Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thomas Kontogiannis: Queens Sleaziest Businessman?

I've been reading about this character ever since the Duke Cunningham scandal broke, and for the life of me, I can't figure out what role this shadowy figure plays that he's constantly getting get-out-of-jail-free cards from the Feds.

Something stinks here, badly. It's time to eliminate covert operations from our governments toolbox altogether.

Troll the archives at WarandPiece and TPMmuckraker for more on this slippery fellow. How does he manage to stay out of the headlines of every New York paper? Not one investigative journalist for a NY paper or news program, as far as I know, has done an expose on this guy.

Photo from the Queens Press, from an unrelated story where Kontogiannis plead guilty in a local bribery case . . . which involved nearly $5 million swindled from the city . . . and NO ONE went to jail. What gives?

This April 2006 article from the San Diego Union-Tribune is an excellent source of reporting on Kontogiannis' checkered past.

Exciting Times for Transit Planning in New York City

The prospect of bringing back the F express seems to have captured the imaginations of many, which has been very gratifying. Thousands of people are eager for a better, faster, more comprehensive mass transit system.

Credit where due, the PlaNYC proposals have stimulated people's way of thinking about transit and our city. The voices in the wilderness for the past several decades have suddenly been handed a megaphone. Suddenly it seems we're taking a fresh look at the way New York gets around, and open to making big changes for the better. I'm excited about what's going on in this city today.

Here are some other proposals that are under consideration:
Those are some of the things that get me excited about the future. We need the type of dedicated, responsible leadership that will make these proposals a reality.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Joint Press Conference: DeBlasio, Felder, Recchia . . . Reilly?

Today's press conference was a great success. In addition to the Councilmen, Gene Russianoff was there representing the Straphangers Campaign and Paul White was there on behalf of Transportation Alternatives. NY1, News 12, and WNYC were all there, plus the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and NY Metro, both of whom covered this story right out the gate.

Jen at KensingtonBrooklyn has some good shots up on her blog (and great picture resolution, I am jealous) so go check out her site . . .

It was an honor to be in such great company today. Community activism can be a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

F/V Petition Delivered: End of Act I

Success! This morning I presented to the MTA Board several copies of the petition including the first 2,449 signatures. The 5th floor meeting room was packed, with all chairs taken and a few people standing.

The best moment of the meeting occurred about halfway through. Board Member Andrew B. Albert, whom I've never met, took a moment to express support the F&V petition.

Albert: I'd like to second what Mr. Reilly said about restoring the F express train in Brooklyn.
Kalikow: Was this something that was always intended when the express was shut for repairs originally?
Albert: Yes it was, but after the horrible fire we had at the Bergen Street station, it was put on the shelf.
Eliot Sander: We're looking into it.

News 12 conducted an interview with me after the meeting, which I assume will air tonight or sometime this week. Thank you News 12, for the interest.

After the meeting, I had chance to speak briefly with Board Member Norman Seabrook. The bottom line: our pleas are not falling on deaf ears.

Today was a good day. We still have Acts II and III ahead of us. How it ends is all that matters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NYT: Water Is Wet, Subway System Bursting At Seams

As I waited 10 minutes for a crowded F train at rush hour this morning, I passed the time with a revelatory article in the NYT Metro section: Some Subways Found Packed Past Capacity.

The article has an accompanying graphic, however, that is of questionable accuracy. It lists the F train at 100% of track capacity . . . which is only true if you ignore the unused express tracks lying between the local tracks through Brooklyn.

The Times article does highlight THE key issue facing New York City today: our underfunded transit infrastructure is at the breaking point. At some point, NY will either buck up and fund the system properly, or face another exodus of people and wealth as the quality of life plunges.

The desire for change is palpable; I put a petition for better service on the F&V online, and nearly 2500 people signed on in under two weeks! People want better transit options. We need dedicated streams of funding for transit, and a re-imagining of the system that looks at the historical inefficiencies left behind by the disjointed history of subway construction and brings the system to a level of service better than any city in the world.

