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What’s News, Breaking: Wednesday, May 24, 2023

May 24, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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WASHINGTON AVENUE — Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) will present Power of Trees, a summer and fall program series centered on the ways trees serve as pillars of our natural and cultural worlds, from June 17 to Oct. 24, 2023. Anchored by an exhibition of six site-specific sculptures by emerging New York artists, Power of Trees will be experienced by visitors across the Garden through visual art, performances, and special events as well as simply by walking the grounds, where 52 of BBG’s most extraordinary trees will be highlighted through scientific, horticultural, and personal narratives.

“Trees are at the center of our natural communities. Throughout the world, and especially in dense urban areas, they’re essential to healthy and hospitable environments. Trees are extraordinary natural ‘machines’ that absorb pollution and give us oxygen. They make our neighborhoods beautiful and vibrant and inspire artists and writers of all ages.

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This is exactly why we need to protect trees from the same impacts of climate change and pollution they help safeguard us from,” said Adrian Benepe, president and CEO of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “We hope visitors will better understand and appreciate trees through the art and science they encounter in the Garden this summer and fall and learn how to advocate for them on a local, national, and global scale.” For more on the story, read here.

Cladrastis kentukea (Kentucky yellowwood). Photo by Blanca Begert.



CITYWIDE — As the Brooklyn Congressional Delegation tenaciously pushes for an end to non-essential helicopter flights within New York City, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-10) and Brooklyn colleagues with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-12) on Wednesday urged Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams to end non-essential helicopter flights from New York City’s West 30th Street Heliport, East 34th Street Heliport, and Downtown Manhattan Heliport. They observed that New York City has one of the world’s highest rates of non-essential helicopter use, creating untenable amounts of noise and air pollution. The delegation also claims that more than 95% of the 58,000 annual helicopter flights from the NYCEDC-owned East 34th Street Heliport and Downtown Manhattan Heliport are non-essential.

The letter-writers, which included Yvette Clarke (D-09/central and eastern Brooklyn) and Nydia Velázquez (D-07/northern Brooklyn), pointed out also that in the past four decades (since 1983), at least thirty helicopter crashes in New York City have occurred, with at least twenty-five fatalities, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

The letter, excerpted here, reads “… helicopter safety, noise, and environmental concerns are now one of the top issues we hear about from our constituents. We must work together to address this issue at the local, state, and federal levels.”



BOERUM HILL  — A man wearing a “Rude” T-shirt is wanted in connection with an assault on an F train near the Bergen/Smith Street station during rush hour on Wednesday, May 10. Around 5:50 p.m., the man allegedly approached a 19-year-old male aboard the northbound train, struck the victim with an unknown blunt object, punched the victim about the face, before exiting the train at the Bergen Street station and fleeing onto the southbound train platform.

The incident, which happened within the 84th Precinct in Boerum Hill, caused the victim, whose name the NYPD did not release as of press time, to sustain a cut to his face. He was treated at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and last reported in stable condition.

Although the NYPD reported a 6.7% reduction in transit crime during April, the news media have reported a growing number of assaults against commuters over the past week alone, including the woman who was critically injured in an unprovoked attack on Sunday, May 21.

Anyone who has seen or knows the identity of this man wanted in connection with a subway assault is urged to contact the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or  or via Twitter @NYPDTips. Photo: NYPD CrimeStoppers.



STATEWIDE — Applications have opened for the Excelsior Scholarship for new applicants to the state’s public colleges and universities for the 2023-2024 academic year, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday, May 24.

The Excelsior Scholarship, which the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation administers, allows eligible full-time students, whose families’ federal adjusted gross incomes are $125,000 or under, to attend a CUNY or SUNY two-year or four-year college tuition-free, application deadline August.

Eligible students must plan to attend a two- or four-year college within the City University of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY) systems and complete 30 credits per year towards their program of study (including summer and winter terms). Students must also stay on track to graduate with an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years

“The Excelsior Scholarship is one of the most promising programs in New York State, providing access to an affordable college education for thousands of middle and lower-income New Yorkers,” said Gov. Hochul. “At a time when economic disparities are widening, it is more important than ever that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed.”



