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James Vacca NYC Councilman 13th District

Fighting For A Better Community
James Vacca

James Vacca

Democratic

Party enrolled in: Democratic
Occupation: District Manager, Community Board #10

Occupational background: 30 years of activity and leadership in civic and community organizations in the Northeast Bronx, Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies at Monroe College and CUNY Queens College, Former President of Chippewa Democratic Club

Educational background: Masters in Urban Studies from Queens College, BA in Political Science from SUNY, Graduate of Christopher Columbus HS

Organizational affiliations: President of Northeast Bronx Senior Citizen Center, Member of St. Benedicts Council Knights of Columbus, Member of Throggs Neck Homeowners Association, Member of AFT Local 2334

Prior public experience: First time running for political office

Email: jimmy@vaccaforcouncil.com
Web site: www.VaccaforCouncil.com

Message From James Vacca
    Saturday, December 30, 2006

A HEALTY NEW YEAR
How often do we use that expression? Of course, as we enter 2007 good health is the most important thing we can wish each other. But, besides wishing each other good health, do we practice good health habits that will lead us to live a longer and better life?

We first have to ask ourselves when we last visited a doctor or a dentist and received a check-up. I still hear about people who have not seen a doctor in years or who go to a dentist only when they feel pain.

Do we exercise? Walking is great but it is only considered exercise if it is quick enough and long enough in duration to get your blood flowing, therefore, becoming aerobic in nature. We tend to use our cars even if the store we go to is five or six blocks away and then complain we cannot find parking.

What do we eat and drink? How many of us went "overboard" this past holy season and have made dieting one of our New Year's Resolutions? Someone came to see me recently with this new super sized soda bottle. I asked them how many grams of sugar were in the bottle. The person read the label and told me were 28 grams. I then looked at the label myself and saw the number 28 next to the number of grams but noted at the top of the label that the bottle had 2 and a half servings! That one bottle of soda had 70 grams of sugar. This points to the necessity that all of us learn how to read labels!

Or how about light mayonnaise or light salad dressing? Both products usually get more than half their calories from fat. The average serving (not can) or soup has over 1,000 milligrams of salt. Do we watch for wording such as when we see 80% chop meat? There are more than 16 grams of fat in the average hamburger sized serving. With all the seasoning today, have we tried to substitute turkey and lean chicken and, when we order out because we have to "eat on the run", do we ask for steamed, broiled or boiled versions or stick to the usual fried and least healthy fare?

Mayor Bloomberg has proposed that restaurants eliminate trans fats from their cooking and he is right. The City Council is also considering similar legislation I will support. But when it comes to good health, let us think not only of what is but what could be. So much is really up to us. Happy New Year. Best of health to all!


    Sunday, December 24, 2006

IDENTITY THEFT
Yes, identity theft is an increasing problem and it can happen to anyone of us. Please beware and take the necessary precautions below:

* Keep your account numbers and bank information in a safe place.
* Do not throw away bank statements, shred them.
* Do not disclose your social security number to anyone who does not need to have it.
* Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you know who you are talking to.
* Do not use unsecured websites for shopping.
* Check your credit report at least once a year for foreign transactions.

And if you have a debit/credit card:

* Keep the debit card in your wallet and away from other cards with magnetic strip.
* Sign on the signature strip on the back of your card.
* Never use familiar dates for your pin, such as your birthday or that of your parents or children.
* Never write the pin number on the back of the card or in your wallet.
* Do not write down your pin number, memorize it.
* Do not give your pin and/or credit card to anyone else.

If you do not have a paper shredder, get one today. Report any concerns about identity theft to the local precint immediately. During the holiday season be especially sure to be aware of scams. Seniors be especially cautions.

With this problem, be especially cautious and alert your friends. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS
May this holiday be a special one to all. I find it hard to believe that we will soon be writing down 2007. Time goes by so quickly. May the year ahead find you in good health, this is most important. Keep in your prayers our service people abroad and those who may not be in good spirits. Keep in your minds and hearts those who have passed on but continue to watch over us and guide us as we try to do good work each day!

Remember that this blessed season, is not all about shopping and eating. It's really a time for people of faith to reflect and reaffirm their beliefs and values.


    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ATV WARNING
By now, most of us have 200 or more stations on our TV set. Yet, I continue to hear the expression "So many channels, so little to watch."

Parents have something to watch alright! They had better watch the shows their children are seeing and the commercials that appear during even the most "family orientated" show. Years ago, we used to have the family hour on TV, usually between 8-9pm where parents could feel confident that shows would be suitable for the entire household. Those days are gone! In fact, the commercials during dinner time and through the early evening depict violent upcoming movies or TV shows, Viagra and a host of other products seeking to sell violence and sex.

The day time shows are a mixture of nuts and knuckleheads. All day, viewers are deluged with shows where guests seek DNA test and or have physical brawls on the air. An institution that can serve as a learning point for so many has too often started at the lowest common denominator and never worked its way up.

I was reminded of what TV used to be by the channel "TV Land". Last weekend, this station had a marathon of the 1970's hit "That Girl" with Marlo Thomas. As my wife and I watched one of the episodes and my 12 year old laughed, I recalled a different day and time. Television was comedy in good taste, situations were not very personal and shows let you know values were important because the characters lived them. The conversation and plot allowed your children to watch the show and enjoy it and permitted the parent to keep the remote control out of their hand without fear that the story line would stray.

And then I thought how important it is that we not consider these values in the past tense. Indeed, it is long overdue the American family again asserts itself as a force for traditions such as respect, values and decency. All of us must do our part and the mass media will respond when they see how values our society longs for are not reflected in their dysfunctional offerings and commercial wasteland.

ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION
In conjunction with Lehman College / City University, I am pleased to announce that we will be opening an Adult and Continuing Education extension program on Saturday at Lehman High School starting Saturday, January 6th, 2007. All courses will be taught by Lehman College professors. For more information, please call 718-960-8512 or go to www.lehman.edu/ce. Brochures are also available at my Council office at 3040 East Tremont Avenue.


    Friday, December 08, 2006

ADULT EDUCATION
When I first became a City Councilman, I immediately contacted City University of New York about the idea of having an outreach effort here in our community. Since then I have worked extensively with Lehman College and Lehman HS on an effort to provide both credit and non-credit courses in our community.

I am proud to announce that this major initiative will begin Saturday, January 6, 2007. Classes at Lehman High School offered by Lehman College instructors will include Business Writing Essentials, English Grammar, Short Story Writing, Tai Chi Chaun, Accent Reduction, How to Start a Business, Financing a Business, Purchasing/Negotiations, Marketing Advertising. CPR for Health Providers and Introduction to Microsoft Office XP.

These courses will be offered at Lehman HS on Saturdays starting January 6. I hope this program will be the beginning of an Adult Education Program that will grow in time. Many of these courses provide skills and knowledge that can help families throughout our community.

I am very excited about this program and urge all those interested in learning more about the courses or in registering to call 718-960-8512.

ST. NICHOLAS CELEBRATION - BRONX ARTS ENSEMBLE SINGERS AND DOUBLE REED BAND
On Saturday, December 9th and Sunday, December 10th at the Bartow Pell Mansion, the Bronx Arts Ensemble will celebrate the holiday season with a St. Nicholas Day Celebration. There will be two performances with the Bronx Arts Ensemble Singers and Double Reed Band, at 1pm and 3pm. To get further information and/or to reserve tickets call 718-601-7399 or 718-549-4009.


    Monday, December 04, 2006

NEW YORK JUNIOR TENNIS LEAGUE'S EARLY MORNING WINTER WEEKEND INDOOR TENNIS PROGRAM
I am pleased to announce that the NYC Council has funded the New York junior Tennis League's Early Morning Winter Weekend Indoor Tennis Program. This is an instructional program for children ages 6-18. This program is geared towards beginners and intermediate players. They can participate in drills, games, match and tournaments. Loaner racquets and balls will be provided free of charge. This is a great opportunity for those children interested in tennis or who just want to participate in a sport. To register, go to the location nearest you on those days the program operates.

Bronx International Youth Tennis Center
754 Thieriot Avenue, Bronx, NY 10473
Saturdays and Sundays: 6:00am - 8:00am

New York Tennis Club
3081 Harding Avenue, Bronx, NY 10465
Sundays: 6:00am - 8:00am


    Monday, November 27, 2006

FREE FLU SHOTS AT ST. CLARE'S CHURCH
Once again, I am hosting free flu shots with Jacobi Medical Center for community residents. These free flu shots will be available on Friday, December 1st from 10am to 1pm at St. Clare's Church, which is located at 1918 Paulding Avenue in the Morris Park area. Please call Jennifer Rivera in my office at 718-931-1721 to schedule a time for your flu shot. Stay healthy, get your flu shots now.

HOMEOWNER'S NIGHT COMING SOON TO PS 83
I am hosting an "Owner's Night" with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development on Tuesday, November 28 from 6:30 - 8:00pm at PS 83, which is located at 950 Rhinelander Avenue. This seminar will provide valuable information for residential property owners about the availability of low-interest loans, free educational classes, and free owner counseling. Homeowners can also learn about HPD's programs, which include financial guidance, building management and maintenance, owner-tenant relations, expense reduction strategies, help with building code violations, and assistance with mortgage and refinancing.

