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Friday, February 29, 2008

Consumer Protection in Financial Services: The Bronx is Heard on Capitol Hill

Guest Opinion from Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost:
Yesterday I had the opportunity to tesify in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financials Services and General Goverment. Congressman Jose Serrano is the Chair of this Subcommittee and had this to say about the hearing in his newsletter:
"All consumers are at risk of being victimized by financial predators...Each year countless working class parents who are struggling to achieve the American dream tragically have their hopes of upward mobility crushed by the practices of dishonest businesses. While their plight often goes unrecognized, the enduring housing crisis has opened the eyes of many Americans to their struggles, and made us all aware of the devastating effects such exploitation can have on the strength of our economy."

My testimony focused primarily on expanding absence of conventional banks in places like the Bronx (a legacy of redlining), and how this has opened the door to fringe financial institutions. In addition to speaking highly of Senator Dodd's bill (S.2452) to add protections for homebuyers and homeowners, I focused on Refund Anticipation Loans offered by tax preparers throughout low income areas. Here are some excerpts:

Without a doubt there is need for stronger consumer protections in financial services, especially in low- and moderate-income communities of color that in the past were victims of redlining. The Bronx is entirely too familiar with redlining, as this practice led to the borough’s notorious incendiary reputation. While the Community Reinvestment Act has helped immensely to turn around the fortunes of places like the Bronx, the residual effects of redlining have led to abusive lending practices, often referred to as “reverse-redlining.” Traditional banks continue to have a relatively small branch presence in our neighborhoods, opening up the door to fringe financial institutions such as payday lenders and check cashers who often double as mortgage brokers pushing subprime products. ...It is three times as hard to find a bank branch in the Bronx as it is nationally...In fact, our borough’s many Puerto Rican-born residents are much more likely to find a bank branch back on the island than they are in the Bronx.

...this residual effect of redlining has created a vacuum for predatory and irresponsible lending to come into our neighborhoods and make a fortune off the meager incomes of our residents through the guise of rent-to-own stores, tax preparers that offer refund anticipation loans (RALs), and one-stop-shop mortgage agencies pushing their subprime dope.

At UNHP, we have performed outreach, intake and referrals to many struggling Bronx homeowners over the past eight years. In the past two-and-a-half years, many of those calls have come from new homeowners who by no means could afford their homes. Others, many senior citizens, have owned their homes for a long time but can no longer afford their current mortgage thanks to the unsavory terms of a recent refinancing. Our own research has shown that the majority of Bronx homeowners going into foreclosure during the first three quarters of 2007 were not the victims of 2/28 or 3/27 ARMs; almost 65% of the loans going into foreclosure during this period were less than two years old! This exemplifies the extent of atrocious underwriting in recent years, where huge numbers of loans were made without regards to the borrower's ability to repay. The proliferation of the securitized secondary market has made this all possible through its blatant lack of accountability.

Outside of mortgages, one of the main areas that our neighborhoods could use more consumer protection is with tax preparation, specifically with protection against the exorbitant interest rates and fees that come with Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). Once again, it is the same neighborhoods like the South and West Bronx that are targeted by tax preparation services offering RALS. The financial effects are devastating as tens of millions of dollars meant for low- and moderate-income families struggling to literally pay the rent are being siphoned off through RALs.

To make matters worse, it is one of our nation’s largest anti-poverty programs that is being preyed upon by RALs. It is indeed the very same low-income neighborhoods where households receive and depend upon the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that RALs are targeted and flourish. In effect, the federal government is subsidizing tax preparation companies and their national lender partners by allowing them to take advantage of folks living on the edge who are desperate for cash. Congress can easily change all of this by requiring the IRS to ban RALs on Earned Income Tax Credit dollars.

Congress can also act by ending Federal preemption of state laws that would in effect do away with predatory loan products like RALs. It is no wonder that (at least in New York) only national banks make these loans; State laws and banking regulations prohibit such high interest rates so only banks not subject to these rules can offer such predatory products. This is a loophole that needs to be closed.

While this subcommittee deals specifically with appropriations (funding the federal government's agencies), the hearing will hopefully lead to more protections for consumers from Washington which will in the end benefit places like the Bronx.

