Professors arrested at Baruch College protest

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police arrested 17 members of the City University of New York’s faculty and union members following a protest at East 25th Street where they demanded better funding that included a raise. The protest occurred on December 10 during a meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which approves the university’s annual budget request.

Among those arrested for disorderly conduct were Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress union, PSC’s first vice president Andrea Vasquez and PSC secretary Nivedita Majumdar, in addition to other union members, professors and adjuncts throughout the CUNY system.

Police said that the protesters were yelling loudly, chanting and blocking the entrance of Baruch College at 55 Lexington Avenue at around 5 p.m., preventing people from going inside the main entrance and preventing people from leaving for more than 10 minutes. Baruch Public Safety asked the protesters to leave and they allegedly refused to do so.

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Epstein wants student loan forgiveness for low-income NYers

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Late last month, the State Assembly held a hearing in an effort to come up with solutions to the worsening student loan crisis.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein later said that while it’s yet to be determined by his colleagues if this is a matter to be handled legislatively, he personally supports student loan forgiveness. At the hearing, testimony was also given about whether it’s necessary to regulate student loan servicers in New York.

Over the past decade, student loan debt in New York State has grown by 112 percent, bringing the number of borrowers here to just under three million. Prior to the hearing, the Assembly said the stats highlight “the significant impact the student loan industry has on our population and (how it) needs to be examined with greater urgency.”

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Caroling at Gramercy Park

Carolers in Gramercy Park (Photos by Ira Fox Photography)

On Christmas Eve, the trustees of Gramercy Park and the Gramercy Park Block Association hosted an evening of caroling, an annual tradition that draws thousands from around the city to the normally private park. The event was hosted by Arlene Harrison, president of the GPBA; Calvary Rector Rev. Jacob Smith and Rector Emeritus Rev. Dr. Thomas Pike. Caroling was led Kamel Boutros, music director at Calvary-St. George’s, with music by Alex Nguyen and Friends.

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UPDATED: Two attempted robberies on Oval

Dec7 ST Christmas security booth

Security booth at Stuyvesant Oval (pictured December 2017)

By Sabina Mollot

Stuy Town’s Public Safety department is on the lookout for two male suspects who attempted to rob an older man as well as a couple in the Oval early on New Year’s Eve morning.

A Town & Village reader alerted us that as he was walking around the Oval at around 12:30 a.m., an older man was mugged by two people. Fortunately, the victim was able to get help from a couple of other people who happened to be around. The reader noticed this happened near the security booth, which was unmanned at the time.

Asked about this, Stuy Town General Manager Rick Hayduk confirmed the incident, but said the victim wasn’t touched by the suspects.

According to Hayduk, they’d approached the man on the Oval and said, “Give us your money.” The resident refused and continued to walk away and they didn’t chase him. However, the pair then tried the same thing with a nearby couple, who also declined to turn over their money, and the would-be muggers fled empty-handed towards First Avenue.

“The first resident immediately reported it to Public Safety who canvassed the area (officers on foot and by video) to no avail,” Hayduk said, adding that the resident asked management not to call the NYPD.

Hayduk added, “The Oval booth is only occupied when the officer is seeking shelter, otherwise that officer is patrolling the Oval or the immediate vicinity.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect management’s statement that there was no physical contact between the suspects and the victim.

Hoylman is appointed chair of State Senate judiciary committee

State Senator Brad Hoylman with new State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Counsins (Photo courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this month, State Senator Brad Hoylman was named chair of the Judiciary Committee by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

On the December 12 appointment, Hoylman said, “The issue of equal access to justice and judicial independence couldn’t be more important as Trump continues his all-out assault on our court system.”

Hoylman for some time has been pushing a bill that would make it easier for people sexually abused as children to seek justice many years later.

Asked if being on a committee that tackles crime issues would help push the Child Victims Act along, he responded, “It doesn’t hurt.” What also doesn’t hurt is that Democrats have the majority and the bill, while facing opposition from churches and other institutions, has plenty of partisan support.

