Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Mayor and City Council Reach Budget Agreement

Local CMs Vote Against Sales Tax Increase

By Conor Greene

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council have reached a handshake agreement on a $59.4 billion city budget that avoids cuts to libraries and firehouses, but includes a sales tax increase and repeals the sales tax exemption for clothing over $110.

The spending plan, which covers fiscal year 2010, includes more than $3 billion in spending cuts. It also features a half a percentage point increase in sales tax, expected to generate an additional $518 million. While clothing less than $110 remains exempted from the sales tax repeal, reinstatement of the tax on items above $110 is expected to generate $119 million. The city is facing a $5 billion reduction in tax revenues due to the economic meltdown.

City Council is expected to vote on the budget this week. However, the negotiations essentially came to an end Monday, when the Council voted 38 to 10 on resolutions implementing the sales tax increase and other measures. While the mayor and council reached the agreement weeks before the July 1 deadline, the proposed tax increases must also be approved by the State Legislature.

“By saving billions during the good times, and cutting expenses when the first storm clouds gathered, we were as prepared as possible for the serious impacts of the national economic downturn,” said Bloomberg. “Just like any family that is tightening their belt during these tough times, we are reducing city spending while still protecting the core services that so many New Yorkers rely on – and that keep our city so strong.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said the agreement will “balance the budget during one of the most tumultuous economic times in recent memory.” At a press conference announcing the deal, she added, “Even in a recession, government’s job is to protect and support New Yorkers.”

Among those voting against the sales tax increases on Monday were Queens Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). In interviews and statements, three of the dissenting members said that raising the sales tax unfairly impacts middle and working class residents.

“It’s absurd,” said Ulrich, who called it a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul… The last thing we should be doing is hitting people when they’re struggling,” he said. “It’s an aggressive tax on hard working middle and working class people and it’s wrong.”

Crowley said the sales tax increase is “an additional burden on an overtaxed population.” Instead of balancing the budget by raising taxes, “we must come up with alternative sources… rather than punishing our workers and our middle-class residents.”

In a statement, Katz said the increase “will disproportionately burden middle-class New Yorkers who are struggling under the weight of high unemployment, decreasing home values and diminished savings in a time of economic uncertainty.”

Both Ulrich and Crowley called on the State Legislature to reinstate the commuter tax, which was abolished in 1999. “Bringing back the commuter tax would have been a more appropriate relief for our already overtaxed city residents,” said Crowley. However, according to Ulrich, Mayor Bloomberg and Quinn made it clear that revisiting the commuter tax “is not an option.”

In his executive budget released earlier this year, the mayor had threatened to close 16 firehouses, layoff hundreds of ACS workers, cut back on the number of days library branches are open and reduce the city work force by as much as 13,000. He also pushed for a five-cent tax on plastic bags and to eliminate the tax exemption on clothing under $110. However, Quinn argued that those taxes would disproportionably impact low income residents. Still, about 2,000 jobs will be eliminated under the plan.

Crowley, who attended several rallies in support of keeping the firehouses and libraries open, said she is pleased that “our fire protection will not be compromised and that we have won this fight… During this brutal economic time, it has been up to the people and their elected representatives to fight for what matters… We organized, we rallied and we made [it] loud and clear that we would not support a plan that would jeopardize our community’s safety,” she said in a statement.

However, while many officials and residents are breathing a sigh of relief that critical services avoided the chopping block, there is a chance the budget could be amended if the economy continues to falter. At a press conference inside City Hall on Monday, Mayor Bloomberg advised, “If our economy continues to stall, this may not be the last word on this year’s budget.”

This year’s budget negotiations between the mayor and council were largely absent of the public fighting and dissent seen in recent years. The main battles were over the plastic bag fee, which the Council fought against, and the sales tax increase, which drew criticism from some representatives, especially within the outer-boroughs. “It was done responsibly, and it was done without acrimony,” Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference.

However, the drama may be just beginning, since the new tax proposals and increases require approval by the State Legislature. “Balancing this budget required everyone to be a part of the solution, and now the only remaining piece of the puzzle is getting cooperation from the state,” said Bloomberg. “It is imperative that our leaders in Albany come to an agreement to pass a bill that will allow this budget to go into effect.”

Holding on for Hope

Howard Beach Residents Walk in Support of Cancer Research

By Patricia Adams

“Cancer is a dangerous enemy. No matter how strong you are, you can’t fight it on your own. Every person fighting cancer has to remember no matter how great the obstacle is you just keep going.”

