Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Community Board 9 Has Got Your Back

the Campus

Home > Opinion

Community Board 9 Has Got Your Back
J Reyes-Montblanc, chairman of Community Board 9 (Manhattan)

Issue date: 1/29/07 Section: Opinion

Media Credit: Peter Lemons
Tales of the Towers can bring chills
Dear Editor,

Upon visiting your website, I found the article, "Chilling Towers Revealed" (Dec. 11 Issue), which greatly disturbed me both as chairman of Community Board 9 Manhattan (CB9M) and as a long time resident.

The fact that there appears to be a rash of muggings, some at gun-point, and that no one from CCNY has ever bothered either to notify CB9M, or to ask for our assistance is, indeed, very disturbing and disappointing.

I am reaching out to CCNY students to bring these issues to our Uniform Services & Transportation Committee Meeting, the First Thursday of February (Feb. 1) at 6:30 p.m. at the CB9M Office (565 West 125th steet).

In fact the invitation is open to all of our committees and our general board meetings, which take place on the third Thursday of every month, except July and August, when most committees are in summer hiatus.

The students who reside within our district, as well as those who commute, should not only feel safe, but must be safe. And if they are not, or don't feel so, they should know where to bring their concerns and complaints. You are part of our community.

Although the CCNY administration may have been remiss in their communications with CB9M, we have always stood with CCNY when requested to do so, even if no reciprocal treatment was forthcoming from the CCNY administration.

Members of the CCNY community, when in our district, you are one of us, always.
- J Reyes-Montblanc, chairman of CB9M

Issue Summary
One Sign, So Much Controversy
Electric Transformers to Displace Books
House Approves Bill to Halve Interest on Student Loans
Revamped Shuttle Service Runs Two Loops
Parking Becomes Scarcer at City College
Political Headlines Around the Globe
Welcome! It's Time for a New Start
A Fight for Rights, Truth
A Matter of Principle
The USG's New Deal
Welcome from Student Ombudsperson
Community Board 9 Has Got Your Back
The Jews of the Caribbean
Valentine's Day Dedications
Celebrating 100 Years
The Success of 'Dreamgirls' Underscores the Deficiencies of the Music Industry
A Tribute to Langston Hughes
Spring Movies to See and Dodge
Smoothing Things Out
Henry Magic: Arsenal Comeback Tightens Premiership Race
Looking Behind City Sports' Unpopularity
Community Bulletin
Happenin's at CCNY

Most Popular Articles
One Sign, So Much Controversy
A Matter of Principle
A Fight for Rights, Truth
The Jews of the Caribbean
Happenin's at CCNY

Did the administration do the right thing in removing the sign naming NAC 3/201 as the "Guillermo Morales / Assata Shakur Community and Student Center?"

Yes. All space names must be approved by the Board of Trustees, the administration was only following rules.
Yes. Morales and Shakur are not worthy of the honor of having a room named after them.
No. Removing the sign is a violation of the students' freedom of speech. They should be able to honor whomever they wish.
No. Morales and Shakur were heroes and deserved to be honored.

None of the above
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Who cares?
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Draft Plan Provides for Eminent Domain - Columbia Document Anticipates Blight Finding for Manhattanville Area; Study Incomplete

Columbia Spectator

Home > News

Draft Plan Provides for Eminent Domain
Columbia Document Anticipates Blight Finding for Manhattanville Area; Study Incomplete

By Erin Durkin and Anna Phillips
Issue date: 1/31/07 Section: News
[Click to enlarge]

Lawyers for Columbia have drafted a plan for the University's proposed Manhattanville expansion, which anticipates that the area will be declared blighted and provides for the use of eminent domain to acquire property.

The draft of the document, known as a General Project Plan, was written by Kramer Levin, a law firm employed by Columbia, and submitted to the Empire State Development Corporation, a state authority that has the power to use eminent domain.

Columbia has maintained that it hopes to acquire all the properties in its Manhattanville expansion zone, which stretches from 125th to 133rd streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue, by negotiation with owners, but it has refused to take the option of eminent domain off the table. Though the document does not represent a departure from that position, it is the clearest evidence to date of how far preparations for eminent domain use have advanced.

"Parcels which Columbia is unable to purchase would be acquired by ESDC through the exercise of the power of eminent domain," states the plan, obtained by Spectator under the Freedom of Information Law.

The development corporation is currently conducting a Columbia-funded study that could result in a finding of blight for Manhattanville, but such a determination has not yet been reached.
"The blight study is still underway," said ESDC spokesman A.J. Carter, Journalism '73, adding that he did not know when it would be completed.

But the draft GPP presumes that a blight finding will be forthcoming.

"ESDC ... makes the findings set forth below ... That the area in which the project is to be located is a substandard or unsanitary area, or is in danger of becoming a substandard or unsanitary area and tends to impair or arrest the sound growth and development of the municipality," it states.

The document, referring to the still unfinished study, reads: "The Community Impact Study concluded that the Project Site is characterized by blighted conditions that are unlikely to be removed without public action. [to be completed based on Community Impact Study] The Community Impact Study concluded that the Project would remove these blighted conditions.

"The conditions necessary for a blight finding are not clearly defined by law, but overcrowding, deteriorating buildings, irregularity of plots, crime, lack of sanitation, fire hazards, pollution, and diverse land ownership that makes assembling tracts of property difficult have been among contributing factors in past cases.

Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin said that it was standard procedure for a developer to prepare a General Project Plan and that the University's lawyers had drafted it before the completion of the blight study in the interest of time. "If upon completion of a blight study there were a determination by ESDC that no blight exists, that provision ... would be dropped," he said.

"It's written on a presumption of a state of facts," Kasdin said. "To the extent that the facts change or the presumptions change over time, the drafts are altered."

He said that the draft GPP, which is dated Sept. 22, reflected the "notion that was held in September of what the appropriate arguments would be." He added, "It's important to note, however, that irrespective of what a party seeking assistance from ESDC argues, ESDC exercises totally independent judgment ... to determine whether or not the arguments that are being made are persuasive."

Carter agreed. "It's a process that evolves over time," he said. "There's nothing unusual about this."

Though Columbia and ESDC referred to it as standard procedure, Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney who represents several Manhattanville business owners who have refused to sell to Columbia, said that Columbia's role in preparing the GPP raised doubts about ESDC's impartiality. "It puts into question the role of the ESDC. Are they there to be the neutral monitor of the process and a neutral decision maker? Or alternatively, are they a facilitator for the developer?" he said.

He said that the preparation of a plan that assumes a blight finding before such a determination has been made was "extremely objectionable."

"The ESDC should not be prejudging anything at this state of the process," he said, adding that he and his clients would "vigorously challenge" a blight finding, in court if necessary. "The West Harlem and Manhattanville community is not blighted," he said.

"This is a study that's being done for Columbia's benefit," said Community Board 9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc. "I think it's totally beneath contempt. The integrity of Columbia is really put into question by stooping to something like this. This is not the Columbia we all know and admire and fight with every so often."

In addition to the redevelopment of a blighted area, the GPP points to civic improvement as a rationale for eminent domain, saying that Columbia's new campus would fill a need in the area for educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, or public service facilities. It further says that the property would be acquired in stages within 10 years of the date that ESDC is entitled to go forward with the eminent domain proceedings. The cost of acquiring the properties would be paid by Columbia.Before the GPP could be implemented, it would have to be adopted by ESDC, go through a process of public review, and receive final approval from the agency.

In addition to the eminent domain provisions, the GPP lays out details of relocation plans for tenants who live in several apartment buildings in Manhattanville, all of whom would be displaced by the expansion project. "All existing residential occupants within the Project Site who are legally occupying a residential dwelling unit ... would, providing they remain in good standing under their occupancy agreements, be relocated to decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings, within the boundaries of Manhattan Community Board 9 or in other areas not generally less desirable, at rents or prices within the financial means of the displaced person(s)," it states.

