New Leg. Gives Tenants Power to Report Vacant Units in NYC

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

On Friday, Dec. 8, pols, community leaders and tenants rights activists gathered in front of City Hall to celebrate Intro 195, a bill that requires landlords to keep unoccupied units in good repair. The legislation also allows for tenants to report issues in vacant units. The sponsor of the bill, Councilmember Carlina Rivera of District 2, said that disrepair in uninhabited units affects the rest of the building. 

“Some of these conditions are pretty serious. It’s rats, it’s garbage, leaks, mold, lack of carbon monoxide detectors, lack of fire suppression, the list goes on and on, there’s even been broken locks and open doors” Rivera said during a speech. “It just creates this feeling of being unsafe.” 

 

Councilmember Carlina Rivera announcing Intro 195.

Deborah Rand, who helped write the bill with Rivera, said the legislation was intended to give autonomy back to tenants and take some of the onus off of the Housing and Preservation Department in fixing vacant housing. Tenants can now go to court themselves to report their landlords and get an order to inspect apartments for dilapidated conditions. Previously, HPD had to get permission — either from a building owner or with a court-appointed order, to inspect vacant units before enforcing any violations which delayed the process of repairs. 

“What this  does is it gives some control over what’s happening in vacant apartments around them. In certain parts, certain buildings in the city, if owners want to get rid of tenants, they actually allow the vacant apartments to deteriorate,” Rand said. “A lot of occupied apartments suffer from leaks, mold, you know, unsafe conditions, possible fires from the vacant apartments. So what this bill does is it gives the opportunity for the people in occupied apartments to make complaints about the vacant apartments.” 

Rivera echoed a similar sentiment and said that Intro 195 would allow for more units to become habitable. Estimates of how many empty apartments there are in New York City remain unclear, but estimates range from 40,000 to 90,000, according to reporting by Gothamist. 

“We are changing the law to ensure that now occupied units are included in inspections so that we can have more homes online. But also we can address hazardous conditions that have affected so many living in their own residential building,” Rivera said during a press statement. “It will empower HPD to support residents suffering from conditions emanating from vacant units.”

The bill is intended to prevent a concept called warehousing, the practice of letting vacant units intentionally sit empty for a variety of reasons. This can sometimes look like landlords combining or “Frankenstein-ing” vacant units into a larger apartment in order to be able to circumvent rent-stabilization laws and charge a higher rate. Landlords also might not want to sink money into repairing a unit to make it habitable, or a building owner will let a rent-stabilized unit sit vacant because renting it out will bring down the average price of the entire residential building. 

Brooklyn and Queens Councilmembers Shahana Hanif, Lincoln Restler and Shekar Krishnan all gave statements supporting the legislation. Krishnan said housing is the most important issue facing New Yorkers and holding landlords accountable is the first step to deliver safe living arrangements for city residents. 

“The fact of the matter is that housing is the most urgent crisis in our city because it connects to every other crisis around us,” Krishnan said in a press statement. “How many apartments lie vacant that could be used to solve the housing crisis that we face? Yet, we haven’t seen the action that we need from our city and state agencies to address this problem which is exactly why we, as a City Council, are taking action.” 

Feds raid home of mayor’s top fundraiser

Credit Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

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

The Crown-Heights home of Brianna Suggs, a 25-year old fund-raiser for Mayor Eric Adams’ mayoral run, was raided on Thursday Nov. 2. Suggs, who was 23 when she took on the task of running the mayor’s fundraising campaign, has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but FBI agents removed three iPhones, two laptops, alongside other materials such as binders, papers and a manila folder labeled “Eric Adams,” according to reporting by the New York Times.

The sweep is part of a broader probe by the FBI squad into public corruption under Mayor Adams helm. The federal government is investigating whether or not Adams has worked with the north Brooklyn construction company KSK Construction to inject foreign funds from Turkey to his mayoral campaign using straw donors. Various contributors who listed the construction company as their employer gave nearly $14,000 to Adams during his campaign. Construction company employees told THE CITY that they did not donate to Eric Adams or refused to state whether they had ever donated.

Though Suggs was young and inexperienced when she took her position as the mayor’s fundraising manager in 2021, the campaign raised more than $18 million for the campaign under her helm. She has worked with the mayor since 2018 during his days as Brooklyn Borough President, where she started as an intern whilst she was still enrolled as a student at Brooklyn College, according to her Linkedin profile. After rising through the ranks at Brooklyn Borough Hall, The Times reported that Suggs was making $80,000 at the end of her time in the office in 2021. 

Online news outlet The Messenger reported that NYPD officials were sent to conduct a “wellness check” prior to the FBI raid, which was noted as unusual behavior.

