The Soapbox: Tips for writing letters to the editor

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Seth Steiner

This humble discourse concerns some aspects of a popular form of civic engagement, letters to the editor (LTEs):

• writing them
• submitting them and having them published (although writing without submission may offer cathartic benefit in itself)
• enjoying the whole process.

Your letter may have an effect on some, or many, readers. Directly or indirectly it may impact the decision-making of your political representatives… and therefore the quality of your life. The icing on the cake is that the process itself can be satisfying for you.

Some of the following, I hope, will be useful in your letter endeavors. If you feel it’s worthwhile, please don’t hesitate to pass it on to others, making any additions or corrections that may be helpful.

Who the heck am I, personally, to expound on this topic? My first letter was published in a July, 1966 issue of the Long Island Star Journal. It was signed by me and three friends who, we felt, had been unfairly and arbitrarily banned from playing stickball in our neighborhood playground. As a direct result of our efforts, the NYC Parks Dept. changed its age-discriminatory policy. And that made a lasting impression on me, leading to several decades of pestering on paper… as well as in person.

My next letter advocated against U.S. policy in the Vietnam War and was published in my college newspaper, the State News (MSU). And then the war was over… a mere eight years later!

About 30 years later, as an adult living in Manhattan, a dozen or so of my letters appeared in our neighborhood paper, Town & Village. These LTEs took on various issues stemming from the unethical, and sometimes illegal, policies and activities of our landlord, Met Life. Those actions had adversely impacted the living conditions and personal finances of over 30 thousand fellow residents living in buildings owned by Snoopy’s corporation.

Sprinkled in there was a letter or two motivated solely by impishness and April 1st tomfoolery.

And now, after moving to Los Alamos, my letter focus has been mainly on the oil industry and its threats to our health, to the environment and to our economic well-being. LTEs have been part of a wide-ranging effort by many folks to bring attention to, and slow, the planned rapid expansion of dangerous oil drilling, and associated hazardous activities, too near our homes and our sources of drinking water. It’s led to some real successes (e.g., denials of permits for both PCEC drilling and for the Phillips 66 rail spur/oil train project). There’s much more to be done.

And why might you want to write a letter yourself, and maybe soon? Some reasons for writing your first, or your next, letter-to-the-editor:

1) offering an idea to inform or sway public opinion on a current and consequential matter
2) getting something in the civic realm “off your chest”
3) expressing something you believe others will also find amusing
4) achieving the satisfaction that any creative endeavor may offer… and once your first draft is down, the real fun begins as you sculpt and hone… trimming and enhancing it one word, phrase or thought at a time
5) seeing your name in print
6) having others (friends, neighbors, relatives) see your name in print
7) being part of the free and wide-ranging discourse that’s essential to a well-functioning democracy
8) releasing steam after reading someone else’s LTE that annoyed you, and
9) it doesn’t require marching in the rain with a placard but can be done in the comfort of your home, while in bed, or on the beach with a laptop.

What to write about? What’s going on locally or globally that concerns you? Even if you’re not an “expert,” your opinion counts and your voice is important. The number of possible topics for your letter is boundless… anything you care about.

Surprise?! Most of your submitted letters will actually be published.

Do not hesitate to express your thoughts. Don’t think that the way you express them will not “measure up,” will not be “100 percent accurate,” will not do “absolute justice” to the idea you have in mind, or that the topic is not the “most overriding issue in the world (galaxy)” today. Once you put pen to paper or finger(s) to keyboard, you’ve broken the ice and the writing will come easier than you might have expected.

Keep it longer rather than shorter to take up more space on the page and attract more eyeballs. But know that it may be subject to some editing by the newspaper; and the result will often be a piece with more punch. Keep it shorter rather than longer if you can accomplish your goal with brevity and focus.

If your publication piece is longer than the prescribed length for a letter, it may be offered as “commentary” (or “Soapbox”).

As you read LTEs written by others, consider what makes hem compelling for you. Whether or not you agree with the author’s stance on the issue, something may be learned. What was it about the presentation that got your attention, piqued your interest, swayed your thinking, broadened or changed your perception, or your actual conclusion?

OK, maybe it’s time to pick up that pen? We all look forward to reading your letter to the editor!

