Thursday, January 7, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Some Area Libraries Slated to Close on Weekends

Budget Woes Force Queens Library to Reduce Hours

By Conor Greene

Starting next month, fourteen Queens Library branches will only be open from Monday through Friday, with weekend hours eliminated due to budget constraints. The effected locations include Ridgewood, Kew Garden Hills, North Forest Park and Ozone Park.

According to a release issued by Queens Library, the decision was necessitated by reductions in city and state funding over the past two years. “Reducing service hours is a painful course of action,” said Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante. “Queens Library has been in a hiring freeze that began in 2008. At this time, we are forced to reduce our service schedules as our workforce has been reduced.”

The other libraries to be closed on weekends beginning February 1 are: Arverne, Astoria, Baisley Park, Court Square, East Elmhurst, Lefrak City, Queensboro Hill, South Hollis and Windsor Park. All other locations will maintain their current service levels, including from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition, Queens Library at Central in Jamaica is open on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Many services are also available online at

News of the service reductions didn’t sit well with local elected officials, some of whom successfully fought against a similar plan last spring. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who represents Ridgewood, said that keeping educational services running effectively for families will be a top priority in the upcoming budget discussions.

”It is disappointing that the Queens Library – with the largest attendance in the country – has to suffer weekend hour reductions after the City Council worked tirelessly to restore funding to keep hours open and to provide much needed upgrades,” said Crowley, who led a rally in April in front of the North Forest Park branch as a result of planned reductions at that time. She also provided $800,000 in funding for renovations at the Ridgewood branch, which are currently in progress, along with $400,000 for upgrades at the Glendale branch.

Jimmy Van Bramer, who served as the library’s director of external affairs before winning November’s election to represent the 26th District on City Council, echoed the sentiment that the reductions are not acceptable. “I have long been an advocate for strong, well-funded neighborhood libraries,” said Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “It is unacceptable for any library to close and I will work tirelessly with my colleagues and the Queens Library to enhance library services all across my district.”

In the Ozone Park area, Councilman Eric Ulrich agreed that the hour reductions are disappointing. However, he said residents must be realistic given the economic climate and should be prepared for further budget cuts that could impact a variety of city services. He noted that one branch was picked from every City Council district and reminded residents they can travel to other local branches such as Howard Beach or Richmond Hill for Saturday service.

“I’m very disappointed, however I do believe this is just a sign of the times,” said Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who recently provided $1 million for capital improvements at the Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Broad Channel branches. “While we certainly want every library to be open six days a week, given the economic situation the city and state is currently in, it is just not feasible or sustainable to keep every library open six days a week… We have to make very difficult decisions, and these are not decisions that people are going to be happy with but will have to accept them because of the position we’re in.”

Queens Library is an independent, not-for-profit corporation serving a population of 2.2 million residents. With a record 23 million items in circulation for fiscal year 2009, the library has the highest circulation of any public library system in the nation and one of the highest in the world. For details, visit or call (718) 990-0700.

Governor to Legislators: Let's Decide on Aqueduct Redevelopment

Paterson Vows Decision by Week’s End

By Patricia Adams

Gov. Paterson says he won’t wait beyond this week to choose an operator for the video gaming facility at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Paterson announced his intentions to reporters at a New Year’s open house at the Governor’s Mansion. "What I am probably going to do in the next week or so is to pick one myself and try to publicly persuade them to embrace this decision."

According to the proposal, Paterson and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate must all agree on a VLT operator. But the lawmakers have been in a stalemate for months over which of the bidders will be chosen to run the long anticipated Racino.

Paterson blames legislative leaders because they have not been able to reach a decision, while the lawmakers blame the governor for the stall in the process. Critics of the so-far failed project have much to hang their hats on. Beginning with a collapsed deal after making an initial selection of Delaware North back in October 2008, the state has continued to fall further into deficit. The expected revenue loss without a deal is $1 million per day.

Senator Joe Addabbo says he has made repeated requests to the governor’s office to make a choice. “Aqueduct is not a priority to this governor,” Addabbo said in an interview with The Forum. “There is no rational reason why a decision has not been made.” Addabbo says his criticism is based on the fact that lawmakers have had all the necessary information on bidders for six months. “We have every piece of information on the bidders to make a decision. We can’t get started without some type of decision.

Addabbo says he is frustrated over the fact that so much revenue has been lost during the standstill and that many jobs would have been created long ago to help the local economy. “The legislature must make a decision and move forward. Whoever the vendor is, we will work with them to provide the best plan for the state and most importantly for the community that surrounds Aqueduct.”