Though Adams is not directly implicated in the investigation, this is the second time this year that straw donor allegations have surfaced in conjunction with his 2021 mayoral run. Six people were charged on July 7, 2023 with allocating public funds to the mayoral campaign, according to reporting by the Associated Press. The Suggs raid gives new weight to charges of public corruption under Eric Adams watch due to the influence of foreign funds from Turkey. 

The news has already stirred 2025 speculation. Evan Roth Smith, from political consulting firm Slingshot Strategies, tweeted that “2025 starts today” and the New York Times has reported that there is potential interest in Broooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie while Politico reported that Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos was calling potential supporters.

 

*Turkish influence* 

The influence of money from the Turkish government and possibility of conspiracy with foreign agents adds a level of seriousness to the allegations. The warrant for the raid on Suggs’ residence included “records of travel to Turkey by any employee, officer or associate of the campaign; and documents related to interactions between the campaign and the government of Turkey.”

Adams has a long history with the country. Just days before the raid, he attended a Turkish flag raising ceremony in Manhattan where he boasted his frequent travels to the middle eastern country, saying, “I’m probably the only mayor in the history of this city that has not only visited Turkey once, but I think I’m on my sixth or seventh visit to Turkey.”

The earliest record of these trips was in August 2015, when Adams flew to Istanbul as Brooklyn borough president to visit a Syrian refugee camp and establish a sister-city relationship between Brooklyn and Istanbul’s Üsküdar district. According to Conflict of Interest Board disclosures, the trip was paid for by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, Turkish Airlines, the “Turkish Culture and Promotion Office in New York,” and several Turkish government offices, totaling at least $15,000. Adams was presented with an “honorary faculty” by Bahcesehir University and a scholarship was created in his name.

In December of that same year, Adams returned to the country for another $14,000 trip paid for by the World Tourism Organization and Association of Young Tourism Leaders, both of which have ties to the Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, according to THE CITY. During the December trip, Adams spent time in the coastal city of Antalya where he met with Semsettin Aydin, the owner of a Turkish construction company, Baysas Construction. 

According to a report at the time from Turkish media outlet Kadınca Emlak, Adams told Aydin he wanted to connect Aydin’s company to Brooklyn’s construction industry, saying, “I would like to host you in my country at the first opportunity you get,” Adams was reported as saying.

During the December 2015 trip, Adams also met with Enver Yücel, the president of BAU Global, the organization that founded both Bahcesehir University and Bay Atlantic University, in Washington D.C. Adams’ 2021 campaign received $10,000 from Bay Atlantic University staff, including the university’s president, Sinem Vatanartiran. These donations were returned before the election and later scrutinized by the Campaign Finance Board, but the Adams’ campaign was unresponsive to that scrutiny, according to The City.

Adams returned again to Istanbul in 2017 where he was interviewed by Turkey’s Daily Sabah. In the interview, Adams said that was his fifth visit to the country and mentioned plans to purchase a home there. He also expressed a desire to establish a Turkish trade center in Brooklyn.

“We want the business community here in Turkey to see the business opportunities in Brooklyn and vice versa particularly in housing development,” Adams said in the interview. “Brooklyn, where the Turkish community has small businesses, is a place where you can expand businesses.”

Back in New York, Adams has enjoyed loyal support from the city’s Turkish-American communities, including several fundraising events hosted by Turkish-American business owners between 2018 and 2021, according to several reports from CNN and NYCITY News Service. According to NY Magazine, a 2017 Turkish rom-com movie shot in New York City, New York Masalı, features Adams seemingly playing himself as borough president who two Turkish-American men approach to ask for political favors. Adams says he cannot understand them but says, “Brooklyn loves Turkey.”

Turkey has attracted criticism for human rights abuses and widespread corruption in recent years under president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who rose to power in 2014. In the time since Erdoğan’s ascension, the country has fallen in Transparency International’s corruption index, ranking 101 out of the 180 countries scored in 2022. 

Meanwhile, crackdowns on free press, free speech and protests through rampant police violence have become the norm in Turkey under Erdoğan, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey liable for political suppression due to its attempts to close one of the country’s major opposition parties and ban over 400 of its representatives from government. These concerns have been in the international spotlight as the European Union considers admitting Turkey as a member nation.

Adams praised Erdoğan’s wife, First Lady Emine Erdoğan of Turkey, at a United Nations climate event.

“We have two mothers. One gave birth to us and the other sustained (us), and what the first lady is doing is stating it clearly,” Adams said, according to Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency. “I thank you for your vision, for your wisdom and understanding that we have an obligation to sustain the life of the mother.”

 

*Dubious Practices* 

Adams has been known to test the boundaries of campaign finance regulations without ever crossing the line into formal wrongdoing. 

