Editorial: Town & Village endorses de Blasio for mayor, Garodnick for Council

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio

In September, Town & Village endorsed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for mayor, because we believed out of all the candidates in that cluttered ballot, he was the best hope for the middle class in this city, in particular the city’s tenant population, because he would be the most effective fighter. At this time, with de Blasio set to face off against Joe Lhota, we still believe that to be true.

We do not however believe the fear mongering arguments by Lhota that if de Blasio is elected, New York City will return to the bad old days of muggers and squeegee men ruling the streets. This is simply the kind of mud slinging that reads as desperate as Lhota’s numbers in the polls continue to show that the residents of this city are in deed ready for change after 12 years of the same Republican mayor. We also don’t buy Lhota’s blasting of de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” shtick as being divisive, because that kind of division doesn’t need to be manufactured; it’s long been felt by people who have for some time been living in fear of being priced out of this city as the mayor has taken a mostly hands-off approach to matters like disappearing rent regulated housing and salaries that just haven’t kept pace with rising housing costs, including the yearly increases approved by the Rent Guidelines Board.

While Lhota has said he was committed to building new housing by offering tax incentives, de Blasio has been a lot more specific in his promises to build more of the affordable kind of housing and in protecting the existing stock of it by having City Hall work with (or put pressure on) the governor to get results in Albany on local housing laws. In an op-ed in this newspaper, he discussed the community of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in particular, noting that, “It’s the responsibility of the city to ensure that these homes and other affordability housing are never beyond the reach of middle class New Yorkers.”

Lhota believes de Blasio to be an all-talk-and-no-action kind of candidate, but as with any election, all voters can do, whether they support de Blasio or Lhota, is decide whether their campaigns seem credible. In Lhota’s case, his platform is built around admittedly worthy goals of job creation in fields like bio-tech and science and also helping the economy by encouraging more tourism. However, when it comes to affordable housing, his only real plan is to review how taxes are charged to property owners. This won’t necessarily lead to lower costs for owners or tenants.

Interestingly, although de Blasio’s accepted plenty of real estate campaign cash (as Lhota’s been quick to correctly point out) the Democratic candidate still won the primary. This was in all likelihood based on the big promises he has made to the middle class and voters will be watching to see if and how he intends to make good on those promises if he can pull it off again and win the general election on November 5. That said, we hope he does. De Blasio has our endorsement for mayor.

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Oct. 31, Letters to the Editor

Obamacare by the numbers

To the Editor:

In his letter, “How the Affordable Health Care Act Works,” Floyd Smith was kind enough to clarify my “Who Does What for Whom?”  Mr. Smith contrasts a 20-year-old and a 70-year-old within an individual private health insurance plan, a group private insurance plan, and lastly, within the Affordable Health Care Act. The chief difficulty I have with Mr. Smith’s clarification is his framing. He freezes our focus on claims, cost and payments, then infers correctly that (his) 20-year-old subsidizes (his) 70-year-old, but leaves out other considerations that bear more fully on the question, “Do 20-year-olds subsidize 70-year-olds?”

According to Mr. Smith, since the 20-year-old belongs to a group that will, on average, make fewer claims than on average for 70-year-olds,the price for a 20-year-old who purchases health care for himself/herself from the “free enterprise insurance market” will be less than the price for a 70-year-old.

Fair enough! (Though I should add “All things being equal.”)

Second, however, when the 20-year-old, as a member of an employer’s group, purchases from the same market, his/her payments become based on the risk presented, on average, by the people in that group, but now includes higher costing 70-year-olds. When costs here are averaged over the population in the group, the premium level of 20-year-olds will be higher than when he/she bought private insurance. Thirdly, when the 20-year-old finds himself/herself part of a huge nation-wide group, she/he is again subject to higher premiums because this group includes those that make greater claims. So, again, the question: Do 20-year-olds subsidize 70-year-olds?

Grant for a moment that a 20-year-old who purchases a private individual health policy pays less than a 70-year-old who purchases the same insurance, but let’s look into the (actual) life of the 20-year-old and ask:

1. What in fact did the 20 year-old-pay when the 20-year-old paid as a private individual in the free enterprise health insurance market policy?

2. What does he/she pay when he/she pays into a free market group policy?

3. How do these private market policies for the 20-year-old compare with premiums within the government/private Affordable Health Care Act?
Equally,

4. What happens within each if the individual cannot pay the premium?

5. What are the costs of drugs within each policy type?

Do we just assume throughout, along with Mr. Smith, that because a group contains 70-year-olds, the pristine 20-year-old paid more as a member of that group than he/she would have paid as a single buyer winging it on his/her own? That strikes me as too narrow a focus, and grants too much.

Within my knowledge, a 20-year-old going it alone will find health care exceedingly expensive, indeed, perhaps too expensive and often problematic.

John Giannone, ST

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Halloween in Stuy Town

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Hundreds headed out to the Oval on Sunday for Stuyvesant Town’s annual carnival for kids, which included games, pumpkin painting, a vaudeville act by performers from Parallel Exit and the opportunity for whole families to march in a costume parade. There was also plenty of candy for trick or treaters.
Though last year’s Halloween event was cut short due to warnings about the hurricane that came the next day, this time, the worst thing weather-wise was a bit of wind.
Popular choices for costumes were Star Wars characters and superheroes for boys, princesses and fairies for girls and animals for babies and toddlers. One tiny pumpkin was the son of comptroller hopeful and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who was there with his family.
For those going the DIY route with costumes, there was no short of creativity to be found with a few standout costumes including the L train, a slice of bacon and a robot.

