I On Politics

2 months ago Queens Gazette

MAYOR RELEASES PRELIMINARY FY24 BUDGET: New York City Mayor Eric Adams released on Jan. 12 the City’s balanced $102.7 billion Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24). The budget reflects the mayor’s ongoing commitment to promoting an equitable recovery by making investments in affordable housing, keeping city streets clean, ensuring the safety of communities, and promoting a greener, healthier city. The Preliminary Budget also doubles down on Mayor Adams’ commitment to fiscal responsibility by spending limited city resources wisely amid the ongoing economic and fiscal challenges facing the city, state, and nation, and maintaining the city’s budget reserves at a record level of $8.3 billion.

“As our city continues its recovery, our administration continues to make investments in our core priorities — including public safety, affordable housing, and clean streets — while exercising strong fiscal management,” said Mayor Adams. “By asking agencies to self-fund new needs with preexisting resources, the Fiscal Year 2024 Preliminary Budget continues our strong track record of making prudent use of taxpayer dollars while continuing to ‘Get Stuff Done’ for New Yorkers.”

The Preliminary Budget was crafted in response to slowing economic growth, which impacts revenue, and fiscal uncertainties, he said.

The city’s revenue forecast was updated to reflect an additional $1.7 billion in FY23 and $738 million in FY24. The windfall increase in FY23 is driven by continued momentum from the record Wall Street activity in 2021, though the city expects that continued slowing growth in the economy will lead to slowing growth in tax revenue over the financial plan.

At the same time, the city faces budget pressure related to the costs of meeting its legal obligation to shelter approximately 40,000 asylum seekers that have moved through the intake system since last spring, which is currently estimated to cost at least $1 billion in FY23 alone, the need to fund billions of dollars in upcoming labor contract settlements over the financial plan, growing annual health care expenses, and waning federal stimulus funds that sunset in Fiscal Year 2025.

In response to the perfect storm of slowing revenue growth and rising costs, Mayor Adams continued the strong fiscal management he has practiced over the course of his administration by remaining focused on savings, maintaining high levels of reserves, and controlling spending, noted his office.

Total savings achieved by the administration over the November Financial Plan Update and the Preliminary Budget is more than $3 billion over Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024. Nearly all the savings in the Preliminary Budget were driven by the administration’s 50 percent Vacancy Reduction Initiative citywide, which reduced vacancies by more than 4,300 across the financial plan and contributed savings of $181 million in FY23 and $350 million in FY24. About 23,000 vacancies remain open citywide, leaving agencies ample room to hire for critical positions.

The Preliminary Budget maintains a record level $8.3 billion in reserves. This includes $1.6 billion in the General Reserve, $250 million in the Capital Stabilization Reserve, $4.5 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund, and $1.9 billion in the Rainy-Day Fund. Agency new needs in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) and FY24 are funded with savings or existing agency resources. By exercising fiscal discipline, the administration was able to ensure FY23 remained balanced. A combination of savings and FY23 revenue was applied to balance FY24. Gaps are now $3.2 billion in FY25, $5.0 billion in FY26, and $6.5 billion in FY27.

MOBILE SPORTS WAGERING GENERATES $909M: Upon the one-year anniversary of mobile sports wagering in New York State, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the State has collected more than $709.2 million in taxes on such bets, a figure that leads the nation. An additional $200 million in licensing fees has also been collected, generating a total of more than $909 million in revenue, most of it to be used for education.

“In just one year, New York has become a national leader in providing responsible entertainment for millions while bringing in record-shattering revenue for education, youth sports, and problem gambling prevention,” Governor Hochul said. “I look forward to another year of delivering top tier mobile sports wagering experiences that generate revenue to enrich the lives of New Yorkers across the state.”

New York State Gaming Commission Chairman Brian O’Dwyer said, “Thanks to Governor Hochul’s leadership and the enactment of smart and responsible gaming policies, New York continues to break revenue and wagering records. As we enter the second year of mobile sports wagering in New York State, the Gaming Commission will continue to ensure that such betting is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.”

New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said, “OASAS appreciates the ongoing partnership with the Gaming Commission to educate the public about responsible gambling and to provide resources for those who need them. The additional revenue generated will help to ensure that we have a robust system of programs and services to address the needs of individuals, families, and communities across the state.”

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. said, “It has been a remarkable, record setting 1st year for Mobile Sports Betting in New York, with only 9 professional operators! I’m grateful to have joined others in the state, putting forth a product that New Yorkers deserved and I appreciate the significant benefits to our economy, in addition to educational, youth sports and addiction program funding. I look forward with a vision of optimism that through the professional efforts of the Hochul Administration, the Gaming Commission and my legislative colleagues, New Yorkers can expect their state to continue to provide the best mobile sports betting product, in this highly competitive arena, for many years to come.”

Assemblymember Gary Pretlow said, “This is just the beginning, and I look forward to mobile sports betting generating more revenue for years to come.”

According to GeoComply, a software firm used by sports books to ensure geolocation requirements, more than 3.8 million unique player accounts have been created since launch in January of 2022, conducting over 1.2 billion transactions.

The one-year anniversary of mobile sports wagering in New York State was last Sunday, January 8, 2023. Through January 7, the total mobile sports wagering handle reached $16,595,732,482 and generated a total net revenue to education of $709,247,358.

