Campos Plaza TA president says developers have improved NYCHA

July5 Campos Dereese courtyard

DeReese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza 1 Tenants Association, says since the city formed partnerships with developers at certain NYCHA properties, repairs have been getting made and residents feel safer. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, the mayor touted a pilot program in which the city partnered with private developers to improve conditions of NYCHA buildings, which, in recent months, have only drawn headlines highlighting the city’s lack of ability to deal with the crumbling buildings, freezing apartments and even lead paint.

However, based on the results of a study conducted by Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a nonprofit research group that investigates housing policy in New York City, the program that transferred management of six Section 8 properties, including Campos Plaza 1 on East 12th Street and Avenue C, to a public-private partnership has been successful in transforming the neglected buildings. Repairs are being conducted far more swiftly, upgrades have been getting made and residents have reported feeling safer.

While announcing a $400 million expansion to the program for 21 buildings, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the results at Campos and other participating properties were “the shape of things to come” at NYCHA. The mayor spoke alongside the president of the tenants association at NYCHA’s Campos Plaza 1, DeReese Huff.

“Everything is updated,” the mayor said. “It’s a place people can be very proud of. It’s a place that now has a strong foundation and whenever there is a need for repair, those repairs are being made quickly to keep it strong. That is the beauty of this model.”

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Man who fatally shot teen at Campos Plaza gets 40 years

By Sabina Mollot

A man who fatally gunned down a teenager in Campos Plaza five years ago was finally sentenced to 40 years behind bars last Wednesday.

Hockeem Smith got a 25-year sentence for manslaughter and an additional 15 for criminal possession of a weapon, according to the district attorney’s office. Both terms are to run concurrently.

On the evening of October 16 in 2011, Smith, then 25, shot Donovan “Keith” Salgado, a 17-year-old resident of the NYCHA complex. Salgado, a senior at Washington Irving High School, was hanging out with his friends outside when shots rang out on East 12th Street and Avenue C.

At the time, the victim’s death spurred community outcry about ongoing violence and gang activity in the community. In response, youth programs were introduced onsite and promises made to enhance security at NYCHA complexes. But things didn’t go that smoothly. There was another shooting the night of the youth center’s opening. Security upgrades took a long time to come to Campos Plaza and the youth programs were discontinued by 2013, according to The Lo Down. The local blog also reported at the time that Smith’s trial had been delayed again and again due to teenagers with knowledge of the situation refusing to talk.

Rendering, details announced about new building for R&S Strauss site

Rendering of 644 East 14th Street

Rendering of 644 East 14th Street

By Sabina Mollot

Progress is being made to turn the former R&S Strauss site into a residential building.

Opal Holdings purchased the site of the former auto parts shop – across the street from Stuyvesant Town at 644 East 14th – in July.

The owner has since secured a $52 million first mortgage loan. The announcement was made by Madison Realty Capital, the firm that provided the financing, who also provided some details about the future building.

The plans for 644 East 14th Street include 50 residential units, 8,064 square feet of retail space with 200 feet of frontage on 14th Street and Avenue C, and 21,575 square feet of community facility space. Residential units (it wasn’t clear if they’d be co-ops, condos or rentals) will offer contemporary finishes and large balconies with East River views.

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Police Watch: Man arrested for Campos Plaza ‘murder,’ Stabbing outside W Hotel

Police arrested 23-year-old Campos Plaza resident Theodore Holloway for murder on Wednesday. Police said that Holloway shot Elliot Caldwell, 23, last Thursday around 10:44 p.m. in front of 635 East 12th Street near Avenue C. When police arrived, they found Caldwell, unconscious and unresponsive, with a gunshot wound in his back. A EMS team took him to Bellevue, but he couldn’t be saved. Local blog EV Grieve reported that Caldwell grew up in Campos Plaza and would frequently come back to visit.

