Reports to the people of the 81st Assembly District
Norwood Satellite Office: 3450 Dekalb Avenue, Bronx, New York 10467 • (718) 882-4000, ext. 353
Albany Office: 824 Legislative Office Building, Albany, New York 12248 • (518) 455-5965
Serving the communities of Kingsbridge, Norwood, Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn.
The national recession. Bailouts. Abuses on Wall Street. Corruption in Washington, Albany and City Hall. It sometimes may seem like there’s only bad news. The reality is much different. While negative stories grab much of the attention, the truth is that many positive things are happening at all levels of government, with the passage of health care reform by the federal government being a prime example. Even in Albany, which is under constant attack by the media, many positive things take place. In just the last few weeks, the Assembly has passed significant legislation to protect the environment, to get illegal guns off the streets, to strengthen tenant protection laws, and many other bills designed to make life better for New Yorkers. But we do have a lot more work to do.
There is never an end to the challenges that face our communities. I will fight any efforts by the City to close any of the senior centers in my district. Despite the extraordinary efforts of so many teachers and others in our school system, student performance is not nearly as good as Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein would like us to believe. Much work needs to be done. We must not allow the failed efforts of the City to solve the homeless problem to be an excuse to place large facilities in inappropriate locations. And of course we face the ongoing problems of the MTA’s inability to operate efficiently, resulting in service cutbacks and higher transportation expenses.
I will always fight for the needs and interests of the residents of my district, no matter whose toes I must step on. My district office and my superb staff solve countless constituent problems and complaints. If you have a problem or an issue about which you are concerned, please do not hesitate to call me.
Member of Assembly
Over the years I have co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation to reform Albany. They have ranged from ethics reform to campaign finance reform to budget reform. The Assembly has repeatedly passed strong legislation in all of these areas only to see the bills die in the State Senate. I am also a strong supporter of non-partisan redistricting reform.
In Albany, legislation must pass both houses of the legislature and then be signed by the Governor in order to become law. So unless there is a three-way agreement on legislation, it doesn’t become law. I’m tired of saying that the Assembly passed good bills. What is needed is a real commitment on the part of the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor to make reform happen.
If the public’s trust is to be restored, strong ethics reform must be enacted. This year both houses of the legislature passed a strong ethics bill. The Governor vetoed the bill, claiming it should have been stronger. He was right, but I believe he still should have signed it. The Assembly overrode his veto, but the Senate failed to do so. Unfortunately, many people will remain cynical of government unless we enact sweeping ethics and lobbying reform.
Campaign finance reform is a must. I have long backed efforts to change the rules in New York to end “pay to play” for those wishing to receive government contracts and for lobbyists. One way to do this is to lower campaign contribution limits. In addition, I support creating a system for the state similar to that of New York City which gives candidates publicly financed matching funds in return for agreeing to smaller contributions and a limit on total money spent in a campaign.
I fully support efforts by reform groups to reform state finances, including the establishment of an independent fiscal watchdog similar to the Congressional Budget Office, putting budget books on-line to make information more accessible to the public, and closing down many of the obsolete and costly public authorities.
It’s unfortunate that a few rotten apples have given many people the false impression that “all politicians are crooks,” and it’s a shame that the chaos in the State Senate, especially since last year’s “Senate coup,” has led people to believe that the entire government is in disarray. The Assembly has been productive and efficient but is only one part of government. We must take immediate steps to institute real reform. The time is now!
Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently visited Albany to meet with legislators and is pictured here with Assemblyman Dinowitz.
Real Reform or Politics as Usual?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently appointed a 15-member Charter Revision Commission to examine the entire City Charter, New York City’s “constitution.” Many possible reforms can be instituted, but the public must watch carefully, speak out and vote when the time comes to make sure that this potential vehicle for positive reform doesn’t become a way for anyone to carry out a political agenda. This commission must be totally independent of the Mayor. In addition, the commission must hold numerous public hearings with ample notice in each of the five boroughs to give the public a real opportunity to be heard.
While many issues could be taken up by the commission, three have gotten particular attention: term limits, non-partisan elections, the role of the non-mayoral arms of the city government.
New Yorkers voted twice to limit citywide officials, Borough Presidents and Council Members to two terms. Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly indicated his opposition to changing that law. Then, as his second term drew to a close, he supported amending the rule to a three-term limit. While elections in the U.S. proceeded in the middle of the Civil War and our city’s mayoral election took place just two months after September 11, 2001, the Mayor didn’t think the city could go on without him during the fiscal crisis and recession, so he wanted a third term. It was reported at the time that the Mayor and fellow billionaire Ron Lauder (who financed the term limits referenda in the 1990’s) made a deal whereby Mr. Lauder would not oppose this extension of term limits in return for the Mayor agreeing to change the law back to two terms after he was elected to his third term. That time has come. If the commission votes to change the law back to two terms, then it would be clear that the commission members are taking their marching orders in order to carry out this deal between the billionaires.
