Pol Position: Queens Surrogate Election Gets A Bit Lighter

Courtesy the Law Office of Donna Furey 

Political insiders in Queens are stirring about the upcoming election for the Surrogate judge, a spot that comes up for election every 16-years. Judge Peter Kelly is the outgoing judge and the court, with about 50 employees, takes care of the disposition of wills and estates. Donna Furey, the Astoria attorney and civic leader is considered the one candidate with experience in this type of law. This week she abruptly suspended her campaign for the post. No word on why, but insiders opine that votes for her would now go to Queens Democratic Party favorite Cassandra Johnson. “These kinds of things happen all the time,” said one judicial insider we spoke with Monday evening. “The party leaders need to continue to maintain control of that court. There was possibly some kind of agreement which made her and the ‘party’ happy,” the insider said.

Cassandra Johnson, a Supreme Court Judge since January, might just have an easy path to victory. Wendy Lee, a Manhattan judge, put up by Hiram Monserrate’s camp, has been working community boards this past month. She showed up at the Middle Village Community Board meeting to introduce herself. People at the meeting were certainly confused as to why she was allowed to speak as she did not say that she was running for any position. “ I just wanted to introduce myself,” she said.

Rules for running for a position of judge are quite different than what’s allowed when running for political office. But records show she has raised almost two hundred thousands of dollars. Johnson has about a tenth of that.

Pol Position: Trolling & Adams/Heastie

After we posted about our Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights walk with Assembly candidate Hiram Monserrate last week, we got some sparking comments on social media about why we would give this guy any press at all. 

When we sat down with Hiram, he wanted to clear the air about his reputation and questioned a recent article from the Ledger which referred to his past legal troubles. After explaining that our readers are savvy and leaving it out could signify that we were trying to hide his past, he talked about his new life with a wife and young child. He also showed us that the part of his past life that has not changed is his love and fighting spirit for his community. And we will tell you something that is only talked about in the highest of Queens political circles: Monserrate is ‘relevant’ and he has a following which many in the democratic clubs fear fractures Queens democratic politics. He is running for Jeff Aubry’s seat. Larinda Hooks, who is well known at Elmcore, is the choice of county — and Aubry. Stay tuned for that race.

Internet trollers who minimize the message from our reporting about the sex workers and child labor tragedy going on in his neighborhood should focus on the message: that area needs attention. It doesn’t need a sweep once every six months. The illegal activity is rampant and for those living near Roosevelt Avenue, to have a reasonable quality of life shouldn’t be asking too much.

By the way another nugget he suggested is that the MTA should be an agency, not an authority, which doesn’t have the oversight and agency, would. Not a bad thought.

Carl Heastie, the leader of the NY State Assembly is doubling down on his notion on not recognizing that people who loot and harm retail workers should not be considered felons. Mayor Adams disagrees. But the power the Assembly Speaker wields means it goes nowhere. The missing piece in Heastie’s stance is that cops continue to lose the ability to perform their job. It means workers at these retail stores don’t pursue shoplifters. It means that what we continue to witness in drug stores all over the city the lawlessness of looting will not change. Don’t wonder why we will see store after store have simple everyday items behind locked glass shelves. It takes ten minutes to track down a store worker to open the glass showcase to get a bottle of aspirin… if you can even find a drug store within walking distance from your home anymore.

We don’t think reformers of criminal justice had this in mind. If criminal justice is truly to be reformed, laws and procedures like this have to be rolled back. The ‘new common sense’ goes too far when real criminality is not dealt with in a true ‘common sense’ manner.

Editorial: Willets Point Casino Poll …. Really?

Let’s do a neighborhood poll to see if people want legal cannabis shops on their main street. How about a community poll to see if residents agree to a homeless shelter in their neighborhood? We’ll bet the results wildly surpass the ‘75% against’ results of the State Senator Jessica Ramos’ Willets Point Casino poll for Corona. In fact we might see both our polls show 95% or-more against legal cannabis and homeless shelter. To base your decision to support a project on a neighborhood poll is careless. 