Thirty-year-old Francisco De La Rosa was arrested for assault and weapons possession in front of 201 Park Avenue South last Wednesday at 6:05 a.m. De La Rosa allegedly stabbed the victim in the hand and stomach with a gravity knife because of an argument they were having. Police said that the victim had a cut on his right middle finger and the right side of his stomach. When police searched him, they found that De La Rosa was in possession of a gravity knife. The victim was transported to Bellevue and police said that surveillance video is available from the hotel.

Police arrested 56-year-old Diane Connif for grand larceny last Monday at 5:35 p.m. inside the 13th Precinct. Police said that Connif, who was hired by the victims to clean and take care of their apartment, swiped jewelry and other items from their home at 32 Gramercy Park South. According to the District Attorney’s office, Connif entered the apartment on March 20 to clean and the victims said that when they got home later that day, they noticed that a Social Security check and other mail was missing. The victims said that jewelry was also missing from the bedroom. Police said that Conniff admitted that on a date between February 29 and March 20, she took a checkbook, a Social Security check and valuable jewelry, but claimed she took the items to keep safe for them. The DA’s office said that the jewelry was valued over $50,000. Police said that both victims are senior citizens over the age of 85.

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Cooling centers open during Monday’s dangerously hot weather

Joey and Sammy Haskell load up their water guns at Stuy Town's Playground 9 on a recent afternoon. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Joey and Sammy Haskell load up their water guns at Stuy Town’s Playground 9 on a recent afternoon. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

With Sunday’s hot and humid weather expected to continue on Monday, the city has announced cooling centers will be open.

Additionally, due to the dangerously hot weather, Mayor Bill de Blasio is urging New Yorkers to take steps to protect themselves and help others who may be at increased risk from the heat, including vulnerable individuals such as seniors and those with chronic health problems.

Forecasted temperatures for Monday are in the 90s with heat index values reaching as high as the low 100s. Additionally, an Air Quality Alert is in effect today through 11 p.m. New Yorkers should use air conditioning to stay cool, go to a place that has air conditioning if it is not available at home, drink water at regular intervals and limit strenuous activity, especially during the hottest parts of the day.

Local cooling centers include the following locations. Hours may change during heat emergencies.

Epiphany branch of the New York Public Library, 228 East 23rd Street (between Second and Third Avenue). Call (212) 679-2645 to confirm hours.

Stein Senior Center, 204 East 23rd Street (between Second and Third Avenue) through 6 p.m. UPDATE: The center announced it will be closing at 4:30 p.m.

Campos Plaza, 611 East 13th Street (between Avenues B and C). Call (212) 677-1801 to confirm hours of operation.

Sirovich Senior Center, 331 East 12th Street (between First and Second Avenues). Call (212) 228-7836 to confirm hours of operation.

Tompkins Square branch of the New York Public Library, 331 East 10th Street (between Avenues A and B). Call (212) 228-4747 to confirm hours of operation.

Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village residents can also head to the Community Center at 449 East 14th Street (First Avenue Loop at 16th Street). Another option for cooling down is heading to one of the playgrounds with water features.

Waterside residents can head to the Community Center at 40 Waterside Plaza through 6 p.m.

Art in Odd Places makes itself at home

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By Sabina Mollot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stringer’s Wall Street opponent — Burnett says he’d reform city’s pension plans

John Burnett

John Burnett

By Sabina Mollot

On Primary Day, Scott Stringer bested his opponent, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, following a contentious race for comptroller, but Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, isn’t completely out of the water just yet.

In November, he’ll face off against John Burnett, a Harlem-based Republican with a background in finance. Though Burnett has none of the name recognition Stringer’s been building up, via celebrity endorsements as well as a contentious primary race against a man who had his political career derailed over a hooker scandal, he insisted he’s up for the challenge.

During an interview following a recent morning campaign stop in Stuyvesant Town, Burnett told Town & Village he’s running because he wants to make sure “bureaucracy doesn’t stranglehold things.”

He added, “In corporate America, if a corporation doesn’t change in a way to shift and adapt, then they go out of business. So I’m used to change.”