A New York Times review in 2021 highlighted Adams’s use of his nonprofit, One Brooklyn Fund Inc, to functionally sidestep limitations on donations: the organization enjoyed an influx of millions of dollars from supporters, some of whom had business before the city and would have been limited to giving only $400 per election cycle the straightforward way. In addition to directing resources towards charitable causes, One Brooklyn used funds to distribute promotional material about Adams, host extravagant fundraising events and bestow awards on constituent businesses (some of whom later contributed to Adams’s mayoral run, according to Politico). During a 2015 visit to Turkey as borough president, Adams stated in a press release that the trip “underscore[d] the deep importance of our own Turkish community and their contributions to our One Brooklyn family.” 

There have been a slew of cases throughout the mayor’s career where he accepted funds raised by constituents on the city’s doing-business list right around the time they were seeking a particular outcome from his office. One of many examples is the case of Slate Property Group, as covered in a 2021 New York Times analysis: during Adams’s 2021 mayoral run, David Schwartz, a real estate developer and cofounder of Slate, organized a fundraiser that yielded $20,000 for Adams, according to the New York Times article. Weeks before, Slate Property Group had filed a land use application to build a new 40-story building in downtown Brooklyn, which would require a zoning change. Adams gave his approval to the rezoning efforts months later, against the wishes of the local community board, without disclosing any financial ties to Schwartz. More recently, Adams was grazed by a case of corruption from within his administration. Eric Ulrich, a former senior advisor to the mayor and head of the buildings department, currently faces charges of bribery. Among the list of wrongdoings, Ulrich is accused of accepting a discounted apartment from a developer with business before the city, and accepting cash in exchange for favors such as a second shot at a health inspection for a restaurant, exclusive contracts and job offers to family. 

In the beginning of his mayoralty, Adams’s decision to appoint Philip Banks to the position of Deputy Mayor of Public Safety despite being an unindicted co-conspirator in a wide-ranging NYPD corruption case was highly criticized.

Mayor Adams has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing and said he would comply with investigations when asked about it during a PIX 11 interview.

“Well, first of all, where there’s smoke there’s not always fire. Listen, I make sure that we have real compliance. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure that it’s done correctly, and we are going to comply with any agency, that review, whatever we do,” he said.

“And if anyone did something that’s appropriate outside of our compliance procedures, the law enforcement agencies will determine that. This is new and evolving, and we’re going to comply 100 percent. I have not been contacted by any law enforcement agency, and no law enforcement agency has determined that anyone associated with our campaign did anything wrong.”

Dominican Academy Takes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Seriously

By Oona Milliken

[email protected]

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

Queens Borough Board is Briefed on Interborough Express; Discuss Price and Feasibility

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

The Interborough Express plan keeps chugging along, as the Metropolitan Transit Authority moves forward in their plans of converting 14 miles of freight tracks into a functional commute way for Brooklyn and Queens residents. On Monday, Sept. 18, the Queens Borough Board met with Borough President Donovan Richards and MTA representatives in Borough Hall to discuss the specifics.

Sean Fitzgerald, Deputy Chief of Staff for the MTA, led with a presentation to update the community on the MTA’s findings on how much the railway would cost, plans for construction and preliminary findings of their study. According to Fitzpatrick’s presentation, the rail would be incredibly useful for people traveling in Queens and Brooklyn, a notorious subway desert.

“There’s increasing demand for travel within Queens, and between Brooklyn and Queens directly. We think that within this study area, there are more people who commute within Brooklyn and Queens than go into Manhattan,” Fitzpatrick said. “We anticipate, with forecast modeling, something like 115,000 weekday riders, which would be a substantial addition to the MTA portfolio.”

The express is set to run from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Jackson Heights in Queens. According to Fitzpatrick, the subway line would connect to 17 other subway lines, as well as the Long Island Railroad, and save commuters almost half an hour spent traveling. The MTA has decided to move forward with light rail, which would be both cheaper and faster than traditional subway tracks, though the project is still expected to cost roughly $5.5 billion. A light rail would entail smaller, lighter vehicles and an above-ground rail through Brooklyn and Queens.

Some board members balked at the multi-billion dollar price tag. Frank Taylor, chairperson for Queens Community Board District 3, said he would like to see the MTA conduct proper maintenance before spending more money on a new project, and addressed his concerns to Fitzpatrick. In 2019, a piece of wood struck and damaged a car underneath the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens during renovation efforts.

“You’re doing a 7 train renovation now, the 7 line, and the train actually fell and hit people’s cars and other things. It had been all over the news before you guys did anything. Maintenance is not something you guys do,” Taylor said during the meeting. “What I see in areas of which I reside, black and brown areas, you’re putting band-aids on these structures that are here instead of redoing [them].”

