Dominican Academy Takes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Seriously

By Oona Milliken

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Dominican Academy, an all-girls Catholic school located in the heart of the Upper East Side, is like a family, according to school President Dr. Alexandria Egler, who has been in her position since July 2022. Egler said the school is small and fluctuates between 240-250 students due to the size of their campus and a desire to maintain a small class size.

“I think that’s an advantage because there’s individualized attention. If you’re looking for a school to get lost in the crowd, this is not the school,” Egler said. “Faculty and staff here at D.A., when those 240 students walk into our door every day, they become our daughters. That’s the kind of atmosphere we have here.”

Dominican Academy, which first opened in 1897, is the third highest-ranked Catholic girls’ high school in New York State, with a student ratio of 9:1. For languages, they offer Mandarin, Latin, Spanish and French, and the school is rigorously academic, with 100% of students going on to attend 4-year colleges and universities. The 2023 graduating class garnered close to $19 million in merit-based scholarships and grants for their future collegiate endeavors.

“What I’ve heard from college professors, college administrators, is that when a D.A. girl walks into their university or school, they are not worried,” Egler said. “That student is confident, that student does not hesitate to ask questions, that student does not hesitate to ask for help.”

Lauren Checo, who recently started Director of Admissions in May 2023, said D.A. was proud to offer more than 35 different clubs and seven Varsity sports, including swimming, which can be unusual for a New York school. According to Checo, the D.A. is a place where students are able to figure out who they want to be in the future, in a setting that both challenges and welcomes them.

“That’s something we can offer here, for any girl that qualifies to be here, is that they have this home that they can go to and really be themselves because, at the end of the day, that’s what all students are doing is really being themselves and figuring out who they are as they’re growing up,” Checo said.

Egler said she has been pleased to see the changes in the time since she became President in 2022 and when her daughter graduated from Dominican Academy in 2010. According to Egler, the school has become a lot more diverse in both the student body and the faculty. Egler said that D.A. is not interested in pushing diversity because it is trending in academic settings, but because it enriches a student’s quality of life.

“When I walked in the door, we started focusing even more deeply on diversity, equity, inclusion, and we’ve also added the word belonging to that,” Egler said. “I think [being surrounded by different types of people] is how a person grows in the world, and gains a deeper sense of not just themselves, but everybody else in the world…We are, as Catholics, welcoming and open to diversity. We believe that there is room for everybody under the tent, and nobody should be excluded from that tent.”

 

Courtesy of Dominican Academy

Infinity City Celebrates Grand Opening in Bayside

By Charlie Finnerty

[email protected]

Integrity Automotive celebrated the grand opening of the Infinity City showroom in Bayside the morning of Sept. 26. Co-owners Jeffrey Weiner and Michael Ianelli promised the community that their ownership would bring transparency, efficiency and respect to the dealership as a small, family-owned business.

“Jeff and I have more at stake than just ourselves,” Ianelli said in a press release. “We have our sons and other family members working in our dealership, and our reputation along with our families’ reputation is on the line. There is always a family member available to speak with.”

According to Executive Manager Jeff Zonen, the dealership staff consists of five salespeople, two managers and himself. Zonen said the dealership hopes to separate itself from negative stereotypes surrounding car dealerships by engaging with the community and showing their investment in Queens.
“Dealerships usually have a bad rap,” Zonen said. “Whether it’s our time, whether it’s our money, whether it’s our influence — we’re here to help the community.”

Zonen, who was born and raised in Long Island and now lives in Queens, said it was important to him that the success of the shop is reflected in and shared by the community around it.

“It’s a lucrative business. For me to come in here and do everything selfishly doesn’t make any sense by me,” Zonen said. “I want to do right by my people, by my staff plus the community we’re in, that’s a big deal to me.”

Billy Kendall, the used car manager at the dealership, began his career in the car sales business only blocks away in 1979.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Kendall said. “I started on 191st Street on Northern Boulevard, and now I’m at 218th Street on Northern Boulevard and I can’t believe it.”

Kendall said the dealership’s respect for his family life is a major difference from the sales industry he was used to before.