Burnett doesn’t feel Stringer’s qualified for the job of comptroller, saying, “I don’t think Scott Stringer is going to change anything when he’s been inside for 25 years.” He also blasted Stringer’s past attempt at running two bars. He asked why voters should trust him to manage the city’s books when “he couldn’t sell wings and beer in a city of millions?”

The corporate candidate had even harsher words for former opponent Spitzer, blasting him more than once on his website for the former governor’s dalliances with prostitutes and use of taxpayer dollars to fund his travel expenses during those times.

Burnett said if elected to the position of comptroller, which oversees the city’s pensions, he would reform the pension plans by combining them. This, he said, would save its earners millions in administrative fees and costs.

“We have to get to pensions to where they’re self-sustaining” for retirees, he said.

Burnett’s other goal is job creation through economic incentives to help small businesses grow and tax abatements for developers.

“Tax abatements spur real estate growth in New York City,” he said. To help small businesses, he said he would fight the city’s “harassment” of its owners aimed at collecting fines and taxes.

While politicking at Stuy Town early in the morning, he said most of the questions he got were about jobs or housing. He noted that even with the unemployment rate dipping slightly, it’s still “double digit with blacks and Hispanics.”

As for housing, he knows the city needs more of it and is in favor of more “combination housing,” a mix of affordable and market rate development. “We have to do it in a way that is timely and doesn’t cost a lot of money.” In this case, he wasn’t sure that reducing real estate taxes was the answer, since a reduction in landlords’ own costs wouldn’t necessarily lead to them feeling the need to pass the discount on to tenants.

Burnett last worked at McGraw-Hill Financial in risk and compliance before leaving in March to focus on his campaign, and he’s worked Wall Street money management jobs throughout a 20-year career. Previous places of employment include Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney. In his official bio online, the candidate describes himself as a “natural entrepreneur” who started selling candy to classmates at age six. (He would later recruit his family to help him shill homemade cookies.) After graduating from high school, he got a job as a cashier at Pathmark, which was also his introduction to the world of unions. By the age of 20, he was working as a margin analyst for Dean Witter Reynolds, which later became Morgan Stanley. He later, while working, finished college at New York University and got an MBA at Cornell.

Now a father of two daughters, Burnett was born in a public housing development in East New York and his family later moved to Queens Village, where he grew up. He’s lived in Harlem for the past nine years.

As a former NYCHA resident, Burnett weighed in the agency’s current plan to lease existing, open space on eight public housing projects to outside developers, to say he thought it was a good idea.

“I think we need to explore all options,” he said, in contrast to local elected officials who want to make sure current residents are okay with it and that the plan includes affordable housing.

Burnett however, again stressed he liked the idea of a mix of lower-income and market rate housing. “We have to be a city for all demographics,” he said.

He wasn’t initially interested in getting into politics, he said, but was encouraged by the Republican County leadership. He added that he feels that due to the recent sex and bribery scandals involving politicians and candidates such as Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, “it’s really given New York a black eye” and that it’s time for someone with “a higher level of integrity” to step up.

Like any other Republican running for office in New York City, Burnett knows he’s facing a steep, uphill battle in trying to convince democrats to vote for him ― or even not dismiss him on sight. However, he said he hopes to appeal to voters who are “getting sick of the same old thing. The definition of insanity is to do the same old thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

Mendez, hoping to improve housing crisis, running again

Council Member Rosie Mendez in front of her campaign office

Council Member Rosie Mendez in front of her campaign office

By Sabina Mollot

Rosie Mendez, who’s served as City Council member for the second city district for the past eight years, is hoping voters will choose her on Primary Day, as she seeks a third term.

Mendez, who’s been tackling such issues as building neglect in public housing, disappearing affordable housing options in the district and more recently, plans for a sanitation garage on First Avenue that she opposes, said she’s running again because, “I love my job and I still have more to do. I don’t want to run for something else.”

On Monday, Mendez discussed her goals for the coming years if re-elected as well as ongoing projects at her campaign office on Avenue B and 11th Street, just down the block from where she lives.

