Ave. C dance studio presents ‘Nutcracker’ set in neighborhood

Sarah Macken and Afinatou Thiam in "The Shell-Shocked Nut," to be performed by the East Village Dance Studio (Photo by High Burckhardt)

Sarah Macken and Afinatou Thiam in “The Shell-Shocked Nut,” to be performed by the East Village Dance Studio (Photo by Hugh Burckhardt)

By Sabina Mollot

When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on Manhattan’s East Side, a three-year-old dance studio on Avenue C was largely spared. The place wasn’t flooded like many of the other businesses along the avenue, but like every other place south of 39th Street, there was no power for a week. Heat wouldn’t return for several weeks. But even without it, Martha Tornay, artistic director at the East Village Dance Project, was determined to reopen, investing in space heaters and letting students who were aged 10 and older know they could return to class. (Most students at the East Village Dance Project are between the ages of 4 and 19, but Tornay said she didn’t want the littlest ones around the space heaters.)

Since most of the students live nearby in the East Village as well as Stuyvesant Town, it was upon their return that Tornay learned their superstorm-related stories. Some of the students had lost their apartments. Others were displaced from their schools or learning in the hallways. One, student, meanwhile, seemed happy about the blackout.

“One kid said how cool it was to be eating dinner by candlelight every night,” said Tornay.

But not everyone had been enjoying the effects of the storm and one of the teenagers asked Tornay if they could learn a number from “The Nutcracker,” saying it would cheer them up. So, Tornay had the students dance to the one of the songs in the score, “Waltz of the Flowers,” “and the room just lit up,” she said.

Naturally, the students went on to perform in a production of “The Nutcracker” that season. It was a 35-minute version, though, featuring 80 kids and was put on a few times just for parents. It was also modernized somewhat, with Tornay, who’s the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and has a sister who’s an Iraqi vet, changing one of the characters, the magical Drosselmeyer, to a female vet. Though Tchaikovsky’s score was used, the plot line changed and dealt with issues like post traumatic stress syndrome, since that’s what some of the students were experiencing as a result of Sandy.

Fast forward a year later, and the East Village Dance Studio, along with LaMama ETC and GOH Productions, are reviving the show, this time with even more modern updates, including music by a contemporary composer.

This time the show, called “The Shell-Shocked Nut,” is full-length at 70 minutes and will feature a cast of 25 students as well as 25 professionals including performers, choreographers and composers. It will also be performed for the public from January 3-5, 2014 at the Ellen Stewart Theatre.

Students from the East Village Dance Project in "The Shell-Shocked Nut" from left to right: Franky Kramer-John, Lydia Antoinette Niall, Safouane Chestnut and Piper Morrison (Photo by Hugh Burckhardt)

Students from the East Village Dance Project in “The Shell-Shocked Nut” from left to right: Franky Kramer-John, Lydia Antoinette Niall, Safouane Chestnut and Piper Morrison (Photo by Hugh Burckhardt)

In this version, the East Village is featured prominently in the storyline with the veteran character taking the

lead character, a young girl to a local community garden as well to see a show at LaMaMa theater. The characters travel via a hot air balloon from one act to another and end up meeting all kinds of local characters.

“It’s quite powerful,” said Tornay, adding that the neighborhood elements were also inspired by Sandy, since it was a time when people were simply forced to focus on their surroundings.

“You’re not just in work mode,” she said. “I really opened my eyes more to the community, so even though it was work, it was still about being a community project.”

The East Village Dance Project, which has been in business for 17 years, has been in its current studio space for three years between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Before that it didn’t have a permanent home, operating nomad-style. Having its own space has made a huge difference in what kind of productions it can take on, said Tornay.

Performances of “The Shell-Shocked Nut” will take place on Friday, January 3 at 7 p.m. and January 4 and 5 at 3 p.m. at the Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street between Second Avenue and the Bowery. Tickets ($20, $15 seniors, students and children 12 and under) are available by calling (212) 475-7710 or by visiting lamama.org.

Three men tie up, rob woman and girl in Kips Bay apartment

Robbery suspects

Robbery suspects

Police are looking for three men they say forced their way into a Kips Bay apartment, tied up a woman and a teenage girl and then robbed them.

It was on Thursday, December 26 at around 7 p.m. when the men pushed their way into the apartment and tied up the 33-year-old woman and a 14-year-old girl who were there. The suspects then swiped $460 in cash and other property before fleeing.

The suspects are described as black and were captured on surveillance video.

This crime comes on the heels of another push-in attack in the neighborhood. On December 16, Bellevue shelter resident Donnelle Murphy, 29, allegedly tried to rape a woman after forcing his way into her Lexington Avenue apartment.

Cops are asking that anyone with information about the robbery call Crime stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime stoppers website at http://www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

Robbery suspects

Robbery suspects

One of the robbery suspects

One of the robbery suspects

Stuy Town photog sheds a little light on East Village’s community gardens

The Diaz y Flores Community Garden on East 13th Street is one of 30 local gardens to be photographed by George Hirose.

