Bay Ridge

In Public Service: Donovan talks homeland security

Lawmaker: We are more prepared than people think

September 8, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan says many of the homeland security measures that are in place are not visible to the public. Photo courtesy of Donovan’s office
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As the nation gets ready to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan said he is confident that the country is doing its best to prevent more terrorist acts.

“We are more prepared than people think we are,” Donovan told the Brooklyn Eagle in an interview in his district office in Dyker Heights.

Much of the homeland security measures that are in place are not visible to the public, he said.

“But they’re there,” said Donovan, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

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Donovan, a Republican, is also the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications.

He recently met with officials from the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the police and fire departments to discuss homeland security issues. “People should be really proud of the job the NYPD and FDNY are doing,” he said, adding that cops and firefighters have been retrained to handle terror situations.

Donovan conceded, however, that the unforeseen is possible. “It’s hard to prepare for the unknown. Our enemies used to be in uniform. Now we are fighting a war on our own shores,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, terrorists were hitting hard targets, landmarks like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The targets have changed, according to Donovan, who said the terrorists are intent on hitting so-called soft targets like movie theaters, schools and restaurants.

Making the fight against terrorism harder is the reality of percentages, Donovan said. “We have to be right 100 percent of the time. They only have to be right once,” he said. “We have to be on our toes.”

Donovan was among the lawmakers who fought to restore full funding to a homeland security bill. President Obama cut funding in half, according to Donovan, who said if the cut had remained in place, New York would have received $90 million in anti-terror funds, not the $180 that had been appropriated.

Donovan was among those who worked with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to get the funding back. “We got the money restored,” Donovan said.

Funds will be allocated to New York and other localities across the country, with local officials getting to decide exactly how they are spent. “We think that’s better than having a bunch of Washington bureaucrats decide,” Donovan said.

Donovan represents the 11th Congressional District, a district that covers the entire borough of Staten Island and includes parts of several Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.

He was elected in a special election on May 5, 2015 and was sworn into office a week after his election.

Donovan was born and raised on Staten Island. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice from Saint John’s University and is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law.

Donovan worked as a prosecutor in Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau’s office for several years.

He then went to work for Guy Molinari, who was Staten Island’s borough president at the time. He served as Molinari’s chief of staff. He continued in that post under Molinari’s successor, James Molinaro.

In 2003, Donovan decided to throw his hat into the ring and ran for district attorney of Staten Island. He won the election and served as district attorney for 12 years until last year, when he ran for congress.

Donovan, whose congressional district lost scores of residents in the Sept. 11 attacks 15 years ago, is fighting for House passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a bill that would allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments, like Saudi Arabia, for complicity in terrorist acts.

The senate voted unanimously to approve the bill, sponsored by Schumer and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), in May.

Several of the Sept. 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and many of the families of the victims have accused the Saudi government of providing assistance to the terrorists.

On other issues, Donovan is currently focused on fighting the nation’s growing opioid drug crisis. Alarmed at the high numbers of people addicted to prescription drugs and heroin in his district, Donovan is seeking solutions.

The Staten Island end of his congressional district has seen the addiction crisis grow to near-epidemic proportions, he said. “I dealt with this a lot when I was the D.A.,” he said.

Laws are in place to prevent patients from doctor shopping and filling prescriptions for the same pain killer at different pharmacies at the same time. “If you go into a Rite Aid in New York with a prescription for Oxycotin, they can look up on a computer whether you were in a CVS in Pennsylvania with the same prescription the day before,” he said.

But addicts who are blocked from obtaining prescription painkillers are increasingly turning to heroin, Donovan said. “That bag of heroin costs $6.00,” he said.

Donovan expressed concern over what he said is a growing trend of “patient brokering” in the drug rehabilitation industry.

“Patient brokering” is a practice in which drug treatment centers or third-party referral services offer cash in exchange for patient referrals, Donovan said. As a result, patients addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers might not be getting the help they need, according to Donovan, who said that in many cases, they are being referred to a treatment facility not because of the services it provides, but because money has exchanged hands.

In an effort to determine how widespread the problem of “patient brokering” is, Donovan has written U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. 

“We have to shrink the potential pool of people who are addicted. We have to take a three-pronged approach — education, treatment and law enforcement,” Donovan said.

Another issue Donovan is working on is the problem of illegal home conversions in middle class communities like Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

An illegal home conversion takes place when a developer buys a small property, like a one or two-family house, guts the interior, and coverts the building into a multi-unit building without the proper permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB). Developers often lie on their DOB paperwork to make it appear as if they are making minor changes to the building when in reality they are creating an apartment house, local officials said.

The result of an illegal home conversion is a building that houses many more tenants than city zoning laws allow.

“It’s dangerous,” Donovan said. “It strains the resources of the FDNY and the schools. It also devalues property values.”

Donovan supports a City Council bill sponsored by Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) to establish a system in which a fine of $15,000 for each illegal unit would be imposed on the owner of a building.

The proposed legislation would also expand the authority of the DOB and the Environmental Control Board (ECB) to inspect properties and impose fines.

Donovan is also looking at the problem from a federal perspective. “We’re looking at other places around the nation to see what they are doing about it,” he told the Eagle.


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