Monthly Archives

May 2016


The Villager: Go, dogs, go! Enjoy your new dog run!

May 26, 2016

Posted by: The Villager
May 26, 2016

Local politicians joined dog owners in “raising the woof” and cutting the ribbon at the newly renovated Leroy St. Dog Run, just north of Pier 40, near W. Houston St., in Hudson River Park. Councilmember Corey Johnson provided the funds for the renovation. Sweeney, an English bulldog, was having a good time, but he wasn’t about to let go of his tennis ball. A Husky kept it cool while grabbing a drink in the fountain. Madelyn Wils, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, brought along her two little dogs, who were a handful, literally.

Area elected officials, above, including Councilmember Corey Johnson, third from left, state Senator Brad Hoylman, fifth from left, with his daughter, Sylvia, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, sixth from left, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, not shown, joined dog run members and the Hudson River Park Trust’s Madelyn Wils to cut the ribbon on the spruced-up new canine cavorting area.


Statement by Council Member Corey Johnson on Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital

May 25, 2016

“It is absolutely imperative that Mount Sinai Beth Israel continues to operate as a full-service hospital. Government needs to exercise proper oversight to ensure that critical healthcare services in Lower Manhattan are maintained. The healthcare industry may be changing, but our communities still need adequate emergency services and an adequate number of hospital beds. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues and all stakeholders to support a plan that improves and enhances services to our communities.”


The New York Times: Now Displaced by New York’s Gentrification: Feral Cats

May 23, 2016

MAY 23, 2016

Zane was the first to disappear, followed a few days later by Dali. Freckles was barely breathing when they found him. Buzzy, by the time they rushed him to the hospital, his stomach distended, had died. When the police found Mama and her son Blacky festering in a parking lot, it was already too late. The Dutch Kills cat colony in Queens was gone.

For nine years, Barbara Garber, Rebecca Wolf and other volunteers have been caring for feral cats on dead-end streets at the edge of Sunnyside Yards. Like the roughly 500 registered cat colonies across New York City, this cluster in Long Island City, Queens, fluctuates with the seasons and the years. Cats are regularly abandoned there or simply appear. They die of old age or are hit by vehicles on busy Jackson Avenue. Some give birth to new litters.

While the Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad has looked into what might have caused eight cats to disappear or die within two weeks this month, the people who have cared for them have their suspicions.

Around the time the cats living on Dutch Kills Street began to get sick or disappear, dozens of large plastic rat traps were scattered outside a new 26-story apartment building, Halo LIC, on Purves Street, one block over. Some of the traps had been cut, creating larger openings, and clumps of beige poison littered the pavement.

“If that’s not overkill, I don’t know what is,” Ms. Garber said last week, as she and Ms. Wolf began disassembling the straw-lined buckets and plastic foam boxes on Dutch Kills Street that were the cats’ homes.

“It’s an atrocity is what it is,” Ms. Wolf said. “There weren’t even any rats, because of the cats.”

From Astoria, Queens, to St. George, Staten Island, the latest real estate boom has reshaped the city in countless ways. Just as it is affecting people, gentrification is displacing the city’s wild animals, too. Vacant lots, old factories, former warehouses and even shuttered hospitals are being redeveloped, forcing colonies of strays to find new habitats.

Complicating matters for these territorial creatures, the same developments that are forcing their colonies to relocate have made it that much harder for their caretakers to find new homes nearby.

“If they can make room for 10,000 people, they can make room for a few dozen cats,” State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said at a cat colony neighboring the Greenpoint Landing development site on the Brooklyn waterfront, where the keepers of two separate colonies fear encroaching construction.

But not all developers have clashed with their four-legged neighbors. Roosevelt Island has long been a haven for wildlife. When people began arriving at the Mitchell Lama apartment towers in the 1970s, so did their cats.