The Diaz y Flores Community Garden on East 13th Street is one of 30 local gardens to be photographed by George Hirose.

By Sabina Mollot

Ever since the 1970s, when he moved to the East Village, photographer George Hirose found himself inspired by the scenes there that were both gritty and pretty. In particular, he was a huge fan of the community gardens that popped up then and the years that followed, since it was usually the locals’ way of thumbing – or rather greenthumbing their noses – at would-be developers of vacant lots.

Now a resident of Stuyvesant Town, Hirose has continued his love affair with the community gardens and is involved in the tending of a couple of them. He has also, since the spring of this year, been working on an ongoing exhibit of photos he’s taken of the gardens in the East Village and along the Lower East Side.

An exhibit is currently on display at the 14th Street Y, where Hirose will also be speaking about the photos on December 29 at 3 p.m. In addition, some of his photos are also on display across the street at Kati restaurant, 347 East 14th Street.

So far, he’s captured 30 of the 39 gardens in the area, and there are some he wants to go back to.

“I want to give a sense of the individuality of the places and how special they are,” said Hirose. “People are

George Hirose

George Hirose

interested in what other people are doing even if it’s out of the range of their immediate environment.”

As for his own interest in the gardens, for Hirose, they were always a way to meet likeminded people, artists, musicians and other characters, along with the nightclubs in the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s. They were also a way to enjoy a bit of nature close to home, allowing a brief escape from the crime-ridden streets and graffiti-covered buildings.

However, even as the neighborhood gentrified over the years since then, the volunteer-run gardens still remained a special place to Hirose. A couple of them even had play areas for kids, and he would take his daughter to the gardens when she was younger.

“Some of them don’t have much in them, some have a lot in them,” he said, adding that some are obviously run better than others. Naturally, he has more appreciation for those where volunteers have been willing to let him in at night when the gardens are normally closed so he can do his photography.

The photos Hirose takes are always at night, enhanced by additional light sources he’ll bring into the gardens, since he wants to capture the bright colors of the trees and plantings. He also uses long camera exposures of up to 20 minutes and digital enhancements.

“It’s a very different way to see the gardens,” he said, explaining that the naked eye can’t see much in the way of depth and color in the dark. “So I have my camera do the things that my eyes are unable to do.”

For Hirose, a professor of photography at Pratt, it was only recently that he decided to start photographing the gardens. His hesitation, he said, had to do with his feeling that the art community would look down on his attempt to present the subject matter in a beautiful way. But, he said, “This was something I really loved and I just wanted to create something beautiful. I’d like for the whole city to be aware of community gardens in general.”

George Hirose's photo of the Children's Workshop Garden on East 12th Street and Avenue C

George Hirose’s photo of the Children’s Workshop Garden on East 12th Street and Avenue C

He’s also been concerned about the future of the gardens since one, called the Children’s Magical Garden on the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Streets, has been fighting to keep part of its space, which is slated for development of a six-story building.

“In the Lower East Side, there’s no real parks except for Tompkins Square, so it is important,” he said.

As for Stuyvesant Town, where he’s lived for the past 12 years, Hirose said he doesn’t feel compelled to photograph it much (though he’s made exceptions for the squirrel population). He also loves that it’s a natural bird sanctuary.

Though he does think the grounds look attractive, the problem, said Hirose, is that the property is “too manicured for my photography,” and therefore lacking the personality and roughness of the community gardens.

“It’s my home but I don’t feel a connection,” he admitted.

“It feels institutionally beautiful. It’s landscaped. The dynamics come from when neighbors gather to create something. I like when it’s a little grungier.”

Hirose’s photos will remain on display at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues, through December 29. Hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.georgehirose.com.

Holiday Market is big business for city as well as organizer and 150 vendors

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For small businesses looking to boost foot traffic during holiday season, there is arguably no better location than a holiday market, specifically, the 150-plus booth one that takes place at Union Square Park each year.

The market has grown over the 19 years it’s been run there by the company Urban Space, occupying the south end of the park, and a stroll through on any day it’s open clearly shows there’s always a steady stream of shoppers.

Urban Space has kept a tight lid on what it charges vendors for use of its red and white striped booths, but on a recent day, an operator of a medium-sized booth said his rent was about $15,000. This is for the five weeks, November 21 to Christmas Eve, that the event runs. Not that he was complaining. “It’s the busiest hub in the city,” he said. He, like the majority of merchants there, are repeat tenants, and those thinking of becoming one might want to sign up soon. A rep for Urban Space, Rachel Van Dolsen, said that the “footprint” of the event has gotten as big as it’s going to get.

Van Dolsen declined to discuss rents for booths although she said the aforementioned figure didn’t sound accurate. (Another vendor at last year’s event, however, told T&V that amount sounded similar to what she paid, though hers was a little higher. “Expensive, but worth it,” she said.)