Jeff Zonen, Executive Manager and Michael Ianelli, President, at the event. Photo credit: Jeffrey Fass

“When my kids grew up, I worked late hours. Now we have grandkids, by the time I leave here at 6 o’clock, I’m home by 6:15 and I get to spend time with them,” Kendall said. “I get culture shock thinking, ‘I should be in a dealership somewhere, it’s still light out when I’m coming home.’”

Kendall said he chose to work at Integrity because he wanted to be at a family owned business. After working at a larger corporate dealership, he saw an opportunity for a different work environment.

“I know Jeff, and that’s why I came here. I had a job. I wasn’t looking for a job, they found me,” Kendall said. “I want to work for a family-owned business that understands that I have a life and the customer has a life. I want to be respected, I don’t want to be a number.”

Kendall said he believes the approach Integrity Automotive has taken to the dealership business will allow them to stick around much longer than short-sighted competitors.

“There’s long termers and short termers. I’ve seen a lot of short termers come into the business thinking you have to be seedy and slimy,” Kendall said. “When that person comes [to Integrity], they last about seven days. Because by the seventh day, you don’t want that reputation.”

Zonen said he sees mutual respect between the salesperson and customer as essential to sustaining the business.

“You treat people they want to be treated,” Kendall said. “Everyone needs a car. The king needs a car and the garbage man needs a car, and everyone in between.”

“By default, I have to do the right thing. It’s me here, I’m in a glass office. People are going to come in here and my name is attached to how we do business. I want to be a guy that treats people right. I don’t want people to come in here just because we have the best prices,  I want then to come here because they want to do business with good people and that’s what we’re all about,” said Zonen.

Zonen said that Integrity Automotive structure as a small business allows the staff to avoid the numbers-driven approach to sales that larger dealerships have to pursue in order to maintain corporate quotas.

“We like the direct connection between us and the consumer. There’s no hiding, there’s no game, there’s no fees. People come in here, they get treated the right way with respect, transparency and integrity,” Zonen said. “We live by that. Anybody can come in here and walk right into my office and have a conversation with me. Try that somewhere else. Go into any dealership and ask for the general manager, they’ll protect him like he’s the president of the United States. Not here, man.”

Electeds, Union, Housing Advocates Rally for LLC Transparency Act

By Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

A Carpenters Union member holds a sign at the rally. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Elected officials, union leaders, housing advocates and government watchdog groups held a rally Sept. 27 on “Billionaires’ Row” in Midtown Manhattan urging Governor Hochul to sign the LLC Transparency Act. The bill, passed by the state assembly and senate in June, would require limited liability companies to publicly disclose their ownership.

Bill co-authors, Greenpoint Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher and Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, were joined by United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Area Standards Manager Michael Piccirillo, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany John Kaehny and several other elected officials from across the city delivering speeches below 111 W 57th street, one of the luxury condominium buildings that have populated the area in recent years and the site of an ongoing labor dispute involving an LLC-owned construction company.

Assemblymember Gallagher speaks at the rally. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“Governor Hochul came into office promising a new era of transparency. This is her opportunity,” Gallagher said in her speech. “We need her to sign this bill, and shine a light on corruption.”

The bill has been championed by a broad coalition as a crucial tool to hold bad actors accountable, from landlords and employers to drug traffickers and money launderers, who are able to conceal their identities behind LLCs. The legislation would be the first of its kind nationwide. A federal law, the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, requiring LLCs to disclose beneficial ownership to a closed government database goes into effect next year, but does not go as far as Gallagher and Hoylman-Sigal’s state bill which makes that information publicly available.

According to a recent study by Reinvent Albany, 37% of Manhattan’s real estate ownership is hidden behind LLC shell companies, allowing their ownership to remain unknown to tenants and workers.

“Anonymous LLCs are everywhere. They might be your landlord, your employer, your neighbor” Hoylman-Sigal said in his speech. “We’re sending a warning signal today to shady employers, wage thieves, foreign oligarchs and bad landlords, that their days of anonymity are numbered.”