CITYWIDE – Mayor Adams on Tuesday announced that he would be heading to court to seek a judge’s approval to temporarily suspend parts of the city’s “Right to Shelter” responsibility on the grounds that the ongoing large influx of asylum-seekers in recent months, as well as a notable spike in daily shelter intake since last week’s expiration of the Title 42 entry restrictions, have made obeying its terms unworkable. Adams wrote in a press statement that “no one could have contemplated, foresaw, or even remotely imagined a mass influx of individuals entering our system… Our city has done more to support asylum seekers than any other city in the nation, but the unfortunate reality is that the city has extended itself further than its resources will allow.” The New York Times reported that the city asked specifically to be allowed to not shelter unhoused adults if it lacked the staff or resources to house them safely; the city has not asked to suspend the portion of the law that relates to families with children, although an executive order issued by the mayor earlier this month allows the city to disregard its mandate to provide those families with private rooms.

Politicians joined in anger in response to the announcement, offering suggestions for alternatives. Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilmember Diane Ayala issued a joint statement, saying, “It’s beyond disturbing that so much effort is being spent on rolling back protections for all New Yorkers, instead of implementing immediate and long-term solutions that can help us avoid and move out of shelters,” and urged for the passing of a package of reforms to the city’s housing voucher program that would allow for more new arrivals to receive rental assistance, updating current rules that require applicants to spend 90 days housed in a shelter first. Comptroller Brad Lander wrote, “The Adams administration’s attempt to abdicate its responsibility to uphold this legal obligation undermines the foundation of the social safety net in this city,” and criticized the mayor for not seeking a ruling “that [the Right to Shelter] applies to all municipalities in New York State,” in an apparent reference to attempts earlier this month by Rockland and Orange counties to keep the city from sending migrants to stay in local hotels.

Ayala, along with Councilmembers Pierina Sanchez and Tiffany Caban, also announced a press conference set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday in response to the announcement to more publicly advocate for the housing reforms package, which is currently opposed by the mayor, facing down a potential mayoral veto over what Adams says would be a $17 billion addition to the city budget over the next five years; proponents of the reforms counter that the costs would be offset by reductions in spending on the city’s notoriously expensive shelter system.



BROOKLYN AND WASHINGTON, DC — Safeguarding the nation’s Social Security program is the focus of a new bill that Congressmen Dan Goldman (D-10/western Brooklyn) and John Larson (CT-1) introduced on Wednesday, May 24.

The Social Security 2100 Act would increase benefit payments for current and new Social Security beneficiaries, protect beneficiaries against inflation, reduce taxes on Social Security benefits, and further bolster the benefits of Social Security. This bill would also extend the solvency of Social Security by at least 10 years and potentially decades. The bill would also set the new minimum benefit at 25% above the poverty line, ensuring that seniors who have earned their benefits by paying into the system during their lifetime would not fall into poverty. The new minimum would also be tied to wage levels to ensure the benefit is accurately adjusted for cost-of-living increases.

The proposed benefit increases and enhancements would be underwritten by applying the payroll tax to wages above $400,000 so that the wealthiest Americans pay the same rate as someone earning $30,000 a year. This provision would only affect the top 0.4% of wage earners.



RED HOOK — The Fire Department, City of New York is observing National EMS Week, with its annual Second Chance Ceremony, held Wednesday morning, May 24, at the Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook. Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, Chief of Department John Hodgens, Chief of EMS Michael Fields and Chief Medical Director Dr. Glenn Asaeda presided at the event, which united 10 patients who have survived cardiac arrest with the Paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians, FDNY EMS Officers, Firefighters, Dispatchers, bystanders, and other first responders who helped save their lives. The 10 survivors include a premature newborn baby girl who made a full recovery, an eight-year-old boy, an NYPD Auxiliary officer on his way to work, and a man from New Jersey whom good Samaritans aided before FDNY EMS arrived.

The FDNY CPR Training Unit offers free compressions-only CPR training (without defibrillation), throughout the city and has trained more than 200,000 New Yorkers to perform bystander CPR, including more than 80,000 high school students. (CPR is not the same as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation taught in many first aid courses.) For more information about free bystander CPR training from the FDNY, call 718-281-3888 or visit



DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The Brooklyn Arts Council is set to honor longtime Con Edison community affairs director Toni Yuille Williams as part of this year’s class of honorees at its June 5 Spring Party at Industry City.

In addition to her work as Director of Regional & Community Affairs for Con Edison Company of New York, Inc., Antonia (Toni) Williams is the creator, on-air personality and executive producer of Brooklyn Savvy, a talk show (airing thrice weekly on NYC Life Channel 25) that explores topical and social justice issues resonant to people living in an urban environment. She has since 2018 served as the Board Chair of the Brooklyn Arts Council. She has also launched a new radio show called Art Movez, which explores the intersection of art, innovation, community development, and social justice, and airs on WNYE 91.5 FM Sundays at 8 p.m.