Hurricane Sandy: A look back

It’s hard to believe it’s been exactly a year since Hurricane Sandy battered and in some cases destroyed entire neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey. Manhattan fared better though it certainly wasn’t spared; repairs are still being made around the city including in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.

One year later, a plan is in place for the “East River Blueway,” which would help protect the East Side waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge to 38th Street from future disasters via salt marshes and beaches, and Con Ed has recently announced improvements to its substations to help prevent future blackouts (and explosions).

Below are some photos that were published in Town & Village after the superstorm that were taken on the night Sandy hit or within the next few days.

14th Street between Avenues B and C (Photographer unknown)

14th Street between Avenues B and C (Photographer unknown)

14th Street and Avenue C (Photographer unknown)

14th Street and Avenue C (Photographer unknown)

One of many tree casualties in the neighborhood, this one was found at 23rd Street and Avenue C. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

One of many tree casualties in the neighborhood, this one was found at 23rd Street and Avenue C. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Damaged car in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Ingrid Devita)

Damaged car in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Ingrid Devita)

The cleanup effort begins in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Ingrid Devita)

The cleanup effort begins in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Ingrid Devita)

National Guardsmen give Council Member Dan Garodnick a demonstration on how to prepare packaged meals that were distributed to residents. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

National Guardsmen give Council Member Dan Garodnick a demonstration on how to prepare packaged meals that were distributed to residents. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

Downed tree in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Marilyn Pascarelli)

Downed tree in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Marilyn Pascarelli)

See even more post-storm photos here, and in case you missed it, here’s Town & Village’s update on the status of repairs at the buildings in hard-hit Peter Cooper Village.

 

Residents get MCIs for water valves, resurfacing and doors

Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, pictured at a protest against mid-lease rent increases in May, said the Tenants Association will soon hold a meeting on the latest MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, pictured at a protest against mid-lease rent increases in May, said the Tenants Association will soon hold a meeting on the latest MCIs.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While not quite the chaos caused by Hurricane Sandy a year ago, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are being flooded again, this time with five MCIs for work on the property done by former owner Tishman Speyer in 2009.

Earlier in the month, tenants in Stuyvesant Town learned they’d gotten an MCI (major capital improvement) for video intercoms, followed by an MCI issued to residents of Peter Cooper, which was also for security upgrades, including a command center. Tenants learned about the latest round on Friday and over the weekend, via notices that the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) had approved MCIs for work on three more projects: water valves, doors and resurfacing.

Which MCIs tenants got depended on if they live in Peter Cooper or Stuyvesant Town. As far as the Tenants Association is aware, an MCI for water tanks and valves is for PCV residents only; while only Stuyvesant Town residents have gotten MCIs for resurfacing that were combined with charges for doors and water tanks/valves.

“We tenants are under siege,” the Tenants Association said in an email to residents sent on Sunday, which included a notice that a meeting would be scheduled soon to answer questions on the charges, which are added permanently to tenants’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion. Costs vary with each building and with each apartment, based on how many rooms there are.

Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association, noted how in the case of one Peter Cooper one-bedroom apartment, the MCI for water tanks, which has a cost of $2.77 per room, the retroactive portion is $407.19. Her own recently issued MCI, being for a one-bedroom in Stuyvesant Town, which includes water tanks, resurfacing and doors, will cost a total of about $25 a month while the retroactive portion is $1,199.52.

Like the previously issued MCIs, the Tenants Association is planning to challenge the ones for water valves, doors and resurfacing, based on the fact that in its decisions, the HCR didn’t respond to arguments against them presented to the agency by the Tenants Association’s attorney last year, and possibly other reasons. The Tenants Association said, via email, that it was already in the process of filing what is known as a request for reconsideration, since it believes the housing agency made a “vital (but reversible) administrative error by not considering or acknowledging our 2012 objections to all outstanding MCIs. The approvals, therefore, were issued on an incomplete record.” The association’s attorney, Tim Collins, is also preparing a petition for administrative review (PAR), in case the request for reconsideration fails. The association, therefore, has been requesting that tenants opt not to file their own PARs, though doing so would spare them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is resolved by the HCR.

“Individual tenants certainly have a right to file their own PARs,” said Steinberg, “and if they want to, I wouldn’t say don’t, but we have more strength if we file a collective PAR. It’s really better if we can provide tenants with specific reasons. It’s really not enough to say the security system still doesn’t work. It’s a legitimate reason to me, but I think (HCR) requires a lot more technical information.”

Meanwhile, despite the recent communications from the agency, there has not yet been any word on the Tenants Association’s application for a rent reduction based on Sandy-related service losses in 15 PCV buildings and two in Stuyvesant Town. A spokesperson for HCR did not respond to a request for comment on the latest MCIs and has previously said the agency would not comment on its determinations.

Steinberg, however, blasted the five most recent MCIs as “a terrible burden” on tenants.

“People are gasping,” she added. “Those on SCRIE and DRIE are concerned and we want to make sure they’re not going to be slammed, and it’s right before the holidays. This is going to stretch people to the max.”

The Tenants Association will hold the MCI meeting on Saturday, November 2 from 1-4 p.m. at the auditorium at the Simon Baruch Middle School (MS 104) on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Local elected officials are expected to attend and John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association, said there would be “ample time” for tenants to ask questions, which will be answered by Collins.

“The meeting will also give those in attendance an opportunity to sign a document in connection with the filing of a PAR,” said Marsh. “Residents who can’t make the meeting might consider dropping by the school any time between 1 and 4 to add their names.”

The association is asking tenants to share their docket numbers and Google documents are available for this purpose through links on the association’s website at stpcvta.org and the group is also soliciting donations to help pay its looming legal bills for the MCI challenges.