Those supporting non-partisan elections claim it would increase turnout. Instead of party primaries only open to members of the political party, followed by a November general election, there would be a first round of voting open to all voters, with the top two competing in November, allowing for the possibility of two members of the same party and none of the other party being on the ballot in November. It would presumably weaken the role of political parties and strengthen the role of extremely wealthy candidates. Just a few years ago this concept was put before the voters with the support of the Mayor and was rejected by an enormous 70 -30 margin (and that vote was a non-partisan vote).
There has been discussion of weakening or even eliminating the Office of the Public Advocate, Borough President and Community Board, resulting in an even greater centralization of power in New York City. I would strongly urge my constituents to keep a careful eye on this possibility.
I will work to encourage public participation in this important process and to keep the residents of my district informed on these and other issues. The commission’s work could have a significant impact in our city. We must insist that they act independently and not as lackies for anyone.
Sweeping Rent Regulation Reforms
Once again, the Assembly has passed a package of rent protection bills that would impact hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. These bills, which I co-sponsor, would repeal vacancy decontrol laws, protect tenants from unreasonable rent increases, and create a system with oversight for apartment improvements.
The package includes a bill to limit individual apartment improvement rent increases to 1/84 the cost of the improvement instead of 1/40. Luxury (or vacancy) decontrol of apartments would end, whereby apartments would no longer be removed from rent regulation once the rent exceeds $2000. The amount a landlord could increase the rent of a vacant apartment would be reduced to 10% from 20%. Another key reform would be to extend the time over which major capital improvements (MCI’s) may be recovered by landlords and would cease when the costs have been recouped. Several other important changes were part of this package. As of the printing of this newsletter, the State Senate has yet again failed to act on any of these bills.
Assemblyman Dinowitz Says “NO”
to Gas Drilling in the Watershed
Gas drilling in upstate New York, known as hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, is a controversial method to extract natural gas from deep underground. While recovering this gas from the ground could be very important, the risks are simply too great. New York State should not approve any permits in any watershed in New York without the completion of studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and a requirement that companies fully disclose all chemicals used in the drilling process. In fact, I have difficulty envisioning any circumstances that would make sense for New York to issue such drilling permits. What can possibly be more important than the safety of our water supply? I am co-sponsoring legislation that would place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York until the EPA completes its 2-year study to examine the impacts on water quality and public health from hydrofracking.
Last fall, a Riverdale resident learned that he had an outstanding ticket for parking at an expired meter in front of “5542 Riverdale Ave.” This was surprising because “5542 Riverdale Ave.” doesn’t exist, nor are there even parking meters on the block where such an address would be. The resident had been a victim of a rogue traffic agent who went on a bogus ticketing spree in 2008. After he was rebuffed numerous times while trying to fight the ticket, the resident took his case to my office. I contacted the Department of Finance and demanded the phony ticket’s dismissal. The agency complied and justice was finally served.
Progress on Kappock Street
Slowly, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is finishing what it started. I am keeping up the pressure on the DDC to complete its reconstruction of the Kappock Street retaining wall, which is almost a year behind schedule. After I criticized the DDC for missing its deadline for installing steel safety railings in place of the orange netting along the sidewalk on Kappock Street, the DDC finally completed the work in May. And since the DDC refused to fix the potholes it created on the western side of Kappock Street, I was able to get the DOT to pick up the slack and fill them in.
A Break for Morning Motorists on Riverdale Avenue
Frequenters of Riverdale Avenue can now expect one less headache in their morning commute. I was able to get the alternate side parking on Riverdale Avenue between West 236th Street and West 238th Street changed so that street cleaning now occurs on a staggered schedule. Previously, street cleaning occurred on both sides of the street during the same half-hour, making it impossible to find parking in the area if you happen to pick up your coffee or dry cleaning at that time. After I voiced my concern, the Department of Sanitation agreed to clean each side of the street on alternating days. The new schedule frees up precious parking, a relief for drivers and a boon to local businesses.
Proposal for Huge Facility on Cannon Place Defeated – for Now
A proposal to build on Cannon Place a supportive housing facility for formerly homeless individuals who are seriously mentally ill and/or recovering substance abusers has been defeated, or at least temporarily withdrawn. While I recognize the tremendous need that exists in New York to provide housing for the homeless, this was just the wrong plan for the wrong place. That is why I strongly opposed this proposal. The site, a steep hill, made no sense. It would have cost at least $25 million to purchase the property on Cannon Place and to construct a building of approximately 75 units, 50 of which would be for the homeless. Not only is this area oversaturated with various facilities, but the enormous cost per housing unit (studio apartments) was impossible to justify in these tough fiscal times. This was a huge victory for our community, but we must remain vigilant since this bad proposal could again rear its ugly head.