Along with its location on top of an entrance to the Union Square subway, the market has become a hit with shoppers looking for items that are handmade or hard to find as opposed to mass-produced items, which Urban Space doesn’t allow.

Last year the amount of money the company shelled out to the city in exchange for use of the park was $1,378,972, so even without official numbers, it’s clear the bustling bazaar must do pretty well for the organizer. The city of course makes out too, with its cut going to a general fund.

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

Of course, being that the event runs throughout one of the year’s coldest months, even with the built-in foot traffic, there are still going to be retailers who don’t want to conduct business outdoors as well as businesses that wouldn’t be able to sell effectively in one of the stalls.

As Faith Hope Consolo, a broker for the real estate firm Douglas Elliman, explained it, “The holiday market is for a very specific customer, and if that retailer sells products for that shopper, sure, it makes sense to go there. These can include holiday decorations, ornaments, one-of-a-kind gifts. But a pop-up probably makes more sense for apparel. You might want to try on something, and an outdoor market is not the place for that.” Electronics are also not a big seller at markets, noted Consolo, though accessories are.

At this time, asking rents for retail spaces around Union Square are around $60 per square foot to $90 per square foot on the side streets, while asking rents on the avenues are a whopping $400 per square foot. The rent gets higher closer to Flatiron, added Consolo. And of course, these are the prices for longterm leases, not pop-up shop spaces, which around holiday time, are hard to come by.

“There are fewer pop-up opportunities at the holidays because many retailers will lease a holiday shop well in advance,” said Consolo. “But someone can always find something if they look long and hard enough.”

Ultimately, as for whether it makes more sense to rent at the market or at a store, “Holiday markets have the same rule of thumb as any retail site,” said Consolo. “Better locations have higher rents. You pay more to be near entrances, etc. And Union Square certainly is bustling as more retailers, restaurants and services open to appeal to all the high-tech workers and residents there.”

In related neighborhood retail news, to help push shopping at neighborhood stores as the market is open, the Union Square Partnership has been offering District Deals booklets at the information booth at the market (across from the subway entrance gazebo). The booklets contain over 40 deals from retailers like Union Square Wines and Spirits and Jivamukti’s yoga school.

Letters to the Editor, The Soapbox, Cartoon, December 26

When the Police Academy was a school

Re: “Push for new school at Police Academy,” T&V, Dec. 12

Guess what, previous to Police Academy that spot on 20th Street was PS 50. Half (eastern part) was the red-bricked school, the western part an outdoor playground.

How do I know? I attended the school in the early ‘50s. Yes, my kindergarten teacher was Miss Hatch, first grade Miss Richter, second grade Miss Schaefer. And I still have my report cards to prove it! Then the school closed and all the kids were transferred to PS 40, where I continued on till JHS 104. Also, I think PS 50 ran through the block and the 13th Precinct also once was the school. The original 13th Precinct was on 22nd Street near First Avenue, in a station house up a few steps. I was a member of the PAL there, cop “Bob” was our mentor. Fond memories

Sidney Schneck, ST


What do the bondholders say?

 To the Editor:

In October 2012, the Tenants Association announced, with great fanfare and press releases, that it was taking our case “directly to the bondholders” – and “cutting out the middleman” – in order that we could gain control of our destiny.

Now, the time has come for the TA to report to us – fully and honestly – how the bondholders responded, when the TA put our case directly to them. Or, the TA leadership should observe fair and reasonable term limits of two years each, and step aside.

Yours sincerely,

Name Withheld, ST


The dangers of smoking

Dear T&V,

Michael Phillips’ review of the movie “Parkland” was as hilarious as anything I’ve ever read in your newspaper. Also his explanation that one of the reasons the film received an MPAA rating of PG-13, because people were “smoking throughout” the film shows how silly our culture has become.


Richard Luksin, Minneapolis, MN


The Soapbox: Why Steve Jobs died

By David Chowes

Well, you think that the answer is cancer – and you’re right. Steve Jobs was perhaps the first true genius of the 21st century – but he was a complicated man. During his counterculture days, he was steeped in mystical thinking: took LSD, was heavily into Indian religious paradigms…

Of course, later he made a lasting contribution in technology and became another Einstein in another area and revolutionized the world. But, his earlier foray persisted. When was diagnosed with cancer, standard medical procedures gave him about a 95 percent probability of remission. But…

He chose alternative treatments instead and this decision most likely caused him his life. That Jobs chose the course he did is curious, because to create the technology he did, he must have been aware of the scientific method.

What is “alternative medicine” which seems so popular among the pseudo-sophisticates? It consists of methods which have not been ever been tested via methodologically sound procedures. They may have efficacy or not or be dangerous. “Natural” is no assurance of safety – remember that arsenic is natural.