For Fiscal Year 2023 (April 1, 2022 through March 31, 2023) and annually thereafter, revenues from mobile sports wagering are distributed as follows: $5 million to fund sports programs for underserved youths, $6 million to fund problem gambling education and treatment, with the remaining majority to fund education aid.

Every Friday, the NYS Gaming Commission publishes weekly mobile sports wagering reports from all of its operators online.

The Commission’s regulations require operators to prevent underage gaming, provide bettors the availability to impose spending limits, and share information on gambling risks and signs of problem gambling. New Yorkers who are struggling with a gambling problem or know someone with a gambling problem can call the state’s toll-free, confidential HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or text HOPENY (467369). New Yorkers can also contact the Regional Problem Gambling Resource Center at: nyproblemgamblinghelp.org/.

ADAMS SEEKS HELP W/ INFLUX OF ASYLUM SEEKERS: New York City Mayor Eric Adams released the following statement on Jan. 13 after New York City submitted an emergency mutual aid request to New York State for immediate help this weekend to shelter arriving asylum seekers:

“Three months ago, I spoke directly to New Yorkers about the crisis of asylum seekers that has driven our shelter system to record levels and strained our city. On that day, I said we would surpass the highest number of people in recorded history in our city’s shelter system and that every day after we would set a new record. We are now seeing more people arrive than we have ever seen — averaging over 400 people each day this last week, with 835 asylum seekers arriving on one single day alone, the largest single day arrival we’ve seen to date. All this is pushing New York City to the brink.

“Since last spring, the city has stepped up to welcome approximately 40,000 asylum seekers, providing them with shelter, food, and connections to a host of resources. We have opened 74 emergency shelters and four humanitarian relief centers at breakneck speed, and done this almost entirely on our own.

“We are at our breaking point. Based on our projections, we anticipate being unable to continue sheltering arriving asylum seekers on our own and have submitted an emergency mutual aid request to the State of New York beginning this weekend. This type of request, reserved only for dire emergencies, asks the state for support to shelter arriving asylum seekers as the city faces an immediate need for additional capacity. Our initial request is for shelter to accommodate 500 asylum seekers, but, as New York City continues to see numbers balloon, this estimate will increase as well.

“The absence of sorely needed federal immigration reform should not mean that this humanitarian crisis falls only on the shoulders of cities. We need support and aid from our federal and state partners and look forward to working together to meet this crisis head-on.”

PUBLIC TRANSIT EXPANSION: Governor Kathy Hochul announced, as part of the 2023 State of the State, a series of actions to expand New York’s transit, while making it safer, more affordable, and more accessible to all. This includes new funds dedicated to non-MTA transit authorities for expanded client services, an update on the Interborough Express, and the expansion of City Ticket to 24/7.

Expanding City Ticket to Include Peak Hours:

Governor Hochul announced that the MTA City Ticket, which provides Metro-North and Long Island Railroad customers with a low-cost, flat-fare to travel within New York City during off-peak hours, will be expanded to include peak hours for a modest premium. This expansion will greatly assist commuters and tourists to New York City, and will benefit more than 10,000 trips on an average weekday.

The New New York Panel convened by Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams recommended the expansion of City Ticket as an essential step to expand the rail use in the City and accelerate New York’s comeback. Currently, peak hour rail travel can cost as much as $10.75, a prohibitively expensive price for what is often a significantly shorter commute when compared to buses or the subway.

In Southeast Queens, the expansion of City Ticket will directly benefit the residents of Rosedale and Laurelton, while growing centers in Fordham, Jamaica and Flushing.

Interborough Express:

Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the Interborough Express project will move forward using light rail following a Planning and Environmental Linkages study. The transformative transit project, announced in the Governor’s 2022 State of the State, will connect communities in Brooklyn and Queens to 17 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road, and will significantly reduce travel times within and between the two boroughs along a 14-mile corridor.

The Interborough Express will use the existing right-of-way of the Bay Ridge Branch and Fremont Secondary – a freight rail line running from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights – that connects diverse neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Drawing from conclusions in the Planning Study, the MTA determined the most efficient mode of transportation, created a list of preliminary stations, and conducted other important planning and engineering analyses to advance the project.

The extensive planning and engineering analysis outlined in the Planning Study strongly supports the MTA’s decision to choose light rail because it would provide the best service for customers at the lowest cost per rider. Key factors in this determination include:

Capacity: Light rail’s quick acceleration and short dwell times make it the fastest of the three options. Combined with trains that can fit up to 360 people, light rail can fully meet demand.

Reliability: Since it can operate in the existing railroad right-of-way through 96 percent of the corridor, rather than on surface streets, light rail will provide reliable service.

Constructability: Light rail’s smaller, more flexible vehicles fit within the constraints of the existing corridor. It can also run on the street for short distances, which allows it to avoid construction of a complex and costly tunnel at a key pinch point.

Vehicle Specialization: Light rail vehicles can be procured “off the shelf” without modification and can draw on a different pool of potential suppliers than traditional MTA rolling stock.

Relative Cost: Thanks to its projected high ridership of 115,000 weekday riders and cost beneficial construction budget of $5.5 billion, light rail offers the best value with a cost of $48,173 per daily rider.

