Another bomb threat against Brooklyn Jewish center

March 10, 2017.

Someone texted in a bomb threat to a Midwood Jewish center on March 10, prompting an evacuation of the Coney Island Avenue building around 8 am, just one day after the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights received its own emailed bomb threat. Both threats were unfounded, but rattled nerves nonetheless.

Police responded to the Jewish Association Serving the Aging at 8:05 am after someone working for the agency got a text that a bomb would go off, officials said. Police would not go into more detail about who received the text or what else it said.

Officers searched and cleared the building between Foster Avenue and Avenue H, and deemed it safe for everyone to go back inside by 10:22 am, a police department spokesman said.

Police are investigating the incident and its ties to the handful of other threats made against Jewish centers around the city, a department spokesman said.

But locals are not so much cringing in fear as they are in fuming frustration — and are hoping the stream of unfounded threats is not a disturbed plot to “cry wolf” enough to bring everyone’s guard down, said photographer Simon Gifter, who was on the scene.

“There’s no fear. The sense I got from interviewing people, they are sick and tired, not even scared anymore. They are just fed up with the whole situation. That’s the mindset of a lot of people, ‘another stupid bomb threat,’” said Gifter. “But what if people start letting their guard down? They are in a bind, have to take it seriously because if they don’t and something happens.”

Officials believe the scares are all coming from one sick copycat with sophisticated technology to disguise himself — after Missourian Juan Thompson was arrested last week for numerous threats across the county.

One local pol took to social media to lament the relentless stream threats coming day after day.

“It seems that hardly a day goes by without a threat to an innocent Jewish institution. Elderly people threatened today, children yesterday,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D–Midwood) wrote on Facebook. “With all of the resources that are allegedly being dedicated to identifying the culprits and bringing them to justice, why has there only been one arrest? The current theory is that it’s one individual making these threats. So why can’t he be stopped?”

And now Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is leading the charge with a letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding it increase federal funding to ensure the security and protection of religious institutions across the country on the heels of the growing number of bomb threats this year. The letter, signed by 18 senators from both sides of the aisle, cites the recent scares at many Jewish centers.

Read more here. 

Fire rips through Hurricane Sandy-devasted home in Build it Back program

March 7, 2017.

Fire marshals are investigating a blaze that broke out in a Lester Court home in Gerritsen Beach on March 1, devastating a family who was almost set to move back in after the city’s housing recovery program Build it Back rebuilt it from scratch.

The tragedy is a flashback to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home along with everything inside — but this time, the family is grateful that all they lost was time, said homeowner Daniel Cepeda.

“I know my wife is pretty heartbroken, so am I, we were just so close. We’ve been out of the house going on 14 months almost, so it’s been a long ride — just being so close and knowing what was going to be happening in the next month or so, having that idea in the back of your mind, that crushes you,” he said. “We didn’t lose anything, and I think my wife puts it the best, ‘We didn’t lose anything but time.’”

Sixty firefighters arrived at the home between Madoc and Noel avenues at 11:20 am, and had everything under control by 11:59 am, a Fire Department spokesman said. The fire was on the second floor and extended into the attic, he said. Two firefighters sustained non-life threatening injuries and were not taken to the hospital, the spokesman said.

Workers were inside the house during the time of the fire doing general interior construction, according to a Build it Back spokesman, and once the fire marshals finish up the investigation, the city will determine the work that’s needed to be done to get the family finally back into their new home.

“We are working closely with FDNY, which is working to determine the cause of the fire,” said Matt Viggiano. “We will ensure that these homeowners return to a resilient and safe home as soon as possible.”

Read more here. 

Hikind lashes out at Menchaca

Party Line, March 3, 2017.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind says he can’t forgive Councilman Carlos Menchaca for a second slight against Israel and won’t support the one-time ally in his 2017 reelection campaign.

Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) came under fire when he joined hundreds of protesters rallying against the Trump Administration a few weeks ago and chanted “All the walls have got to go, from Palestine to Mexico,” just six months after he lost many Jewish allies for his vote against the Council’s resolution condemning “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Movement,” which seeks to punish Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territories.

Hikind (D–Borough Park), who called Menchaca “ignorant and pathetic,” said it would be impossible to support him anymore — even though he gave him his early support in 2013 — because his chant completely misses the point. He then demanded Menchaca educate himself on the history of Israel before speaking out against something he doesn’t understand.

