Building owner, contractor and plumber found guilty in East Village explosion case

The gas explosion on Second Avenue near East 7th Street occurred in March 2015. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced last Friday that all of the defendants on trial for the gas explosion that occurred on Second Avenue at East 7th Street in 2015 have been found guilty.

Vance said that Maria Hrynenko, 59, Athanasios “Jerry” Ioannidis, 63, and Dilber Kukic, 44, were found guilty for their role in the fatal explosion at 121 Second Avenue on March 26 of that year that killed 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa and 27-year-old Moises Locon, seriously injured 13 other victims and caused three buildings at the corner to completely collapse.

“This is a big win for public safety in New York,” Vance said. “As construction and development continue to boom, today’s guilty verdict puts property owners, contractors, and managers on notice: my office will pursue criminal charges against those who place expediency and financial gain over life and limb.”

The explosion was caused by plumbing and gas work that was going on inside 121 Second Avenue, which was one of the three buildings to collapse. Con Edison said at the time that the building had failed an inspection earlier on the same day as the explosion.

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Opinion: An election and a warning for 2020

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, the American Democracy was founded with the approval of our Constitution. In the centuries that have passed, it is easy for some to forget how inspired and revolutionary that document was. Sadly, others choose to ignore it.

For the first time, a nation was to be a Republic, governed not by a monarchy or other form of dictatorship or autocracy, but rather by the will of its citizens with important checks and balances among three co-equal branches of government.

That was the enduring genius of our founders. Every president of the United States takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” rather than to preserve his own power.

Like me, you may be wondering whatever happened to those principles and that oath that guided this nation and its presidents for over two centuries.

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Petitions ask Cuomo to study hospital downsizing

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein delivered petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in Midtown on Monday, asking the governor to further study Mount Sinai’s plan for downsizing Beth Israel. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, local residents and healthcare advocates delivered a thousand petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office on Monday afternoon, calling on the governor to further study the impact of Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s downsizing on the community.

The petition requested that Cuomo direct the State Department of Health Services to stop further closure of services at Beth Israel and conduct a thorough, independent study of the impact of the closures with community input.

“We just want to talk to the State Department about next steps,” Epstein said. “We want to talk about a larger study, a real study, to find out if this is really in the best interests of the neighborhood or if this is just a real estate deal.”

The petition argued that the reduction of beds from the current Beth Israel to the new facility being built is a “health crisis” because the hospital is still in use and that the Cardiac Surgery Unit, Maternity Ward and Pediatric Surgery Unit were closed in 2017 with approval from the State Health Department but without a community-vetted replacement plan in place.

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Mayor announces additional outreach for homeless New Yorkers

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new initiative to provide additional outreach services for homeless New Yorkers and introduced new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, at the 14th Street Y. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio was at the 14th Street Y last Thursday, November 14 to introduce new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, and announce the launch of a new program to combat homelessness in the city called Outreach NYC, which has since been criticized by other local elected officials and advocates.

The administration said on Thursday that the initiative will mobilize thousands of staff members from various city agencies who will be accessible for outreach assistance via 311. The city is encouraging New Yorkers to alert 311 when they see unsheltered individuals with the aim of helping those homeless New Yorkers transition off the streets and subways into more permanent, stable settings.

“We believe that this kind of outreach effort is the key,” de Blasio said at the announcement on Thursday. “We believe that constantly engaging folks is the answer. And I want everyone understand, I’m not talking about a few times and not talking about a few dozen times. Sometimes we were talking about hundreds of times before it works. But it is worth it because every time, and we heard from the outreach workers today, the sense of victory they felt when someone did come in and they were talking about literally in the last days getting someone in off the streets, who had been on the streets for years and years. What a profound victory that is.”

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Flatiron BID debuts new winter installation

“Ziggy” will be on view until January. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership debuted new public art installation “Ziggy” on Tuesday during a preview of its eighth-annual “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” season. The glowing, kaleidoscopic installation, which is on view on the North Public Plaza across from the Flatiron building, was selected through the sixth-annual Flatiron Plaza Holiday Design Competition with the Van Alen Institute and DOT Art.

The Partnership’s “23 Days” officially begins on December 1, running through December 23, and offers free performances, holiday recipes, hot beverage giveaways, fitness classes and prizes.

The launch event on Tuesday included a music performance by Kengchakaj & Niall Cade from The Jazz Gallery, pizza from Eataly, hot chocolate from Shake Shack and a prize wheel with a line spreading down the plaza, despite the misting rain and raw temperatures throughout the event.

Ziggy, which will be on view through New Year’s Day, was designed by New York-based architecture studio Hou de Sousa. The installation is composed of painted rebar and 27,000 feet of iridescent cord lit from the bottom by black light. The structure creates a winding form of 30-inch see-through walls and bench structures that passersby are encouraged to use.

