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The latest articles from WNYC News

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 22:06:55 -0500


Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 22:06:55 -0500

Latest Newscast From the WNYC Newsroom

Media Files:

For New Deputy Mayor, a Homecoming

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:04:49 -0500

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is bringing back a colleague from his days in the Dinkins administration to serve as his newest deputy mayor.

De Blasio appointed J. Phillip Thompson as the new Deputy Mayor of Strategic Policy Initiatives on Thursday, replacing Richard Buery, who had already announced plans to step down from the post last year.

Back in the early '90s, Thompson oversaw the Office of Housing Coordination for Mayor David Dinkins, where he worked with both the mayor and future First Lady Chirlane McCray.

De Blasio said he remembers the qualities Thompson brought to public service, like the ability to work effectively with a variety of people and the optimism he maintained in the face of challenges.

“No matter what was thrown at him and no matter what was thrown at the whole team,” said de Blasio, adding, “and he hasn't changed.”

Thompson will officially take office next month. His portfolio will include work to expand early education for the city’s three-year-olds, support of the city's mental health initiatives and advocating for minority- and women-owned businesses, among other things.

Thompson is currently a professor of urban policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before that, he also worked at Columbia University and Barnard College.

He said he's excited to join an administration that shares his own values. “A progressive government that puts people first, economic and environmental sustainability, equity and fairness,” said Thompson.

De Blasio Stands By Student Walkout

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 18:25:39 -0500

Students across the country are planning a 17-minute walk out on March 14 to mark the one-month anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Florida. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he stands by them.

"We're certainly ready for that, I respect it. If I was a high school student today, I'd be walking out," de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference Thursday.

Parents and guardians must alert schools if they are giving their children permission to participate. High school students with permission will not be disciplined, according to the Department of Education.

After delivering a State of the City address calling on people to engage with their democracy, de Blasio said it would be hypocritical if he tried to stop this.

He also dismissed President Trump's suggestion to arm teachers, speaking as a parent of two children who attended the city’s public schools.

"The last thing I want to see is more guns in our schools," said de Blasio.

That sentiment was echoed by United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew. He said teachers should be "marking papers, not being trained in marksmanship."

Earlier in the day, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre called out de Blasio and other officials by name as Democrats who are politicizing the gun control debate.

The mayor responded to LaPierre directly, accusing him of being one of the people responsible for this massacre.

Drawing a distinction between the views of NRA members and its leaders, de Blasio urged the membership to overthrow the organization's leadership.

De Blasio Stands By Student Walkout

Media Files:

Layoffs, Breaches of Editorial Firewall and a Criminal Probe at Newsweek

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 16:19:47 -0500

Once a household standard alongside the likes of Time and The Atlantic, legacy media company Newsweek has fallen far from grace since it was founded in the 1930s, cycling through multiple owners, and coping with financial difficulties and periodic layoffs.

But the issues there took an even darker turn this January, when Newsweek headquarters in Lower Manhattan was raided by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. The editorial staff did what journalists do and reported on the story. As they began to suss out why the district attorney was probing the ownership of their publication, they faced increasing pressures to back down.

In an investigation published Tuesday, Newsweek reporters explained that the criminal probe had to do with potential financial fraud regarding the purchase of several computer servers, as well as the financial ties of Newsweek Media Group, which owns Newsweek, and Olivet University, a Bible college based in California. This came after Newsweek Media Group laid off a reporter and two senior editors who were working closely on the story.

Politics editor at Newsweek Mike Mishak, who helped oversee the reporters working on the investigation, told WNYC he and many others saw the layoffs as a direct retaliation for the reporting they were doing.

"We all believe so. The owners have acknowledged that the coverage of the company played into the dismissals," he said. "The folks that were targeted were directly most involved with this story."

Beyond the dismissals, in a note above their investigation, editors describe, "egregious breaches of confidentiality and journalism ethics."

"A company official asked us to unmask our confidential sources which is one of those journalistic crimes, you know we can't do that," Mishak said on WNYC's All Things Considered.

Newsweek Media Group did not return WNYC's request for comment.

Olivet University referred to a January statement denying any financial ties between itself and Newsweek Media Group beyond a licensing and research agreement. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Layoffs, Breaches of Editorial Firewall and a Criminal Probe at Newsweek

Media Files:

Newly-Minted Republican Jumps into NJ Congressional Race

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:04:32 -0500

Efforts by national Democrats to flip the Congressional seat held by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen just got harder. 

Antony Ghee, a black investment banker and army reserve major has announced his candidacy, and he registered as a Republican just this week.

He immediately becomes a contender to beat back the surging Democrat with a sterling resume: Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and navy pilot. She's also a mother of four.

But Ghee will first have to win a primary in June against Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Sussex), whose conservative voting record will appeal to the Republican base.

Ghee lives in Totowa, N.J., and is the headquarters commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He’s also an author of the book Fraud, Lies & Greed about how professional athletes become victims of fraud, which has a forward by former pro football player  Plaxico Burress. 

Ghee has the support of Essex and Passaic County GOP organizations, which will give him the top line on the primary ballot in those counties. Webber has more support in Morris County, which constitutes the largest part of the district but does not offer top line placement to the candidate who is endorsed by the county GOP.


Newly-Minted Republican Jumps into NJ Congressional Race

Media Files:

Under Trump, the Great Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup Gets More Uncertain

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 12:13:00 -0500

By Sarah Kerr and Annie Nova Filled with  industrial and human waste, the Gowanus Canal was first dubbed a public nuisance in 1877. Since then, it has only become filthier. The almost two-mile long waterway snakes through three Brooklyn neighborhoods, posing an “unacceptable ecological and human health risk,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which declared it a national Superfund site in 2010. But that long-awaited cleanup is launching just as the E.P.A. under Trump moves toward a more industry-friendly approach, according to former E.P.A. employees and local activists monitoring the massive project. E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who made a name for himself criticizing and suing the agency before he assumed the post, has vowed to take the E.P.A. “back-to-basics.” The  Trump Administration would cut funding to the legal teams who prosecute polluters as well as reduce staff across the agency. As a result, advocates fear, the parties that federal officials say are responsible for funding and planning the estimated half-billion dollar effort could be emboldened to dig in their heels and resist the cleanup at the Gowanus Canal. “If they think they can delay because nothing bad is going to happen to them, they’re likely to do that,” said John Cruden, who served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of  Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division under presidents Clinton and Bush, and then assistant attorney general under President Obama. National Grid, the giant utility company, and the city of New York are tasked with leading the cleanup at the Gowanus Canal, and they have both shown some commitment to the remediation with regulators. But many of the other parties – around 30 polluters designated by E.P.A. as “potentially responsible parties,” or “P.R.P.s” – are balking, insisting that the mess is not their problem. Daniel Riesel, a lawyer representing Kraft Foods, one of the companies that has been identified as a polluter by the federal agency, said it is being pursued because of its size, not for any past contamination it caused. “If you want to recover money to build out your $600 million project, who would you sue? Mom and pop? Or a Fortune 500 company?” asked Riesel. According to the E.P.A., local firms acquired by Kraft discharged toxins into the waterway over decades. But Riesel said his research shows that Kraft’s predecessors discharged only harmless substances into the canal. He said his client will “resist lawfully and legally if it comes to the courts.” Kraft’s tough talk is echoed by other alleged polluters. The Chevron Corporation, the oil and gas giant also designated as a responsible party thanks to its acquisition of a local fuel company based near the canal, likewise denies culpability. Leah Casey, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an email that “extensive research” on the operations of that firm, the Pure Oil Company, has excluded it “as a liable party for the conditions at the Gowanus Canal Superfund.” Con Edison, another utility company alleged to have contributed to the canal’s pollution, also contradicted the E.P.A.’s conclusion. “No determination of liability or the extent of responsibility has been made at this time,” said Robert McGee, a company spokesman. “Con Edison had no operations on the Gowanus Canal and no direct discharges into the canal.” Walter Mugdan, director of the Superfund program for E.P.A. Region 2, addresses a community meeting. (photo by Sarah Stein Kerr.) Despite the polluter resistance at the canal, Walter Mugdan, who serves as regional director of the E.P.A.’s Superfund division for New York, said the agency doesn’t wait for all identified polluters to acknowledge their role for the work to commence. It only needs enough funds and participation for the cleanup to move forward. “We’r[...]

