Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Census, Voting Machines and Budget the Focus at Addabbo Town Hall

By Tamara Best

The late state budget, 2010 census and the new electronic voting machines were among key issues discussed in a Ridgewood town hall meeting held by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D- Howard Beach) last week.

“No elected official has all the answers to the issues,” he told a group of approximately 40 residents who came out to IS 93 on Forest Avenue last week. “The ideas are out there among constituents and if we do our jobs right as elected officials we hear them,” he said.

***Budget wait- soon over?***

“I am more optimistic that there is a budget late this week or early next week,” Addabbo said Tuesday.

This week, the legislature was presented with Governor David Patterson’s proposed healthcare changes, which account for 40 percent of the state budget, in the form of an extender. An extender allows the legislature to vote either “yes” or “no” on an issue without the option of debate.

Though opposed to the proposal because of cuts to hospitals and healthcare providers, Addabbo said the legislature felt forced to vote, and voted in favor of the governor’s proposal to avoid more drastic outcomes.

“The reason we had to vote for it is because if we voted it down because we didn’t like it, state government would essentially be shut down,” Addabbo said, adding that voting it down could have resulted in massive layoffs and closures of public facilities. Local communities have already been dealt a major blow with the closures of three area hospitals.

Addabbo said Monday’s session has “tremendously” increased the incentive for the legislature to approve a budget, in an effort to avoid accepting more drastic cuts put forth, via extenders.

“We know we need to make cuts in every aspect of the state budget,” he said. “But it’s important to note that when we are able to do so financially, I’ll work on restoring as much of these cuts as possible.”

***2010 Census***

A pressing issue impacting the West is the lack of response to the 2010 census thus far.

Ridgewood, Glendale and Maspeth are all below 50 percent at mailed in responses, according to the Senator’s office.

“We’re down to 17 percent in some areas,” he said, adding that the low response is a combination of apathy and fear that responses will not be kept confidential.

Addabbo said an accurate count is important to enable the area to receive millions of dollars of government funds needed to function and make improvements. However, he added that filling out the census is also important to representation with district lines drawn based on population shifts.

Residents who have not filled out their census forms can still do so via phone until July 30th from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. with six different languages available. See for the corresponding number for each language.

Census takers are also going door-to-door through July to residences that have not yet completed the form.

***Concerns over the polls***

Addabbo, who is also chair of the state Senate Elections Committee, continues to express concern over the implementation of the new Electronic Ballot Marking System.

“If you want someone not to vote, frustrate them a little bit. Just a little bit and they will stay home,” he said.

Aside from concerns that cuts to the Board of Elections could eliminate training dollars for poll workers, residents also expressed concern about the potential lack of privacy when casting their ballot.

With the new system, if a ballot can’t be read by the machine, poll workers who will then assist voters may be able to see their vote.

Addabbo says he is opposed to implementing the system this year because of many concerns such as privacy and absentee voting.

He went on to express confidence in officials who will work to make September’s primary elections run smoothly. “If we have to use it [BMD] this year, somehow we’ll make it work.”

“We’re trying to make the process a little more feasible because I do foresee that people are going to be frustrated with the new machines and we don’t want to lose their vote,“ he said, adding that the “protecting the integrity” of the vote is a priority.

DOT Discusses Ways to Improve Busy Intersection

By Patricia Adams
The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) made a presentation to Community Board 10 last week regarding the intersection at Liberty Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard.

The project which is nearing the implementation phase is designed to address intersection safety and traffic improvements.

The original study for the problem area was launched after a child pedestrian fatality occurred at Crossbay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. The intersection was also identified by NYPD as a challenging location. A request for review by the Queens DOT Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy prompted the study which falls within the Woodhaven Boulevard Congested Corridors study area.

Representatives pointed out that the area has many existing conditions contributing to congestion and safety threats. Seven bus lines, the Rockaway Blvd. subway station and an elevated train which runs over Liberty Avenue all converge on the intersection.

Other major problems include a peak traffic volume of more than 2,000 vehicles an hour, complex physical geometry and very large pedestrian volume-- a large percentage of them children.

According to a scale of severity-weighted scale ranking Queens’ intersections, Rockaway & Woodhaven Boulevard ranks in the 99th percentile with nearby Rockaway Blvd. and 94th street close behind in the 89th percentile.

A total of 207 injuries were documented from 2004-2008 with two pedestrian fatalities included.