Norwood News Presents at Grassroots Media Conference on Sunday

The Norwood News and West Bronx News Network are participating in a workshop entitled "News for Underserved Neighborhoods" at this Sunday's NYC Grassroots Media Conference at Hunter College. The workshop is being organized by Bernard Stein, co-publisher of The Riverdale Press and editor of the Hunts Point Express. Stein and Norwood News editor Jordan Moss, along with Desiree Hunter, an activist with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, and Adam Leibowitz of The Point, will present at the workshop. Here's the description:

Community newspapers and websites fill a void in big city life, airing information, connecting residents and giving them a voice; but many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods have no source of community news.

In the Bronx, where some of the city’s poorest and most poorly-served residents live, a movement has begun to provide for them what their more affluent neighbors take for granted, a source of information and a forum for debate on the issues closest to home.

This panel will include the founding editors of The Hunts Point Express www.huntspointexpress.com and the West Bronx News Network http://westbronxnews.blogspot.com/ and two community activists from the neighborhoods covered by the Norwood News, Highbridge Horizon, Mount Hope Monitor and The Express to showcase the ways in which independent, not-for-profit news can make a difference and to sow the seeds of similar ventures elsewhere in the city.

Hope to see you there!!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

West Bronx News: Quick Links

Mayor Bloomberg was in the northwest Bronx yesterday to promote a new electronic health records initiative that he says will improve preventive care throughout New York City.

Bob Kapstatter, the Daily News' Bronx borough chief, takes NY Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez's husband, Louis Vazquez, to task for his hot wheels (a 2003 James Bond two-door convertible T-bird), which he registered through his company, Rain, Inc. Kapstatter points out that, through a fat city contract, Vazquez's nonprofit runs the Meals-on-Wheels program using non-union workers. Vazquez's nonprofit must register with his wife, the NY Secretary of State.

The Sun reviews the new Bronx County Courthouse.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Carrión's Cover Letter

So far, five individuals, including Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, have declared their interest in running for city comptroller. Today, in the Gotham Gazette, the candidates discuss what they would do to revive the flagging economy. Here's what Carrión had to say.

Bronx Leaders Discuss Filter Plant Problems Tonight

Tune in to Gary Axelbank's show BronxTalk PrimeTime (Bronxnet, Channel 67) at 9 p.m. tonight as Father Richard Gorman and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz discuss the latest incriminating revelations from the city's Croton Water Filtration Plant project in Van Cortlandt Park.

Last Thursday night, the city's Department of Investigation said it was still looking into whether organized crime figures influenced the siting of the project after an executive from one of the project's contractors was indicted along with more than 60 members of the Gambino crime family.

The show will then be re-broadcast throughout the week.

Cardinal Egan visits Highbridge, thanks CEO for new scholarship fund

Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archbishop of New York, visited Sacred Heart School in Highbridge this afternoon, joined by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman.

Cardinal Egan was on hand to thank Schwarzman for creating a new endowment fund that will pay for 100 inner-city-children per year to attend Catholic Schools , and for Schwarzman's donation of $5 million to that fund.

Schwarzman was visiting a student at Sacred Heart whom he sponsors through the Be A Students' Friend Program, where individuals help pay for the education of students in need.

A year ago, Cardinal Egan was a guest at Schwarzman's 60th Birthday Party.

Friday, February 22, 2008

'New' School Seats a 'Flimflam'

An article in the Daily News today revealed that 300 'new' seats in the northwest Bronx were actually reclaimed seats, meaning the city is still not adding additional seats to ease the borough's chronic overcrowding problem.

City Council education chairman Robert Jackson said, "It seems to me that they're trying to do a flimflam on us." (For those unfamiliar with the term, the word "flimflam" means "a swindle." Thanks Webster's. Yes, we looked it up.)

Others, including Councilman Oliver Koppell, were equally unimpressed. The city is "trying to placate everybody, trying to make it seem like they're doing more than they're really doing."

In September the Norwood News wrote a story with similar miscalculations from the Education Department about a new building being constructed on the PS 94 campus in Norwood.

If you don't want to read through the whole article, here's the important part:

"Feinberg wrote in an email that the SCA scoured the district to find places to build on existing DOE property and, as a result, chose PS 94, PS 95 and PS 79 to receive permanent annex buildings. It's all part of the DOE's plan, she wrote, to alleviate overcrowding by adding 2,500 K-8 seats to District 10 in the city's revised Five-year Capital Plan. The new Early Childhood Center at PS 94 will 'provide 420 additional seats' in District 10, according to DOE calculations.