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City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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MSBI behavioral services building will soon be vacant

Mount Sinai Beth Israel on First Avenue, west of the Bernstein Pavilion (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mount Sinai will be moving its behavioral health services from the Beth Israel Bernstein Pavilion facility west of First Avenue in Stuyvesant Square to a new space on Rivington Street as part of the hospital system’s downsizing plan.

Mount Sinai has signed a letter of intent to lease 45 Rivington Street and create a mental health facility that will include the services now housed at the Bernstein Pavilion and other facilities in the downtown area, leaving the building on Nathan D. Perlman Place across from Stuyvesant Square Park vacant. Mount Sinai is not yet discussing plans for the building once it’s empty.

The move will include the addition of new services at the Rivington location, such as intensive crisis and respite beds, primary care and ambulatory detoxification, to create a “one-stop” location for mental health, addictions, physical health and social service needs.

Although MSBI had intended to renovate the Bernstein Pavilion, the facility is more than 60 years old and that plan was ultimately not feasible, the hospital said.

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Christmas visit from Con Edison scammer

By Sabina Mollot

A Stuyvesant Town resident who got a Christmas visit from a scammer posing as a Con Ed employee alerted Town & Village to the incident, in the hope of warning neighbors to be careful.

As the resident, who lives at 453 East 14th Street, told us via email:

“Around noon a very large, white male, with a slight speech impediment was ringing doorbells on my floor and asked for my neighbor to show her Con Ed bill. I felt suspicious as he had rung my bell as well. So in a move of safety and solidarity, I opened my door and told him to leave the building, that he is not allowed to be here. I notified security. Not sure if they found him. Obviously not the brightest scammer since we don’t get Con Ed bills!”

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Letters to the editor, Dec. 27

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Better plans needed on sanitation garages

I’ve been a long-time opponent of the NYC Department of Sanitation’s (“DSNY”) plans to build a garage on one of the last available public lands in lower Manhattan’s East Side, the Brookdale Campus of Hunter College at East 25th Street and First Avenue. There, the city would claim nearly two acres of sparse NYC public land for a DSNY garage, as well as another additional two acres for “bookend” facilities.

But news a few months ago that DSNY had been evicted from a 30th Street garage facility led me to question why it is DSNY needs such huge footprint for garage facilities in the first place.

As I wrote for Gotham Gazette, land currently devoted to garages could be used to build more affordable housing, to create more active public parkland for a growing city, or – if sold – to help pay down the deathly underfunded NYC Pension Plans.

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Affordable housing and L train woes top concerns at East Side town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions from audience members at a town hall co-hosted by Council Member Keith Powers at Hunter College. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The L train shutdown and the lack of local affordable housing were among the main concerns of East Side residents who packed a town hall hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Keith Powers last Wednesday evening. The mayor, along with numerous representatives from city agencies as well as Powers and other local elected officials, answered questions from more than 300 advocates and community residents during the event at Hunter College.

Stuyvesant Town resident and former ST/PCV Tenants Association president Al Doyle got in the first question of the night, asking the mayor if he would actively support a return to rent stabilization of all apartments that had been deregulated due to vacancy decontrol.

The mayor admitted that he couldn’t necessarily commit to that, at least at this point, despite wanting to.

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CB6 votes in favor of SBJSA, but with a few suggestions

Katie Loeb, budget director for Council Member Carlina Rivera, discusses the Small Business Jobs Survival Act at a meeting of Community Board 6. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Business Affairs and Street Activities Committee for Community Board 6 voted last Thursday to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act with a handful of suggestions to narrow the scope of the legislation, encouraging local elected officials to focus the bill even more on mom-and-pop type businesses throughout the city.

The resolution the committee passed on the SBJSA encouraged legislators to define “small business,” which the bill doesn’t explicitly do, and provide stipulations to prohibit formulaic businesses or chains from repeating in small neighborhoods.

The resolution additionally encouraged lawmakers to focus on small businesses instead of all commercial businesses, which can also include larger corporate businesses as well as chains. The committee also urged legislators to create provisions in the bill that would encourage landlords to lease to new businesses, as well as to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

Since the bill has been introduced in the City Council and not at the state level, the resolution urged state legislators to create and pass a similar bill with all the same stipulations to solidify the same protections at the state level.