Demand it! I'll be delivering the petition to the MTA Board tomorrow morning at 9:30 sharp. The meeting is open to public comment, but you must arrive by 9:00 to sign up.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New York City: Beyond the Automobile

I've written a lot about the F&V train lately, and clearly as a Carroll Gardens resident it's an issue near to my heart. But restoring the F express and extending the V out to Brooklyn is just one example of the investments we as New Yorkers can and must make in our transit infrastructure to keep this city on an upward trajectory.

The rise of the automobile was a devastating blow to this city, among others. For 50 years, scarcely any additional resources were put towards developing our transit systems, as countless billions were spent building and rebuilding thousands of miles of space hogging, environmentally disastrous highways and additional lanes on local streets.

Pedestrian flow is the life of this city. How conducive to community is it to cross a six-lane through street to see your neighbors? Or to cross under a dark, noisy and crumbling structure like the Gowanus Expressway to get to a park? Or to look out your window and see a Cross-Bronx Expressway or the BQE gouging its way through your neighborhood like a deep, painful scar?

One of the beautiful things about New York is that millions of our inhabitants can get by without ever owning a car. Without an expansive, 24 hour transit system this would be impossible. It follows that the greater the transit coverage, and the more frequent and rapid the service, the more people will travel the rails and buses, and get out of their cars.

After 50 years of favoring the automobile and truck, it's time for New York to invest in transit for people and for freight, to take back pieces of the road infrastructure for open space, and remember that a thriving city centers around people and places, not cars.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Red Hook Ballfields Vendors: Benepe Responds

I wrote a letter to Adrian Benepe to voice my concern over the potential removal of the delicious treats I walk a mile to get on weekends. He was good enough to reply, and I think the positive pressure exerted by the community and elected officials is making a difference:

June 22, 2007

Dear Constituent:

Thank you for your email regarding the food vendors at Red Hook Park in Brooklyn.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has been issuing "Temporary Use Authorizations" to two separate groups to operate a food market at the ballfields in Red Hook Park. We began the process a few years ago in an effort to legalize the vendors at Red Hook, helping them become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood, and the park users have benefited from their presence. They enhance and diversify the Red Hook neighborhood, and particularly our ballfields, by serving great food at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, once it became clear that the Red Hook markets would regularly be open for more than 29 days a year, we could no longer legally renew their temporary permits without opening up the concession to the public solicitation process.

I would, however, like to correct a common misperception that we are offering the site to the "highest bidder." In order to comply with the concession regulations in the New York City Charter, we will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP). This will allow Parks to evaluate proposals based on qualitative criteria such as operating experience and planned operations. We plan on releasing a RFP shortly for the operation of vending markets at the various ballfields at Red Hook Park; the term of the license will be six years. This process will give the selected vendors the permanence and regularity that they deserve.

We have received positive feedback regarding the Red Hook vending markets and we look forward to the active participation of the existing vending groups at Red Hook in the proposal process.

I appreciate your taking the time to write.


Adrian Benepe
Now I want a pupusa and some plantains to go with.

This is the face of a soulless monster

He hates us for our freedoms.

Meet Dick Cheney, a country unto himself, the all-powerful Vice president who claims with a straight face to be his own fourth branch of the federal government.

Bond. 3rd and Bond.

The Gowanus Lounge reports on a new development slated for 3rd Street and Bond Street in the Gowanus section.

From what I've heard, the developers plans for the site are for low-rise townhouses that would fit contextually with the neighborhood. A business in the footprint is said to be relocating to Red Hook, which is still in the neighborhood, more or less.

So far, so good. However, it's worth noting that this developer put up J Condo in DUMBO . . . so we'll have to keep our eyes open.

2,197 Signers Demand Enhanced F&V Service to Brooklyn

Well I'll be damned. Almost 2,200 signatures on the petition as of 10:25 Friday morning. And new write-ups in the Brooklyn Paper and the Daily News, though the news got the facts a bit mixed up. Nevertheless, it's good that Jen at Kensington Brooklyn gets some credit, as she has been pushing this issue hard.

A nice new round-up over at SecondAvenueSagas on the coverage. Ben rightly notes that the Brooklyn Paper's Ariella Cohen did a great job of covering the issue. And who's that handsome devil in the picture?