And that’s exactly what Howard Beach Relay honoree and cancer survivor, Mario Faulisi did to win his battle with cancer. Back in April of 2008, Faulisi read an article about Testicular Cancer Awareness in The Forum. He knew from the words on the page that he had a problem—a big one. But even the warning was not quite enough to prepare him for what lay ahead — the diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma that was reproducing in a tumor at the rate of 90%. To further complicate the issue, the malignancy had settled in a testicle that would require immediate surgery and removal.

The prognosis following surgery was dire. An extensive regimen of the chemotherapy drug R-CHOP, one of the most taxing platforms used to treat aggressive disease. Additionally, there was a series of intrathecal injections, which go directly into the spine in an attempt to keep the disease from spreading to the brain. At the end of the chemo there would be a course of radiation.

“Of course I was frightened,” said Faulisi. “If you really think about it, you have no choice. If you want to live, you have to fight and hope you win.” His battle was staged at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital where medical oncologist/hematologist Dr. John Gerecitano and his team guided Mario and his family though the grueling ordeal. “There is so much you have to deal with at a time when you are so sick,” Faulisi said. “The hardest thing is watching everyone around you. You know how much they love you and you know how much they want you to get better. Sometimes it makes you sad, but in the end, it’s what gets you through.”

And during his speech at the event, Faulisi returned again to the subject that has always been at the forefront of his fight back--family and friends. The ones he says that stood by while he lost his hair, waited for test results, went with him for treatments, prayed constantly, cooked his favorite foods and most importantly who never gave up hope—in him or in God.

“The help and the support of all my friends is something I could never put a value on. Cherish your caregivers, they are your lifeline,” Faulisi continued. “Love your friends and family and let them love you. The way my mother, my sister, my brothers and my whole family were always there is what has brought me to this place.”

Through his tears he continued, “This has not been easy for a lot of people. And for some it was much harder than it was on me. I want my children to know that my love for them is what really keeps me alive. To my wife, I can only say that without you always there to hold me up I would not be standing. Grace you are the best.”

Now just over a year later, Faulisi has completed his treatments and has been declared cancer free. He was recognized as an honoree by the American Cancer Society for his fight and triumph over cancer while maintaining all of his commitments to the community as the President of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation.

“This is a person that you meet for the first time and know he’s special,” said event chair Phyllis Inserillo. “He is what Relay is all about. He’s what we’re here to celebrate — life.”

From the publisher...

In my years as publisher of this newspaper, I have been privy to many joys and many sorrows throughout our community. I have however, never been prouder of this community then I was on Saturday at our 1st Annual Relay. It was a day when so much more than money was raised. It was a day when we stood together and made a difference that translates to the difference between life and death.

I would like to dedicate this issue to my colleague and dear friend, Mario Faulisi. Because of his tenacity, courage, strength and heart, I know the example he has set will save many other lives.

To my friend I would like to say that you are an inspiration to me every day of my life. Your wisdom and the life example that you set is a gift of your friendship that I cherish. I celebrate your life every day. – PA

Click to See More Photos from the Event

Child Hunger, Upstate Drilling and Maspeth Burglaries Discussed at CB 5

By Conor Greene

At its monthly meeting last week, Community Board 5 members discussed a wide range of issues, including child hunger, a push to drill for natural gas upstate, and a pattern of burglaries in Maspeth.

Child Hunger Awareness

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), who is running for city public advocate this fall, took a few minutes to discuss an issue he said residents won’t see on television or read about in the daily newspaper – “hunger, especially child hunger, in New York City.”

When Gioia was first elected eight years ago, hunger “was not an issue I thought I would be working on a lot.” That changed when he heard a story of a young boy whose teacher rewarded him with gold stars for outstanding work. After receiving several gold stars, he told his teachers, “What I really want is an orange.”

Gioia said that simple story opened his eyes to a widespread problem he says is disguised by the childhood obesity epidemic. “It was hard to believe that an orange is a treat in this city,” he said of the student. “It is a real issue in New York City, right in our neighborhoods.” He pointed out that the obesity issue is really just “a different side of the same coin” since poor families often turn to fast food that is high in fat for cheap meals.

Several years ago, Gioia lived on food stamps for a week to draw attention to how little support that program offered. His allotment - $28.36 at the time – only lasted five days, forcing him to turn to a food pantry for the rest of his meals. He then successfully lobbied legislators in Washington, D.C to raise the amount allotted per week.

However, despite those gains, only 1.1 million of the 2 million city residents who qualify for food stamps take advantage of the program. That means 400,000 city children who are eligible are not enrolled, according to Gioia, who says there are two main reasons the program is under-utilized: bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of awareness among working parents who don’t realize they qualify.