Following the conclusion of the study the DOT has made several recommendations to
address concerns. At Crossbay and Woodhaven Boulevards, two streets will be converted to plaza space, expansion in the north bound left turn lanes and added capacity at
Rockaway Boulevard.

At Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue proposed solutions
include constructing a pedestrian refuge island,while expanding an existing one and installing a traffic signal at 96th street and a more direct crosswalk.

Among the overall benefits, according to the DOT, is the reduction of conflict between pedestrians, vehicle and bus traffic. All intersections will be more crosser-friendly at a rate of 3.5 feet/sec and more easily navigable for both drivers and pedestrians. The plan also offers reduced crossing distances, more public space and simpler, safer left turns.

Later in the week DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy and other representatives from DOT made an additional presentation for community members and media to kick off a study to look at congestion along Liberty Avenue from Woodhaven Boulevard to the Van Wyck Expressway.

District Attorneys Testify Against Proposed Budget Cuts

The Forum Newsgroup

The city’s five district attorneys recently urged the City Council to restore cuts proposed in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget during testimony at City Hall.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was joined by Charles Hynes of Brooklyn, Robert Johnson of the Bronx, Daniel Donovan of Staten Island and Cyrus Vance, Jr., of Manhattan at a hearing held last week by the City Council’s Finance and Public Safety committees. They were joined by Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan.

District Attorney Brown noted that in the nearly nine years since 9/11, the budgets of the city’s prosecutors have sustained cumulative reductions from the city totaling about twenty percent, which he called “deep cuts that have greatly impacted on our ability to provide the level of prosecutorial service to which the people of this city are entitled to expect and which will keep them safe and secure.”

He said the reduction in city funding “is magnified by significantly reduced funding on the federal and state levels – both in terms of direct funding and with respect to the reduction or elimination of various grant opportunities.”

In addition, the number of NYPD detectives assigned to his office has been reduced, forcing the district attorneys to hire additional personnel.

Since 1993, arrests are up in Queens by more than eighty percent – from about 42,500 to almost 75,000 last year. The proposed funding reduction from the city “would have a profound impact on our operations and on the level of essential services that we will be able to provide to the residents of Queens County,” added Brown.

“While I recognize the serious financial difficulties that face the city in the years ahead and continue to be willing to do our fair share, it makes little sense to attempt to remedy the situation by cutting public safety dollars to the point where our ability to maintain the gains of the last decade is in jeopardy,” concluded Brown.

Forest Hills 10-year-old Advances to Scripps Semifinals

By Tamara Best

Arvind Mahankali may not have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee title
but the 10-year-old has received recognition that most people never see in a lifetime— a day named in his honor.

The fifth grader, who made it into the semifinals of the Bee, said he was “really
surprised” and “excited” by the honor.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D – ForestHills), who welcomed Arvind and his
family home to the neighborhood on Sunday, declared June 6 “Arvind Mahankali Day” in Queens.

“Not only is he my pick to win next year’s spelling bee, but he’s an incredibly
nice kid,” said Rep. Weiner. “His family deserves a lot of credit for being
such wonderful ambassadors for Forest Hills and our City.”

The journey to become a spelling whiz began long before he could pronounce
the words he now spells so easily in competitions.

***From the living room to the stage***

At four years old Arvind used to sit in front of the family television mesmerized
by spelling bee competitions.

Arvind’s cousin, Sanjay Kottapalli, participated in the Bee in 2008 and 2009.

"When I was a little kid I watched Scripps and I got inspired. It's the
spelling olympics," he said with a smile.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee began in 1925 with nine contestants,gaining national notoriety when it began live broadcasting in 1946. This year, a record 273 students from all over the world participated after winning competitions at the classroom,grade, school and next levels determined by the local spelling bee sponsors.

Arvind was the only speller from within the New York City area to make
it to the semifinals. Studying the Merriam-Webster dictionary four hours every day, he uses a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to track words he has difficulty spelling.

"And even when I'm not studying,sometimes my parents quiz me on words I don't know."
Srinivas Mahankali, Arvind’s father,said they also occasionally hold informal
family spelling bees at home.

"I won once," the proud father said with a laugh.

The 5th grader also receives support from students and teachers at Forest Hills Montessori School, saying that his classmates quiz him during the first part of recess.

"The night before the race I usually study for an extra hour. I always get

And after each successful round, he celebrates.

