Rockaway Ferry Supporters Rally At City Hall (Updated)



Rockaway ferry service supporters came to City Hall Thursday evening to urge Mayor de Blasio to continue operating the service past it’s scheduled October cessation.  Initiated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy while the A train was out of service for months, the ferry is subsidized by the City at an annual cost of approximately $6 million.  The City calculates that the subsidy is at least $25 per passenger/trip.  The de Blasio administration had continued the Bloomberg administration’s short term ferry funding, but has announced that the subsidy will end in October.

The rally featured two citywide elected officials, Scott Stringer and Tish James, as well as Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder, State Senator Joe Addabbo, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Council Members Eric Ulrich and Vincent Gentile.

The Rockaway peninsula’s physical separation from the rest of the City is matched by a sense of political separation.  It’s particularly so in the neighborhoods which most use the ferry, with many residents believing that City Hall is not looking out for them.  Those western neighborhoods, such as Belle Harbor and Breezy Point, overwhelmingly voted for Joe Lhota in 2013 and have little in the way of a political relationship with Bill de Blasio.

de Blasio Departs:

Mayor de Blasio left City Hall during the rally, passing just behind the rally as he headed toward his car.  Rallygoers took note, loudly chanting and calling out to him, but his only acknowledgment or engagement with them was a small wave as he moved past.  The mayor continued talking with an aide, ignoring the chants of “no ferry, no votes.”  Unfortunately for the ferry supporters, he did okay in his last election without their votes.

Update – Elected Officials Speak:

Here are the remarks of the elected officials:

Republican Comptroller Candidate Bob Antonacci



Here’s your chance to get to know the lesser-known candidate in the least-known statewide election of 2014.

With little money or name recognition, New York State Republican Comptroller nominee Robert Antonacci faces long odds in November against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli.  A Siena College poll released today gives incumbent Tom DiNapoli a 58-24 advantage over Antonacci.  Antonacci, who goes by Bob, also faces a funding disadvantage, reporting just $75,000 on hand as of July 11th.

Antonacci is the first candidate to participate in New York State’s recently enacted campaign financing program.  Modeled after New York City’s campaign finance program, it applies only to candidates for state comptroller.  To receive any matching funds, however, a candidate must raise $200,000 from 2,000 New York donors contributing $10-$175 each.  As of July 11th, Antonacci’s total raised was well below half of that threshold amount and he may not qualify for any state matching funds, further limiting his already modest campaign.

An attorney and accountant, Antonacci was elected Onondaga County Comptroller in 2007, and is now in his 7th year in office.  He first ran for office in 2003, losing, but returned to run again and win in 2007, with reelection in 2011.  We recently spoke with Antonacci as he visited Breezy Point, at the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino.  It was my first time meeting him and I began by asking how he came to first run for elective office.

P.S.  Antonacci is, as far we know, the only candidate with a human bobble head doppelgänger.  (His human bobble head doppelgänger also has a second twitter identity – the doppelganger’s doppelgänger perhaps.)  We only learned of this after our interview – we’ll be bringing you more on this soon.

Bob Rob & Bob



Former Congressman Bob Turner hosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and Republican comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci this afternoon for a press conference at Turner’s home in Breezy Point.  Astorino focused on a favored theme:  that Governor Andrew Cuomo has wrongfully used approximately $40 million of Hurricane Sandy relief funding for thinly disguised political ads promoting Cuomo.

Turner, elected to replace Anthony Weiner, was winding down his one term in Congress when Sandy struck.  More than 100 homes, including Turner’s, were destroyed by a fire that raged through Breezy Point as Sandy’s storm surge struck.  The homes behind Astorino, Antonacci and Turner are newly rebuilt, replacing some of the homes destroyed by that fire.

During the Q&A portion of the press conference (which begins at about 4:00) I asked Astorino questions about other Sandy-related topics, including his view of the overall response to Sandy by New York State government and whether he would do anything differently concerning the NYS Department of Financial Services and it’s regulation of insurance companies, which he would control as governor.  Astorino appeared unwilling, or unable, to move on to other Sandy-related topics, staying focused on Governor Cuomo’s use of federal relief money for TV advertising.  The Q&A began with my question of why Astorino’s fellow Republicans, in the state senate, have permitted Cuomo’s use of Sandy money as condemned by Astorino.