To reduce the red tape, Gioia worked to have the application shortened from 24 pages to two pages. “That’s a big deal,” he argued, as 200,000 more people have signed up since that change was implemented. To increase awareness, Gioia is visiting every community board in the city and a host of other groups to spread awareness. The program is not just for the unemployed, as those who make less than $24,000 a year and have children generally can take advantage of food stamps. “I promise you that it applies to people you know,” whether in church, civic groups or in the neighborhood, said Gioia.

He asked every person in the crowd to mention the issue and requirements to at least one other person. “This is a moral issue – kids in our city are not getting enough to eat,” he said. In addition, the program is federally funded, meaning that the city is currently not taking full advantage of the money. One billion more dollars would pour into the city economy if every eligible resident signed up, according to Gioia.

Concerns Over Upstate Natural Gas Drilling

At several points during the meeting, the issue of drilling for natural gas upstate was discussed, as there is concern about the impact the process could have on the city’s drinking water supply.

Buck Moorhead of the group NY H2O informed residents about the “imminent drilling for natural gas” in portions of upstate New York. The procedure, known as hydrofracking, was pioneered by Halliburton and involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the earth in order to draw the gas to the surface. The practice is growing in popularity after the Bush Administration approved an exemption in 2005 allowing it. “It’s a very serious risk” to the state’s water supply, said Moorhead, adding that his group is seeking a ban on the process.

The board’s district manager, Gary Giordano, also expressed concern about hydrofracking during his report later in the meeting. “There’s a lot of big money involved here,” he said, adding that a second Environmental Impact Statement on the process is due later this month. He called this the “most frightening situation I know of on a large scale that affects New York City.”

Giordano urged board members, elected officials and the public to “not make it easy for the people seeking potentially big profits to destroy our water system.”

Board member Brian Dooley, who chairs the environmental services committee, said his group will present a resolution against the practice next month for the full board to consider. He compared the situation upstate, with landowners in rural areas seeking to cash in on quick profits, to a gold rush. “It’s going to be a monumental environmental disaster if it’s allowed to go on,” he said. “The problem is, there is big money involved.”

Poor Police Response to Maspeth Burglaries

Board member Eileen Maloney warned of an increase of residential burglaries “in our community, especially Maspeth.” Her home was broken into in the middle of the day three weeks ago by a man who kicked in the front door, she said.

Adding insult to injury, Maloney said it took more than three hours for officers from the 104th Precinct to respond to her son’s 911 call. Worse, detectives showed up at 1:30 a.m. to dust for fingerprints. “Needless to say, they never got the burglar,” said Maloney, adding that her attempts to get updates about the investigation have been unsuccessful.

”I was told they only had four cars on duty that day and they were all elsewhere,” she said. “This is a very, very serious condition we’re suffering through right now –there definitely is some sort of group out there. They’re professionals and know who to hit.”

Maloney said she is working with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office to establish a neighborhood block watch in Maspeth. Board Chairman Vincent Arcuri noted that the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol should be able to assist since it already patrols that area and is always looking for new recruits.

Editor’s Note: Check next week’s Forum West for a report on additional issues discussed at the June Community Board 5 meeting.

Photos: Councilman Eric Gioia discusses child hunger, before Buck Moorhead (left) informs the crowd about possible drilling for natural gas upstate. The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CONOR GREENE

Remembering the General Slocum Disaster

As they do every June, this past Saturday a group of community leaders remembered the General Slocum disaster of 1904, when the passenger steamship caught fire while carrying approximately 1,300 passengers up the East River. The tragedy happened when a fire started in a storage compartment near the front of the ship as it was passing E. 90th Street. Efforts by the crew to put the fire out were unsuccessful, and life boats were tied up and inaccessible to passengers. Making matters worse, many of the passengers were women and children who did not know how to swim. By the time the captain navigated the boat to North Brother Island near the Bronx shore, an estimated 1,021 passengers had died in the fire or drowned trying to escape the boat. Two of the 30 crew members died, and there were just 321 survivors.

This past Saturday, about 100 local residents attended the ceremony at All Faith’s Cemetery in Middle Village, where many of the unidentified victims were buried. Among those attending were members of the Marine Corps League of North Shore Queens and Coast Guard officials. Also participating in the ceremony was Dan Austin, president of All Faiths, Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and former State Senator Serf Maltese.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos courtesy of PAT MCCARTHY

Company Wants to Expand Garbage Facility

Plan Will Increase Truck Traffic in West Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Waste Management is seeking state approval to expand its Long Island City transfer station to handle twice as much garbage each day over its current levels. While the upgrade will allow the company to use trains instead of trucks for long-distance hauling, there is local concern since truck traffic will increase in Maspeth.