Once I went to a woman’s home and saw many small bottles with strange names. I picked up one and asked her what this product does. She replied, “Oh, I don’t know. My friend who is very smart said it’s good.” I further queried, “For what?” She repeated, “My friend is very smart.”

Both had been graduated from college and had taken science courses. But, scientific courses, in the main, teach facts rather than what the scientific method is about – and, how important it is. From janitor to CEO, few realize how crucial this method is.

Alternative medications can be or seem to be effective. But they have not been studied and no one knows. If one person takes a nutrient or other tablet and a headache goes away, they may believe that there was a cause and effect relationship between the treatment and the headache going away. And, they tell friends that this “wonder pill” works. It then goes viral… but most maladies eventually go away without intervention; or, it could be a result of the placebo effect. That is why FDA approval assures (to some extent) that treatments are safe and effective.

Then there are the radio and TV hucksters who make a fortune using a naïve public. Well, the brilliant Steve Jobs succumbed to the myth of alternative treatments. According to Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs, near the end, Jobs realized the great mistake he made that most likely cost him his life.

How many people in PCV/ST are using snake oil treatments rather than physician-prescribed ones and put ting their lives in peril?

Peter Cooper Village resident David Chowes taught psychology, statistics and research design at Baruch College/CUNY and other universities for 25 years.

 Dec26 Toon NSA

THANK YOU: Generous T&V readers donate toys for the holidays

Bonnie Robbins, coordinator of children and family services at Beth Israel, with some of the toys at her Second Avenue office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Bonnie Robbins, coordinator of children and family services at Beth Israel, with some of the toys at her Second Avenue office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

At Town & Village, holding a toy drive around the holidays to raise money for kids undergoing treatment at a local hospital is a tradition that’s spanned decades.

This year, thanks to the generosity of our readers, nearly 100 toys were collected to benefit Beth Israel Medical Center. The toys will be distributed to kids spending their Christmas at the pediatric department as well as to families who whose members are patients of the hospital’s outpatient clinics, who in many cases, could not afford gifts for their children.

Among the haul were gifts suitable for kids of all ages from babies to tweens, including dolls, action figures, games, books and a few gadgets.

Bonnie Robbins, coordinator of children and family services at Beth Israel, said the toys were especially needed this year.

Following Sandy, she noted, more families have been utilizing the hospital’s clinics. This has been in an addition to an uptick in families since the recession began.

“People have had to focus on their basic needs,” said Robbins, “so it’s especially necessary for us to be able to provide something. No parent wants to feel like they can’t give their kid something to celebrate the holidays and we help parents who would have a tough time doing that.”

Robbins as well as the staff at Town & Village would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to those who donated as well as those who offered space as toy dropoff points. This year’s dropoff points were the Waterside Plaza management office, the Waterside Swim & Health Club, M&T Bank on First Avenue, Paddy Maguire’s Ale House and the Stuyvesant Town Community Center.

Arrest for attempted rape on Lexington Avenue

On Sunday, cops made an arrest of a man believed to have tried to rape a woman after forcing his way into her Lexington Avenue apartment.

It was on Monday, December 16 at 2 a.m. When Donnelle Murphy, 29, went to the victim’s home, said police, although she was able to fight him off before he fled.

Murphy was nabbed at 400 East 30th Street, the Bellevue men’s homeless shelter.

He now faces charges of attempted rape, burglary, grand larceny, menacing and assault.

The man learned the woman’s address after finding her wallet at a McDonald’s on East 28th Street, the Daily News reported.

The victim reported the crime last week, though information about the case was only released by the NYPD yesterday. In an initial police alert/request for public assistance that wasn’t previously distributed to the media, the victim’s attacker was described as being a 25-35 year old black male, 6 ft. 3 ins. tall and weighing 220 pounds. He was also believed to have tattoos on his upper chest and neck.

MCIs will show up on January rent bills

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents about MCIs at a recent meeting, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association says it’s negotiating with CWCapital, DHCR

‘Roberts’ payments from Met approved

By Sabina Mollot

Residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, who were hit over the last couple of months with a total of five MCIs (major capital improvements), will see those MCIs on their January rent bills.

The ST-PCV Tenants Association warned neighbors of the soon-to-come increases in an email blast on Friday evening. However, the Association said it is continuing to try and reach an agreement with management. The organization also reported that tenants who have already agreed to CW’s offer to reduce their retroactive payments in exchange for not challenging the MCIs could still change their minds.

“CWCapital has asserted that any resident who previously accepted their MCI reduction offer issued in early November will have the ability to participate in any revised terms that are negotiated with the TA,” the Association wrote.

The email also noted that along with management, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) has also been participating in negotiations over the MCIs with the TA. Those talks have been taking place over the last few weeks.

“The Tenants Association entered into these discussions in an effort to reach an agreement that would be beneficial to tenants,” the TA wrote.