In that area of Alphabet City, it’s hard to find a storefront that doesn’t have a campaign poster with either Mendez’s smiling face or Democratic rival Richard del Rio’s.

Del Rio has been critical of his opponent for running for a third term, but at her office, Mendez defended her position, saying that while she had been against overturning term limits for the mayor, she doesn’t feel the same way about other city legislative positions.

“My opponent and some people do not remember the whole process,” she said of the City Council’s move to overturn the term limits, which allowed Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third time.

The reason she said she feels a different policy should apply to the executive of City Hall from the rest of the elected officials, is that simply put, the mayor, with his staff, has outnumbered and outmaneuvered the Council, with theirs, at numerous turns and disagreements.

“Their staff was able to run circles around us,” she admitted. “We don’t have the staff with the experience to really get in and catch everything they’re hiding.”

At this point, Mendez is hoping the next mayor will be the Democratic candidate she’s endorsed, Speaker Christine Quinn. (Mendez also said she supports term limits for that position as well.)

However, Quinn, she believes, would be more sympathetic to tenants, and housing has for many years been the biggest challenge facing the district. This is particularly due to owners of regulated units opting out of the Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 programs and public housing being in a state of crisis with NYCHA having fallen seriously behind on repairs — around one million jobs. Additionally, at this point, the agency seems unsure where to go with a previously hatched “infill” plan to build market rate housing at existing low-income developments. As of last week, NYCHA went from asking developers from RFPs (requests for proposals) to RFIEs, requests for expressions of interest. Mendez said this week that she doesn’t want to see anything pop up that doesn’t have the support of tenants and isn’t entirely or mostly affordable housing. She also doesn’t want any new development at one of NYCHA’s proposed infill sites, Smith Houses, because of how it flooded during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

Council Member Rosie Mendez at Campos Plaza, where residents recently got a security camera system Photo by Sabina Mollot

Council Member Rosie Mendez at Campos Plaza, where residents recently got a security camera system
Photo by Sabina Mollot

Having grown up in Williamsburg Houses, the first public housing project to be built in Brooklyn, Mendez is no stranger to the problems of public housing.

Mendez said she is also not a supporter of the infill program because she doesn’t think the expected income from market rate units will cover the financial needs of the complex, but, she said, doing away with the $74 million NYCHA pays each year for police services would. The practice of paying the police, which private landlords do not, began in the Giuliani era. Mendez said she’s been pushing for the payments to end since she first came into office. While she is not enthusiastic about that happening any time soon, she has allocated $10 million in funding to NYCHA this coming fiscal year. Last year she did the same.

Mendez, who chairs the Council’s Public Housing Committee, said one thing she is considering — if constituents like the idea — is to get some affordable housing built specifically for seniors. Although well aware that it “takes funding to make,” she’s optimistic about the future under a new mayor, who, she hopes, would give owners incentives to maintain as well as build affordable housing beyond the standard 80/20 formula.

Priority one though for Mendez, if re-elected, would be to focus on a plan of action and preparation for the next Sandy-like disaster. After the superstorm hit, Mendez and her staff went to many buildings to check on the district’s most vulnerable residents, the elderly, sick and disabled. In some cases, this meant trudging up the stairs of high-rises to recharge residents’ motorized wheelchairs or bring them hot meals, medicine and buckets of water for drinking and flushing. With many residents having no water or just afraid to use what they’d saved, “It created an unhealthy and unsanitary situation,” said Mendez. By coordinating with local nonprofits such as GOLES and the Stein Senior Center, Mendez said she was able to meet the needs of those who were most in need while also not duplicating services offered by other agencies.

“It was multiple levels of triage to try to get to everyone so we wouldn’t have a tragedy,” she said, though she added that, “Unfortunately, we did have some tragedies.” One was a senior living at Kips Bay Court who had been carried down the stairs from her apartment on an upper floor, in her bed, as well as along with her oxygen tank, for medical help. The woman ended up not surviving although curiously, she wasn’t considered a Sandy casualty, with her death getting blamed on whatever condition she had. “It should count,” said Mendez.