Each household would receive a one-time $5,000 payment to assist with relocation and to "compensate occupants for the inconvenience of having to move, and to encourage them to vacate their units as quickly as possible."

An earlier draft of the plan lays out similar provisions for commercial tenants, saying that they will receive a re-establishment payment capped at $20,000. These provisions were deleted in the subsequent draft. A memo to ESDC from Kramer Levin says, "We need to discuss commercial relocation with you further." Kasdin said he did not know why the provisions were deleted.

Monday, January 29, 2007

IMPLICATIONS: Rezoning 125th

Columbia Spectator

Home > News

IMPLICATIONS: Rezoning 125th
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 1/29/07 Section: News

Media Credit:
NYC Dept. of Planning
[Click to enlarge]

Few landmarks determine the Harlem landscape like the monolithic Adam Clayton Powell building and the Apollo sign, but these landmarks may not always dwarf their surroundings. New zoning plans proposed by the city for the 125th Street corridor will create guidelines for development that, if approved, will radically change the landscape of Harlem's main street within the next decade.

Under new zoning, the plan would turn the area into a denser, busier corridor with taller buildings. Ground floor space would be denied to banks, hotels, and residences in favor of retailers and other establishments designed to turn the street into a lively pedestrian thoroughfare. The area subject to these changes are the 24 blocks contained between 124th and 126th streets and between Broadway and Second Avenue, with several places excluded from the plans because they are part of other development projects.

The 125th Street corridor rezoning does not include areas west of Broadway because Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion plan, as well as Community Board 9's 197-a plan already provide zoning proposals for this area. CB9's 197-a plan is more akin to the 125th rezoning plan as both are visions of an area with the intent of attracting developments rather than plans for specific building projects. On the east side, the zoning changes stop at Second Avenue, where city zoning plans particular to East Harlem take over.

The existing zoning for 125th Street, which dates back to 1961, calls for mostly low to medium density commercial and residential development. What this means is that a grocery store and an apartment building can share the same block, but will likely not exceed five stories in height. In the past, zoning changes in Harlem have generally consisted of individual modifications made and petitioned by developers. On a case-by-case basis, 125th Street and its surrounding environs have begun to change, but with no comprehensive vision in place to guide the process.

Several areas are marked for manufacturing and high-density commercial purposes and, because of financial incentives created by the Community Reinvestment Act for banks that locate in low-income areas, numerous banks populate the street.

The Culture Corridor

Within the rezoning boundaries, the city has designated a smaller section as the Arts and Entertainment Core Subdistrict, in the center of 125th Street. This is the stretch from Frederick Douglass Boulevard to midway between Malcolm X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue, and is based around the Apollo Theater, the Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Victoria Theater, which is currently undergoing redevelopment.

According to Rachaele Raynoff, the press secretary for the Department of City Planning, the placement of the arts district was also based on the area being a transportation hub on 125th where subway lines and bus stations convene.

Under the plan, the new zoning for this subdistrict would promote the growth of cultural institutions. While ground floor space would be denied to banks, hotels and residential uses throughout the area-specifically within this subdistrict-priority would be given to what the draft scope of the Environmental Impact Statement calls "active uses." New venues with 60,000 square feet of floor area or more would have to devote five percent of their total floor area to arts and entertainment related activities. The document lists acceptable venues such as art galleries, auditoriums, bookstores, music stores, and art studios.

Some business owners are excited about the proposed changes and look forward to a possible increase in tourism.

JC Ramos, an assistant manager of Lids, a hat store on 125th Street, noted that most of the store's business comes from tourists who journey uptown to see the Apollo and then cross the street for souvenirs and shopping.

"I think it [the rezoning] is good," he said. "Expanding makes Harlem more tourist friendly.This may be good news for music store owner Sikhulu Shange, who opened the Record Shack on 125th Street some 35 years ago and has been struggling to pay his $10,000 a month rent.

Shange, like a number of other business owners on the street, was unaware of the rezoning plans."We just work so hard that we can't get out and talk to those who are in touch with City Hall," he said.

Shange remained uncertain that the change would be beneficial."It's hard to say what is going to be good for us," he said. "Because whatever comes in here, it will all be foreign to the community."

Affordable Housing

Aside from creating a vibrant pedestrian experience, as nearly every sentence in the draft scope emphasizes, the plans also address the issue that pervades Manhattan: affordable housing.

According to the draft scope document, in areas rezoned for medium to high density residential development, developers could gain bonus floor area depending on the amount of lower-income housing they provide. To be eligible, a developer would have to dedicate at least 20 percent of a development's floor area to affordable housing.

The document defines low-income housing as units that are affordable to those at or below the 80 percent of Area Median Income. To qualify, the units must remain permanently affordable and must be built in the same community district or in a neighboring district within a half-mile of the market rate units.

"What they [HPD] want to achieve is an incentive that will actually work and will happen without being a disincentive to new housing construction," Raynoff said.

"And that's what we're getting, it's working."
Similar incentives are being used in Hudson Yards and Williamsburg.

In addition to the floor space bonus, new housing developments can qualify for city, state, and federal subsidy programs that reward affordable housing with tax breaks.

Along 125th between Broadway and Morningside Drive, the proposed zoning does not include the affordable housing bonus, nor does it increase the density or FAR (floor area ratio) standards.

Part of the reason for this is the General Grant Houses, a New York City Housing Authority project that covers a large expanse of this area on the south side of 125th. Built as "tower in the park" structures, the General Grant Houses are exactly what the new zoning plans are trying to avoid. They are built away from the street and face towards one another, creating an insular environment typical of 1950s and '60s public housing. What the DCP wants, and has developed a plan to create, is a bustling streetscape with building walls that face forward, looking onto the street. With this in mind, it's no surprise that Raynoff mentioned Jane Jacobs' work several times in the course of explaining the plan's goals.

Additionally, this stretch of 125th street has low density zoning, and Raynoff said the DCP is working to "reflect the existing, built character" of the neighborhood. Visually, what this could mean is that between Columbia's proposed Manhattanville campus and the medium-to-high-density proposed commercial district on 125th would be a valley of lower buildings.

Columbia's proposed expansion plans and the DCP's draft scope are in accord, as Columbia's designs show that no streets on its Manhattanville campus would be closed like 116th Street. This would allow the two plans to join on Broadway.

"Essentially every step we made is fully aware of the strengths of the surrounding communities and the desire to knit what we're doing into the surrounding communities. No streets are being closed in our plan." said senior executive vice president Robert Kasdin.

What's to Come

At a Jan. 18 meeting held by the DCP and local elected officials in the Adam Clayton Powell building, West, East and Central Harlem community members gathered to discuss the draft scope of the EIS.

Among the many voices, there were those who feared that commercialization would turn 125th Street into a carbon copy of other large thoroughfares like 34th Street and 14th Street. Others voiced approval for the increased density and creation of a main commercial district.

"We want low-income housing. We want something for us old Harlemites. We don't just want developers coming in and getting rich. What do we get back?" said attendee Dr. John Norvell.

"We're not about to turn 125th Street into 42nd Street or Wall Street."

Kay Samuels agreed. "At this point I feel like downtown is coming for Harlem, and we have to put a stop to it," she said. "Where are our politicians when we need them?"

Walter South, a member of Community Board 9, wrote in a memo to Edwin Marshall, a DCP project manager, that "the key to improving 125th Street is not the issue of rezoning but of improvements in public transportation." In his memo, South outlined the formula for another vision of 125th in which the street would be transformed into a pedestrian mall and traffic would be diverted to 124th and 126th streets.

Joining the chorus of suggestions, the 125th Street Business Improvement District, a non-profit group composed of about 100 businesses in Harlem, has suggested an alternate plan that would create incentives for cultural developments.