“While we hope to achieve a satisfactory settlement, CWCapital will be charging the full MCI increases starting in January 2014. However, should an agreement be achieved, any adjustments to the rent bills will be made and credits will be given in subsequent months. Note that no retroactive portion of the MCI increases should be charged at this time.”

A rep for CWCapital declined to comment on the ongoing talks.

The MCIs were issued for work done in 2009 by Tishman Speyer for security upgrades, water tanks and valves, doors and resurfacing.

In other news, residents who are members of the “Roberts vs. Tishman Speyer” class action suit will get their damages from Met Life by the end of the year.

As T&V reported last week, those residents would be getting 110 percent of what they overpaid in rent to Met, pending approval by a judge. On Friday, “Roberts” tenants’ attorney Alex Schmidt said the judge signed the order and the checks should go out no later than Friday, December 27. Payments from CWCapital should follow, he added, “hopefully” in one or two installments in the next 60-90 days.

Of the 12,000 people who filed claims for “Roberts,” more than 3,000 are getting payments from Met Life.

Hoylman takes aim at SantaCon though SLA

A Santa suit, or part of it, discarded at the corner of 23rd Street and First Avenue on Saturday (Photo by Mark Thompson)

A Santa suit, or part of it, discarded at the corner of 23rd Street and First Avenue on Saturday (Photo by Mark Thompson)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, who recently got the organizers of SantaCon to agree to a few rules to prevent the public disturbances it’s become known for, said he also has another weapon aimed at the annual pub crawl: the State Liquor Authority.

Following the return of the event last weekend, Hoylman told Town & Village he thought another way to prevent participants from binge drinking was to report any bars that serve inebriated patrons to the SLA. He also thought one of the NYPD’s tactics, attempting to discourage bars from participating, was a good idea.

“The problem isn’t that Santas are coming to New York; the problem is the binge drinking,” said Hoylman. “So I’m having conversations with the SLA about the next steps we can take.”

The senator, who attended SantaCon on Saturday to observe how things were going, said he didn’t personally see any of the promised “elves” along the route who were supposed to manage the crowds and weed out any bad Santas. This was one of the things organizers had agreed to do previously, along with share the event’s route ahead of time with precincts and community boards. The organizers did do the latter though, said Hoylman, which he said seemed to help in terms of keeping the event mostly under control.

“The police were able to step up their presence, which seemed to have some effect,” he said. However, he called the event of a brawl between several St. Nicks on 16th Street and Third Avenue “a distressing incident.”

This year, countless Kris Kringles and other Christmas-themed costumed characters trudged through a snowstorm to head from bar to bar in the East Village and the Lower East Side before heading to Brooklyn. The event has grown over the years, despite backlash from residents of neighborhoods it visits and organizers’ protests about how its purpose is actually to raise money for various charities.

Organizers have also previously told T&V they agree with Hoylman that bad behavior reported at previous crawls, like public urination and vomiting, is unacceptable.

Last week, Hoylman mentioned he and other elected officials were going to meet with the organizers of SantaCon, who’d previously only identified themselves to him through first names over the phone. Hoylman has since said that meeting will likely take place soon after the New Year. A spokesperson for SantaCon said this week via email that there were in fact 100 volunteers dubbed “Santa’s Secret Service” on patrol, and that “We look forward to meeting with and discussing the future of SantaCon with the senator.”

The rep added that organizers are still figuring out how much money the event raised.

Santas in post-crawl brawl on Third Ave.

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

By Sabina Mollot

While SantaCon largely steered clear of the neighborhoods north of the East Village this past weekend, thanks to a widely circulated video on YouTube there’s evidence of a brawl between several Santas near Union Square. On Saturday at 8 p.m., the evening of this year’s annual pub crawl, the not quite jolly old St. Nicks got into a beat-down at the corner of East 16th Street and Third Avenue. The video shows half a dozen costumed men punching and kicking each other in the snow outside Joe Junior’s restaurant, before they eventually run or walk off.

According to Deputy Inspector Dave Ehrenberg, the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, police had gotten a call about the fight, but by the time officers arrived, it was over.

“We are currently investigating that incident,” Ehrenberg said. “We’ve interviewed the person who took the video.” But, he added, “We have no victims in that no one’s come forward.”

As for whether or not he thought it was related to SantaCon, which ended earlier, Ehrenberg said, “A bunch of Santas beating the crap out of each other? Probably.”

Still, he noted, as far as the 13th Precinct went, the naughty behavior was an isolated incident. The precinct covers the north side of 14th Street up to 30th Street from the East River to Seventh Avenue. SantaCon’s route included the East Village and Lower East Side as well as parts of Brooklyn this year.

In response to the street fight, a rep for SantaCon told Town & Village, “No arrests have been reported to us. We have all seen the unfortunate fight video that took place outside of the suggested route and hours after the event had ended. It saddens Santa that these types of people put on Santa suits.”

