Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Council Unveils Domestic Violence Stats

After a string of hate crimes targeting gay men, the City Council unanimously approved legislation Wednesday to require hate crime statistics be posted online.

The bill would also require the city post statistics on domestic violence.

Council leaders championed the measures, saying shedding light on crime could help avert it.

"In light of the recent hate crimes increase in our city, any additional data to help understand and fight hate crimes and domestic violence is incredibly important," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Hate Crimes Online

The data will be posted on the city's "My Neighborhood Statistics" site, which already tracks other block-by-block data, like noise complaints or 311 calls.

Specifically the site will also now track murders, felony assaults or rape related to domestic violence or hate crimes.

The legislation's approval (Intros 373 and 393) follows a string of particularly brutal hate crimes across the city. Most recently, a gang in the Bronx held three men against their will, beat them and sodomized two of them.

Officials hope awareness might be one step toward preventing these types of crimes.

New Yorkers can expect the data to be up on the site 30 days after the bill goes into effect, said city officials. The mayor is expected to sign the legislation.

Queens Largest Rezoning

The City Council also unanimously approved the largest rezoning of Queens ever to preserve the character of Auburndale, Oakland Gardens and Hollis Hills, council officials said.

The rezoning, which affects 418 blocks, will preserve the low-density character of the neighborhoods, which are largely comprised of one to two family detached homes.

The rezoning will allow "modest" multi-family residential development along major thoroughfares, but also prevent commercial buildings from seeping onto residential streets.

The rezoning is the 40th in the borough under the Bloomberg administration.

Queens Race Features Two Familiar Names

Photo by Bonnie Natko

Much of State Senate District 15 -- stretching across south Queens from Howard Beach through Middle Village to Maspeth -- is a serene landscape with three- and four-story brick buildings intermingled among trees. The parks that dot the district are filled with animated conversation in a variety of languages. And throughout the district one sees buildings and signs bearing the Addabbo name.

For 34 of the past 49 years, an Addabbo family member has served District 15 either in the City Council or at the state or national level. Democrat Joseph Addabbo Jr., son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph Addabbo Sr., is currently seeking reelection to the State Senate after winning the seat from 20-year incumbent Serphin Maltese in 2008.

His opponent, Republican Anthony Como, also has deep roots in the district. He has been a south Queens resident his entire life, worked at the Queens district attorney’s office, served briefly on the City Council and was on Maltese's staff for several years.


"Como has great name recognition," said Steven Stites, whose media consulting firm does work for many Queens Republicans. "He was the only Republican who would really have a chance to pick this seat up."

And while there is inherent difficulty in taking down a well-known -- and generally well-liked -- incumbent, the Republicans and special interest groups have targeted this as a winnable election. Both the powerful Real Estate Board and the Senate GOP have put their financial weight behind the election in hopes of swinging the Senate back to the Republicans. Currently the Democrats hold a 32-30 margin in the chamber, and Republicans think District 15, which has a history of voting conservatively despite a 3-to-2 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans, could help give them control.

Como has focused on connecting Addabbo to spending and tax and fee increases in Albany, even running a TV spot that charges, "124. That's how many times State Sen. Joe Addabbo raised taxes in just two years in office."

Addabbo is running on his record as a senator who is available "24/7" -- he likes to call his constituents "my people."

The Gay Marriage Vote

A small wave of surprise washed over the room after Addabbo simply said "no."

Many expected that, as a Democrat, Addabbo would say "yes" when it came time to vote last December on a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage. As the first of only eight Democrats who voted against the bill, Addabbo was seen as setting the tone for the rest of the roll call.

Citing his philosophy of "listening to my people," Addabbo later said he decided to go against the party to be in line with his socially conservative district. While the vote lost Addabbo the financial support of the gay community -- which had backed his 2008 campaign -- it may help him on Nov. 2.

"[The vote] made it difficult for Republicans to make this a values campaign," Stites said. "It cost him a little bit of skin, but you have to govern from the center in this district. Most people on paper are Democrats, but they're definitely conservative."

Instead, Como has attacked Addabbo on his record on fees and taxes, painting him as unfriendly to businesses. In response, Addabbo proposed ways to curb government spending and lower costs for individuals and businesses.

Boosting Business

In many ways, district 15 is a patchwork of different ethnicities and characters. But, Addabbo said, "I can go into any part of the district and talk about jobs. Job security and job stability."