Other problems were that at local emergency shelters, there weren’t enough cots for people who’d evacuated, and that those who remained behind in their homes were in many cases just unprepared for a blackout that lasted several days.

On education issues, Mendez has been opposed to many of the co-locations of schools in recent years and blasted the Panel for Education Policy as “rubber stampers” for approving the Department of Education’s co-location plans.

“I like to say I’m old school,” said Mendez. “When I went to school, a school was a building and a building was a school.”

From what Mendez has seen, the co-locations have led to principals having to put students’ issues on the back burner while trying to coordinate on who gets the library or rear yard at what time and schools not getting enough funding for arts, music and summer programs.

“I’ve been trying to supplement it with that much maligned discretionary funding,” she said. “It allows me to fund after school programs and during the day.”

Schools that have been on the receiving end of such funding include PS 110, PS 34, PS 40, PS 116, PS 188, PS 15 and MS 104, which recently used the money for a summer tennis clinic.

Other money from the discretionary funds has gone towards local nonprofits’ food pantry and hot meal programs. Mendez noted how on any given Saturday morning, at a church across the street from her campaign office, near the corner of Avenue B, the line for bags of food stretches outside almost down to Avenue A. “You’ll see anywhere from 200 to 400 people,” she said.

More recently, another issue that has been of concern to Mendez is the planned Brookdale campus sanitation garage. While located in City District 4, it would affect Mendez’s constituents living in East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay. Mendez said she is mainly opposed to it because the garbage trucks would all be located in an area where “we’ve seen cars floating. If the trucks were to get flooded, there are pollutants and a lot of dirt and grime on them. I don’t know how the mayor justifies putting this right in the middle of hospital row, right in the middle of a flood zone. I think it’s very ill advised.”

On crime, Mendez said she believes the police force currently has too few officers due to a shrinking force, and while District 2, which covers the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay, hasn’t seen the kind of crime it used to, there is still the occasional shootout, and noted Mendez, a spike in sexual assaults all around the city. She suggested that the city put “less money into consultants and more into our agencies.”

As far as quality of life issues is concerned, noise from bars has been an ongoing one though Mendez noted stipulations on hours venues can do business as well as fines issued by the State Liquor Authority against repeat offenders have helped to some degree. Another growing complaint has been evening noise from construction sites with developers applying for and getting variances to do construction from as early as 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mendez said she’s, in some specific cases, managed to get it “scaled back” though at other locations, late construction has persisted despite intervention from her office. She said she’ll continue to meet with the developers as well as the Department of Buildings.

Throughout her career in the City Council, Mendez said she considers her biggest accomplishments to be helping to save the Stein Senior Center, which has recently reopened in a new and improved location, preventing closures of daycare centers and in general, being responsive to individual concerns.

“Everything in politics is local,” she said, “so I’m proud of my track record with constituent services.”

Before her first run for office, Mendez graduated from New York University and Rutgers School of Law.

She began her career in politics as chief of staff to her predecessor in the Council, Margarita Lopez (now employed by NYCHA). Like Lopez, Mendez is openly gay and a champion for LGBT rights.