Other community board members worried about the possibility of relocating individuals near the railway, and how it would impact community members living near the train track. Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, chairperson for Community Board 6, asked what the MTA was doing in order to prevent people’s homes from being demolished during the construction.

“You talk about not wanting to disrupt cemeteries, which I get, but I’m also wondering about the people who are living,” Beers-Dimitriadis said to Fitzpatrick. “Are you looking at the possibility of having to eliminate a house here, a house there, in order to make this line work, or building here, a building there, in order to accommodate this?”

Other community members at the meeting voiced similar concerns, including Davita Brown, who said she wanted to come to the meeting because she was worried it would disrupt her own neighborhood. After the meeting, Brown said she agreed that Queens needed more transportation, but thought that all new construction would come at the expense of community members’ quality of life. She also said she was concerned with the maintenance of existing railway lines, much like Taylor.

“The quality of life will change no matter what you do. We have to make up our mind on community members’ quality of life to have more transportation. You cannot advance without some sort of change,” Brown said. “We already have problems with maintaining the stuff they already have. There’s no intervention, there’s no prevention, they just wait for it to blow up.”

Fitzgerald fielded all questions from community members and said that the plan was just in the preliminary stages of development. In response to Taylor’s concerns, Fitzgerald said he appreciated the feedback from community members and stressed that there was new leadership within the agency that wanted to prioritize underserved populations and to keep community voices at the forefront when developing new railways.

“The MTA is looking to change that,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot more work to do, and sort of get us to a place that you’d like us to be, and that we would like to be, but I think that this MTA has made a lot of steps to move us in that direction and hold our feet to the fire as we keep trying to get stuff done.”

King Manor Museum Celebrates New Renovation Prior to Constitution Day

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

King Manor Museum, located in the heart of Jamaica, held its annual Constitution and Cocktails event last Thursday, Sept. 7. The event is intended to raise funds for the organization and celebrate the inauguration of new American citizens when they sign the constitution at the manor on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

Along with music, cocktails, and food, speakers at the event honored the local unions that came together to renovate the facade of the building as well as the museum’s impact on the Jamaica community. According to Brow, the manor got the entire facade painted, and the front porch was redone. The museum is the former residence of Rufus King, a Founding Father of the United States and a famous abolitionist. Today, the museum seeks to prioritize education and carry on King’s legacy of fighting for important social change, according to Brow.

The museum’s executive director, Kelsey Brow, said she was incredibly grateful for the two union’s work in maintaining the museum, and that she was emotional when renovation work was finished.

“[I] cried. When I think about it sometimes, I still get teary-eyed,” Brow said in an interview.

“Our mission is to teach critical thinking for a healthier democracy,” Brow said. “We want our visitors to leave feeling like empowered learners interested in thinking about why things are the way they are, and what they can do to make things better.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said in a speech that coming to the Rufus King Manor was important to him as it pointed to people who had fought for racial justice in the United States.

“What’s beautiful about being in Jamaica, and having this institution here that we can come here, and we can see some of that history,” Richards. “We can look at many of our allies who also have done a lot of this work, to make sure that even as we progress from the South to the North, that we can be afforded the opportunities that we have today.”

Each union representative was given an antique flag as a token of appreciation for their donation to the manor. According to Brow, the flags flew over the building in the late 19th and early 20th century. Joe Riley, a representative from the New York City Carpenters Union, said the work was a passion project, and he shouted out to his team while acknowledging the legacy of Rufus King.

“This was like a labor of love,” Riley said. “I’m extremely honored to be here, very proud of the work that we did. Very proud of you guys. And just the idea that Rufus King 200 years later is still alive in this place — it was humbling and amazing to me that his life continues through us.”

Devon Lomax, a representative from District Council 9, said that he was both born and adopted in Jamaica, and has a strong connection to the Queens community.

“DC 9 represents over 10,000 men and women in the construction industry doing painting, painting bridges, doing glass, you know, wallpaper, hanging, drywall taping,” Lomax said. “One thing that we always pride ourselves in is giving back to the communities where we come from, teaching our members to give back to their communities.”

Other speakers at the event included Hope Knight, President, CEO and Commissioner of Empire State Development Board; Tom Grech, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Queen’s Chamber of Commerce; various members of the Rufus King Museum board, as well as Walter Sanchez, the president of the board. In a speech, Knight said that the manor was a representative of the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and mentioned Queens as a laboratory for growth.

“Good things are happening here in Jamaica, especially under Governor Hochul’s leadership,” Knight said. “Landmarks like King Manor, Rufus King Park, support our efforts to create a sense of space, and offer a foothold upon which we can grow, invest and thrive.”