A New Organ For Manhattan’s Oldest Church

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

St. Paul’s Chapel survived 9/11 despite being literally across the street from the World Trade Center. It famously became a staging area for first responders, as well as an improvised and moving memorial site.  Now, tourists flock to “the little chapel that stood,” which is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan. 

Last year, the chapel, which is part of Trinity Church Wall Street, celebrated its 250th anniversary with a major renovation – a renovation that concludes this year with the installation of a new organ. All this week through Saturday, the chapel is marking the occasion with concerts of various sorts, from Bach cantatas to a screening of the Harold Lloyd silent film Speedy with organ accompaniment (that one’s on Friday night). 

Music Director Julian Wachner gives WNYC’s John Schaefer a tour of the instrument – which has a couple of sonic surprises. 

Full schedule of St. Paul’s Organ Inauguration Festival is available here.

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A New Organ For Manhattan’s Oldest Church

Media Files:

Seneca Village: NYC's First Settlement of Black Landowners

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

If you walk through Central Park on the western side, around the 85th Street entrance, you'll come across a very wordy sign commemorating "Seneca Village." It was a community, founded in 1825, of mostly African Americans, along with some Irish immigrants. It was also one of several villages on land that's now part of Central Park.

But in the 1820s, the park didn't exist. It was just open space.

"You had animals running, roaming in the area," said Cynthia R. Copeland, who's one of the co-directors of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History. "Sheep, goats, pigs in that time period were the original sanitation systems for New York, eating up the trash." In 2011, her group won permission from New York City to excavate parts of the park around the former community.

"They recognized that having their ownership of their own homes and their land would afford them the right to vote and they would have a voice in the political process," Copeland said. "But it also just gave them a sense of freedom and safety."

By the 1850s, as the city was growing, there were calls to repurpose the land around Seneca Village to create a new park. And to build a strong case for it, the city — led by the mayor — and the media ran a smear campaign, of sorts.

"They are describing this area as being full of shanties and undesirables," Copeland explained. "These were property owners. They paid lots of money for their property. They deserved to be there, and it just contradicts the story that was being presented to the public."

In 1853, the state authorized the city to use eminent domain to claim the land. By 1857, 1,600 people, including the 300-or-so living in Seneca Village, were displaced. Something to consider on your next jog through the urban planning feat that is now Central Park.

Seneca Village: NYC's First Settlement of Black Landowners

Media Files:

Opponents of Recreational Marijuana Legalization Show Up in Force at Black Caucus Hearing

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:25:37 -0500

New Jersey State Senator Ron Rice, an African-American legislator who represents Newark and is head of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he wanted to get the full story when the caucus scheduled hearings on a proposal to legalize marijuana in the state.

The first hearing, held Wednesday at the Cityline Church in Jersey City, included testimony from a mother who cried as she talked about losing her son to marijuana because of a bad batch he bought on the street; a Nevada police-officer who talked about the marijuana tourism and pot party buses that have come the state; and a Newark pastor who pointed to Colorado, where fatal accidents involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana have soared.

About 75 people attended, and those who spoke overwhelmingly opposed legalization, an idea promoted by recently elected Governor Phil Murphy. His plan has been embraced and actively pushed by the marijuana growing and selling industries. Murphy said legalizing marijuana for recreational use could raise hundreds of millions in revenue and could end the disproportionately high number of blacks arrested and jailed for selling or using marijuana.

State Senator Rice said legalization would only create more addicts, and destroy cities like Newark, which is already struggling with foreclosures.

Pro-legalization speakers argued the drug helps the sick, including veterans living in pain, and not legalizing it would be unkind. Opponents said the answer is not to make recreational use legal, but to expand the already legal medical marijuana program in New Jersey.

Cuomo Kicks Off Endorsement Parade with Healthcare Workers

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:43:17 -0500

For the first large rally of his reelection campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo turned to a powerful ally — the healthcare workers union, 1199-SEIU. 

The largest union in the state has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cuomo over the years and millions of dollars to the state Democratic party. So it's not exactly a surprise that 1199-SEIU is endorsing Cuomo for a third term. Still, that he came to them first — or they came to him — shows not only how crucial the mutual relationship is, but also how urgent their shared concerns are.

Cuomo said $8 billion in cuts proposed by President Trump over four years would "dismantle" New York's healthcare system.

"You would see bankrupt hospitals," he said. "You would see workers laid off."

New York spends more than $60 billion in federal, state and county funds on Medicaid annually — close to one-third of the state budget.

Cuomo Kicks Off Endorsement Parade with Healthcare Workers

Media Files:

Schumer: Democrats' Priority Is Universal Background Checks on Gun Sales

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 16:45:00 -0500

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats will focus on expanding background checks for gun purchases follwing a Florida high school shooting that left 17 students and educators dead.

Experts estimate that 40 percent of all gun sales don't require a federal background check of the buyer. That includes private sales, online sales and some sales at gun shows. Gun sellers are required to have a federal license and run background checks, but that doesn't include hobbyists or others who only ocasionally sell guns.

“The universal background check is at the sort of nexus of a chance of actually becoming law — particularly if the president would support it — and at the same time doing a whole lot of good in preventing people, felons, those who are ajudicated mentally ill, from getting guns,” Schumer said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Polls consistently show at least 80 percent support for universal background checks, and a Quinnipiac University poll this week — one week after the Florida shooting — found 97 percent of those surveyed approve of the idea.

Still, any gun control bill law will probably need the support of President Trump to become law. Trump hasn't taken a stand on universal background checks, but said he is open to a bill by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

That bill attempts to make sure everyone who's supposed to be in the federal database is there, adding penalties for political appointees who fail to update the database and incentives for states to keep their records current.

"It's a small step. It's not close to enough," Schumer said, especially if Senate Republicans try to tack on other gun measures. The House version of the bill requires states to recognize concealed carry permits issued in other states.

The Senate failed to pass universal background checks in 2013, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and again in 2015. That bill's Republican sponsor, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, said this week he plans to reintroduce the bill.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said she thinks nationwide protests by students have changed the politics.

"We tried this once. We got close, but we didn't have the votes," Klobuchar said. "The issue is going to be whether or not there's enough interest, that this is real, that these marches and young people coming out, that it will basically wake up some of the Republicans."

Schumer: Democrats' Priority Is Universal Background Checks on Gun Sales

Media Files:

That Time Billy Graham Packed Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium to the Brim

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 15:17:45 -0500

Reverend Billy Graham died on Wednesday at the age of 99. He was known for drawing massive crowds to hear his sermons for many decades. He preached in person to more than 210 million people over the course of his career, and some of his largest audiences were here in New York City.

Starting in 1957, Graham began booking Manhattan's largest venues. But while he drew thousands of people to Madison Square Garden each night he spoke, his service at Yankee Stadium on July 20, 1957 drew an even bigger crowd, in the tens of thousands. Folks started arriving that morning, and by the time things got going, about 85,000 people were stuffed into the stadium to hear him preach.

While introducing Graham to the audience, then-Vice President Richard Nixon joked that even the stadium's namesakes couldn't get as big a crowd as the reverend from North Carolina.

"One cannot stand as I do in the center of the baseball diamond as I do here at Yankee Stadium without thinking what this meeting means," Nixon said.

The Yankee Stadium sermon was the climax of Graham's time in New York, and on that day in the Bronx, he made sure his audience knew it.


"During the past few weeks, we've seen thousands of all walks of life as they moved out of those great stands at Madison Square Garden and come to stand on the lord's side by receiving Jesus Christ into their hearts and their lives," Graham said.

Originally, Graham intended to stay in New York for about a month before moving on. But he ended up extending his "crusade" for another two months.

"We planned to stay three or four weeks and didn’t think we could ever fill Madison Square Garden. And it was filled every night except two or three during 16 weeks," Graham told WNYC in 2005, before his last sermon at the venue.