Menchaca apologized last week to a roomful of Orthodox Jews at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, but that was not enough for Hikind, who says his apologies are getting old, and Menchaca should stick to his guns instead of retreating from his views time and time again.

“It’s hard to believe anything he says. He has really disappointed me in terms of his sincerity,” said Hikind. “Who he really is no one knows anymore.”

Menchaca later acknowledged the comparison he made between Israel’s wall and the proposed wall separating Mexico from America was wrong.

“I understand how such a wrong comparison between walls in Israel and on the Mexican border cause real distress. I failed to recognize the unique circumstances associated with each locale,” said Menchaca in an e-mailed statement. “I support the rights of all people to live in peace and security including Israelis and Palestinians, and our families who live on the U.S.-Mexican border.”

Menchaca may face rumored candidates Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D–Sunset Park) and attorney Delvis Valdes.

News of the split was first reported by the website Kings County Politics.

First Arab American

Rev. Khader El-Yateem, a pastor at Bay Ridge’s Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, announced his candidacy for term-limited Councilman Vincent Gentile’s seat for Bay Ridge on Feb. 26, fulfilling a promise of Arab-American activist and Bay Ridge Linda Sarsour that “an Arab will run for that seat.” He is the first Arab-American to run for council in Brooklyn and, obviously, if he wins, he will become its first Arab-American member. He will join Gentile staffer Justin Brannan, state committeeman Kevin Peter Carroll, and Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Bensonhurst) in seeking the Democratic line. Republicans seeking the seat include state Sen. Marty Golden staffer John Quaglione, supermarket manager Bob Capano, and Liam McCabe, a former rep for Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge).

El-Yateem’s says his campaign would send a message to the world about inclusivity and that the Bay Ridge community will not stand for bigotry of any kind, including Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.

“I have strong beliefs that the community will not be afraid to say we are going to send an Arab-American person to city Council to represent them,” said El-Yateem, who proudly claims he is not a politician. “This is a great time for a person like me who is from outside the establishment, to come with a fresh, new voice, a voice of harmony, unity, and peace.”

Sarsour has already endorsed El-Yateem, who was born in Palestine.

Read more here.

Brooklyn congressmembers call prez-elect Trump ‘illegitimate’

Party Line, Jan. 19, 2017.

Brooklyn congress members are following Georgia Rep. John Lewis’s lead and claiming President-elect Donald Trump is not a “legitimate” president because of Russia’s influence on the election.

Lewis told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd in no uncertain terms: “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” and the Tweet-happy, soon-to-be commander in chief fired back in 140 characters or less, saying that Lewis, who has been attacked and arrested more than 40 times over a half-century of activism, was “all talk.”

Reps Nydia Velazquez (D–Red Hook), Yvette Clarke (D–Flatbush), and Jerry Nadler (D–Borough Park) are all refusing to go to Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 out of solidarity with Lewis — and now two are saying The Donald is not their president.

“I don’t want to pretend that this is a normal president or a normal election. This election was corrupted by the Russians, placing their fingers on the scales, by the FBI placing its finger on the scales,” Nadler said during a live interview on MSNBC this week. “It’s a legal election, we are not taking that away, but it’s not legitimate. And so I don’t particularly want to honor it that way.”

Clarke is also refusing to acknowledge Trump’s presidency as the real deal — she had been contemplating the decision to not attend for a while because of his hate-filled comments against Mexicans, Muslims, and women, but it was his lack of respect for a Civil Rights hero that put her over the edge, she said.

“I think that the political process by which we normally elect presidents in the United States was breached, and so the integrity of that has been diminished and that is cause to view this as an illegitimate process,” said Clarke. “And then I think what put the nail in the coffin was the lack of maturity that Trump has displayed in the use of his Twitter and the fact that he would respond to a Civil Rights icon like John Lewis during MLK weekend, to say such disparaging things about the people he represented in Georgia, that was a done deal.”

Read more here.

Gatling is first to announce DA bid

Party Line, Dec. 15, 2016.

Former Human Rights commissioner Patricia Gatling has announced her bid for district attorney — the first legal eagle to formally do so.

Sources whispered that Gatling was lobbying Gov. Cuomo to appoint her to the seat left vacant after District Attorney Ken Thompson’s death in October. She indicated at the time that she was not interested, but Gatling recently told us she’s all in.

Gatling, who practices law in Manhattan, previously served as the city’s Human Rights commissioner, but the role could haunt her.

Public Advocate Tish James got her sacked from the commission in 2014 after penning a letter to the mayor complaining the office was ineffective under Gatling’s rule, according to an Observer article from the time.