Active in civic life, Ms. Yuille Williams also serves as chair of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, chair of The Billie Holiday Theater; and on the boards of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, BRIC Arts Media, and New York City Technical College Foundation.

Additional BRIC Spring Party honorees are visual Artist, performance artist and educator Derrick Adams; Alireza Esmaeilzadeh senior vice president of development at Brookfield Properties; and Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham, co-founder and executive Director of Museum Hue.



BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Developer CIM Group on Monday unveiled a new film production studio, Panorama Brooklyn, located in the former Watchtower headquarters at the foot of Columbia Heights. A press release from CIM says that the new studio offers 90,000 square feet of studio and production space, as well as a wide array of natural backdrops, such as buildings from the ‘30s and ‘40s, rooftop gardens and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. The brand-new building is also offering movie-makers the option of renting out additional floors – at least, until other tenants occupy the space.

The five-building complex was purchased from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2016 by CIM, LIVWRK and Kushner Companies, although Kushner sold its stake in the venture shortly after former head Jared Kushner stepped down to join former President Trump, his father-in-law, in the White House. Renovations on the buildings, originally owned by pharmaceutical company Squibb, converted them from largely closed-off warehouse and work spaces into bright, open floors with large windows; and were nearly complete in 2019 before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic made filling retail and office space a challenge for landlords. The studio is positioned to be an anchor of CIM’s plans to turn the currently vacant development into “a hub of creativity and collaboration utilizing its complex of five interconnected buildings to become an engaging vertical-village.”

The buildings are best known for their iconic red-lettered sign and clock-slash-thermometer, visible for decades from north Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and the two bridges; CIM in 2018 had to face off against the city Buildings Department to be able to erect a new message of “WELCOME” (replacing the “WATCHTOWER” sign, which replaced the even earlier “SQUIBB”), after the Buildings Department claimed that the original installation of the sign’s framework by Squibb in 1961 had been done illegally. Lawyers for the developers declared victory after discovering old documents that proved otherwise, according to 6sqft.



FLATBUSH TO MILL BASIN — High school girls hoping to attend their proms now have dresses, shoes and other accessories, thanks to a giveaway that State Senator Kevin Parker (D-21) hosted last weekend, in partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc./ Delta Rho Omega Chapter, and Shatonia Amee. This 14th Annual Free Prom Giveaway held on Saturday, May 20, at Samuel J. Tilden High School, supplied free prom dresses, shoes, and accessories to graduating high school girls who may not have the means to afford prom attire.

Senator Parker believes that students deserve to have the opportunity to celebrate prom positively and safely, regardless of their financial circumstances. “Every high school student deserves a memorable prom experience,” declared Senator Parker. “This occasion serves as a reminder to our youth that we genuinely care about their achievements and career goals and are dedicated to supporting them every step of the way.”

A lifelong Brooklyn resident, Senator Kevin S. Parker serves an ethnically diverse Brooklyn district that stretches from Kensington to Mill Basin, and includes sections of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Flatlands, Canarsie, Georgetown, Old Mill Basin, Mill Basin, Marine Park, and Bergen Beach.



DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Borough President Antonio Reynoso has invited Brooklynites of all stripes to a celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this Thursday at Borough Hall, set to feature traditional live music, dancing and spreads of tasty food from the many diverse Asian and Pacific Island nations whose people call the borough home — people of Asian, Pacific and Hawaiian descent make up more than 13 percent of the borough’s population, according to 2020 Census data, more than doubling since 2000. This year’s celebration will highlight Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, and their place in the city’s cultural makeup, according to Reynoso. 

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month began in 1977 as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week, and later expanded into a month of recognition of the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants and their descendants to the nation’s prosperity and history. The selection of the month of May has dual significance, according to PBS: it marks the month of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in 1843, as well as the date of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, a project primarily built by Chinese immigrant workers. The celebration has also taken on a special significance in the wake of the COVID pandemic, as Asian communities have been shaken by upticks in violence and racial hatred in the last few years, even in Brooklyn’s schools.

The celebration is free and open to everyone, and will take place at Borough Hall on Thursday, May 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; attendees are encouraged to RSVP online beforehand to ensure adequate food supplies.



CONEY ISLAND — The newest residential property on Surf Avenue, slated for completion early next year, will feature the largest active geothermal system in New York City’s history. The development, at 1515 Surf Avenue, effectively uses the Earth to heat and cool the building and to power its domestic hot water systems — thus eliminating the need for traditional equipment that runs on fossil fuels.