The company has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace its existing truck-based operation on Review Avenue into a new “rail-based solid waste transfer facility” that would receive residential waste from neighborhoods within Community Boards 1-6 in Queens.

Currently, the trash is brought to the facility and then loaded into tractor-trailers for longdistance hauling to landfills in states such as Virginia. Under the new plan, the trash will be loaded onto rail containers at the Review Avenue facility and trucked several miles over local streets to the rail yard at Maspeth Avenue and Rust Street.

The facility is currently permitted to receive up to 958 tons per day. Under the new arrangement the site will be able to handle up to 2,100 tons per day and will typically receive about 1,150 tons per day, according to the company.

While the project is not subject to the city’s land use review process, the company was required to hold several public information sessions in Sunnyside this past Monday and in Maspeth this past Wednesday. The proposal is part of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which aims to “shift the city’s waste exports from a truck-based system to a rail and barge transportation network, to reduce traffic and vehicle emissions, to ensure each borough is responsible for handling its own waste and to help the city manage its waste in a more sustainable, efficient and cost effective manner.”

However, while the Review Avenue facility is located alongside the Newtown Creek, barges will not be used there, according to the company. Instead, garbage trucks would enter the facility and dump the trash using one of the facility’s five bays. The trash would then be loaded into sealed containers, which are trucked to the rail yard in Maspeth. From there, it would be brought via train to the Fresh Pond Road rail yard in Glendale before it is shipped long-distance to the landfill.

The company boasts that one train containing 15 to 17 cars is the equivalent of between 51 and 58 diesel engine trucks, meaning the project will greatly reduce the amount of mileage driven and emissions produced. Still, there is local concern since the new transfer station will handle garbage from additional communities in Western Queens, since there will be an increase in the amount of trucks bring garbage to the facility, along with the new trips between Review Avenue and the rail yard.

According to a Waste Management spokeswoman, there are currently about 100 city sanitation trucks entering and leaving the facility each day, and about three tractor trailers exiting the facility for long distance hauls. Under the new plan, there will be about 125 DSNY trucks using the facility each day, and an average of four trucks an hour will make the trip to the Maspeth rail yard, replacing the need for long distance hauling.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said the plan definitely comes at a cost for Maspeth and Long Island City residents. “Unfortunately that’s the price that somebody paid for the greater good, so to speak,” he said. It is certainly going to bring more truck traffic, no doubt about that. “I think what we need to do is work with Waste Management as far as the portions that are somewhat controllable,” he said, referring to issues such as routes and timing.

He also recalled issues last summer with horrific odors emanating from trains hauling garbage in unsealed containers. The trains will go from Maspeth to the Fresh Pond Road yard until they are transported out of the city by CSX. The issue with the odors came when trains were forced to sit idly on tracks near residential areas due to scheduling issues between the disposal company and the railroads.

However, to alleviate these problems, Waste Management has designed a sealed container that company officials say works “pretty well” and is working to improve the timing to prevent trains from sitting in one spot for too long.

Maspeth civic leader Tony Nunziato questioned why the city didn’t demand that Waste Management construct the facility in a location with direct access to train tracks, which would eliminate the need to haul the containers through Maspeth by truck. “I’m all for it, but my main concern is they’re not doing it at one stop,” he said. “If you’re going to make that kind of money, get the facility.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, took exception with the public review process and questioned why the company ran the information sessions, instead of the city. “The more questions you ask, the more you find out this thing stinks to high heaven,” he said. “They’re sealed, but they still produce odors,” he noted of the shipping containers. He also pointed out that the company’s Bronx facility is adjacent to tracks.

“Why didn’t Waste Management buy a facility next to the rail?” questioned Holden. “The city should have demanded it – that’s a real solid waste, not a phony one like this. It’s going to cut down on trucks, but not in our neighborhood. It’s going to create more traffic here, and Maspeth doesn’t need it.”

Waste Management hopes to have the new facility constructed in time to begin accepting waste by February 2011.

Toddler Dies at Childcare Center; Babysitter Charged

By Patricia Adams

An 11-month-old boy died at a local day care facility after falling into a bucket of mop water. James Farrior was in the care of 28-year-old Kristal Khan, the operator of the All Day Every Day Childcare Center at 101-27 108th street in Richmond Hill.

Neighbors watched in shock and disbelief as a fireman ran from the house carrying the limp body of the boy shortly after 11 a.m. “My husband went down to see what the fire trucks were doing next door,” said Liz Rivero who lives in an upstairs apartment. “I went to the window and looked down. A fireman had the baby and he was running with him. I saw his arms and legs hanging. I just knew. He was lifeless.”