Eric Washington, a Manhattanville historian and author, said he was concerned that the plan would homogenize the area. "I'm not sure that there's a consensus on what people mean by 'cultural centers' and things like that," he said. "Harlem is not monolithic and it's a big community, geographically. There are a lot of different experiences in Harlem ... and I think it would be very wrong to think of 125th Street as a single street."

Following DCP procedure, individuals and elected officials will be given ten days to respond to the draft scope of the EIS.Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman Inez Dickens have requested that the comment period be extended.After this, the DCP will compose a draft of the EIS. "We are certainly hoping to do this in the first half of the year," said Raynoff. But I don't want to make a commitment, these things sometimes shift a little bit."

Hayley Negrin and Sara Vogel contributed to this article.

Friday, January 26, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, January 29th, 2007 - Sunday, February 4th,

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 14:53:26 -0500 (EST)
From: "NYC Council Legislative Update"
Subject: City Council Calendar for Monday, January 29th, 2007 - Sunday, February 4th, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday, January 29th, 2007 - Sunday, February 4th,

- - - - - - Community Conversations on the Budget - - - - - - -

In addition to legislative hearings held at City Hall, the Council is holding
meetings in every borough for individuals to identify their community's needs
and priorities. Also note that Budget ideas may be emailed directly to Speaker
Quinn at:
This week's meetings include:
Queens Community Conversation Meeting
Tuesday, January 30th - 7:00pm
York College Performing Arts Center
More info at

- - - - - - - Legislative Calendar - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Monday, January 29, 2007 **
Subcommittee(s) on: Senior Centers
10:00 AM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Oversight - Department for the Aging (DFTA) Report: Critical Factors in the
Successful Utilization of Senior Center Meals

Joint Meeting. Committee(s) on: Governmental Operations; Technology in
10:00 AM, Council Chambers - City Hall
Oversight: Developments with New York City's Compliance with The Help America
Vote Act of 2002 and Security Issues Relating to the Selection of Permanent
Voting Systems
Res 131: Resolution urging the New York State Board of Elections to promptly
certify Precinct Based/Optical Scan voting systems for procurement by the local
Boards of Elections and urging the New York City Board of Elections to select a
Precinct Based/Optical Scan system as the new voting technology for the City of
New York.

Joint Meeting. Committee(s) on: General Welfare; Immigration
1:00 PM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight: Follow up hearing on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: An
Immigration Remedy for Abused, Neglected, and Abandoned Children
Committee(s) on: Youth Services
1:00 PM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - Out-of-School Time Initiative Update: Year Two and such other
business as may be necessary
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Meetings for Tuesday, January 30, 2007 **
Subcommittee(s) on: Zoning & Franchises
9:30 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available in Room 5 City Hall

Subcommittee(s) on: Public Housing
10:00 AM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Oversight - Status of NYCHA's Tenant Participation Fund
Environmental Protection
10:00 AM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - The NYC Department of Environmental Protection's 2006 Long-Term
Watershed Protection Program.

Joint Meeting. Committee(s) on: Fire & Criminal Justice Services;
Transportation; Public Safety
10:00 AM, Council Chambers - City Hall
Oversight - MTA and NYC Subway System Emergency Evacuation Plans, Protocols and

Subcommittee(s) on: Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses
11:00 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Thursday, January 25, 2007 in Room 5
City Hall

Subcommittee(s) on: Planning, Dispositions & Concessions
1:00 PM, Committee Room - City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Thursday, January 25, 2007 in Room 5
City Hall

Committee(s) on: Housing & Buildings
1:00 PM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Proposed Int 308-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city
of New York, in relation to the probation of professional engineers and
registered architects.
Proposed Int 309-A - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city
of New York, in relation to sanctioning professional engineers and registered
architects who knowingly or negligently professionally certify a false or
noncompliant building permit application or plans.
and such other business as may be necessary
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Wednesday, January 31, 2007 **
Committee(s) on: Land Use
10:00 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Details: All items reported out of the subcommittees
and such other business as may be necessary

Committee(s) on: Parks & Recreation
10:00 AM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - Status of the Possible Exclusive Use of the Athletic Fields on
Randall's Island by New York City Private Schools

Joint Meeting. Committee(s) on: Women's Issues; Mental Health, Mental
Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services
11:00 AM, Council Chambers - City Hall
Oversight - Exploring the Availability of Suicide Prevention Services for
Latina and Asian-American Women in New York City

Committee(s) on: Rules, Privileges & Elections
11:30 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
M 495 - Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Nathan Leventhal
to the Council for its advice and consent regarding his appointment to the City
Planning Commission, Pursuant to Sections 31 and 192 of the City Charter.
M 496 - Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Richard W. Eaddy
to the Council for its advice and consent regarding his reappointment to the
City Planning Commission, Pursuant to Sections 31 and 192 of the City Charter.
M 497 - Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Alfred C.
Cerullo, III to the Council for its advice and consent regarding his reappointment to
the City Planning Commission, Pursuant to Sections 31 and 192 of the City
M 498 - Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Betty Y. Chen to
the Council for its advice and consent regarding her appointment to the City
Planning Commission, Pursuant to Sections 31 and 192 of the City Charter.

Preconsidered M____ - Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of
Lauvienska Polanco to the Council for its advice and consent regarding her
appointment to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Pursuant to Sections 31 and 2301 of
the City Charter.
and such other business as may be necessary

Committee(s) on: Aging
1:00 PM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor
Oversight - Improving Awareness in the Senior Community Regarding Government
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Meetings for Thursday, February 01, 2007 **
Stated Council Meeting Ceremonial Tributes - 12:30 p.m.
Agenda items- 1:00 p.m.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Meetings for Friday, February 2, 2007 **
-- no public meetings scheduled --
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Meetings for Saturday, February 3, 2007 **
-- no public meetings scheduled --
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Meetings for Saturday, February 4, 2007 **
-- no public meetings scheduled --

More Information at
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CB9M Office to Move

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

CB9M Office to Move
By Melissa Repko
Issue date: 1/24/07 Section: News

Community Board 9 will be forced to leave its current office later this year, and it is currently searching for a new home.

The board's current meeting spot at 565 W. 125th St., a city-owned building, will be converted to a housing development fund cooperative available to tenants for purchase.

A search committee comprised of four people is currently looking for possible office locations within the district, which stretches from 110th to 155th streets between Morningside Avenue and the Hudson River. According to CB9 chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the board hopes to find and move into a new space by the beginning of July. He said that the committee has not yet considered any particular locations in detail.

Reyes-Montblanc declined to release the names of the four search committee members. "I don't want any attention given to those people while they are doing the job," he said. "It's a difficult job as it is, and the last thing they need is having every landlord in town coming after them.

"The search committee will consider the space's size, accessibility, and price, Reyes-Montblanc said. He added that he anticipates the new office will have less square footage but more technological capabilities.

"A new location will allow us to take advantage of the new technology we have and make it more viable," he said.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Help Wanted: Community Board Members

Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2007 10:20:36 -0500
From: "Tenant"

Subject: Stringer BS on CBs and Columbia
January 23, 2007


Help Wanted: Community Board Members

Last Monday evening, at a community meeting sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer told the audience that his office will “get in front of the train to support the Columbia University expansion. This is the biggest development project in the city outside of ground zero. It needs community involvement.”

Stringer said that while he was not against eminent domain per se, “in this case it is not necessary to support the expansion.” But he warned that Columbia’s track record with the neighborhood was not a good one and “it can not do this unchecked.”

When asked about the future of the High Line, Stringer was optimistic. “Sander is more sensitive to the issues,” he said, speaking of Elliot Sander, who was recently appointed by Governor Spitzer as Executive Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. “The Pataki regime was so unresponsive. We will work it out.”