“You’d get cats that escaped, but also people throwing cats out of their cars,” said Rossana Ceruzzi, a former record and advertising executive who has been caring for the cats and other animals since she moved to the island 16 years ago. “One guy came down and pretended to be taking pictures, and when I turned around, he let a cat out of his backpack and ran.”

Some 70 cats live in four colonies on the two-mile-long island. Among the greatest source of felines was the former Goldwater Hospital, where many nurses and patients kept them as pets. When Cornell University took over the site about three years ago for its campus with Israel’s Technion Institute, Ms. Ceruzzi asked the schools to help rescue and relocate the animals.

“Cornell has a world-class veterinary school, it’s a land-grant university, and this is just part of those values, 100 percent,” Andrew Winters, the director of capital projects at Cornell Tech, said.

In addition to a few cats, Ms. Ceruzzi, a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator, rescued some raccoons and a family of opossums. About 20 cats now live in a fenced-in section of Southpoint Park, which opened in 2011.

Ms. Ceruzzi has found others less to be accommodating. When construction began on Four Freedoms Park in 2010 at the island’s southern tip, she was, understandably, denied access. And while the monumental expanse of granite designed by Louis Kahn has become a popular destination, Ms. Ceruzzi said that many of the fauna that once visited are gone, including a family of pheasants and a yellow fox.

Stephen Martin, director of design and planning at Four Freedoms, said that the site was a toxic landfill overgrown with weeds. “It’s true, we’re not putting out Kibbles ’n Bits for anyone, but the memorial is an ecological sanctuary in its own right, with gulls and crabs and cormorants calling our riparian shoreline home,” he said.

New Yorkers have long cared for strays, in alleys, bodegas and even some of the most rarefied addresses — for many years, a courtyard of the San Remo on Central Park West housed as many as 75 cats. Many of those underwent a practice known as trap-neuter-return. Since the passage of Local Law 59 by the City Council in 2012, that has been the sanctioned method for dealing with the city’s wild cats.

That method has been in practice for years at a colony of two dozen cats at a lot on 37th Street near 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Like so many parcels in and around Hudson Yards, this one is now poised to become part of a 1,005-foot, $3 billion office tower being developed by Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm that controls the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center.

When Corey Johnson, the local councilman, was contacted by the colony’s caretakers, he immediately turned to Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group. Those were not the connections he was after, though. She is also a cat fancier.

“I was showing off my new cat at the State of the City last year, and Kathy overheard and immediately took out her phone to show off hers,” Mr. Johnson recalled.

Ms. Wylde estimates she has rescued as many as 100 cats. A longtime friend of the Speyers, she arranged a meeting between them and the colony caretakers, and they are working to find a new home for the cats — a challenge given the booming development on the West Side.

Ms. Wylde would prefer the city establish a feral cat sanctuary.

“A lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction is just, ‘Oh, get them off the streets and find them a good home,’” Ms. Wylde said. “As people working in welfare know, it’s hard enough to find homes for homeless people nowadays.”

In Long Island City, where Tishman Speyer is building three apartment towers, things have been less tame. When the developer started work on the towers last year, it received permission from the city to turn the end of Orchard Street into a staging area. Some 16 cats under Ms. Garber and Ms. Wolf’s care lived there. They were soon joined by generators, pumps, pipes, hoses and heavy machinery, which crushed most of the cat shelters.

Ms. Garber has since moved the cats under a metal staircase across from the site, but only about half a dozen remain.

The city issued three violations to the contractor last week, after a reporter contacted the Buildings Department about whether work on the street was allowed. Two of the violations — insufficient pedestrian protections and having a generator too close to a fire hydrant — were deemed Class 1, or immediately hazardous.

Tishman Speyer declined to comment.

Ms. Garber and Ms. Wolf are still trying to find out what happened on Dutch Kills Street. The Police Department has concluded its investigation without a culprit because Mama and Blacky were disposed of before a necropsy could be performed.

Phone calls to the offices of the Rabsky Group, the Brooklyn-based developer of the Halo LIC, were not returned. A man who answered a cellphone number listed on building documents under the name Rafael Rabinowitz, a member of the firm, said he was not Rafael Rabinowitz.