Editor’s Note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of BQE Media.

QueensLink Rail Expansion Supporters Hold Heated Rally in Front of City Hall

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

After years of fighting, transportation advocates in Queens might finally see a payoff. Supporters of the QueensLink, a proposal to expand transit lines in Central and Southeastern Queens, gathered Wednesday, Sep. 6 to rally for the implementation of the project in the borough. Rick Horan, transportation activist and executive director for QueensLink, said he started advocating for the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch in May of 2015 after years of frustrating commutes from his home in the Rockaways to his work in Manhattan. Instead, he said he found that opposition was the typical “Not in My Backyard,” attitude also referred to as NIMBY.

“I became aware of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way, and was very curious as to why it was not used for transit and just sitting there,” Horan said. “I looked into it and found that it seemed to be just a typical NIMBY opposition that was standing in the way of a bit being reactivated.”

The project faltered last year when Mayor Eric Adams put $35 million towards MetHub, the first phase of a project more broadly known as QueensWay, which intends to convert the old railroad into a Highline-esque park. After Mayor Adams’s decision became public, several politicians, such as Queens Borough President Donovan Richards as well as State Senator James Sanders and Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson came out in support of QueensLink in the fall of last year.

Now, QueensLink supporters are trying to revive the movement and chanted at Mayor Adams in front of City Hall to get his attention. The project seeks to add four new stops along the M train on top of an abandoned MTA Rockaway Beach Branch rail with parks along parts of the rail route with connections to the A, J/Z, E,F, R and 7 trains, as well as the LIRR. According to the QueenLink website, the expansion will provide access to an additional 47,000 daily riders and is expected to cost around $3.5 billion.

Transportation in the area is much needed, according to Michael Carlier, Parks and Transportation Liaison for Borough President Richard’s Office.

“Southeast Queens residents are saddled with limited access to subways and a reliance on often spotty bus service,” Carlier said. “We can definitely do better. And we should. This shortcoming disproportionately impacts many of our boroughs, low-income communities, where residents depend on mass transit to get to work exclusively.”

State Assemblymember James Sanders, a Rockaway resident and representative for the 10th District, said his drive into the city is often hindered by traffic congestion, and that QueensLink would provide a better alternative.

“I drove here from the Rockaways this morning, and I started at 7:15 a.m. I was gonna be at a nine o’clock meeting. I got here at 9:40 a.m. That is not good.” Sanders said. “Not only did I pollute the Earth, not only was I late, but we could have done so much better. I would have rather taken the train. I would have rather taken the Queen’s link.”

Supporters of QueensWay argue that Queens residents have a lack of access to parks and that the new park would remedy that with further greenspace for Queens residents to bike in, walk through and enjoy time outdoors. Local elected officials and businesses in support of the QueensWay include Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, the Queens Tourism Council, as well as the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Karen Imas, a Steering Committee member of Friends of QueensWay, declined to be interviewed for the story but sent a statement via email.

“Friends of the QueensWay is very excited about the progress on the QueensWay project and looks forward to working with the City of NY to realize the extraordinary near-term opportunity to activate quality open space, as well as environmental, economic and educational benefits for Central Queens, starting with the first phase called the MetHub,” Imas wrote in an email.

Currently, the MTA is currently conducting a 20-year study to determine potential metro investments, which includes the revitalization of the Rockaway Beach Branch. If approved, the three and a half mile section in Queens would be included in their Capital Program, which begins in 2025. Horan said he does not understand the sudden push for QueensWay, as there is plenty of green space in Queens that is not properly maintained. According to Horan, the QueensLink project would provide both new transportation and new parkland.

“There’s so much parkland in New York thats already in the system that’s not being cared for properly. Why this little skinny track land? Why fast-track that now?” Horan said. “At the same time that the right-of-way is being studied by the MTA in this 20-year needs assessment? I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.”

During NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ speech, the rally was interrupted by two hecklers who claimed to be representing rideshare and taxi drivers in opposition to the proposed congestion tax in New York City. The pair halted the rally with shouts, aimed both at Williams who is in support of congestion pricing, and the general assembly, but did not hold vitriol against the QueensLink program in particular.

“No congestion pricing, the link is fine, the QueensLink is fine, but no congestion pricing,” one of the men shouted.

The rally attracted supporters from across the political spectrum, including New York City Councilmember Bob Holden, who said he did not always see eye to eye with all the representatives at the rally but could agree on this project. Holden said the QueensLink was an obvious choice in modernizing existing railways while connecting Southeastern Queens to the rest of the borough.