Rivero went on to say she had seen the baby’s mother when she would come to pick him up a few days a week in the afternoon. She said the operator of the childcare facility seemed to be a quiet person and that there had been no incidents involving the house before that she knew of.

James Farrior would have celebrated his first birthday on July 25 and was pronounced dead at Jamaica hospital around 11:30 a.m. An autopsy was scheduled to determine whether the boy drowned or broke his neck.

Kristal Khan’s profile was found on, a website community used for showcasing ones skills and talents. She describes herself there as a 27 year old, stay-at-home mother of two beautiful children who offered tutoring and childcare at her home. According to Kahn’s posted resume she was a “former qualified teacher from Trinidad where she taught in a primary school for eight years. She had also offered babysitting services for the last 12 years.

Police said Kahn originally said she had left James and her own two children, 3 and 4years old, in the living room while she went to get a mop. When she came back, Kahn said James had fallen, head first, into a mop bucket that was almost full with water. But later Kahn admitted she had taken Nyquil at 6 a.m. and fell asleep on the couch.

According to a spokesperson from the State Office of Children and Family Services, Kahn didn't have a license to operate the childcare facility, however was not in violation of any laws. Departmental regulations state that an individual may operate a day care facility without a license if they do not have more than two children under their care for more than three or more hours daily. The state does not count the babysitter’s own children as part of the qualifying number for licensing.

“This is all very upsetting,” said neighbor Billy Caires. “I checked this place out for my own child about two years ago. The only reason we did not use it is because they were closing earlier than we needed. It was just about timing.” The man said he had gone into the facility and found everything to be clean and in order.

Kahn was arraigned on Tuesday and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted she could face up to one year in prison.

District Attorney Richard Brown said that Kahn took the Nyquil despite the fact that she was aware that one of the side effects of the medication was drowsiness. It is alleged that at one point Kahn woke up, did not see the baby in the living room but rolled over and went back to sleep. The DA’s office further alleges that when Kahn awoke a second time she saw the baby in the kitchen with his upper body submerged in the bucket she had filled the night before.

“When parents entrust their young children to a day care center, the operator has an obligation to provide a safe environment. By allegedly failing to carry out her responsibilities, a young child’s life has been tragically and senselessly cut short,” said DA Brown.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) is investigating the death of James Farrior but has made initial statements that the day care operation run by Kristal Kahn seems to fit the facility parameters set by the state regarding small childcare centers.

Girl, 2, Struck By Hit and Run Driver

By Patricia Adams

A 2-year-old girl was seriously injured Friday night when she wandered out of her house on 85th street and walked into traffic on Rockaway Boulevard around 9:30. A hit and run driver apparently struck toddler Jaylein Peralta while her relatives were eating dinner and were unaware that the girl had slipped out of the house.

But neighbors say it was not unusual for the child to be wandering around alone. Ravi Persaud said he had seen the child on several occasions walking around by herself. “I am surprised she was not hit before this. I almost hit her myself a few times.”

Another neighbor, Liz Laureano said she also had seen the child walking around alone. The last time was about a month ago. “She was just out here, by herself. She had no shoes on and was wearing just a nightshirt,” said Laureano. “You can’t leave your baby like that. This is what happens.”

But Peralta’s family maintains that this had never happened before and that she just slipped out without their notice. An aunt, who was in the house preparing tacos told reporters that the girl ran out into the street in a heartbeat.

Jaylein’s 20-year-old mother Jeanette works at a supermarket a couple of blocks away from where the incident happened. She was on her way home when she saw the police activity on the street. Relatives said that she had no idea it was her daughter when she happened upon the scene.

When she realized it was Jaylein she picked up the child whom witnesses say just kept saying “Momma, Momma,’ over and over. The child, whose face was covered with blood, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital in critical condition.

As of Saturday she was upgraded at the hospital and is expected to make a recovery. Police have not made an arrest and have no description of the car or its driver.

Still Going Strong After Twenty Years

Lifelong Queens resident Gary Giordano was honored for twenty years of service as Community Board 5 district manager with a proclamation presented by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley at last week’s monthly meeting.

Giordano, who was born in Maspeth and attended Our Lady of Hope and St. Francis Prep schools, served as a board member for eight years before accepting the district manager position in 1989. He previously served four years as executive director of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, was among the founding members of the former Ridgewood Civilian Observation Patrol and dedicated time to the Martin J. Knorr Caregivers Center. In addition to his duties with CB 5, Giordano currently serves as a board member of The Salvation Army, volunteers with the Ridgewood Citadel Corps and is treasurer of the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corps.