Jessica happens to be a solid representative for the district. As chair of the Senate labor committee she has been a champion for the rights of workers, fair pay and equality. Her district is in the transit hub of New York. Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst bustle with trains and busses 24/7. As a member of the Senate transportation committee it’s quite important that Jessica represent us. 

But right under her nose, sex workers, illegal food vendors and cannabis shops are so rampant, it’s impossible to walk Roosevelt Avenue (like we did last week) without gasping in fright for the ‘neighbors’ who live within blocks of the avenue from 82nd to104th.  We have multiple brothels, dozens of ‘street meat’ vendors and dozens of little kids hawking everything from candy to eggs to iphone chargers. Where’s the interest in labor there?

We’re not calling her out. We know the police are present on Roosevelt. We know that she spends time in the district and it’s an enforcement problem, but it seems we all turn a blind eye and blame someone else for the problem. We talked to cops on patrol that night. We talked to Sanitation enforcement. They admit there is little they have the power to do. “These people doing illegal business don’t carry ID, so how are we going to summons them?” one official told us. Police and sanitation have to be given the tools to work together and do consistent sweeps. The neighbors deserve it.

We got the invitation from Hiram Monserrate to walk Roosevelt with him. We took it. Jessica, we would love to walk Roosevelt with you in the coming weeks. See what’s there. Polls and Town Halls are great, but decisions about the future of the neighborhood are never made by polls. People don’t want change. Many of us don’t understand change. Yet the City and the State, regardless of polls institute congestion pricing, open homeless shelters and license cannabis shops.

It happens to be true that people and organizations who have come out in favor of the casino there have either been given money or promised money from the Steve Cohen treasure chest. Well we haven’t been promised anything, nor have we gotten any money and we can safely say that a casino and all the entertainment and food amenities that come with it will make Queens better.  Having a developer with deep pockets, who has shown that he gives back, is key. Signing a deal which will enhance the Willets Point transit hub, provide jobs, provide real shows and a deal that awards money for community improvement near the casino is a winner.

Activist Investors Are Coming After New Yorkers’ Safe Investments. Here’s How We Can Stop Them.

by Pastor Michael Battle

For generations, millions of middle-class New Yorkers and other Americans have used a type of investment vehicle called closed-end funds (CEFs) to secure their financial future. 

A close relative of better-known mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), CEFs often deliver more reliable distribution income than other funds as a result of their holdings. This makes them very popular with seniors and folks planning for retirement. 

However, all of the benefits CEFs provide are facing a grave threat.  Activist investors on Wall Street have set their sights on these funds, planning hostile takeovers to enrich themselves at the expense of the regular Americans who have invested in the fund, and it’s time for New Yorkers to pay attention.

These activist investors have billion-dollar bankrolls and have discovered they can buy up shares of a CEF and wage a proxy campaign to change the adviser. Surprising no one, they appoint their own firm as the CEF’s adviser, completely shift the investment strategy to riskier assets, and then sell their position for a quick profit while continuing to earn management fees, leaving American retirees holding risky assets they never intended to have when they originally invested in the fund.

These billionaire activist investors are using a loophole in the Investment Company Act – a law passed in the wake of the Great Depression to protect investors and prevent fraud – when they buy up shares and orchestrate these hostile takeovers of CEF boards, the fund’s governing body. 

Suddenly, American retirees who invested in the CEF because it provided reliable distribution income from safe assets may now be holding a highly speculative fund made up of assets like crypto and high-risk corporations. In many cases, these activist investors have taken control and made the changes before regular investors even realize what’s happening. Even worse, sometimes a CEF will be liquidated entirely as a result of an activist’s takeover, eliminating the income stream original investors were expecting to have for their retirement or other savings purposes.