Note:  Astorino held a separate press conference this morning, with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, available here.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Building It Back Edition



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference promoting his administration’s advances in the Build It Back program.  Created to assist homeowners in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Build It Back was immediately mired in bureaucratic quicksand, producing virtually no assistance to any homeowners by the close of the Bloomberg administration.  Although the program continued to drift in the early months of the de Blasio administration, it has markedly accelerated its efforts since the late March hiring of Amy Peterson as Director of the Office of Housing Recovery.

The mayor has set a Build It Back goal of 500 construction starts and issuing 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day.  While modest compared to the estimated 20,000 or more homeowners who could be helped under the program, that’s a dramatic improvement from the program’s first year in which virtually no homeowners received such assistance.  In today’s press conference, the mayor announced that Build It Back has had 132 construction starts and issued 397 reimbursement checks.

Preparation for the Next Storm:

I asked Mayor de Blasio whether he has examined, and made any significant changes in,  the City’s emergency management system in anticipation of future storms:

Eric Ulrich:

Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of only three Republicans in the City Council and whose Sandy-impacted district includes part of Rockaway, Broad Channel and Howard Beach, spoke briefly:

Press Q&A:

On topic questions included funding for items in the City’s SIRR report and whether there is an alternative source for such items, whether the mayor is satisfied with the pace of City spending of federal money for Sandy relief, whether the mayor is confident of reaching his 500 construction starts and 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s report on a lack of oversight on spending by the Department of Homeless Services, whether the City has the “right formula” for Build It Back, the total number of homes damaged by Sandy and when all will reached through Build It Back, how many of the 132 construction starts to date are repairs and how many are rebuilds and whether the mayor has closely examined the City’s emergency management system in the context of preparing for a future coastal storm.

Off topic questions the Long Island Railroad and possible strike, the City’s contingency plans and role in the event of a strike, whether the petitions supporting continued operation of horse carriages, with 40,000 signatures recently delivered to City Hall affect his thinking on the topic, what the 66 donors to Campaign for One New York expect from the mayor, whether he plans to take any additional vacations this year, what initiatives Campaign for One New York will next focus on, the status of the review of the 911 system upgrade and, concerning his trip to Italy, whether he is packed, whether he’s packing his own bags and what food he is most looking forward to.

Peterson Discusses Build It Back



We spoke with Amy Peterson, the Director of New York City’s Housing Recovery Office, about the Build It Back program.  Peterson, appointed by Mayor de Blasio in late March, oversees the widely criticized program and is charged with restarting what has been a moribund effort.

We spoke after a Sandy-recovery town hall hosted by Comptroller Scott Stringer in the Arverne section of Rockaway.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Panti Bliss Edition (Updated x 2)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio marched in the St. Pats For All parade in Woodside/Sunnyside. Organized as an alternative St. Patrick’s Day Parade which welcomes LGBT groups, the parade has gained significant political attention.  It’s a free spirited, whimsical cousin to the massive Manhattan parade.  A featured guest at the 2014 parade was Panti Bliss, an Irish gay activist and drag Queen who has received significant attention for a recent speech on LGBT equality.

After marching, the mayor spoke with the press.  Here is his full press conference, including an opening statement and questions from the press.  (Questions start at about 3:15.)

Among the questions was one posed by Capital New York’s Sally Goldenberg (at about 3:40): Why didn’t he march in Rockaway’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade yesterday.  His answer?  ”My approach has been to embrace parades that are inclusive, and that’s the standard we’re going to hold to.”  (Here’s some background on de Blasio and the Rockaway parade.)

Update – Skipping Rockaway Parade:

One of the press questions, asked by Sally Goldenberg of Capital New York, was why the mayor skipped the St. Patrick’s Day parade yesterday in Rockaway.  His answer was surprising.

Update #2 – A Minister, A Consul General & Panti Bliss:

The pre-parade remarks included three speakers from Ireland: Minister of State for Training & Skills Ciaran Cannon, performer and LGBT activist Panti Bliss and Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny.  Many New York elected officials spoke, but the Irish speakers, particularly the two government officials, are notable for illustrating the notion that excluding LGBT groups from the Manhattan parade is not reflective of the sentiment in Ireland.  We’ve included their respective full remarks, plus a bonus Mayor de Blasio appearance, in this excerpt.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Pussy Riot Edition (Updated x 3)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Carl Weisbrod as chair of the City Planning Commission.