This is a great opportunity for homeowners to get questions answered about their properties. I encourage you to attend and learn more about the valuable services available through the NYC HPD. Seating is limited, so please call 212-863-7054 to reserve your seat today.


    Monday, November 20, 2006

HOMEOWNER'S NIGHT COMING SOON AT P.S.83
I am hosting an "Owners' night" with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Department on Tuesday, November 28 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm at PS 83, which is located at 950 Rhinelander Avenue. This seminar will provide valuable information for residential property owners about the availability of low-interest loans, free educational classes, and free owner counseling. Homeowners can also learn about HPD's programs, which include financial guidance, building management and maintenance, owner-tenant relations, expense reduction strategies, help with building code violations, and assistance with mortgage and refinancing.

This is a great opportunity for homeowners to get questions answered about their properties. I encourage you to attend and learn more about the valuable services available through the NYC HPD. Seating is limited, so please call 212-863-7054 to reserve your seat today.

NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH
October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which was created to recognize the contributions of workers with disability throughout the country. As Chair of the Senior Center Subcommittee at the NYC Council, I have often worked with disabled elderly on issues that they face everyday, but often times people do not realize how many are actually affected by disabilities, and how many of the disabled are not seniors. Did you know that:

* 51.2 million - Number of people who have some level of disability, representing 18% of the population.

* 32.5 million - Number of people with severe disability, representing 12% of the population.

* 4 million - Number of children ages 6 to 14 who have a disability, representing 11% of the group.

* 72% - Percentage of people 80 and older with disabilities, the highest of any age group.

* 20% - Percentage of females with a disability, higher than the 17% of males. On the other hand, among children under 15, boys were more likely than girls to have a disability (11% to 6%).


    Monday, November 13, 2006

HEAP
What is the HEAP program? It is the federally funded program that assists eligible households of all ages in meeting their home energy needs. As you know, last year our home heating fuel costs went up and this year many people are concerned that bills will once again reach all time highs.

Eligibility for this program is based on income; for a family of one $1,764 a month; a family of two $2,307 a month; a family of three $2,850 a month; and a family of four $3,393 a month. For each additional person the cost allowable income goes up. $425.

Homeowners and renters are eligible for this program. You can pay directly for heat or pay rent that includes your heating costs.

For an application you may call 311 or 1-877-472-8411.

FOOD STAMPS
More than half a million elderly, working, unemployed, immigrant and disabled New Yorkers qualify for food stamps, but are not enrolled. Eligibility for this program is based on income; for a family of one $1,037 a month a family of two $1,390 a month; a family of four $2,097 and a family of eight $3,509.

For an application you may call 311 or 1-877-472-8411.


    Monday, November 06, 2006

CONGRATULATIONS!
It was my honor to join parishioners of Santa Maria Church in the Zerega community as they celebrated their 80th anniversary last weekend. I am always proud to talk about how my grandfather, James Vacca, was an usher in this parish through his mid-80s. All places of worship give people a special sense of community as they are brought together to reflect on the past and pray for good health and peace in the coming years.

In mid-October, Father Fernando and I joined together, as part of Hispanic Culture month, in honoring parishioners at Santa Maria who are active in reaching out to others and helping the church, school and communitry. I was pleased to present City Council citations after Sunday's Spanish mass and join with parishioners in refreshments.

I must also note that congratulations are due Dr. Vincent Rell, the legendary pediatrician who has been serving the Pelham Bay community and the Bronx since 1961. Dr. Rella still is busy helping youngsters and parents in the same Roberts Ave. Office he started years ago. It was my privilege to select him as my honoree at this year Italian American celebration at City Hall.

On October 30, as Chair of the Senior Citizen Center Subcommittee of the New York City Council, I joined in honoring senior citizens and center directors for their hard work each day that allow our senior centers to thrive. A special thanks went to those who helped keep our cooling centers open during this summer heat wave and to those who kept centers in Astoria open during the Queens blackout.

Also at City Hall, we had a special ceremony honoring volunteer emergency workers. I singled out for special recognition the Throgs Neck Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Edgewater Park Volunteer Fire Dept. Their service, over the course of many years, has saved lives and they continue giving of themselves on our behalf each day.

The two simplest words in our language are probably the least used. THANK YOU! I want to use my column this week in appreciation for so many of our unsung volunteers who have given so much of themselves.

VETERANS DAY
As we approach this important date, let us keep uppermost in our minds those who have served our country so well, those who made the ultimate sacrifice and our men and women serving for our nation today. Always teach your children and grandchildren about patriotism, the American flag and our brave defenders of freedom.


    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

HOMEOWNERS DISABLED EXEMPTION
I am proud to have co-sponsored successful legislation in the New York City Council increasing income levels for senior citizen, disabled homeowners, co-op and condo owners.

Currently, seniors and persons with disabilities qualify for 50% property tax exemption if they earn a yearly income of no more than $24,000. For property owners with incomes of more than $24,000, but less than $32,000, the program provides a declining exemption schedule ranging from 45% to 5% of tax liability.

The new legislation increases the income at which seniors and persons with disabilities can qualify for the benefit. For a 50% tax exemption, the maximum income is raised to $26,000 in 2006, $27,000 in 2007, $28,000 in 2008 and $29,000 in 2009. During this time the income ranges for the declining exemptions will also go up until it reaches $37,400 in 2009.

Senior and disabled renters are also reminder of benefits under the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and the Disabled Rent Income Exemption programs.

Thousands of residents who qualify for these programs do not take advantage of them. To get further information call the NYC Department of Finance 212-504-4080 or visit www.nyc.gov. Reach out to my office if you need further assistance.

DIABETES WORKSHOP
In conjunction with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, please be advised that I will sponsor a Team Approach to Diabetes Seminar. On November 1, 2006 at the Hutchinson Metro Diabetes Institute located at 1200 Water Place, Bronx, New York 10461 there will be an education seminar and question and answer session with Diabetes specialists. The program will start at 11:00 am and lunch will be served at 12 noon. In order to reserve a seat and for more information call Allan R. Torres at 718-904-9000.


    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

DIRECT DEPOSIT IT HELPS PREVENT ID THEFT AND FRAUD
October is Crime Prevention Month, and I want to call attention to a simple, effective way all Americans and senior citizens in particular can help protect themselves from identity theft and fraud. Switch to direct deposit.

Did you know that if you get Social Security or other federal benefits, you're 30 times more likely to have a problem with a paper check than with direct deposit? Direct deposit virtually eliminates the risk of stolen checks and forgeries and helps protect people from identity theft.

It's a common misconception that identity theft and fraud occur solely on the internet. In fact, this type of crime happens all too often offline, when wallets are lost or stolen, when trusted associates steal private information, or when thieves pick through mailboxes for checks.

Unfortunately, some of our must vulnerable citizens are key targets for financial crime. Senior citizens, many of whom depend on Social Security checks to get by, are regularly victimized. Last year alone, about 65,000 Treasury issued checks such as Social Security valued at $60 million were forged.

For all these reasons, I encourage everyone who gets Social Security through the mail to sign up for direct deposit. Together, we can reduce that number and make our community safer for everyone.

Signing up is fast, easy and free through, "Go Direct" a campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks. Just call 800-333-1795 or sign up online in English or Spanish at www.GoDirect.org or www.DirectoASuCuenta.org. You can also stop in to your financial institution or Social Security Administration office.

I urge you to consider taking this important step sign up for direct deposit and help safeguard yourself against financial crime.

FREE MAMMOGRAMS
Along with the American-Italian Cancer Foundation and the Women's Outreach Network, I will sponsor free mammograms on Tuesday, October 31st, 2006 starting at 8am-2pm at the Morris Park Library, 985 Morris Park Ave. For appointment please call 1-800-564-6868.


    Monday, October 16, 2006

HIGH SCHOOL INFO
The NYC Department of Education is planning two informational sessions for 7th grade students and their parents regarding the high school admission process. The first will be held at PS/MS 194 at 1304 Zerega Avenue on October 24th and the second will be held at Lehman HS, 3000 East Tremont Avenue on November 2nd, both sessions begin at 6:30pm and conclude at 8pm. Before you choose a high school, make a wise choice by getting the information you need.

SENIOR HEALTH ISSUES
The NYC Department of Health has established a Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program. It is a source of free, current and impartial information about health care coverage. Topics addressed include Medicare, prescription drug coverage, EPIC, Medicaid, managed care, veterans' benefits and appeals if necessery. You may receive free, personal and confidential assistance by calling 1-800-701-0501.

With the cost of nursing home and in-home care skyrocketing, planning for Long-Term care is essential for those over age 50. This agency has also established a new Long-Term care Insurance Resource Center to provide free, impartial information and assistance on available Long-Term care and insurance needs. This Center may be reached at 212-676-0629.