Alarmingly, the billionaire activists are using this strategy increasingly often, which is why New Yorkers must start paying attention now and speaking up. Income New Yorkers were counting on in retirement may be at stake. On top of this, now fewer CEFs are being created in part because investment managers see activists preying on these funds. With fewer CEFs available for retirees and middle-class Americans to safely invest in, regular people are being left without this useful option. 

While some may argue these hostile takeovers are simply the free market at work, that argument fails to recognize the legal intent of the Investment Company Act. For more than 80 years, the Investment Company Act has protected investors and ensured funds serve the best interests of shareholders. The law has allowed for the growth of CEFs, mutual funds, and ETFs that have generated billions of dollars in wealth for Americans saving for their retirement, college for their kids, or a downpayment on a new home. If activist investors with hostile intentions are allowed to exploit loopholes in the law to enrich themselves instead of long-term shareholders’ interests, millions of CEF investors will continue to suffer.

It’s time for robust action to protect American retirees who invested in CEFs long before activist investors started to prey on these funds. Thankfully, New York Congressman Gregory Meeks has proposed a bipartisan bill to protect CEF investors. His Increasing Investor Opportunities Act, would prevent hedge fund managers from exploiting the loopholes they use to take over CEFs, and it would expand opportunities for retail investors to participate in investment opportunities. With both Democrats and Republicans behind the bill, this should be a no brainer.

It’s time for Congress to help investors and retirees stand up to hedge fund bullies. New Yorkers deserve some peace of mind that rich activists won’t take over their investments and exploit them for personal gain. Passing the Increasing Investor Opportunities Act is the best way to do that.

Jiha again using the budget as a political weapon

In a hours-long budget meeting with councilmembers Monday, Adams’ budget director, Jacques Jiha, made some sweeping statements about the city’s bottom line.

The headlines from that meeting this week focused on Jiha’s assessment that closing Rikers Island jail by 2027, as mandated by law, is “not going to happen.” In his testimony on the city’s budget, Jiha claimed that the mandate to close Rikers and make way for borough-based jails throughout the city was interfering with his ability to provide space in the budget for popular infrastructure plans and city services. The comptroller disagrees with that assessment. Wait a minute, haven’t we heard this before?

Oh! That’s right! This fall, Jiha told us a $6.5 billion deficit, largely caused by asylum seekers, was responsible for closing library services and slashing education spending — only to quietly correct the record when discovering the city actually has a $2.8 billion surplus. In the same meeting Monday, Jiha told city council that the Biden administration has not delivered federal funding promised to the city when in fact, according to a federal official, it is the mayor’s office dragging its feet on the necessary paperwork holding up the money.

Jail reform and asylum seekers are easy scapegoats for austerity concerns — especially when you imagine billions of dollars in budget deficits to fuel it. We all know Adams is not a fan of the Rikers closure, he has publicly lambasted the plan and cast doubt on the jail’s documented inhumane and deadly conditions. But the law is the law and the mayor has a mandate to follow through on his duties, regardless of his feelings on the matter.

As for Jiha, we advise he take another stab at his assessment of the budget now that he’s got almost $10 billion more that we thought on hand and, in the words of his boss:

“Stay focused. No distractions. And grind.”

Electeds Need to Take Action to Protect Retail Workers

On Tuesday, retail workers, members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and allies rallied in Albany to push for the passage of the Retail Worker Safety Act. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jessica Ramos of Jackson Heights, seeks to protect workers from violent and dangerous incidents at retail stores.

Created in response to heightened rates of violence in stores across New York City and State since the pandemic — ranging from verbal harassment to threats to racially motivated assaults to shootings — the bill would create sensible measures to keep the workers who keep our city running every day safe. 

Retail employers with 10 employees or more would be required to create workplace violence prevention programs, including simple measures such as improving lighting, employee training, educating workers on de-escalation tactics and establishing emergency procedures, such as during active shooter drills. Employers would also be required to document any incidents of workplace violence and report them to a public database. Additionally, larger chain retail stores (those with 50 or more workers nationwide) would have to install panic buttons and some would be required to hire security guards.