That Time Billy Graham Packed Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium to the Brim

Media Files:

Marijuana Advocates Push For Legalization in New Jersey, Despite Federal Rules

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Business partners Mariela Vivero and Claudia Santoro said they have a vision for an ocean-side spa in New Jersey where clients can indulge in a massage or a manicure, all while enjoying legal marijuana.

Their aim is to capitalize on the health and wellness aspect of cannabis, Vivero said, once it becomes legal in the state. But she acknowledged they had a long way to go.

"It's all new to us and you know we have to kind of wait around a little bit to see what we're allowed and not allowed to do," she told WNYC.

Vivero and Santoro were two of dozens of entrepreneurs attending the "Deals and Divas: Women in Cannabis" meetup in Times Square earlier this month. Over wine and cheese, potential investors, growers and sellers of marijuana, and marijuana-related products, talked about how they could cash in on a billion-dollar business that could take off despite the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law. 

Marijuana is on the Drug Enforcement Administration's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, along with heroin and ecstasy. But 29 states — including New Jersey — have passed laws to allow legal use for medical purposes, and eight states have legalized it for adult recreational use.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy supports efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State. Murphy said it could raise hundreds of millions in revenue to boost the state's struggling budget, and he has argued legalization is a civil rights issue, because so many more people of color are arrested on marijuana charges than white people, despite similar rates of use. 

The legal marijuana industry was able to take root in part because the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors to re-set priorities for marijuana enforcement, focusing on the most serious offenses and essentially ignoring lower-level offenses. 

That guidance was known as "the Cole memo," said Brian Sharkey, a New Jersey attorney who leads a cannabis task force at his firm, Porzio, Bromberg & Newman. He said things changed for the burgeoning industry last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued his own memo which instructed prosecutors to disregard the Cole memo and pursue enforcement at their discretion.

His move infuriated supporters of marijuana legalization, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker who has sponsored a bill to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. 

"What Jeff Sessions did today is unconscionable, unacceptable, and I will fight against it," Booker said in a impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. "Because when I go home I see the communities who struggle. I can’t turn my head and not understand that there are millions of Americans who are hurting from this decades long war on drugs."

Back in New Jersey, a spokesman at the U. S. Attorney's office in Newark would not define how local prosecutors would use their discretion when it came to marijuana offenses.

While that kind of uncertainty could spook investors, New Jersey State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said he was not discouraged. As sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana, Gusciora said the momentum in New Jersey was too strong to stop now.

"I think that there are many investors and also legislators willing to take the chance," he said.

Marijuana Advocates Push For Legalization in New Jersey, Despite Federal Rules

Media Files:

ICE Gets Cold Shoulder From Rutgers, Backs Out of Career Fair

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Under pressure from immigrant students and administrators at Rutgers University in Newark — the most ethnically diverse campus in the country — Immigration and Customs Enforcement is backing out of an annual appearance at an upcoming career fair.

In a statement, ICE said it "voluntarily withdrew from participation" following a request by Rutgers officials, and added that "it is unfortunate that the university is disregarding the needs of those students who seek a career with ICE." The statement noted that Rutgers alumni work throughout the agency, including as "detention and deportation officers enforcing our nation's immigration laws."

Neither deportation officers nor the country's immigration laws as enforced by the Trump Administration are popular on diverse campuses like Newark's — a point made by Rutgers-Newark in its own statement saying it "strongly supports undocumented students." The university highlighted the creation of the campus group UndocuRutgers and said it provides students access to immigration lawyers. 

ICE's absence from the career fair appears to have been prompted by an online petition from so-called Dreamers, young people who were brought to the country as children and lack legal status. President Trump stripped the legal protection they were afforded under the Obama Administration, and Congress has yet to approve a bill giving them a path to citizenship.

ICE's Newark-based legal research office was slated to join about 30 government agencies and nonprofits at Thursday's career fair, according to Rutgers. But after consultation with university officials, Rutgers said that ICE "concluded their presence at the career fair at this point would run counter to their goals to recruit students at this event and to the spirit of the event, so they withdrew from participation."

With their residency status now in jeopardy, Dreamers fear deportation by ICE, which has dramatically increased operations in communities in New Jersey and throughout the country. The number of arrests by ICE officers based in Newark jumped 35 percent in the 2017 fiscal year, and deportations increased by 31 percent. 

The reason for the spike in ICE activity is largely due to a Trump executive order making anyone living in the country without legal documentation subject to deportation. Previously, those with criminal convictions were prioritized. In 2017, 40 percent of undocumented immigrants arrested in New Jersey did not have prior criminal convictions. That was the highest percentage nationwide.

ICE Gets Cold Shoulder From Rutgers, Backs Out of Career Fair

Media Files:

Would a Chocolate MetroCard Sweeten Your Hellish Commute?

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

The commute of your nightmares is now worthy of a prize, courtesy of the advocacy group, Riders Alliance.

The group's new contest, called Worst Commute of the Week, has its first winner: A librarian named Jennifer Tang, who commutes from Forest Hill, Queens, into Manhattan. On her way home one evening, she was just half a stop away from her destination when her R train ride stalled out for almost two hours due to signal problems. Which is bad enough. But the part that won her the prize was the fact that she hadn't gone to the bathroom before she got on the train.

Danny Perlstein from Riders Alliance says that Queens produced a runner-up, as well. "We had another story of an older gentleman on the same line," Perlstein told WNYC, "a two-time cancer survivor, who, on his morning commute, takes a local so he can sit down. He was stuck standing up for two hours, again due to signal problems, and he had a pain that developed in his legs that lasted several days, he expects it'll last him several more."

Last summer, the MTA made a point of trying to give frank announcements about what's wrong when a train stalls. And Perlstein said that instead of blaming the train's dispatcher, conductors are at least saying there are signal problems ahead.

But a red signal doesn't necessarily mean that traffic is keeping the train from moving; it's often the case that the signal itself is just broken. In holding a weekly contest, Riders Alliance says it plans to analyze all the entries to further identify problem areas to present to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA.

For riders, there's a more immediate incentive to submit a story. The winner each week gets a chocolate MetroCard

Had a prize-worthy bad commute lately? Tell us about it on our We The Commuters Facebook Group, where you can enter the contest, as well.

Would a Chocolate MetroCard Sweeten Your Hellish Commute?

Media Files:

New Jersey to Send in Troopers to Patrol Schools Following Florida Shooting

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 19:14:04 -0500

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has announced an array of measures to improve school safety as a result of the Parkland, Florida, shooting last week, including assigning state troopers to conduct unannounced visits to 107 public schools where they have jurisdiction.

In addition, he said at a press event Tuesday, the state will look into how tips are reported to, and reviewed by, law enforcement; review and upgrade school safety protocols; and train bus drivers and teachers to identify suspicious activity. Murphy also urged state lawmakers to craft gun control and safety bills.

“Enough is enough," Murphy said. "While state actions cannot replace the federal reforms that are needed, student safety comes first in New Jersey."

As for the visits by state troopers,  Col. Patrick Callahan said they would give teachers and staff an extra layer of security and build closer relationships with students.

"A trooper sitting there having lunch with a sixth grader—that's where they help them with their homework. That's were they start to humanize the badge," Callahan said. "For those young men and women in our schools, to start to see law enforcement as somebody on their side."

Some New Jersey towns are taking it even further.

The East Brunswick school district voted unanimously last Thursday to assign an on armed officer to each one of the 11 schools in the district.

"Four years ago, I wasn't quite sure that we should be bringing armed personnel into our buildings. But you know the circumstances of the world around us continue to change," public schools superintendent Victor Valeski told WNYC in a separate interview. "We felt that now was the time to implement this next phase that we'd always been talking about."

He said he didn't think the change would have any adverse impacts.

"I don't see this as being like big brother," he said, "where we're gonna monitor anything that you do."

Zachery Dougherty, a junior at Toms River High School North, helped organize a rally against gun violence in his town Monday. He had mixed feelings about the potential increase of police presence in schools across the state.