“I don’t know anything about any dead cats,” the man said. “I’m not involved in any of this stuff.”


Chelsea Now: Participatory Budgeting Funds New Trees, Cool Breezes

May 18, 2016

May 18, 2016

A jam-packed crowd filled the High Line’s 14th Street Passage on the warm afternoon of May 14, eager to learn which projects were earmarked to split a cool million set aside to fund District 3’s second go-around with Participatory Budgeting (PB). Cheers greeted the announcement that five out of 15 PB ballot items — spearheaded by and voted on directly by the public — would be fully funded.

It was the highlight of Councilmember Corey Johnson’s Second Annual West Side Summit, which featured speeches from local electeds and Johnson’s own State of the District address. During the intermission, the assembled crowd was encouraged to write out community improvement suggestions at provided stations. The ideas culled from this session were then presented prior to the PB winners’ announcement, and Johnson speculated that some of the projects might even end up on next year’s PB ballot.

A group of people waiting to contribute their community suggestions for Johnson to hear — which could perhaps be on next year’s Participatory Budgeting ballot. Photo by Sean Egan.

Just before the big moment, however, Johnson talked about a new “tracking system” available on his website (, which allows community members to monitor the progress being made on 2015’s PB winners, including the popular, forthcoming 20th Street Park.

“Two-thousand people from across the district participated, and came out and voted,” Johnson announced, building up tension. “Without further ado, here are the winners of Participatory Budgeting for 2016.”

Kicking off the ceremony with the lowest vote-getter (686 cast), Johnson revealed that City Knoll Middle School (425 W. 33rd St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) would have their new library space funded with $300,000. Johnson commented on how the new improvements will help modernize the space to aid in students’ learning, and commended the hard work of Victoria Armas, the school’s principal, in advocating for the project.

At number four, with 790 votes, was real-time rider information at bus stops, which will be receiving $100,000.

“These electronic boards will offer real-time bus arrival times,” noted Johnson, who went on to elaborate that they would be installed at “five key bus stops,” which are to be determined “in conjunction with the Community Boards and the Department of Transportation” for maximum rider convenience.

Lowell Kern, co-chair of CB4’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment committee, presents community ideas for park improvement to Johnson and the crowd.

Next, with 813 votes, was new audio/visual equipment for PS 11. The $75,000 A/V system will be installed in the school’s auditorium, and help the students fulfill their curriculum to the fullest, by facilitating presentations and student performances.

The runner-up was the renovation of Muhlenberg Public Library’s (209 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) HVAC system. While coming in second place with 858 votes, the library will receive the most money overall ($500,000). Johnson praised the library as “a community treasure,” further valued by its status as an official NYC Cooling Center — a designated place where the public can beat the heat in summer months (their current system, noted supporters of the HVAC upgrade, is just not cutting it).

Muhlenberg Library Manager Lateshe Lee noted that her patrons would be “really excited” about the win, “because they’ve been asking us about it for the past couple of weeks.” The road to success was a long one — this was the second year the library appeared on the ballot, and it was through the work of outside delegates (along with some custom bookmarks getting out the word to vote) that finally secured a win.

While acknowledging that it won’t be put in place this summer, Lee nonetheless expressed her enthusiasm about being able to better serve visitors, by providing enhanced comfort to those who participate in the library’s many programs. “We’re ecstatic that we got it,” she said.

Councilmember Corey Johnson, with City Knoll Middle School Principal Victoria Armas. Courtesy Office of Councilmember Corey Johnson.

The number one vote-getter (with a commanding 1,083) was then announced: new trees for District 3. According to Johnson, $100,000 will be devoted to planting “dozens and dozens and dozens” of trees all throughout the district, and that his office would be working with block associations, community boards, and the public in order to determine the best places to put the new trees and tree guards.