“We have an opportunity to bring public transit, and not buses that are stuck in that traffic, a bus route that really is very, very slow, we have a chance to bring modern rail to our district to serve the people of Queens,” Holden said. “This is a win-win, like Jumaane said. This is where we agree, Jumaane Williams and I disagree on a lot of things, but we certainly agree on the QueensLink.”

Horan said he wants to continue to see commuters and Queens residents fight for expanded transit access in their borough and that the QueensLink has the potential to be an environmental and economic access to the region.

Pols, activists and supporters of QueensLink gathered at City Hall. Speaking: Mike Scala, counsel and legal advisor for QueensLink.

“People should be very upset with the administration who has made a unilateral decision about this very valuable right-of-way that holds so much potential value to Queens and the city as a whole,” Horan said.

Queens Chamber of Commerce Hosts New Member Introduction

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

In a packed conference room in the Queens Chamber of Commerce Office, business owners passed their business cards around the room. The monthly event is organized by the Chamber of Commerce for new members to help introduce them to the organization and meet other people in the borough. Jef Gross, Manager of Media Relations for the Chamber, introduced the members to the website, how to post events online and how to submit stories for the monthly Queensborough Magazine. 

According to Gross, benefits of being a member of the Chamber include connecting with other business owners and helping individuals begin the process of growing their business. Gross said other commerce chambers in New York City do not get the same level of benefits as they do in Queens, and that the new members orientation is just one example of that. 

“We provide opportunities in Queens that other boroughs do not provide.” Gross said. “Individuals will join organizations and there isn’t even an orientation. This gives them a little footing, a sense of direction.” 

According to Brendan Leavy, Business Development Manager for the Chamber, Queens has a strong potential for growth in technology, infrastructure and real estate expansion as well as healthcare services. Leavy said that due to the aging population in Queens, a lot of healthcare providers see opportunities to grow their practices. Two business representatives at the event were based in the healthcare sector, Praxis Health Technology and Northwell Health. 

“When you have 2.3 million people, aging, also aging in place and not going to Florida, that has tremendous impacts on the healthcare system,” Leavy said. “In the room was Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in the state, they have over 80,000 employees…That’s bringing new jobs to Queens.” 

Henk Guitjens, Director of Marketing at Corporate Loss Prevention Associates Inc., and attendee of the new member introduction event, said that he appreciated the efforts of the Queens Chamber of Commerce in order to connect businesses in the borough. 

“I found it very well prepared, and I was impressed with the 20 plus people in the room. They covered everything in an hour, and I say, I was impressed, better than the experiences at some other chambers,” Guitjens said. “The opportunity to work with other members, their willingness to make introductions, which of course other chambers have…but [the Queens Chambers] also have a substantial staff.” 

According to Shahriar Hossain, Business Recovery Specialist for the Chamber, Queens is unique because it has a large economic hub while still keeping a calmer, more family-oriented feel that other boroughs do not have. Hossain said he thinks that the technology sector in Queens has the potential to blossom in coming years, and that the Chamber is trying to facilitate that growth via business incubators in order to attract more tech companies. 

“I think tech is going to be huge in terms of development,” Hossian said. “The Chamber actually has five tech incubators that we’ve opened throughout the borough in Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Jackson Heights, and one in Queens College.” 

 

*Editors Note: BQE Media is the publishing partner of This is Queensborough Magazine

Private Health Clinic in South Williamsburg Steps Up Amidst Migrant Crisis Overflow

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

On any given Sunday on the outskirts of the Orthodox Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, passerby might turn the street to see hundreds of migrants gathered outside of Parcare, an unassuming private health clinic on Park Avenue, speaking animatedly in languages like French, Bengali, Arabic and Spanish. 

The migrants are there for a drive that Parcare operates in order to help people who have recently arrived in the United States navigate the asylum seeking process, which includes information on how to obtain health insurance, registering for an IDNYC card and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, getting in contact with immigrant lawyers or finding permanent housing. Gary Schlesinger, founder and chief executive officer of Parcare, said the drive emerged when patients who spoke little English started turning up at Parcare around Nov. 2022 without insurance, identification or long-term housing. 

“It started affecting us because all of a sudden, we started seeing people coming to our front desk asking for help,“ Schlesinger said. “So we jumped in, trying to help. I felt, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do.’” 

Levi Jurkowiz, community liaison for Parcare, said that Parcare runs three drives a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for anyone that might need assistance, but migrants are the primary visitors. Jurkowiz said Parcare is trying to help with the migrant crisis as much as they can, but he said he feels frustrated that there is no broader plan of action from the city and federal government.

“There is no plan, there’s an immigrant crisis. The people here are really, all of them, just looking to work, pay taxes and get their papers. We should help them get that,” Jurkowitz said. “I think there’s an issue with the federal government, they have to figure out what to do.” 