Area residents protest planned closure of post office

Residents of Stuyvesant Town and the East Village as well as postal employees and union reps packed a meeting on the planned closure of the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office on Monday. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Residents of Stuyvesant Town and the East Village as well as postal employees and union reps packed a meeting on the planned closure of the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office on Monday.
Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot
For the past few weeks, Stuyvesant Town residents as well as those who live on the south side of 14th Street have been swapping stories about what is likely to become of the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office once its lease expires next year, with condo towers and NYU dorms topping the list of possibilities.
And on Monday, around 100 people, mostly seniors who live nearby as well as around half a dozen postal employees, aired their concerns and fears at a town hall meeting held at the Campos Plaza Community Center.
At the meeting, which was hosted by Community Boards 3 and 6 and Council Members Rosie Mendez and Dan Garodnick, a handful of reps from the United States Postal Service also showed up. Among them were Joseph Mulvey, who handles “facilities implementation,” some regional reps and the manager of the Peter Stuyvesant station. However, Mulvey was the only one who addressed the crowd to speak or to answer questions.
Ignoring some heckling, Mulvey told the audience that the USPS already had a possible replacement location for the post office, 333 East 14th Street. That address was last occupied by a Duane Reade store that is now around the corner on First Avenue. It is also significantly smaller than the current post office, which is consistent with what the USPS has said it is aiming to do agency-wide, which is downsize certain existing stations. For the new station, the USPS is looking for a retail space that’s 5,000-6,000 square feet.
Mulvey said the new space would be used for customer services only while mail sorting and the location’s mail carriers would be rerouted to the Madison Square Post Office on East 23rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. The new location would not have as many mailboxes as the current one, but according to Mulvey, they wouldn’t be needed since at Peter Stuyvesant, only three fourths of the boxes are rented out.
Customers of the post office seemed to disagree though and, while balancing on canes for support in numerous cases, said they didn’t understand why the USPS was closing such a busy station, one with lines that frequently spill out the door. Their arguments were echoed by postal workers from Peter Stuyvesant as well as other post offices who blasted the USPS for not keeping employees in the loop about their plans and also for treating the proposed move as if it were a done deal.
While the USPS’s lease is set to expire in February, 2014, the employees called out the agency’s administration for choosing to leave.
Though the USPS has said the decision to leave came after it tried and failed to reach an agreement with the owner, a rep for Benenson Capital Partners, which represents the owner, told the employees — and Town & Village recently — that leaving was the USPS’s idea because it wanted less space. A few employees, including a couple of reps for the union that represents postal employees, even accused the agency of methodically closing and consolidating stations in an effort to fail and eventually go private.

Jonathan Smith the postal employees union president

Jonathan Smith, the postal employees union president

“When you say the lease wasn’t renewed, that’s a lie,” said Jonathan Smith, the president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. “It’s about big money.”
He noted how the USPS was also in the process of trying to close a post office in Chelsea and other one near the Triboro Bridge. Unlike Peter Stuyvesant, those two are owned by the USPS. “The other buildings you own,” said Smith. “How could a facility be cheaper than (when you are) owning it?”
Though Mulvey didn’t respond to the accusation about privatization at the meeting, a USPS regional spokesperson who was present at the event later denied this.
“That could not be further from the truth,” said Congetta Chirichello. “The postal service is committed to keeping alive the mission of providing universal service to the American people into the future and keeping the postal service viable for generations to come.”
At the Campos Plaza Community Center, the USPS distributed flyers and requested the public’s input on the plan, including what services they’d like to see at the new station. However, the running theme in the comments made at the microphone seemed to be: Just keep it where it is.
“This is going to create a real hardship for the seniors,” said Mendez, shortly before the meeting began.
Garodnick added that he wanted to be certain that before the post office closes, a new one would be already open and ready to serve customers.
“The services must have continuity,” he said.

USPS reps Joseph Mulvey and Congetta Chirichello

USPS reps Joseph Mulvey and Congetta Chirichello

Mulvey meanwhile, whose job it is to speak to the public about planned “facility actions” in the New York/New Jersey area, said suggestions were encouraged and “welcome.”
Still, he warned, the post office is “obligated to quit and surrender the premises” when the lease is up. It was this February, he said, when the process began of browsing around for a new location and alerting local elected officials about the planned closure.
“I stressed to them the urgency that we get moving because moving a post office is not an easy task,” said Mulvey. “In the meantime, we have kept our finger on the pulse of the market.”
In the event the 333 East 14th address between First and Second Avenues doesn’t work out, Mulvey said there are other spaces on 14th Street within one tenth of a mile of the Peter Stuyvesant station that the USPS is eyeing as well.
Though it didn’t deter anyone, those who soon got up to speak at the podium had to do so over the rattling and banging sounds coming from the community center’s HVAC system.
One woman, Diane Greenberg, who lives in a building on East 13th Street, said her husband is 91 and, “He certainly can’t go to any other facility,” and that as a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering, she “certainly can’t” either.
A few other neighborhood residents said they wondered if the post office on East 14th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A was being targeted instead of another station on East 11th Street and Fourth Avenue, because there were more low income tenants and fewer market rent paying ones in Stuyvesant Town and nearby NYCHA developments.
Stuyvesant Town resident Audrey Levine, who’s blind, said she relies on the post office for pickups and