Speaking in support of similar legislation on the federal level in March, US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said LLC secrecy makes the United States potentially the best place to hide and launder ill-gotten gains. In her speech at the rally, State Senator Liz Krueger, whose East Side Manhattan constituency includes Billionaires’ Row, spoke about the influence of LLC property ownership in her district.

“I know for a fact that a huge number of the individual apartments bought in the buildings built right here in my district are also purchased through secretive LLCs,” Krueger said in her speech.

LLCs allow luxury real estate to be a tool of money laundering, allowing dirty money that would otherwise be rejected at American banks to be held in multi-million dollar properties in the heart of Manhattan, according to Krueger.

Los Sures Lucha demonstrators look on as Senator Krueger speaks at the rally. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“They use real estate and apartments in Manhattan as their banks for the money that can’t come into this country legally. They’re oligarchs, they’re terrorist funders, they’re people who have committed violations of our laws in other countries,” Kruger said in her speech. “This whole system is ridiculous and it’s damaging real people everyday in our city. Governor Hochul, we’re begging you to sign this bill.”

The same LLC disclosure loopholes that allow buyers to purchase property on Billionaires’ Row anonymously are also at the center of a 2018 labor dispute at 111 W 57th Street, in which former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. alleged Parkside Construction stole over $1.7 million in wages during the construction of the luxury apartment building and hid nearly $42 million in wages from insurance officials to avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums.

“Thousands of citizens walk by this building every day, 111 W 57th Street. When they look they just see another luxury tower over here on Billionaires’ Row, but to many of us people in the know, that’s actually a crime scene,” Piccirillo said. “Parkside cheated 520 employees out of hours worked on this development site and retaliated against workers with termination if they complained. The majority of these employees were undocumented immigrants, particularly vulnerable to threats.”

According to Piccirillo, Parkside Construction used LLC shell companies to conceal their liability. In 2021, Parkside Construction was ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution to the state insurance fund as part of a plea deal but received no jail time and were not required to pay any restitution to workers.

“It’s like an onion, they’re in layers. It’s hard to peel the onion and get to all those layers they’re hiding behind in LLCs,” Piccirillo said. “All we want to know is who owns the LLC.”

A contract worker watches the rally from inside the 111 West 57th St condominium tower. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

The bill has been publicly supported by New York’s highest criminal justice officials, with Attorney General of New York Letitia James, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli upholding LLC disclosure as a necessary tool to pursue white collar crime, wage theft, landlord abuse and money laundering.

“Right now there exists a secretive system of LLCs that doesn’t require the individuals that benefit from LLCs to report themselves to the state. This allows wealthy bad actors from across the globe, foreign and domestic, to engage in hard-to-track money laundering, financial and tax fraud, and terrorism finance in the United States of America with little fear of detection,” Bragg wrote in a letter read by Hoylman-Sigal. “This behavior damages our shared concept of equal justice, destroys our city’s housing market and can threaten our national security.”

Gallagher said she is optimistic the governor will be responsive to the bill’s broad support from government officials in the state.

“I believe that hearing from these top enforcers in our state will finish the persuasion,” Gallagher said. “I think [Hochul] will see that this is vital to so many people.”

Carpenters Union members hold signs at the rally. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Brooklyn and Queens Flooded in the Midst of the Workday

By Oona Milliken, Matthew Fischetti and Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

From Rockaway Beach to Gowanus to Elmhurst, residents of Queens and Brooklyn faced the brunt of last week’s flooding as roadways, homes, subway stations and airports filled with water Friday in what has now been recorded as the worst storm to hit the city since Hurricane Ida.

Trash as a result of the flooding in South Williamsburg. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Communities worked together all afternoon to clear drains and save neighbors from rising floodwaters but as the outer boroughs return to dry warm weather this week, questions remain about Mayor Eric Adam’s ability to communicate and prepare New York City residents for the historic severe storm.

Water rose to more than three feet high on the corner of Wallabout Street and Harrison Avenue in South Williamsburg on Friday Sept. 29 as New Yorkers across the city dealt with a bout of extreme flooding that prompted a city-wide state of emergency. Anthony Calderon, a Queens-based resident who works at Top Quality Management, a management company on Wallabout St, said he was cleaning up the trash from his office that the water had swept away and spread out across the area. Calderon said when the intersection flooded, he was reminded of storms such as Hurricane Ida, when New York City was shut down under a Flash Flood Emergency for the first time in recorded history and 13 people perished due to the rains. 