311 VS.911
I recently attended a community meeting where a resident indicated that she saw graffiti vandalism taking place, called 311 and no one came. I must remind residents to call 911 when they see any crime in progress. The Mayor has established a graffiti removal program and 311 makes the city aware of the need to address graffiti removal. But, if you see graffiti vandalism taking place (and in the age of cell phones I know, by remaining vigilant, all of us can play a role in reporting) call 911 immediately!

RED CROSS BABY-SITTING COURSE
How often do we let our 11-15 year olds baby-sit? In fact, neighbors often ask if youngsters this age can help out. The Red Cross is holding a course for children this age that will give advice on what to do in case of emergency, illnesses, when to communicate with parents and how to manage young children. How to care for infants and use first aid will also be addressed. A video on addressing bruises and recognizing safety and hygiene issues is also included. A certificate will be presented to the youngster upon completion of the 7.5 hour course. The course will take place on Saturday, October 21st from 9am to 4:30pm at 2082 White Plains Road in Pelham Parkway. The cost is $50. Please call 1-877-REDCROSS if your child may be interested. With both parents often working or going to school, this course could save a life!


    Monday, October 09, 2006

FLU SHOTS
I will be offering flu shots throughout the coming season. On Tuesday, October 24, 2006, in conjunction with the Visiting Nurse Service of NY, flu shots will be provided at Trinity Methodist Church, City Island Ave. And Bay Street from 1 to 4pm. There is no age limit this year. A prior appointment is required. Please call my office at 718-931-1721 and speak to Jennifer Rivera.

FREE MAMMOGRAMS
Along with the American-Italian Cancer Foundation and the Women's Outreach Network, I will sponsor free mammograms on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 starting at 8am at the Morris Park Library, 985 Morris Park Ave. An appointment is necessary. Please call 1-800-564-6868.

YOUR SMOKE ALARM/CO DETECTOR
By law, every home is required to have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

Make sure your smoke detector truly serves your safety needs. Install smoke alarms that have the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) Mark which indicates that it has met national safety and efficiency requirements. One smoke alarm in your home is not enough. Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home, including the basement. And frequently change your batteries. The Fire Department estimates that while 97 out 100 homes have a smoke detector, more than 33% of these homes are unprotected because the smoke alarms do not work.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic gas and is totally undetectable by human senses. People are at an increased risk of CO poisoning during the winter months. Well insulated, airtight homes and malfunctioning heating equipment can produce very high CO levels. Exposure to high concentrations of CO can cause throbbing headaches, breathing difficulties, confusion and loss of consciousness or death. If your alarm goes off, open a window, leave your home and call 911.

Also, please note that kerosene and propane space heaters are illegal in NYC.


    Monday, October 02, 2006

FREE MAMMOGRAMS
I am sponsoring, along with the American Italian Foundation and the Women's Outreach Network, free mammograms on Tuesday, October 31 starting at 8am at the Morris Park Library, 985 Morris Park Avenue. Early breast cancer detection can save your life. An appointment is necessary and can be arranged by calling 1-800-564-6868.

FDNY TEST - NOW HIRING
The test for the New York City Fire Department is coming up! The deadline to file is October 13, and the test date is January 20, 2007. If interested go to nyc.gov/dcas for the application and further information. If you do not have access to a computer, you may contact my office and we will help you so you can file on time.

BUILDINGS DEPARTMENT INITIATIVE
As a result of an initiative I sponsored in the City Council, $2.5 million dollars in additional money has been allocated to the NYC Building Department. For years this agency has been treated as a step child by our city which has led to mistake upon mistake being made as applications for new construction have been approved in error and over development on residential streets has been fueled. While I will continue to monitor new applications and object to those not meeting the requirements of the zoning resolution, I also wanted to give this agency additional resources so more and better qualified inspectors and plan examiners can be hired and overtime be provided so that work taking place on weekends or during evening hours without permits can be addressed. We will continue our work and I will keep you updated.


    Monday, September 25, 2006

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS MEETING
In conjunction with the American Red Cross and the Throgs Neck Homeowners Association, I will sponsor an important meeting for all area residents on what to do and what you need to know in case of an emergency.

This meeting will held on Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 7:30pm at Villa Barone Manor, 737 Throgs Neck Expressway.

This is a free presentation designed to prepare individuals and families for emergencies. Everyone who attends will receive a FREE interactive CD that can be used to create a customized evacuation plan as well as other tools that will help any family get prepared. You will also be eligible to enter a raffle to win a FREE Red Cross Go Bag!

Everyone who attends will receive an emergency preparedness presentation on how New Yorkers can create a plan, build a supply kit and keep loved ones safe and informed during times of disaster.

For all too long, many people have stated, "Oh, this will never happen here". It always seemed to happen somewhere else. Now is the time to learn how you can best protect yourselves and your family in case of an emergency, storm, hurricane, terrorist attack or even an earthquake.

Representatives of the NYC Office of Emergency Preparedness will also be present. This meeting is open to all community residents who want information and are concerned about making sure they are fully prepared. I hope to see you at this important meeting.

UNCLAIMED FUNDS
NYS holds billions of dollars in unclaimed funds from insurance companies and various funds never claimed by people owed money. By going to the NYS State Comptroller web site, you can find out if you or members of your family are entitled to such funds.


    Monday, September 18, 2006

OUR BOROUGH
I love to write about good news! The heartbeat of the Bronx and my very own life has been intertwined for years. I became active in the borough at the age of 16, elected student government President of Columbus HS. I always love announcing good news: The new school initiative or the street repaving or the traffic light our community successfully had installed. This week I am the bearer of news that may not be what you or I would want to hear.

The United States Census Bureau recently released statistics on poverty and income in our nation and revealed some startling facts. The overall poverty rate in the Bronx for 2005 was 29.2% making it the third poorest county in the United States. That's right only two counties that sit on the Mexico/Texas border are poorer. When we speak of the poverty level, keep in mind, we are talking about a family of four making less than $3.000 a year.

Only 15% of our residents possess a college degree. Too few of our residents finish higher education and many, once getting a degree, leave the borough. Our unemployment rate exceeds that of any other county in the state.

We must look at the family and admit that the many changes the family unit has undergone have, for the most part, been negative. Over 50% of the children in the Bronx live with one parent. Often, one parent families are in financial and social crisis and struggle to fulfill day to day responsibilities and meet pressing school and economic obligations. Grandparents are often called upon to become surrogate parents.

And we must look at education. I believe education begins in the home. Where there are families that need strengthening, we must look at city policy that can strengthen them. Where we have children not in school, we must do more than get them back to school. We must take that opportunity to bring in other needed services. And we must insist that parents act as parents and be held accountable.

Economic development, support for basic family values, parental responsibility and education must be the cornerstone of a true rebirth of our borough.


    Monday, September 11, 2006

HOW FAST DO WE DRIVE?
Wherever I go, people approach me and talk about the need for additional STOP signs, speed bumps and traffic lights due to speeding in our community. For years we have had a problem that often defies a solution. People driving so fast they ignore any traffic control devices that exist. In fact, sometimes it becomes a force of habit. Many people do not realize how fast they are actually going!

I remember several years ago, responding to complaints of speeding on Pennyfield Avenue in Throgs Neck, the NYC Department of Transportation provided an innovative tool: an electronic machine that told each and every motorist how fast they were going by using a message board for the motorist to see. Time after time, motorists told me they did not realize how fast they were going and slowed down when they saw the message board. Often, the same people who complained about others speeding did not realize they were speeding themselves.

Even when traffic lights and STOP signs are installed, many drivers ignore them. We often must request police enforcement to force motorists to obey signage. Sometimes, even the mention of installing 30 miles per hour signs, for example, prompts cynicism. In essence, many people doubt that these signs mean anything at all as they have little if any impact upon the speeder.

Unfortunately, we must acknowledge that most speeding on local streets can be blamed on local traffic, all too often our friends and neighbors living in the community.

Analyze your driving habits and make it a habit to look at your speedometer more frequently. Make a concerted effort to slow down on local streets. Could you be part of the problem rather than part of the solution? With schools re-opening, it is a great opportunity for all of us to take stock and realize how important it is to keep our streets and intersections "traffic friendly" so we can protect pedestrians, other motorists and our families.

BLOOD PRESSURE TESTING
The Throggs Neck Ambulance Corps will provide free blood pressure screening at my office located at 3040 East Tremont Avenue on Friday, September 22nd from 12pm to 3pm. Please stop by. Refreshments will be served!


    Monday, September 04, 2006

SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER BUSY MONTHS
As we all know September marks the beginning of school and Labor Day on September 4. Remember what Labor Day is all about those who risked being fired or injured in order to organize the first Labor Day Parades. Labor unions, over the years, have meant protections for working men and women and their families and have created good living conditions for so many people.

