Taking on water: Mayor’s pledge to fix all Sandy-damaged homes by 2017 is sunk, victims say

April 26, 2016

He’s in over his head.

Mayor DeBlasio will not make his self-imposed deadline of fixing every home flooded by Hurricane Sandy by year’s end, according to residents of a hard-hit section of Sheepshead Bay where work has barely begun more than three years after the historic storm.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Cliff Bruckenstein, who lives on Webers Court and whose home is slated to go under construction next month. “I don’t think it’s feasible to be done in that short amount of time.”

The city is up against its tight end-of-the-year deadline to fix every home the hurricane damaged — a promise the mayor made last year after re-tooling the struggling and unpopular program in 2014.

“Last year, we were fixing Build it Back – and now we’re finishing it, committing to completing the program and getting families home by the end of next year,” Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced in 2015.

But the city has struggled to even start work in Sheepshead Bay’s “Courts” — below-street-level sections of tightly packed bungalow homes clustered near the Bay. Just one home out of dozens has been elevated as the October storm’s four-year anniversary approaches, because the Courts’ tight passageways — not even large enough for a car — make it tougher to do raise up homes, officials said.

“It’s very difficult to build in such tight spaces, especially elevations,” said agency spokesman Sam Breidbart.

The program aims to fix broken private sewers and elevate all homes on some blocks in one fell swoop, but first it must meet with residents in the fractured neighborhood to formulate a cohesive plan — something that has further delayed work there.

“Ideally, if every neighbor participated, we would actually replace the private sewer and elevate all the homes together, and that’s something we’re really trying to get to do,” Build It Back director Amy Peterson said. “We can do something that’s more collective and more community-based — more than a home here and there.”

The last such community meeting was in September, and officials are planning another some time after May, leaving Build It Back just over six months to complete work if it immediately strikes a deal with residents. Elevations take three to six months to complete, according to Build It Back officials. Workers have raised just one home in the Courts so far, and the resident said that project took 11 months.

Read more here.

City’s troubled storm-recovery program gets taxpayer bail-out

Oct. 21, 2016

One week before the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor DeBlasio admitted he won’t make his own self-imposed deadline to fix all the homes the storm destroyed by the end of the year — and that the troubled Build it Back storm-recovery program needs taxpayers to bail it out to the tune of $500 million. Officials took much of the money from the city’s capital budget — which means New Yorkers will have to cough up more tax dollars to replenish municipal coffers if the city wants to finish the projects whose funding is now being used for Build It Back, one critical councilman said during an Oct. 20 hearing.

“That money that was shifted to fund resiliency projects did not come from thin air. It came from somewhere, and it does have an impact on an agency. It does have an impact on whatever project we are looking to complete,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), chairman of Council’s Committee on Resiliency and Recovery, during an Oct. 20 hearing.

The city is getting the money from two places — $150 million in federal funds set aside right after the storm, and $350 million from the city’s capital budget, which is funded by taxpayers and would otherwise pay for storm-resiliency improvements to city hospitals, fire stations, and the Department of Environmental Protection.

But officials claim that moving the money will somehow not affect the projects that the cash was supposed to pay for and pledge to first use the federal money before dipping into the dough meant for hospitals and fire houses.

“No project is losing a single dollar, and the capital budget is not changing, only changing where the funding is coming from,” said a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. “There’s no impact. Nothing’s losing any money, nothing’s being delayed. We will use [Federal Emergency Management Administration] funding first, so it is very likely we will not end up touching this money this year, but we are recommitting funds out of an abundance of caution to ensure there are no funding gaps.”

DeBlasio previously pledged that Build It Back would complete rebuilding single-family homes by the end of the year, a promise many debunked more than six months ago. But the mayor rushed to complete work anyway, in some cases to the detriment of storm victims.

Read more here.

Does Obesity Raise the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis?

Read my article about the effects of obesity on MS in Everyday Health.

Key takeaways:

Read the whole article here.

Be Smart About Using Dietary Supplements

Originally published on Healthgrades

November 24, 2015

By Julianne Cuba

People take dietary supplements for various reasons. Some want to increase their energy or help with weight loss. Others simply want to enhance their overall health.

Dietary supplements are just what the name suggests. They contain ingredients to supplement—or add to—your diet. The ingredient could be a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb, or enzyme. Dietary supplements usually come in pill, liquid or powder form. You can buy some as a tea or extract to drink. Others come as a nutrition bar or a chew.

It’s important to realize any dietary supplement has the potential to cause problems. And some can have harmful side effects. That’s especially true if you combine them with certain prescription medications or if you have an existing medical problem. Learn the answers to the following questions before taking any dietary supplement.

What are the benefits?

Dietary supplements can be beneficial. Some may help reduce the risk for certain diseases. Others may help you be healthier overall.

For instance, your body needs vitamin D. It’s important for healthy bones. But, it can be hard to get enough of this vitamin naturally. Taking a supplement provides an extra source of vitamin D. Another example is folic acid. Taking it before and during early pregnancy helps prevent certain birth defects.