“Hectic. A lot of rain. It’s just kept coming, kept coming. On Wallabout and Harrison, the flood was coming up here, to your knees at least,” Calderon said. “I was afraid, like ‘Not again, what is this flood?’ I remember a couple of years ago when the hurricanes came, all the subways flooded and Queen’s Boulevard…That’s how I felt, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Not again.’”

Mayor Eric Adams was slammed by critics for not giving proper notice of the flooding when his office knew of the dangers on Thursday evening and Governor Hochul had already issued a flash flooding warning for New York City earlier in the day. Adam’s office sent out an email alert at 11 p.m. on Thursday, but did not shut down schools and hosted a public briefing around noon on Friday, hours after the worst rainfall had subsided and the governor had already declared a state of emergency across the city. 

The New York City sewer system was originally designed to maintain 1.75 inches of rain per hour, but areas such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard were hit with 2.58 inches of rain per hour, as early as 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., according to the Mayor’s office.

“And so its no surprise, unfortunately, as a result, that that part of Brooklyn and a couple of other particularly (sic) part of Brooklyn have borne the brunt of this,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commish Rohit T. Aggarwala.

Right before noon, the mayor urged New Yorker’s to stay home or “shelter in place,” while many commuters were already at work. On the Wallabout St. and Harrison Ave intersection, Calderon said the flooding became so bad that community members stepped in and dealt with the problem on their own by removing a manhole cover and letting the storm water drain into the sewer systems. 

“People from the community thought of putting gates around, and I had to go do something, and when I came back I could just see a spiral [of water] going down right in the corner. It was amazing. I mean, you could see cars floating,” Calderon said. 

Community members gather around the open manhole drain. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Sandy Spadavecchia was driving his car through the Wallabout and Harrison intersection when the water partially submerged his car, rising up inside and stalling his vehicle. Spadavecchia said he saw a couple of construction workers and Hasidic community members attempt to deal with the problem until someone finally pulled the manhole cover to drain the water. Spadaveccia said he was lucky his car stalled when it did because he could have driven right into the manhole as the water was running into the sewer system. 

“There was flooding and the car stalled out in the middle of going through it and that was it,” Spadavecchia said. “In some ways I was lucky because I stalled out three or four feet in front of that open manhole cover, I might have gone into that.” 

Spadavecchia said he felt the city could have prevented the piles of trash spread by floodwaters throughout the area had residents been told to keep trash inside during the storm. 

“In my personal opinion, they probably should have suspended trash pickup, because I did see a lot of trash bags that hadn’t been picked up clogging [the streets],” Spadaveccia said. “I mean, they knew this was coming so they probably should have told people to keep their trash in for the day.” 

Calderon and co-worker Peter Nieves, both at Top Quality Management, were mopping other stores on the street and picking up trash that had been spread during the floods Friday. When asked for a quote on the flooding, Nieves said he just wanted some help and maybe an alcoholic beverage.  

“Can I get a beer?” Nieves said.

Across Queens, where many residents are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Ida, floodwaters closed roads, impacted public transport and filled basements. Cars were overrun with flooding on Grand Central Parkway and in Rosedale, with a number of drivers abandoning their vehicles altogether. Waters engulfed Rockaway Beach, where nearly every home is considered to be at risk of flooding, suspending Long Island Railroad service

As early as 6 a.m. Friday, travelers at LaGuardia Airport were experiencing inclement weather delays. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for the afternoon across the airport, stopping all departing flights due to the flooding and weather in the area, canceling or delaying nearly 40% of all flights Friday. Terminal A, the oldest section of the airport, flooded with several inches of water and shut down 11 a.m. Friday until early Saturday morning. Videos captured travelers trudging through ankle-deep water at gates across the terminal. Ongoing renovations in Terminals B and C have included flood protections that have not yet been implemented in Terminal A.

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