Stuyvesant Town resident Audrey Levine

Stuyvesant Town resident Audrey Levine

dropoffs of books in Braille, which, she noted “are kind of heavy,” as well as a mailbox she checks regularly for a music-related nonprofit she runs.
“When I get out of the train and First and 14th, I first go to the post office,” she said. “So to find another building is going to be a pain for me.”
Another Stuy Town resident, Beverly Abisogun, said the station “needs to be expanded,” not relocated. “Anybody who uses it regularly knows that.”
She also said she agreed with statements postal employees had made, blaming the USPS’s financial hardships not on a decline in mail, as the agency’s claimed, but a law that was passed in 2006. The law forces the USPS to fund its employee pensions 75 years into the future, costing it $5.5 billion a year.
“The problem started with what Congress did,” said Abisogun. “We need to find a new strategy because it’s like musical chairs and more and more of the chairs are being removed.”
Another critic of the plan was Diane Jackson, a retired postal employee who’d worked at the Peter Stuyvesant post office for 23 years.
“It needs to remain exactly where it is,” she said.
She went on to say that a statement previously made by the USPS, which is that it would find an alternative location somewhere in the 10009 zip code, didn’t take into an account that many customers at Peter Stuyvesant come from other zip codes as well as 10009 such as 10002 (the Lower East Side) and 10010 (Peter Cooper Village).
“Do you think the people in Stuyvesant Town and next to it in Peter Cooper Village go to Madison Square? No, they go to Peter Stuyvesant,” she said.
A Stuyvesant Town resident named David Cook made a similar point when he questioned the USPS reps.
“Do you bureaucrats realize a move to 23rd Street is much more burdensome for people who walk than for people who drive?” he asked. “It might not be such a big deal in Podunk, but here it’s a big deal.”
A couple of union reps acknowledged complaints about the post office, including those made at the meeting about long lines and lost parcels, by predicting problems would only get worse with the move.
But according to one resident of Campos Plaza, they already have. Though she didn’t speak at the meeting since she didn’t know she had to sign up first, Campos Plaza Tenants Association President DeReese Huff later said she’s seen a sharp decline in postal services over the past couple of weeks and is wondering if the post office’s employees are making a statement. In one case, a woman in the complex got another woman’s hearing aid in the mail, even though they live in different buildings. While she said she shared the employees’ frustrations, “They’re taking it out on the wrong people.”
The meeting was also attended by Council Member Jessica Lappin, who’s running for borough president and is chair of the Council’s Aging Committee. Reps for State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney were also there.
Maloney, who wasn’t at the meeting, told T&V that she was against the law that forces the USPS to fund its pension plans so far into the future. She also said she’d asked the USPS if she could see the financials on the Peter Stuyvesant station, but was refused.
“I know it’s making money, and if it’s making money, why close it?” she said. “In (this) neighborhood, around Stuyvesant Town, there’s no guarantee putting it in another location is going to save money.”
Maloney and several other local elected officials sent a letter on Friday to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe requesting a meeting.
Following the town hall, when asked if all the testimony from customers and employees would impact the USPS’s decision to relocate, Chirichello said the public comments would be reviewed before any decision is made.
On the issue of Peter Stuyvesant station being a busy and likely a profitable station, Chirichello said, “Retail business is good. However, moving to a smaller space so we do not have to maintain the excess space is a good business decision as well. And in the case of Peter Stuy, one potential relocation site is around the corner from the present post office. If we did move forward, the new state of the art post office will continue to provide the same services as now by the same friendly employees customers have come to know by name.”
She also responded to a question from T&V asking about one rumor swirling around which is that the USPS had an option to buy the Peter Stuyvesant station.
“As of late, buying the building which has more space than is needed for retail and post office box operations space to accommodate customers needs would not help the postal service regain financial stability. The financial crisis the postal service is faced with is dire. We are reviewing every opportunity to close the gaps in order to save money.”
Public comments are being accepted through May 7. Written testimony that’s submitted must reference the post office by name or location, the USPS said, and be sent to Joseph J. Mulvey, Facilities Implementation, U.S. Postal Service, 2 Congress Street, Room 8, Milford, MA, 01757-9998.