As in much of Queens, most of the jobs come from small businesses. Como, though cites reports that say the tax climate in New York for these mom and pop stores is the worst in the nation.

"This is a time where we've had a record number of closings of in the neighborhood," Como said.

Como has criticized Addabbo's record of working with small businesses, pointing to the Business Council of New York State's rating him toward the bottom on its list of "Business Friendly" state senators. The Business Council, however, almost exclusively endorses GOP candidates.

"I always say that my record speaks for itself," Addabbo said. "We're not always going to agree, meaning myself and maybe the Business Council. But the idea here is that my door is always open. They have not really reached out to me to say, 'hey let's work together.' I work with the people that want to work with me. I walk along Jamaica Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, Myrtle Avenue talking to small businesses and asking, 'What's going to help you?'"

Joseph Addabbo
Joseph Addabbo

Addabbo has keyed in on trying to reduce business costs. Offering free energy audits is one example.

"We've seen some of our local businesses save anywhere from 17 to 30 percent on their energy costs by opting into these programs," Addabbo said. He also promoted two job fairs -- with a third on Nov. 12 -- that, he said, have brought over 100 recruiters to the area each time. Local unions, such as SEIU 32BJ, support Addabbo.

Como, who is backed by the National Federation of Independent Business, said the taxes Addabbo has supported overshadow all his other efforts.

"My opponent walks around on the avenue talking about we're going to do this and then he bashes them over the head with these new taxes," Como said.

Aside from lower taxes, Como proposes an increase in microloans to new and existing businesses, citing successful repayment rates of over 90 percent from both start-up and existing businesses.

"I'm not saying we're going to throw the government's money away," he said, "but we have to encourage businesses."

Both candidates agree that the government should provide tax incentives to employers that hire in order to create jobs and boost business.

The Aqueduct Report

Addabbo has turned to Aqueduct -- a thoroughbred racetrack in Ozone Park -- both for his job fairs and as a possible source on employment in the district. But now his involvement with the project could backfire.

Last week the state inspector general issued a report charging that the bidding to build a casino at Aqueduct was riddled with improprieties. In particular, the report found one bidder marshaled funds for the state Democratic Senate Campaign committee and cited two of Addabbo's fellow senators -- John Sampson and Malcolm Smith, both members of the Senate Democratic leadership -- for possible violations of law.

Addabbo maintains his innocence and said he did not have influence over who got the contract.

Anthony Como
Anthony Como

Como questions Addabbo's claims that he did not know about the flawed and possibly illegal process. "He never came clean about it," Como said. He had a chance. I hate to say it, but there's only one of two ways. Either he was in on it or he didn't know what was going on. Either way, it's disgusting and appalling. Sleep at the wheel and you're in on it."

Addabbo estimated that the track's facelift could bring in 1,000 construction jobs and 800 post-construction jobs.

"I wanted to save Aqueduct as a race track," Addabbo said. "So I encouraged my leadership to get a decision made. We fought through a flawed process. We corrected the process and in just two years, we got this project started. People understand that I know the need for jobs."

Losing Hospitals

A common refrain for Como when discussing Addabbo is "too little too late." It's a phrase that he uses when the issue of hospital closings and health care comes up. District 15 has seen two hospitals close in the past two years. Como said he has personally experienced times when emergency medical workers do not know where to take patients.

"We have residents who now don't have hospitals in their area and have to be rushed and wait a long time to be seen in the emergency room," Como said.

Addabbo is quick to point out that the problem "didn’t happen overnight. For years, those who were in power prior to me were letting this go," he said.

Addabbo rattles off a list of things he has done to fill the gaps in health care: health fairs for residents to get free check ups, free mammography vans, eye and blood tests at senior centers. Going forward, he believes that the state has finally gotten serious about cutting Medicaid fraud and he hopes it wants to continue this.

Still, Como insists that Addabbo voted against legislation to curtail Medicaid fraud and had mistaken priorities, spending too much on Medicaid and health care for prison inmates, while leaving others uncovered.

Out and In

For a long time, Como wavered about whether to challenge Addabbo. The Queens GOP made it clear they wanted him to run, pledging large amounts of money. Despite the courtship, Como said no. Many believed he would seek to be executive director of the Board of Elections instead.

Within 30 hours of deciding against the campaign, though, Como reneged and decided to run. He has hit other bumps along the way, though. His effort to get on the Independence Party line failed, and a move to create a Tax Cuts Now ballot line came to naught when he made a mistake in the paperwork.