Spread the word and tell your friends, neighbors, and bitter enemies, because I'll be printing out the petitions and handing them out at the MTA Board meeting next Wednesday, June 27th. The Culver Viaduct rehabilitation is on the agenda, which provides an opportunity to address the issue. With a two minute speaking limit, your signatures will matter more than my words.

Streetsblog has picked up the petition as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Supports F Express, Congestion pricing

I had heard from Crain's that the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership endorsed the Enhanced F&V Petition. (which, by the way, is up to 2,096 signatures)

The Brooklyn Eagle has a story out today that DBP has endorsed congestion pricing as well as a number of transit enhancements, including free street transfers, restored express service on the F line, and more local service.

All of these enhancements would be good for New York.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Obama: Scooter Deserves Jail

A week or so ago, Obama '08 General Counsel Bob Bauer posted a destestable piece of jackassery over at the Huffington Post, "The Progressive Case for a Libby Pardon". The reasoning is so poor as to defy logic and all recent history, and has been ably addressed elsewhere, so I won't even get into it. It did inspire me to write an angry letter to the Obama campaign, expressing my sore disappointment that a member of his team was pushing this tripe. I received this response:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting Obama for America (OFA) about the recent personal blog post written by OFA’s outside counsel, Bob Bauer, regarding the Lewis "Scooter" Libby case. We appreciate hearing from you.

Senator Obama opposes a pardon and strongly believes that Libby should be held accountable for his actions, including serving jail time. Mr. Bauer was speaking on his own behalf and his views do not represent Senator Obama's or the campaign's.

Thank you again for contacting us.


Obama for America

Good to hear.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Holy Jeebus: Bloomberg Bolts the GOP

Wow. I didn't see that coming, as bad as a fit as Bloomberg's policies and the national GOP's are.

I thought Bloomberg would throw his hat in the ring for 2008, but now I'm just flabbergasted. No idea where he's going with this.

To paraphrase Clark Griswold: I couldn't be more surprised if I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet.

Metro Covers the F&V Express Petition

First page photo and lede, and big article on page four. Things are heating up now.

Come on, MTA, make this happen. Investments in transit pay off in increased quality of life for everybody. Let's find the money and get this done. make NYC a better place to work, live, and move.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Unbelievable: RNC Email Scandal

We haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg on this. The corruption has gone on on such a massive scale, I don't think most people come close to comprehending it.

Lots of fireworks to come on this over the next 12 months.

RNC Destroys Emails, Alberto Gonzalez Complicit

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Brooklyn Eagle Reports On F Train Petition

Nice. Raanan Geberer over at the Brooklyn Eagle covers the F-Express story. I forgot about the Frank Costanza line, gave me a quick laugh.

Friday, June 15, 2007

F&V Update

Word from DeBlasio's office is:

MTA is looking into other ways to do F express so it does not have to wait until the construction is done [on the Culver Viaduct].

We're making progress here people. Keep spreading the word!

Petition is here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

F&V Petition Closing in on 1,000 Signatures

A post on Gothamist, as well as continued coverage at KensingtonBrooklyn and The Gowanus Lounge have spread the petition far and wide.

A city with a $4.4 billion budget surplus can afford to make commuting a more pleasant experience for its residents and visitors.

Graphic from ($40 for a framed poster, for the down F'ers)

Nigerian E-mail Scam Gets A New Twist - Abu Ghraib!

You do have to appreciate the originality in this one: no oil company or bank corruption or funds looted from an African treasury . . . this one combines elements of "Three Kings" and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Dear Sir,
I have managed to sneak out this email to you from my confinement here in one of our military bases in Germany.My name is Col.Charles Telma of The US Army. I was based in Iraq until recently,I was sent back to Germany because of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal in which I was unfortunately implicated. I am still under House Arrest,pending the outcome of investigation.
During my sojourn in Iraq, I was able to successfully smuggle US$ 21.7m out of Iraq to a location in Europe. I reckoned that being a soldier I would not be in the best position to give a satisfactory account of how I came about such an amount of money.I could therefore not conclude the proccess of securing the money before I was apprehended as I was at a loss about into which account one could pay it and that is where your assistance comes in.
I have resolved to share the total sum with you in the fairest ratio that we shall both agree on as settlement for your own part of the deal.
Please,ponder over this and feed me back as I am in dire need of your assistance at this time.Please, send me your private contact info. in order to facilitate an easier and more private correspondence between us.
I must assure you that this will not expose you to any risk as all the possible risk has been foreseen and taken care of. I must also remind you that transaction of this magnitude and nature is to be handled carefully in order for both of us to be well protected. I shall send you more details as soon as I hear from you.I implore you to really consider this offer and feed me back. Also let me know how you wish to be settled for your role in the business.Please,reply I await your response with much optimism.
Thanks in advance,
Best Regards
Charles telma (Col).
Feel free to toy with this clown if you have hours to kill. But there's no way you will top the 419 Eater. For the all-time best scam-baiting, check this out. May be the funniest thing you'll ever read, and you'll learn the story behind the picture above.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tremendous Response to F train petition!

