Vol. 19,  No.  1 Jan. 12 - 25, 2006


In the Public Interest

Riveras on Council Changes


Council Member Joel Rivera lost his bid for the speaker position, but he’s not crying over it. Rivera seems confident that he will hold on to his post as majority leader, the Council’s second in command, and benefit from close relations with Speaker Christine Quinn. His father, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, also indicated that good things will come to all eight members of the Bronx delegation this year.

“Everyone will be taken care of,” said Rivera, the party boss of the Bronx Democrats, during a Three Kings Day celebration at his son’s office across from City Hall last week.

While the Council’s speaker is elected by members of that body, borough party chiefs play an outsized role in deciding who gets the job by corralling the votes of their respective Council delegations. Quinn, who is from Manhattan, is said to have begun courting outer-borough party bigwigs early on. She donated $1,650 in 2004 to the Bronx County Democratic Committee through events sponsored by the group, according to city campaign finance records. She also gave to the Queens Democrats and dozens of individual Council members.

The Riveras expect to be compensated for their loyalty through committee chairmanships for Bronx members. The posts help pad the chair’s paychecks. There are 50 committees and subcommittees to be divided among 51 members, with powerful chairmanships like Education and Housing up for grabs this year.

The positions will be formally doled out during the Council’s next Stated Meeting on Jan. 18. Most of the wheeling and dealing for the posts seems to have already taken place, however. Both Riveras seemed relieved that major negotiations were already complete.

Opposing Immigration Bill
Legislation that would make living and working in the U.S. extremely difficult for illegal immigrants passed the House last month, though some local lawmakers are livid. Congressman Josť Serrano is taking a vocal stance against the bill, which could instigate the most sweeping revamp of immigration law in decades.

“While our nation’s immigration laws do need a comprehensive overhaul, this enforcement-only bill is a step in the wrong direction,” said Serrano in a statement. “It is punitive, counterproductive and mean-spirited.”

Among its many provisions, the law would eliminate the visa lottery program and mandate that businesses report Social Security numbers for their employees. It would make assisting illegal immigrants — everything from ESL classes and church relief programs to transporting someone to the hospital — a felony. All of those caught illegally entering U.S. borders would be automatically detained, and the legislation proposes a wall be built along a third of the Mexican border. It does nothing to create a guest worker program, as some had hoped.

Many organizations and business groups have characterized the bill as overly harsh and unworkable. Congressmen Eliot Engel and Serrano both voted against it. The Senate is expected to take up the bill, and two others addressing immigration, next month.

Subway Railing
Council Member Oliver Koppell continued to hound the MTA about conditions at the 205th Street D and Mosholu Parkway No. 4 subway stations last month.

After contacting the agency, Koppell received a list of work being done at the Norwood stations. Part of the D station platform has been repaired, and some coverings were replaced. The MTA promises to finish lead abatement and repaint the station by the end of the month, according to Koppell.

“Although I believe the MTA is treating the deteriorated condition of the 205th Street station with Band-Aids, I am hopeful that the small improvements being made will lead to … a major rehabilitation,” he said in a press release.

The MTA has promised to start a complete rehab of the Mosholu station in September. The southern staircase, which has been closed for years, would also be reopened, according to Koppell. Local advocates have long hoped this defunct entrance, which is nearest to Tracey Towers, would be reopened.

Transparent TV
Bronxites will be better able to keep tabs on their legislators now that cable stations will broadcast live coverage of state proceedings this year. Hearings have been available on-line for the past four years, but lawmakers agreed to air them on cable last session.

The move is part of an attempt to make Albany’s doings more transparent. In addition to hearings, the coverage will include committee meetings and basic information about legislators.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz praised the change. “[This] will help even more New Yorkers stay informed on the issues that affect their lives,” he said in a statement.

Cablevision will carry the footage in the Bronx. For more information, visit  .

Making Law
• The mayor signed a slew of legislation before the year ended. The 27 laws address issues ranging from green purchasing and the noise code to cracking down on graffiti and calming the Harlem River.

Property owners will, for the first time, be fined for failure to remove graffiti from their buildings. Penalties of up to $300 will be levied on owners of commercial or residential buildings who fail to remove tags within 60 days. Other new laws mandate community service for those caught spraying graffiti, and criminalizes the possession or sale of graffiti instruments to those under the age of 21. The legislation piggybacks on recent efforts by the police to crack down on graffiti.

Thanks to another law, crime will now be tracked in parks using the same CompStat program used for city streets. Environmental advocates see the legislation as a means to target unsafe green spaces.

“We applaud the mayor for utilizing the latest technology to help ensure our parks are safe,” said Christian DiPalermo, director of New Yorkers For Parks, a citywide advocacy group.

Tracking will begin with the city’s 20 largest parks, which includes Pelham Bay, Van Cortlandt and Bronx parks. The initiative is slated to expand within three years to all green spaces at least an acre in size.

In school matters, the Department of Education will now be required to report classroom size averages on their Web site and to the City Council. The city will also publicly document how many temporary units are housing school classrooms.

Five bills will mandate that the city purchase energy-efficient, green and recycled products. The city has created many new environmental guidelines for its vehicles and housing construction in the last few years.

A bill to create “no wake areas” in the Harlem River, including a stretch running from Highbridge to University Heights, was also signed. The law seeks to curb powerboat usage in areas that crew teams and other recreational vessels frequent.

“[The law] will further the renaissance of the Harlem River by protecting piers and other shoreline structures, waterfront recreational facilities and parks,” said Council Member Oliver Koppell, a bill co-sponsor, in a statement.

The mayor also ushered in big changes to the city’s noise code. The new guidelines restrict noise from construction sites, forbids Mister Softie trucks from playing their jingle when parked, limits dog barking to 10 minutes, and forbids large trucks from operating in residential areas at night. It also codifies how loud nightclubs can play music, and implements new fines ranging from $50 to $8,000. The legislation takes effect in 2007.

Other measures will establish a committee to study the city’s broadband Internet capacities, and provide more child welfare oversight.

• The Assembly is considering legislation to crack down on sexual predators. The bill would increase jail time for the worst sex crimes, mandate treatment, and provide additional services for victims. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is optimistic the legislation will pass early in the year.

Over 100 sexual offenders recently moved to the New York City metro area, according to an analysis by state Senator Jeff Klein last month. State Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics show that 60 individuals categorized as high risk live in the 10458, 10467 and 10468 zip codes.

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