“Mr. Giordano, understanding the sophisticated nature of modern political structure, relies on his aptitude for listening, prefers discussion before decision and calm in the face of a challenge; and conducts the residents’ concerns… with reason and true consideration for the integrated whole of human needs and values,” states the proclamation. “Mr. Giordano faithfully executes the varied and numerous tasks of District Manager, giving evidence of his competency to manage, mediate and advocate, implementing the procedures and personally proving to be instrumental in raising the quality of life in Community Board 5…”

While he didn’t make any comments at the meeting, Giordano told the Forum that things have come a long way since he became district manager, and credited the people he has worked with for helping improve the community. “Portions of it have been a very rough road. When I started, crime was at its height, illegal dumping was a big, big problem, and so was graffiti,” he said. “I certainly had a lot of support from board members… so the board has been very good to me. But it has not been an easy road."

The biggest change over the past two decades, “is how crowded it’s gotten, and how much more competitive life has become,” said Giordano. “It seems to be a faster pace than ever, and I think we need to do our best so that it doesn’t become survival of the fittest so to speak.” Still, he has no regrets regarding the board’s influence on the community on his watch. “Our neighborhood is in great shape, in better shape than I can remember… and by no means is that all my doing.”

Crowley Calls on State Legislature to Address Malpractice Insurance

Says Women’s Health Care has Reached Crisis in New York City

Joined by dozens of outraged doctors from Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley demanded at a press conference on Wednesday that state leaders reduce malpractice insurance rates to prevent women’s health professionals from leaving the state.

During the rally on the steps of City Hall, Crowley (D-Middle Village) blasted Gov. David Paterson for allowing malpractice insurance rates to skyrocket, which she says has jeopardized healthcare for all female city residents. She will introduce legislation at the next City Council meeting “calling on the State Legislature to address this medical crisis immediately.”

“The current medical malpractice insurance system – which is regulated by our government – is driving doctors out of New York, and the first doctors to go are the ones who provide women’s healthcare,” said Crowley. “New York City is losing obstetricians at a faster rate than in any other area in the country… If we continue in this direction who will care for pregnant women? Who will deliver babies in New York?”

According to Crowley, 28 obstetricians who deliver tens of thousands of babies annually at eight hospitals in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan will no longer be able to perform their professional duties as of July 2. In addition, between 2002 and 2008several hundred city doctors changed their insurance coverage, meaning they are no longer covered to perform obstetrics. Many hospitals have also been forced to cease providing obstetric services due to malpractice insurance costs, with 14 city hospitals eliminating their regular obstetrical services between 1995 and 2003.

Dr. David Freidman, a gynecologist in Manhattan, called the issue “a time bomb that is threatening to destroy women’s healthcare” in the state. “Because of the oppressive malpractice insurance rates, I and many others in the state have had to stop delivering babies,” he said. “This trend is sure to continue unless some relief is on the way.”

Crowley argues that it is the state and federal government’s responsibility to intervene and reduce or freeze the malpractice rates so doctors can afford to remain in the city. Through an online petition, a letter to her colleagues and a City Council resolution, she is calling on Gov. Paterson to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates, institute a public malpractice insurance option that will keep our obstetricians and breast imaging doctors in New York City by offering them affordable rates.

The overall problem has been exasperated by the closing of three Queens hospitals in the past six months, said Crowley. In addition, over the past four years three Brooklyn hospitals that delivered thousands of babies a year – Interfaith Medical Center, St. Mary’s and Victory Memorial – have closed their maternity ward.

The top two highest risk areas for malpractice insurance fall under obstetrics, with examinations for breast cancer coming in third. This has caused a shortage of breast radiologists and mammography facilities, creating a backlog for mammograms.

Dr. Jay Tartell, a radiologist at Mt. Sinai in Queens, said his facility has been searching for a breast radiologist for more than a year. “In addition to discouraging radiologists form specializing in breast imaging, the high risk of lawsuits have caused the existing mammographers in our group to become increasingly reluctant to read mammograms<’ he said.

“In Queens, we are all well aware of how much of a challenge access to health care has become, especially when women have to wait up to six months for an appointment to get a mammogram,” said Crowley. “Access to health care for the residents of Queens and Brooklyn is already an alarming challenge. This is why we are out here today calling on the State Legislature to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates and to find an effective solution to this crisis to ensure that there is adequate access to doctors for the women of New York.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley joins area doctors at a rally calling on the State Legislature to reform the medical malpractice insurance industry to prevent doctors from leaving the city. The Forum Newsgroup/photos courtesy of WILLIAM ALATRISTE

Six Teens Charged in Flushing Robbery and Murder

By Conor Greene

Six teenagers have now been charged in connection with the robbery and murder of an Asian man who had fallen asleep in his SUV while parked on a Flushing street earlier this month.