But after a closer look at the numbers, those calculations appear optimistic at best. The new building, which the DOE says will be part of PS 94 when it opens (but even that is subject to change once it's built), will contain 515 seats. Currently, PS 94 houses 1,050 students; 600 in the main building, 325 in the portables on campus and an additional 125 at a satellite building on Gun Hill Road four blocks away. As it stands, the DOE says all 450 students housed outside of the main building will move into the new Early Childhood Center. That leaves just 65 additional seats, not counting the new Pre-K students who will arrive as part of the DOE's citywide push for more Pre-K classes."

Changing Times: Bank Note Building's New Landlord Wants Homeless Out

The Bronx's only drop-in center for homeless people is in the process of being forced out because the building's new landlord wants to attract a different type of clientele, according to the center's director, Noel Concepción.

The Living Room, which is run by the Citizens Advice Bureau, is located in the historic American Bank Note Building in Hunts Point. It currently serves 130-140 people a day, says Concepción. There are on-site medical services, showers, storage facilities, free meals, but no beds - which differentiates it from a shelter. Clients sleep in chairs. Many stay for months on end.

In January, the 400,000-square-foot building was sold to Taconic Investment Partners and Denham Wolf Real Estate Services for $32 million. "I think that the new owners envision Hunts Point as being the next place where there’s going to be a great deal of gentrification," said Concepción, speaking yesterday. "So they're planning to make this place a large multi-cultural arts center, and they’ve told us that our services and what we do here just don’t fit."

As one of the new owners told the Daily News: "Ideally, our tenant mix would encompass visual arts, performing groups, architects, Web designers, film production/studios, emerging green businesses and an international food market."

An international food market - whatever that is - sounds a little ambitious, but you get the picture: Yes to fancy art galleries, no to the mentally ill and those with drug and alcohol problems.

Other Bank Note Building tenants may not be safe either, because rents, of course, are set to rise. Concepción says he heard they might jump by as much as 75 percent, which is worrying Per Scholas, a non-profit that refurbishes old computers. (Majora Carter's Sustainable South Bronx, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, and others, are also based in the building.)

The Living Room's lease is up in August. If staying put isn't an option (and at the moment it isn't), Concepción wants to find another location nearby. The neighborhood, he says, attracts the homeless, particularly homeless men, because it's easy to find day jobs, such as loading and unloading trucks. Hunts Point, all talk of gentrification aside, remains poor and industrial.

The Citizens Advice Bureau was involved in the Department of Homeless Services' annual Homeless Count, held Jan. 28. Results are due in the next few weeks. Concepción says he expects the borough's unsheltered homeless population to be down on last year's count, in part because of the Living Room's success in moving the chronically homeless into permanent housing.

Feds Net Norwood Gang

This Norwood gang takedown is big news.
I can't remember anything of this magnitude in the area in my 13 years as editor.

Bronx Bits ...

Borough President Adolfo Carrion makes his third trip to Israel.

Larry Davis, one of the Bronx's most famous and controversial outlaws, died at the hands of fellow inmates in the yard of an upstate prison where he's been incarcerated since the late 1980s. If you weren't around back then, this Times story paints a picture of a very different time in the Big Apple.

Councilwoman Helen Foster, who may be running for borough president, says the last two borough presidents (Carrion and Ferrer) "were not and are not sympathetic to the black community."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Latest From the Norwood News

Check out all the latest news from Norwood, Bedford Park, North Fordham and University Heights at the Norwood News Web site. Our latest edition hit streets today.

County Clerk Rivera?

Bob Kapstatter reports that Assemblyman and Bronx Democratic chairman Jose Rivera is "60%" thinking about succeeding Hector Diaz (now City Clerk) as County Clerk. Infighting among the borough's Democratic factions over this plum patronage post is a sure bet. 