According to Jurkowitz, the people who come into Parcare often live in shelters and speak little English, which makes it difficult to obtain health insurance, bank accounts, or a job as you need a permanent address to register, and it is difficult to find work if you do not speak the language. Jurkowiz said the system is incredibly difficult to navigate, and many newcomers arrive after long and arduous journeys with debt from cartels and other predatory lenders who make enormous profit off of smuggling migrants across the border. 

“It costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to come here,” Jurkowiz said. “And the people who lend them the money aren’t the nicest people in the world.” 

Ibrahim, 23, said he had traveled through five countries and several American states to come to New York from his home in Mauritania, a country located in Western Africa. We are only using Ibrahim’s first name to protect his identity. Ibrahim speaks French and Arabic but minimal English, and communicated via a mix of spoken word and Google Translate. According to Ibrahim, life in Mauritania was extremely difficult, and he felt confined by government constraints, social and family pressures as well as a lack of opportunities. 

“I have a lot of problems with Mauritania. You can’t be free,” Ibrahim said. “I want to be free in my decisions, I want to do what I like to do.” 

Ibrahim said he studied computer science and business in Tunisia before coming to the United States, and hopes to continue his studies. However, he said he has had trouble finding work and resources in the U.S. due to his uncertain legal status in the country. Ibrahim said that immigration services cater to people from Spanish speaking countries, and that many under-the-table job opportunities available to Spanish migrants are not given to African migrants. According to Ibrahim, it has also been hard adjusting to living in the shelters where there is a lack of showers and personal space, and that theft is a big issue. 

“It’s very hard to live where I live,” Ibrahim said. “[In the shelter] we live 70 in one room, eight floors. The big problem for me for now is stealing. You have phone? Steal. You have bag? Steal. I have papers, they steal that.” 

Schlesinger, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, said he feels an obligation to help the asylum seekers after hearing stories from his parents who escaped the Holocaust from Hungary. 

“My father used to always tell me how grateful he was for anyone that used to help them because they came here with nothing. He was talking the immigrant language, you know, he was an immigrant,” Schlesinger said. “So, when I started looking into this, I thought, ‘You know, this is a crisis, let’s do something.’” 

As of July 19, there are 54,800 migrants under New York City’s care with hundreds of people arriving in the city each day. In a press conference, Mayor Eric Adams said the crisis has reached its breaking point as news broke that newcomers have been turned away from overflowing shelters and forced to sleep on the streets; Adams urged President Joe Biden to give aid to the city in order to alleviate the issue.

According to Jurkowiz, squabbles between Republican and Democratic politicians have caused the situation, and that the migrants have been caught in the middle. Since April 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abott has been sending busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities like New York and Washington D.C. in order to protest the Biden administration’s border policy. Since last spring, New York City has seen an influx of 90,000 migrants and asylum-seekers. Schlesinger said that the work Parcare does is not enough to help all the people arriving into the city, and that there needs to be more money and infrastructure to deal with the issue. 

“Let’s face it, the money really comes from the federal government, that’s where the billions are,” Schlesinger said. “And if they don’t recognize this as a crisis, there’s a big issue here because there’s thousands of people and if the money isn’t going to come from Washington, God knows where this is going to end. Private people like us can only do so much.” 

Notorious B.I.G Statue Unveiled in Downtown Brooklyn

Celebrations At The Opening Of The Statue In Cadman Plaza

By Oona Milliken[email protected]

On Cadman Plaza, nestled amongst a cluster of institutional buildings like the Brooklyn Borough Hall, the County Clerk’s office and various other courthouses criminal and otherwise, stands an institution in its own right: Brooklyn’s own Biggie Smalls. A nine-foot tall interactive sculpture of the late rapper was unveiled on Wed. Aug 2 and was celebrated with speeches from Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and other community leaders, a dance performance by Victory Music & Dance Company as well as a marching band concert. 

Sherwin Banfield, the artist who created the sculpture, said he was inspired to make the piece because of his connection to Biggie’s creativity and artistry. 

“I was exposed to Biggie my first year of Parsons School of Design, my next door neighbor, he invited me over and said ‘You’ve got to hear this, this album just dropped,’ this was in 94, it was ‘Ready to Die,’” Banfield said. “When I listened and I heard it, I was completely blown away. It was completely unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was cinema, cinema as music.” 