Old Post Office site owners reduce height request

Rendering of 432-438 East 14th Street

By Sabina Mollot

The owners of the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, who’d proposed a 12-story residential building for the site, have since changed their request, by proposing a smaller, nine-story building instead. In January the owners, Benenson Capital Partners, partnering with Mack Real Estate Group, had gone to the Board of Standards and Appeals to request a zoning variance they’d need to build 12 stories since current zoning only allows for an eight-story structure. Their plan however was fought by community residents as well as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

The owners’ most recent proposal, which would boost height 14.5 feet higher than what is currently allowable, has also already been blasted by the preservation group. The GVSHP has argued that a building that high is out of context for the East Village and has also claimed that the owners’ main reason for wanting the variance — higher than expected construction costs due to underground water and soil conditions — doesn’t constitute a unique hardship.

Continue reading

MTA to reduce L train shutdown by three months

Straphangers waiting for the L at First Ave.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The MTA announced at the end of last week that the L train tunnel will likely be closed for 15 months instead of the originally-proposed 18 for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs and the shutdown will begin in April 2019 instead of that January.

Transportation blog Second Ave. Subway first noticed the changes to the plan in the board’s materials last Friday and MTA spokesperson Beth DeFalco confirmed via Twitter that the timeline had changed.

Continue reading

Opinion: Benching of Bharara

The former U.S. attorney had this to say on Twitter last Monday.

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

If I were Donald Trump, I would have fired Preet Bharara too.

For the past eight years, Mr. Bharara has been the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Appointed by President Obama, he has been a relentless prosecutor of official government corruption. And he has been an equal opportunity crime fighter against both Republicans and Democrats, bringing down some of the most powerful state legislators.

Before his dismissal last weekend, he was in the midst of cases against several of Governor Cuomo’s most trusted advisors who are now under criminal indictment for bribery, bid rigging and other charges. Bharara was also investigating Mayor de Blasio and his administration for political fundraising violations and steering lucrative contracts in exchange of big donations to the de Blasio campaign. The mayor is using public funds to employ expensive defense lawyers in the hopes of avoiding indictment.

Continue reading

Kips Bay residents ask for temporary dog run

At a Community Board 6 meeting, delays on getting the funding for the dog run for Bellevue South Park were explained. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Dog owners in Kips Bay are pushing the Parks Department to consider a temporary solution for the lack of a dog run in Bellevue South Park. Members of multiple neighborhood groups made their case at a recent Parks Committee meeting of Community Board 6, arguing that a temporary run near the basketball courts would give residents an immediate place to play with Fido instead of having to wait at least five years while the Parks Department completes additional renovations on the park.

Kips Bay Neighborhood Association member Karen Lee said at the meeting that there is an area north of the basketball courts that is already fenced in and the group has submitted an application for a grant for $280,000 from Borough President Gale Brewer’s office to make changes to the space, such as an access ramp, a nonskid surface and automatic openers for the entrance gates. Lee said that the funding is mainly necessary to make the space accessible for residents with disabilities, which she said is one of the main motivations for pushing for the dog run in the first place.

“Dog runs in the city aren’t ADA compliant,” she explained prior to the meeting. “This would be the first dog run in the city that is ADA compliant. Hospital row is right there and there’s a huge community of disabled people in this neighborhood who already use this park.”

Continue reading

Maloney calls for formation of coalition to fight anti-Semitism

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney discusses the recent rash of anti-Semitic vandalism across the country. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Last Monday, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney called for a domestic adaptation of Europe-based commission to fight anti-Semitism, after multiple acts of vandalism have damaged tombstones in Jewish cemeteries across the country.

Maloney pointed to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which works to protect and preserve monuments and buildings in Europe associated with the heritage of U.S. citizens, but no such government agency exists to protect monuments within the United States.

“We spend time in foreign countries helping them preserve their cemeteries,” she said. “What about here?”

Continue reading

The rent is too damn high, says this Republican Council candidate

Jimmy McMillan, who hopes to replace Rosie Mendez in the City Council, has also run for governor and mayor. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The race for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Rosie Mendez is beginning to heat up, with the newest candidate being Jimmy McMillan, otherwise known as “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy.

McMillan, who has previously run for mayor of New York City and governor as well as having had a brief dalliance with the 2012 presidential election, said he was approached about running for Council by Manhattan GOP.

The organization, formerly known as the New York Republican County Committee, gave McMillan its blessing in an email blast to members last week.

On getting the local Republican nod to run, McMillan, who’s running as a Republican as well as on his own party, The Rent is Too Damn High, said, “I almost cried.”