"At the end of the day they're there to protect us, if nothing gets done on the congressional level and state level, I guess police force is necessary to protect the students," Dougherty said, but he worried it might have negative effects like creating a "police-like state."

"Putting police in schools, I think that's just a band-aid for the overall issue," he said. "It's not gonna solve this long-term."

Drivers Say Cashless Tolling Leads To Erroneous Fines

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:51:40 -0500

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Deloris Ritchie and her family were pulled over by the police and left on the side of the road in the Bronx while her car was towed and impounded, as reported by The Journal News. Police said she owed $12,000 in fines from unpaid tolls and had a suspended registration. Ritchie said this was not true, but it took her months to prove it.

Hundreds of people who use the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge said they were charged fines for tolls they had already paid, or were never notified about, according to The Journal News.

"We've been hearing hundreds of stories, but they all follow the same sort of skeleton," said Christopher Eberhart, one of the journalists reporting on driver complaints. Many drivers signed up for Tolls by Mail system complain of not receiving the first or second bill, which are sent out every 30 days. As bills and fines stack up, drivers are not getting reliable mailings.

"People were getting only that third bill," said Eberhart. "And sometimes they didn't even get that bill, they would get only a notice of collections."

Last month, the Thruway Authority started an amnesty program for drivers who have been wrongly fined. Drivers can log on to pay outstanding tolls and have fines waved until February 26, 2018.

Drivers Say Cashless Tolling Leads To Erroneous Fines

Media Files:

Upgrades Coming to Four Subways Stops, but Accessibility?

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:30:14 -0500

Starting this spring, several subway stations on the west side of Manhattan will be closed to the public while the MTA makes major repairs.

The transit agency says the renovations are part of its Enhanced Station Initiative, and that shutting down the B/C stations at 72nd, 86th and 110th streets, as well as the 163rd Street C stop, will let MTA workers do their work as quickly as possible. The stations will start shutting down in April and are expected to remain closed until the fall.

According to the MTA, the renovations will include much-needed upgrades to the stations' platforms and mezzanine levels. That includes fixing wall tiles and replacing the floors, as well as adding better lighting and illuminated handrails. The agency is also installing digital countdown clocks and wifi.

This could also be an opportunity for the MTA to make one of New York City's most popular attractions more accessible for people with disabilities. Right now, there are no B/C subway stations with elevators between Columbus Circle and 125th Street. Chris Pangilinan of the advocacy group Transit Center told WNYC that makes it harder for people with disabilities to get to Central Park.

"If you're going to be closing down these stations for six months, check out the feasibility of building elevators at these stations, because this is the time to do it, when the stations are closed," Pangilinan says.

The MTA said it plans to study the cost of making every subway station in the city accessible to everyone, but would not comment on whether it will add elevators as part of the upcoming renovations.

Upgrades Coming to Four Subways Stops, but Accessibility?

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NJ Faith Leaders Arraigned for Sit-in at Lance's Office

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 14:34:47 -0500

When six rabbis and ministers stood up to enter pleas in court on Tuesday for a recent sit-in at the office of Rep. Leonard Lance, some 30 other clergy members from New Jersey stood up in court behind them. The faith leaders are protesting to pressure Republicans to protect "Dreamers," the undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as children.

"This is what faith looks like," said Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet, a Jewish congregation in Montclair, N.J. "Are we with our neighbors? Do we love the stranger? All of that is on the table and we have government policies that are saying no, and we as people of faith are saying yes."

Last September, Lance released a statement in support of DACA.

"Like many of my colleagues I agree that President Obama exceeded his Constitutional authority and disregarded existing law to implement his plan for undocumented immigrants," Lance said.

"Over the coming weeks I intend to work closely with my colleagues and the Administration to pass meaningful immigration reforms that will secure our borders, strengthen employment verification and provide a workable path for 'Dreamers' with DACA status."

But the New Jersey clergy who protested at Lance's office said he has not acted to protect Dreamers. Congress, as a whole, has failed to pass an immigration bill ahead of its self-imposed deadline of March 5, even after several days of open debate in the Senate last week.

Tepperman said the group of clergy members will continue to protest. Now that they've entered not-guilty pleas, he hopes the civil disobedience charges can be resolved and the group can focus on pressuring Congress to act.

NJ Faith Leaders Arraigned for Sit-in at Lance's Office

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Pharmaceuticals in the Hudson Pose a Threat to Aquatic Life

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 17:17:07 -0500

According to the co-author of a study measuring trace pharmaceuticals in the Hudson River, fish and other forms of aquatic life may be experiencing harm from the contaminants, which are more widespread than previously believed.

Biologist Andrew Juhl of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University said that in 2016, his research team collected samples from 72 spots on the river — from New York City to Albany. The samples contained 16 types of compounds, from antibiotics and acetaminophen to drugs for treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, epilepsy, ulcers, and heartburn.

"We don't know what the effects might be," he said, adding that the contaminants probably don't pose a direct threat to people who swim, eat fish in moderate amounts, or even get their drinking water from the Hudson — more than 100,000 residents of the Upper Hudson Valley. But it's not good news if you're a fish.

"There's a difference between drinking treated drinking water and living your life marinated in a soup of pharmaceuticals and that's what the aquatic organisms are facing," he said. 

Juhl explained that pharmaceutical substances survive well in water, allowing them to float far and wide in the estuary. "They're traveling through the system," he said. "They last long enough that they get transported by the currents and tides." That makes them more widespread than PCBs and fecal bacteria, but less harmful. Concentrations of PCBs are normally found near former industrial sites, and levels of bacteria most often rise near sewage treatment plants after discharges into the river.
Most of the pharmaceutical residue reaches the river through human wastewater. But treatment plants on the Hudson are not equipped with technologies, such as ultraviolet light, that could be used to neutralize the compounds. 

"So far, neither the EPA nor other agencies set standards for the presence of pharmaceuticals in water, largely because no one is sure what levels are safe or not," the Observatory said in a press release attached to the study.

Pharmaceuticals in the Hudson Pose a Threat to Aquatic Life

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Don't Fear the Subway (Too Much)

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:01:21 -0500

Cold and flu season can have even the least mysophobic among us looking askance at that subway pole, so we thought it might be a good time to revisit this conversation, with a scientist who actually took a very close look at what is really there.

Back in 2013, Dr. Christopher Mason and his team swabbed a bunch of stations and sequenced the DNA of whatever they found, in order to try to map the microbiome of New York City.

Mason said, yes, any time you're in close proximity with sick people, your risk of getting sick also goes up. Still, there are reasons to be optimistic about your chances on the subway.

The main one? Humidity. When it's cold and dry outside, it's likely to be somewhat more humid on the subway. Coughing and sneezing expel tiny particles into the air, but water vapor can accumulate on those particles, weighing them down. Those heavy droplets fall to the ground much faster, and might not make it to you. Outside where it's cold and dry, on the other hand, watch out. Those particles just fly free.

While Mason still advised common sense measures, he basically said: Don't freak out. You're probably going to be just fine.

"Get your flu shot, make sure you wash your hands, especially if you have touched something mysterious, and in general, go forth with hope and optimism that most of the time when you grab that pole you should be just fine."

Go forth, and good luck.

Don't Fear the Subway (Too Much)

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A Brief History of One of Brooklyn's Oldest Black Communities

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Back when Brooklyn was little more than farmland and rolling hills, the town of Weeksville was one of the largest black communities in New York. Nestled in modern-day Crown Heights, it became a refuge for black families in the years after New York state banned slavery, thanks in part to its then-remote location across the river from Manhattan.

"You had to take a boat to get here and get across the river," Weeksville Heritage Center executive director Rob Fields told WNYC. "And they could build a life and they could be in a community that was largely free from racially-inspired violence."

Founded in 1838, Weeksville drew dozens of black families who bought parcels of land—a requirement for being eligible to vote. At its peak in the late-1880's, Weeksville was home to about 500 people.

"There were two churches that came out of this community, one of which is still right down the road from us. There was an orphanage, there was a retirement home, there was Colored School Number Two, there was a baseball team, there was a newspaper," Fields said.