The Planning Study indicates up to 115,000 daily weekday riders would use the 14-mile line with approximately 34.6 million riders annually. Travel times between Brooklyn and Queens could be reduced by up to 30 minutes each way, depending on travel distance. The Interborough Express would be a major advance for equity in the transit system. Seven out of 10 people served will be people of color, approximately one-half will come from households with no cars and approximately one-third will be living in households at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.

The preliminary stations included in the Planning Study would connect the Interborough Express to 17 subway lines, including the 2/3/5/7/A/B/C/D/E/F/J/L/M/N/Q/R/Z lines. These new stations would provide massive benefits for diverse neighborhoods, such as Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Borough Park, Kensington, Midwood, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Lots, Brownsville, East New York, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. The project would include several new connections in neighborhoods that currently lack efficient connections to each other, and in some cases, to Manhattan.

Proposed service would operate at up to five-minute headways during the peak periods, with off-peak headways of up to 10 minutes at other times of the day. The number and location of stations along the 14-mile corridor were also conceptualized as part of the current Planning Study.

Public input was a key factor as the Planning Study advanced. The MTA held town hall meetings last year and received more than 700 comments on its website over a six-month period. Public outreach will continue as the project progresses.

Innovative Mobility Initiative:

Governor Hochul is announcing the Innovative Mobility Initiative, which will provide $10 million in funds to non-MTA transit authorities to expand service offerings. This initiative will support riders who face barriers to accessing traditional transit by funding the creation of new transit alternatives or technological products.

The five year pilot initiative will allocate $1 million to each of the seven largest non-MTA systems, and smaller systems will be jointly eligible for a competitive fund of $3 million. These funds can be used to:

Match federally-provided funds up to 20 percent

Purchase new technology for app-enabled local travel or fare payment

Purchase smaller vehicles for paratransit

Establish and expand microtransit and paratransit products

This initiative will greatly assist transit riders across the state, while advancing equity and producing better environmental outcomes.

$9M IN FED FUNDING FOR QUEENS: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Queens members of the House of Representatives, announced they secured over $9 million in funds for the borough as part of the final omnibus funding package for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023.

The senators secured a total of $9,874,245 for projects across the borough, which include funds going toward mental health programs for the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, vocational training at CUNY LaGuardia Community College for underemployed Queens residents, and equipment upgrades at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

“I’m proud to bring home these investments that I fought to secure on behalf of all Queens residents,” said U.S. Senator Gillibrand. “These funds will not only bolster initiatives such as the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens mental health programs and youth leadership and workforce programs at Haitian Americans United for Progress, but will also go toward upgrading the borough’s health care services, helping to provide Queens residents with affordable and accessible quality health care.”

“I’m proud to secure $9 million in federal funding for these projects to support Queens residents and strengthen our communities,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. “These funds included in the federal budget bill will advance healthcare equity, bolster a food relief network, support people of color-owned businesses, workforce development training and adult literacy, as well as fund youth leadership and mental health programs. I won’t stop fighting to deliver the resources needed to better our communities and the organizations that help them flourish.”

“I am pleased to provide millions of dollars in federal funding to local projects in Queens,” said Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5). “The investment will guarantee that constituents are receiving the resources needed to live and thrive. The federal funding will aid several priorities including assisting residents interested in pursuing a higher education and workforce training, along with access to affordable healthcare programs, services for senior citizens and youth support and enrichment programs.”

“As New York’s senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am proud to work with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand to help make sure these critical initiatives and programs in Queens get the funding they need to improve The World’s Borough,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-6). ”Queens and its residents deserve their fair share, and I am looking forward to this new session of Congress to continue making sure that happens.”

Organizations receiving funds include:

Jamaica Hospital Medical Center ($4,305,000)

Jamaica Hospital assists some of the borough’s neediest communities by operating the busiest Level 1 Trauma Center in New York City, the closest acute care hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center to JFK, and a critical Stroke Center and STEMI Program. As a financially distressed safety net hospital, Jamaica Hospital serves a high volume of low-income individuals covered by Medicaid.

To ensure Jamaica Hospital patients have access to state-of-the-art surgical equipment and equitable health care, the funds would go toward purchasing and installing critically needed surgical robotics equipment, including the da Vinci Xi Single Console System, da Vinci SimNow Simulator, E-100 generator and da Vinci Xi Integrated Table Motion.

These advanced surgery systems will enable Jamaica Hospital Medical Center to successfully perform more complex surgeries for patients whose health has decreased significantly due to the inequalities they face in health care, advancing health equity in the community.

The Floating Hospital, Inc. ($1,040,489)

The Floating Hospital offers health care to medically underserved communities in Queens, including homeless families and those living in public housing, as well as families living in shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City. The funds attained will provide seed funding to bring comprehensive eye care, dermatology, gastroenterology, and mammogram screening to The Floating Hospital’s primary care setting in Long Island City.

NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst ($1,000,000)

The Infectious Disease Clinic at Elmhurst provides care, support and prevention services for often underserved and marginalized persons, including patients with tuberculosis, chronic Hepatitis C, and HIV. The funds will be used to modernize the clinic, bringing the space up to current code and improving both the patient experience and the clinical caregiving environment.

Arts Business Collaborative, Inc. ($650,000)

Funding will be used to improve access to capital, networks, and knowledge for arts businesses of color.