“I got new video games,” claiming that Pok√©mon is his favorite. “Occasionally,
I take a day off.”
A dream, turned reality

For Arvind, the best part of his participation in Scripps was not the actual competition but making new friends.

Still he said the trip was “mostly business” and before speaking a letter into the microphone he had a set routine.

“I just focus on the word and think I should ask all the questions and fit it together like a puzzle.”

He did just that and reached the semifinals by spelling manciple (officer of a monastery or college), pergelisol (permafrost), effleurage (a delicate stroking motion in a massage) and metarteriole (a short vessel that links arterioles and capillaries)correctly.

"When he got the word “metarteriole”right I was so proud, I didn't remember much after that,” his father explained.

And as for the word he missed, Arvind now spells it without hesitation.

"P-R-E-S-A. Presa," he said, which is defined as a cannon or round used in music.

During the competition, he spelled it “P-R-A-S-A” and was the last contestant eliminated before the finals, which were televised live on ABC.

Arvind’s elimination was deemed controversial by some because other contestants were
allowed to advance, despite not having to spell a third word prior to moving on as a finalist.

“I was a little disappointed but now I just think I should study a little better,” he said of being eliminated.

***Moving forward***

In addition to Rep. Weiner’s proclamation,his school also threw a surprise party to celebrate his accomplishment.

Yet, rather than bask in his achievement,Arvind said he resumes training this week.
When asked if he plans on entering next year he replied without hesitation.

"Of course. I want to win."

However, Arvind said if he wins next year, he would move onto other challenges. When
asked what those may be, he said, “Like superhero training."

As for what his superhero power would be, Arvind says, "I would control gravity."

Como to Challenge Addabbo for State Senate This Fall

By Conor Greene

This fall’s showdown for the state Senate in the 15th District appears set following former Republican City Councilman Anthony Como’s announcement that he will challenge incumbent Democrat Senator Joseph Addabbo for his seat in Albany.

A report published over the weekend indicated that Como would continue to pursue a job as the new executive director at the Board of Elections instead of challenging Addabbo, who is serving his first term in Albany.

However, Como says he has since been bombarded with phone calls and messages from residents, colleagues, party leaders and elected officials urging him to reconsider and launch a campaign against Addabbo.

“What happened was, they [party leaders] have been asking me to run for quite sometime, and we have been discussing it for quite some time,” said Como on Wednesday. “I made a decision with my wife that it’s best for now, based on my experience with the Board of Elections, to not run and take the position at BOE.”

According to Como, all that changed when word spread that he wasn’t running for Senate.

“All of a sudden, I didn’t expect it, but it started snowballing and my phone was ringing non-stop. I actually got calls from constituents saying they had read the article that I wasn’t running... It was really just overwhelming,” said Como.

Como noted that polls have shown him to be either close to or leading Addabbo at this early point in the race. “I’m the only challenger in the state that is leading the incumbent, and I’m very proud of that. It’s a testament to the hard work I’ve done,” he said.

Como hasn’t run a campaign since Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) defeated him in November 2008, five months after he had won the 30th Council District seat in a special election. His focus over the past few days has been getting his campaign operations up and running again.

“We’re already getting pretty much organized with non-stop meetings and phone calls,” he said. “At this point my law practice is on hold, since this is going to be a full- time campaign.”

He hopes to open a campaign office in Glendale within the next week or so, and plans on eventually opening a second campaign office elsewhere in the district.

“This is not something we’re going to do lackadaisically. This is something that a lot of people have a very important interest in,” he said. “Besides politics, a lot of people want to see change and stop what’s going on in Albany, and they know this is how you do it.”

After serving two terms on the City Council, Addabbo defeated longtime Republican Senator Serf Maltese, who is Como’s political mentor, in 2008. He said Wednesday that he was expecting a challenge all along, whether it be in the primary or general elections.

“No matter who was going to announce against me, I was going to take that person
seriously, and I’m obviously taking this campaign very seriously,” said Addabbo. “I have the opportunity to go into the district and talk about my accomplishments over the last two years with my constituents. I’m proud of the work my staff and I have done, and there is so much more to do, so I’m looking forward to talking about that.”

Addabbo counts among his accomplishments over the past two years the 13 laws he spearheaded that were signed into law, including ones protecting seniors and veterans.

“Many people tell me that is somewhat unheard of for a freshman senator,” he said.

In addition, he says he has fulfilled two major campaign promises by providing a 24- hour, operator staffed hotline so that constituents can “avail themselves of the services of the senate office” around the clock, and by opening two district offices.