Police say 49-year-old Woodhaven resident David Kao was killed by Chris Levy, 17, of Harlem, and Cory Azor, 16, of East Elmhurst after the suspects found him asleep inside his 2000 Lexus double parked in front of 42-10 Colden Street on June 8.

Levy and Azor were arraigned last Wednesday in Queens Criminal Court on charges of second-degree murder, first-and-second-degree robbery and fourth-degree possession of stolen property. They were ordered held without bail and face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

In addition, police have charged four other teenagers in connection with the incident, according to the Queens District Attorney’s office. Keron Wilthshire, 17, of Corona, Jay-Quel Merkerson, 16, of Flushing and a 15-year-old have been charged with criminal possession of stolen property (the SUV). Bryce Newton, 16, of Flushing was charged with third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle for riding in a vehicle he knew was stolen.

According to the charges, Levy and Azor entered the SUV after spotting Kao sleeping inside. They placed Kao in a chokehold, pulling him over the driver’s seat into the back of the vehicle, where they fatally choked and punched him. They then drove the SUV to a nearby location where they dumped the body. “I continued to hold him in the headlock and punch him in the face and then he stopped moving,” Levy allegedly told detectives.

The break in the case came last Monday, when police received a report of an argument near an SUV parked in an alley behind 145-10 20th Avenue in Whitestone, about two miles from the murder scene. Levy, Wilthshire and Newton were inside the Lexus when police responded, and, after questioning, the three other defendants were arrested, according to a spokesman for District Attorney Richard Brown.

In a separate criminal complaint, Levy, Azor and Wilthshire are charged with robbing 42-year-old Jin Tong Yuan as he entered the elevator at 140-50 Ash Avenue in Flushing on May 27. According to statements allegedly made to police, Azor and his co-defendants spotted Yuan and agreed to rob him. Wilthshire grabbed Yuan from behind and placed him in a chokehold while Levy held a silver pistol to the victim’s head while demanding money, according to police. The three defendants then allegedly took the victim’s cell phone and cash from his wallet before fleeing.

“While all three defendants are accused of preying on Asian men to rob, two of the defendants are charged with a senseless and brutal crime that, by their own alleged actions, shows a complete disregard for human life,” said Brown.

Even thought the district attorney accused the men of specifically targeting Asian men, they have not been charged under the hate crimes statute. “I think Levy and Azor have been charged with the ultimate hate crime – murder,” said spokesman Kevin Ryan, adding that charging them with a hate crime would not add anymore time to what they are currently facing. “However those are crimes that can be considered when the case is presented to a grand jury,” he added.

Kao was a marketing employee at the World Journal, which bills itself as the largest Chinese language newspaper in North America. According to reports, he dined with a colleague on Kissena Boulevard on Friday evening before parking, for unknown reasons, in front of the Colden Avenue building where his ex-wife lives. His 21-year-old daughter is a college student in Taiwan.

Azor’s stepfather is Officer Frantz Jean-Bart of the NYPD’s automotive unit.

Bakery Owner Admits to Molesting Young Customer

Jewish Group Forces Perv From Ownership Position

By Conor Greene

After pleaded guilty to molesting a 10-year-old boy who visited his Kew Gardens Hills bakery, a Brooklyn man has been forced out from his ownership position by a local Jewish group.

Issac Ebstein, 50, of 415 Bedford Avenue, admitted in Queens Supreme Court last week to inappropriately touching the 10-year-old, who used to go to Queens Kosher Pita for cookies, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to one year of probation and weekly sex offender counseling.

Last Friday, Ebstein pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted sexual abuse and attempted endangering the welfare of a child. According to authorities, Ebstein admitted to driving around Queens, during which time he touched the victim’s genitals and forced the boy to touch his. The abuse took place on three occasions over a two-month period in 2002 and came to light when the boy told his parents.

“The defendant has pleaded guilty to having taken advantage of the innocence of his young victim. As a result, the child has been severely traumatized and emotionally scarred for life,” said Brown. “Fortunately, the defendant's guilty plea will save the youngster from having to testify and recount the situation he endured.”

Under the plea with prosecutors, Ebstein will not have to register as a sex offender. While published reports stated that Ebstein would be returning to work at Queens Kosher Pita over the weekend, the Vaad Harabonim of Queens – which provides kosher certification for the business - has forced Ebstein from his ownership position at the Main Street bakery.