Queens Economic Development Corp’s Queens Together Program ($500,000)

The Queens Economic Development Corporation will use the funds to continue to build a Queens-wide food relief network of restaurants and community groups and invest in local businesses by educating stakeholders through peer-to-peer and expert knowledge to help small business owners work smarter and improve profits.

Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, Inc. ($502,250)

Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens will use these funds to help implement a Mental Health program at its Teen Academy, which offers free college and career readiness training to underserved high school students living in Queens. Recognizing the mental health impacts of the pandemic on youth, between the loss of loved ones and extended periods of remote learning, this funding will allow Variety Boys & Girls Club to hire social workers and other mental health counselors/professionals to support young people in achieving their goals.

LaGuardia Community College – CUNY ($404,774)

LaGuardia Community College’s Plumbing 1, Electrical 1 and HVAC 1 Training Programs connect people living in poverty with skilled employment opportunities through skills-building training that prepares students for in-demand occupations. However, the college does not currently have the internal capabilities to deliver these skill trainings on-site and to scale.

This funding will allow LaGuardia Community College to establish a Workforce Development Training Center on campus, which would give LAGCC the needed flexibility to begin offering more of these classes and serve more students.

Make the Road New York ($400,000)

Funds will be used to sustain and enhance Make The Road New York’s Adult Literacy program for low-income immigrant New Yorkers. Through adult literacy instruction, students will access better career opportunities and advance their language, literacy, and digital literacy skills to enable them to participate more fully in civic life. Funding will also enable MRNY to purchase technology to integrate digital literacy skill building into class instruction in FY23 and beyond, in order to address the widening technology gap that left low-income communities even further behind during the nationwide pivot to virtual platforms during the pandemic. Additionally, MRNY will assess program participants’ urgent needs and connect them with survival services and other key resources.

Haitian Americans United for Progress (HAUP) ($364,558)

HAUP will use the funds to support its youth leadership and youth workforce programs aimed at serving the needs of immigrant communities in the borough. HAUP’s programming provides youth participants with employment, training, and skills-building opportunities.

AABR, Inc., College Point ($382,174)

AABR, Inc., one of the largest service providers for individuals with developmental disabilities in the region, will use the funds to provide services to the 400+ individuals in its congregate care and Day Habilitation settings.

Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, Inc. ($325,000)

The Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center (JPAFHC) will use the funds to establish a Diabetes Wellness Center. The Wellness Center will provide a comprehensive array of diagnosis, engagement, education, peer support groups, culturally and ethnically sensitive nutrition education and guidance, diabetes management tools, and a coordinated provision of appropriate primary services (podiatry, dental, cardiology, ophthalmology, etc.) to primarily a low-income and disenfranchised community that suffers from an exceptionally high rate of Type 2 diabetes often left undiagnosed.

Outreach will be conducted throughout the community and referrals will be accepted into the program with JPAFHC serving as a medical home. Culturally targeted behavioral change strategies will also be utilized to improve the outcome for patients diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

BLOCKING GHOST GUN PARTS: New York Attorney General Letitia James filed on Jan. 12 a motion for a preliminary injunction against ten national gun distributors, demanding that they immediately stop selling and shipping illegal unfinished and/or unserialized frames and receivers, or “ghost gun” parts, to New York consumers. Attorney General James is asking a federal court to order these businesses to immediately stop selling, shipping, distributing, or supplying unfinished frames or receivers to any person or entity with a New York address.

The Jan. 12 action builds on the lawsuit that Attorney General James filed against these companies in June 2022 and is part of the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) ongoing efforts to stop the flow of illegal and dangerous ghost guns into New York.

“Companies that sell ghost gun parts and kits present a clear danger to all New Yorkers,” said Attorney General James. “These deadly weapons are unregistered, untraceable, and do not require any background check to purchase, which means they can easily end up in dangerous hands. Once again, we are taking action to stop the flow of ghost guns into New York and to protect our communities from gun violence.”

Attorney General James is seeking a preliminary injunction against ten national gun distributors that were named in her lawsuit filed in June 2022 that unlawfully sold tens of thousands of unfinished frames and receivers to New Yorkers violating several laws, including New York’s licensing laws, by selling weapons to felons and others without a background check. Between May and June of 2022, six of the ten Defendants — Arm or Ally, LLC, Brownells Inc., Salvo Technologies, Inc. (a/k/a 80 P Builder or 80P Freedom Co.), Indie Guns, LLC, Rainier Arms, LLC, and Rock Slide USA, LLC — were caught shipping one or more unfinished frames or receivers to undercover investigators in New York, and several defendants advertised ghost gun components for sale and shipped their products to individuals who went on to commit crimes involving ghost guns in New York State.

This case is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Attorney General James asserts that these businesses sell these unfinished firearms with the understanding that their customers will convert them into working weapons and have even offered instructions on how to do so. They routinely sell their products inside a “jig,” a plastic structure that guides the user’s tools through the simple steps required to finish the frame. By Defendant 80 Percent Arms’ own admission, the jigs “make it ridiculously easy for a non-machinist to finish their [handgun frame] in under 1 hour with no drill press required.” This process is designed to work around federal gun serialization, recordkeeping, and background check requirements. Once turned into a working firearm, these illegal weapons have been used to commit crimes and harm New Yorkers, James noted.