But Gatling says the media got it wrong — James never had issue with her specifically, and she was actually due to leave the agency, she said.

“[James] never even mentioned my name. It had nothing to do with me. I was scheduled to leave in two weeks because that was the deal with the mayor,” said Gatling. “And Tish and I have been friends and continue to be friends. I think it was the timing with the new mayor coming in, people felt like there was animosity.”

James was a rumored hopeful, but a recent Politico article said she’s no longer interested. Her office declined to comment to this paper.

Gatling could face acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Brooklyn Heights lawyer Ann Swern, Bay Ridge attorney Arthur Aidala, judge Shawndya Simpson, and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) in the 2017 election.

Regardless who wins, Gatling said the borough will be in good hands.

“I’m feeling that Brooklyn can’t lose in this race. While I think I’m the most competent of all of them, we don’t know if they are really running or what will happen ultimately,” Gatling said.

Read more here.


Brooklyn Democratic Party boss delays transparency, ethics reforms

Party Line, Sept. 23, 2016.

Hundreds of local politicos voted at Wednesday’s Democratic County Committee meeting to weaken a rule that gives Brooklyn party boss Frank Seddio multiple votes on party matters, but Seddio pulled 450 votes out of his pocket to overrule reformers. The move proves he is running things more like a dictatorship than a Democracy, critics said.

“Obviously Frank will never agree to it. As long as one person holds the majority of the votes — a vast majority — those meetings will always be that scripted, Soviet b——-,” said Nick Rizzo, a county committee member from Williamsburg and one of dozens who disrupted the meeting after the vote.

About 1,500 Brooklynites make up the Kings County Democratic Committee, but many rank-and-file members do not attend meetings, instead giving their voting power to party leaders who often use it as they see fit.

Reformers pushed a package of five amendments Wednesday, including one that limited the number of so-called “proxy votes” party honchos can use, so that a single member cannot railroad a meeting. But when it came time for the “ayes” and “nays,” Seddio used a pocket full of proxies to put off reforms until at least January.

The package requires review, according to Seddio, who promised to create a panel to look at things in greater detail by the group’s January meeting.

Read more here.

Abbate lied about ‘union-made’ mailers

Party Line, Jan. 12, 2017

Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Bensonhurs­t), who sits on the legislature’s Labor Committee and who is strongly contemplating a run for Council, sent out holiday mailers that falsely suggested they were printed by union workers — then lied about it to the media, the president of the printer’s union revealed.

Back in December, Abbate told this paper that the Christmas cards that he mailed to people living in Bay Ridge’s 43rd Council District — a seat that he is rumored to be eyeing — were made by union printers, even though a label on the mailers asserting their union origin (called a “union bug”) was so poorly printed that it appeared to be a fake.

The head of the Allied Printing Trades Council said there would be an investigation.

On Jan. 9, Abbate claimed the smudged label was simply a printing error and maintained that the mailers were produced by union labor.

“It’s a non-issue. It was union. Everything was fine. Not a story anymore,” said Abbate. “The Allied Printing Trades saw it was smudged, it was a s—– bug, but they okayed it. It’s a dead issue.”

But Abbate lied, according union head John Heffernan, who said the veteran lawmaker admitted to him the bugs were bogus.

“The scribbled one on the Christmas card — I couldn’t make that out as a legit label of any kind. I spoke with Peter Abbate, and I inspected the bugs, and he used a broker that didn’t use the Allied label. So Peter apologized for that and said he would correct it immediately, and I sent him a list of printing shops,” said Heffernan.

Abbate responded to subsequent requests for comment with an e-mailed statement that “the issue has been remedied” and that “the matter is closed.”

Read more here.

Workers tried to cover up role in Build It Back home collapse, report says

Nov. 25, 2016.

The city fired contractors responsible for a house collapse in Gerritsen Beach earlier this year after finding that the workers skirted safety rules, fudged time sheets, and apparently lied to investigators about it.

The entire second floor of a two-story Beacon Court home toppled over on June 22 — one day after contractors for the city’s Build It Back home-reconstruction program set the structure atop a new foundation — because workers removed temporary bracing when they were not supposed to.

The city hired construction manager Liro Group to elevate the house — part of a $275-million contract with the Long Island company to raise and repair Sandy-damaged Brooklyn homes. Builders raised the house and set it on its new frame on June 21. But workers from W.A. Building Movers and Contractors — one of three subcontractors Liro hired for the project — removed temporary bracing before the building was secure, leading to the collapse, according to a Department of Investigation report obtained by this paper.