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Stringer releases affordable housing plan

Comptroller Scott Stringer, pictured at a town hall earlier this month (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an affordable housing plan at the end of last month targeting middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for affordable housing under the city’s current plan, proposing to fund it by eliminating advantages for all-cash home buyers.

The new tax model proposed in Stringer’s plan would eliminate the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT). When buyers purchase a home in New York City or elsewhere in the state, the Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) is imposed and is based on the price paid, but only those who borrow to purchase their home or who refinance to pay for the home pay the MRT, which often means they end up paying twice as much in taxes as all-cash buyers.

Stringer’s plan would eliminate the MRT entirely and would treat all transactions equally, regardless of how a home is purchased. A report from Stringer’s office that the plan is based on predicts that the tax proposed in the plan would save middle-class New Yorkers more than $5,700 on a purchase or refinancing, and would raise up to $400 million annually.

“Paying all cash means that you pay less,” Stringer said. “There’s a penalty you pay for being middle class, but under our plan, all home purchases would be taxed the same. If we keep the rate low, we can make ownership more affordable for the middle class. This is good policy and would raise enough to fully fund our plan.”

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Peter Cooper Village man targeted by Apple phone scammer

By Sabina Mollot

By now, there is probably not a single New Yorker, or even a single person living in the country with a phone who hasn’t been on the receiving end of some sort of scam pitch. The popular ones being Con Ed, the Department of the Treasury, the IRS and Microsoft.

But some callers seem more plausible than others in their attempts to get money from their marks, in particular those who spout names of familiar companies that are actually used by the victims and find out the names and sometimes other information about the people they’re calling.

For those reasons, Peter Cooper Village Josef Schreick believed it at first when someone claiming to be an Apple employee called his landline, warning him his computer had a virus that was putting all his other Apple devices at risk.

So he called back the number the caller gave him as instructed, and a heavily accented man who introduced himself as Chris Morris answered. Shreick’s phone number is listed publicly, so “Chris” knew Schreick’s address and also knew (or guessed correctly) that he subscribed to Spectrum, making him seem more legit. After informing him his devices were at risk of being infected, the man told Schreick the cost for repairs would be $200, to be paid in Apple iTunes gift cards.

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THANK YOU: Nearly 250 toys donated to Town & Village holiday drive

Dr. Bonnie Robbins of Mount Sinai Beth Israel says this drive has become more crucial to the families the hospital serves. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Readers of Town & Village have once again made the holidays a little brighter for children stuck in hospital rooms as well as the families utilizing the outpatient clinics run by Mount Sinai Beth Israel by donating nearly 250 toys to this newspaper’s annual drive.

Gifts for kids of all ages were donated this year including instruments, jewelry making kits, board games, action figures and fashion dolls.

Town & Village’s partners on this longstanding community tradition are Stuy Town Property Services, the management of Waterside Plaza and M&T Bank on First Avenue and 23rd Street, who all provided convenient toy dropoff sites.

Bonnie Robbins, PhD, coordinator of children and family services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, has said in recent years it has been more challenging to get enough toys to meet the needs of patients. This has been, she suspects, in part due to the economy but also competition from other drives for donations from individuals and toy retailers.

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13th Pct. Community Council holds holiday dinner at Hane

Event guests, including, in the back, Frank Scala, Community Council president; Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, commanding officer of the 13th Precinct; and another guest (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The 13th Precinct Community Council held its annual holiday dinner for members at Hane Sushi in Stuyvesant Town on Monday evening.

About 30 regular attendees of the monthly community council meetings were at the dinner, including the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, Executive Officer Ernesto Castro and community affairs officers John Considine and Detective Vincent Arlotta. Community Council President Frank Scala thanked the officers for their work in the community throughout the year and Hellman said that he was looking forward to continuing the work in the neighborhood next year.

“It’s been a tough year but we’re making progress,” Hellman said. “We’ll be focusing on connecting more with the community in the upcoming months.”