20 YEARS FOR FATAL ROCK ASSAULT: Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced that Elisaul Perez was sentenced on Jan. 10 to 20 years in prison for attacking 61-year-old GuiYing Ma as she swept a sidewalk in Corona on the day after Thanksgiving in 2021, fatally striking her twice in the head with a large rock.

District Attorney Katz said: “While today’s sentence cannot make up for the heartbreaking and senseless loss of their loved one, I hope that it provides some measure of solace to the family of Ms. Ma. The long sentence will hold the defendant to account for an unprovoked attack that robbed a community of a beloved member.”

Perez, 33, of Blake Avenue, Brooklyn, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter in the first degree before Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael Yavinsky, who imposed a sentence of 20 years in prison to be followed by five years of post-release supervision.

According to the charges, on November 26, 2021, the victim was sweeping the sidewalk and street in the area of 38th Avenue near 97th Street at approximately 8:00 am. As captured on security video footage, Perez picked up a large rock and struck Ma in the head. After Ma fell to the ground, Perez struck her in the head with the rock a second time.

Ma was taken to a local hospital where she underwent emergency surgery for severe head trauma and brain injuries. After a three-month hospitalization, Ma died from her injuries.

10 YEARS FOR FORCING 3 MINORS INTO PROSTITUTION: Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced that Lawrence Winslow and Alan Velvett were each sentenced on Jan. 12 to 10 years in prison for sex trafficking of a child and rape. The defendants forced three underaged victims into prostitution in February 2021. One of the victims was raped by both defendants.

District Attorney Katz said: “My office takes a holistic approach to working with victims of human traffickers. The first part of the process is to hold the traffickers accountable for their actions. I created the Human Trafficking Bureau when I took office to take predators like these off of our streets. We will continue to be relentless in this mission.”

Winslow, 28, of East High Street in Coaldale, Penn., and Velvett, 29, of Roscoe Street in Jamaica, each pleaded guilty in November to three counts of sex trafficking of a child and one count of rape in the first degree. Queens Supreme Court Justice Peter Vallone, Jr. imposed 10-year prison sentences, to be followed by 10 years post-release supervision. Winslow and Velvett will also be required to register as sex offenders upon release.

According to the charges, in February 2021 the defendants met two girls, aged 13 and 14, at La Quinta Inn on Queens Boulevard. The defendants took nude photos of the girls and posted the images online, stating that the girls were “for sale.” One of the teenagers had sex with a stranger and the defendants kept all the money from the exchange.

Also in February 2021, Winslow and Velvett met a 15-year-old girl at the La Quinta Inn. Winslow took semi-nude photos of the child and posted them online as advertisements. The 15-year-old was forced to have sex with Winslow and then with a string of strangers who paid cash to have sex with the girl. All the money was pocketed by the defendants.

Afterwards, the victim was relocated to the JFK Inn, where she was forced to have intercourse with Velvett and then with cash-paying strangers. All the proceeds from the exchanges were kept by the defendants.

The teenager was rescued when an undercover police officer responded to the online ad and met with the girl in person in one of the hotel rooms. Velvett was arrested after arriving in the room and Winslow was arrested after being located in another room across the hall.

SENTENCED 29 & 15 YRS FOR SLAYINGS: Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced that Richard Davenport and Neville Brown were sentenced on manslaughter charges in connection with four fatal shootings that took place in South Richmond Hill and Ozone Park between 2015 and 2018. Davenport was sentenced a combined total of 29 years in prison, consisting of two consecutive 14.5-year sentences, and Brown to 15 years.

District Attorney Katz said: “Two very dangerous men are going to prison for a long time and the streets of Queens will be safer as a result. My number one priority will continue to be getting illegal guns, and those who use them, off our streets.”

Davenport, 46, of 139th Street in Jamaica, and Brown, 42, of 197th Street in Hollis, each pleaded guilty in November to two counts of manslaughter in the first degree before Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael B. Aloise. Davenport and Brown each pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a third fatal shooting, while Davenport also pled guilty to manslaughter in a fourth fatal shooting.

According to the charges, security camera video footage from January 16, 2018, shows a Mercedes Benz stopped on 105th Street near 135th Avenue in South Richmond Hill at roughly 9:30 pm. Davenport is observed exiting the vehicle, approaching Omaree Morrison, 19, as he walked along 135th Avenue, and fatally shooting Morrison.

A few weeks earlier, according to the charges, on December 19, 2017, at approximately 3:00 am, Brown, driving the same Mercedes Benz, with Davenport in the front passenger seat, rides several times past a Cadillac Escalade parked on 125th Street and Atlantic Avenue in South Richmond Hill. Security camera video footage shows the Mercedes parking and later Davenport and Brown getting out and approaching the Cadillac from opposite sides. Davenport is then observed firing several times into the vehicle, striking Dail Ramessar, 21. Both defendants are seen fleeing the scene in the Mercedes. Ramessar later died at a nearby hospital.

On July 15, 2016, at approximately 12:10 am, according to the charges, Raaid Ali, 22, was seated in the driver’s seat of his car parked in front of his residence at 107-60 114th Street, South Richmond Hill, when Davenport approached the vehicle and shot him multiple times in the torso, fatally wounding him. Davenport fled in a vehicle driven by Brown.