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Courtroom drawings on view at National Arts Club

At the opening reception of the court art show at NAC (left-right): Colleen McMahon, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Artists Elizabeth Williams, Aggie Kenny and Jane Rosenberg, and Federal Judge Loretta Preska (Photos by Jefferson Siegel)

Before the invention of photography, art predominated as the visual representation of record. Today, with the prevalence of cell phone cameras, one unique art medium is still the only way to visually record what transpires in federal courts. Since photography is prohibited in those courts, sketch artists are the public’s eyes to what takes place within the columned walls of Federal Courts.

An exhibition of courtroom illustrations from Manhattan’s Southern District Federal Court is currently on display at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. Artwork by artists Jane Rosenberg, Elizabeth Williams and Aggie Kenny bring to life some of the most important trials of the last 40 years.

The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until January 3 at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South (East 20th Street between Park Avenue South and Irving Place).

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Maloney elected to be Oversight Committee’s first female chair

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, joined by US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), at an event earlier this year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has been elected chair of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday after she was nominated by the House Democratic steering committee earlier this week.

The New York Post reported that Maloney got the nomination after a vote from the steering committee in a meeting on Tuesday.

“I am deeply humbled and grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with the chairmanship,” Maloney said after she was elected to the permanent position. “I’m honored by this opportunity to do more for the American people and will do my best to follow the honorable example that Chairman Cummings left for us all. There’s much work to be done, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Maloney became the acting chair of the Oversight Committee in October following the sudden death of Representative Elijah Cummings, who was previously the chair. Prior to her nomination, she faced three other challengers in a run for the permanent position.

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Hoylman introduces bill to allow adult victims of sex crimes to seek justice

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation at the end of October that would create a one-year window so that survivors of sex crimes who were 18 years or older can file lawsuits and seek justice.

Hoylman introduced the legislation, titled the Adult Survivor’s Act, after successfully passing the Child Victims Act through the state legislature earlier this year alongside Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal after the bill was stalled for years. Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed the bill into law in February 2019.

“For too long, justice has been out of reach for adult survivors of sexual crimes,” Hoylman said. “Survivors have experienced horrific trauma and abuse, and many do not immediately come forward—they deserve our support whenever they decide they are ready to pursue justice. The New York State Legislature has already made historic strides to protect survivors by passing the Child Victims Act and prospectively extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations. Now, we must stand with survivors who have been failed in the past by our state’s insufficient laws, pass the Adult Survivors Act, and give these individuals their day in court.”

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Conservancy proposing ‘trash structure’ for Madison Square Park

Trash from the park is currently kept in dumpsters on the east side near the southern corner, just south of the public toilet right outside the park. The Conservancy has proposed the structure to be built behind this space. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced at a Community Board 5 Parks and Public Spaces committee meeting on Monday that it will be constructing a 1,000-square foot structure to hold trash at the southeastern side of the park.

Tom Reidy, senior project manager at the Conservancy, said at the meeting that there are currently dumpsters on the east side of the park adjacent to the Department of Transportation self-operating toilet that Shake Shack uses for trash now and one of the goals of the new structures is to have a more closed-in space for garbage that staff for the Conservancy could also use for dumping refuse collected from park garbage cans. Reidy said that the trash cans around the park get emptied three times a day for five months out of the year during warmer months and two times a day for the rest of the year, so the amount of trash is substantial.

The Conservancy also uses space behind the Shake Shack to store various equipment and tools, so another goal of the new structure is to free up space behind the restaurant’s building. The Conservancy also has a 400-square foot storage space in Long Island City for seasonal equipment that could be partially stored in the new building, although Reidy said that they will likely still have to store some items in that storage space.

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Tenant names removed from intercoms in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents were shocked and dismayed to learn this weekend that tenant names have been removed from all intercoms in all buildings throughout the property.

StuyTown Property Services general manager Rick Hayduk said that tenant names have been removed from all video intercoms, in addition to the resident list that used to be next to the mailboxes, due to privacy concerns.

“Many residents, and at an increasing frequency of late, had requested their names be removed,” Hayduk said. “In light of not only our response to privacy concerns, but the general issue of privacy overall, we made the decision to remove all resident names from public areas.”

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association sent an email to residents on Sunday about the sudden change, noting that the disappearance of tenant names has resulted in strangers dialing resident intercoms, missed food deliveries and emergency caregivers needing directions to apartments. Now that tenant names have been removed, only apartment numbers and buzz-in numbers are listed.