In addition, the entire month of September is Library Card sign-up month. If you do not have a library card, go get one and utilize all that our many branch libraries have to offer for all ages. September 9 and 10 is Grandparents Weekend. As head of the Senior Citizen Center Subcommittee of the New York City Council, I visited many senior centers last week in Brooklyn and Queens to review their operation and assess services provided. These site visits, when coupled with my frequent attendance at our own local senior centers over the years, have created a real awareness about all grandparents do. I remember my own grandparents and all the love and family support they provide. If you have your grandparents with you, this is a great time to do something special. If they have passed on, this is an appropriate time to remember them and keep them fresh in your prayers and thoughts.

September 18, Constitution Day which is part of National Constitution Week. Our constitution is a living document that set the foundation for freedom here and around the world. Yet, too often we tend to take our basic rights and liberties for granted. Talk to your children about the constitution. You may go to JusticeLearning.org/ConstitutionDay/index.asp to register for resources. You must do so before September 8.

The months of September and October have many celebrations marking the diversity of our country as well. Starting September 15 we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. On October 2, we mark the most solemn days of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, a day spent at synagogue in fasting, reflection and prayer. October 6 is German American Day, October 9 is Columbus Day and the entire month of October is also Italian Culture Month. On October 9 we mark the anniversary of Benjamin Banneker's death, a versatile African American mathematician and astronomer who wrote his own almanac.


    Monday, August 28, 2006

SANITATION PRIORITIES
Many of you, by now, may have heard the case of the senior citizen in the Allerton community who received a recycling fine after an agent went through his recycling can and found a 6 ounce plastic yogurt container. It seems only plastic wrap and a host of other plastic items are allowed in recycling cans. I visited the homeowner in this case, his sidewalk, front and rear yards were maintained in immaculate condition. In light of this minor infraction, would it not appear to you that a warning (its called communication) rather than a summons was in order?

Enforcement agents can use discretion or their best judgment. But, is our city all too often in the business of looking at recycling, parking and a whole host of policy matters as a way to raise revenue rather than a way to enhance a particular program or service? Case after case points to poor judgment in the issuance of tickets.

I fully understand that we have major sanitation issues cases where the offender should not have to be spoken to before summonses are issued. The canine waste law immediately comes to mind. Dog owners are full aware of their responsibility to pick up after their dogs. Yet, we have those who refuse to do so, who walk their dogs with papers under their arms that they never intend to use, who have a dog but want to avoid the responsibility that comes with ownership. Can you believe that the entire canine unit in NYC has fewer than 10 officers? This makes for a law with no bite. Instead we are left to look at pooper scooper signs directed at those who know the law but refuse to comply and dogs who, of course, cannot read.

Or we have litter baskets full of household garbage. Look at almost any litter basket. You will find household or commercial garbage in bags not the ice cream stick or piece of paper. Too many people are using our litter baskets to dispose of their own garbage and pick ups often cannot keep track as they so frequently become full.

A 6 ounce yogurt container cannot be recycled. But, in perspective, I know our Sanitation Department can think of bigger fish to fry.

PELHAM PARKWAY OFFICE HOURS
I will be taking my office to the Pelham Parkway area on Thursday, August 31 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm at the Van Nest Library, 2147 Barnes Avenue, between Lydig Avenue and Pelham Parkway South. Please join me and members of my staff. Bringing my office to the community in this fashion gives us both an opportunity to talk about neighborhood issues and address local concerns.

SKATING AT LORETO
I will be sponsoring a skating mobile unit for youngsters 6 years and up on Friday, August 25, 2006 from 11:00am to 5pm at Loreto Park, Tomlinson and Morris Park Avenue.


    Monday, August 21, 2006

HIGHER EDUCATION FOR ADULTS TOO!
Last week, I spoke of the need for parents to get their children re-oriented as the start of school nears. This week, I want to continue on the education theme and let you know that, today, college is a necessity not a luxury. All of us should be thinking of attaining the next degree or certificate that will allow us to obtain that unique knowledge or field of specialization that will get us that job or increase our earning potential in the years ahead.

When I became District Manager of Community Board #10 in 1979, I had not yet finished my bachelors' degree. At that time, fewer people had a 4 year degree and it was not viewed as it is today. In fact, in 1999 I returned to school and in 2001 received my masters Degree in Urban Studies. I can vividly remember telling no one but my wife that I had returned to school. Being out of school so many years, I was concerned about not succeeding and asked that not even my mother be told. That fear is common today with many adults who say I could never do it or I do not have the time to go back.

In fact, as you may know, since obtainig my Masters Degree I have taught as an adjunct professor at the college level. I now teach (what else?) Political Science and Speech Communication at Monroe College on Saturdays and Urban Studies at Queens College (CUNY) on Friday night. And most of my students are adults! Monroe College, for example, offers both associate and four year degrees weekdays, evening andweekends but also has an extensive distance learning program for adult students who cannot commit to a classroom schedule.

Only recently we learned that New York ranked fourth among the nations 15 largest cities in the share of adults with at least a bachelors degree 32.2%. But in Manhattan, which attracts many residents with higher incomes due to the higher price of housing, the proportion neared 58%. Certainly, these numbers tell a story.

Many varied degree programs exist and can be tailored toward the individual student. And a good professor will make sure that basic skills like writing, speaking, technology and critical thinking are not only taught through basic courses but integrated across the curriculum as these skills will determine your potential once you complete your studies.

If you haven't thought about higher education, think about it today. Then, get going!


    Monday, August 14, 2006

WHERE ARE READING AND MATH SCORES?
Believe it or not, school will soon be starting. Parents, make sure your child does not wait until the last minute to start and complete any over the summer reading assignments or projects, the first day of school will be here before you know it!

One of the first questions we must ask as our children return to school is: Where are our reading and math scores from last year? Yes, if you remember we always received math and reading scores on our child's report card in June. This year, for the first time, this was not the case. The New York State Education Department told schools of approximate scores so that those performing significantly below grade level could attend summer school. But, exact scores in their totality were not presented leaving many parents in the dark. Reading scores are set to be released to the schools in August and math scores in October (possibly!).

In my view, the New York State Education Department fell down on the job. Although in previous years, scores in grade 4 and 8 were indicators used to evaluate schools, this year scores in grade 3 to 8 will be used for such purposes. This is a requirement of the 2001 federal "No Child Left Behind Act". However, this was well known to the State Education Department Retired Teachers and other personnel shoul have been used to expeditiously mark the test, and they were not.

Monitoring student performance is not only up to our schools, it is up to our parents. Make it your business to be involved and make sure you know how your child is doing throughout the school year. Begin now to slowly acclimate your child to getting back in routine so they will be ready for a successful school year.

MOVIES UNDER THE STARS
In conjunction with the Neighborhood Initiatives Department Corporation, I will be sponsoring "Movies Under the Stars" on Friday, August 18 at 8:15pm at Bronx Park East and Waring Ave. In Pelham Parkway. The movie will be "King Kong". I invite everyone to bring a beach chair and enjoy!


    Monday, August 07, 2006

HOW OLD ARE YOU?
So many people hate that question! Why? Unfortunately, the news media tends to label people as "young" or "old". Have you noticed the TV commercials when they show people at beaches or advertising hair products they use young people, when they advertise medication or vitamins they use older people. I often speak of seniors or youth but today I am going to speak of the "between group" the Baby Boomers.

Today age is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In fact, when we turn 50 it is an opportunity to finally take risks and explore options we always thought about but never had the time or determination to see through. In my own case, when I reached 50, I decided to pursue a new career and ran for the City Council where I now serve. In fact, there has been a tremendous increase in volunteerism and even entrepreneurship among people age 50 and older. By the year 2015, about one-fifth of the workforce is expected to be 55 or older. What should people 50 and above be thinking of?

Health is very important. Go to the doctor and dentist for regular check-ups. Do not hesitate to get a second opinion. Think of mental health as well as physical health and reach out for services and help as needed. Get a colonoscopy. Use the internet to learn of specific issues dealing with male and female health issues. Watch your diet and exercise. In fact, while you're at it exercise your mind! Go back to school, take distance learning or an adult education course and use that education for leisure, job advancement or to get you ready for the next career. Get involved in church, community or PTA activities. Be open to change. We are important, why do you think you see all these plastic surgery shows? They are appealing to those of us reaching 50. We are the audience they are looking to reach because they know we are concerned with "age" issues.

Get to work immediately. Reduce stress by exercise (which release natural endorphins) make sure you get enough sleep, eliminate bad habits like smoking and drinking. Watch less TV (you're really not missing much).

Take it from this 51 year old baby boomer. Our generation must now plan for the next 50 years!


    Monday, July 31, 2006

CONGRESSMAN THOMAS MANTON
It was with sadness that I noted the passing of former Congressman Thomas Manton. Congressman Manton represented our community as well as parts of Queens in the United States Congress from 1992-2000.

I can well remember the Congressman calling me in 1992, when his formerly all Queens district was redrawn to include the Pelham Parkway, Morris Park, Throgs Neck and Pelham Bay communities. Immediately upon learning he would now represent our community, he asked if I would meet with him to discuss pending issues in the community and areas where he could help. Since that time, I developed a respect and admiration for the Congressman and was proud to call him a friend. He was especially active on immigration issues, matters affecting the Irish American community and law enforcement legislation protecting police officers and victims of crime.

