a disease of poverty,” said Smith-Caronia.  “The nexus is getting people housed.”

There is a correlation between lack of housing and HIV transmission, she said. Many of the medications that suppress the virus require refrigeration.  It’s hard to care about jobs, doctors, medication or safe sex when the more pressing need is a place to spend the night.

Lister, 56, has avoided those decisions so far.

He found out he was HIV positive on Nov. 22, 1989.  That was around the time he started a catering business, which he ran until the early 2000s when he became noticeably sick.  He applied for and received Social Security disability benefits starting in 2002.

“I tried to go back to work and I couldn’t do it,” he said.  “I really, really tried because I didn’t want to go on disability.  I got to the point where I couldn’t take care of myself.”

Now Lister lives on disability.  After about 74 percent of it goes to rent, he is left to survive on less than $12 per day, he said.  One round trip (reduced fare) on the subway is 18 percent of his daily budget.  He supplements his income with $200 in monthly food stamps and by recycling bottles and cans, which allows him to do his laundry.

“If I stopped collecting bottles and cans, if I started having coffee with friends, if I let down just a little on my frugality, I would fall arrears on my rent,” he said.

Anyone who receives federal assistance has his or her rent capped at a 30 percent of income, according to Housing Works, except people who receive housing assistance through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, a division of the New York City Department of Social Services that provides benefits to people who are HIV positive or have AIDS and can’t afford housing on their own.

The New York Division of Budget estimated a $20 million cost to implement the bill.  Paterson promised to sign it if provisions for funding were made.  He has since wavered on the amount he estimates such a program would cost.

“The state cannot incur financial obligations that it does not have the resources to fund, or impose such burdens on its counties, cities and towns,” said Paterson in a press release.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the governor’s decision.

“This is not the time for unfunded mandates, no matter how well-intentioned,” said Bloomberg in his own press release.

The bill will save money for the state and the city in the long term because people who lose their home wind up in shelters and other emergency housing, said Lister. New York State mandates housing help for the homeless, so that expense falls on the state, said Smith-Caronia.

Therefore, the bill would be revenue neutral at worst, said Lister, and could save millions of dollars.  He and Smith-Caronia cite the price of emergency shelter, short-term transitional housing, eviction court costs and moving expenses that would all fall to the public.

“That money is going to be made back because they will avoid paying for emergency housing,” said Lister.

An analysis performed by Shubert Botein Policy Associates found that the cost of a rent cap would be more than offset by savings in emergency housing.

Lister has been lobbying this bill for three years, making about 200 trips to Albany in that time with the New York City AIDS Housing Network. He is now trying to find different funding for a rent cap program in a state supplemental budget.

Until then, Lister will have to keep budgeting, balancing his disability income between rent and living expenses.

“I am punitively rewarded for sacrificing everything to keep my home,” said Lister.  “What kind of world is that?  Do you get detention when you get straight A’s on your report card?  It’s better to keep people in their own home.  It’s your castle in the middle of New York City.  That’s all you got.”

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At Log Cabin Republican Meeting, Talk Of Marriage Vote, But Not Of Paladino—UPDATE http://narrativenyc.org/?p=325 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=325#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 17:20:19 +0000 Arvin Temkar http://narrativenyc.org/?p=325 By Meghan Keneally

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ew York’s senior Republican leaders addressed the Log Cabin Republicans last night and stayed as clear as they could of talking about their current standard-bearer, gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino.

Instead, state G.O.P chairman Ed Cox and senate minority leader Dean Skelos focused their speeches on the importance of fiscal responsibility and chances of taking power back from Democrats, both on the state and national levels. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Dean Skelos. Photo by Meghan Keneally.

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Jimmy McMillan Speaks Out on Debate: “I Was Cool as Hell” http://narrativenyc.org/?p=321 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=321#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 17:15:01 +0000 Arvin Temkar http://narrativenyc.org/?p=321 By Meghan Keneally

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ne of the few candidates receiving positive attention after last night’s gubernatorial debate is Jimmy McMillan, the cartoonishly mustachioed candidate from the Rent is Too Damn High Party.

“To be honest with you I was cool as hell,” McMillan told The Observer in a brief phone interview. “Even with my gloves on I was freezing, it was like I was in the North Pole!” TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Jimmy McMillan. Courtesy of New York Observer.

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Schneiderman Gets Tough On Crime With McCarthy, Schimel http://narrativenyc.org/?p=310 http://narrativenyc.org/?p=310#comments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 17:07:25 +0000 Arvin Temkar http://narrativenyc.org/?p=310 By Meghan Keneally

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n the face of accusations that he is soft on crime, Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman met with Long Island lawmakers to discuss his agenda, promising to be “smart-on-crime”.

The Democratic candidate is touting his endorsements from a number of criminal justice groups as well as gun-safety lobbying groups like New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE.

Eric Schneiderman. Courtesy of Schniederman Campaign.

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