As conversations of quality of life crime and shoplifting dominate political talking points, it’s time for politicians to take real action to support those most immediately affected by these incidents. The NYPD is not a private security force for large retail corporations and cannot be expected to operate as taxpayer-funded guards for giant chain retailers. Those employers need to start putting up the resources to take the most basic measures necessary to keep their employees safe in the workplace. It’s common sense, Albany needs to pass the Retail Worker Safety Act now!

In Our Opinion: Local news is not a competition

Two weekends ago, Councilman Bob Holden honored the late, great Maureen Walthers, the long-time matriarch of the Ridgewood Times, with a street co-naming on Woodbine Street in Ridgewood, where she called home.

Walthers served as the first female editor of the Ridgewood Times, as well as its executive vice president and co-owner.

She went on to purchase the paper in 1983, and eventually launched the Times Newsweekly, extending to other parts of Queens.

Her contributions to the neighborhood also include her involvement in Community Board 5 and Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation, her efforts to preserve and landmark the Onderdonk House and co-founding the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society — among many other commendable endeavors.

Walthers passed away in 2020 after an illness, and dozens of people gathered on Aug. 27 to celebrate her work as a journalist and civic leader, and reminisce on her kind, witty personality.

But what should have been a wholesome event to commemorate her life and legacy quickly turned sour when speakers on the mic made strange, competitive remarks pitting the Ridgewood Times and other local papers against each other.

“The Ridgewood Times at that time was the newspaper. The layout of the Ridgewood Times was again, the most complete, the most professional, and it rivaled actually many, many daily newspapers,” Holden said.

Sheesh, Bob. That’s a perfectly fine opinion to have, but to say it on the mic in front of a crowd of people, which included reporters from said papers, is a bit awkward.

Many of Walthers’ close friends and loved ones took turns on the mic to reminisce. The comments got weirder as the ceremony went on.

Outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said that local journalism should be about what Walthers exemplified: “fearless, fun and community-focused,” and that although other papers “try,” she misses what Walthers brought to the table.

Another community resident who’s known Walthers since the ‘70s even went as far as suggesting that other local papers misrepresent people and events, and the Ridgewood Times always got it right.

“Any time you wanted to put something in [the Ridgewood Times], *boom* it was in. And it was always put in a great light,” he said. “Those of you who might’ve been portrayed in other papers or in other media and say, ‘That’s not really what happened,’ but with the Ridgewood Times, it really was what happened.”

News flash: it is not a journalist’s job to portray people and events in a “positive light,” it’s our job to seek the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly — and report it to our readers.

Any journalist worth their title will promptly make a correction or retraction if something was somehow taken out of context or misinterpreted in any way. Reach out to us and start a dialogue if that’s ever the case.

The Ridgewood Times has done and continues to do admirable work for the community, and Maureen Walthers’ work in the newspaper business serves as inspiration for all young reporters, especially young women.

But for elected officials and community leaders to make her event a competition is a blatant slap in the face to reporters at other newspapers who work tirelessly to provide readers with relevant local news.

In the same way that politicians represent a community whether people like it or not, established local newspapers influence and serve thousands of readers in the community —  whether politicians like it or not.

We should all aim to work together to provide the most factual, up-to-date news to our communities.

The remainder of Walthers’ street co-naming event was lovely, revealing fond memories of her along with a shiny new street sign that reads, “Maureen Walthers Way.”

Based on Maureen’s personality and life philosophy, she wouldn’t have appreciated the needless, subtle digs at other papers. We knew her well. She was a true pioneer in our industry and she believed as we do, in the growth and prosperity of our communities. Local papers are a strength of the neighborhood.

Her work at the Ridgewood Times speaks for itself.

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