Congressman Manton served his district and nation as an exemplary public official and I know I speak for all of us as we mourn his passing.

MOBILE RECREATION UNITS
I am pleased to sponsor, along with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, free mobile recreation units that provide a day of fun for youngsters age 7 and above. A Skate-mobile unit will be at Florence Colucci Playgruond (Wilkinson and Mayflower Ave.) on Thursday, August 3 from 11am to 5pm and at Bufalo Park (Waterbury and La Salle) on Wednesday, August 9 from 11am to 5pm as well. Additional units in late August will be announced for Loreto Park as well.

GOOD NEWS FOR SENIORS
As part of the recently concluded budget negotiations, I am pleased to report that a $4.5 million budget increase for meals in senior centers was included, the first increase in meal allocations since 1999. As Chair of the Senior Center Subcommittee, this was a priority of mine that will directly benefit senior centers in our community.


    Monday, July 24, 2006

CELL PHONE USE IN SCHOOLS
We should not allow cell phones to be used in schools. Few people argue over this basic policy. Where the argument starts is when we discuss current Department of Education policy that outlaws students from bringing cell phones to and from school.

I am one of over 37 co-sponsors of legislation in the New York City Council that would allow students to take such phones to school but also require that the devices be turned off during school hours. Today, with students using buses and trains to get to and from school and utilizing many after school programs, it is imperative that parents be allowed to reach them and stay in touch as needed before and after school.

This means that we must allow children to bring cell phones to school but have them turned off during school hours. Years ago, many of us could never have conceived of students needing cell phones. In fact, when I went to school it was unheard of. Our economy today, however, often necessitates either parents working or attending college classes to improve upon opportunities that may lie ahead. Children are often not picked up from school, but stay with friends, go to the library or face delays in public transportation. If we want parental involvement and accountability, we must demand parental responsibility. Having a way to communicate with your child to and from school is an important part of keeping safe and parents involved.

MORRIS PARK LIBRARY
Yes, finally, the Morris Park Library is opening! The grand opening will take place on Friday, July 21 at 2pm at the library.

When I first took office, I made getting this library opening a priority. Only recently, I brought the Library system and the Building Department together to overcome the last major obstacle resulting in the issuance of a temporary certificate of occupancy allowing the library to finally open.


    Monday, July 17, 2006

CONGRESSMAN SERRANO ON TARGET
Two weeks ago, Congressman Jose Serrano was successful in securing federal money to assist the Arthur Avenue Retail Market in our "Little Italy" food market in Belmont. Great News! Right?

Well, not everyone has a good feeling about the Bronx or the various ethnic communities that have lived here for years and thrive to this day. A Congressman from Arizona, Jeff Flake (no comment!) argued against giving the Market assistance and declared "This is a lot of federal prosciutto... for a private Italian grocery market" (Please note - this market is public and visited by hundreds of people from the tri-state area every day).

He further stated "I would argue that this is one cannoli the taxpayer doesn't want to take a bite out of."

Doesn't the ridicule and disdain for Italian Americans stare you right in the face? Congressman Flake belittles an entire community, ethnic group and borough with his remarks. And believe me, when it comes to federal programs and grants, I am sure Arizona and other Western and Southern states are way ahead of the Bronx, despite the fact that our need, pressing problems and density of population certainly require more federal aid.

Hats off must go to Congressman JOSE SERRANO, who represents the Arthur Avenue community in Congress. He rose to his feet after the flaky remarks and challenged the "gentleman from Arizona," especially his use of the ethnic terms quoted above. He took strong exception the use of the "cannoli" and "prosciutto" terms and called it for what it was. His allocation for the Arthur Avenue merchants was approved.

Congressman Serrano is the longest serving public official in the Bronx. He has always been in the forefront of speaking out when any ethnic group is held up to ridicule. We are thankful that, once again, he answered the call and sent the gentleman from Arizona back to his seat!

COLUCCI PARK PAL PROGRAM
I am pleased to have provided funding in the recently approved city budget to continue the PAL summer youth program at Colucci Park, Wilkinson and Mayflower Avenue. Registration is on-going at the playground. The program will continue through August 25.


    Monday, July 10, 2006

MEDICARE DRUG QUESTIONS
Pilgrim Pharmacy in Pelham Bay, 2941 Westchester Avenue at Buhre Avenue, will have counselors available on Mondays in July to answer questions regarding Medicare drug questions. Information for senior citizens and the disabled will be answered.

This will be a great opportunity for seniors to learn more about the "extra help" provision where by individuals earning less than $1,300 a month and couples less than $1,700 could qualify for help with deductibles, premiums and coinsurance. Qualified applicants under Medicare could save an average of $2,800 a year.

The help center will be available on Monday, July 10, 17, 24 and 31 from 11am to 2pm.

AMERICAN FLAG AMENDMENT
By one vote, the United States Senate has refused to pass a constitutional amendment that would make a crime to burn the American Flag. Shame on them!

During the past week, we have had instance here in the Bronx and in Brooklyn where vandals have burned the flag. The American Flag represents what our veterans have fought to protect and given their lives in battle for the freedom and liberty we enjoy every day. For years, this constitutional amendment has languished in the halls of Washington with vote after vote delayed or resulting in failure. This latest vote means that our national symbol will have protection from those who have contempt or our way of life and for the democracy we live in.

This issue cannot be allowed to die. Next year, we must insist that this issue be taken up again and that the Senate allow the State Legislatures the right to finally give our flag the reverence it deserves.


    Monday, July 03, 2006

OBESITY AND YOUR HEALTH
Last week, Bronx City Councilman Joel Rivera, Chair of the City Council Health Committee, raised an interesting suggestion as our city comes to grip with how to attack the obesity epidemic, especially among our young people. He suggested that we use zoning laws to regulate fast food establishments that often tend to locate near public schools and provide even greater templation to eat that donut, buy that hot dog or get the quick meal or snack-on-the-run that is often filled with fat, sugar and salt.

Councilman Rivera's suggestion was designed to contribute to the serious city-wide discussion now under way on how we can best attack the obesity problem in our city. If we do not, we are running the risk of further aggravating short term and long term health problems such as diabetes, asthma and blood pressure. When you add a lack of exercise to the equation, we are presented with issues dealing with the life longevity and quality of life as well.

Citizen education in the fight against obesity is crucial. Read the label of anything you buy before you buy it. For example, if you buy beef chop meat for hamburgers that says 80% fat free, it will still be 20% fat. Each hamburger will have 22 grams of fat, a large helping of fat indeed. Turkey chop meat is a much healthier alternative. With soda, the larger bottles we now buy costing $1.25, for example, say they contain 26-28 grams of sugar. What most people do not do is read the top of the label. The 26-28 grams is PER SERVING. Each bottle has two and a half servings. The bottle of soda you just drank contained 75-85 grams of sugar!!

By substituting and getting rid of trans-fats, high sodium, and sugar or starch filled meals, we can assure a healthier future. We must also look at the portions of food we eat and make sure fiber is a staple of our daily diet.

The old question is: "Do you watch what you are eating?" The usual answer: "Yes, as it goes down." That may sound funny, but it is no longer acceptable. We must create a city-wide consciousness and start to address this major health issue.


    Monday, June 26, 2006

SCHOOLS * LIBRARIES * SENIORS TOP MY LIST
As budget discussions between the Mayor and the City Council continue with a June 30th conclusion deadline, I will be advocating strongly for many priorities some of which I have outlined in previous columns in this publication. Included are:

. 6 day a week library service at all branches. Most of our branches are only open 5 days a week and our library system has too often fallen victim to budget cuts. People of all ages will better utilize local branch libraries open 6 days a week. I must report good news as well to residents of MORRIS PARK. I have successfully brought the library system and the Building Department together so that a temporary certificate of occupancy can be issued for the long awaited Morris Park Library. This is the last obstacle to the library opening and we are aiming for a July date.

. We need more after school programs. I am sponsoring a specific initiative to expand and replicate successful after school models so that recreation and learning can take place at additional sites throughout our neighborhood.

. I am strongly in favor of full day prekindergarten. As a member of the City Council Education Committee I am also insisting that we address the needs of gifted and talented youngsters by expanding education options and programs which the city has not done to date.

. I am fighting to restore funding for the Pelham Parkway Houses NORC which provides case assistance and social services to over 800 seniors living in this community.

These programs and the many others I have spoken about in past weeks including senior center rent and meal allocations are important to our community and the city.

TN AMBULANCE CORPS PROGRAM
The Throgs Neck Ambulance Corps offers CPR/First Aid courses approved by the American Safety and Health Institute, under guidelines of the Red Cross. In fact, The Corps and the New York Yankees have teamed up to offer children from 12-19 these courses at no cost. All classes are held at 3955 East Tremont Avenue. For further information call: 718-430-9501 or go to their website at TNVAC.org.