Historians still aren't sure why the community disappeared in the early 20th century, but it's possible that the town was an early victim of gentrification. After the Brooklyn Bridge was completed and more and more people crossed the East River from Manhattan to make their homes, Weeksville was slowly absorbed by the growing borough. In fact, the town's history was almost entirely forgotten before a Pratt Institute historian named James Hurley discovered four houses still standing in 1968. After one was destroyed in a fire, the last three were preserved and opened to the public as the Weeksville Heritage Center in 2005.

A Brief History of One of Brooklyn's Oldest Black Communities

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NYC Board of Elections Disputes De Blasio's Claim it Lacks Vision

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 18:20:00 -0500

The New York City Board of Elections is respectfully pushing back on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s characterization of it as an agency that lacks a “coherent vision” for how to improve the voting experience.

In his State of the City address last week, de Blasio proposed a 10-point democracy agenda which he said would address some of the Board’s failings.

Executive Director Michael Ryan responded carefully to the mayor's DemocracyNYC plan, telling WNYC that he would not comment on a proposed charter revision commission until it’s been empaneled. He also stressed that the Board, which derives its power from the state Constitution and state Election Law, routinely makes its “vision” known to state lawmakers.

“I believe the Board has presented a clear vision of legislative proposals to the New York State Legislature in the proper channels,” Ryan said.

He is expected to present the Board’s upcoming legislative proposals to state lawmakers next month.

De Blasio also took aim at the Board for relying on antiquated tools like snail mail to communicate with voters about poll site changes. But Ryan argued the agency is handling voter outreach "very well."

He said the Board is required to send annual mailers by law. He also said voters can go on line to their website to find out where to vote from their mobile devices.

Ahead of 2017 election, WNYC reported that the location of roughly one out of every five poll sites had been changed since November 2016, affecting more than 300,000 registered voters, and that the Board refused to comply with a local law requiring it to post signs at poll sites that were no longer in use.

The board said they are governed by state law.

NYC Board of Elections Disputes De Blasio's Claim it Lacks Vision

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How We Judge Prosecutors

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 17:37:00 -0500

Advocates in Albany this past weekend said they hope 2018 is the year criminal prosecutors around the state get a government oversight board like the boards that monitor police officers and judges.

“New York wins the silver medal for wrongful convictions,” said Bill Bastuk, founder of “It Could Happen to You,” a watchdog group. “We have more wrongful convictions — over 250 — than any other state besides Texas.”

Bastuk and others at the annual conference of the New York Association for Black and Puerto Rican Legislators are calling for a government body that would process allegations against prosecutors and sanction them for withholding evidence and other misdeeds. They envision an apparatus roughly similar to the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct, which handles complaints about judges, or civilian review boards, which do the same thing for some local police departments.

The proposal has united minority lawmakers from the city with John DeFrancisco – the Senate’s powerful Republican Deputy Majority Leader and leading GOP candidate for governor this fall. The Senate bill and Assembly bill never got out of committee last year, but supporters believe it could join other criminal justice reforms that seem to be gaining momentum in the current session.

Many district attorneys oppose the proposal, saying there are already state grievance committees that handle complaints against all attorneys, including prosecutors.

“There’s a system in place,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. “Granted, it may need some reform or some revision, but there’s already a place for that.”

The state district attorneys association has also expressed concern that defense attorneys could use a prosecutor misconduct commission to slow down proceedings by filing frivolous allegations.

Other reform priorities include a proposal to overhaul the pre-trial bail and detention system, and a proposal to better enforce the constitutional right to a speedy trial.  Both items are considered key components of the plan to close Rikers Island, because they would reduce the number of inmates to a size that could be dispersed to smaller, community-based jails.

How We Judge Prosecutors

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This Week in Politics: Can De Blasio Summon the Spirit to "Save Our Democracy?"

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Mayor de Blasio delivered the first State of the City speech of his second term this week. He talked about the need to safeguard city elections against hacking, warned of voter participation plummeting and argued that now is the time to fight to save our democracy.

Simply put, he says, "We cannot be the fairest big city in America if we have some of the most unfair and most exclusionary election laws of any state in the country." But is a mayor who was just reelected in one of the lowest turnout elections in city history the right guy to rally the troops?

WNYC's City Hall and politics reporter, Brigid Bergin joins us on This Week in Politics to look at where we're headed in the mayor's second term.

Speaking with host David Furst, she breaks down the his 10-point plan to save democracy – and has the latest on the city's plan to close Rikers Island and transfer inmates to smaller city jails. Brigid says, "This is a very politically-charged process. Presumably, City Hall is anticipating that they are going to have a fight ahead of them… regardless of how soon they tell people about it."


This Week in Politics: Can De Blasio Summon the Spirit to "Save Our Democracy?"

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Piece of Fire Escape Falls on Two Pedestrians In Lower Manhattan

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:59:49 -0500

A piece of a metal fire escape step fell seven stories and hit two pedestrians on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk Friday afternoon, leaving them with serious injuries, officials said.

The victims, including a man and a 24-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man, were rushed to Bellevue Hospital after the incident on Howard Street near Broadway just after 1:30 p.m., fire officials said. The man was in critical condition, police said. The woman was treated for a head wound and was expected to survive.

A private contractor was on the fire escape at the seventh floor conducting a routine inspection of the facade at the time of the incident, according to FDNY spokesman Jim Long, who briefed reporters at the scene.

The step came loose beneath the inspector's feet, and fell to the sidewalk below.

"Under her weight the step became dislodged," said Long. "She actually fell partially through the fire escape. Thankfully she was able to pull herself up."

Long said that woman had minor injuries and refused medical treatment at the scene.

Chris Siemer, an onlooker who worked at a store across the street, described a chaotic scene. He noticed a child crying and pointing, and the child's mother tugging him away. Siemer looked to see what the commotion was about.

"There were two bodies on the floor," he said. "His head was a little bit flattened. There was blood everywhere.

Department of Building officials were on scene conducting an investigation and issued one violation to the owners for failing to safeguard the building, which could result in fines of up to $25,000. They also are requiring the building owner to hire fire guards to assist during emergencies. Peter O'Farrill of Cushman & Wakefield is listed as the owner, according to Department of Building records. He didn't return a request for comment right away.

The most recent inspection of the fire escape in 2013 found no defects, Department of Buildings officials said. On Friday, the woman who was on the fire escape was a private contractor who was hired inspect the facade and fire escape, leading up to a mandatory city inspection, conducted once every five years for buildings over six stories.

Nadav Hazon, 24, who works at a clothing store around the corner, said the randomness of the incident was frightening.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated as new information becomes available.


"I'm passing by that street every day on my way to work," he said. "That could happen to me."

Piece of Fire Escape Falls on Two Pedestrians In Lower Manhattan

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The Toxic Waste Beneath Some New Jersey Homes

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 08:23:50 -0500

For decades, a manufacturing company in suburban New Jersey has been downplaying investigations into the spread of toxic waste from its factory.

new investigation by The Record and found the DuPont facility in Pompton Lakes has resisted looking into the toxic chemicals that have spread under more than 400 homes, releasing harmful vapors that pose serious health risks to residents.

Scott Fallon and James O'Neill co-reported the series. Fallon says there's evidence that the toxic plume has seeped into groundwater and soil, traveling off the company's site and vaporizing into basements, backyards, gardens, and playgrounds, among other places. He said documents from as far back as 1979 show a pattern of DuPont hiding and minimizing the danger.

Experts say it's hard to definitively link a particular pollution to specific illnesses, but The Record surveyed more than 50 households in the area of the plume and found many cases of different types of cancer linked to solvents in the plume, as well as other diseases.

Fallon told WNYC many residents want to leave, but are finding it difficult. "The home values have dropped considerably in the neighborhood," he said, "and when you invest your life savings in your home, it's hard to leave that at a considerable loss."

Fallon spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.