“What’s important to me is the local issues that I’ve attended to,” said Addabbo.

Even still, Como will argue throughout the campaign that Addabbo is part of the problem as a member of the Democrat party now in complete control in Albany. He notes that the budget is several months late and says the state is starting to have trouble paying its bills.

“We have Democratic leaders threatening to shut everything down, and that is ridiculous,” he charged, adding that hospitals, senior centers and fire companies have all either closed or are on the chopping block as a result of the political dysfunction.

“It’s gotten to the point where we need to stop it before God forbid it gets to the breaking point, and this is the way to do it. Voters are sending a clear message that enough is enough.”

In response, Addabbo argues that voters need to evaluate incumbents on a “case by case basis.”

He says he has “certainly tried to separate [himself] from the problems that have existed in Albany for decades,” long before he was elected.

“We are going forward as much as we could with ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” added Addabbo. “We have a lot more to do, so as chair of the Elections Committee, I want to clean up elections and the Senate in general, in a more transparent and efficient manner. I see myself as part of the solution, but you can only do so much in two years.”

While both candidates sought to keep the focus on themselves in interviews this week, they did make it clear that they consider themselves the best for the job.

“I make it a principal not to talk about my opponent, but I’ll tell you this: in difficult times, the people deserve a full time Senator who is going to focus full time on the Senate,” said Addabbo. “I gave up my law practice, love this job and think it’s a privilege representing the people in Albany.”

In response to Como’s decision to run after abandoning his push for the BOE job, Addabbo said: “I read all the articles about him going for that position, and whatever his personal decision is for running, he doesn’t have to explain it. I just know what my focus is.”

Said Como: “He’s a good guy, but I just know I can do a better job, and that people believe in me. His campaign came out and started attacking me about backroom politics.

When you have nothing good to say about your candidate, you attack. It’s time to stand up to serious issues and fight for residents again, not only in the 15th District, but to return this state to where it once was.”

There were also rumors that Maspeth businessman Tony Nunziato would challenge Addabbo. However, Nunziato said Wednesday that he is still in discussions with party leaders to determine what is best for everyone.

“Right now, we’re looking at the options of what I’m going to be doing,” he said.

If Como does move forward with the Senate bid, Nunziato will instead once again challenge Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D- Maspeth) in a rematch of the 2008 election. In that case, Nunziato said he would support Como’s campaign against Addabbo.

“I’ll be running for something, that’s safe to say,” said Nunziato. “I work as a team as far as the party, and I’m looking to see what’s best as far as the party.”

Aqueduct Again

Six Bidders Attend Opening Conference

By Patricia Adams

Billed as the “most expensive ticket in town” by New York Lottery Director Gordon Medenica, six bidders have shelled out the $1 million entry fee to compete in the newest bidding war to operate Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) at Aqueduct.

At a mandatory bidders conference held at the racetrack on Tuesday, Medenica explained the details of the new process including the extraction of any political involvement in the process. Further provisions of the revamped process propose transparency, objectivity focused on making money for education and speed.

"The facility, when it reaches maturity, is probably going to be making an estimated $250 million a year for the state. And again, all those funds go to education," said Medenica.

Several bidders have returned to the process which has met with delay and been the source of frustration for both supporters and opponents. For S.L. Green Realty
Group and Delaware North, it will be their third trip to capture the “brass ring”, and the second try for Penn National.

Three other bidders, Empire City Casino Yonkers Raceway, Genting New York and the Toronto-based Clairvest Group will make their first try for Aqueduct. Clairvest was partnered with Aqueduct Entertainment Group who won the last bid but was
later disqualified.

The Lottery’s responses to open questions from the bidders revealed that entering into the final rounds of bidding could be very risky business-- the winning bidder could lose their upfront $300 million if they can’t finalize their plan and sign a contract.

Additionally, the Lottery has said they will not guarantee Con Edison’s pledge that it can bring sufficient power to the area. Further questions by the bidders must be submitted to the Lottery by Tuesday, June 15 which then has seven days to issue their responses. Proposals from the bidders are due two weeks later on June 29. An evaluation committee comprised of executives from the NYS Lottery Commission will score and recommend a winner on August 3.

Gov. Patterson is reportedly committed to endorsing the Lottery’s selection. The Lottery estimates that the opening date for the facility will be 12 to 18 months
from the date of award.