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

Still from a video showing a post-SantaCon beatdown on Third Avenue (Live Leak video via YouTube user Bofutli)

Pols ask city to hold off on plans for sanitation garage

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

By Sabina Mollot
Last week, East Side elected officials made a last ditch effort to the Bloomberg administration to see if the city would hold off on plans for the Brookdale Campus sanitation garage. Via letter, the politicians argued that while there is no plan in place for the parcels of property set aside for development on both sides of the intended garage site, the city has still been moving along in getting needed approvals to get the garage built.
The local politicians, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, reached out to the Department of Sanitation last Wednesday with a letter asking to “table this proposal until a comprehensive plan for the entire site, and more clarity regarding the many issues that have been raised, are provided.”
The many issues referred to are the concerns of residents at nearby Waterside Plaza, East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay about impacts on air quality and increased traffic on nearby streets due to the expected steady steam of garbage trucks in and out of the garage as well as various safety issues related to the site itself. The fact that the street is in a flood zone was also cited by the community.
It was following a land swap between the city and CUNY that the school’s Brookdale Campus, located on First Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, was fated to become the site of a sanitation garage that will be built in 2020. The deal is attached to a plan for a new hospital to be developed on the Upper East Side.
However, the garage aspect has been consistently blasted by East Side residents and politicians. Along with the aforementioned reasons, many feel the surrounding neighborhood, better known as Bedpan Alley due to all the medical and science facilities, is simply not the appropriate location for a sanitation garage.
Additionally, with the garage not expected to be ready for use until 2020, Hoylman, Kavanagh and Garodnick said there seemed to be no reason for the city to rush the plan along, other than the fact that Bloomberg will no longer be in office.
“We are conscious and we know they are conscious of the change in administration,” Kavanagh said. “Clearly this proposal is something that came out of the current administration.”
Recently, the Department of Sanitation produced renderings of the garage, which it has presented to the Public Design Commission for preliminary review.
While the pols wrote they “have no issue” with the DSNY continuing work on the requirements on the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Reform Procedure), there’s been “little effort,” they continued, “made in addressing our concerns.”
When asked about the letter, Kathy Dawkins, a spokesperson for the department, told Town & Village that work on the project was not about to be put on hold.
“The Department does not intend to consider slowing down the process until there is a determination on uses for the portion of the site not required by DSNY,” said Dawkins.
“Our analysis will assume that the neighboring parcels will be developed. The required air, noise and traffic analysis will be part of the EIS (environmental impact statement) and address all traffic concerns — vehicle and pedestrian — as well as air quality and noise issues.”
As for the renderings of the garage, Dawkins said they weren’t available at this time since the designs are preliminary. “It is anticipated that the renderings will be available early next year,” she said.
On the DSNY’s response to the letter, Kavanagh said he didn’t want to comment, though he did reiterate a point in the document to say the plan should include information about the non-garage space at Brookdale.
“We feel very strongly that if this is going to be done rationally, it has to be done in the context of the overall site,” he said. “It doesn’t seem rational for a city agency to not consider what another agency might do on the same block.”
(See the full letter to the DSNY.)

Letters to the editor, Dec. 19

Fences cut off access to kids’ ‘sleigh hill’

The 20th Street Loop hill on Saturday afternoon (Photo by William Oddo)

The 20th Street Loop hill on Saturday afternoon (Photo by William Oddo)

To tenant organizers and local elected representatives,

For the first time in Stuyvesant Town’s history this past weekend, our children were prevented from sleigh riding on the “hill” safely because of the installation of a hideous bent metal fence and posts. The metal fence created an obstacle for kids to safely sleigh ride as they have done after every snow event for generations.

Kids were attempting to sleigh ride and have fun while avoiding the perils of the metal fence and poles. In fact, the higher and more fun hill was just too dangerous so most kids and parents used the adjacent smaller and slower area. To top it off even the Oval was fenced off.

I’m writing to you all because there is no one in management to address or contact concerning this very timely issue.  As many of you know, the “hill” along 20th Street Loop and Oval as it known is the only “sleigh ride hill” within a radius of more than three miles of our community. Without any capital expenditure, or entrance fee or expensive “produced family event” our kids were able to just have fun in the snow.

However, the current management is on a tear to fence off virtually every bit of space no matter how absurd the effect or benefit. Management has fenced off areas so small that the fences themselves comprise more area than the space it protects besides wasting money. It has even included a fenced off access to the Oval lawn Christmas tree (reserved for summer “practically no bathing suit” sunbathing) and a second fence around the new and not ready for prime time “Christmas” tree.

So please use your collective access to see if you can contact anyone in management to “temporarily” remove these “temporary wire fences.” They can be removed quickly and reinstalled later if needed at all.

In all fairness, I understand that leaf control was a partial reasons for metal fence policy. However, the many private park spaces have employed much less costly temporary natural material during late fall season, then removed it later. It has also been reported that fences were installed by management partly in response to complaints from tenants of pets ruining our flower garden areas. Perhaps a discussion could be organized to address these concerns and perceptions and resident pet owners’ concerns and not have our children suffer from a poorly thought out management policy.

