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.

The Power of Nursing: Diana’s Story

For an audio project in one of my journalism classes, I created a podcast. It had to go along with the theme of “power.” Listen below.


Diana Siegel (Photo credit: Diana Siegel)

Diana Siegel, a 2014 graduate of Binghamton University, began her career as a nurse just eight months ago. Diana works the night shift, 7 p.m to 7 a.m., at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. The difficulties that nurses face everyday, and the strengths that they possess to care for the sickest of the sick, are overwhelmingly under acknowledged and under appreciated. Diana shares her story as a new nurse in one of the most difficult rooms of a hospital, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The Glory of Selma

In 1965, when 600 marchers crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to fight for uncontested voting rights for black individuals, they were met by the fists and whips of white men; many black marchers were left on the bridge to die.

In 2015, just 50 years later, in the comfort of their theatre seats, moviegoers got to witness what happened on that bridge in the Oscar-nominated film for best picture, Selma.

Directed by black filmmaker, Ava DuVernay, moviegoers saw the fight, heard the cries, and felt the pain black people had to endure for their equality and freedom.

In one of the most powerful films to date, Selma shows the struggle that tormented black people in the south.

Beginning with the racially-motivated murder of four young girls at church, the stage is set for Martin Luther King Jr. (Mr. David Oyelowo) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to fight peacefully against white oppressors in the south.

Alongside King is his smart and beautiful wife, Coretta, played by actress Carmen Ejogo, who, only very briefly, yields in her support of her husband.

DuVernay’s decision not to omit King’s infidelity suspicions is distinct: King, like anyone else, is human.

Throughout the movie, the number of those walking alongside King grows, including those of different races and religions.

At one point, we even see the very vicious murder of a white priest from Boston, who had traveled to Selma in support of King and the SCLC. And we see the heartless killing of one young black boy, Jimmie Lee Jackson.

Though shot by local officers, at Jimmie Lee’s funeral, King addresses the community by admitting that every bystander’s finger was on that trigger, too—black or white, rich or poor.

Throughout Selma, each word King utters is powerful in its genuineness; and at some points, DuVernay interjects real footage from Selma in 1965—a chilling effect.

Like any good film, Selma has raised some eyebrows about the accuracy of its story line, particularly surrounding the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Many point out that the movie portrays the relationship between LBJ and MLK to be overly contentious; when in reality, LBJ was a key proponent during the Civil Rights movement, who never wavered in his support of King.

The film has been criticized for that reason.

And many critics say that that’s the justification for why The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) failed to nominate both Ms. DuVernay, for best director, and Mr. David Oyelowo, who played MLK, for best male actor.

A film about the brilliancy of one of America’s greatest leaders is allowed to blur the lines of some historical accuracy.

The film is about Martin Luther King Jr., about his goals, his losses and his triumphs; it’s not about the 36th president of the United States.

Had the Academy not snubbed Ms. DuVernay, she would have been the first black woman to be nominated for best director in the Academy’s 87 years.

And no black director has ever won the Oscar in its 87 years.

Though it may not have been deliberate, the Academy’s failure to nominate both Ms. DuVernay and Mr. Oyelowo for Selma brings up a much larger issue: the lacking number of awards for people of color.

With an overwhelming majority of the Academy’s voters being elder white men, it’s no surprise that Mr. Oyelowo was snubbed as well.

Embodying King in mind and body, spirit, and passion, Mr. Oyelowo deserved that nomination.

Coming out during a time when the equality of black lives in our country is being tested, Selma reminds us that a leader, like King, is needed more than ever.

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Jones’ switch to Genius is not

Sasha Frere-Jones’ move from The New Yorker to Genius is actually quite the opposite. That is, not genius, but nonsensical.

Last week, Jones publicly announced his decision to leave the well-respected, highly acclaimed, and beloved American magazine to become the executive editor of a company that will rewrite hip-hop lyrics in colloquial terms.

The company, Genius, was founded in 2009 by three Yale graduates with the collective idea of explaining hip-hop, or rap lyrics to the common person.

Astonishingly, Genius, originally known as Rap Genius, was able to fund $56.8 million in its first five years of business.

Its founders, and other executive team members, say that they’re confident the company will still be profitable in the next five years, unlike print and conventional journalism, which is apparently dying.

According to The Times, in the article that broke the news, Genius will expand to commenting on restaurant menus as well. And Shakespeare.

Genius founders told The Times, “The site will continue to hire people with expertise in particular subject areas, aiming to bring in more users from online communities obsessed with particular topics.”

On its website, Genius says, “have you ever been confused by a song’s lyrics? Had trouble understanding a line from Shakespeare or the Bible? Struggled to finish a boring article that seems important? With genius you never have to worry about this- or anything else- ever again.”

Think Sparknotes, but for music, and menus, and the Bible.

In an interview with The Times, Jones said that his work for Genius will involve the lyrics side of things, as well as working to evolve the company’s team.

Though the site is monitored by editors, anyone can comment; Genius prides itself on that.