Bronx Homeowner Aid Confab at Spellman H.S. Saturday

In an effort to stanch the tide of Bronx home foreclosures, State Sen. Jeffrey Klein is sponsoring a meeting Saturday where homeowners can meet with bankers to review their mortgages. The all-day session is form noon to 8 p.m. at Cardinal Spellman High School. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Breaking News: Landlord Gets Jail Time

The city announced today that Hamid Khan, the landlord of 1055 University Ave-- a building in Highbridge that currently has more than 2200 Maintenance Code violations --has been sentenced to nine days in jail for criminal contempt. The sentence was announced today by Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the city's department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Khan's sentence marks the first time in two years that a building owner or managing agent has gone to jail in a case brought by HPD. (In February of 2006, Olufemi Falade was sentenced to jail for failure to make repairs at apartments he managed in Brooklyn).

Living conditions at the 94-unit, six-story structure at 1055 University Ave are among the worst in New York City. Tenants there have long struggled with collapsed ceilings, massive water leaks, damaged walls and doors, non-functioning toilets, lack of hot and cold water, extensive mold, and broken stairs, to name just a few massive problems.

The Highbridge Horizon first reported on conditions at the building in April of 2007.

Also, check out the stories from our May , June , August, and September issues.

HPD first took Khan to court in the fall of 2006. The court ordered him to correct the violations in October of that year, but by April of 2007, the number of violations had grown substantially. The case went to trial in July of 2007 and lasted nearly six months. Khan was sentenced on January 28.

Last fall, Khan's attorney Howard Fritz told the Horizon that the shareholders of Highbridge Apartments LLC had removed his client from day-to-day operations of 1055 University Ave in an effort to appease HPD. Indeed, the HPD Web site currently lists Juan Martinez -- not Hamid Khan-- as the owner of the building.

However, as our September 2007 article explored, the degree to which Khan may have remained involved in the building was unclear.

As part of their sentence, Khan and Highbridge Apartments LLC were also ordered to pay $156,000 in fines.

Engel Glad to See Castro Go

As a sharp contrast to Congressman Jose Serrano's statement (see below) on Fidel Castro, the other Bronx congressman who represents the West Bronx, Eliot Engel, said Castro's departure will hopefully lead to Cuba's "liberty."

Here's what Engel said in a statement yesterday:

"The resignation of Fidel Castro is another step in the transition to a free and democratic Cuba. I have stood with the Cuban people as they have faced the difficulties of the Castro regime which has been in power since 1959, and I will continue to advocate for their liberty.

As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, it is my hope that today's development will spark democratic change in Cuba allowing for a renaissance in U.S.-Cuban relations. In the coming days, I will be watching carefully to see if a new generation of Cuban leaders will take advantage of this historic opportunity."

Serrano Praises Castro For Graceful Transition

While it remains unclear what Fidel Castro's decision to step aside as Cuba's top leader will mean for the United States, local Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano sees it as a positive for Cuba and Castro's legacy as an agent of change.

Here's the beginning of his statement yesterday:

"Today’s news that Fidel Castro has retired from leading his nation proves yet again that this important figure defies the attempts of his critics to paint him simply as a power-hungry authoritarian. Instead, it proves that Castro sees clearly the long-term interests of the Cuban people and recognizes that they are best served by a carefully planned transition. Few leaders, having been on the front lines of history so long, would be able to voluntarily step aside in favor of a new, younger generation. In taking this action, Castro is ensuring that the changes he brought about will live on and grow."

Click here for the rest of the statement.

Obscure Bronx Company Back in the Spotlight

The John Galt Corporation, a northwest Bronx-based company, is back in the news. And again, it's not positive. Federal regulators slapped John Galt and Bovis Lend Lease with 44 safety violations related to their demolition work at the former Deutsche Bank building. They may also face a half million dollars in fines.

John Galt surfaced last summer as the mysteriously inexperienced contractor behind the Deutsche Bank demolition project that erupted into a fire that killed two city firefighters. It was soon revealed that John Galt was collaboration between the Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting Company, a business with offices on Webster Avenue just north of Gun Hill Road (the same offices as John Galt, and former executives from Safeway Environmental Corporation (which has a troubled history with ties to organized crime, according to the New York Times).

John Galt, which hadn't done any demolition work prior to the Deutsche Bank job, was fired from the project soon after the fatal fire. But the job continues to haunt them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Borough President's Press Secretary Moves On

Mike Murphy is moving on as Adolfo Carrión's press secretary, after more than a year-and-a-half in that position. Murphy will be taking a new job as press secretary with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; he starts on Tuesday.