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not yet respond to a question about whether the MCIs would be reflected in the rent bills for November or December, though Steinberg has said she suspects that since the MCIs came as much as a surprise to CWCapital as they did to tenants, that they would not be charged in the November bills.

Note: This article has been updated to include additional information about the ST-PCV Tenants Association meeting.

Oct. 24 Week In Review

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal introduced legislation last year that would protect rent-regulated tenants filing for bankruptcy protection and would prevent a landlord from buying a rent-regulated tenant’s lease at a discounted price to satisfy a portion of the tenant’s debt in bankruptcy. In a recent trend, bankruptcy courts have been allowing bankruptcy trustees to count the value of a rent-regulated lease as an asset when the tenant files for bankruptcy.
The state provides an exemption for homeowners filing for bankruptcy so that they will not lose their homes and the intent of bankruptcy is not to destabilize families by making them homeless and the same should be true for rent-regulated tenants, Rosenthal argued, because their apartments are just as much of a home as a house or other owned property.
“Filing for bankruptcy won’t land you in debtor’s prison anymore, but if you’re a rent-regulated tenant, it could make you homeless, and that’s simply unfair,” Rosenthal said. “That’s why I introduced legislation to ensure that rent-regulated tenants are afforded the same protections as homeowners when filing for bankruptcy.”

A flood wall will soon be built to protect the VA Medical Center from future storms. (Rendering courtesy of VA Medical Center)

A flood wall will soon be built to protect the VA Medical Center from future storms. (Rendering courtesy of VA Medical Center)

There will soon be a temporary flood wall around the VA’s Manhattan Campus on East 23rd Street, the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System announced on Tuesday. The temporary wall will extend from Asser Levy Place, partially up East 23rd Street and to East 25th Street. The eight-foot flood wall, made of cellular structures filled with sand, is expected to take about six weeks to complete construction. Construction of a higher, more permanent wall to protect from future storms potentially stronger than Hurricane Sandy will be built over an 18-month period. The VA was closed for many months following Hurricane Sandy, opening partially in March and then fully over the summer.

Asser Levy Place will also be closed to traffic beginning October 28 in anticipation of a new park that will be in its place. The expansion of the park is due to funding from City Councilmember Dan Garodnick and the United Nations Development Corporation. Work is expected to be completed on the project within a year.
“Open space is sorely needed on the East Side of Manhattan, and this expansion will ultimately mean more open space not only at Asser Levy, but also for the whole East Side waterfront,” Garodnick said. “This is the first step in a plan that will increase the amount of active space East Siders get, and at no cost to the City.”

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy coming up next week, Con Edison has made numerous improvements to its energy-delivery systems as part of its plan to strengthen critical infrastructure and protect residents from major storms. The overhead equipment is now more resilient, substations have new walls and raised equipment and gas and steam infrastructure is protected with water-proofing measures. The next steps for post-Hurricane Sandy plans throughout the next few years include burying 30 miles of overhead lines, installing stronger aerial cable, redesigning lower Manhattan networks to de-energize customers in flood zones and replacing cast iron and steel gas pipes in flood-prone areas.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a number of New York chefs and restaurants have taken the “Pride of New York Pledge” to support New York State’s agricultural products and local foods, increasing their usage by 10 percent or more. The program is designed to encourage the local culinary industry to take advantage of the food and beverage products that the state has to offer. A number of local restaurants will be participating, including Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Maialino and Blue Smoke.

The New York Daily News reported last Saturday that Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is a supporter of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on big sodas. “I’m not ever afraid to disagree with Mayor Bloomberg when I think he’s wrong. But I believe the mayor is right on this issue,” de Blasio said. “We are losing the war on obesity. It’s unacceptable. This is a case where we have to get aggressive.”

The Downtown Manhattan exit ramp will be closed for the weekend beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. Motorists are advised to use an alternate route into Manhattan and to expect delays. There will also be one tube closed for the weekend at the Queens Midtown Tunnel, beginning this Saturday at 1 a.m., through 5 a.m. next Monday, due to necessary construction.

Bill de Blasio failed to report the tens of thousands of dollars in income from renting out his second Brooklyn home in his Conflict of Interest Board filing, Crain’s New York Business reported on Monday. A campaign spokesperson told Crain’s that the rental proceeds didn’t need to be reported to the conflicts board because there was no net income, but the city’s administrative code says that lawmakers need to report any income of $1,000 or more from each source during the previous calendar year.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, chair of the Commission on Government Administration, co-hosted a roundtable discussion on cloud computing in government last Tuesday. Cloud computing technology creates opportunities to improve coordination and efficiency of government resources, as well as reshape the state government’s interactions with the general public, such as how the public can access important information. Kavanagh will also be hosting a roundtable discussion on open data next Tuesday.

Letters to the Editor, Oct. 24

Hoylman: Santacon, please, curb your drunks

The following is an open letter from State Senator Brad Hoylman to the organizers of the annual pub crawl SantaCon.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to express my concerns regarding SantaCon and the effects it has on the  communities it visits. Each year local elected officials, community boards and local precincts are besieged by complaints as SantaCon passes through their neighborhoods.

While SantaCon may be a short-term boon to a select group of local businesses, the many adverse impacts it wreaks, such as vomiting in the streets, public urination, vandalism and littering, disrupt community members’ quality of life. I recognize that at any large event, a few bad actors may disrupt an otherwise orderly affair, but at previous SantaCons bad actors have hardly been the exception. As such, significantly more must be done to combat the neighborhood scourge SantaCon has become.

Further, no matter the behavior of the participants, the event has grown large enough to completely overwhelm sidewalks and public spaces, creating a public safety hazard for all.