It says on its website, “There is no single genius who writes all the annotations—anyone can contribute. Genius is powered by the community, and that’s what makes it special.”

Job security or not, Genius is not the platform for veteran critic, Sasha Frere-Jones.

Jones’ 11-year career as a staff writer for The New Yorker is ending all too soon; some of his past work includes reviews on Neil Diamond, Mariah Carey, Bon Iver and Prince, as well as Lil Wayne and Wu-Tang Clan.

In 2007, Jones published a piece in The New Yorker,A Paler Shade of White,” which pushed mainstream journalism’s comfort zone for racial discourse; it discussed the transforming role of race in contemporary music, like indie rock and hip-hop over the last twenty years.

Jones’ fearlessness, and his love and appreciation for music, which was revealed through his brilliant prose, will be sorely missed in The New Yorker.

His work for Genius just won’t do his talent justice.

One year later. #blacklivesmatter

In light of the two recent disturbing injustices, first with Michael Brown’s case and then with Eric Garner’s, I have been thinking about my own terrible blunder in a Pipe Dream column just over one year ago. As more innocent black lives have been taken, and as I continue to recognize and discuss with peers my own white privilege, I realize even more the ignorance of my words.

Last November, when I made the mistake of attempting to write about blackface, I did not fully comprehend why it was so wrong. Even my apology thereafter lacked true understanding. As a white person, I have no say in the way people of color feel about such an issue; and I see clearly now, that America is nowhere near being a post-racial society.

In April, months after the article was published, the Pipe Dream staff, myself included, attended a Cultural Competency Workshop at Binghamton. I am thankful that I was able to attend the workshop, because without it, I never would have realized the ignorance with which I viewed racial issues. Growing up in Southern Westchester, an upper class and predominantly white community in New York, I was taught that the color of your skin doesn’t matter. That’s all; that was the end of the discussion on race. Looking back on it now, I realize that that way of teaching only leads to children becoming culturally and racially blind, like me. It is true, the color of one’s skin does not matter, but for young children, leaving the topic with that and not at all embellishing further, makes it difficult to distinguish between wrongfully ignoring race and racism, and correctly acknowledging its existence.

Before the competency workshop, that is exactly where I was. I feel confident that I can now more appropriately discuss race, racism and white privilege, but I also understand that those topics are a continuous discussion and no one, including myself, is ever done learning about them.

I’m still sorry for my ignorant words last November. When injustices such as these occur in our country, I can’t help but think about what I said, and those I hurt. What happened yesterday in Staten Island, and two weeks ago in Ferguson, I know that as a white person, I need to speak up, recognize the cruelty, racism and injustice in our country, and encourage others to speak up as well. I want to be part of the movement of change without last year’s words weighing me down. I now know better. I wish what happened last year did not, but I am grateful for everything I have learned because of it.


Fighting more than the virus

This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to visit three of my high school friends who now live there. When I landed back in New York on Sunday night at LaGuardia Airport, I was happily expecting my parents to pick me up. But I received a text from my mom saying that I should take a cab home, because traffic was backed up for miles and it would be impossible for them to get me.

Upset and frustrated, because usually a cab from the airport to Westchester needs to be reserved in advance, and is excessively expensive, I grudgingly got in a yellow cab. I told the driver, “Mamaroneck. It’s in Westchester.”

With his thick accent, of which I couldn’t make out at the time, he told me he didn’t know how to get there, how much it would cost, or how long it would take. With his broken English he asked, “So I take the LIE?”

Annoyed, I bitterly snapped the directions back to him. And he was nothing but sweet, apologizing for his imperfect English.

I’m ashamed now that I took my initial aggravation out on him. I wish at the time, I could have separated my frustration towards the traffic, and my appreciation towards the driver willing to bring me home.

About 15 minutes into the drive, I calmed down and realized that my rudeness was disrespectful and unnecessary. We started talking about the traffic, and how he would try to find another route to get back to the airport to pick up yet another passenger, instead of the one that remained at a stand still.

And then I asked him where he was from.

“I don’t want to tell you, you’ll hop out of the cab,” he said.

He is from Guinea; he left his family and came to America nine years ago. His family: his sisters, his mother, his cousins, his uncles and his aunts, who are all still there, are all healthy, and doing well.

Though he said it with a giggle, it wasn’t a joke; he really did fear that I would think his mere existence, as a man from Guinea, posed a threat. It’s sad that many do feel this way.

Like HIV, Ebola has gathered a stigma of its own, that’s spreading as rapidly as the virus itself.

Many are incapable of seeing Ebola for what it is, a horrible and painful virus that can infect anyone only through bodily fluids; instead, they see it as a marker of West Africans, and as a reason to shun anyone from there.

In attempt to reduce the associated stigma, President Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, embraced Nina Pham, the nurse who survived Ebola, in a hug last week. Pham contracted the virus while treating the now-deceased Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient to be on U.S. soil, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

About an hour later, I was finally home. I grabbed my luggage, handed him a tip, thanked him, and then shook his hand.

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