Then, in a surprise move, Johnson announced that in addition to the top five, he would also be devoting capital funds to another one of the ballot items: putting in a new western staircase at DeWitt Clinton Park (btw. W. 52nd & W. 54th Sts., & 10th & 12th Aves.). The current, blocked set of stairs has, according to Johnson, “created a wall over the West Side Highway,” and the councilmember has pledged $500,000 to repairing the stairs — with eyes on perhaps fixing another set in the future.

“I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our PB process,” Johnson concluded, wrapping up the Summit.

Afterwards, Armas told Chelsea Now that she was “kind of speechless” and “delighted” about the good news for City Knoll.

“It’s very moving for us to have the project be awarded,” she commented on the forthcoming library. “The kids deserve it; the community deserves it. Our community really needs something like that — a center.” 

She went on to praise the process in general, highlighting the efforts of teacher Julie Taegel, and asserting that PB is “democracy in action,” which helped teach her students a valuable lesson.


Chelsea News: Johnson Outlines State Of District

May 17, 2016


Manhattan, New York, NY | Local News

In a canopied alcove on the High Line in early afternoon sunshine Saturday, Council Member Corey Johnson discussed the state of District 3, comprising Chelsea, Flatiron and West Village, which he has represented since January 2014.
Among other issues, Johnson highlighted the renovations scheduled or taking place at Chelsea Park, Penn South Park, Waterside Park and Pier 40. He also talked about new playgrounds at P.S, 11 and on West 20th Street.
But like many of his colleagues and constituents, Johnson highlighted the district’s need for affordable housing, particularly as the Hudson Yards neighborhood gets built.
Johnson last year called for the city’s Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents for rent-stabilized tenants. The board, for the first time in its 46-year existence, did eventually freeze rents. Johnson said he would advocate for a rollback this year. The board, though, has already proposed raising rents between 0 and 2 percent for one-year leases.
“Affordable housing is our community’s greatest need,” Johnson said.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, among several officials who attended the summit, agreed.“We have to make sure that New York City stays affordable for the diversity of people who built this city,” Stringer said.
Some who attended the summit, however, lamented the abundance construction in the district.
“I used to be able to sit on my fire escape and watch the fireworks off the Hudson River and now all I see is big buildings,” said Tom Creacy. “I wonder if there will come a day when all we have of old New York City is two rocks for people to visit and the new New York City will only be skyscrapers.”
Among the other officials who also addressed the roughly 250 constituents attending the event were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Jerry Nadler, State Senator Brad Hoylman, former Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, and Public Advocate Tish James.
City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña was the event’s keynote speaker. Johnson also called for the passage of the Small Business Survival Act, legislation that would impose arbitration for tenants and landlords when both cannot agree on terms.
“Small businesses create tapestries that are unique to our neighborhoods — but they are facing challenges,” Johnson said. He alluded to the West 14th Street Associated Market that closed earlier this year after its rent climbed more than threefold, from $32,000 a month to more than $100,000.
Johnson also announced the winners of this year’s participatory budget vote.
More than 2,000 people voted on how to allocate more than $1 million, with the top vote-getter – the planting of dozens of new trees throughout District 3 – getting $100,000. Other winners included the renovation of Muhlenberg Library’s HVAC system ($500,000); new audio and visual equipment for P.S. 11 ($75,000); real-time rider information at five key bus stops ($100,000); and a new library for City Knoll Public School ($300,000).
Participatory Budgeting

Announcing the 2016 District 3 Participatory Budgeting Winners

May 17, 2016

PB Logo

1) New Trees for Council District 3

This project will fund new trees and new tree guards on blocks with few or no trees throughout District 3. The locations will be determined in conjunction with our block associations and community boards.

Votes: 1,083
Amount allocated: $100,000

2) New HVAC System at the Muhlenberg Library 

This project will replace the library’s HVAC cooling unit to ensure that the branch can continue to serve as a cool space in the summer months, which includes serving as an official NYC Cool Center.