What should management (who ever they are) do now? What you could tell them:

• Start by recognizing this longtime community activity and put in place temporary measures to support sleigh riding on the “hill” for our children.
• Remove the wire fence and metal poles.
• Install temporary safe barricades at the curb to protect sleigh riders like redeployed haystacks from Halloween events.
• Create a temporary safe walking path adjacent to the “hill” for other residents.
• Redeploy security personnel from standing inside the skating rink tent and post them outside in advance of the “hill” to protect kids and direct traffic.
• Open up the Oval (early spring is plenty of time to restore grass for sunbathers).

A longstanding community activity like “sleigh riding on the hill” supports an authentic and vital community. As a student of urban planning, community activities like these are a designer’s delight that planners, developers and architects work mightily to create. It’s what current management has failed to recognize here.

Lastly, this management team’s effort to control and watch everything in this community only serves to undermine and ruin their efforts. Worse yet, the world knows a fence, a wall or “security” camera can never contain a genuine human activity. I would be happy to help in this effort and appreciate a tenant organization’s or others’ response.


William Oddo,
Resident, organizer of Stuyvesant Town
Quiet Oval Group 

Continue reading

‘Orange is the New Black’ author talks prison reform at East End Temple

East End Temple Rabbi David Adelson with Piper Kerman, author of a memoir that inspired the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

East End Temple Rabbi David Adelson with Piper Kerman, author of a memoir that inspired the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Piper Kerman graduated from Smith College in the early ‘90s, she was looking for an adventure. But she didn’t expect that a little more than a decade later in 2004, she would be entering a federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut as a result of that adventure. This was the start of a year of hard time that would inspire her memoir, which in turn inspired the new hit show on Netflix, “Orange is the New Black.”
Kerman spoke about her experience at the East End Temple last Friday to a packed room after the synagogue’s weekly Shabbat services. The temple often invites speakers to come discuss secular issues and Rabbi David Adelson said that he was enthusiastic about having the author be a part of that event.
“It’s such a widely recognized show and she’s an expert in prison reform,” Adelson said. “I’m pleased with how many people came. So many people wanted to hear the true story and learn about real human rights issues. We have speakers come talk about issues that reflect Jewish values, human rights issues and justice. Judaism speaks to all issues of society and it’s about how we live our Jewish values.”
Kerman was indicted six years before she actually went to prison, for carrying a suitcase full of drug money from Chicago to Brussels. In her post-college adventures, she had become involved in a relationship with an older woman who also happened to be a drug dealer.
“I followed her around the globe,” Kerman said. “I was telling myself that being around those people was one thing but it came to the point where I crossed the line. I knew it wasn’t legal. It scared the pants off me and soon after that I left.”
The six-year delay for her imprisonment was due to the drug kingpin at the top of the operation being taken into custody not long after Kerman had signed a plea agreement, giving her a 15-month sentence or 13 months with time off for good behavior, which is the amount of time she ultimately ended up serving.
“We never knew how long it was going to take and during the first year I knew I was going to prison, I was just flat on my back, thinking: I’ve ruined my life, this was unethical and wrong, I threw my life away,” she said.
“After that I was thinking, my life might be over but I might as well get on with it. I just had to manage the looming idea of prison. And all of our lives contain that; sometimes you can predict what’s coming but sometimes not.”
Kerman is now an advocate for prison reform and addressed a number of the problems with the prison system that she encountered during her time behind bars. Much of her coping and means of survival came down to luck and circumstance, she noted.
“Not all Americans are policed in the same way,” she said. “Practices like stop-and-frisk send people into the system, often unnecessarily and Americans are prosecuted in different ways. My story is a great example of that. There’s no question that the staff in the prison treated me differently because of the color of my skin.”

Piper Kerman speaks to a packed temple. (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

Piper Kerman speaks to a packed temple. (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