Stringer beseeched the crowd to apply for Community Board Member positions. in a borough-wide effort to reform the 12 community boards, Stringer has revised the application process. The previous recruitment process, he said, was simple: attend a political fund-raiser and then get on the board.

To attract the best and brightest people, Stringer said new procedures were designed to bring a diverse group of engaged people to the community boards. The interview process asks the applicant what skills they bring to the board, what their previous commitments to the community where and what they hope to accomplish.

Stringer is also introducing legislation to make Conflict of Interest Laws enforceable. In the past, he said, board members were appointed for political influence. His office is also seeking to strengthen the accountablity of boards. When he first came into office, the board vacancy rate was approximately 25%. Now the vacancy rate is zero.

Applications, in English, Spanish and Chinese can be found at The completed application, along with a resume or bio, should be mailed to the Borough President’s office no later than January 31, 2007. Selected candidates will be interviewed in early February by the Community Reform Board. The final appointees will be notified by April 1, 2007.

The Community Reform Board interviews candidates on a one on one basis. The CRB are representatives from the following community-based organizations: The New York League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters, Municipal Art Society, NYPIRG, NYU Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Womens City Club of NY, Hispanic Federation, West Harlem Environmental Action, Regional Plan Association, Urban League, Partnership for NYC, NAACP and LGBT Center.

Stringer told the gathering that, for several years he had been openly critized by an “obnoxious board member from Washington Heights,” where he grew up and started his political career. Last year the member reapplied, via the new application process, for another term. When Stringer asked how the candidate’s interview went, he was surprised to hear, “This guy is great!” from the interviewers. He also found out that he had never once missed a board meeting in over 10 years. Stringer said, “Reform has to start from the top down.” While he would have rather see him go, he duly re-appointed his most ferocious critic.

Another reform that Stringer has instituted is more training for members. All members undergo training sessions on conflict of interest and parliamentary procedures. Board members are required to serve on at least two committees, so they have further sessions in areas like Arts and Culture, Transportation, Land Use, Economic Development, Budget and Finance, Education and Youth, Housing, Parks and Recreation and Uniform Services.

Community Board membership is a big time commitment. A board member can expect to spend at least 12 hours a month at meetings. Becoming involved in passing resolutions and community reform means even more time planning, doing research, and yes, having more meetings.

There are other levels of participation. Public members can often influence resolutions passed by boards, have a lot of input in meetings and can sometimes–depending on the community board rules–even chair committees. Most meetings are open to the general public, so anyone in the community can have a say in their local government.

It is not required that board members be U.S. citizens, but they should be legal residents. Residency is not required to be a board member, but one should have an interest, attend school, work or own a business, to be considered. The application process is competitive, said Stringer. There are usually three applicants for every available seat.

Stringer said he would like to see more young people on the boards He proposed to set up mentoring programs between teens and members who have served for several years. He said when he was 17, then Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton appointed him to the Washington Heights Community Board, making him the youngest member ever to serve.

There is one African American serving on Community Board 8, on the upper east side and no whites on Community Board 11 in Harlem. “We need to change that,” Stringer said. “I want diversity. People to think beyond the sidewalk.” he said.

He was happy with the rezoning that was happening in Community Board 3, in Chinatown. The amount of change in the city is extraordinary, he told the audience. “People are being priced out of their neighborhoods. There is a way not to overbuild. The downzoning in 96 through 110th Streets set a precedent for the Lower East Side. We don’t have to sell off this whole borough.”

-Sherry Mazzocchi

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants TenantNet(tm):
email: tenant@tenant.netInformation from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant activists and is not considered legal advice.

NB - The opinions expressed are exclusively attributable to the authors and do not in any way reflect the opinion of CB9M Chairman, Officers or Members. - JRM

Monday, January 22, 2007

CB9M Chooses Treasurer, Talks Zoning - Barbara Marshall Reelected, Development Causes Anxiety

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

CB9M Chooses Treasurer, Talks Zoning
Barbara Marshall Reelected, Development Causes Anxiety

By Jacob Schneider
Issue date: 1/19/07 Section: News

Expansion projects at Columbia and City College of New York and a new zoning plan for 125th Street dominated discussion at Thursday night's Community Board 9 meeting, with the board also filling an executive board post and debating a proposed Harlem residential development.

In the fifth round of voting after four ties at December's meeting, incumbent treasurer Barbara Marshall was reelected 20-13 over challenger Michael Palma.

A top CCNY administrator met student opposition when he made a presentation to the board regarding planned construction on the CCNY campus. According to Robert Santos, the acting vice president for facilities planning, plans are moving forward to build a new science center on a site that is currently an athletic field used by many local youth sports teams. Santos also said that the installation of new lighting by CCNY near St. Nicholas Park has resulted in less crime in the park and on surrounding streets.

But a vocal contingent of students raised concerns about the planned installation of electrical transformers at CCNY's library. "The concern is that there are six of them next to each other in the building, not in the basement where they usually are," said CCNY student Rodolfo Leyton. "When you stand next to them long enough, you start to hallucinate. It's dangerous for people with pacemakers."

Santos responded that transformers pose no risk. "Transformers are safe pieces of equipment," he said. "They sit under your sidewalks right now and you walk around them ... they're in your house."

A new zoning plan for 125th Street designed to promote economic development across the city also prompted anxiety among some board members that gentrification in neighboring districts would threaten small businesses in West Harlem.

"Such tremendous development in Board 10 will have a ripple effect into our neighborhood," said CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, who said that, though the rezoning will have a "negligible" effect on Community District 9, he will form a task force to address the issue. "It's very important that we're willing to stand with our brothers and sisters in Board 10."

A hot topic throughout the meeting was the continuing progress of the Local Development Corporation, which will negotiate a community benefits agreement to accompany Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion. Board members complained that LDC meetings are not public enough, that representatives of elected officials on the LDC vote as a bloc, and that the corporation has not taken a strong enough stand against the possible use of eminent domain to acquire land in Harlem.

City Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Harlem) denied that the elected officials coordinate their votes and reiterated his opposition to eminent domain.

"If the LDC gets bogged down on the question of eminent domain and can't move on to other business, then the LDC is not staying focused," he said.

A proposed apartment building on an empty lot at 753 St. Nicholas Ave. drew fire because it does not contain affordable units, but the board ultimately approved a letter in support of the project.


NB - The Chairman expressed concern about the "ripple" effects of the 125th Street rezoning within CB10M and will appoint a task force to review what effects those ripples may have on CB9M's portion of 125th Street and how to best either take advantage, avoid, mitigate or fight those effects and to support CB10M in their desires and aspirations for their portion of 125h Street

In reference to theWH LDC and Eminent Domain the Chairman, again, as he has innumerable number of times, pointed out that Eminent Domain is a Land Use Issue that will be addressed by CB9M if/when it is pertinent and that the LDC is charged with the negotiation of community benefits not any Land Use matters that will properly handle by CB9M and the community during the Public Review Process, the ULURP.

In reference to 753 St. Nicholas Ave. the Board approved a "Letter of No Objection" for facade redesign of Landmarked building purposes and not a "Letter of Support", the project will have to be reviewed again by the Board when, as stated, the owners apply for a 421-a tax abatement. - JRM

Havana Central Re-opens - Havana Central Re-opens

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

Havana Central Re-opens
Book Project by Owner of New Cuban Restaurant Will Record Memories of West End

By Kate Ruskin
Issue date: 1/22/07 Section: News

Media Credit: Francis Bartus

Havana Central at the West End marked its grand re-opening Friday night with a party celebrating both the debut of a new book project and a new kitchen.

Havana Central at the West End's owner Jeremy Merrin, Business '00, is launching the project to both record former patrons' favorite memories and celebrate the history of the restaurant, which will eventually become a book.

Although the final format of the book has not yet been decided, it will likely feature a narrative history of the West End to accompany the collection of favorite stories and may include recipes. Merrin will periodically host several similar interview nights, which he has been advertising through alumni associations and print and radio advertisements, over the next few months.

