Electeds advocate for bike infrastructure a month after tragic death

By Alicia Venter


Zohran Mamdani, Tiffany Cabán, Kristen Gonzalez and Michael Gianaris called for more bike lanes.

Last Friday, a month after the tragic death of 62-year-old cyclist Tamara “Tammy” Chuchi Kao in Astoria, the neighborhood’s elected officials gathered at the intersection that she was struck by a cement truck driver to demand the Department of Transportation (DOT) build a north-south bike lane and an east-west bike lane — at the very least.

Assemblyman Zohran K. Mamdani demands it by September, and that the DOT begins commencing workshops immediately to determine where these protective corridors should be built.

“What we need to be clear about is that these are reckless policies that allowed for such deaths to occur,” he said.

In the two and a half years Mamdani has been in office, four cyclists have been killed in the 36th State Assembly District he represents.

According to Crash Mapper, 63 cyclists were injured in collisions from January 2022 to January 2023 in Assembly District 36, with one fatality.

“We see this happening again and again and again,” Mamdani said. “What we are calling for is protected bike lanes in Astoria — not just a north-south [corridor], not just an east-west [corridor], but both.”

He shared that he bikes daily, as do many Astorians, and that greater efforts should be taken by the DOT to ensure that street safety for the neighborhood becomes a priority.

Currently, there is one protected bike lane in Mandani’s district: the north-south corridor on Crescent Street. As for the rest of the neighborhood — more than 98 percent of City Council District 22 according to Spatial Equity NYC — all that counts for a bike lane is paint.

“[These are just] suggestions for where cars should not go. That is where our neighbors are being killed,” Mamdani. “These are preventable deaths, and these are deaths that we must ensure that they stop.”

Councilwoman Tiffany Caban, who represents the 22nd City Council District, denounced the recent proposed budget cuts by the mayor’s office, which would lower the budget over the DOT by over $35 million.

“Street safety is public safety,” Caban said. “We have to do better than these skeleton groups. We need really robust personnel and services.”

The intersection Kao was struck, 29th Street and 24th Avenue, is along the route to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, State Senator Michael Gianaris shared. As such, there are often trucks traveling down the street, which poses a danger to bikers and pedestrians.

”We are here today for something that is a tragedy but is remarkably simple in terms of why it happened and how we can fix it. There is not enough infrastructure to protect cyclists in our city, and in this neighborhood specifically,” Gianaris said.

New York State Senator Kristen Gonzalez reinforced that what happened to Kao was not an accident — it was a policy failure. These are preventable crashes, she expressed, and there should be funding to create the infrastructure needed to protect bikers in the community.

Rally held for bill requiring paid leave after stillbirths

By Ledger Staff


Photo: Office of Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.

In an effort to pass legislation to add stillbirth as a qualifying event for Paid Family Leave, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and advocates gathered outside the New York State Capitol in Albany for a rally on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

If passed, parents would be entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave from work with employment protection in the case of a stillbirth.

The bill (A2880/S2175), introduced by Rajkumar this legislative session, has garnered bipartisan support, including from the bill’s State Senate sponsor Ted Kennedy.

“All women who give birth should have paid time off. Make no mistake: women who experienced a stillbirth gave birth, and their bodies went through the birthing process,” Rajkumar said. “Their babies were real. Though their precious babies did not survive the birth, their mothers did and their mothers’ bodies need the time to recover just like all women need after a pregnancy. The mother of a stillbirth child also needs the time to grieve the loss of her baby. These women deserve to be seen and to be included in the Paid Family Leave law of our state.”

Under current New York State law, families are entitled to paid leave following the birth of a child, but not in the case of a stillbirth — which is defined as the loss of a pregnancy on or after 20 weeks — despite the course of medical treatment being similar to a live birth.

PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy, a coalition of healthcare providers and allies committed to ending preventable stillbirths, joined Rajkumar at the Million Dollar Staircase in Albany to rally in support of the bill.