Superstorm Sandy in Pictures

Here are more pictures taken by T&V and area residents during last month’s storm and of its aftermath. Click the pictures to enter the gallery.

Hurricane Sandy alerts re: openings and closings

A shop on First Avenue is ready for Sandy.
Photo by Michael Alcamo

At this time, the mayor has announced that schools will remain closed tomorrow as will after school programs, PAL programs, senior centers and libraries.

During a press conference this morning, Bloomberg explained that there would be “no chance” that mass transit would be running in time to serve the city.

Emergency shelters, however, have been open throughout the city with the current total of people in them at 3,900. The total number of pets at this time is 73, the mayor said, and the emergency shelter closest to the Stuyvesant Town/Gramercy area is Baruch College at 155 East 24th Street.

Waterside Plaza, which is in the mandatory evacuation Zone A area, has been evacuated, although, as noted by the property’s general manager Peter Davis this morning, management can’t force people to leave, nor can police. However, he said residents seemed to have mostly been cooperative after management sent out robo-calls reminding residents that Mayor Bloomberg ordered the evacuation.

Last year, Waterside Plaza experienced some flooding due to Hurricane Irene, and management is bracing for flooding this time as well.

Campos Plaza is also in Zone A. Bloomberg said earlier that the city was running buses into the city’s public housing developments that were in the evacuation area, but that the service wouldn’t be offered for much longer.

“The City is running buses for the next hour or so but that’s going to stop because it just becomes too dangerous to run the buses,” the mayor said in an official statement.

He added that the city had placed flyers, knocked on doors and made phone calls to reach

All is quiet on the Oval on Monday morning.
Photo by Michael Alcamo

people in every NYCHA development since Friday. Additionally, police were at the developments telling people through loudspeaker that they had to evacuate.

Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village is not in an evacuation area (the properties are situated in Zones B and C though the FDR Drive is in Zone A). However, ST/PCV buildings had hot water shut off this morning as a result of ongoing Con Ed emergency work.

Council Member Dan Garodnick alerted residents via email last night that CW Capital/CompassRock had added extra personnel to the property to prepare for the storm.

For those who have yet to do their hurricane shopping, Gristedes on First Avenue is still open. An employee there said the store was out of batteries, but there was still plenty of water. She added that it wasn’t known yet how late the store would be open. An employee at Associated Supermarket on 14th Street told Town & Village shortly before 1 p.m. that the store had just closed, but that the staff hopes to open tomorrow. Nasser Hashesh, owner of Lenz’s Deli on East 20th Street, said his store is still open for business and still serving food. Since Stuyvessant Town is currently without hot water, employees were heating water “the old fashioned way” to wash dishes and the store just got a delivery of bottles water this morning. Hashesh said the store would probably remain open tonight until 7 or 8 p.m.

This morning truly seemed to be the calm before the storm throughout the Stuyvesant Town area, as photos sent in by readers have shown the Oval empty except for a security officer and determined joggers who still conducted their workouts around Stuyvesant Square Park.

If anyone would like to share their Hurricane Sandy photos, please email them to or share them on the Town & Village Facebook page. Please specify if you do not want a photo credit.