Votes: 858
Amount allocated: $500,000

3) New Audio / Visual Equipment for P.S. 11 

A new audio / visual system in the auditorium of P.S. 11. The school needs a working A/V system to fulfill its curriculum requirements for students.

Votes: 813
Amount allocated: $75,000

4) Real Time Rider Information At Bus Stops

These electronic Boards will display real time bus arrival information at five key bus stops, offering convenience for riders. The proposed locations will be determined in conjunction with the community and the Department of Transportation.

Votes: 790
Amount allocated: $100,000

5) A New Library for City Knoll Public Middle School

This project will provide technological and construction updates to create a library space at City Knoll School, which is located at 425 West 33rd Street. This project will help engage students and prepare them for the skills needed in the 21st Century.

Votes: 686
Amount allocated: $300,000


Photos from the West Side Summit

May 17, 2016


Will Rogers, PB District Committee Member and Council Member Corey Johnson


Council Member Corey Johnson and Victoria Armas, Principal of City Knoll Middle School.


Congressman Jerrold Nadler. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


State Senator Brad Hoylman. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Brandon Katz. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Miguel Pedraza-Cumba, Hudson Guild.  Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Council Member Corey Johnson. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Jacob Tidwell. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Lowell Kern, Co-Chair, Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee, CB4. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


Christine Berthet, Co-Chair, Transportation Committee, CB4. Photo by Emanuel Zbeda.


‘Free hugs’ guy arrested by NYPD for assaulting Times Square tourist

May 13, 2016
– The Washington Times – Friday, May 13, 2016

A Times Square mainstay who advertises “free hugs” to tourists was arrested Thursday after allegedly punching a Canadian woman in the face when she refused to give him money.

Jermaine Himmelstein, 24, was arrested and charged with robbery causing physical injury and fraudulent accosting related to the Thursday morning incident, the New York Police Department said.

Known across Manhattan as the “Free Hugs Guy” because of a sign he often carries, police said Mr. Himmelstein punched a female tourist in the face on Broadway near West 45th Street when she wouldn’t pay him after she snapped a photograph.

A New York Police Department said the victim was a 22-year-old woman from Ottawa identified by law enforcement sources to the Daily News as Sophie Violene Dauvois.

Police said the woman took a picture at around 10:45 a.m. early Thursday of Mr. Himmelstein, who then demanded money. When she refused three times to pay, police said he struck her with a closed fist.

The victim was taken to an area hospital and treated for severe swelling and a cut to her right eye before being released.

Mr. Himmelstein was arrested around four hours later several blocks south of the theater district in Union Square by an NYPD officer who recognized him based of a mugshot related to a previous incident.

“I was aggressively asking for tips,” Mr. Himmelstein acknowledged Thursday evening as he was escorted by police out of the Midtown North precinct, Gothamist reported.

“He is no stranger to this,” NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill told reporters. “He has multiple prior arrests, and several were for the same type of offense.”

Mr. Himmelstein has been arrested 16 time since 2012, according to Daily News and was the subject of a New York Times article the following year that profiled the “Free Hugs Guy.”Identified then as an autistic East Harlem resident, Mr. Himmelstein told The Times he gave out huge “to make people stay better.”

While in custody Thursday, Mr. Himmelstein was additionally charged over an alleged assault that happened at a Times Square subway station on April 29, police said.

Thursday’s arrest comes hardly a month after the New York City Council voted to let the let the NYC Transportation Department set new rules for Times Square, the likes of which are expected to rein in entertainers and costumed characters who solicit tourists for tips, occasionally aggressively.

“People should be able to walk through Times Square without being harassed and harangued,” Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat who supported the measure, told The New York Times last month.

The NYC Transportation Department is expected to introduce new rules and regulations that will limit the portions of Times Square where individuals are allowed to solicit passersby.

When the City Council voted 42 to 1 last month in favor of letting the Transportation Department take control over the area, 16 entertainers had already been arrested in 2016 for charges including assault, aggressive soliciting, forcible touching and grand larceny, The Times reported.