“My stillbirth was 18 years ago and I myself was at the mercy of my lawyers to make sure that I didn’t have to go back to work three days after my loss,” PUSH Pregnancy Co-Director of Awareness Marjorie Vail said in a statement. “Four families a day are approved for paid family leave, but when their child is born still they are denied, which is totally wrong. It is inhumane to ask women, and birthing partners, who have lost and buried a child to return to work in three days. She is not physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially ready to do anything but begin to heal.”

Climate resilience plan developed for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Congressional grant solidifies plans to ID climate hazards, resilience strategies

By Jessica Meditz


From left to right: Jean Silva, Joseph Sutkowi, Cortney Koenig Worrall, Grace Meng, Anthony Sama, Rebecca Pryor

A climate resilience plan is in the cards for Flushing Meadows–Corona Park (FMCP).

As part of a federal spending package to benefit 10 Queens community projects during the 2022 fiscal year, Waterfront Alliance will spearhead “Flushing Meadows Corona Park: A Hub for Climate Resilience” – a plan that’s slated to result in a set of concept-level designs and recommendations to reduce flooding, which would adapt the park for future climate challenges.

On a frigid Friday afternoon, District 6 Congresswoman Grace Meng was joined at the Unisphere by Waterfront Alliance team members, NYC Parks representatives and local conservationists to celebrate the $531,000 allocated for the project, as well as discuss the negative impacts of climate change.

Honing in on the importance of flood mitigation, Meng said this project will go a long way to help identify, assess and address areas in need of remediation.

She added that it will also increase public awareness about climate risks, build community participation, planning and infrastructure projects, as well as ensure that future plantings will be protected from extremely hot temperatures.

“Flushing Meadows–Corona Park was not exempt from [Hurricane Ida] as it suffered from excessive flooding. The severe weather underscored how real climate change is. It has been a gigantic wake up call for Queens, New York and the rest of the country, and more lives and property damage will be at risk from these types of natural disasters if we do not act,” Meng said. “We have to rebuild in a better, stronger and more equitable way for all in our communities and with greater resiliency than ever before. This wonderful project is an example of how we will be able to do that.”

Working with Queens community leaders, partners in city government and academia, Waterfront Alliance will provide tools and lead events to share and gather information that will culminate in a climate visioning for the park.

Cortney Koenig Worrall, president and CEO of Waterfront Alliance, brought up that FMCP was named by the Center for an Urban Future as the most-flooded park in the city alongside Forest Park – due to increasingly heavy rains.

She feels excited to create a preliminary set of designs that could turn into pilot projects, and thus be more eligible for federal and other funding.

“We’re studying this project so that it is designed to not sit on the shelf, that they can move forward and be implemented and constructed. We recognize how important it is for the community to be involved and engaged in all of this work. They have the answers to many of the solutions that we need,” Worrall said. “We’ll be dedicating a tremendous amount of time and effort in this project to engage all people you see here, as well as community members and others who may not consider themselves experts at all, but have expertise that we need to know in order to build the right projects.”

Black History Trilogy returns to Flushing Town Hall

By Stephanie Meditz


“The Challenge to Defy Gravity” will feature several special guests, including The Savoy Swingers.

This Black History Month, Flushing Town Hall will once again celebrate Black history and culture with its Black History Trilogy.

The Trilogy is a series of three performances by a lineup of artists who pay homage to Black culture and iconic performers.

The first installment took place on Feb. 3 with The Chuck Berry Rock & Roll Concert Party, featuring vocalist and guitarist Keith “The Captain” Gamble.

The Trilogy will continue on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. with “The Challenge to Defy Gravity,” a workshop and dance performance presented by choreographer Mickey Davidson.

Mickey Davidson will bring swing-era dance moves to Flushing Town Hall on Feb. 10.