I strongly urge you to work with the New York City Police Department in order to come up with a strong and effective plan to combat public intoxication and to ensure all participants are respectful of the neighborhoods they visit, as well as handling the overwhelming crowds associated with an event this size. In addition, I urge you make this plan available to the affected local Community Boards well in advance of your event so that they have time to comment and help shape it.
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Hurricane Sandy repairs still ongoing in Peter Cooper Village basements

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By Sabina Mollot

Close to a year after getting pummeled by Hurricane Sandy, Peter Cooper Village, much of which was flooded by a raging East River, is still the site of ongoing repairs in multiple buildings.

Though a couple of buildings in Stuyvesant Town also saw significant damage, it was PCV that saw the lion’s share of damage, in particular destroyed basements that housed laundry and storage facilities.

This week, a T&V reporter took a stroll through a few buildings’ basements to get an idea of the progress of the repair work, which, at least, at the addresses of 601 East 20th Street and 420, 440 and 510 East 23rd Street, appear to be months away from completion.

However, at each of the buildings, during a recent afternoon, bunches of workers were onsite in various basement rooms, focusing on walls on floors.

In those buildings, where for months basements were verboten, now, due to the availability of temporary laundry rooms, residents can sneak peeks at the progress, which includes newly built concrete cinderblock walls in the old laundry rooms, cleared out bike rooms with, in some cases, new hooks on the walls to hold the bikes, new fire sprinkler systems overhead and the beginning of construction of new recycling stations. Additionally, at 601 East 20th Street, there were gleaming new, light-colored floors for the laundry, bike and storage rooms. There were also signs of the beginning of installation of new wiring by basement doors and new overhead pipes in certain rooms in the buildings.

Additionally, in 420, a resident noted that pipes in the temporary laundry room that had previously had a dripping problem, had been wrapped up.

That resident, who didn’t want her name used, also weighed in on the ongoing work.

“This is definitely progress,” she said, “but it’s coming up on a year.”

The resident, who said she refuses to use the temporary, free washers and dryers, and also didn’t care for two fly paper traps that loomed a few feet above them, observed how there are also no longer any laundry carts. There was however a folding table, put in by management, and next to it was a card table likely put there by a resident. The woman added that there’s been no word on what’s to become of building’s paid storage unit room, destroyed by the superstorm. “They haven’t said a word. There’s been no timetable.”

As for the temporary washers and dryers, word is the machines, which are smaller than the commercial grade ones that preceded them, came from an army base in the south.

Meanwhile, outside the buildings, a recent round of landscaping has been restoring Peter Cooper Village’s green spaces to their former glory. All except for a couple of garden areas, now all fenced off, have fresh grass and plantings. A couple of areas that are still bare soil were being worked on by landscapers and on Tuesday were marked with flags.

A heavily tree-lined area, which previously had a cow path through it due to people taking shortcuts on the grass, is now completely green.

Something of an eyesore though is the boarded up basement windows in the buildings that had been flooded. Some basements also currently have what appear to be wooden paths trailing from the windows across the lawns, which are what’s housing temporary power feeds.

510 is one of the buildings with a power feed, where inside on Tuesday it looked like new electrical wiring was being installed and a recycling station was in the early process of being built. Nearby walls yet to be repaired appeared Swiss-cheese-like due to being covered with holes. Other walls however had already had their water-damaged plaster stripped, leaving the rough concrete underneath exposed.

A resident at 440 also commented on the progress on his building to note that activity had stopped for a while and then picked up again in mid-September.

“They’re nowhere near done,” he observed. “It looks the same as it did a month ago.”

The resident, Jonathan Turkel, added that since repairs had started again, it had been pretty noisy, including on a recent Saturday morning. But that didn’t bother him, he said. What did bother him was when on Wednesday morning, he was awoken by the smell of gasoline in the building, which, it turned out, was due to a worker accidentally spilling some in the basement. Turkel said he’d initially asked workers what was up only to have them say they hadn’t done anything. Still concerned over the smell, Turkel then called 911 and firefighters responded. It was the firefighter, Turkel, said who learned from a worker that gas had been spilled, despite his initially telling Turkel and the FDNY otherwise.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, did not respond by T&V’s deadline when asked about the gas incident and also didn’t respond to a request for comment on the status of the Sandy repairs.

However, last month, Moriarty told Town & Village work was expected to be completed later this fall.

This was in response to Council Member Dan Garodnick’s calling on CWCapital to speed up the work on the basements, noting that management had previously given a timetable of September for their reopening.

“This has taken far longer than anyone could have reasonably expected,” Garodnick said at the time, “and residents deserve an explanation and compensation.”

But according to CW, the delay was due to the frustratingly lengthy process of acquiring approvals from numerous agencies.

“As we’ve said,” said Moriarty in September, “rebuilding the 17 basements that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy is a complex project that, beyond the physical work and procurement of materials with long lead times, involves numerous agencies that must review and approve plans for every aspect of each basement’s infrastructure and careful scheduling and staging of contractors to ensure the work is completed as quickly and safely as possible with the minimum disruption for our residents.”

He added that “although some residents may not yet see physical work being done in their basement, we assure you that significant progress has been made in all basements. We are making every effort to finish this work as soon as possible, and expect it will be done later this fall.”

Meanwhile, John Marsh, the president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said he had no complaints this week about the fact that the repairs weren’t complete. In fact, Marsh, who lives in Peter Cooper, said that overall he thought CW was doing the best it could under the circumstances.

“Given the amount of devastation, they’re really working hard,” he said. “There’s a lot of remediation they had to do first and a lot of manufacturing was customized for their needs and there’s the fact that they were competing with every other Sandy-impacted area as well.”

He also said he thought the special servicer had done well with mold prevention, treating the issue “aggressively.”