    Monday, June 19, 2006

MAYOR NOTES FIREWORKS POLICY
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has warned New Yorkers about the consequences of transporting, buying, selling or using illegal fireworks. In New York City, all consumer fireworks are illegal and individuals caught buying, selling or using fireworks will be arrested. This year, those caught transporting fireworks into the City will have their vehicles seized by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). This year, 769 cases of illegal fireworks have been confiscated with the City's Joint Fireworks Taskforce. More than 60 people have been arrested for possessing or trafficking illegal fireworks, and 31 vehicles have been seized. Last year, more than 2,300 cases of illegal fireworks were confiscated and 65 people were arrested. In July 2005, the Mayor signed a law creating civil penalties for individuals using fireworks illegally. And, throughout the next month, the City will analyze last year's 311 fireworks complaint data to more effectively deploy resources around the five boroughs.

The Mayor stated, "Fireworks are a wonderful way to celebrate Independence Day, but it's critical that we leave it to the professionals. Fireworks are not only illegal, they are dangerous and in the hands of an untrained individual, fireworks can have deadly consequences. Each year, the Joint Fireworks Taskforce works to reduce the number of illegal fireworks on our streets so much so that this year we haven't recorded a single fireworks-related injury in the City. As we mark the start of the summer season, I urge all New Yorkers to report all illegal fireworks activity to 311."

As we approach July 4, please think of your neighbors and friends before you use fireworks. Think of the possible impact they have and the danger they pose.


    Monday, June 12, 2006

THE FIGHT AGAINST HUNGER
In this city of real estate booms and over development, too many New Yorkers go to bed hungry. Did you know?

. In 2004, an estimated 1.2 million New Yorkers including more than 400,000 children lived in hunger or in households where having food was in question.

. More than 1 million New Yorkers rely on food pantries and soup kitchens every year and demand has grown so great that some are forced to ration food or even turn hungry people away.

. In New York City public schools, nearly one in four children is obese. Nearly half are overweight, with the greatest concentration among children who do not eat fresh nutritious food including fruits and vegetables. Common problems associated with obesity include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, muscle problems and psychological problems.

. In NYC, approximately 600,000 New Yorkers qualify for food stamps but don't get them. More and better outreach is needed for those who are entitled to assistance but may not know how to navigate the application process.

I know it is hard for many of us to conceive of anyone actually going hungry. I can attest to the need for food pantries in our community and, almost immediately upon taking office, provided assistance to the food pantry run in the Allerton/Pelham Parkway area as they were running out of food supplies due to demands!

This week, I participated in a city-wide initiative to encourage students to participate in the breakfast and lunch programs at our local schools. The breakfast programs, in fact, are free and open to all without income guidelines. This summer, many school sites will also be serving breakfast and lunch. It is important that children have three meals a day and using these programs provides our kids with healthier food selections and the energy and vitamins they need for the long day ahead.

As you can see, our city and non-profits have important work to do!


    Monday, June 05, 2006

OLDER PEOPLE GROWING IN NUMBERS
As chair of the City Council Sub-committee on Senior Centers and before that through my activities at senior centers and in the community, I have become very aware of the problems faced by our older citizens. Why? Let me give you some interestings statistics.

From 1980 to the present, the elderly population in the United States has increased from 24 million to 32 million people. Between 1900-2000, the number of Americans over the age of 65 grew eightfold, while the population as a whole tripled. The faster growing age group in our country today is those above the age of 85.

In our city, I wish to note the following issues impacting upon the elderly that I have made priorities. Senior citizens must be supported. We must look at opening additional centers with varied programs. Existing centers where the city is now renting space have not had an increase in rent since 1999! The city must recognize this is 2006 and support these centers. We now pay our senior centers, per meal, less than the cost of a slice of pizza and a can of soda. Meal costs have increased and must be funded. There must also be a yearly built in increase tied to the cost of living. Counseling and mental health needs of the elderly must be addressed through service enhancements and outreach.

Yes, New Yorkers and Americans are living to an older age. Health care, diet, exercise, housing, socialization and support will go along way to assuring a better quality of life for the elderly. Government has an important role to play in serving those who have given so much over the years to their families, community and country. We must act now to address existing needs and plan for the future as well.


    Monday, May 29, 2006

PRE-KINDERGARTEN IS VITAL
Last week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn visited our district to highlight the importance of pre-kindergarten programs. I was pleased to join her at Bronx House where we saw the host of programs offered at this wonderful facility for our little ones and senior citizens as well.

The Speaker visit addresses an issue long on the top of my "to do" list. Specifically, she is proposing an initiative that would fund, over a four year period, full-day pre-kindergarten.

Right now, we have a host of half-day programs housed in schools, churches and non-profits throughout our community. Often, parents pay for additional program time as the Department of Education program offers only two and half hours. More than child care, the Speaker and I both see pre-K as an important introduction to early childhood education. We realize today that kindergarten is now an academic program-children are learning to read and often get homework compared to years ago when kindergarten was half day and basically used for play and socialization. With Kindergarten evolving we must now look at pre-K differently.

Pre-K can provide the needed socialization and sharing experiences children need and also provide an important entry way to early learning. With class size capped at 18 and each class required to have a paraprofessional, pre-K can provide early intervention services for children needing extra help and help identify children with special needs at a very young age. It can also serve to tap the imagination of our very young as they learn from each and enjoy as they grow.

As NYC moves to adopt a budget in the next 4 weeks, the Speaker and I are hoping early childhood will be on the agenda. We cannot ignore the fact that pre-K works the earlier children have positive learning experiences the greater the likelihood they will succeed in later years. Study after study links academic success to early and positive learning experiences. And, by the way, it would be a great time to harness parent energy as well and worktoward maintaining parental involvement in grades K-12.


    Monday, May 22, 2006

TREE STUMPS
Did you know that over 16,000 tree stumps await removal from the city? This is because the Parks Department has never been given money to remove these stumps and has no plants to do so.

At the City Council, I have proposed a tree stump and subsequent tree planting initiative to fill the gap in this program. Hundreds of such stumps exist here in our community. With a $3 billion dollar surplus we certainly can afford the $7 million needed to address this backlog.

SELECTIVE SERVICE REGISTRATION
Even though we do not currently have a draft, all US males, citizen and non-citizen, are required to register with the Selective Service. The law requires that all males register within 30 days of their 18th birthday 30 days before or no later that 30 days after their birthday. Registration may take place either on line or by picking up a form at your local post office.

DIABETES WORKSHOPS
Along with Visiting Nurse Service, Senator Klein, Assemlyman Benedetto and I are sponsoring informative diabetes workshops throughout the community. Please note the following dates and times: Thursday, May 25 from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm at C-Town, 2244 White Plains Road at Pelham Parkway North, Friday May 26 10:00 am at Stop and Shop at 753 Co-op City Blvd., on Thursday, June 1 from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm at Super Food Town at Crosby Ave. and Bruckner Blvd. Please stop by!

RECYCLING, VOTER REGISTRATION
Please feel free to come by my district office for recycling decals or voter registration forms if you recently moved.


    Monday, May 15, 2006

BUILDINGS DEPT. HEARING SUCCESSFUL
Over 200 people came to the April public hearing of the City Council Task Force NYC Department of Buildings reform. I want to especially thank Speaker Christine Quinn and the Committee Chair, Councilman James Oddo, for coming to my district and hearing the community residents who spoke out on the critical need to improve this city agency.

I truly feel that Mayor Bloomberg is also supportive of reform and realizes how important this agency is to all of us. At the hearing tales of residents who bought new homes 7 years ago, and still do not have Department of Buildings (DOB) certificates of occupancies. We heard of the famous incident in the Zerega community where a STOP work order was issued after walls of a new house under construction surrounded an existing tree. We heard of weekend work taking place without permits and of there not being a clear definition of who enforces a STOP work order - DOB or the Police Department  (more info....)

It must be stated that DOB also must receive the personnel and training it needs so that its staff can fully understand the down zonings that have taken place in our community and communities throughout the city. Very technical, new regulations have been put in place and it is the DOB that is the enforcement arm of the City of New York. On a block by block, we depend on them to address construction issues where work exceeds permits issued or housing being built does not conform to the new zoning in place.

The drive for DOB reform started here in the Bronx in our community as witnessed by the first of five City Council hearings. We have placed this issue on the radar screen and must continue our efforts in a positive constructive vein. As I said at the hearing, we want to strengthen the Department of Buildings and professionalize it. As I pledged prior to election, I will continue to play the role of an advocate and watchdog and am also taking action on the legislative front so that our communities can be protected on a block by block basis.


    Monday, May 08, 2006

WATER BOARD SEEKS TO SOAK US AGAIN:
The New York City Water Board plans to increase rates by 9.4% effective this May and give homeowners yet another hosing!

The NYC Water Board, an off-spring of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, is holding "hearing" this month on the proposed increases in each of the five boroughs.

Water rates have gone up every year, sometimes twice a year. This latest increase is one of the largest in years. It comes at a time when economically strapped New Yorkers are besieged by doubling of Con Edison bills and increasing gas prices. Now these same New Yorkers will be hit once again.