“The night will consist of a tapestry of cultural expressions that were popular at the same time as the Lindy Hop,” Davidson said. “The title ‘Defying Gravity’ symbolizes the air steps that the specialized dancers who danced in the northeast corner of the Savoy Ballroom did.”

Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the Savoy Ballroom was a place of social movement during the swing era that cultivated the Lindy Hop.

“Dance steps that migrated with the people to the big cities such as New York found their way into the Savoy Ballroom,” she said. “As a dancer and as an African American dancer, the history of African American dance has always been important to me in finding my own identity and my own pride in my culture.”

Davidson has studied with Norma Miller, Frankie Manning and Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel, some of the most influential dancers and choreographers of the swing era.

“For me personally, I see this period of dance as a real blending of Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural concepts that developed here in America as a result of us all living together,” she said. “And the music and the dance are one, they’re not separate. So when you do this dance, you are moving musically. You’re listening and it’s a three-way street between two people and the music…it’s part of an overall story of a people.”

The Big City Stompers, who work specifically on air steps, will demonstrate the swift movements and literally defy gravity at the performance.

Not only will audience members see these steps in action, but they will experience dancing with a partner to live music in real time.

Prior to the performance, there will be a workshop in which all attendees can learn and experience swing-era dancing firsthand, regardless of prior dance experience.

“Culturally, that was the learning process in the African American community with this type of dancing,” Davidson said. “You come, you become part of a community and you learn on the dance floor. And so we are mixing…the European process of giving directions and counts with just allowing yourself to have an experience.”

Davidson will collaborate with band leader and longtime musician, Patience Higgins.

“We’re all performing, dancing, playing music from our hearts and from the essence of who we are as artists in the music of jazz,” she said.

Davidson is primary choreographer and director for Mickey D. & Friends, a group of artists, dancers, and musicians that explore the interlocking relationships between movement and music.

The group performs various types of African American dance, including tap, sanding, swing, modern, jazz and abstract jazz.

Tickets for “The Challenge to Defy Gravity” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at https://www.flushingtownhall.org/bhm-trilogy-2-2023.

“I just like to have a good party, so come out and hang out because culturally, hanging out is a big part of learning and experiencing African American culture at its best,” Davidson said. “African American culture being developed in America includes all kinds of people and all kinds of expression. That’s what makes it a universal art. So if you like music, if you like being around people, if you like to dance…come hang out and have a good time, and let’s be a community.”

On Feb. 24 at 8 p.m., the Black History Trilogy will conclude with “Soul Men: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and More” featuring vocalist Billy Cliff.

On Feb. 24, Billy Cliff will pay tribute to some of the most iconic men in R&B/soul music.

The lineup will feature songs from iconic soul artists in film, R&B and pop music.

“We’re doing all this music just to commemorate all these great men who have contributed to soul music,” Cliff said.

Originally a child actor at the Amas Repertory Theatre, Cliff discovered his powerful voice and began singing in choirs.

His first professional gig was singing backup for R&B singer Angela Bofill.

“That was really the beginning of my career. From there, I was singing background for a lot of different people,” he said. “I sang background for Maxwell, to singing lead for Kool & The Gang and singing lead for Spyro Gyra. And then ended up on a two year tour with the Pet Shop Boys in Europe and around the world.”

As a musician, Cliff is most inspired by Marvin Gaye, primarily because he wrote and produced music with a message.

“[Soul music] is about the stories and the people. A lot of it had to do with the people who made the music,” he said. “That’s one thing about soul music: you’ve always got great people doing this music that is basically a music of people who have…lived through something, people who have experienced real life.”

Cliff’s music career was also influenced by his mother, Tina Fabrique, who sang the theme song for Reading Rainbow. Last year, Fabrique closed out Flushing Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy paying homage to Gospel with “The Power & The Glory—Music of the Black Church.”