At this time, added Marsh, though the basements aren’t close to being completed, he thought residents had bigger worries, in particular two recently issued major capital improvement rent increases for video intercoms in Stuy Town and other security upgrades in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper

UPDATED: Robbery charges reduced in incident across PCV

This story has been updated. See update below.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Two people were arrested for mugging a 75-year-old man across the street from Peter Cooper Village at the northeast corner of First Avenue and East 23rd Street on Saturday night at 11:15 p.m.

Forty-nine-year-old Eusebiro Diaz allegedly approached the man and put a knife to the victim’s stomach while demanding money. The victim then dropped his cell phone, which was picked up by 22-year-old Emmalynn Sharf, police said. Diaz allegedly reached into the man’s pocket and removed three dollars and both perpetrators fled.

When police arrived on the scene, the victim positively identified Diaz and Sharf and his cell phone was allegedly recovered from Sharf’s left front pocket.

Diaz and Sharf have been charged with robbery in the first degree and both were arraigned in criminal court last Sunday. Bail for Diaz was set at $150,000 cash or bond and bail for Sharf was set at $30,000 bond or $15,000 cash. They have an appearance in court on Thursdayfor possible grand jury action.

 

UPDATE Aug. 18, 2016: One of the individuals arrested, Emmalynn Sharf, recently reached out to Town & Village, saying she wanted to set the record straight about her own involvement.

For one thing, Sharf said, the case, now closed, ended with her only being convicted of petit larceny. (According to the Manhattan District Attorney, it was a conviction of possession of stolen property following a guilty plea.) Additionally, according to Sharf, there was no knife involved.

Scharf told T&V the incident occurred when she was homeless and doing “wrong things to survive,” though she didn’t elaborate on the nature of those things. As for the alleged robbery, Sharf admitted that she and Diaz were trying to get money from the victim for returning it, but she claimed she found the phone.

“We were homeless and we were trying to eat,” she said. “We said, ‘We’ll give you your phone back if you give us something.’”

The pair arranged to give it back to the victim, who they knew, but when they met up, “he had six or seven dudes with him.” But, said Sharf, “The police never recovered a knife. There was so sign of a knife.”

Michael Durbin, Sharf’s attorney, also mentioned that his client has come a long way since the arrest.

“Knowing that she had more to contribute to her community, Ms. Sharf quickly turned to volunteerism, assisting an outreach program for the homeless in NYC, known as the New York City Relief Bus.  While volunteering with this organization, Emmalynn helped homeless people in her community by serving soup and bread; distributing clothing, toiletries, and other necessities; offering referrals to places where individuals could get help for various medical and mental issues; and leading group prayer.

“Ms. Sharf knows firsthand how stressful and difficult growing up without role models and being homeless can be, and she takes great pride in helping others find the right path. To Ms. Sharf, people are defined by what they contribute in the present. She strives to teach those she helps that they are worthy and can make a difference though taking positive actions. Today, Ms. Sharf is successfully living independently and continues to work with charities for the homeless.”

According to the DA, Diaz pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was later sentenced to 45 days in jail. A spokesperson for the agency didn’t have information as to the presence of the knife.

Hundreds head to Taste of Gramercy

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By Sabina Mollot

Taste of Gramercy, the first food tasting event to be held in the neighborhood on Saturday, was a success, with organizers selling over 400 tickets.

While the nonprofit group that organized it, Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, wasn’t yet sure how much had been raised, since some tickets were $30 while others were $40 depending on if they were bought early or not, the event’s turnout exceeded expectations.

“People seemed to like that everything benefits local schools,” said GNA member Gary Horowitz.

Money raised from tickets will go to two local schools, PS 40 and School of the Future.

For the price of a ticket, guests got to try five tasting plates of food from any of the 20 participating restaurants, with the event held street fair style under an open sky. Anyone could walk into the blocked off area, which was on one block on Irving Place, though to try the foods, guests had to have a ticket.

Some of the culinary offerings included tuna tartare cannolis from The Stand, compressed apple with smoked tomato from Gramercy Tavern, paella with shrimp from Casa Mono, oyster shooters in a chilled coconut ginger soup from City Crab and raw macaroons and other desserts from Pure Food & Wine. Paul & Jimmy’s was a popular stop with guests getting their plates loaded up with helpings of meatballs, gnocci and eggplant rollatini.

The event was coordinated with the company PTG, which has also organized events like Taste of Sutton and Taste of Tribeca.

“I just love this one. This is cute,” said Jackie Palmer of PTG about Taste of Gramercy. “For their first year, it looks great and we’re already talking about next year.”

The vendors also seemed happy with the event, which they donated their food to.

Adele Carollo, general manager at The Stand, a comedy club and restaurant on Third Avenue, said the event was a good opportunity to showcase the club’s menu, since most people don’t think of comedy clubs when considering where to go eat.

“Most comedy clubs have a really bad reputation for food,” said Carollo, adding that at The Stand, a focus has always been the menu as well as the entertainment. “So when we heard about this (event), we were into it.”

Eric Sherman, owner of the new Irving Place restaurant Ichabod’s, said it was a good opportunity to market the business to area residents as well as for the restaurant community to network.

“You create a camaraderie with local businesses. It’s nice to know your neighbor,” he said. Sherman, who became a restaurateur with Ichabod’s, which features an American bistro menu, in February, added, “Your neighborhood is everything. You’ve got to do what your neighborhood calls for. I’m looking forward to doing this next year.”

GNA board member Antonella Napolitano said the only downside to ToG was that a couple of local restaurant owners ended up feeling slighted when they weren’t asked to participate. However, she said this was only because the organization was limited to one block for the event.

“We’re probably going to expand it next year,” she said.