This does not appear to have hurt his fundraising, though. As of the 32-day filing deadline before the election, Como had $113,700 on hand, closing a $66,000 gap in a matter of months. Addabbo had $45,100 as of the last filing deadline. Como grew his monetary lead last week as well when the Senate GOP donated $100,000 to his campaign.

The Race to Replace White

Photo (cc) Joe Shlabotnik

The race to replace the late Councilmember Thomas White in Queens is as crowded as it is rife with skeleton-laden closets.

Former Councilmember Allan Jennings, whose last stint in City Hall was overshadowed by sexual harassment allegations and censure, has reappeared.

Imam Charles Bilal has sauntered into the race, despite being under investigation for possession of an unlicensed firearm -- a weapon, which he says is not his and was found in the glove compartment of his car at an impound lot.

And there is Ruben Wills -- the former chief of staff to State Sen. Shirley Huntley, who has racked up liens for failure to pay child support.

Out of nowhere -- or maybe just Long Island -- comes Nicole Paultre Bell: the widow of Sean Bell, who was gunned down by police the night before their wedding day in 2006. Bell doesn't live in the district.

In total, seven candidates will appear on the ballot on Nov. 2 for a chance to represent Jamaica, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, a district with the highest foreclosure rate in the city, where crime is on the rise and where small businesses are closing for good.

The district's skeletons may very well outnumber those of the candidates.

The Characters and Their Baggage

For a 26-year-old political novice, Nicole Paultre Bell appears at home behind a microphone. She smiles. She knows how to deliver.

"When Sean was killed, it opened my eyes to all the problems we face in my community," Bell said to a crowd 20-deep at the Gospel Café on Sutphin Boulevard. Rep. Gregory Meeks, who has lent his support to Bell, was in the audience.

Nicole Paultre Bell

Continuing, Bell, in high black heels and a wrap dress, explained what's behind her inaugural run for public office.

"I got tired of sitting around and getting told, 'no,' getting let down. I decided to step up," Bell said. "I decided to run for City Council."

When asked about her qualifications, Bell points to the nonprofit she founded in memory of her late fiancé -- When it's Real It's Forever. As part of the project, Bell started the Sean Bell Little League -- a co-ed baseball team for the district's kids -- and annual community events.

According to tax filings from 2009, that nonprofit has run dry, claiming a zero balance in December. A Bell campaign consultant attributed the lack of funding to the economy, not mismanagement.

But Bell is also spending more than she has raised for her campaign. According to the latest campaign finance filing, Bell has spent $13,000 so far, but raised just over $12,000.

Bell has garnered some strong backers, including from the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

When asked about specific city policies, Bell, who is a sophomore at York College, acknowledged she has a lot to learn.

"There are still many, many things that I need guidance on," said Bell, a former collections agent who has pledged to move into the district by Election Day. "I am not a career politician. My experience is being a community activist."

As some tout her candor and drive, others, including Jennings, highlight her inexperience.

Allan Jennings

From his nearly vacant campaign office last week, Jennings said his experience, however tainted, is the reason to elect him to a second term in the council.

"I consider myself the mayor of Jamaica," Jennings said, who served as councilmember from 2002 to 2006.

And like any good mayor, what does he want to do with another term?

"I'd like to bring the Jets to Jamaica, Queens," Jennings said, arguing a new stadium for the football team could be built in the scores of vacant lots sprinkling the district. The Jets are not currently looking for a new home.

That effort is not Jennings's only serious challenge. Jennings lost his re-election bid in 2005 after he was accused of sexually harassing two female staffers. He was eventually censured by the City Council. Last week, Jennings said he was falsely accused and the incident would not affect his campaign.

The former councilmember also was caught on tape throwing a metal object at a television reporter and using council stationery to promote his real estate business.

Jennings is behind in the money race, raising $15,417 and spending $11,069 so far.

But now it may be Wills throwing the punches -- literally.

Wills, who worked for Huntley and for Councilmember Leroy Comrie, was one of seven candidates for the seat last year. At the Board of Elections then, Wills reportedly swung at Jennings, and the incident led to a police report. Last week at a fundraiser on Sutphin Boulevard, Wills denied the incident ever happened.

Ruben Wills

Wills said his campaign could beat the odds this year.