264 signatures so far, and the petition has only been up for 24 hours. Many thanks to everybody who has helped support this initiative thus far:

The Gowanus Lounge
Second Avenue Subway Sagas

Ben over at SASS does a very detailed analysis of the proposal. I highly recommend reading it.

I've also been in touch with the editor over at the Brooklyn eagle, and reps from City Council Member Bill DeBlasio and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

The MTA needs to know there is demand for this project. Sign the petition today!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

U.S. Foreclosures Up 90% In May

Dark clouds on the horizon. And not just the ones casting thunder, lightning, and torrential rain in my lovely neighborhood.

Bloomberg has the bad news:

U.S. foreclosure filings surged 90 percent in May from a year earlier as more homeowners fell behind on their monthly mortgage payments, RealtyTrac Inc. said.
. . . .

A jump in foreclosures at a time of year that traditionally is the busiest for home sales means the slide in prices probably isn't over, said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. Typically, more than half of all home sales occur in the April to June period, according to Freddie Mac, the No. 2 mortgage buyer.

``Such strong activity in the midst of the typical spring buying season could foreshadow even higher foreclosure levels later in the year,'' Saccacio said in the report. That will add ``to the downward pressure on home prices in many areas.''

The New York market has so far been spared the carnage. Partially due to the strong local economy; partially due to the high proportion of renters; partially due to the more conservative lending/borrowing practices vis-a-vis, say, California. Take a look at this map from Business Week posted a few months back to get a sense of where the real pain is and will be.

But we're not immune here. A lot of people are overextended these days, and it's not a good thing.

Enhanced F & V Service: The Petition

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns. I have put up a petition online for fellow travelers who want enhanced service on the F&V to Brooklyn.

Specifically, the petition calls for restoring express service on the unused tracks on the F, and running the V out to Brooklyn as a local. Sign up!

Monday, June 11, 2007

360 Smith Street: Who Has Plaza Rights?

From a Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association member, I received a pdf file with a 1999 memorandum from the NYC Law Department on responsibility for the 2nd Place entranceway to the Carroll Street station.

To view the pdf yourself (and it should go without saying, pdf warning for any remaining dial-up users out there), click the hyperlink above. Click the "download file" box on the right side of the page. Click the download box that appears. type in the 4-digit code, and the pdf will open in your browser. Sounds annoying, but takes about 5 seconds.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Cement Factory, or Public Space?

I had known for some time that discussions were under way for cleaning up the large, overgrown empty lot at the corner of 5th Street and Smith abutting the Gowanus Canal. When we lived on 4th Place (up until earlier this year), we passed this parcel on a regular basis.

What I was not aware of was the plans to boot the cement factory adjacent to the parcel as well. Via the Brooklyn Paper, that is part of the plan for the site.
But now, as the city moves forward with a plan to build residential towers and parkland on the 5.8-acre Public Place site, the 35-year-old company could be evicted within the year, with not a cent of reimbursement.

Gowanus Lounge also has blogged about this project on occasion, but I wasn't a regular reader back in the day (now, it's at least a daily visit).

On one hand, it will be nice to clean up that parcel and do something positive with it. On the other hand, it is a very industrialized area with working businesses. The cement factory is busy, which I can attest to having lived a block and half away for a couple of years. Where are these businesses supposed to go?

This, along with the American Stevedoring business and countless other industrial uses, are also a part of the community. Like it or not, we need cement, we need working waterfronts, and we need the jobs they provide.