In fact, the city is passing their own $9 million cost of increasing heat, light and power onto these very same consumers as well. For the Water Board to do this at this time, with the city anticipating a $3 billion surplus is not only outrageous, but insulting.

The Water Board admitted that part of the reason for the high increase this year was the failure of the agency to efficiently collect past due accounts. The collection plan announce last year assumed that $50 million per year would be collected over the next several years, yet last year only $15 million was collected.

Homeowners in good standing who pay their water bills on time are being penalized because the city has failed to force delinquent dead beats to pay up what they owe. Administratively, this should have been addressed as collections began to come in slower than anticipated. To now force this on the back of conscientious bill payers is unacceptable.

The city anticipates that a single family homeowner in the City will experience a $54 increase per year. This increase, when coupled with other consecutive increases, has disproved what residents were told when water meters were originally installed. Specifically, homeowners were told that when meters were installed those who saved water would see big savings on their bills. With rates continuing to escalate each year, we could die of dehydration and still be stuck with ever increasing water bills.

I have asked the Water Board to reject the proposed increased and to exempt senior citizen homeowners from all increases.

The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition   newyorkwater.org


    Monday, May 01, 2006

Since taking office in the NYC Council this January, I made reform of the NYC Buildings Department one of my highest priorities. For several years, I have monitored the application approval process at this agency and found errors that were fatal and had many jobs stopped or reduced in scope. Recently, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn formed the Task Force on Operations and improvement of the Department of Buildings to craft solutions to these problems in our neighborhood and city.

We will now have an invaluable opportunity to speak out at the Task Force's first public forum on Tuesday, May 2nd, at 7:30 pm at PS 14, located at 3041 Bruckner Blvd at the corner of Crosby Ave, Hosted by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman James Oddo of Staten Island, and myself.

As neighbors, community residents or perhaps as applicants yourselves over the years, I am sure you can relate your own experiences and speak to over development and related issues on your own block and in the community as a whole. Your thoughts on how we can have this agency better address citizen complaints, strengthen its enforcement aspect, enforce stop work orders and address work on weekends are but a few areas that residents have mentioned to me time and time again.

In the months ahead, this Task force will be holding forums in each of the five boroughs. As our efforts to stop over development have been noted city-wide, the first forum is being held here in our community. I hope you will join me, as the Council will be considering legislation in the days ahead addressing such issues as self-certification (whereby architects file plans for new construction exempting them from the normal review process), enforcement of stop work orders, and a host of other matters affecting how the Building Department operates.

This forum becomes all the more important as the Buildings Department must now enforce over 50 down zoning proposals that have passed the City Council and became law, including those impacting our own community. Making sure the Department of Buildings has adequate resources and fully comprehends all technical provisions of the zoning resolution is of the highest importance because we must depend on this agency to understand and enforce the building codes of the city of New York.

Please feel free to contact my office at (718) 931-1721 with any questions.

This meeting is crucial. I hope to see you there!


    Monday, April 24, 2006

ENERGY REBATE FOR HOMEOWNERS AND RENTERS
I am pleased to report that the New York City Council has allocated 4 million for the new HEAT Rebate program. Due to the unbelievable increases in gas and oil costs, a one-time allotment is being provided to lower income households over 60 years of age. This program is in addition to HEAP. If you were on HEAP you do not need to apply again. If you did not meet the more restrictive guidelines of HEAP, you may now apply for HEAT.

A $100 allocation will be available to every homeowner or renter who meets eligibility and up to $200 for homeowners or renters who have a current service disconnect. Applications will be accepted through May 31, 2006. Applicants must have head of household above 60 years old, be a homeowner or renter, show proof of heating expense, with name of heat supplier and clients' record number and attach such documentation as well as affirmation of income to the application. A family of one can make up to $30,000 a year and a family of 2 can make $36,000 a year. Income limits go up by $6,000 for each additional family member.

The organization chosen to administer the program in the Bronx, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has applications available by calling (718) 652-5500 ext.213 starting Monday, April 17, 2006.


    Monday, April 17, 2006

OUR SENIOR CENTERS
As Chairman of the Senior Citizen Center Subcommittee of the New York City Council, I recently convened a hearing concerning the state of senior centers in our city and heard testimony from the Deputy Commissioner for the NYC Department of the Aging and senior advocates.

As we begin serious budget negotiations between the administration and the Council, the testimony the Committee received indicated how financial support for our senior centers has not kept pace with changing demographics. Seniors are living longer and "baby boomer" golden agers will soon join older seniors and use our centers for a variety of reasons. Yet, food costs and rent have not increased since 1999! As we all know, during that time costs have risen as evidenced by the rental market and our own gas and electric bills.

Senior Centers often serve as the focal point for a community. While many seniors do not attend a center everyday, it is indeed a place where socialization takes place and seniors receive important information of health and benefit information that allows them to have a better quality of life. The Committee discussed ways we can reach out to even more seniors and let them know that using the local Senior Center represents such an invaluable opportunity.

In our community, we are fortunate to have active senior centers and clubs. In fact, local churches and AARP's add yet another dimension to the range of activities available to older adults. Yet, when I think of technology, adult education and so many other aspects of continued growth I know we certainly have our work cut out for us in the days ahead.


    Monday, April 10, 2006

SENIOR EMPLOYMENT SERVICES:
. The Department for the Aging's Senior Employment Services (SES), (more info...) assists residents 55 years of age and older who are seeking work opportunity. SES offers classroom training, job search techniques and part and full-time job placements. Seniors are taught basic computer skills, data entry and helped with resume preparation. Others are trained for jobs in retail, sales and customer services. A 300-hour course is offered. For more information call 212-442-1353 or 1355.

. If you are 62 years or older and live in a rent controlled or rent stabilized housing and earn less than $25,000 a year, you may qualify for SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption), (more info...). Applications are available at my office.

. Owner of homes, condos and cooperative apartments are eligible for the Disabled Homeowners' Exemption (DHE) if they have a physical or mental impairment and make less than $32,400. Medical and prescription expenses not reimbursed can be deducted from the applicant's income to determine eligibility. If you are on SSI or Social Security Disability or are visually impaired you may qualify.

. Renters who are disabled may qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). If a tenant receives elegible state and federal disability - related financial assistance (SSI, SSID or disability related Medicaid) and live in a rent stabilized, rent controlled or Mitchell-Lama development and has an individual income of $17,580 or $25,212 for a 2 person family you may qualify.

For DRIE, DHE or SCRIE applications please call my office at: 718-931-1721.
3040 East Tremont Ave, Bronx, NY 10461


    Monday, April 03, 2006

SANITATION REMINDERS:
Please note the following:

. Don't discard car batteries, tires or motor oil with your refuse. You may dispose of them at a DSNY Household Special Wast Drop-Off site (for site nearest to you, call 311).

. Retailers are required by law to accept two car batteries per month for free. Take motor oil to service stations that change oil or large retailers that sell motor oil. State law requires that they accept up to five gallons of oil per day per person for free. Return old tires when you buy new ones. New York City residents may bring up to four passenger car tires to any Department of Sanitation district garage, Monday through Saturday, except holidays, between 8am and 4pm.

HOW TO DISPOSE OF BULK?
Bulk material is any item too big to fit in your garbage receptacle. Some examples of bulk items are furniture, such as sofas, tables, chairs, desks, large appliances such as refrigerators and stoves; house siding and other non-commercial construction materials. You may place up to six large items at the curb after 5pm the day before your regularly scheduled collection day. Before discarding a refrigerator, freezer, water cooler, dehumidifier or any CFC-bearing appliance, you must call 311 to make an appointment to have the CFC gas removed from it. You must also remember to remove hinges or any locking device from the appliance.

Recycling Stickers
Two stickers are required for each can and may be obtained at my council office, located at 3040 East Tremont Avenue, Room 104.

Tire Disposal Program   nyc.gov/html/dsny/html/collection/tires.shtml


    Monday, March 27, 2006

DIABETES CONFERENCE AND HEALTH FAIR
On Saturday, April 22 from 9am - 12pm the Visiting Nurse Service and I will be sponsoring a Diabetes Conference and Health Fair at the Northeast Bronx Senior Citizen Center, 2968 Bruckner Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10465. Phone: 718-892-6090

Health professionals will be present and information will be available on nutrition and recognizing signs and symptoms of diabetes. A panel of health care professionals will be answering your questions as well. More than 20 community health care organizations will be present.

For more information please contact Jeffrey Levine at 718-536-3235. Please save the April 22nd date.

HUNTINGTON TREE LIBRARY
Did you ever visit the Huntington Tree Library, located at 9 Westchester Square at Westchester Avenue? This library includes a special collection of books and photographs on local Bronx history. The collection contains current newspapers, magazines and reference books.

The library was officially founded in 1892 and represents a fantastic opportunity to learn more about our borough and its history. For an appointment you may call 718-825-7770.

GRAND OPENING
Community residents are invited to attend the grand opening of my new City Council office at 3040 East Tremont Avenue on Friday, March 31, 2006 from 1-5pm. Refreshments will be served. Hope to see you next week.