This project is one of Merrin's many plans to regain the West End's connection to its past despite its considerable face-lift. The grand reopening also featured a dedication of a booth to Sid Roberts, whose family owned the bar from the thirties to the seventies.

Accompanied by family members, Roberts, who continues to live in the area and whose father Saul gave the West End its name, was introduced by Merrin as a man who "basically lived and breathed this place for most of his life."

Roberts, who has seen the place through Beat poets and riots, said he likes its newest incarnation. "I think it's very nice for one reason-because the new owners are imbued with the spirit of the West End," he said. "It's gone into very strong hands."

Merrin said he has been working to draw in the Columbia community by hosting parties for groups such as Columbia departments and graduate schools, but for undergraduates, he aims to garner their business with the menu as opposed to the bar.

"It's a little more expensive than it used to be, but I think the prices are comparable to the other restaurants in the area," said Allie Arias BC, '09 and an employee of Havana Central since October 2006.

Ben May, SEAS, '00, who now works for Business School admissions, said he is conflicted about whether he wants the new West End to return entirely to its old persona. "On the one hand, my father went here and graduated in 1967 so it's sort of been a rite of passage for us, but I definitely don't want them to get busted or shut down for underage drinking," May said.

Many of the old interior features such as the original tile floor, booths, and bar were retained through the renovations and the rest of the space was cleaned up and remodeled extensively, which most patrons considered a vast improvement.

"The bathrooms are great," May said. "Undergrads can safely sleep in them now."

Roberts too expressed satisfaction with the renovations, most notably Merrin's fulfillment of his promise to retain the historic feeling of the bar with photographs and memorabilia in the front room to commemorate its connection to Columbia.

Sitting in the booth adorned with a plaque honoring him as a "lifelong regular," Roberts said with a smile, "This is my home."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

As East Harlem Develops, Its Accent Starts to Change

The New York Times

As East Harlem Develops, Its Accent Starts to Change
Published: January 21, 2007

Inside a wooden shack set in a garden on East 117th Street, a group of Puerto Rican men, many of them in their 70s and 80s, are playing a spirited game of dominoes on a rainy winter afternoon. A painting of a woman wearing a burgundy shawl over a flamenco-style dress hangs on a wall, and in the garden, tomatoes, peppers, corn and culantro, an herb used in Caribbean cooking, grow in the summer.

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Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Work under way on East 117th Street
between First and Pleasant Avenues

javascript:pop_me_up2('', '682_565', 'width=682,height=565,location=no,scrollbars=yes,toolbars=no,resizable=yes')

A Puerto Rican Enclave

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Rafael Merino, a community board
member, says that that East Harlem
is in crisis mode over keeping its Puerto
Rican identity.

Enlarge This Image
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
A renovation at East 116th Street and
Pleasant Avenue; a Home Depot is
expected to be built not far away.

But outside their little retreat, a thick dust, the pounding of hammers and the shouts of construction workers inundate the block, signaling the transformation of East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio (the neighborhood). Many see it changing from the Puerto Rican enclave it has been for decades to a more heterogeneous neighborhood with a significant middle-class presence, luxury condominiums and a Home Depot.

It is a familiar story of gentrification in New York City, but this one comes with a twist: the many newcomers who are middle-class professionals from other parts of the city are joining a growing number of working-class Mexicans and Dominicans.

The result is a high degree of angst among many Puerto Ricans who worry they will be unable to prevent their displacement from a neighborhood that is far more than a place to live and work. “We’re in crisis mode right now, and as far as retaining the Puerto Rican and Latino identity in the neighborhood, we’re in red alert,” said Rafael Merino, who is on the local community board. “If we don’t pick up speed, we’ll lose a lot of it.”

While East Harlem — which had previously been an Italian neighborhood — was not the first place Puerto Ricans settled after arriving in large numbers in New York after World War II, it became the de facto center of cultural life after large-scale displacement from Chelsea,
Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper West Side, and more recently, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.

East Harlem is the place where people come to celebrate Three Kings Day and quinceaƱeras, to gather the night before the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and to play dominoes on weekends.

But in recent years, rising rents have caused many Puerto Ricans to leave for more affordable Hudson Valley towns, or for cities like Allentown and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and Stamford and Bridgeport in Connecticut.

“You have a choice, try to pay that rent, or move out,” said Tony Ramirez, a plumber who has lived in East Harlem for 43 of his 47 years. “Puerto Ricans in El Barrio is like being extinct. None of the people I grew up with are around. People feel like strangers in their own town.”

An illustration of his lament can be seen on several blocks of 116th Street, long Puerto Rican East Harlem’s main shopping strip, which are now filled with shops selling Mexican food, flags and pastries.

In 1980, there were 856,440 people of Puerto Rican descent living in New York City, compared with 787,046 in 2005, according to census data.

In East Harlem, the number of Puerto Ricans has also been declining, to 37,878 in 2005, from 40,542 in 1990, according to the census. They now make up about 35.3 percent of the neighborhood’s population, down from 39.4 percent in 1990.

Carmen Vasquez, public relations manager for Hope Community Inc., a private, nonprofit real estate and cultural organization in the neighborhood, said that the concentration of public housing and other low-income apartment units in East Harlem would keep the Puerto Rican population stable for now.

“There will be some displacement, but we will retain our heritage and our culture,” she said. “You won’t stop gentrification, but you can contain it and slow it down.”
But the changes are unmistakable.

For decades, there had been no doubt about where the Upper East Side ended and East Harlem began: 96th Street, the last major east-west street before the start of East Harlem’s clusters of high-rise public housing projects.

Taxi drivers sometimes dropped off passengers at 96th Street rather than venture farther north to what they considered to be a crime-ridden area. Some courier services also refused to cross the line. Even the row of upscale shops along Second and Third Avenues stopped just short of 96th Street.

That demarcation line is softer now, and nicknames for the southern tier of East Harlem abound: the Upper Upper East Side, Upper Yorkville and SpaHa — short for Spanish Harlem.

Peter Lorusso, 25, who works for a shipping company, has lived for about a year in the Aspen, a 234-unit luxury apartment complex at 101st Street and First Avenue, where one-half of the units rent at market rates.

The three-year-old building has its own garage with valet parking and a 10,000-foot courtyard with bamboo trees. It also offers a free shuttle van every 20 minutes to nearby subways during the morning and evening commutes — as do several other new upscale buildings in the neighborhood.

Mr. Lorusso said he does not usually go north of 101st Street. Instead, he and his friends “do the pub crawl” on the Upper East Side along Second Avenue. The Aspen, he said, is “an extension of the Upper East Side.”

“People are bringing more money north, which is a good thing,” he said. “You just got to be street smart.”

Jon Rich, 30, a stockbroker who lives in the Aspen, had previously rented apartments in TriBeCa, Battery Park City and Midtown. He now splits the $2,800 rent for his two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. “I couldn’t afford to stay where I was,” he said.

Fifteen blocks north of the Aspen, on the site of the former Washburn Wire Factory at 116th Street and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, workers have dismantled the plant to make way for the $300 million East River Plaza shopping center, which will feature a Home Depot, a Best Buy and a Target store.

A second large development in the area was derailed by the Bloomberg administration last year after widespread opposition. The $1 billion project, known as Uptown New York, had called for retail space and 1,500 apartments in an area between 125th and 127th Streets and Second and Third Avenues. Eighty percent of the apartments would have been rented or sold at market rates.

Still, residents say many of East Harlem’s new residential developments are unreasonably expensive. On 117th Street between First and Pleasant Avenues — a block that the police say has been home to a thriving drug market and where two people were killed in the past six months —more than eight buildings are being renovated or constructed.

One of the buildings is the Nina, nine units of “luxury condominiums” where a one-bedroom penthouse is on the market for $850,000.