Murphy says he is leaving the Borough President's office on good terms. "Working for the Borough President was an amazing experience and he is a great person and a great leader," Murphy said. "He will always have my support and friendship."

Murphy added his replacement has not yet been named.

Carrion Suits Up for Comptroller Bid

Bronx BP Adolfo Carrion has named two bigshots as co-chairs of his campaign for comptroller.

Meanwhile, the Daily News' Bob Kapstatter pokes a little fun at Carrion's mathematical abilities.

It's Done: Bronxite is City Clerk

Bronx County Clerk Hector Diaz finally got the nod from the City Council to become City Clerk, but the entire Brooklyn delegation voted against him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

End Game for Brooklyn v. Bronx Spat Over City Clerk?

The inter-borough patronage battle for the position of City Clerk should have ended today but there's been a delay, according to the Politicker.

Eligible Lawmakers and Their Staffers

In honor of Valentine's Day, the Capitol, an Albany paper, interviews "eligible bachelors and bachelorettes" among elected officials and their staffers. Some local lawmakers -- Carl Heastie, Jeff Klein, and Eric Schneiderman -- make the list.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Exploited Workers Celebrate $1.4 million Settlement

Workers rights advocates, led by Retail Action Project (RAP), held a press conference and victory march earlier today, to celebrate a successful lawsuit against the aptly named Yellow Rat Bastard (YRB), a Soho-based clothing store.

According to the Attorney General's Office, YRB and its affiliates violated labor laws by failing to pay employees minimum wage or overtime pay. More than 1,000 workers, past and present, are set to see a slice of the $1,4 million settlement. More here. Organizers said they hope the lawsuit will serve notice to other Soho retailers that low wages and poor working conditions won't go unnoticed or unpunished.

Many of YRB's current and former workers are immigrants from Africa. Idrissa, 29, was born in Burkina Faso, and now lives on 183rd Street near the Grand Concourse. He worked in YRB's basement warehouse (below the the flagship store) for six years, until resigning last summer. At first, Idrissa said, he was grateful for the money ($5.25 an hour), but that the "rat infestation" and 70-hour weeks eventually wore him down.

Idrissa, who didn't want his last name published, said the victory was about more than money. "It's about raising awareness that this type of exploitation is going on in other businesses in New York," he said.

Bronx community leaders who attended the march included Bakary Camara of the Gambian Society (pictured left) and Titikpina Djounedou (right), president of the African Peoples Alliance and an organizer with the North West Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

Gunmen Caught in NW Bronx Apartment

Police arrested two gunmen apprehended at 2970 Marion Avenue in Bedford Park this morning. Special unit trucks blocked streets and officers stormed the building, guns drawn, according to neighbors waiting for operations to end before being allowed to enter or leave their buildings.

Another resident of 2970 said the gunmen were caught in a first-floor apartment.

-Reporting and photo by Annie Shreffler for NYCity News Service.

Bronx Science Imports Mostly From Queens

Here's a commuter story from the Times about Bronx Science students who take long bus rides from Queens to the northwest Bronx. The article says that up until the 1960s, 90 percent of Bronx Science students were from the Bronx. Now, most of the specialized school's students hail from Queens.

Sen. Diaz on Clinton Campaign Shakeup

Some Latino lawmakers, including Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, are up in arms over the ousting of Patty Solis Doyle, a Latina who was Hillary Clinton's campaign manager until yesterday.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is The Bronx Commercial Boom Over?

The Real Deal reports that there are signs that the Bronx commercial real estate boom is cooling off.

February's Mount Hope Monitor is out

The February edition of the bilingual Mount Hope Monitor hit the streets today.

Stories include:

School's Closure Draws Protest
The DOE has decided to close PS 79, citing poor performance. On Feb. 1, parents and teachers came together to protest the decision in an early morning rally outside the school's gates.
"We're protesting the fact that we're being called a failing school," said teacher Leslie Collier. "The parents had no say in this. [Schools] Chancellor [Joel] Klein has shoved it down their throats."
The school, on 181st Street at Creston Avenue, recently received an "F" in the DOE's new scoring system. Collier said the grade was hugely unfair as "there are a lot of schools in the city of New York truly doing worse that us."