Sate Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer shares some of the senator’s concerns. “His [Paterson’s] decision is what we’ve been waiting for.” Pheffer says that although the governor, the Assembly speaker and the senate president must agree on a choice, with a preference by the governor the three heads of state will have something concrete to talk about. “What this is really about,” said Pheffer, “is agreeing on a vendor and then working to make sure they are good neighbors to the community.

No matter where opinions weigh in on the decision, one thing is for sure — every day of delay costs the state a tremendous amount of revenue. With the governor’s promised deadline within days, those who have been involved in the process hope the end is in sight.

“After a decision is made,” said Addabbo, “The winning bidder will have up to 90 days before an actual payment to the state is made.” That amount of time says the senator is dangerously close to the end of this fiscal year. “We included the $200 million dollar upfront payment from the winner in the state’s deficit reduction plan we passed in December. We need that money before the end of this fiscal year.”

Concerns at NYRA continue to grow and the agency warned last month they may not have the capital to run the Belmont Stakes in the spring if they do not start receiving revenue from the VLTs. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has since launched an audit of NYRA whom official say they hope will comply.

Ulrich, Fellow Republicans Sworn in by Bloomberg

Republicans Hold Most Council Seats in Decade

By Patricia Adams

City Council member Eric Ulrich was among 5 Republican minority caucus members sworn in by Mayor Bloomberg last Wednesday. Following the ceremony, Minority Leader James Oddo, Council members Eric Ulrich and Vincent Ignizio and Councilmen-elect Dan Halloran and Peter Koo took an oath of office presided over by the office of the city clerk.

The “GOP five” asked Bloomberg to preside over the swearing in and the mayor accepted, congratulating the Republicans on their historic membership increase—two more Republicans were elected to the council than last term; the council now has more Republican members than it has had over the past ten years.

"I would be shocked if you guys didn't make an enormous contribution," Bloomberg said at the ceremony. “We’re going to work together. Not as Republicans, not as Independents, not as Democrats, but as New Yorkers.”

Councilmember Ulrich said he was looking forward to working closely with his Republican colleagues and the rest of the council in the upcoming term. “I am honored to have been given the opportunity to serve my community,” Ulrich said. “I think with the increased minority presence in the council we will have great success in advancing common sense legislation and policies and help the council strive for more bipartisan leadership.”

The entire city council was officially sworn in on January 6.

Barbara Sheehan Returns to Court

The defense team for Barbara Sheehan returned to court on Tuesday, this time appearing before the new judge in the case, Justice Richard Buchter. Following the departure from the case of Justice Arthur Cooperman, defense attorney Michael Dowd seemed more optimistic about his client facing trial presided over by Buchter.

“I feel that with Judge Buchter she [Barbara] will get a fair trial. He’s a reasonable man and I know he will keep an open mind.” Although it is unlikely, Dowd is still hopeful that Butcher will overturn a decision by Cooperman which prohibits the introduction of expert testimony as part of Sheehan’s defense.

The controversial decision was made by Cooperman in November, two months before he officially resigned from the bench at the end of the year. Attorneys for Sheehan say their case was derailed by Cooperman’s decision to exclude testimony from psychologists in the field of domestic violence; and that it will be very difficult to present an accurate picture of the situation to the jury without the benefit of expert testimony.

Sheehan is scheduled to return to court on February 24. She faces murder charges in the 2008 shooting death of her husband, Raymond. No date has yet been set for trial.

Teacher Busted in Online Sex Sting

A 27-year-old Brooklyn high school teacher has admitted to attempting to arrange a sexual rendezvous with a person he met online and believed to be a 14-year-old girl.

Alexander D. Kravitz, of 2107 East 7th Street in Brooklyn and a teacher at William E. Grady Vocational High School in Brighton Beach, pleaded guilty on Monday to first-degree attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor. He is expected to receive 90 days in jail and five years’ probation when sentenced on February 24 and will be forced to surrender his state teaching credentials and computer and register as a sex offender.

“This case underscores the crucial importance of Internet surveillance initiatives by law enforcement to protect our children from sexual predators and should serve as a warning to parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet access and activities,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “It is particularly disturbing that the defendant in this case was a teacher who is entrusted to look out for the well-being of children.”

According to the charges, an NYPD vice detective was operating in his undercover persona as a 14-year-old girl from Queens between Nov. 13, 2008 and Jan. 7, 2009, during which time he received numerous instant messages from the defendant, who was using the screen name EVRYDAYGURLS. The defendant’s messages were sexual in nature and, on at least two occasions, included live video of him masturbating.

Kravitz was arrested when he appeared at a pre-arranged Queens location for what he believed would be a sexual encounter with the 14-year-old girl with whom he had been instant messaging. He was taken into custody after approaching a female undercover police officer and identifying himself as the person from the online chats.