Dinowitz Supports Schools at Armory;
National Guard at Muller Army Reserve Center
I joined with many local community leaders in urging that the National Guard be moved from the Kingsbridge Armory to the Muller Army Reserve Center on Nereid Avenue in Wakefield. This proposal would be a win-win for both Wakefield and for Kingsbridge Heights. Currently, there is the possibility that the Muller Reserve Center will be used for a homeless shelter. Meanwhile, it is the desire of many in the community for schools to be built adjacent to the armory. Moving the National Guard to Muller would allow for the much-needed schools to be built in Kingsbridge Heights and for Muller to be used in a more appropriate manner.
MTA to Woodlawn: Drop Dead
The MTA eliminated weekend and nighttime service for the 34 bus as part of its budget cuts. Last year we were successful in preventing the MTA from eliminating the 34 bus. This year they only eliminated some service. As I said in my testimony at the MTA hearing, not everyone works a 9-5 job. We need the bus seven days a week. The MTA board, whose members were appointed by Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg, voted unanimously to reduce the 34 bus service. Despite my strong testimony and efforts, and that of Councilman Koppell and many residents of the Woodlawn community, the MTA board spit in the face of Woodlawn.
In the past few years the City has not been kind to Woodlawn. The City is building the giant water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. The City closed Woodlawn’s firehouse. The City has doubled water rates. Now the MTA, with full support from the City’s representatives on the MTA board, eliminated the 34 bus nighttime and weekends.
Bronx Arts Ensemble Concerts
Hundreds attended the annual Bronx Arts Ensemble Memorial Day Holiday Concert that I sponsor in Van Cortlandt Park. As usual, it was an incredible event. The Bronx Arts Ensemble will stage a concert on Saturday, July 4 at Van Cortlandt Park’s Rockwood Drive Circle at 2 p.m. Their summer concert series will also be at Rockwood Drive Circle (rain location: Vladeck Hall, 74 Van Cortlandt Park South in the Amalgamated Houses) at 2 pm and at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus at 4 pm on each of the following Sundays: July 12, July 19, July 26, August 2, and August 9. I am pleased to be able to provide state funding to help the Bronx Arts Ensemble produce some of these concerts.
Riverdale RiverFest 2010
I am very pleased to support the first ever Riverdale RiverFest. The event will celebrate the Hudson River and support the future Bronx Greenway, a project to create a pedestrian and bicycle path along the Hudson River linking the Bronx with Manhattan and Westchester. The event is free of charge and will feature local musicians and entertainers, food and craft vendors, and educational exhibits, all while overlooking the majestic Hudson River. It will be held Sunday, June 13 (rain date: June 20), 1:00-5:00 p.m. at the College of Mount St. Vincent, 6301 Riverdale Avenue on the Marillac Lawn. For more info, go to www.riverdaleriverfest.org or text RIVERFEST to 88500.
New Voting Machines
Starting with the September 14th primary election, New Yorkers will vote on the first new voting machines in memory. Be prepared! The voting method will be very different. You will sign in at the table for your election district as you have in the past. That’s where the similarity ends. When you sign in you will be given a paper ballot. You will then go to a “privacy booth” to mark your ballot. Marking your ballot will consist of filling in a bubble similar to that on standardized tests or any one of a number of forms we are frequently called upon to fill out. The final step consists of feeding the form into an “optical scan” machine which will record your votes and retain your paper ballot as a backup. I’ve tested these new machines. While anything new may take some getting used to (and I prefer the good old lever machines), it’s actually very easy.
Whether or not you support or oppose the expansion of charter schools in New York, which was recently passed, you should know that a mysteriously funded group called Education Reform Now has been spending a large amount of money on television ads and mailings telling people that those opposed to increasing the number of charter schools will cost the state $700 million in federal aid that could otherwise prevent teacher layoffs. This is what’s known as a big lie.
The pro-charter forces supported more than doubling the cap on the number of charter schools for the possibility of getting this funding. What they don’t reveal is that this money is spread out over a four-year period and that the actual amount is $350 - $700 million, meaning it’s only $87.5 million to $175 million per year, and that less than half, or as little as $40 million, would go to New York City, and none of it could go to make up for state budget cuts to education. $700 million? Not even close. A VERY big lie.
My office provides free notary service during our regular office hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please bring two forms of identification, at least one with your photo and signature, if you would like your signature notarized. Notary public service is available free of charge in my district office.