Peter Cooper Village residents hit with MCI

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

By Sabina Mollot

Just one week after residents of Stuyvesant Town were hit with a major capital increase (MCI) for video intercoms and a security command center installed in 2009, residents of Peter Cooper began receiving notices in the mail that their rents too would be increased, in this case $10-$15 per apartment. The MCI, also for security upgrades, comes with a retroactive portion tenants are responsible for paying of $480-$650.

Though as of Friday, only two buildings got the notices, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said that the rest of the buildings in PCV were also likely to get the same news, and possibly Stuy Town, too.

In a Facebook post, the Tenants Association said that its attorney Tim Collins filed objections in May of 2012 to this MCI “and as in the case of the ST Video Intercom MCI, these objections have either ignored or overlooked.”

Currently the Stuyvesant Town video intercom MCI is being disputed by the TA via a petition for administrative review (PAR) and Collins will also do the same for the latest MCI.

The Tenants Association said it has a few general objections to the MCI, which include claims that:

• The system replaced a full electronic security management system installed in Peter Cooper Village only in 2004. Before a system is replaced, it must have exceeded its useful life.

• Critical documentation, such as government permits, and plans and specifications were not submitted, but should have been. There were different contract amounts cited. Change orders lacked proper verifiable information. Some change orders were for repair and restoration not eligible for MCI rent increases.

• The security command center was a new facility installed at 518 East 20th Street. This security center was relocated to 317 Avenue C as part of an overall rental plan for retail spaces on the property. This work did not qualify for MCI treatment, even before Sandy destroyed the command center.

Steinberg added that she is concerned because “there are other MCIs out there and I would hate to think they are all going to be approved. What would be horrible is getting thousands in retroactive fees and the rest will be there forever unless something happens with our rent regulation laws.”

As with the Stuy Town MCI, the Tenants Association is asking that residents don’t file individual PARs at this time, but instead send the association the docket numbers that appear on their MCI documents.

The Tenants Association will be preparing a Google form for affected tenants to send the docket numbers and will soon be spreading the word via an email blast and building postings.

Steinberg also noted that the cost of fighting the MCIs is going to be pricey and requested that tenants consider making a donation to help with the effort.

“This is going to be an enormous legal fee,” said Steinberg.

MCIs are rent increases owners of rent stabilized properties can charge for making improvements and upgrades and are added to tenants’ base rent. According to the Tenants Association, there are currently five pending for ST/PCV. In 2009, the Tenants Association learned that 20 percent of the MCI applications filed in this city came from ST/PCV alone.

CWCapital has not yet responded to a request for comment.

This article has been revised to include additional information about the the Tenants Association’s arguments against the MCI.

 

CW talks plans for new management office

The Avenue C management office will be converted into a children's facility. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Avenue C management office will be converted into a children’s facility.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In anticipation of major construction work to be done on the First Avenue Loop for the new management office, reps for CWCapital quietly met with residents in buildings along the loop last week to discuss the planned project and their concerns.

The meeting was held on Monday, October 7 at the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School and was also attended by leaders of the ST-PCV Tenants Association. TA Chair Susan Steinberg said buildings where tenants may be affected by the construction and noise were fliered, though there wasn’t any promotion beyond that. However, one resident, who lives at 274 First Avenue, where the new management office will be built in the current Oval Concierge space (274-276), said he didn’t recall seeing any notices.

Still, there didn’t appear to be shortage of interest from tenants, with at least 100 people in attendance, said Steinberg.

Leading the meeting was Andrew Cain, an asset manager for CWCapital and Claire Hackney, vice president of construction for the company, who answered the bulk of tenants’ questions.

CW’s plans have yet to be approved by the Department of Buildings and there were also no designs available for tenants to view.

“It would have been nice to see drawings, but unfortunately they didn’t have them with them,” said Steinberg.

As T&V reported in June, CWCapital has said with the new management office in the Oval Concierge space, Oval Concierge would go elsewhere on the First Avenue Loop, but it wasn’t said exactly where it would go at the meeting.

Currently, the only readily available ground commercial space is being used by the Community Center, and said, Steinberg, “I would be really shocked if they did away with the Community Center.”

What CW did say, recalled Steinberg, was that the company hopes work can be done throughout the winter “when there’s less activity and less people walking by.” How long the project will take is uncertain, but what does help is that no jackhammering is anticipated due to a lack of bedrock under the building.

“It’s mostly fill,” said Steinberg, “so there’ll be trucks removing earth and pretty much that side of the building (the First Avenue) side will be impassable,” she said. “People will have to use the loop side.”

Part of the project however includes upgrades for a nearby Playground 8, including the addition of a water feature. Steinberg added that management conceded some trees will have to come down in order to extend the back part of the building. (First Avenue is considered the back.) The extension will also include a green roof over a landscaped area.

In June, management said in a newsletter to tenants that the new management office would be designed with future disasters in mind so it could function as a command center, and that work was expected to be completed by spring of 2014. (There wasn’t a timetable given at the meeting.)

As for residents’ concerns, Steinberg recalled that there was some mention of a lack of access due to the fact that there would be a staff of 100 people doing this work and a staff-only entrance.

“So the character of the whole area is going to change,” said Steinberg. “It will be less residential in character and more commercial.”

However, some residents seemed relieved that management would once again be onsite and this time not all the way on Avenue C. “There are going to be tradeoffs,” said Steinberg. “So we’re not 100 percent overjoyed or annoyed.”

Steinberg said she didn’t believe there could be an MCI for this type of project.

Following the meeting, when asked for comment, a spokesperson for CW would only say there would be an announcement about the plans soon.

As for the old management office on Avenue C, CW has said part of the space will be converted into a facility for children. Talks are currently being held with potential vendors.