In a statement, the Vaad announced that officials hand-delivered a letter to Queens Pita demanding that “by the close of business on June 12, Ebstein shall neither work, nor be present in the store in any capacity whatsoever.” In addition, the letter ordered Queens Pita “to remove Ebstein as an owner, shareholder, officer, director and/or partner, and provide written evidence.”

The Vaad was contacted by the victim’s family and had two senior members in court to witness the guilty plea. According to the group, the Kosher Supervision Agreement it has with Queens Pita “provides that the Vaad has the discretion to terminate the contract upon the conviction of any crime of moral turpitude committed by a store owner or director.”

The decision to order Ebstein’s withdrawal as an owner and employee was made jointly by the Vaad and local Kew Gardens Hills congregational rabbis in a special meeting, and in consultation with legal counsel, according to its press release. It notes that Queens Pita owner and proprietor Norman Kohn had complied with Vaad’s directive.

“As part of the turpitude clause in our agreement with the store, the Vaad reserves the right to revoke the certification in cases such as these. Ebstein has resigned from any relationship with the store,” wrote Rabbi Chaim Schwartz in an email.

An employee who answered the phone at Queens Pita on Tuesday said that Ebstein is no longer an owner or employee there. A message left for Kohn was not immediately returned.

Subcontractors Accused of Stealing MTA Forklifts

DA: Trio Sold Stolen Equipment to Scrap Yard

By Conor Greene

Three employees of a company contracted to do work for the MTA have been accused of stealing eight forklifts and 17 tons of batteries from the Maspeth facility they were assigned to and reselling the items for a fraction of their market value.

The three Crown Equipment employees – Bruce Lesniewski, 30, of Brooklyn, Darrin Pfaff, 42, of Ronkonkoma and Kimberly Edwards, 57, of Bay Shore each face up to seven years if convicted on the charges. They were due to be arraigned Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court on the charges, following a joint investigation by the Queens District Attorney’s office and MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger.

According to authorities, Crown Equipment has a preventative maintenance contract with New York City Transit, under which it assigns technicians to the agency’s Maspeth warehouse to provide onsite repairs and maintenance and to provide estimates for shop repairs. In order to facilitate repairs, Crown Equipment utilizes a flatbed truck, along with various vans, to transport equipment from the warehouse to other authorized locations for repairs, maintenance and replacement parts.

The investigation began in September 2008 when NYCT personnel began an annual inventory of equipment at the Maspeth warehouse and discovered that eight forklifts and seventeen steel case batteries(each weighting between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds) used to operate their forklift equipment were missing. The subsequent investigation involved interviews, a review of the business records of the MTA and the scrap dealer who purchased the stolen items and an analysis of cell phone records and GPS signals assigned to Crown Equipment phones and trucks.

The criminal charges allege that the three defendants stole the eight forklifts and seventeen batteries from the MTA Transit warehouse between March and September 2008. They then took the equipment to Dependable Scrap Yard, a licensed junk dealer located on Flushing Avenue in Maspeth, which paid them a total of $7,812 for the materials.

When selling the metal to the scrap dealer, both Lesniewski and Pfaff signed invoices stating that they were the rightful owners of the equipment and had the authority to sell it and showed photo identification in order for the invoices to be completed and the money paid for them. Finally, it is alleged that GPS records for the flatbed truck driven by Edwards showed that he drove from the MTA warehouse to Dependable Scrap Yard on at least three occasions between August and September 2008, and that he and Pfaff had a series of phone conversations on those dates.

According to the Inspector General’s office, the stolen forklifts were still in working order and cost at least $20,000 to replace. A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office said the charges can be amended when a more exact value of the stolen items is determined.

“The defendants are accused of trying to make a fast buck by stealing tens of thousands of dollars worth of MTA equipment and selling it for a fraction of its value to a scrap dealer,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “By these arrests we have sent a clear message that in these challenging economic times, the MTA and the riding public can ill afford such waste and thievery and have underscored the fact that those who steal will be held accountable for their actions.”

Lesniewski, who is currently employed by Crown Equipment, is charged with third degree grand larceny for the theft of two forklifts and ten batteries between March 1and September 19, 2008, for which he allegedly was paid $3,097 by the scrap dealer.

Pfaff and Edwards, who were formerly employed by Crown Equipment, are charged with third-degree grand larceny and fifth-degree conspiracy for the theft of six forklifts, for which they allegedly were paid $3,160 by the scrap dealer. In addition, Pfaff is also charged with fourth-degree grand larceny for the theft of seven batteries between June 1 and September 30, for which he was allegedly paid $1,555.

“This case provides another example of how the MTA Inspector General’s Office works with our investigative and prosecutorial partners to move swiftly against those who steal MTA property,” said Kluger.

More Photos from Howard Beach Relay For Life Event