Check with your doctor before starting a supplement to find out about the specific benefits for you.

Read the full article here.

More Computer Time May Be Causing Nearsightedness in U.S. Kids

Originally published on HealthDay

December 24, 2015

By Julianne Cuba

Eye experts suggest boosting outdoor time to get young eyes focusing on distant objects

Children who spend lots of time indoors and on computers and other electronic devices may be raising their risk for nearsightedness, a panel of U.S. ophthalmology experts suggests.

The prevalence of Americans with nearsightedness — also known as myopia — has nearly doubled over the last 50 years, the ophthalmologists noted.

The ophthalmologists suspect the increase is due to “near work” — focusing on something close to your eyes — and the decreased amount of time spent outdoors in natural light.

“Kids are spending much more time doing indoor activities with their cellphones, iPads, computers, and so on,” said Dr. Rohit Varma, director of the University of Southern California Eye Institute in Los Angeles.

“Especially when children are young, when they play these games indoors where they’re seeing things very close to them and doing it in low-light level — that combination of doing near activities in low light is what contributes to these children becoming very nearsighted,” Varma said.

A panel of 10 ophthalmology experts discussed the global increase of childhood myopia at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s (AAO) recent annual meeting in Las Vegas. Information presented at meetings is usually viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Anyone can be nearsighted, but it’s more common in people whose parents are nearsighted, said Dr. K. David Epley, a spokesman for the AAO. The condition is also much more prevalent in industrialized and urban areas than in rural areas, he added.

Children of East Asian descent are genetically predisposed to nearsightedness, but children’s habits in those regions may be increasing the rates of myopia even more. The current rate of myopia in young people in China is 90 percent compared to about 10 to 20 percent 60 years ago, the experts said. That compares to a rate of 42 percent for Americans between the ages of 12 and 54, according to previous research.

The ophthalmologists noted the difference in Chinese and American work habits. Children in China spend up to 12 hours a day doing near work, compared to their U.S. peers, who spend about nine hours a day on near work, the eye experts said.

Read the full article here.


NFL domestic violence case shows system’s flaws

Originally published on CBSNews.com

December 7, 2015

Co-written by Julianne Cuba and Taylor Garre

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy may have avoided domestic violence charges for the assault of his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder. But he has not been able to dodge public condemnation following the release of photos showing a badly bruised Holder.

The photos confirm what Holder told police on the night of May 12, 2014 — that Hardy, then a Carolina Panthers player, had choked her and tossed her on a futon covered with firearms in his Charlotte apartment.

While the photos further fueled the debate about the NFL’s domestic violence policy, the question remains as to why a North Carolina court dismissed Hardy’s assault charges. A CBS News analysis reveals that a loophole in the state’s domestic violence law is allowing many abusers to walk away scot-free.

“The laws themselves are archaic [in North Carolina],” said Mike Sexton, Domestic Violence Information and Education Specialist at Mecklenburg County Women’s Commission. “Right now, if you were to drag your girlfriend or your wife down the street it would be a misdemeanor, but if you did that to your dog, it would be a felony.”

Under North Carolina law, many domestic violence cases are tried as misdemeanors in district court as a means of saving time and money. These courts are “not of record,” meaning a transcript of the testimony is not kept when defendants, like Hardy, plead their case to a judge without a jury.

Defendants who are found guilty in district court can challenge the decision in superior court where a form of appeal known as “trial de novo” essentially gives all defendants a second trial. Trial de novo sets the stage for a new trial, this time with a jury, as if no prior trial had been held. Similar legal practices exist in other states including Utah, New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado.

In July 2014, Hardy was found guilty by Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Becky Thorne Tin and sentenced to 18 months’ probation for assaulting his ex-girlfriend and verbally communicating threats. But after appealing to superior court where trial de novo favored the NFL player, Hardy’s case was dismissed due to the state’s inability to get the accuser to testify again. Last month, his domestic violence record was expunged by a superior court judge.

“It’s hard enough to get the victim to show up for one trial and doubly difficult to get them to show up for two,” said Joshua Marquis, a spokesperson for the National District Attorneys Association and District Attorney in Astoria, Oregon. “As prosecutors, we are bitterly opposed to any procedure that gives the defendant two free bites of the apple and more importantly [one] that subjects victims, particularly domestic violence victims, to repeated examination. They endure enough trauma as it is.”

Also complicating the prosecution of domestic violence cases is victim intimidation. Amber Leuken Barwick of North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys says too many victims file charges and then drop them out of fear or shame.

Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, described the current appeal process as not effective saying, “The appeal system for domestic violence cases is not justice or victim-centered” and is a “classic example of why victims are sometimes reluctant to come forward.”

In some states like California, New York and North Carolina, prosecutors can continue to pursue charges even after a domestic violence victim chooses to drop them under what is called a “no-drop policy.”