LCOR, a real estate investment, development, and management firm, on Tuesday, May 23, topped out the development, a 463-unit residential property, with 139 units designated affordable, when leasing begins, probably in the first quarter of 2024. LRC Construction is in charge of the building, and LCOR has partnered with Ecosave USA on the geothermal system’s design and installation, estimating that the building’s carbon emissions can be reduced by more than 60% over the norm.

The development named 1515 Surf Avenue sits between Surf and Mermaid Avenues and between 15th and 16th Streets, just steps away from the Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk. STUDIO V Architecture is the designer, with the project amenities including a pool, flexible co-working space and on-site parking.



CROWN HEIGHTS — AG Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation on Monday released its report on the death of Ronald Anthony Smith, struck and killed at Eastern Parkway and Schenectady Ave. on the night of April 7, 2022 by an NYPD van transporting detainees, which concludes that criminally negligent homicide could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, as it could not conclude that the officer acted with reckless disregard or conscious indifference to risk, something the OSI says has been demanded by judges in previous cases involving officer negligence.

The OSI’s analysis, including an accident reconstruction, camera footage and witness interviews, found that immediately prior to the collision, the driver was forced to maneuver into the left-turn lane to avoid a swerving SUV. The driver then drove straight ahead — striking Smith, who was standing on a painted median across the intersection. Although the officer and their partner immediately exited the vehicle to perform chest compressions and render aid, they were unable to save Mr. Smith. The OSI noted that while the van was speeding, the law allows this, as prisoner transports are considered emergencies. Additional mitigating factors cited in the report were that Smith had been obscured due to rain, low lighting and his dark clothing; as well as distraction due to yelling and harassment by the detainees. The officer passed sobriety testing given an hour and a half after the crash by the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad.  

The OSI criticized this delay in its report, recommending that it “hold officers to the same standards as civilians and breath-test them as quickly as practicable” after crashes; other recommendations it made were to require authorization for officers to treat prisoner transports as emergencies, which would disallow speeding; and to implement higher safety standards for all such transports.



DIOCESE OF BROOKLYN — Bishop Robert Brennan, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, returned to his college alma mater almost 39 years to the day of his own graduation, to deliver the invocation. Currents, a program on the Catholic NET-TV, covered the St. John’s University Commencement on Sunday, May 21, where Bishop Brennan gave the opening prayer — his first invocation there since becoming Brooklyn’s prelate — and offered reflections on his own experience, graduating summa cum laude from St. John’s, on May 20, 1984.

Bishop Brennan told the graduates and families that he was “excited and grateful” and that participating at this year’s commencement made him recall the hard work it takes to graduate. His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Ph.D. ’10HON, Archbishop of New York, served as Commencement speaker. Though not a St. John’s alumnus, Cardinal Dolan also received his education from the Vincentians, and was presented with the Gold Medal at Sunday’s commencement.

Founded in 1870, St. John’s University is run by the Vincentian Society of Priests (Congregation of the Mission) that St. Vincent de Paul established in the early 18th century. For many years before its move to its sprawling campus in Queens, St. John’s University was in Downtown Brooklyn.



CHELSEA — Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez on Monday revealed a new self-guided bike tour designed to highlight safe streets infrastructure recently implemented by the DOT, including sturdier barriers, expanded sidewalks, double bike lanes and Shared Streets, which are plazas designed for cooperative pedestrian and vehicle usage. The 3.4-mile ride was developed with bike advocacy groups Women’s Empowerment Through Bicycles, and Young Professionals in Transportation to encourage riders to feel more confident and to promote cycling to women and nonbinary people; the DOT says studies show that building safe cycling infrastructure can lead to more ridership among women. 

The tour is the first of six that the agency plans to release this year, one every month until “Biketober.” These rides will touch upon different themes — for example, June’s ride will include LGBTQIA+ landmarks for Pride Month — and are intended to help city cycling continue to grow and to promote it as a fun, fast and healthy way to get around. The DOT also currently publishes many other self-guided rides on its website of all difficulty levels, highlighting the agency’s work, community amenities and various destinations around the city.

The rides are launching in time with a wave of increasing interest in cycling: the DOT says that ridership hit all-time highs in 2022, with an average of 24,000 trips recorded over East River bridges on weekdays; many remain wary, however, as riders still face danger from traffic, such as Carroll Gardens resident Sarah Schick, whose death after being struck in an unsecured bike lane in Gowanus in January sparked protests and demands for quicker action by the DOT.