"There are other powers from outside the district that don't want us in office," said Wills. But, he added, "Our campaign has a great deal of support." Wills has been endorsed by both Huntley and Comrie.

Wills cites the nonprofit he founded, New York 4 Life, as further evidence of his community involvement. That nonprofit, however, has not filed a single tax return and its only contribution came from his former boss, Huntley.

But Wills has one advantage. He is the only candidate so far to receive public matching funds. According to last week's campaign finance filing, Wills has raised $25,800, received $37,797 in public funds and has spent $42,771.

Wills just signed a lease on an apartment in the district last week.

Bilal, has lived in the area for 35 years, he says. A community leader who works on Rikers Island as an imam, Bilal said he would bring jobs and pride back to the community.

Charles Bilal

"I've seen the community go up and down in terms of progress," Bilal said, while sitting upstairs from the mosque he runs on Sutphin Boulevard. According to the latest campaign finance filings, Bilal has raised $5,298 and spent $5,128.

The imam also said he wanted to build a youth center in the district and would look to private donations to get it done.

Attorney Albert Baldeo, who ran for State Senate in 2006 and 2008 and for City Council in 2005, also calls himself a community activist. Originally from Guyana, Baldeo says he is a "breath of fresh air" that has walked the district, working on community issues, for decades.

"We are not included in the system," said Baldeo of the district's residents. "The [American] dream is floating away in this neighborhood."

But Baldeo too has his baggage. He has been accused of faking campaign contributions. In his law office earlier this month, Baldeo vehemently denied the allegations, claiming they came from a rival campaign. He accuses other campaigns of installing plants in his volunteer operation to forge signatures to get him kicked off the ballot.

Albert Baldeo

Baldeo, who has $54,994 for his run and has spent $34,413, represents one piece of the large Guyanese population of the district. Another 15 percent of the entire district is Asian or Pacific Islander. About 50 percent of the population is black.

His ability to embrace the area's diversity is one reason why Harpreet Singh Toor is running. The former chairman of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, Toor is another first-time candidate looking to make sure the district plans for the long term, instead of going from good times to worse.

"I always believed and I still believe all the issues we have is [from] a lack of education," said Toor, who as a Sikh said he has been the victim of discrimination and prejudice.

Over tea and samosas in South Richmond Hill, Toor said politicians rarely are proactive on issues. Given his record as a community leader, he promises to be.

Toor has raised $18,895 and spent $6,970. He rents an apartment in the district and owns a home on Long Island. If elected, he said his apartment would be his primary residence.

Harpreet Singh Toor

The final candidate in the race, Martha Taylor Butler, is the chief of staff for Assemblymember Michele Titus. Butler served in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years.

"I've been in public service all of my life from the time I was a Girl Scout," said Butler, who has lived in the district for 20 years. "I would just like to get our voters more educated, get them to understand the process to be more empowered."

Butler would also like to see more health care clinics open in the district since the area lost two hospitals last year. She is the only candidate to not file campaign finance records with the city Campaign Finance Board.

The Issues

Punches may have been thrown and petition battles been waged, but for the most part the candidates in this seven-way race agree on the issues.

Bell said she would want to tackle the violence in the district first and foremost. Murders have gone up in half of the district's four precincts this year -- in one area, Precinct 113, by 50 percent.

"It doesn’t matter who is at the other end of that gun," said Bell. "Violence is violence."

Both Taylor, Jennings and Wills said they would want to bring back community policing to tackle the crime rate. Toor said he would form neighborhood watches in the short term and focus on education as a way to combat crime in the long term.

Martha Taylor Butler

Baldeo would like to have more police sensitivity training.

Education also hit the agenda list of every candidate. Bell said the Department of Education should be immune from budget cuts, while Jennings said he would try to increase the district's after-school programs.

All the candidates also cited job creation as a major goal. Jennings said he would hold semi-annual job fairs, while Wills said he would hold job trainings in the area to improve residents' skill set.

Baldeo said he wants to give businesses tax breaks. Both Baldeo and Bilal want to ensure local residents are hired during the development of the Aqueduct Racino, which borders the district.

Bilal would ask area businesses to hire local youth and hire an attorney for his office to help residents deal with the foreclosure crisis.

In response to the budget deficit, Bell said she would push for tax increases on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Toor argued against giving corporate tax breaks, citing the city's deal with the Yankees, and would look to root out government waste.

Butler said she would like to see other communities in the district besides Jamaica be rezoned to prevent out of character development.

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