If they do end up booting the cement factory however . . . how about the grain silo in Red Hook? Recently a Mr. Quadrozzi was proposing that site as a cement storage facility, the site is dormant, arguably in an even better location, and conveniently, could be leased from the city.

CORRECTION/UPDATE: The Columbia Street Grain Elevator and surrounding acreage were sold by the Port Authority in 1997 to a private entity called the Gowanus Industrial Park, Inc. The President of Gowanus Industrial Park is none other than John Quadrozzi, Jr., who also owns Quadrozzi Concrete. Quadrozzi's own proposal for re-use of the grain terminal as a cement storage facility makes a lot of sense, and he presumably would not be inclined to hand over the plum site to Ferrara Brothers.

From the Google, this Village Voice article from 1998 yields an interesting spippet:
One mob-tied company, Quadrozzi Concrete, gave $3000, starting with $1500 in November 1996, at the very moment that Marlin approved the no-bid, discounted sale of a 43-acre, authority-owned grain terminal to the firm. John Quadrozzi, who was awaiting sentencing for making payoffs to the Luchese crime family when the deal closed, was allowed to buy the site even though he was barred from doing business by another state agency, as well as the federal government. The law firm that represented Quadrozzi on the transaction, which was approved by Marlin, donated another $500.

Every time I think I'm done with this post, they keep pulling me back in.

Eli, you're not even Tbogg

Tbogg puts The Sun's Eli Lake in his place.

Via Atrios.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

360 Smith Update: DOB Disapproves Plan

Per the DOB website, the most recent plan for the 360 Smith site was disapproved as of yesterday. The disapproved plan called for six stories with a height of 70 feet, encompassing 46 dwelling units.

Yesterday was not a good day for Robert Scarano Architects; Bill DeBlasio also held a rally against not only the project, but the architect in front of the 360 Smith site. While DeBlasio may have his own agenda, the rally yesterday should bring some positive attention both to this site and to Scarano's other egregious abuses of the zoning laws.

I'm looking forward to the CGNA meeting at Scotto's funeral home (1st and Court!) on Monday 6/11 at 7:30pm.

Everybody needs to make a living, I understand that. What I don't get is someone putting their thumb in the eye of an entire neighborhood to squeeze out extra profits. At some point, the greed becomes repulsive.

Ahh, a link from Brownstoner! I've finally arrived. Don't know how I missed this article from the Brooklyn Paper (h/t Brownstoner commenter ActionJackson) on the brouhaha. Also added above, a picture from the Brooklyn Paper / Greg Mango.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Gowanus Lounge: City Wants to Kick Out Red Hook Food Vendors

Read the below post at Gowanus Lounge, remind yourself that life is a constant struggle against those who would turn everything you love into crap, and then contact the Parks Department and your elected officials:

The Gowanus Lounge: The Absolute Last Straw: City Wants to Kick Out Red Hook Food Vendors

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

360 Smith Updates

Well. I leave town for a few days and things get interesting around here!

Via Gowanus Lounge, Councilman Bill DeBlasio is leading a rally against the Scarano project (and it seems, against Scarano in general) Wednesday June 6, 12:30 at the proposed building site.

Via the CGNA mailing list, here's a NYT article on Scarano from April 2006.

And here's a snippet from another email on the CGNA listserve:

> hi
> received some information last night from the
> developer
> -mta has approved plan
> -the building will not look at all like the
> drawing on the website, but the actual rendering is
> not yet finalized & not available for viewing yet
> -the 2 place portion is set back to line up with
> the neighboring houses and most of the subway plaza
> is open--the bldg does not come out as far as the
> parking lot "line" as the orig drawing suggests
> - it is still quite tall (the highest point is at
> 70') but the height is graduated rising as the
> structure goes toward and around smith st
> -the finish on the 2 place side will look more
> like a brownstone--the tallest portion's finish,
> which will be where the 2 pl and smith st sides
> meet (around the area of the present
> newsstand) ,is still undetermined
> -the developer seems open to reasonable
> suggestions
Moving in the right direction, at least. More to come on this. But seriously, in a neighborhood where brownstones are fetching $2MM and more, there is simply no justification for building out of scale.