CITYWIDE — A ride on the MTA subways and buses could cost $2.90 before Labor Day, transit officials have announced, according to New York Public Radio’s Gothamist. MTA officials on Monday, May 22, proposed a series of fare hikes that would increase the current $2.75 fare, for the first time since 2019. (Fare hikes were suspended during the pandemic.)  The cost of refilling those weekly MetroCards would increase by $1 to $34; while a monthly MetroCard would rise to $132, an increase of $5.

However, straphangers will first get their say during a series of public hearings scheduled for June, although no press release or notice has yet been published on the dates, or whether the meetings would be in-person or hybrid. The MTA board will then vote on the fare increases at its July meeting. The increases, if approved, would take effect before Labor Day, which this year falls on Sept. 4; they are projected to bring in another four percent in fare revenue.

Does the Pizza Principle — the almost synchronized price increase for a slice of Brooklyn pie — still stand, post-pandemic? Some experts say no, but there is at least one pizzeria on Livingston St. in Downtown Brooklyn where one can get a slice of cheese pizza for $2.75 — the same amount as the current regular, one-way subway fare. What makes a Brooklyn pizza? It’s hand-tossed, with lots of hot-dripping cheese and generous seasoning. Just don’t eat it on the bus.



CITYWIDE — Municipal retirees, continuing their fight over what they are calling a sellout from the mayor regarding their medical health coverage, will hold a People’s Hearing and Rally outside City Hall on Wednesday morning, May 24. The Cross-union Retirees Organizing Committee (CROC), defining itself as “rank-and-file NYC municipal retirees who say NO to the City’s attempts to force municipal retirees into a privatized Medicare Advantage plan,” is organizing the protest of Mayor Adams’ refusal in March to authorize an implementation plan that they favor. Called Option C, the plan would allow retirees to keep on the federal government’s traditional Medicare coverage, and their doctors, instead of being moved involuntarily to the mayor’s controversial private Advantage plan.

The retirees’ group has also expressed anger with the Municipal Labor Committee’s March 9 vote to approve a new Aetna-run Medicare Advantage plan —  reportedly forcing more than 250,000 former city workers off their existing health coverage. They are also demanding that the City Council act now to protect retirees’ Medicare health benefits by passing the current legislation (which had not yet moved) to include retiree healthcare costs in the city budget.

CROC will hand out screws at the protest to underscore their slogan, “Stop Screwing Retirees!” Later on Wednesday, at 5 p.m., CROC will join the People’s Plan Rally and March.



NATIONWIDE — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is changing the way in which Presidential candidacies are announced — via Twitter. DeSantis, who is viewed as former President Donald Trump’s main and fiercest rival on the Republican ticket, has announced that he will make the anticipated announcement on his candidacy on Wednesday, May 24 — during an interview with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. Several news agencies — starting with NBC, which broke the story — reported on Tuesday that DeSantis threw in the surprise element with the controversial owner of the social media platform to give him a broader audience. The interview has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 24.

DeSantis’ surprise move comes within a week after Musk announced that he is stepping down as CEO to take a more technological role. How many readers know that Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal, in 2016 started an indoor urban farm, named Square Root, here in Brooklyn?



NATIONWIDE — A VOIP service provider that ignored warnings to stop robocalls and disrespected the National Do Not Call Registry is facing a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James. The state’s top law enforcement official on Tuesday, May 23, sued Avid Telecom’s owner, Michael Lansky, and its vice president Stacey S. Reeves for illegally initiating and facilitating billions of robocalls to millions of Americans. Avid sells data, phone numbers, dialing software, and expertise enabling its customers to make mass robocalls and provide its customers with Direct Inward Dialing (DID), which appears as a “Caller ID” number to an individual receiving a call. Avid sold these DIDs in bulk, providing them with telephone numbers from every U.S. area code in the United States. Avid’s customers were then able to use caller ID numbers with the same area code as the call recipient to increase the odds of the recipient answering the phone, a practice known as “spoofing.”

Attorney General James’ lawsuit accuses Avid of ignoring repeated notifications that it was conducting illegal robocalls and that the company made more than 7.5 billion calls to telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. The lawsuit furthermore alleges that Avid violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and other federal and state telemarketing and consumer laws.

This legal action arises from the nationwide, bipartisan Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force of 51 attorneys general, with the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General providing investigative assistance in this matter.

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