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Madison Square Park Conservancy installation confronts climate change

“Ghost Trees” will appear in Madison Square Park next June. (Rendering courtesy of Pace Gallery)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced on Tuesday that artist Maya Lin will design the 40th public art commission for the park, set to debut on June 8, 2020. The new “site-responsive” installation will focus on the impact of climate change on woodlands around the world. The piece, titled “Ghost Forest,” will take the form of a grove of spectral cedar trees sourced from the surrounding region, and will be presented in contrast to Madison Square Park’s existing tree line.

Lin worked with the Conservancy to source dead trees from the tristate area, including from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, which is a site that has suffered severe deprivation. The Atlantic Cedars that will be installed as part of the piece were afflicted by extreme salinization during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 as a result of flooding and salt-water inundation, and were slated to be cleared to encourage the regeneration of surrounding trees.

Lin’s piece takes its name from the natural phenomenon of “ghost forests,” which are tracts of forestland that have died off as a result of climate change, due to sea-level rise and salt water infiltration. Lin frequently addresses climate change in her work and this installation will serve as a call to action for the public visitors who pass through the park on a daily basis.

The installation intends to emphasize the grim reality of this naturally-occurring phenomenon to the public in a dense urban environment and encourages viewers to consider natural practices that can help restore and protect the ecosystem.

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City honors vets at 100th anniversary of Veterans Day

Scouts marched in the Veterans Day Parade on Fifth Avenue on Monday, representing “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive,” a nonprofit movement that recognizes veterans who served during World War II. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New York City honored the country’s veterans during the 100th Veterans Day parade, which originated adjacent to the Eternal Light Monument flagstaff in Madison Square Park, this past Monday. President Donald Trump spoke at the opening ceremony of the parade, making him the first sitting president to attend the event.

The president was greeted by groups of supporters rallying on the South Flatiron Plaza, while a large group of protesters gathered next to Worth Square outside Madison Square Park, including veterans with signs criticizing Trump’s own lack of military service. A glass tower near the park where Trump spoke also spelled out “impeach” in the windows and “convict” on a higher floor.

Trump’s 18-minute speech in the park prior to the parade focused on the sacrifice of the nation’s veterans.

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How Lower East Side coastal plan braces for climate change

Protesters urge the City Council to vote against a resiliency plan that would force East River Park to close for more than three years. (Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

This story was originally published on November 13, 2019 by THE CITY.

  By RACHEL HOLLIDAY SMITH, THE CITY

A transformational plan to fortify the Lower East Side waterfront against rising seas is poised to sail through a key vote this week.

On Thursday, the City Council is expected to OK the $1.45 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency project, or ESCR. The controversial plan already has gotten stamps of approval from a Council committee and subcommittee and has the backing of the three members whose districts touch the 2.4-mile affected zone.

Many locals have been weighing in on concepts for years, making Thursday’s vote a culmination of hard — and, often, frustrating — work. But the Council action will launch a huge, first-of-its-kind project for New York to prepare for rising sea levels and strong storms that climate change will bring.

Here’s a guide to what you should know about ESCR.

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Local Councilmembers get commitments from city on resiliency

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin announced an agreement with Mayor Bill de Blasio for a number of community investments tied to the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project on Tuesday.

The negotiations from the Councilmembers were the result of feedback from multiple advocates in the community, including state and local elected officials, Community Boards 3 and 6, local park and stewardship organizations and NYCHA residents.

“By providing these flood protections, my neighbors and constituents in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and the surrounding community will no longer have to dread forecasts of hurricanes and severe weather,” Powers said. “The significant commitments the city has made as a part of this historic project will not only provide short-term alternatives and mitigation, but also serve as long-term investments in our community.”

City Council will be voting on the land use actions for the project this Thursday, while these are commitments that the administration has agreed to incorporate as part of the plan as a result of the negotiations from the Councilmembers.

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L train’s south side entrance opened at Avenue A

The new entrance on the south side of East 14th Street opened on Monday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A new entrance at Avenue A has opened for the First Avenue L station on the south side of East 14th Street, the MTA announced on Monday. The agency also said that the south entrance at First Avenue will be closed starting on Tuesday, November 11 for structural reconstruction.

The revised timeline for the work at First Avenue was designed to open the new entrances at Avenue A as quickly as possible with temporary finishes and then close the entrances at First Avenue for reconstruction on a phased schedule. Two entrances will be open at all times at the station, with the new entrance on the south side of East 14th at Avenue A open while the south side on First Avenue is closed.

The new entrance for the north side of East 14th Street at Avenue A has not opened yet and the MTA hasn’t announced when that entrance will be available, but the new platform-to-street elevators on either side of East 14th Street at Avenue A are estimated to be open by next summer, ahead of schedule.

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