In a similar shooting, on October 4, 2015, defendant Richard Davenport shot the victim, Vickiram Ramlogan, 27, multiple times while he was seated in his car parked in front of his residence at 111-21 120th Street, Ozone Park, at approximately 8:15 pm.

$2.9M FOR CULTURAL NONPROFITS; EDUCATION: U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced on Jan. 12 $2,947,210 million in grants distributed by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which will bolster humanities projects and organizations across New York City and on Long Island. Specifically, the grants will fund educational resources, programs, curricula, and other projects that enhance teaching and learning in the humanities at colleges and universities across the state, as well as support advanced research and writing projects by humanities scholars. Overall, the awards will support research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities.

“Non-profits and cultural organizations are critical parts of our communities that not only create jobs, but serve the vital purpose of maintaining research and learning in the humanities,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. “This funding will foster important projects in our communities, including the rehabilitation of Brooklyn Children’s Museum, an exciting new welcome center at the wonderful Green-Wood Cemetery, conservation internships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, research and writing for a book examining American high school English curriculum, and much more. I am proud to deliver another year of this critical federal support to help these organizations and their projects thrive.”

“This crucial investment in Long Island and New York City’s five boroughs will promote education and humanities research in our communities,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Because of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), our cultural institutions can reach more families and cultivate inspired communities with programming that enriches and educates. This critical funding is essential to advancing education and the economy in our state, and I will continue pushing to fund cultural organizations and the humanities.”

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand said that New York State was awarded $5,024,586 million for 30 NEH grants across the state, including $2,947,210 million for 15 NEH grants in New York City and on Long Island. They also said that New York City and Long Island’s NEH awards account for over 10% of the total funding awarded to humanities projects across the country.

Recipients of NEH grants in Queens are listed below, in addition to the corresponding project and its funding amount:

CUNY Research Foundation, LaGuardia Community College: $148,391

Project Director: Thomas Cleary Project Title: Oral History in Interdisciplinary Community College Pedagogy. Project Description: A two-year project to develop faculty workshops and experiential learning activities on teaching students how to conduct oral histories in the community.

CUNY Research Foundation, LaGuardia Community College: $60,000

Project Title: America’s Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, Eurasianism, and the Race of Radicalism. Project Description: Research and writing for a book examining the origins and shifts of American political perceptions of Russia as captured in print culture from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

John’s University, New York: $40,000

Project Title: Mothers, Milk, and Money: A History of Infant Feeding in the United States, 1850s–Present. Project Description: Research and writing leading to a book on the history of infant feeding practices in the U.S. from the nineteenth century to the present with a focus on women of color.

RELIEF FOR VICTIMS OF SNAP THEFT: After working to help those who had their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits stolen through skimming scams, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced on Jan. 13 that relief has been provided in the new federal government spending bill signed into law by President Biden.

The 2023 omnibus appropriations legislation includes two years of benefit reimbursements for SNAP recipients who had money stolen from their benefit cards on or after October 1, 2022.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.

The reimbursements were included after Meng urged that they be added to the bill. It also followed a letter that the three lawmakers recently led to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture calling for the restoration of benefits, and better protection of SNAP funds.

Over the last few months, several states, including New York, have reported an increase of SNAP benefits being stolen due to skimming scams. This past year, scammers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from SNAP beneficiaries in New York.

“Stealing vital SNAP benefits from vulnerable individuals and families and forcing them to possibly go hungry is unconscionable,” said Congresswoman Meng. “After fighting for reimbursements for stolen benefits, I’m pleased that this assistance has been included in the 2023 spending bill. While there are more individuals who have been affected before October 1, 2022 that we must not forget about, this relief will help thousands who have been victims, and I remain committed to fighting for reimbursements for all who were recently impacted.”

“For so many, SNAP is a crucial resource that helps working families put food on their table,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “The scammers that have stolen thousands from some of the most vulnerable families truly have no morals. I am so proud to have fought with Congresswoman Meng and Senator Gillibrand to ensure the funds that were stolen from SNAP recipients will be given back to them. However, there are still more Americans that have fallen victim to scammers and I will continue to work with my colleagues to not only prevent these types of scams but reimburse those who have had their benefits stolen.”

“I’m proud that our bill to reissue SNAP benefits to those who had them stolen was included in this year’s omnibus bill,” said Senator Gillibrand. “No one should have to choose between paying their bills or feeding their family because of the actions of unscrupulous people preying on our most vulnerable communities. I will continue fighting to protect families relying on this benefit from falling victim to identity theft or a skimming scam.”

Skimming can occur when criminals place a “skimming” device on an ATM or POS (point of sale) device to capture a person’s PIN information and the data stored on the magnetic strip of the SNAP EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. This allows thieves to use that information to duplicate the EBT card and access the benefits in the SNAP beneficiary’s account, even without the original card. Unlike credit card, debit card and pre-paid cardholders who are covered by the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E against losses from unauthorized electronic transactions, SNAP EBT beneficiaries are not afforded the same protections. Additionally, SNAP benefit theft can occur through identity theft and hacking.

CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 19: Council Member Vickie Paladino released the following community notice: “The New Year has been extremely busy so far. After a great meeting with the Queens Chamber of Commerce, we are excited to start planning a spectacular fireworks show that will take place in June.

“I also attended the 111 Community Council meeting last week, and had the honor of meeting some new officers. After a loaded gun was recovered at Cardozo High School, we appreciate the work of school safety agents and the NYPD. We recognize and advocate for more safety agents, security cameras, and police presence to ensure safety in our school communities.

“12-126 has been and still is a hot topic among my constituents and retirees around New York City. I was proud to stand with New York City retirees at City Hall on Monday to send a loud and clear message that 12-126 must not be amended. The retirees worked so hard for decades and they deserve the healthcare that was promised to them.

“I am glad to announce that the construction at Bowne Park is moving along nicely and some of the construction fencing will be coming down around the pond. The plaza is also on schedule and work is continuing throughout the winter months. Stay tuned for a spring ribbon cutting ceremony!”

Paladino attended a rally on the City Hall steps and hearing on proposed changes to 12-126. “This week was the rally on City Hall steps against the amending of 12-126 and the hearing on the proposed change. I stand FIRMLY with the retirees and city workers. This city made a promise to city workers years ago and we CANNOT go back on that promise. We had a packed crowd at City Hall of people ready to tell the Council how they feel about this change. We will not give up until our retirees’ and city workers’ healthcare is completely protected. Promises made, promises kept,” said Paladino.

Paladino’s office hosted a Property Tax Benefits Zoom info session on Tuesday, January 17th with the New York City Department of Finance to explain how New Yorkers can obtain exemptions from property taxes. They had a representative from the Department of Finance to explain what it is, how it works, and how to apply. They also hosted an in-person event this morning where constituents can come in and sit down with the Department of Finance representative to fill out the forms. For more information, she said to call her office at (718) 619-8611. More information about that session will be coming soon.

ON MAKING LUNAR NEW YEAR A FEDERAL HOLIDAY: The City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations held a hearing to consider Council Member Sandra Ung’s Resolution 424 in support of the Lunar New Year Day Act (H.R. 6525). Introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Grace Meng, H.R. 6525 calls for the designation of Lunar New Year as a federal holiday.

“Lunar New Year is the most important celebration of the year for people across Asia and the rest of the world wherever large Asian communities exist, including in New York City where Asians make up 15 percent of the population,” said Council Member Ung. “Designating the day a federal holiday would not only allow those who celebrate to spend time with family and friends, it would also be an important recognition of the growing importance of the Asian community in the United States, especially in light of the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes”

Lunar New Year has its origins in China dating back more than 4,000 years. The celebration spread across Asia, and while it goes by different names in different countries and cultures, the term Lunar New Year encompasses all of the various festivals.

The holiday, which takes place in either late January or early February and concludes 15 days later, is marked by elaborate celebrations in Flushing, Chinatown in Manhattan, and other parts of the city. In 2023, Lunar New Year will occur on January 22.

In June 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio designated Lunar New Year a public school holiday. Since then, the Asian population in New York City has continued to grow at the fastest rate of any ethnic group. According to the US Census, between 2010 and 2020, the Asian population grew by 29 percent in Queens and 43 percent in Brooklyn.

Following is an extract of Council Member Ung’s remarks at the hearing:

“Good morning, and thank you to Chairs Osse and Hanif for hosting this joint committee meeting and allowing me time to speak about Resolution 424, which calls the City Council to support HR 6525, a piece of legislation introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng to designate Lunar New Year as a federally recognized holiday.

“Working towards the recognition of Lunar New Year has been a long fight. When I worked in the office of then-Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, I helped draft the original state bill that paved the way for the designation of Lunar New Year as a school holiday in New York City. It was observed for the first time in 2016.

“However, when the Department of Education released the calendar for the 2022-2023 school year, the Lunar New Year holiday was not included because it falls on a Sunday, so this year it will not be recognized by DOE with a symbolic day off from school. Many Asian Americans, including myself, understandably felt that this hard-fought recognition of our culture was being disregarded.

“It is time that Lunar New Year is recognized on par with the other major holidays throughout the year, regardless of the day of the week it falls on. It would not only be an important acknowledgement of the positive contributions of Asian Americans to this country, but it would also allow members of the community to fully celebrate this 4,000-year-old tradition by providing them the opportunity to spend with friends and family, just as the holiday is celebrated in Asian communities in other parts of the world.

“The only way for this to be accomplished is by designating Lunar New Year as a holiday at the federal level, which is why I call on my colleagues to adopt Resolution 424 and urge Congress to pass and the president to sign HR 6525.”

LIU TO HOST INAUGURAL LUNAR NEW YEAR CELEBRATION: In celebration of the Year of the Rabbit, Senator John Liu will host his inaugural Lunar New Year celebration at Tangram in Flushing. The event will take place on Friday, January 20, 2023. Attendees will be treated to free food from local restaurants, music and dance performances.

Senator Liu stated, “The Lunar New Year is a time for families and friends to come together to say goodbye to the past and take on the challenges of the new year with hopes for peace, health and prosperity. These last years have been trying on many levels, from the COVID-19 pandemic to current economic hardships, so we look forward to an auspicious New Year with good tidings and lots of luck of the rabbit! All are welcome to join us to kick off this Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rabbit!”