W.A. Building Movers tried to pin it on another subcontractor, but video from adjacent buildings and worker testimony proved they were not telling the truth, the report states.

Moreover, Liro construction manager Dreu Beers failed to warn W.A. Building Movers not to take out the bracing, and he tried to cover his tracks by telling investigators that he issued such a warning — even though none of the 14 people the city interviewed could back him up on that claim, according to the report.

“The occurrence of a meeting or discussion specific to not removing bracing with Mr. Beers was not corroborat­ed,” it states.

Officials also determined that inspector Ahmed Fouad Aboutayesh of HAKS Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors lied about being on site when the home was lowered onto its supports — and that project manager Daniel Waldrop of general contractor DSW Homes was the last to leave the construction site before the collapse and should have checked to see that bracing was in place.

W.A. Building Movers, Waldrop, Beers, and Aboutayesh have all been booted from working for Build It Back, a spokesman said.

Read more here.

Contractor: ‘My careless workers caused Sandy-damaged home to topple’

June 23, 2016.

This time, it didn’t take a hurricane.

A Gerritsen Beach house collapsed yesterday when contractors for the city’s struggling Build It Back storm-recovery program didn’t follow safety procedures, officials said. Now the construction company, which is responsible for repairing and elevating hundreds of Brooklyn homes, has halted work borough-wide to do inspections, its chief executive said.

“Unfortunat­ely today, work that was not scheduled to be done was done. The safety people that were supposed to have been there were not there … that obviously is a problem,” said Luis Tormenta of Long Island-based contractor LiRos Group, which has a $275-million contract with the city-run, federally funded Build It Back to fix more than 600 hurricane-damaged Brooklyn homes.

The second floor of a two-story house at 70 Beacon Ct. toppled on June 22 — just one day after workers set it atop the rest of the structure, a Build It Back spokesman said.

The program has been ramping up repair efforts recently to make good on Mayor DeBlasio’s promise to fix all participating homes by the end of the year — a goal he will almost certainly not reach, because construction takes three to six months and has yet to begin in sections of Sheepshead Bay, where the city must hammer out a deal with residents on streets it does not provide with sewer service.

But work has sped along recently in Gerritsen Beach — so much that some residents complained Build It Back was doing too much, an unheard-of gripe about the notoriously slow program.

The home’s collapse is a blow to the city, which considered the neighborhood’s reconstruction pace a success story, program director Amy Peterson told a previously scheduled town hall in Gerritsen Beach.


Read more here. 

Recovery road block: Build It Back prevents bus from taking autistic kid to school

June 9, 2016

The city must reign in disaster-recovery contractors who are flooding Gerritsen Beach’s streets with trucks and dumpsters and ruining locals’ quality of life, residents say.

Build It Back construction within the peninsular neighborhood’s famously narrow streets has made it difficult for residents to get in or out of its many dead-end blocks, Beachers say. And the congestion is so bad that a school bus for special-needs kids can’t reach a 3-year-old autistic boy living there — forcing him to forgo a week of school, according to his mom.

“He can’t get on the bus, he can’t get off the bus, the therapist can’t get to the house,” Kay Court resident Dawn Santiago said of her son Logan. “Any type of change in his schedule sets him off, so the fact that the bus doesn’t come to the house and we have to walk to the bus, he doesn’t know what’s going on, and it causes a meltdown for him.”

Even missing a few days can undo progress teachers have made helping him learn to live with the condition — which typically includes social and linguistic impairment, over-sensitivity to unfamiliar stimuli, and a predilection to repetitive behavior — his mom said.

“It’s a scary thought to have to think about — my son needs a steady schedule with this autism, he needs to go to school, he needs to be there.”

The construction has been a thorn in Gerritsen Beachers’ sides for months, but it has gotten worse as the city ramps up repairs in an attempt to meet Mayor DeBlasio’s self-imposed deadline of fixing every Sandy-damaged home by year’s end, said Santiago, whose home is not being repaired under the program.

“It’s gotten worse within the last month, only because now we have more houses that they are raising. The whole neighborhood’s just going up at once, more problems with more dumpsters. The dumpsters are too big for our neighborhood, a fire engine, an ambulance can’t get through.”

Careless contractors even park in front of people’s front gates, blocking them in their homes, Santiago said.

Read more here.