“The Upper East Side is now the playground for the sophisticated bohemian,” reads the Nina’s Web site. “East Harlem will be known as the area that will feature SoHo-type lofts, with a NoHo sensibility, and a Village flair, without the hefty price tag.”

Jose Hidalgo, 76, one of the men playing dominoes in the shack on 117th Street next door to the Nina, has lived in the neighborhood for 55 years. He grew up in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico.

“Where am I going to live with these people and their condominiums?” he asked. “If I have to leave, I’ll go back to my country. I don’t have to pay rent; and I have a house there.” But Mr. Hidalgo said he believes that even if the new condos and co-ops find buyers, their owners won’t stay.

“These people come here and they don’t last long,” Mr. Hidalgo said. “Once they see what the neighborhood is really like, especially in the summer,” he said, when the streets become noisy and the crime rate typically climbs, they will sell their apartments and leave.
His friend, Jose Vazquez, 65, who has lived in East Harlem since 1959, said poor people are going to be forced out. “People who used to pay $600 a month are now paying $900 a month.”

But Henry M. Calderon, a real estate broker and president of the East Harlem Chamber of Commerce, said some Puerto Ricans believe they are entitled to live in East Harlem, although they failed to buy property when it was cheaper.

“Is it a right to live here or a privilege?” Mr. Calderon asked. “Is it a right to have an apartment facing Park Avenue? We cannot expect that we have a right to live where we want to live.”

Nicholas L. Arture, executive director of the Association of Hispanic Arts and treasurer of the East Harlem Board of Tourism, said even without significant rates of Puerto Rican home ownership, one way to preserve the area’s pedigree is to market it to visitors. One plan calls for transforming 106th Street east of Fifth Avenue into a “cultural corridor” showcasing Puerto Rican heritage through murals and cultural centers, art galleries and restaurants.

Mr. Arture said the area’s Puerto Rican flavor has already attracted visitors who want to know more about the neighborhood. Recently, a group of graduate students from Kenya said they wanted to visit after having read about the neighborhood on the Internet. “They wanted to eat rice and beans,” Mr. Arture said. “They wanted to experience the culture.”

Columbia, play nice

New York Daily News

Columbia, play nice

In plan to expand, a dialogue could turn foes to friends

With Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project finally moving forward, it seems like the men and women working on the city's next mega-project - Columbia University's plan to build a major research campus in the Manhattanville section of West Harlem - have learned nothing from what happened in Brooklyn. Instead of working full time to arrive at a shared vision in a spirit of mutual compromise, Columbia and many local leaders in West Harlem appear poised to square off in a tangle of lawsuits, protests and accusations.

After years of quietly acquiring land and buildings in the mostly industrial corridor west of Broadway between 125th and 133rd Sts., Columbia announced ambitious plans to build a new research facility, dormitories and community amenities like a Bryant Park-style open greenspace and a state-of-the-art high school. To do so, the city will have to rezone the area, which is currently designated for manufacturing.

All well and good. But the university - which owns about 85% of all the property in the project area - has refused to rule out the tactic of asking the state government to acquire the remaining parcels on behalf of the university by the use of eminent domain, forcing holdouts to sell even if they don't want to.

That makes Nick Sprayregen's blood boil. The 43-year-old owner of Tuck-it-Away, a self-storage warehouse, operates a family business - based in West Harlem for more than 25 years - that includes ownership of half a dozen properties in the area Columbia wants to develop.
Dozens of Columbia students store their belongings with Sprayregen, and so do various academic departments and the university bookstore. His business will be more needed than ever as the school expands.

Sprayregen has been trying for more than a year to work out some kind of deal with Columbia, but has been unable to get a meeting with anybody.

"If Columbia somehow ends up with 85% of what they want, they can still build a wonderful campus," says Sprayregen. "But this is not a business I can just move elsewhere. It's not necessary for them to strong-arm every last person."

In fact, it's not necessary for Columbia to strong-arm anybody. As developer Bruce Ratner proved with Atlantic Yards, an early round of talks with legitimate, longstanding community leaders can calm fears and serve as an important gesture of good faith toward local residents.
Ratner cut creative deals with groups like ACORN that had a constituency and a track record - and ended up committing to building more than 2,200 units of subsidized apartments at Atlantic Yards. Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries stepped forward at the last minute and won an agreement from Ratner to build 200 units of subsidized homes that people will own.

Columbia should be engaged in active dialogue with Sprayregen and other West Harlem stakeholders, but the university has chosen - at the request of the Bloomberg administration - to start the city's land-use clock ticking before negotiating with community groups. That means neighborhood people will have only about nine months to arrive at whatever deal they can, in a high-pressure atmosphere that's already creating resentment.

"They have this all-or-nothing concept," says Sprayregen, who has hired civil rights attorney Norman Siegel to look into possible legal action to block Columbia - an early sign that the university's hard-nose strategy isn't working.

The city's political and business leaders need to step up as soon as possible to head off a fight that doesn't need to happen.

Originally published on January 21, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cuba: Why I Care

Cuba: Why I Care
By Claudia Fanelli 1/20/2007

I am not Cuban. I don’t attempt or pretend to be. I am Italian-American, the granddaughter of economic, not political, immigrants. As a result of my background, the concept of political immigration was foreign to me until I met my Cuban-born Spanish professors in college twenty years ago.

Even so, knowing them as well as I did but never discussing their ordeals, I had only marginal knowledge of Cuban history. With regard to the Cuban exile experience, well, let’s just say that if I didn’t hear it from Tony Montana, then I didn’t know about it. My ignorance was never questioned much since I live in Pennsylvania where the Cuban population is sparse.

However, now that Cuban history and literature are part of the high school Spanish curriculum where I teach, I felt compelled to know more than what the student textbook told me. Books, Blogs, movies, documentaries and talking to Cubans have helped me to understand what is so seemingly foreign a concept to the average American: the current situation in Cuba.

Other teachers ask me questions about Cuba and while I am in no way an authority, I do my best and get an answer if I don’t have one. You see, my colleagues have no clue about what is going on in Cuba, and until I began talking to them, they really didn’t care to know. Perhaps they are relieved that I keep abreast of what is taking place so that they don’t have to. After all, Cuba is barely a blip on the radar of most Americans.

I am always sure to inform the curious about the suffering and the human rights violations that are taking place in Cuba as a result of a 48-year death grip on the country and her people. I cite my sources when I need to and I state statistics when challenged by a fan of Fidel. Once presented with the propaganda espoused by Hollywood and parroted by those who swallow it, I unload the litany of contradictions as well as the endless list of human and civil rights violations that people who don’t live in Miami either don’t know or choose not to acknowledge.

More and more frequently, someone will ask me “Why do you care so much about Cuba? We don’t even have Cubans around here.” I have no agenda. I don’t have Cubans in my family and my closest exile friend died this summer, taking with her the stories of what happened to her in Cuba that she couldn’t bring herself to share. I’m just an American who wants to see freedom established in a country that Americans clamor to visit clandestinely without regard to what is actually taking place there.

Now it’s true, where I live Cuban-sightings are few and far between, but yet only an hour away is Union City, NJ, where a huge population of Cubans live, and New York City is just a stone’s throw from there. It’s hard to stay provincial once you are aware of the fact that people who left behind everything they owned, risked being jailed or killed or who made the ultimate sacrifice of sending their children by themselves (14,000 of them to be exact) to another country to escape the hell of their own, live sixty measly miles from here. One would think that I shouldn’t have to justify why I “care” about Cuba. Why should I care about a country in such close proximity to us that their people try to swim to get here after their makeshift rafts fall apart in the sea?

Why should I care about a country where the citizens are denied the simple freedom of using the same hotels and restaurants as the tourists? At a mere 90 miles away from here, how can I say that I don’t care?