Bronx Pastor, Jessie Woodhouse, dead at 99

A look back at the life of Jessie Woodhouse, a popular Bronx pastor who died in January at the age of 99. Woodhouse founded the First Bible Church of the Lord's Mission, a non-dominational church on Bush Street near Burnside Avenue.

Drug Bust at Sedgwick Houses

On Jan. 9, six people were arrested following a lengthy investigation into drug dealing at Sedgwick Houses, a housing project just north of the Cross Bronx Expressway, near the Harlem River.
The investigation was a joint effort by the DEA and the NYPD. According to the indictment, uncover officers started buying crack cocaine at the project in April last year. At first, the buys were small, a bag here, a bag there, presumably to gain the dealers trust. Over time, they grow larger. In November, an officer bought 59 grams in a single sale. Because the accused are being charged federally, and because one of the buys involved more than 50 grams, they're looking (if convicted) at a minimum of 10 years each in a federal prison, without the possibility of parole.
Local residents say they're thrilled the building at the center of the investigation (140 W. 174th Street) has been cleaned up. But they worry someone will try and take the dealers' place. After all, the supply's been cut off, not the demand. Said one officer at the 46th Precinct: "This is prime drug dealing real estate."

Morris Avenue Resident Trades the Bronx for Baghdad
Pfc. William Perez, 29, of Morris Avenue, is four months into a 15-month deployment of Iraq. In January he was back in the Bronx on a two-week leave. First things first, he proposed to his girlfriend. Then he sat down with the Monitor to talk about his experiences in the Iraqi capital.

- Pick up the paper at local banks, schools, churches, and businesses. Or e-mail mounthopenews[at]gmail.com, and we'll send you a copy for free while supplies last. The new paper's not online as we're in the (very) early stages of building a new Web site.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Latest Norwood News Online Now

Just in time for weekend reading, the latest edition of the Norwood News is online now. Enjoy!

Just A Bit Inside

Under the heading "Is this a news article or an advertisement?" :

Several New York papers reported this morning on the press tour of the new Yankee Stadium given yesterday by the Yankees. Check out these stories from Newsday and the New York Daily News. The stories have the same basic thrust: Look how beautiful the new stadium will look, and how wonderful it will be for the fans.

Then again, I guess that's what happens when you write a story without quoting a single resident of the surrounding neighborhood, and without mentioning the persistent discontent with several elements of the project, including the controversy over the parking garages and the fact that, as reported by the New York Times last month, the committee responsible for implementing the Community-Benefits-Agreement had not even met yet.

In the Daily News article, Lonn Trost, chief operating officer for the Yankees, is quoted as saying, "The stadium has been built with the fans in mind."

It seems difficult to justify including Trost's quote without at least alluding to the fact that many of the fans he mentions--at least those in Highbridge and the surrounding areas--would take strong exception to his comments.

Next time, why not save time and energy and just let the Yankees write the article themselves?

Freedom of Information Push

This might seem like journalistic inside baseball, but it's not. The state Freedom of Information Law applies to everyone. Anyone can file a FOIL request, seeking access to government documents, meeting minutes, etc. if it is not forthcoming from the public agency in question. The state Committee on Open Government, created by the FOIL, reports that its Web site is experiencing a incredible surge in traffic and is calling on the state legislature to strengthen the law with the following provisions:

* Authorize courts to invalidate actions by boards when it is proven that the actions occurred in secret and in violation of Open Meetings Law.

* Require award of attorney's fees when it is proven in court that votes happened illegally.

* Require that government meeting notices be listed online.

* Require that more records be posted online.

The second one is particularly critical because when agencies illegally reject requests or stonewall, the burden is on the person requesting the information to come up with the money to hire a lawyer.

An Assembly committee should be hearing the Committee on Open Government's recommendations soon.

Thanks to Liz Benjamin at the Daily News for the heads up.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Reader Report on Tenant Harrassment Bill Hearing

Thought I'd post this more prominently. It's a report from reader Michelle about the Council hearing this morning about Council bill Inro. 627, which would offer tenant's more protection.

"Some Council Members today were concerned with assessing how fair 627 would be for both landlords and tenants. They were preoccupied with the notion that 627 be balanced. Some other Council Members pointed out HPD's inconsistencies and emphasized what a historic bill it would be. Representatives of the City-wide Tenant Housing Corp. did an amazing job defending the bill!"