Among the topics discussed during the Q&A portion of the announcement press conference was a vital question – can the mayor pronounce the name of guests scheduled to visit him this afternoon.

Update – Full Answer:

Sandwiched between the opening and closing giggles he elicited from the press, Mayor de Blasio gave a serious answer on why he plans to meet with members of Russian band Pussy Riot this afternoon.

Update #2 – Sandy:

Mayor de Blasio was asked about ongoing Hurricane Sandy rebuilding and resiliency efforts. It’s an issue that has not received much public focus in the first six weeks of the de Blasio administration.  With ongoing substantial rebuilding continuing in several parts of the City, however, it’s going to demand attention.  Here’s what the mayor had to say:

For background, here is our coverage from de Blasio’s October visit to Breezy Point and September visit to Far Rockaway.

Update #3 – Full Q&A:

Following statements from de Blasio and Weisbrod, de Blasio answered questions from the press.  On-topic questions included his process for selecting Weisbrod and whether as Transition C-Chair Weisbrod submitted his own name for consideration, what neighborhoods they are targeting for revitalization and what they plan for those neighborhoods, whether Carl Weisbrod is related to Ann Weisbrod, what plans they have for rolling back Bloomberg administration planning initiatives, governance of the City Planning Commission, the status of the Transition Committee co-chaired by Weisbrod, how Weisbrod’s past work in revitalizing neighborhoods and his current role intersect, the mayor’s strategic plan for post-Sandy rebuilding in waterfront neighborhoods and the challenges of finding neighborhoods primed for growth.

Following a statement on the importance of donating blood and a question on his own experience of donating blood that morning, the mayor answered off-topic questions including a preview of his State of the City address, why he was not wearing his wedding ring, his plan to charge rent to some charter schools, whether the administration has started labor contract negotiations, de Blasio’s scheduled meeting with members of the Russian band Pussy Riot, his plans for addressing potholes on city streets and Vice President Biden’s characterization of LaGuardia as a “third world” airport.

Here is Mayor de Blasio’s full press Q&A.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Second Snow Edition (Updated x 2)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference on two separate topics: the significant snowstorm which had just begun and to announce the appointment of Maria Torres-Springer as Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services and of Dr. Ramanathan Raju as the Commissioner of Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Rockaway Ferry & Boardwalk:

During the Q&A portion of the press conference, Grace Rauh of NY1 asked the mayor about the interim extension of Rockaway ferry service, as separately announced by the mayor’s office this morning, and about the projected May 2017 projected completion date for rebuilding the Rockaway boardwalk.  Ferry service was instituted on an interim basis after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the only subway access to Rockaway and it has been very popular with Rockaway residents.  The post-Sandy rebuilding of the boardwalk, under Parks Department jurisdiction, is a sore point for many Rockaway residents who see the three year schedule as unreasonably slow.  Here’s how the mayor responded.

Update – Full Q&A:

Here is Mayor de Blasio’s full Q&A, featuring snow prep and the de Blasio family shoveling arrangements, the mayor’s pre-K/middle school program initiative and the governor’s competing proposal, Health & Hospitals Corporation challenges, the Rockaway ferry and boardwalk and more.

Update #2 – Pre-K/middle school initiative:

This excerpt contains a discussion of Mayor de Blasio’s proposed pre-K/middle school program and the associated income tax surcharge.  Governor Cuomo has recently sought to preempt de Blasio’s plan, proposing a less expansive plan statewide, and not supporting a dedicated income tax surcharge.  Reporters asked many probing questions but de Blasio, politely, refused to signal any assent to the Cuomo plan supplanting his own.  He noted that “other advances … are welcome”, but that “the people of the City have given me a mission … to achieve this [meaning de Blasio's] plan.”

Beach 130th Street



In this video we’ve compiled clips of the beach and nearby homes on Beach 130th Street in Belle Harbor.  The clips start in early November 2012, just after Sandy struck and end this afternoon, exactly one year since Sandy.  There is great progress from the flat beach and battered homes in the initial video, but even today there is still much to be done.

The clips are from B-roll that I’ve taken on some my visits to B130th Street over the past year.  While there is far more to the recovery then shown in these clips, on this block and throughout Rockaway, they show a meaningful part of the story.

We’ve also published a couple of reports focused in whole or part on B130th Street, including here and here.