And this is no small thing. As the 70-year-old, mutton chopped, Vietnam vet and martial arts aficionado, who claims he was once tied up and doused with gasoline when working as an investigator, also told us, “I’m not a baby. I don’t cry.”

He’s also here to say what he’s been saying all along, that the rent is unquestionably too damn high, and if this is fixed, specifically by halving rents across the board, many of the other problems facing this city — like struggles faced by small businesses — will solve themselves.

“If you raise rents and you go to the store, they have to raise their prices in the store,” he said. “There is no way around it. The rent is too damn high,” he said, before going on to blast economic experts who opine on such matters. “I don’t have a degree, but they (think they) know more than me because they call themselves professors or economic experts. I’m an economic master.”

Continue reading

City Council supports Hoylman’s TRUMP Act

City Councilmember Andrew Cohen with State Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilmember Mark Levine (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

On Thursday, State Senator Brad Hoylman announced the introduction of City Councilmember Andrew Cohen’s resolution urging the state legislature to pass Hoylman’s bill requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in New York. Cohen, whose district is in the Bronx, joined Hoylman on the steps of City Hall for the announcement, along with Councilmember Mark Levine, whose district is in northern Manhattan.

Hoylman noted that it isn’t a coincidence the legislation, known as the Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public (T.R.U.M.P.) Act, shares its name with the president, “but it did take a very long time to come up with it,” he admitted.

The senator argued that the legislation is important because President Trump broke a 40-year tradition in which presidential candidates make their sources of income and other financial information available to the public.

“Another reason it’s important is that presidents aren’t subject to conflict of interest laws,” Hoylman said. “What is he hiding? He could be getting money from Russian oligarchs. Voters need that information to vote intelligently.”

Continue reading

Letters to the Editor, Mar. 16

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

NYC homeless losing resources to others

Perhaps if any of our esteemed local representatives took the time to chat with some of the younger homeless, as I have, you/they would discover (as I did), that most of the people, aged 16-40, come from other states, as close as NJ and as far away as the Dakotas!

That being said, I do believe that NY State and City residents should help the homeless, but help our citizens first. There must be a law somewhere, or one that could be written and introduced that would give preferential treatment to NYC citizens out of our NYC taxes, and possibly even send these young, able-bodied (but mostly alcohol or drug-addled) men and women back to the state they came from, and let those tax payers take care of their own. You could start by asking for any kind of identification before giving them services such as food stamps, housing, etc.

The other big burden we share are the many single teenaged mothers, most of whom have live-in boyfriends, but don’t marry because the men don’t want to share the responsibility or the rent.

If any of our powers that be would walk First Avenue from 23rd Street to 32nd Street, near the men’s shelter, methadone clinics, outpatients at Bellevue or go from First Avenue to 10th Avenue, along any of the main crosstown streets, or any place where there are restaurants or storefronts on the avenues south of 50th Street, you will see hundreds of panhandlers, barely out of their teens, with signs begging for money.  The cardboard signs say all kinds of things to gain sympathy, and a cup at their feet for donations.

I am a life-long Democrat, as is my entire family, some of whom were active in politics. However, I think that the Democrats, in particular Mayor De Blasio, are ruining our city.  I hope he and Governor Cuomo read the above and do something about it!

Barbara Zapson, PCV

Continue reading

Things to do on St. Patrick’s Day

The Irish Repertory Theatre has extended its run of “Crackskull Row,” which will be playing on Friday, March 17 at 8 p.m.

By Sabina Mollot

This year, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, falls on a Friday, opening the options somewhat for those looking to celebrate even through the wee hours of the holiday.

And, as always, many venues are opening earlier than usual for those who want something to do before or after the parade in midtown.

At Kips Bay bar Paddy Reilly’s, there’ll be live music starting at 1 p.m. Irish rock tunes will be played by Craig and Tom Fitzpatrick from 1-4 p.m. and from 4-5 p.m. house band Raging Horn Pipes will take the stage. A staffer there also said guests can expect a few giveaways. There will be a cover charge that has yet to be determined, but the staffer said it would probably be ten dollars. Doors open at 9 a.m. and don’t close again until 4 a.m. Take note that the place has no kitchen, so anyone hoping for an authentic Irish meal may want to get a reservation in advance at Irish pub Molly’s Shebeen or Pete’s Tavern, which will also have a full Irish menu, for lunch or dinner.
Paddy Reilly’s, 519 Second Avenue at 29th Street, (212) 686-1210

Continue reading

See Dan run for mayor… maybe

sept29-garodnick-in-st

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For months now, Councilman Dan Garodnick would only say he’s exploring his options when asked what position he’s now fundraising for. But according to a Saturday item in the New York Post, Garodnick is “seriously considering” running for mayor. Citing unnamed sources, the paper said he is “50-50” about running. Garodnick didn’t return our call requesting comment, nor did Waterside Plaza owner/former lieutenant governor Richard Ravitch, who the Post said Garodnick had spoken to about his thoughts about running. In February, Politico also ran a story about how he’d been speaking with donors, consultants and others about possibly throwing his hat in the ring.