The sculpture, dubbed “Sky’s the Limit in the county of Kings,” is cast with Biggie’s face in bronze, complemented with a variety of different materials such as resin, stone and stainless steels and also includes an audio component powered by solar panels that run alongside Big’s back. Hip-hop is not just being honored in Cadman Plaza: there is a world-wide movement to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music, with multiple events happening in New York City this summer. Banfield said he was heavily inspired by hip-hop music, and that he wanted to mix different artistic mediums to mimic the genre’s amalgamating of different sounds and musical styles. In an interview, he also said he wanted the statute to inspire young people. 

“This sculpture is not for everyone, but for kids that find themselves in unusual circumstances that are hurtful, or they might feel like the world is against them,” Banfield said. “You know, they can look towards this sculpture as an achievement for someone that took their talents, that took their God-given talents, and ran with it. Biggie said, ‘If you find something that’s in you, just develop it.’” 

Biggie Smalls, who also went by the Notorious B.I.G, Biggie or just Big, was born 1972 as Christopher George Latore Wallace in Clinton Hill. He is often named by critics and other musicians as one of the best rappers of all time. Biggie was multi-faceted, and touched upon deeper subjects like struggle, depression, compassion, love, and suicide in a way that other hip-artists at the time would not speak about publicly. Oftentimes, he was also vulgar, rapping bluntly about sex, violence and drugs, and was controversial for the darkness of his lyrics. Overall, his rumbling voice, melodic lyricism and gritty storytelling came to represent East Coast hip-hop alongside peers such as Nas and Jay-Z. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that hip-hop was incredibly important to young people growing in the city, and it was heartwarming to be celebrating such an influential artist in his birthplace. 

Celebrations At The Opening Of The Statue In Cadman Plaza

“Hip-hop was, and is, the soundtrack of our lives,” Williams said. “To see the impact hip-hop has is amazing. To be celebrating 50 years [of hip-hop], to be able to unveil a Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G bust and statue in front of Borough Hall…who would have thought that it going to be what it was when we were bumping our heads on the train, on the bus, listening to “Ready to Die,” listening to Biggie. It’s just amazing.” 

An attendee of the event who goes by K.C., short for King Crust, went to the same school as Biggie, and said that watching someone from Brooklyn become such a big name in the music industry inspired others from the neighborhood to follow their own passions. According to King Crust, Biggie represents the essence of Brooklyn. 

“Hip-hip is life, hip-hop is everything. The rhythm of how you carry your everyday is hip-hop,” King Crust said. “Biggie Smalls is the illest. That should be known all across the world. He was the illest to ever do it.” 

The statue will be available for viewing on Cadman Plaza until November. 

Queens Variety Boys and Girls Club Announces New Rooftop Farm Partnership

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

An entire acre of peppers, kale and okra sits six stories above the busy trafficways in Astoria. The vegetables are a part of a rooftop garden project recently acquired by the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens

All crop produce, alongside honey farmed from a beehive located on the lot, is intended for harvest and will either be sold to the community or given to children of the Boys and Girls Club, according to Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Boys and Girls Club, Costa Constantinides. Constantinides said the project is intended to help children in underserved areas of Queens provide access to nature and educate young people about where their food comes from. 

The opening of the event included speeches from Constantinides, Variety Boys and Girls Club Board President Walter Sanchez,* Congresswoman Nydia M. Velásquez, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, New York State Assemblymembers Zohran Mamdani and Kristen Gonzalez, as well as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Brooklyn Grange, Ben Flanner. 

“We’re hoping to have kids up here on school trips, really make this a neighborhood space, make this something that can be exciting for everyone,” Constantinides said. “This is an acre of paradise, an oasis in the urban jungle. We want this to be a green space where our kids can come up and be like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’” 

The VBGCG is planning to utilize the space to help build education programming surrounding agriculture, including the growing of organic vegetables and honey, as well as being a space for mental wellness. 

The plot of land was developed by Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farming and green roofing business that is intent on increasing locally grown produce in the city, as well as using urban green spaces to mitigate environmental phenomena such as rainwater overflow. According to their website, the business produces over 100,000 pounds of vegetables each year across their three rooftop farms in Brooklyn and in Queens.

Michelle Cashen, Director of Design and Build at Brooklyn Grange, said that rooftop gardens are an underutilized area for greenspace in a city. 

“There’s not a lot of ground space for greenery, parks or green space in general [in New York City],” Cashen said. “On rooftops, there’s a lot of bare empty spaces. It just kind of makes sense that if you’re going to add any type of greenery into New York, that’s where you’re looking.” 

Constantinides said the Boys and Girls Club serves 4,000 children a year, 77 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Many of these kids live in areas of Queens that lack access to healthy food or are affected by environmental pollution, Constantinides emphasized. He said that the garden could be a step for the community in order to mitigate these issues. 

 

*Editors Note: Walter Sanchez is the Publisher of BQE Media.

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