“The producer of the show called my mother and said, ‘Hey, I need a guy who can really do a great tribute to soul men.’ She said, ‘Oh, my son is a great performer,’” he said. “So that’s how this all came to be, pretty much.”

During his 30 years in the industry, Cliff has worked with big names such as Freddie Jackson, Ashford & Simpson, The Blues Brothers Band and Steve Cropper, who wrote “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding.

Cliff will release an EP of new, original music in the spring.

“I’m trying to dismiss the myth that after 50 years old, you can’t get out here and do something that’s meaningful and that will touch people in the world, musically,” he said. “I want people to know that, as long as you’ve got a great heart, you’ve got a great mind and your body’s not too far away from those two, that you can get out here and you can do something and inspire folks.”

Tickets for “Soul Men” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at https://www.flushingtownhall.org/bhm-trilogy-3-2023.

“This month being Black music month, it’s a great time for people to come out and see and hear some of the greatest R&B and soul music in history,” Cliff said.

Pols want to ban tax lien sale

Argue program disproportionately affects Black New Yorkers

By Matthew Fischetti


Councilmembers Rita Joseph (D-Brooklyn), Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan) and Shekar Krishnan (D-Queens) joined supporters to rally against tax lien sale.

Electeds, advocates and supporters braved the brisk weather outside City Hall last Thursday to demand an end to the tax lien sale.

The tax lien sale was first instituted in 1996, which allows buyers to purchase the debt collected by properties that are behind on municipal costs like property taxes.

“The tax lien sale is a relic of the past. It’s a relic of the Giuliani era, and it has got to be put to an end,” Fort Greene Councilwoman Crystal Hudson said at the rally. “We have the tools we need to move forward and create solutions that build our communities up rather than tearing them down, allowing low income and moderate income homeowners to live with the dignity they deserve. And in my district, specifically, we lost 20% of our black population last year.”

In 2019, the tax lien sale generated around $80 million in revenue and recouped $300 million in unpaid property taxes prior to sale, according to Bloomberg. But critics of the program charge that the sale has led to unfair targeting of low-income homeowners and communities of color.

The tax lien sale was last used in December 2021 – which generated around $145 million, according to THE CITY.  Attempts to revive the sale failed in February 2022. Later on in May a majority of the council pledged not to reauthorize the sale.

On the heels of Thursday’s rally, advocates from East New York Community Land Trust, a community controlled non-profit founded around creating affordable housing in the Brooklyn nabe, released a 48 page report entitled “Leaving the Speculators in the Rear-View Mirror: Preserving Affordable Housing In NYC, a Municipal Debt Collection Framework”.

East New York Community Land Trust is just one of several organizations, including the Western Queens Community Land Trust, Brooklyn Level Up and New Economy Project, among others, that comprise the “Abolish the Tax Lien Sale” coalition.

The report outlines a framework in which a resident who has fell behind more than a year in payment would be able to either of the following: Enroll in a payment plan or tax exemption; transfer land to a community land trust in exchange for debt forgiveness, foreclosure and preservation as affordable housing with tenant protections; as well as foreclosure and sale with any funds from the sale going to the previous owner.

In order to prevent property owners from falling behind, the framework calls on the Department of Finance to increase staffing capacity, working with community based-organizations to expand their outreach as well as being communicative about potential benefits and explicit communication about what is owed.

The report also offers five different off ramps depending on property type. For Owners of occupied commercial or multi-family buildings without an indicator of physical distress, they can enter City Review – which screen them for different abatements and would be paired with a counselor to evaluate different plans. The review is specifically triggered when a property collects more than $5,000 in debt over two years.

If the review doesn’t resolve in a resolution, these same properties would move into a Municipal lien. Liens are also applied to properties with debt that exceed $5,000 over three years.

The third off ramp would be an offer to transfer lands to Community Land Trusts by transferring deeds to the land in exchange for debt forgiveness. Community Land Trusts are non-profit models of ownership in which the land is owned by a local non-profit in order to stabilize housing prices and aims to provide permanent affordability.