Engaging in a “Why do you care?” discussion means keeping a calm head, for I must make my points rationally, removing emotion from the argument so that I don’t lose my cool. The problem is that now I am emotionally invested in this issue: I am disgusted, infuriated and heartsick about what I know takes place on the island. This makes remaining calm in the face of people who think communism is a good system or that fidel Castro is “misunderstood.”

But perhaps the most frustrating conversations take place with those who are apathetic. “They’re not our people,” I have been told. “Not “our” people?” I ask. “Were the Ethiopians “our” people? Americans recorded music and sponsored Live Aid to help the poor and oppressed there. Were the Bosnians “our” people? Americans went to fight ethnic cleansing for them and there was nary a protest that they weren’t “our” people.

Were the victims of the tsunami in Thailand “our” people? Americans donated money from their own pockets to help them. Since when do others have to be “our” people for us to care about humanity? And by “care,” I don’t mean take to the streets and burn Castro in effigy or protest the regime; I don’t expect that. I just mean not being apathetic.

Why should caring about the people suffering in a brutal, oppressive dictatorship that is so close to the USA be any different from being concerned about Darfur, Thailand, Indonesia, or anywhere else? And if anything, we should care MORE because we have an enormous population of Cubans living right here on OUR SOIL- which is now THEIR SOIL. Perhaps that is the problem.

People see how Cubans have prospered here (over 125,000 Cuban-American owned business in the US), how much they have contributed to society and the economy (over 26 billion dollars are generated by their businesses annually) and how they have made their own way, even though they arrived with the clothes on their backs. Maybe they just assume that Cubans were good to go from the moment they arrived so life in Cuba can’t be that bad after all; ergo, Cubans don’t really suffer.

“Castro isn’t that bad… he won a Human Rights Award- that must mean something,” some uninformed people have told me. “Do you know who awarded him that award?” I ask, a little giddy to reveal the award sponsor. “Moammar Gadhafi, you know, from LIBYA?” “Oh,” is usually the response to that. Conversation over.

Nobody is going to defend Gadhafi. No wonder people don’t care about Cuba- if Castro has a human rights award in his possession, everything must be right with the world! Far from deserving human rights awards, Cuba’s totalitarian dictator has a long list of violations against both human and civil rights. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I heard that the Cuban government has Decree 988 which says that "executions can be carried out in less than 48 hours, without trial,” I scratch my head and wonder where the international out crying is.

Death without trial?

In Philadelphia, convicted cop-killer Mumia Abdul Jamal got his trial and was sentenced to death and the liberal left in Hollywood went ballistic trying to get him off death row, where he has been for twenty-four years. But to be put to death within 2 days and not get a trial and nobody makes a scene? Hollywood has the biggest bully pulpit in the world and yet nobody says a word about Cuba, and the Hollywood elite continue to visit Cuba and revere it as if it were paradise on earth. How am I expected to wrap my mind around that?

The Cuban American National Foundation stated that in 1992, there were 266,000 men, women and children in 241 prisons and concentration camps and there were 54,000 Cubans dead for political reasons, including 12,486 killed by firing squads. Keep in mind that these statistics are fifteen years old- I shudder to think how high the total is today.

Should this not bother me?

Why do I care that “only” 52,000 rafters tried to escape Cuba and out of those, 17,000 were successful? (That begs the question, what happened to the other 35,000 rafters?)

Where are Susan Sarandon and Ed Asner? Has anyone told Oliver Stone about these figures? Is Hollywood so enamored with Castro that they can just ignore these heinous crimes against humanity?

Castro puts to death thousands upon thousands of people who dare not to tow the Communist party line, yet Hollywood embraces this man? Am I the only non-Cuban who cares about this?

Do I have to be Cuban to care? Or is the majority of the country so provincial that what happens outside of their own town is not important unless a loudmouth Hollywood type says it is?

I think that Hollywood’s romantic notion of the revolution and its leader have contributed to the American apathy toward our neighbor in the Caribbean. After all, it was Hollywood, not Cuba, that produced such films as Havana, Motorcycle Diaries, Comandante and the upcoming Che.

If the apathetic population of the United States really thinks that because Cubans here are successful or are jealous of them and therefore cannot muster up enough concern for humanity to give Cuba a second thought, they might want to consider the stats.

U.S Census data shows that in the first fifteen years after Castro took power, over 640,000 people fled the island. The total for over forty years of Castro’s regime has passed 1.5 million people. Not all of these were affluent like those who left the island soon after Castro took over.

Rather, these were the people for whom Castro had supposedly created the “Revolution,” the working man, the poor, the oppressed. If he had done right by them, why would they be leaving en masse? In 1994 when he announced that anyone who wanted to leave could do so, 35,000 people tried to raft their way to the US.

Try to understand that- people crafted makeshift rafts and hopped on them, pushed off into the ocean, not knowing if they would live or die, just for freedom. These people were the regular people, desperate to escape death squads, ration cards, denial of freedom of speech and a ban on religion.

These were the people who, when faced with the idea of “Socialismo o Muerte,” chose death. Death by drowning, death by sharks, death by dehydration… Yep, Cuba must be a real paradise if these choices trumped life on the island. And why should I care? I think the question should be “Why shouldn’t I?”

Manning the 'Church of the Presidents'

Click here: Manning the 'Church of the Presidents' Christian News Online , Christian World News

The Christian Post

Manning the 'Church of the Presidents'
By Ann Sanner
Associated Press Writer
Sat, Jan. 20 2007 09:08 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Rev. Luis Leon may be one of the few people President Bush routinely looks up to.

Enlarge this Image

(Photo: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Bush, right, talks with
Rev. Luis Leon, after attending a
church service at St. John's Church
in Washington in this Sept. 10, 2006
file photo.

When Bush looked up to him from a pew at St. John's Episcopal Church one recent Sunday, the message that came down from the chancel steps bore a striking resemblance to one that dominates secular Washington as well.

It was about the difficulty of making adjustments in one's life. "It requires the will to change," Leon preached, the Book of Common Prayer tucked under his left arm, his right hand pointing toward parishioners. "It requires the courage to acknowledge that you want to change, to change your direction."

Was he preaching to the president in the weeks before Bush announced the changes in his Iraq policy? No, Leon said firmly in a recent interview. "I never preach to the president. I preach to the congregation."

"My rule of thumb has been that he gets what everybody else gets and hope that some of it speaks to him."

When Bush attends, he sits nine rows back at St. John's, his church of choice and by tradition the "Church of the Presidents," just across Lafayette Square from the White House.

He listens to a priest who made an improbable journey to its pulpit.

Born in Guantanamo, Cuba, Leon came to the United States at 11, alone and without his parents as one of the "Pedro Pan" flights bearing children fleeing the island nation. He had a toothbrush, a few pieces of clothing and $3 when he landed in Miami, and he spent the next years in foster care. His mother arrived when he was a teenager, but he never saw his father again.'

Bush, like many of his predecessors, sits in pew No. 54, which is marked by small brass plaque reading "The Presidents' Pew." The choice was President Madison's.

Every president since has attended at least occasional services at the pale yellow church.

"There would be a temptation in a church like that to play 'civil religion,' in other words to be a chaplain to the establishment," said the Rev. Kevin Bean, who worked with Leon at Trinity Church in Wilmington, Del. "But that's not Luis' style."

"He's political, but he's not partisan," Bean said of Leon's sermons. "He's civil, but he's not soft. He has part of the fiery Latino in him, which is a good thing."

Bush was raised Presbyterian, became an Episcopalian and now is a United Methodist. The president prefers an early service, a little more than a half hour, no music. When he and the first lady attend services together, they greet people in line for Communion and shake hands with congregants, but otherwise draw little attention.

The Episcopal Church's views differ from those of Bush on some controversial issues. For example, the church opposes a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriages and supports abortion rights.Yet, Leon and Bush get along well.