Register at bit.ly/LunarNewYearJohnLiu or by phone at 718-765-6675.

What: NYS Senator John Liu hosts Inaugural Lunar New Year celebration.

When: Friday, January 20, 2023 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Tangram, 133-33 39th Ave., Flushing, NY.



FREE COVID-19 TEST KITS AT LIBRARY: Free at-home COVID-19 Test Kits are now available at all library locations. Queens Public Library released the following announcement: “Cold season is here—what better time to look out for your and your community’s health? Free at-home COVID-19 test kits are available for pickup at all QPL locations. They will be available during regular hours of service, until an hour before closing. Please note that the FDA has approved FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test shelf life extensions from 12 months to 21 months, when stored at 36-86°F. Their new expiration dates are 9 months beyond the date printed on the kit box. Limit of two (2) kits per person, while supplies last. These kits are made available through a partnership with NYC’s Test & Treat Corps.”

Pols Jan 18 ADDS from Monday






CLYBURN TO CHAIR DEM FAITH WORKING GROUP: Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) announced that Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC) will once again serve as the Chair of the Democratic Faith Working Group.

“The son of a minister, Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn is a man of deep faith and moral courage,” said Democratic Leader Jeffries. “Under his leadership, the Democratic Faith Working Group has been a source of strength for our Members and has connected faith leaders across the country to the People’s House. The Members of the DFWG are guided by the admonition of Micah 6:8, where the reader is called to do justice, be merciful and walk humbly. I can think of no one who embodies this better than Assistant Leader Clyburn and I look forward to working with him to live out our values as we continue to deliver for everyday Americans.”

“I am pleased that Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries understands the significance of the Democratic Faith Working Group’s efforts to find common ground on the issues of faith and politics. I am honored to continue serving as Chair of the DFWG,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn. “Matthew 25:45 warns that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us. I look forward to leading the House Democratic efforts to meet that expectation by using our faith-based perspectives to inform and guide our policies.”

RICHARDS’ QUEENS RECAP: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. released his Queens Recap on January 13, prefaced by the following note from the Borough President: “Dear Friends, On Monday, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I hope you all join me in reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy. We all remember his timeless “I Have a Dream Speech” or his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but we must also remember that at the core of all those impactful messages was a call to treat one another with dignity not just through our words, but through our actions.

“As the first Black man to serve as Queens Borough President, I identify deeply with his message to serve our local community with the intention to uplift each other and thrive together. I think about his speech at Alpha Phi Alpha’s 50th anniversary banquet on August 11, 1956, where he spoke of what he called ‘a beloved community, the creation of a society where men will live together as brothers.’ What stuck with me the most from this speech was his emphasis on never losing sight of the people who have helped us get where we are, and how leaders must stand up for them when it’s time to do so. That spirit of giving back and standing up for one another lives here in Queens.

“It continues to be my greatest honor to serve you all and fight for a better borough, city and state that works for everyone — particularly for those who have endured generations of hardships due to the color of their skin and their socioeconomic status. But we’re building a better Queens, and remembering where we come from, together.

“My office is here to serve you and your family. To learn more about how we’re working to build a better Queens, visit our website at queensbp.org, or contact us by phone at 718-286-3000 or by email at [email protected]


Calling for a Return to Composting: Amidst a winter pause on the Composting program by the NYC Department of Sanitation, Borough President Richards sent a letter to DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch on Thursday, January 5 to advocate for the suspension to be lifted and the program return, noting that the curbside organics program has been wildly successful and beneficial for residents living in all corners of Queens.

Need Help with Housing Programs? Are you a Queens renter or homeowner? Are you a senior and/or person with a disability? You might be eligible for a rent freeze or a homeowners tax exemption. The Borough President’s Office is partnering with the Mayor’s Office to help you check your eligibility and enroll in these programs for free at Queens Borough Hall, in room 213, on January 18 and 25, from 10:30am and 3:30pm.

First Borough Cabinet of 2023: Borough President Richards’ first Borough Cabinet meeting of the year took place on Tuesday, January 10, and featured a presentation by the New York Office of Cannabis Management who gave an update on the recent issuance of the first Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses across the state, including in Queens. The full meeting can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgJnnFi_onE&feature=youtu.be.


Queens Tech + Innovation Challenge: Queens Tech Founder Meetup. “Come pitch your business idea and have a chance at $20,000 in seed funding.” Learn more at QueensStartup.org. Wednesday, January 18 at 6pm, Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. Click here to RSVP partiful.com/e/M4aSjLB1a6OJ1QyQuilg/ Lunar New Year Celebration at Queens Borough Hall: Thursday, January 19 at 6pm. To RSVP, visit docs.google.com/forms/d/1kMlPVXZzFcWAQpScksDxfkcxI4vG_d5JjmVo6MXBpo8/viewform?ts=5e4d76b5&edit_requested=true/ Haiti Independence Day Celebration at Queens Borough Hall: Thursday, January 26 at 6pm. Visit docs.google.com/forms/d/1kMlPVXZzFcWAQpScksDxfkcxI4vG_d5JjmVo6MXBpo8/viewform?ts=5e4d76b5&edit_requested=true/ to RSVP.

—With contributions by Annette Hanze Alberts

This column was originated by John A. Toscano


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