This offramp would be available to all property types except vacant lot owners.

The fourth option would force owners of occupied commercial or multi-family buildings without an indicator of physical distress to initiate foreclosure proceedings if other off-ramps aren’t taken. The property would be sold with funds going to the previous owner and the land transferred to a Community Land Trust.

The fifth option, offered for owners of multi-family properties in physical distress, unoccupied buildings and vacant lots would be “foreclosure and preservation.” Owners would still have to pay for “grossly-negligent” repairs and sacrifice their equity while the city pays for outstanding liens. Land from the properties would thereby be transferred to a Community Land Trust after being rezoned.

“This is one of the most pressing issues when it comes to housing justice, racial justice and economic justice and the intersection of all of these different crises,” Jackson Heights Councilman Shekar Krishnan said at the rally. “Here’s the two realities of the tax lien sale. One is a predatory practice for black and brown homeowners displacing them, while at the same time rewarding bad landlords and greedy developers exactly why the tax lien sale must be abolished.”

Porcelli: The Other Side of Education (2/9)


Celebrate today, own tomorrow!

By Mike Porcelli

Each February, CTE Month is organized by the Association for Career and Technical Education. Their theme is: “Celebrate Today, Own Tomorrow.”

To me, this slogan represents celebrating every opportunity to learn skills today that will allow people to own their tomorrows. This is the mission of all CTE programs. https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/cte-awareness/cte-month/ 

This annual celebration of skills education is becoming increasingly important to the future of our workforce, as demand for workers with trade skills grows daily.

As a result of the high cost of college tuition and the lack of high-paying jobs for recent graduates of higher four-year institutions, CTE programs have rightfully gained in popularity among the families of many students. Recent statistics show how CTE graduates of high school and community college or trade schools, learn job and life skills that set them on a path to highly successful careers. Many of them who gain advanced certifications in their fields will earn considerably more than the average college-grad, who fell into the “college trap,” and got an expensive, mediocre degree, an unsatisfying job and huge debts.

I’ve repeatedly applauded the NYC Department of Education for its efforts to restore and expand CTE programs citywide. Their pilot program, FutureReadyNYC, teaches labor market-aligned skills to prepare students for successful futures. The program is intended to provide students with, “real skills, a strong plan for after high school and a head start for where they are going… college credits and/or industry-aligned credentials.” I commend DOE for this initiative and urge it be offered to the entire school population as soon as possible.

Recently, I was pleased to participate in DOE’s professional development presentation intended to improve the adoption of their Career-Pathways CTE programs throughout the system. It was an excellent opportunity for teachers to learn the value of CTE for students. Hopefully, it will be a step toward increasing enrollment in these programs, for all students who can gain the most benefit from them.

Last week, I was also pleased to participate in a CTE Black History Month program at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica Hills, where many graduates of this excellent CTE school come back to their alma mater to share how their CTE experiences led to their highly successful careers. Whether they later earned college degrees, or gained trade certifications in their respective fields, they are all success stories, thanks to the Career and Technical Education provided by their outstanding teachers at Edison.

DOE is certainly on the right path with their CTE programs. But it appears to be missing an opportunity to promote their “new & improved” version of trade education during CTE Month.

Unfortunately, I could find no mention of CTE Month on their weekly blog:  https://morningbellnyc.com/ or on: https://www.schools.nyc.gov/ . You can learn all about CTE at DOE here: https://cte.nyc/web/welcome 

The DOE is on the right track, but should do more to promote CTE in all media outlets…now – during CTE Month!

Academic & Trade Education are Two Sides of a Coin. This column explores the impact of CTE programs on students, society, and the economy.

Mike Porcelli: life-long mechanic, adjunct professor, and host of Autolab Radio, is committed to restoring trade education in schools before it’s too late. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-porcelli-master-mechanic-allasecerts/

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