Following the space being flooded during Hurricane Sandy, Avenue C in Stuyvesant Town has since been declared a flood zone. CWCapital and management company CompassRock moved management operations to temporary spaces in the Oval for a few months and then moved offsite. Since then, as T&V has reported, residents have found that it’s gotten harder to reach management.

Art in Odd Places makes itself at home

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By Sabina Mollot

You know Art in Odd Places, the annual public art festival, has returned when the characters who act up on the M14 manage to be entertaining without getting into fights with the bus driver and the graffiti that pops up along local construction sites gets more creative than usual.

The event, which spans 10 days in October and is running for the ninth time in the city (the sixth time on 14th Street), kicked off last Friday.

The event opened with a low-key ceremony at the 14th Street entrance of Campos Plaza and several of the participating visual and performance artists keeping residents and passersby entertained.

This included a chance to get in touch with one’s past by having “Operator Loretta” (a character created by performer Lulu Lolo) dial the first number people could recall memorizing and seeing if they could actually get an answer.

One man, who was the first caller of the evening, dialed his mother’s number in Great Neck to let her know he wouldn’t be coming home for dinner.

“I don’t know if I really made contact,” he said afterwards, but the cat glasses-wearing “Loretta” assured him that “She’ll hear the message.”

Later, Lolo explained how the character came about, which is that when she ordered a vintage operator’s telephone from eBay, the previous user’s name, Loretta, was marked on it with a piece of tape. But even before that, she’d had an interest in vintage numbers, which went along with this year’s AiOP theme of “number” and had found that phone numbers from the 1940s along with the names of the corresponding New Yorkers were all available through a bit of research at the library. “ You knew where people lived by their phone numbers,” said Lolo, “if it was in Gramercy or Stuyvesant Town. I was looking up all the numbers on 14th Street.”

Another event participant, Shannon Novick, was behind a design of a virtual tour of 14th Street that participants can take via an app downloaded on any mobile device. Not having been to the area before (he’d just flown in from New Zealand), Novick created his tour with the help of an AiOP staffer who took photos of neighborhood points of interest and Google Maps. Those who take Novick’s tour, when holding up their smartphones, can read a bit of history about the various destination points while also listening to some accompanying music. For example, those who stop at the Liberty Inn will hear a song by the Rolling Stones since the band had stayed there.

For Novick, finally getting to see the places he’d researched from across the world “just blew me away,” he said. “It adds a whole new dimension to the work that I couldn’t see.”

Yet another artist, Pedro Gomez Egana, was making his way around Campos, wheeling around a wooden warrior he built. At the same time, curious onlookers could listen via headphones to a story that accompanied the walk. In it, the warrior, whose arm always points south regardless of the direction he was pulled in, clearly had an appetite for destruction. The story involved demolishing the FDR Drive, the Williamsburg Bridge and creating a tornado in Brighton Beach. Egana said he was inspired by an ancient Chinese mechanism called a south pointing chariot.

Meanwhile, as the event has grown in popularity (recently AiOP was debuted in Australia), Woodham said he’s also gotten some flack for not paying the artists who participate. But, he noted, no one involved gets paid, including him, because none of the art is for sale. “What we can offer is a support system and advice,” said Woodham, a teaching artist, “and these are really important things, and we offer freedom because we’re not behooved to anyone.”

The only rule artists really have to follow is to be “mindful” of the fact that everything is done in public, “so we’re not bombarding (people) with art, we’re suggesting art,” said Woodham.

For Friday’s festivities, the crowd was a mix of neighborhood residents and others who worked in the area, such as Lydia Matthews, who’d been to AiOP events in previous years.

“I always enjoy seeing all the different things,” said Matthews, “and when you hit a lot of the (installations) in one stretch, it’s very exciting.”

With this year’s festival having fewer participating artists than in previous years at around 30, the opening events didn’t draw a huge crowd, but to maintain a “festival atmosphere,” organizers have planned this year’s schedule so that there’s always something going on at any given time. AiOP, which began on October 11, will run through October 20 along the length of 14th Street from the Hudson River to Avenue C. There will be also be a “Critical Mass” Saturday with numerous artists participating at once from 1-5 p.m. on October 19 between Second Avenue and Avenue A.

Letters to the Editor, Oct. 17

Why are short-term renters targets for A.G.?

Re: “Airbnb won’t cooperate with A.G. investigation,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

I am intrigued that Eric Schneiderman decided to prioritize investigating Airbnb. Wasn’t he supposed to be prosecuting the banksters responsible for our continuing economic disaster? Come to think of it, where are those indictments?

Rich people don’t sublet their homes for short periods. Middle-class homeowners and renters do. There may be some nefarious businesspeople subletting to even lurkier subtenants on Airbnb, but I’m pretty sure most of the people using Airbnb to make money or have a place to stay are ordinary middle class people. Some people rent out their apartments because they have lost jobs and are traveling, looking for work. Others are having difficulty paying their monthly costs due to stagnating wages combined with continually rising co-op maintenance fees and endless assessments.

Again, the rich don’t have these troubles. Should middle-class homeowners be forced to sell their apartments or incur credit problems because of temporary financial setbacks?

I can’t sublet my apartment on Airbnb due to the fact I store confidential materials here, but if that wasn’t an issue I probably would occasionally sublet it.

I have fond memories of the “illegal” sublet I rented as a young graduate student in 1990. If that apartment hadn’t been available, I never would have been able to live in Manhattan, close to my school and internship. Again, this type of issue is not a problem for the rich — only for the middle class.

Schneiderman and Liz Krueger might want to think about the fact that most of the middle-class people who sublet on Airbnb in New York are registered Democrats…

Sincerely,

Anne Rettenberg,
Kips Bay

Sukkah in park not unconstitutional

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

The writer who objects to sukkahs in public parks has gone beyond the facts in stating, “the Constitution espouses the separation of church and state.”