In 2003, the Bushes threw him a dinner party at the White House to celebrate his 25 years as a priest, said Thais Villanueva, Leon's cousin who was among family members and friends attending the event.

"The president was pretty casual with Luis," Villanueva said.

Bush chose Leon to deliver the prayer at his second presidential inauguration in 2005. The two frequently chat after Sunday services. Leon's sermons are written before he finds out whether the president is attending morning service. "I don't change anything because the president's coming," he said. Nor does he refrain from speaking about topics that might conflict with Bush's views.

"He knows that I've traveled to Cuba. That's not something that the administration favors," he said.

While he doesn't tailor his sermons, he's certainly aware of the face in the crowd. He finds preaching to the president daunting.

"You never get used to it," Leon told The Associated Press in May 2002. "You get very nervous, because the person sitting in the pew carries such responsibilities, but ultimately I don't ever change what I'm going to say." Leon, 57, started his ministry at St. John's in 1994.

As the church's first Hispanic leader, he established a Spanish language service. He was a rector at churches in Paterson, N.J., and Wilmington before coming to St. John's. A wine enthusiast, Leon once co-wrote a column on wine for The (Baltimore) Evening Sun. He picked up the interest after drinking a 1970 Bordeaux with a member of his church in Charlotte, N.C., in 1977.

"The moment I tasted it, I said, 'This is not what I've been drinking. What is this stuff?'" he recalled. Although he doesn't shy away from issues in his sermons, Leon tries to avoid making people the target of criticism. "My intention is never to scold anybody during a sermon," he said. "So you have to invite people to consider something. And that's what I try to do."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Friday, January 19, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday Jan. 22nd, 2007 - Sunday Jan. 28th, 2007

NYC Council Legislative Update wrote:

Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2007 15:14:01 -0500 (EST)
From: NYC Council Legislative Update
Subject: City Council Calendar for Monday Jan. 22nd, 2007 - Sunday Jan. 28th, 2007

City Council Calendar for Monday Jan. 22nd, 2007 - Sunday Jan. 28th, 2007

- - - - - - Community Conversations on the Budget - - - - - - -
In addition to legislative hearings held at City Hall, the Council is holding meetings in every borough for individuals to identify their community's needs and priorities. Also note that Budget ideas may be emailed directly to Speaker Quinn at:

This week's meetings include:
Brooklyn Community Conversation Meeting
Wednesday, January 24th, 7:00pm
New Life Tabernacle, 4905 Avenue D
More info at

- - - - - - Strengthening Community / Police Relations - - - - - - -

The Council is undertaking steps to strengthen the relationship between communities and the New York City Police Department (NYPD), including citywide town hall meetings. Next week's meeting are:

Bronx: Monday, January 22nd from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm Richard Green Elementary School

Manhattan: Tuesday, January 23rd from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm Harlem Hospital

RSVP to 212-788-9221 or

Speaker Quinn may also be emailed on this issue at

- - - - - - - Legislative Calendar - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Monday, January 22, 2007 **

Civil Service & Labor
1:00 PM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - Biometric Palm Print Scanners

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Tuesday, January 23, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Wednesday, January 24, 2007 **

Joint Meeting. Committees on: Public Safety; Civil Rights 10:00 AM, Council Chambers - City Hall Oversight - Undercover and Specialized Operations Training in the Police Department.

Committee(s) on: Small Business
1:00 PM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - Small Businesses and Alternatives to High Property Taxes

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Thursday, January 25, 2007 **

10:00 AM, Council Chambers - City Hall
Int. 199 - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to modifying department of transportation performance targets and indicators towards the goal of reducing traffic congestion citywide.

Committee(s) on: Education
1:00 PM, Council Chambers - City Hall
Oversight - The Mayor's 2007 Education Reform Initiatives

Joint Meeting. Committee(s) on: Health; Technology in Government 1:00 PM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 14th Floor Oversight - Implementing Health Information Technology in Primary Care Settings.

Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations 1:00 PM, Hearing Room - 250 Broadway, 16th Floor Oversight - Update on New York City's Film Industry and the activities of the Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting

Committee(s) on: Higher Education
2:00 PM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - Child Care Services on CUNY Campuses

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Friday, January 26, 2007 **

Committee(s) on: Consumer Affairs
10:00 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Int. 81 - By Council Members Gioia, Fidler, Foster, Gentile, Martinez, Nelson, Weprin and Liu - A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the consumer bill of rights regarding tax preparers.

Environmental Protection
10:00 AM, Committee Room - City Hall
Oversight - The City's PLANYC 2030 sustainability goal to "reduce global warning emissions by more than 30%" and how best to achieve it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Saturday, January 24, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

** Meetings for Sunday, January 25, 2007 **

-- no public meetings scheduled --

More Information at

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Martinez Immigration View Riles GOP

Martinez Immigration View Riles GOP

January 17, 2007

Lesley Clark -- McClatchy Newspapers

A group of border state Republicans, including the GOP party chair in President Bush's home state of Texas, plan to cast what they acknowledge may be only symbolic votes against Florida Sen. Mel Martinez as the new chief cheerleader for the national Republican Party.

Martinez, who ardently champions giving some illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship even as others in his party push for stricter controls at the border, is poised to be elected Friday as general chairman of the Republican National Committee. His selection signals the GOP's interest in boosting its appeal among Hispanics, the fastest growing electorate in the United States.

But some conservatives and anti-immigration forces have lambasted President Bush for selecting the Cuba-born Martinez as chairman of the Republican National Committee, singling out his support for what they call "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

RNC members from border states, including Texas and Arizona, plan to vote against Martinez when the RNC gathers for its winter meeting in Washington starting Thursday - a meeting that comes only two months after what Bush called a "thumping" at the polls. "We've been bombarded with e-mails, letters and postcards from Texans troubled about Senator Martinez," said Tina Benkiser, chair of the Republican Party of Texas and a definite Martinez "no" vote.

Martinez's supporters - and even some critics - say the opposition is unlikely to derail his election.

Though the criticism of Martinez reflects the myriad challenges he'll face, Republicans, who lost both chambers of Congress in November, are desperate to reclaim majority status. Martinez's selection, strategists say, is seen as a way of positioning the party for the future, even though it risks alienating part of the party's base.

"It's not a question of a smart move, it's a question of survival, a recognition of the political realities of campaigning in the 21st century," said Fernand Amandi, executive vice president at Miami-based Bendixen and Associates, which specializes in Hispanic polling, mostly for Democrats. "It shows that Republicans can admit they made a mistake and that they know how to count. For Republicans to be able to be competitive nationally and in battleground states, you can't afford to lose the Hispanic community."

Bush, who ran ads in Spanish, took 40 percent of the Hispanic vote when he was re-elected in 2004, a record for Republicans. But various factors, including a divisive debate over immigration, eroded those gains in 2006, political analysts say. Within 25 years, some models suggest, Hispanic voters could make up as much as 25 percent of the electorate.

Martinez's first hurdle may be the warring factions within his own party. Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, a potential 2008 presidential contender and a House leader in efforts to stop illegal immigration, suggested that if Martinez continued to push for a comprehensive immigration plan, "the party could be headed for another shellacking at the polls in 2008."

The stakes couldn't be much higher for Martinez: The race for the White House is wide open and Republicans have to defend 21 seats in the Senate. Democrats, in contrast, have only 12 members up for re-election.

Martinez himself will be up for re-election in 2010 and will essentially lose two years of fundraising as he boosts the RNC coffers. Analysts suggest he'll have to carefully navigate his appearances as RNC chief, so as not to jeopardize moderates in Florida whom he'll have to attract to win re-election. Martinez declined to be interviewed for this story, with his office saying it would be "presumptuous" to do so until he's officially elected chair.

Source: Copyright (c) 2007 The Herald. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.