Ironically, even with such policies, some domestic violence cases cannot advance without a victim’s testimony due to the 6th Amendment Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the defendant “the right to confront witnesses against him or her,” explained Barwick.

Overcoming this obstacle causes many domestic violence cases such as Holder’s to come to a halt.

“It’s just a shame when a victim has the strength to testify in the first trial but it’s basically rendered meaningless just to go through it again,” said Teresa Garvey, Attorney Advisor with AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women.

The High Point police department, just 75 miles north of Mecklenburg County, is looking to change that and make sure cases are not wrongly dismissed.

In order to hold offenders accountable for their actions, Chief Marty Sumner is compiling criminal histories, which can lead to longer sentences and more prosecutions.

“Our entire response system is very much set up to take all the responsibility off the victim so that it is totally on the police and the state,” said Sumner.

Young Republicans in New York and what they thought of the GOP debate on the economy

Originally published on CBSNews.com, Nov. 1, 2015

Co-written by Julianne Cuba and Taylor Garre

Being a Republican in New York City can be a pretty lonely existence, given that GOP voters make up just 10 percent of the city’s electorate, compared to 69 percent for Democrats. And that’s compounded if you’re a college student. Just about a quarter of U.S. college students identify themselves as Republicans, compared to nearly half identifying as Democrats.

“In this day in age, it almost becomes uncool to be a Republican,” explained Rachel Yan. The Fordham sophomore is accustomed to defending her identification as a Republican since she’s originally from California. “No one wants to associate with the party in college. So we as young Republicans have to take on the responsibility and stand up for our beliefs,” she explained.

In New York, those young Republicans are likely to be the ones embracing the free-market, business-friendly segment of the party.

Jeff Ehrhardt, sophomore and president of Stony Brook College Republicans, defines his interests as “individual responsibility and fiscal responsibility.”

On Wednesday, gathered in a campus residence hall basement, 14 members of Stony Brook University College Republicans sat in rows of chairs watching the 10 candidates outline their visions for America on a large projection screen.

After the candidates battled their way through the two-hour debate, Jeff Ehrhardt, who likes John Kasich and Marco Rubio, said that he gained more respect for Ted Cruz after seeing his performance. “Cruz is laying out a clear and concise policy,” he said. Ehrhardt was happy with Kasich and Rubio’s performance as well. “Rubio has a clear stance on immigration, which I agree with. He articulated it well last night. And Kasich showed a little more feistiness,” Ehrhardt added.

Classmate Husnain Mushtaq, an unwavering Kasich supporter, reflected on the volatility of the Republican race. “Right now, it’s still very early.” Mushtaq felt Kasich performed very well during the debate and was happy with how he expressed his fiscal plans, since Mushtaq thinks the economy is one of the most important challenges facing the U.S.

The latest CBS News/New York Times national poll found Ben Carson overtaking Donald Trump, which the Stony Brook students celebrated, since none of Stony Brook Republicans watching debate are voting for Trump. They agreed, however, his performance was more mellow than in previous debates.

Towards the end of the debate, the students all felt that Cruz, Kasich, and Rand Paul had the standout performances for the night. Many of the students who went into the debate supporting Paul felt that he wasn’t given enough time to share his views, but did well when he had the opportunity.

“I still support Paul even though he hasn’t done well in the debates. I hope he’ll learn and do better,” said Dan Elton, a Stony Brook graduate student.

Alec Szigeti is also resolute in his support for Paul. “He’s pretty much the only person on stage who says things like, we should end the endless war overseas, we should curb drone strikes due to how many civilians the strikes end up killing, no matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans in control of the program,” the Stony Brook sophomore said. Szigeti campaigned during the last election cycle for Paul’s father, Ron, and is an active supporter for his son.

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View: Colleges must stop hiding suicide

Originally published in The Journal News, Sept. 16, 2015

By Julianne cuba

Colleges, and beyond, must open up about suicide and broaden access to mental health treatment

During one of my first days of journalism school, in an ethics class, I got into a civilized argument with most of my classmates.

We were broken up into small groups and given different “real-life” scenarios, then we had to decide how to report the story.

Most of us acknowledged that it is not the reporter’s responsibility to out someone’s disease, like HIV.

We also agreed that sharing someone’s past and irrelevant criminal record is not appropriate for a story about how, years later, he became a successful, local baseball coach.

But for one of the scenarios, I stood alone: Whether or not to report on a young woman’s suicide.

Most of my classmates believed the information should be kept secret; I firmly said yes, we report on her suicide.

As we would with any other news report, we share her name. We show her personality and talk about her unique qualities and achievements. We share her family members’ and friends’ tributes.

We also share her struggle with mental illness — and because mental illness should be treated as if it were any other disease, we share that she lost her battle.

I fully understand and appreciate that family and close friends have full discretion in how much they share with the media.

But it does need to be addressed, at some point. It needs to be done respectfully, poignantly.

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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.”