French-American School Of New York Denied Application To Close Hathaway Lane

Originally published in Westchester Magazine, August 2015

By Julianne Cuba

Five years have passed since the French-American School Of New York’s (FASNY) application to close Hathaway Lane, located in the Gedney Farms Section of White Plains, fell into the hands of the White Plains Common Council. On the night of Wednesday, August 5, at City Hall, a final 3-4 vote rejecting the school’s proposal was announced.

The international school fell just one vote short of the 5-2 supermajority needed to grant the closure of Hathaway Lane in order to build a FASNY regional campus, which would sit on 131 acres of what used to be the Ridgeway Country Club.

The final roll call was met with the applause of White Plains residents, many of which had to sit out in the hallway and watch what was happening during the meeting from a live-stream.

Like the majority of those present at City Hall, White Plains resident Terri Gomez said she was very happy with the outcome of the vote.

Mayor Roach and Common Council Members deliberate FASNY’s proposal. Photo by Julianne Cuba

“It was a bad proposal from the get-go,” Gomez said. “It had environmental impacts that would never have been mitigated by anything that they proposed. The fact that emergency vehicles would not be able to get through, that’s huge.”

FASNY’s plan has faced intense opposition from White Plains residents, especially Gedney Farms residents, where the public and heavily utilized street, Hathaway Lane, resides.

Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson, whose opinion was interrupted by audience members’ clapping, was among those who voted “no.”

“In my judgment, increased fire response time, noted by the White Plains Department of Public Safety, is not reasonable to the Gedney residents,” said Hunt-Robinson. “When your home is burning down, seconds count.”

Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona also voted “no,” but not before she commended both the school and the city for their continuous efforts throughout the long process. Lecuona also noted that she believes FASNY is an “excellent and highly respectable educational institution.”

Councilman Dennis Krolian was the third and final “no,” prohibiting the closure of Hathaway Lane and FASNY from building its regional campus.

Those who voted in favor of FASNY’s application were council members Beth Smayda and John Kirkpatrick, council president John Martin, and White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach.

Unlike Hunt-Robinson, Mayor Roach was interrupted multiple times by the audience’s audible disagreement and frustration. The Mayor said he felt a FASNY regional campus in White Plains would be in the best interest of the city.

Though the final outcome of the vote stops the closure of Hathaway Lane, it’s been made clear by FASNY Board of Trustee members that this will not be the end-all: the school has leveled threats of a lawsuit should the vote not end in its favor.

“We are deeply disappointed and disturbed by the outcome of tonight’s vote by the White Plains Common Council. We believe this decision is unsustainable on many grounds. As a result, we will immediately commence legal action in New York State, as well as possibly Federal Court, seeking an overturning of the City Council’s Decision and potential millions of dollars in damages,” read a news statement released by FASNY following the City Council vote last Wednesday. “We have the support of hundreds of neighborhood residents, environmental organizations and the leading business organizations in Westchester County. White Plains has a well-deserved reputation as a center for schools and education, and diversity.  We remain confident that the Court will uphold our plan, and that our school will become an important part of this rich community of White Plains soon.”

Now that the vote has been asserted in opposition of FASNY, White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach stated, “We will vigorously and zealously defend the interest of the city should we be sued.”

View the French-American School of New York’s proposal here.

Mother Of Eight’s Death In Police Custody Sparks Outrage On Twitter

Originally published in Westchester Magazine, August 2015

By Julianne Cuba

Update (8/3): The District Attorney’s office has issued a statement regarding the investigation into the death of Raynette Turner.

“The Governor has expanded Executive Order 147 to include an investigation into any unlawful acts or omissions in connection with the death of Raynette Turner on July 27, 2015.  We will work with the AG and his staff to ensure a smooth transition of this matter. From the outset the AG has been apprised of and fully briefed on the status of the investigation and going forward we will be available to assist the AG as appropriate,” the statement reads.

Raynette Turner, a Mount Vernon mother of eight, was found dead in her holding cell on Monday afternoon after she was arrested for shoplifting charges.

Turner, 42, who has been married to her husband, Herman, for 23 years, was arrested on Saturday afternoon after allegedly stealing crab legs from a restaurant in Mount Vernon.

Turner was kept in her holding cell for two days while waiting arraignment for the charges. The mother of eight’s death, and the police department’s decision not to release her for a misdemeanor, are currently being investigated locally and by the state.

“I can say at this time there are a number of law enforcement agencies investigating this matter, therefore we are unable to make more detailed statements that may compromise the investigation,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis in a statement. “We assure you that this investigation will be expeditious and thorough.”

Turner’s death comes at a time when police interaction with black individuals has become heavily scrutinized in the United States.

It was just last week that Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old from Chicago, was laid to rest after she, too, was found dead in her jail cell from an apparent suicide. Bland was pulled over in Texas for failing to signal a lane change. As caught on video, the incident quickly escalated and Bland was arrested after the officer threatened her with a Taser.

An autopsy confirmed Bland’s death as a suicide but that has only raised more questions and ignited an #IfIDieInPoliceCustody trend on Twitter—similar in significance and emotion to #BlackLivesMatter.

Like Bland’s arrest and death, and all of the others before her—Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice—Turner’s death is also sparking outrage on Twitter and social media.

Also trending on Twitter is the detail that Turner is the fifth woman this month—if not more—to have died in police custody in the United States.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month as a special prosecutor to investigate civilians’ deaths by police officers, is taking on Turner’s death as his first case under the Governor’s executive order.

“We are assisting the Mount Vernon police in the investigation into the cause of death of Raynette Turner,” said Westchester District Attorney Lucian Chalfen. “The autopsy is not yet complete as we are awaiting the results of microbiology and toxicology tests. It takes a few weeks for those results to come back. Additionally the NYS Attorney General’s office has been apprised of our investigation from the outset and is fully in the loop as to where we stand,” he said.

Herman Turner, now left to care for eight children without their mother, told The Journal News, “I’m angry. Very angry. Somebody needs to pay. Somebody really needs to pay for this. I’m sorry, I’m not going to let this rest.”