She also noticed that a number of the women that she was in prison with had a lot more time than she did and she questioned whether the crimes they committed were really that much worse than hers. She found that wasn’t the case.
“It has to do with socioeconomic status and race,” she said. “Most of the women I was in prison with were too poor to afford an attorney. I was lucky enough that I was able to afford an attorney but 80 percent of the people in prisons are too poor to afford a lawyer.”
Her fiancé (now husband) Larry Smith, was able to visit her every weekend and she said that his visits helped keep her going.
“Larry really stuck by me,” she said. “Knowing that someone else sticks by you is really powerful.”
Having a positive mental state helped her through the experience and she added that connections with people on the outside can have a huge impact on motivating women to finish their sentences and get released.
“Relationships in prison are important but relationships on the outside are also important,” she said. “They remind you that you’re going home. Having someone who cares enough is a powerful reminder that you will one day return to the outside world.”
The facility where Kerman spent most of her sentence is being converted into a men’s facility. Currently, that Danbury facility is the only prison that holds women in the federal system in the northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania and after the conversion, those prisoners will be sent to a new facility in Alabama. Because so many women in the prison system are mothers, Kerman noted, this could have a detrimental effect on the relationships those prisoners have.
“It’s very cruel and capricious,” she said. “It has a negative impact on public safety and will sever powerful incentives to motivate them to come home. To have Mom dispatched to Alabama is like sending her to Mars.”
Many of the women in prison with Kerman, many of whom were mothers, were incarcerated for crimes similar to hers: non-violent drug offenses.  She said that her experience was different from the popular images of prisons as places of relentless violence because most of the people locked up were non-violent offenders who had long sentences because they had poor legal representation.
“Women’s prisons are much less likely to be violent and these women are emblematic of the people that we’ve been putting in jail,” she said, adding that there has been incredible growth in the prison population since the 1980s. According data from to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are currently 2.3 million people in jails in the United States, compared to under 500,000 in 1980.
One of the things that interests Kerman the most in terms of prison reform is sending fewer people there in the first place. She noted that there should be decriminalization for things like drug possession and shorter sentences for other offenses because longer sentences can ultimately be counterproductive, since it can be difficult to adjust back to life outside.
“In my mind, the war on drugs is a complete failure,” she said. “It’s cheaper and easier now to get access to certain drugs and (putting people in prison) hasn’t made a dent in that type of crime.”

‘Roberts’ tenants should soon see checks from Met Life

"Roberts" attorney Alex Schmidt  (Photo by Sabina Mollot, graphic by Edward O'Rourke)

“Roberts” attorney Alex Schmidt
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

UPDATE: The judge has approved the payments to go out, and according to attorney Alex Schmidt, checks should go out no later than Friday, December 27.

By Sabina Mollot

Oh Santa, I love it!

This holiday season, current and former residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village who are members of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class action suit will have something to celebrate ― checks for their damages from Met Life.

According to tenants’ “Roberts” attorney Alex Schmidt, pending a judge’s approval later this week, the residents who are owed money for rent over-payments from when Met Life was still the owner will see that money by the end of the year. This money stems from the period of January, 2003 and mid-November, 2006, the later date being when Tishman Speyer bought the property.

Though nothing will be finalized until Thursday when the parties meet with the judge, Schmidt, of the firm Wolf Haldenstein, said at this time he doesn’t believe there will be any surprises.

About 12,000 of the 27,500 class members of “Roberts” are owed money from Met Life, and those people will actually get 110 percent of what they overpaid as determined under the complicated damages formula. The reason they’re getting 110 percent is that not everyone who was eligible for damages actually filed for their share of the pool.

Additionally, noted Schmidt, many of those people “are also eligible for later damages from CWCapital.”

As for those current and former tenants, Schmidt said he is hoping for them to be compensated by January or February. The reason those payments are taking longer to process, he said, is that CW believes around 1,100 of those people owe back rent or have nonpayment issues. Those tenants will have a 45-day period to appeal this claim once notified, said Schmidt. Additionally, there is also the matter of around 100 people who filed their paperwork to partake in their share of the damages pool after an extended deadline of May 31, 2013.

“So there is an issue about what to do with those claims,” said Schmidt.

The deadline had been extended from its original date of May 15, 2013 after a push by Schmidt, local elected officials and the ST-PCV Tenants Association to contact class members to let them know that getting damages wasn’t automatic; they’d have to file. Upon being contacted, some of those individuals said they were not even aware they were entitled to money.

Not surprisingly, the push worked, many more tenants filed and this was also a reason for the delay in getting payments out. Attorneys had hoped to get the first round of checks out by October, but the massive amount of paperwork took a while to sort through, said Schmidt.

Damages range per person with some getting a minimal payout of $150 and others getting thousands. One individual who overpaid for a long time, said Schmidt, is entitled to around $200,000.

Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners Met Life and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.

The settlement has not been without controversy though since it also led to acting owner CWCapital being allowed to raise rents mid-lease for around 1,100 tenants. (Following an investigation by the attorney general into allegations of tenants being misled by leasing reps, 150 of those tenants received rent rollbacks.)

The settlement, approved by a judge in April, concluded over six years of litigation over the former owners of ST/PCV’s deregulation of apartments while receiving J-51 tax abatements, which are for rent stabilized properties.

Spokespeople for Met Life and CWCapital have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Mammogram van to come to Stuy Town today

Project Renewal vanProject Renewal’s Scan Van will be offering free mammograms to women over 40 on Monday, December 16, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on First Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets.
All insurance plans are accepted, co-payments and deductibles are waived.  Free for uninsured women over 40. Space is limited and appointments are required. For more information or to make an appointment, call (800) 564-6868.  This event is being sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick and State Senator Brad Hoylman.