The Toxic Waste Beneath Some New Jersey Homes

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Lunar New Year Events to Check Out Around Town

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 06:30:00 -0500

Shing Nien Kwai Luh! Happy Lunar New Year! Today ushers in the Year of the Dog. Here are some ways to celebrate around New York. The Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival Friday, February 16, 11:00am - 3:30pm New Year's Day starts with a big bang at Sara D. Roosevelt Park at Grand Street in Manhattan. Lion dancers perform during the Asian Lunar New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival, in Roosevelt Park, in New York's Chinatown, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (Richard Drew/AP Photo) Super Saturday: Lion Dancing Saturday, February 24, all day Lion Dancers go door to door in Manhattan's Chinatown and bring good luck to businesses. Here's a helpful guide on what lion dancing is all about.  frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> The 19th Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival Sunday, February 25, at 1:00pm The biggest Lunar New Year parade in New York starts at Mott & Canal Streets in Manhattan A pair of lion dancers from the Tai Pun Residents Association perform during a Lunar New Year celebration, in New York's Chinatown neighborhood, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (Richard Drew/AP Photo) Flushing's Lunar New Year Parade and Festival Saturday, February 17, 9:30am reception, 11am parade Parade starts at St. George's Episcopal Church in Flushing, Queens Residents of Flushing, Queens, shop for decorations ahead of the Lunar New Year. (Sarah Hayley Barrett) Exhibit: The Costume Art of Imperial Peking Opera, at Flushing Town Hall Saturday, February 17 - Sunday, March 11 Hours: weekends 12-5pm; weekdays by appointment Opera costumes on display at Flushing Town Hall in Queens. (Flushing Town Hall Facebook) WNYC's Richard Yeh spoke to Richard Hake.  [...]Lunar New Year Events to Check Out Around Town

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Adaptive Design Creates Fashion for Everyone

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 06:02:34 -0500

At New York Fashion Week, the world’s most prominent designers show off their newest work on fashion’s biggest stages.

But behind the scenes, there are other innovations in the industry underway—like adaptive clothing. The adaptive clothing movement centers on designing clothes for people with physical disabilities, and the disabled community is pushing to make stylish functionality mainstream.

Many times, people with disabilities don't have a lot of options besides expensive tailoring, or wearing clothing specifically designed for functionality. But adaptive design changes that by addressing medical needs without sacrificing fashion.

Mindy Scheier is the founder of Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing adaptive fashion in the mainstream. She says making adaptive fashion work begins with including the disabled community on every level of the fashion industry.

"We want people to rethink the everyday, from getting dressed in the morning to who you're hiring for jobs in the industry to who you’re looking at in magazines," Scheier says. 

Scheier says the disabled community is a huge demographic—it's the largest minority in the world, with almost a billion people diagnosed with some kind of disability. Through activism and social media, advocates, designers and wearers of adaptive clothing are pushing to get the message out.

The Open Style Lab at Parsons School of Design is similarly dedicated to spreading the word. Taking a user-based approach to fashion design, fellows and students at the lab create clothes for people with physical disabilities.

To engineer adaptive clothing, designers have to conduct lots medical research and prototyping before even choosing fabrics or sewing pieces together. They undergo empathy training to learn how to consult with disabled clients. They use cutting-edge technologies and materials—think super-strong adhesive tape along seams, or thin magnet strips instead of buttons.

The lab's ultimate goal is to make adaptive fashion universal. Grace Jun, the executive director of the Open Style Lab, says combining functionality with style is more common than people might think—for example, glasses used to be assistive technology.

"Now it's fashionable," she says. “That's the same way we're trying to approach all of the things we make and get the industry to turn heads and be like, 'This isn't just trendy. But it has real purpose. And it looks good. So, wouldn't you want one, too?'"

Adaptive Design Creates Fashion for Everyone

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Review: Heading Downtown with Peter Hujar

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Peter Hujar, the subject of a riveting retrospective at the Morgan Library and Museum, deserves to be better-known. A photographer who specialized in tender black-and-white portraits of his friends along with the less likely subjects of cows and other farm animals, he was one of the essential chroniclers of the East Village scene in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Many of his photographs pay undisguised homage to taut male bodies, reflecting a time of when Stonewall had brought a sense of freedom and AIDS had not yet descended. You can say that he made beautiful, optically pristine photographs about a scene on the verge of vanishing. Hujar had his share of female muses, mostly artists and writers, and his portraits of women represent some of the most charismatic works in the show. His first muse was Daisy Aldan, a poet who taught his English class in high school, in Manhattan. His portrait of her from 1955, the earliest work here, emits a whiteness, an ethereality, that soon faded from his work — in the place of light, a raft of grays settled in. In what is probably his best-known portrait, Susan Sontag is shown from the waist up, lying pensively on her back in a ribbed turtleneck sweater. She is arched, striped and sensual. The picture, as much as Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother, is a symphony of grays. More amusing is a portrait of the writer Fran Lebowitz as a dark-haired 24-year-old. She is shown half-reclining in bed, propped up on her elbows, boldly meeting the viewer’s gaze. She can put you in mind of Manet’s daring model, Olympia, except that she is on polka-dot sheets that clash loudly with her op-art wallpaper. Clearly, artistic genius unfurled in the ‘70s not only in the under-furnished lofts of the East Village, but also in the oddly decorated suburbs. Hujar’s life story is heartbreaking. He died of AIDS on Thanksgiving Day 1987, at the age of 53. Despite his achievements, he told his friends that he felt like a failure, and he looked with envy upon the success of Robert Mapplethorpe, his fellow exalter of male beauty. The Morgan show gives Hujar his full due. It is late in coming, and naturally it’s sad that he can’t enjoy the inevitable acclaim. On the other hand, his work is precisely what we need right now to remind us of what authenticity looks like. Hujar displayed great tenderness in his work for underdogs and what he called the “all-in people” — people who lived their lives without holding back, without trying to cut their losses and be like everyone else. He himself was clearly all-in — especially in the empathy department, which adds additional appeal to his work in our singularly un-empathic era. Fran Lebowitz reclining at home in Peter Hujar's photograph. (© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco) Peter Hujar: Speed of Life The Morgan Library and Museum through May 20, 2018 [...]Review: Heading Downtown with Peter Hujar

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Former NYC Teacher, Brother Charged after Explosive Materials Seized

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:36:00 -0500

A former high school teacher and his brother were accused on Thursday of stockpiling explosive materials in their apartment and paying students to dismantle fireworks for gunpowder to make bombs. Christian Toro and his brother, Tyler Toro, were charged in a federal complaint with unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device. Christian Toro also was charged with distribution of explosive materials to a minor. The brothers pleaded not guilty and were being held pending their next court date. There was no immediate response to requests for comment from their attorneys. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio praised law enforcement for halting the brothers' plans. "The brave men and women of the (New York Police Department) and of the FBI have done extraordinary work and, in this case, likely saved many, many lives," de Blasio said at a news conference. Authorities said that there was no indication of any continued threat and that all the suspects involved had been arrested. The case grew out of a bomb threat called into a school by a student in December. Authorities said Christian Toro then resigned, Tyler Toro returned the ex-teacher's school laptop and a technician found a document about explosives on it. Authorities interviewed Christian Toro at his Bronx apartment earlier this month. Christian Toro told law enforcement agents that he'd come across the document about explosives while researching the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, looked only at its contents and never meant to download it, the complaint said. He said he'd never built a bomb. But on Wednesday, students at his former school told agents that he paid at least two students about $50 an hour between October and January to break up fireworks and store the powder from them, said the complaint, which didn't say what the purpose of the bomb was. Agents got a warrant and searched the Toros' apartment on Thursday, finding more than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of various chemicals used in explosives, a box of firecrackers, a bag of metal spheres that could be used to pack a bomb with damaging projectiles and a diary, the complaint said. The diary, with Tyler Toro's name in it, said "Christian arrested" and "If you're registered as a sex offender, things will be difficult. But I am here 100 percent, living, buying weapons. Whatever we need," according to the complaint. The diary also talked about having thrown away all the evidence of something code-named operation "Flash," proclaimed "we are the twin Toros" and threatened retribution if anyone would "strike us now," authorities said. It added, "I hope this doesn't turn into a scene from Goodfellas," they said. "Goodfellas," a 1990 Martin Scorsese movie starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, chronicles a mobster-turned-informant. The complaint said agents searching the apartment also found a yellow backpack, which contained a purple index card with handwriting that said "under the full moon the small ones will know terror." The NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism and intelligence, John Miller, said the brothers' motive was unclear. He said police didn't know if the brothers were inspired by any terror groups. "Neither of them was on our radar before this," he said. The complaint said Christian [...]