The First Amendment forbids legislating, “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and Article VI forbids a religious test for holding federal office. An establishment of religion, the thing forbidden, is a requirement that all citizens worship God in the manner of only one religion and must contribute to its financial support.  Allowing the free exercise of religion means that every citizen may choose to worship God, or not, in the manner he or she deems right, and in doing so may exercise all the other First Amendment freedoms — of speech, the press and peaceable assembly.

The Constitution mandates freedom for religion, not freedom from religion.

Yet Mendy Weitbaum may have exceeded these rights, in the same way one would by erecting a personal sign in a public park suggesting, “Drink Coca-Cola,” or “Fly American Airlines.” Yet, if he did exceed his rights, it’s because of erecting a symbol of his personal preferences, not because the symbol is a religious one.

Don Murray, ST

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

The phrase, “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson used it in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to assure them that the state of CT would not interfere with their religious practices.

James Madison said the purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion. Just because someone doesn’t want to see a sukkah, a cross, or anything else in a public park doesn’t make it unconstitutional, so the rabbi can put up a sukkah anywhere he wants.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joan Carmody,  PCV

‘Interesting’ owners

They have three transients in every eight apartments; they send you reminder notices on the day they’ve cashed your check; they inspect your apartment to insure that you’re using your 22-year-old refrigerator; two of five washing machines in a laundry room meant for over 100 apartments are unplugged. They hang padding 24/7 in elevators that rent stabilized tenants have paid for so transients can readily move in and out. They are the most interesting landlords in the world.

Name withheld, ST

Stuy Town residents get video intercom MCI

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, residents in every Stuyvesant Town building learned that they’d be getting a major capital improvement (MCI) rent increase of $4.17 per room in their apartment per month for installation of the property’s video intercoms.

The intercoms were installed in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer, who applied for the MCI. The increase, which was finally approved by the state housing agency, is added to residents’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion tenants are also responsible for paying from December, 2009 until November of this year (47 months). A spokesperson for the agency, New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), declined to comment on its decision.

Meanwhile, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said after a recent conversation with CWCapital, the TA learned CW was just as surprised as tenants to hear about the MCI, which it is now authorized to collect starting in November.

Because of this, she said it was unlikely that CW would begin charging for it right away and instead may start collecting it in December.

Steinberg added that the TA has been in touch with its attorney, Tim Collins, and as of Wednesday morning, the TA said in an official statement that it was clear to Collins that HCR “has made a reversible error” with the latest MCI approval.

“None of the orders acknowledge or consider our attorney’s general and specific objections – all of which were served on the HCR on May 14, 2012,” the TA said.

“Our attorney has advised that this is not unheard of and HCR should promptly rescind the orders and correct its error by considering our objections and giving notice to the owner’s attorney.  We will file ‘Requests for Reconsideration’ due to ‘irregularity in a vital matter’ as well as Petitions for Administrative Review (PAR) in the next few weeks.”

The TA also said it was asking CWCapital “to recognize HCR’s error” and refrain from charging the MCI in tenants’ December rent bills.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, said the special servicer couldn’t comment on the video intercom MCI at this time.

While in the past, the TA has encouraged tenants to file their own PARs, which would protect them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is settled, this time the TA said there was no need for tenants to individually file PARs at this time.

“We will provide further updates as our efforts to stop these MCIs continues,” the TA said.

Steinberg also noted, “We always protest MCIs because there’s usually something we find amiss.”

In this case, tenants have complained about the intercoms being faulty and following Hurricane Sandy, some buildings’ intercoms were unable to contact security.

(A rent reduction application previously filed by the TA for lost or diminished services after Sandy in certain buildings in Peter Cooper Village and two in Stuyvesant Town has still not gotten an answer from the HCR.)

Another potential argument against the MCI, said Steinberg, is that CWCapital may have already gotten insurance money for damaged systems “so that goes into play. This was done back in 2009, but it seems like circumstances have to be looked at afresh.”

The MCI affects tenants in all 89 Stuy Town buildings, which Steinberg called “unfortunate” due to the timing. This year, the Rent Guidelines Board-issued increase was higher than usual at 7.75 percent for two-year leases, 1,100 residents were also hit with mid-lease increases in May and more recently, tenants noticed that CW’s gotten tougher about imposing late fees. “It’s a heavy burden,” said Steinberg.

In an email to neighbors sent on Saturday, the TA said it would be filing a PAR. The TA also asked for tenants to send the association (via a form on its website at stpcvta.org) their docket numbers.

Not surprisingly, the response from tenants has been that an MCI for the video intercoms isn’t fair.

One resident told T&V this week that most of the time the system in his building doesn’t even work, so when he has visitors, he’s actually resorted to throwing down a key-card from his 11th floor window in a sock that’s weighted down with another object so it won’t flutter in the wind.

Another resident, David Dartley, vented on Facebook to tell CW, “You who are in charge did not spend any money installing these intercoms back in 2009,” he wrote. “Now you want to collect in perpetuity for something you expended no money or effort in creating?’

Steinberg also noted that in 2009, reps from the TA met with the state housing agency, then known as the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. At that time, the TA, along with local elected officials, complained that they felt the agency was rubber-stamping every MCI request the owner made. They also learned that 20 percent of the city’s MCI applications came from ST/PCV alone. “It was a very cordial meeting,” said Steinberg. “We reached out to them, but they were receptive.” She added that the goal of the meeting was to see if the agency would be willing to negotiate some of the MCIs that were still outstanding, but after the meeting, “it went nowhere.”