Feel free to join the conversation if you have a different take on the proceedings, or if you'd like to add anything to Michelle's comments.

Fordham Security Officers Rally for Better Conditions

Earlier today, security workers at Fordham University, along with clergy leaders, student activists and local labor unions rallied for better conditions.

The security workers want better wages, improved benefits and increased training.

Last week, they testified in front of a Worker's Rights Board about their displeasure with the current conditions. This afternoon they planned to deliver that testimony to Fordham President Father Joseph McShane and ask him to remedy the situation.

The Norwood News would have a more detailed report from the rally, but our reporter, despite several valiant attempts, was denied access onto the university's campus. We'll continue to follow this story as it develops.

South Bronx Family Tries to Recover From Fire

The New York Times reported this morning on a mother and two children in the South Bronx who lost almost all their belongings in a fire last October; the family has also been forced to temporarily evacuate their home. Nilda Cedeño, and her sons Luis and Edguardo Perez, are trying to survive, replace their posessions, and move forward using money from the Children's Aid Society that, in turn, is supplied by the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

Hunts Point Jail Draws National Attention

The battle over the proposed Hunts Point jail has made news all the way on the left coast. Check out this piece from CNET news.com, which poses the struggle in terms of "jails or jobs."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Final Votes for Rudy?

Rudy Giuliani had already dropped out of the presidential race, but some New Yorkers voted for him anyway on Tuesday. Might they be his last votes as a candidate for public office?

Tenant Harrassment Hearing Thursday Morning

City Council is holding a second hearing on what they are calling "landmark tenant harassment legislation" (Intro. 627) tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

Mt. Hope Monitor editor James Fergusson wrote about the bill when housing advocates protested against Bronx Council Member Maria Baez for introducing and sponsoring a competing bill, Inro. 638 (as did Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera) that was deemed decidedly pro-landlord.

Baez and Rivera's pro-landlord bill is now dead after they dropped their support for it in December, but the pro-tenant bill (627), championed by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is gaining momentum.

Several housing groups here in the northwest Bronx are working hard to push 627 through the Council and it would be a huge victory for them and the tenants they are working for if it passes.

Stay tuned. We'll hopefully have an update on this legislation toward the end of the week.

Thursday meeting kicks off Foster's campaign for BP

The Highbridge Horizon has learned that Councilmember Helen Diane Foster will be holding a meeting Thursday night for volunteers interested in working on her campaign for Bronx Borough President. Foster's chief of staff, Jim Fairbanks, said the meeting will be held at 6:30 pm at Christ Church, on 860 Forest Avenue (East 160th Street).

Monday, February 4, 2008

Man Guilty of Murdering Fordham Pediatrician

A man has been found guilty of the murder of Dr. Leandro Lozada, a popular Dominican-born pediatrician who founded and ran Hispanic Pediatrics on Kingsbridge Road at the Grand Concourse. A second man, who prosecutors say was an accomplice, is being tried on Thursday.

Lozada, 46, was gunned down in his Yonkers home in January 2007. The motive was robbery.

More here in the Norwood News, on how, a year after his death, Lozada's clinic is gradually recovering.

Will New EDC President Impact Armory Redevelopment?

Mayor Bloomberg just promoted Seth Pinsky from Executive Vice President to President of the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). He replaces Robert Lieber, who became deputy mayor for economic development following the departure of Dan Doctoroff.

The EDC is in charge of redeveloping the massive Kingsbridge Armory. Right now, the EDC and the mayor's office are trying to choose between the Atlantic Development Group and the Related Companies to decide which developer takes control of the Armory project.

Initially, the EDC said they would choose a developer by October 2007. It's now February 2008 and the EDC says it still needs more time to conduct its "due dilligence."

With new leadership at the top, this may delay the decision and the redevelopment project even longer.

Bronx Political Talk on Super Tuesday Eve

Super Tuesday polls open in less than 24 hours and journalism students from CUNY, including Annie Shreffler and Joshua Cinelli (regular contributors to the Norwood News), are blogging about it for the Huffington Post.

Find out what people around the Bronx and the rest of the city are saying about the issues and the candidates.