An Immigrant Trek, From NYC to DC

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:59:36 -0500

Concerned that the national immigration debate is not going their way, a group of young immigrants set off on foot from lower Manhattan to Washington, D.C.

The journey, set to last 15 days, is called The Walk to Stay Home.

Organizers are calling for a clean Dream Act, and said the walkers include both undocumented and legal immigrants. Cata Santiago, a DACA recipient, said she's walking in honor of her parents, who crossed the desert from Mexico into the United States.

"For me it's remembering that they were willing and were brave enough to walk on a hot summer," said Santiago, "where they were dehydrated, where they were rushed by a coyote. I want to remember that on this walk."

The crowd cheered as it began the trek along Broadway at Bowling Green on Thursday, and chanted "Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!" 

But some said they were worried about the political climate.

"It's very dangerous," said Ricardo Cruz, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

"Our people, our friends are being detained, going to detention centers," he said. We're being criminalized. We feel we're losing the battle. It's very scary for most of us."



Civilian Complaint Review Board Takes On Sexual Harassment and Assault By Police

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:57:00 -0500

For the first time since it was founded decades ago, the independent board tasked with investigating claims of police misconduct will begin looking into cases of sexual harassment and assault. The Civilian Complaint Review Board voted unanimously Wednesday to begin reviewing these cases, amid mounting pressure from advocates against police violence, and following a highly publicized recent case of a 19-year-old who said police handcuffed and raped her in a the back of a police van. "It's good for New York and good for the NYPD for us to enter this new sphere of oversight," said the board's acting chair, Frederick Davie. The standing policy for years had been for the board to pass those cases off to the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau. From January 2016 to June 2017, they referred 117 allegations of sexual misconduct to the NYPD. That includes 13 complaints of rape and other similarly serious allegations; 43 other complaints that involved a physical attack, sexual touching during a stop and frisk or cavity searches; and 48 complaints of sexual propositions, catcalls, sexual humiliation or other verbal complaints. None of those were investigated by the CCRB, which generally substantiates about 23 percent of complaints it receives, according to the board's 2016 annual report. "The rationale was that many of these sexual misconduct cases are very serious and this agency wasn't equipped to handle those types of allegations," said Jonathan Darche, the executive director of the CCRB.  The CCRB says it never heard back from the NYPD on the disposition of these cases. "When we refer cases to IAB, we do not find out the results of their investigation," Darche said. Now, under the new policy, the CCRB will begin conducting its own investigations right away, for cases of unwanted romantic advances, catcalls, verbal harassment and other non-physical types of sexual misconduct. In a later phase of the new policy, the board aims to "eventually investigate even the most serious complaints of sexual misconduct alleged against members of service, even if doing so is not immediately tenable," according to a memorandum released ahead of the board vote. That stage will involve identifying specific highly trained investigators capable of handling more serious cases. They'll also start working with District Attorneys offices in order to identify potential criminal charges in cases of physical abuse, groping or rape. The board has no firm timeline for when that stage of the process will be completed. Andrea Ritchie, a researcher at Barnard College and author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women, has been pushing for the CCRB to expand its purview for more than a year. While the board's vote is a step in the right direction, she said, the board needs to begin looking into more severe cases as soon as possible. "There's no reason that survivors of sexual misconduct by police should be denied the protections afforded to survivors of other forms of misconduct by police, who get access to an independent civilian investigation of their complaint." Ritchie said. "Why should survivors of sexual assault be denied that protection, be forced to go to the very agency that [...]

New Jersey Suburb Will Make Road Closure Warnings 'Less Foreboding'

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:11:32 -0500

A New Jersey suburb is trying to clarify its controversial road closure law with new signs after local businesses complained they were losing customers. In January, the borough of Leonia banned out-of-town drivers from using its streets to skip rush hour traffic to the nearby George Washington Bridge. The town is just a mile west of the bridge, and for decades drivers used it as a short cut to bypass an especially busy section of the New Jersey Turnpike.  Recently, though, Leonia officials said their roads have been so overrun by non-residents thanks to navigation apps like Waze that they decided to ban people without business in town from passing through during the morning and afternoon rush hours. From a traffic perspective, officials said the restrictions have worked: Mayor Judah Zeigler tells WNYC that far fewer cars have backed up town streets, and residents have a much easier time getting around town. But many local business owners who cater to out-of-towners say the new road rules are too confusing and are scaring away their customers. "Nonresidents, they don't have to come to Leonia to eat or to shop. There's so many other towns," Sara Calegari, who manages the Leonia restaurant Fontina di Trevi, told WNYC. Leonia, NJ, tried to ban non-residents from driving on town roads during rush hour. (Leonia Police Department) Calegari and other local business leaders said the problem was made worse by the road signs that town officials posted at Leonia's borders. They said the modified "Do Not Enter" signs are confusing to read, especially for people who are not native English speakers, and the fear of a $200 fine was enough to scare away their clientele. Over the last few weeks, business owners have become increasingly vocal about their losses. They staged a protest in front of borough hall advocating for the ban to be repealed. Leonia Mayor Judah Zeigler said that's not in the cards, but he is making efforts to clarify that the ban is for those who just want to drive on through the town without stopping. That includes replacing the current signs with ones that are "less foreboding." "Hindsight's 20/20. So everybody can now say 'oh jeez, that wasn't a good idea,'" Zeigler told WNYC. "Okay, that's why we're changing it." Zeigler said he and Leonia Police Chief Tom Rowe haven't decided on a new design yet, but the new signs will likely be more akin to speed limit signs than "Do Not Enter" warnings. Calegari is skeptical that anything less than repealing the ban will bring diners back to her tables. "Now, maybe we lost so many people, it's going to be hard to get them back," she said. New Jersey Suburb Will Make Road Closure Warnings 'Less Foreboding' [...]

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Sergeant Who Fatally Shot Bronx Woman Acquitted of All Charges

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:21:42 -0500

A police officer who fatally shot a mentally ill woman in her New York apartment in 2016 has been acquitted by a judge.

Sgt. Hugh Barry was found not guilty on Thursday of murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Deborah Danner, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was brandishing a bat when the eight-year veteran shot her.

Officers had been called to Danner's home several times before.

Her shooting sparked protests and a rebuke from Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, while the defense argued Barry made a split second decision to protect himself.

Barry testified he pleaded with the 66-year-old woman to drop the bat, but she stepped toward him and swung at him.

Prosecutors said Barry failed to follow his training and didn't listen to Danner.

With reporting by the Associated Press.

Sergeant Who Fatally Shot Bronx Woman Acquitted of All Charges

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White House Moves to Crack Down on Legal Immigration

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 07:45:55 -0500

The Trump administration has made curbing illegal immigration into the United States a priority since day one. Now, the White House is looking into limiting legal immigration into the country.

The White House is proposing tougher scrutiny of immigrants applying for permanent residency, focusing on any government benefits applicants may have used in the past. While the administration has yet to formally propose a plan, it's considering expanding what qualifies as a "public charge" to include a wide array of popular, non-cash government programs, including Head Start, Medicaid and SNAP. Participation in these programs could be counted against immigrants in their applications for permanent residency.

Reporter Yeganeh Torbati wrote about the new plan for Reuters. She says the administration is arguing it doesn't want to be taken advantage of.

"Their argument is that, 'We are supposed to be the stewards of taxpayer funds, and what we really want are immigrants who are self-sufficient,'" Torbati says.

Critics say raising this standard could discourage immigrant families from accessing public benefits that they have a legal right to, including healthcare and food aid.