It’s been expected that Comptroller Scott Stringer will run for mayor at some point, when and if charges are brought against Mayor Bill de Blasio for his fundraising tactics. Former mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has also been a rumored candidate. However, at this time, de Blasio’s most serious opponent seems to be Republican developer Paul Massey.

Continue reading

Police Watch: Woman arrested after swallowing lit joint, Man arrested for unprovoked attack

WOMAN ARRESTED AFTER SWALLOWING LIT JOINT
Police arrested 24-year-old Ashley Balbuena for criminal tampering and possession of marijuana in front of 72 East 26th Street last Thursday at 11:10 p.m. Police said that Balbuena was smoking a joint on the sidewalk in public view and when an officer approached her and identified himself, Balbuena allegedly attempted to eat and swallow the lit joint. Police said that she was informed several times that she would be arrested if she swallowed the joint but she continued to do so. Balbuena was arrested and taken to Bellevue Hospital.

MAN ARRESTED AFTER UNPROVOKED ATTACK
Police arrested 22-year-old Thomas Blyden after he allegedly assaulted a passerby unprovoked at the corner of East 25th Street and First Avenue last Wednesday at 8:52 p.m. Police said that Blyden punched a man he didn’t know for no apparent reason. When police attempted to confront him, Blyden allegedly fled and when officers caught up with him, he allegedly tensed his body to prevent being handcuffed. Blyden was charged with assault and resisting arrest.

MAN NABBED FOR BURGLARY AT EPIPHANY
Thirty-year-old Tony Scott was arrested for burglary inside 239 East 21st Street last Wednesday at 7:50 p.m. Scott allegedly entered the commercial office inside the church and removed property without permission. Police said that Scott did not have permission to be inside the office. No further information was available about what was taken.

Continue reading

When Stella came to Stuyvesant Town

A nor’easter that hit New York on Tuesday wasn’t as bad as initially predicted in terms of actual snowfall, but since the storm named Stella had already been declared a weather emergency, this meant no shortage of caution was taken. In Stuyvesant Town as in the rest of the city, the snow melting efforts began before the snow and hail actually began to fall, and shoveling soon after, though Stuy Town management sent out several emails warning black ice was still inevitable due to the below freezing temperature. In one email, management noted that over five inches of snow had come down on the Oval just by 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday. Meanwhile, residents made the best of the near-blizzard conditions and a day off from school and work, hauling out their sleds and snowman making skills.

Photos by Maya Rader

Continue reading

Opinion: How many more lies?

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Not wanting to sound too melodramatic I still must ask the question: what more will it take for Donald Trump to say or do something that will cause him to forfeit the confidence of the American people as a stable and responsible leader of this nation? If lying and weird Twitter outbursts based on no facts were an impeachable offense then Vice President Mike Pence would be warming up in the bullpen to relieve this president.

Without recounting the dozens of insults, lies and provocations uttered by Mr. Trump during the campaign and before, it is instructive to remember some of what he has said since being sworn in as president less than two months ago.

He started by claiming that he won the election in an “historic landslide.” And then when corrected that the election was very close and that he actually was one of the very few presidents ever elected without having won the actual popular vote, he concocted a baseless assertion that there were millions of illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. He questioned the entire integrity of our political voting system, the underpinning of democracy.

There are no facts to support those allegations.

Continue reading

Man wanted for East Side bank robberies

Robbery suspect

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The NYPD is asking for the public’s help in finding a man wanted for two bank robberies on the East Side.

Most recently, the suspect went into a Chase Bank at 450 Third Avenue between East 31st and 32nd Streets yesterday around 1:10 p.m. and passed a demand note to a bank teller. Police said that the teller complied and gave the suspect an unspecified amount of money. He then fled in an unknown direction.

Continue reading