Torbati reports that some experts believe the policy could come up as an official proposal by the end of the year.

Torbati spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake about the Trump White House's efforts to crack down on legal immigration to the U.S.

White House Moves to Crack Down on Legal Immigration

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When You Find Out Your Coworker Was Painted by Obama's Portraitist

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 17:53:39 -0500

Earlier this week, the National Portrait Gallery unveiled former President Barack Obama's official portrait, painted by the artist Kehinde Wiley. 

At stake are the futures of 700,000 recipients of DACA, who lose protections on March 5. Republicans have been pushing for enhanced border security measures, as well as changes to the diversity visa program and family reunification laws.

Joshi said she's reluctant to get overly cynical at this point.

"I have to be optimistic that Congress is going to follow will of the American public," said immigration activist Joshi, noting that there is broad support for DACA.

Joshi conceded that much of the public hasn't been watching the debate — "understandably there's a lot going on right now" — but Antonio Alarcon, a Dreamer who works at Make the Road New York, has been paying close attention and said the construction of a wall "shouldn't have a place in this debate."

"Democrats have to stand strong and resist these unacceptable proposals,” he said.


New York Legislators Call For FEMA to Extend Aid to Puerto Ricans

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 17:03:16 -0500

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, thousands of evacuees found shelter in mainland hotel rooms paid for by the U.S. government. Now, two legislators from New York are calling for the Federal Emergency Management Administration to continue the program into the summer.

The Transitional Sheltering Assistance program is one option that FEMA offers to disaster survivors who are not able to find housing through other means. Right now, the agency says it is paying for about 4,000 people to live in hotel rooms around the country, more than 240 of whom are in New York.

But FEMA says the program is only a short-term bridge until evacuees find a more permanent home, and the agency has already extended it until March on the request of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Roselló.

But in a letter to FEMA Administrator William Long, Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Jose Serrano are requesting that the agency give Hurricane Maria survivors another extension to June 1, 2018, as the island is still struggling to rebuild its power grid.

"The recent explosion of a power substation that caused massive power blackouts is a clear example of why many evacuees cannot return home, and thus, why these programs must be extended," Velazquez and Serrano write.

The letter comes as FEMA is reviewing the eligibility of people who have found housing in hotels through the program. About 200 Puerto Rican families around the country have been told that they are no longer eligible for housing and will have to either move back home or find somewhere else to live after Wednesday, Feb. 14.

However, a FEMA spokesman said that number constantly changes as people enter and exit the program, and Roselló is the only person who can formally request that the program be extended. The governor's office has not responded to a request for comment.

New York Legislators Call For FEMA to Extend Aid to Puerto Ricans

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Rahimi Will Spend Rest of His Life in Prison for Chelsea Bombing

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:44:13 -0500

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the al-Qaeda-inspired bomber whose homemade explosive injured 31 people in the Chelsea section of Manhattan in 2016, was sentenced to multiple life terms in federal court on Tuesday. 

Rahimi told the court that he doesn't "harbor hate for anyone" — an assertion that runs counter to the image prosecutors presented of a calculated Islamic extremist who not only set two bombs in Chelsea, one of which exploded, but also two additional incendiary devices in New Jersey. 

The law mandated that Rahimi, who was convicted in October, face at least a life sentence. But the fact that Rahimi will never again be a free man is not stopping prosecutors from pursuing further convictions. He faces federal charges in New Jersey for setting up a bomb in a garbage can outside the Elizabeth train station, which was discovered by a passersby before it exploded, and another at a Marine Corps 5K race in Seaside Park, which didn't injure anyone after it detonated. 

Additionally, Rahimi may soon stand trial in state court in Union County, New Jersey for shooting and injuring four police officers after they found him outside a bar in Linden during a manhunt on the weekend of the bombings. 

The officers were not seriously injured, but two did not return to the force and recently retired. Rahimi pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of the officers.

Prosecutors said Rahimi still holds firm to his extremist ideology. While in jail, they said he sought out others charged with terrorism offenses and passed along extremist propaganda, like Osama bin Laden’s speeches.  

Rahimi was born in Afghanistan and became a naturalized American citizen after moving to Elizabeth, where his father owned a chicken restaurant.

At the time of the bombing, the attack caused more injuries than any other terrorist attack in New York City since Sept. 11. Then this past October, the city faced a deadly terror attack when an extremist drove a truck into people on the West Side Highway, killing eight. Sayfullo Saipov is looking for a deal in that case — he wants to plead guilty, avoid trial and go to prison for life if prosecutors agree not to seek the death penalty. But prosecutors said victims’ families deserve the closure of a trial.

Rahimi Will Spend Rest of His Life in Prison for Chelsea Bombing

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Homeowners Worry, as Jersey City Property Taxes Skyrocket

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 13:52:18 -0500

Jersey City is reassessing property values for the first time in 30 years, which means many homeowners are seeing their property taxes skyrocket.

Numbers by Appraisal Systems, the company in charge of the revaluation, show the downtown area has been hardest hit, with some tax bills set to triple this year.

"At this point in my life I was considering retirement," said Marie Borrelli, who has lived and worked in the neighborhood for three decades. "Now I don't know what I'm gonna do."

Borrelli paid $16,380 in taxes last year for the two-family home she's lived in for 27 years. Based on the revaluation, her tax bill will shoot up to $41,130.

The frustration doesn't end there. At a community meeting Monday night, councilman James Solomon told residents they'll be responsible for the new amount in full this year, once the city budget is finalized.

"At some point in the summer, residents will get their full 2018 tax bill, which means many people's taxes will kick up in the third and fourth quarter of this year," Solomon said at a meeting organized by the Village Neighborhood Association.

Borrelli said that isn't enough time.

"It should have been, you know, in increments — to give people a chance to decide what they're going to do with their lives," she said.

Solomon is attending neighborhood meetings all month to answer revaluation questions, which he said the city has failed to do.

At the Monday night meeting he said homeowners have 10 days after getting their revaluation letters in the mail to schedule an informal appeal with Appraisal Systems.

Residents should make sure the company has accurately assessed their home — the quality of the kitchen, total square footage and whether it's in a flood-zone. 

"If they haven't accurately assessed the property, there's a chance the company can drop the assessed value," Solomon said.

Appraisal Systems is hearing appeals from homeowners on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It is expected to hand in the final assessment numbers by mid-March. After that, property owners have 45 days to schedule a formal appeal with the Hudson County tax board.

An appeal might bring down the assessed property value "a little bit," Solomon said. But that's cold comfort for longtime Jersey City resident Christine Fielding.

Fielding's parents bought her family home in the '50s. Her mom regularly told her to hang on to it.

"'Don't ever sell this house,' she used to tell me, 'this is gonna be your pension, this is gonna be your livelihood,'" Fielding said. "She should only know today."


Homeowners Worry, as Jersey City Property Taxes Skyrocket

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Competing For 'Best in Show,' Pooches Get Star Treatment

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 06:37:27 -0500

New York City is rolling out the red carpet for the pups competing in this year's Westminster Dog Show -- literally.

Red carpets, spa treatment and gourmet food orders (spinach pizza, really?) are just part of the job for Jerry Grymek, the dog concierge at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Throughout the week of competition, Grymek greets, pampers and caters to the over 500 dogs staying at the hotel.

"It's a doghouse, but in a good way," Grymek says.

The 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show wraps up tonight, with the announcement of this year's "Best in Show."

Grymek spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake about the exceptional requests made for these exceptional canines.

Competing For 'Best in Show,' Pooches Get Star Treatment

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Meet the Partisans in This 'Nonpartisan' Good Government Group

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer launched a group called Reclaim New York even before they helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Mercer's daughter Rebekah, also a conservative powerhouse, is active in setting policy.

Reclaim people say Bannon and Conway are no longer involved. They insist the group is a nonpartisan good-government watchdog that should be judged on its work, not its board members. But records show their staff are all the same political persuasion as their founders. Click on the link above to hear the full report. And click here to find part one of this two-part series.

Meet the Partisans in This 'Nonpartisan' Good Government Group

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