    Monday, March 20, 2006

BUILDINGS DEPARTMENT ISSUES
Last week, I participated in budget oversight hearings at the City Council and joined in questioning Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster. Many of the issues I raised involved problems we continue to have with overdevelopment.

I insisted that we have concerted efforts to enforce STOP work orders. Right now, most complaints concerning builders violating STOP work orders go through the 311 system. It takes days for inspectors to respond, especially on weekends when too few inspectors are on call. There must be better coordination with the Police Department (more info....) and the Buildings Department so that both agencies can work together to enforce STOP work orders and make them a priority.

Weekend work is another story. All too often contractors do work on weekends without permits yet the Buildings Department maintains a skeleton crew to enforce weekend work violations. This has to change.

It is important that those reviewing Buildings Department applications have contact with the inspectors in the field. This was not the case only recently, when the Buildings Department approved the construction of a new home on St. Raymond's Ave. Whose walls surrounding an existing tree! The job is now halted, but it stresses the need for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing.

Buildings Department reform is top on my list as I begin my job at the NYC Council. For too long, this agency has been known for ineptitude and worse. As we down zone communities to prevent over development and reduce density, it is urgent that staff of this agency have needed resources and proper training. We must also continue our permit monitoring effort to assure that all applications comply with the law.


    Monday, March 13, 2006

SCHOOL FUNDING FIGHT
In the City Council, I am continuing my efforts to force the State to comply with a court order requiring additional capital and expense budget support for our public schools, known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

No suburban county would ever tolerate the trailers in school yards or high schools with 4,600 students we endure in the city of New York. It is outrageous that years of neglect have now caused a crisis as children learn in over crowded classrooms and funding does not exist for reduced class size and enrichment programs our children deserve.

During the next four years, I will be visiting schools in the community on a regular basis. Only recently I visited Columbus HS, P.S 105, P.S. 108 and I.S. 144. I look forward to more school visits in the days ahead and assisting where possible.

ALZHEIMER'S ASSOCIATION
Many seniors and their families cope with Alzheimer's and the various phases of this terrible disease. Caregivers and seniors are reminded that the Alzheimer's Association offers a broad range of programs for people with the disease and their families. These services include support groups, telephone helplines, educational seminars, advocacy programs and a variety of print and on-line resources on the disease. Up to date research information is also provided. For further information call 1-800-272-3900 or visit alznyc.org.

Coping with the disease is difficult and heart wrenching for everyone involved. Reach out for help and make sure you know about every available option and opportunity.


Columbus HS, 925 Astor Avenue Bx, NY 10469   columbushs.org
P.S. 105 725 Brady Avenue Bx, NY 10462   schools.nycenet.edu/ps105
P.S. 108 1166 Neill Avenue, Bx, NY 10461   schools.nycenet.edu/ps108
I.S. 144 2545 Gunther Avenue Bx, NY 10469
Information for schools nationwide    greatschools.net

    Monday, March 06, 2006

ADULT & CONTINUING EDUCATION
It's never too late to receive your GED. Once you obtain your GED, you open up so many doors, which could potentially increase your income. Through the Department of Education (DOE) and their Office of Adult Continuing Education many services have been made available to our community. The Bronx Adult Learning Center, located 3450 East Tremont Avenue, Room 323, Bronx, NY 10465 off Bruckner Blvd., is the main office for these services.

The Bronx Learning Center offers free courses in basic education, English as a Second Language, GED and Spanish GED, and career and technical courses. Classes are available morning, noon and in the evenings. If you are unable to attend classes there is a GED Distance Learning Program, where instructional classes are done via internet.

The career technical programs offer two introductory courses, one in auto mechanics and the other in computers. By the end of the course students receive certifications that are nationally recognized. The other career technical programs that are offered are carpentry and a Certified Nursing Assistant program.

For those seeking their citizenship the Learning Center offers a Civic Education course. Here students practice their English skills and learn basic history and government.

If you are interested in creating new opportunities in your life and looking to increase your income, I urge you to call 718-863-4057 to learn more about the Bronx Learning Center.

GED Preparation and Testing  lacnyc.org
Office of Adult and Continuing Education  oace.ithsnyc.org
New York City Department of Education  projectliberty.state.ny.us,   nycenet.edu
GED Distance Learning Program  directdegree.com,  Liberty University  liberty.edu


    Monday, February 27, 2006

ARE "YOUTH PROBLEMS" ADULT PROBLEMS?
Good question! My column this week seeks to have all of us stop and take a moment from our sometimes too busy life to ask ourselves why we constantly hear about "youth problems." Could it be that communities complain about its youth because adults at home have, for too long, been unable or unwilling to lead by example?

We as adults can become part of the solution rather than part of the problem by realizing that children do what they see adults doing. They say what they hear adults say. They react as they see adults react. Children will seek the attention of an adult by poor behavior when he or she sees there are few things of a positive nature they can do to earn encouragement from their parents. Selfesteem, an important indicator of how a child views himself, is a key component of youth development.

We constantly hear about the important role schools perform. As a member of the Education Commitee of the City Council, I fully realize that schools must do more. In fact I have proposed a "Character Education" program where by students will be engaged in a K-12 curriculum that instills values such as respect, citizenship, accountability and responsibility. I have come forth with this suggestion in the full realization that our schools MUST take such measures because we can no longer assume that such values are always taught in the home. If we do not do so, we will find that behavior and acting out situations in so many of our classrooms will continue and, in fact, grow.

I remember, several years ago, the Board of Education voted that all parents had to PICK UP their child's report card. This was a daring effort to bolster parental involvement and accountability. Thousands of parents, weeks later, had failed to pick up their child's report card, many after having received letters and phone calls reminding them to no avail. That experiment ended the very next term.

All parents can do one thing - role model. And we can do all possible when it comes to encouraging positive peers for your children. Every year presents a new challenge as children grow. Our attitude and values reflect on our community as well; living together in close proximity here in the Bronx means that we all influence each other and affect the overall quality of life in our neighborwood.


    Monday, February 20, 2006

REVERSE MORTGAGES
Last year over 43,000 people over age 62 took out reverse mortgage to help them make ends meet. Demand for such mortgages is increasing.

Rather than selling your home or taking out a home equity loan to get access to your equity, a reverse mortgage allows a homeowner to take out a loan for a portion of the equity. A senior can continue to live in his home and if you decide to move or when you pass away, the proceeds from the sale of the property pay off the loan.

Reverse mortgages allow you to enjoy a secure retirement. Medical and fuel expenses, especially, have made it very difficult for many elderly homeowners to meet rising costs.

Please note, however, that insurance origination and closing costs must be a part of the reverse mortgage process. AARP (aarp.org) offers reverse mortgage counselors at 1-800-205-8085. More info....

FOOD PANTRY
Aging in America, a member of the Food for Survival hunger prevention network, operates a Food Pantry open to the public two days a week (currently 1:00-2:00 pm on Thursdays-Fridays). The pantry provides non-perishable food packages to any individual who is in need. There is no restriction on age or financial status. In 2004, over 4,000 clients received food packages from our pantry.

Food packages are available to individuals on a walk-in basis once per month during operating hours. Food Pantry clients are required to register for the service. The Aging in America Food Pantry also delivers food packages to home bound individuals as identified and referred by our Case Management Program. Contact 718-409-7966 for more information. Aging in America Community Services, Inc. 1500 Pelham Parkway South, Bronx, NY 10461.


    Monday, February 13, 2006

LEGAL SERVICES
Legal Service for NYC is a non-profit law firm dedicated to assisting senior citizens and low-income residents of the Bronx. Their staff of lawyers, legal assistants and support staff have years of experience helping Bronx residents with all sorts of legal problems.

Among items they assist with are housing, evictions, foreclosures, advising clients on their rights to public benefits (Emergency Assistance, Medicare, Disability, etc.) family law issues, consumer law including credit and fraudulent deceptive consumer practices, unemployment benefits and elder law.

Bronx Legal Services of NY can be reached at: 718-928-3700.
369 East 148 Street, Bronx, NY 10455
lawhelp.org/ny

RED CROSS
The America Red Cross is Offering a variety of courses in response to consumer demand. Not only do they offer the traditional CPR and First Aid courses, but they now offer courses in sports prevention. First Aid for dogs and cats, water safety instruction training, lifeguard training instruction and disaster training.

Interested residents may call 212-895-2222 or visit the web site at: nyredcross.org.

RECYCLING STICHERS
How to dispose of bulk? Bulk material is any item too big to fit in your garbage receptacle. Some examples of bulk items are furniture, such as sofas, tables, chairs, large appliances such as refrigerators and stoves; house siding and other non-commercial construction materials. You may place up to six large items at the curb after 5pm the day before your regularly scheduled collection day. Before discarding a refrigerator, freezer, water cooler, dehumidifier or any CFC-bearing appliance, you must call 311 to make an appointment to have the CFC gas removed from it. You must also remember to remove hinges or any locking device from the appliance.

Sanitation website:   nyc.gov/sanitation
Waste Prevention tips:  nyc.gov/nycwasteless
Home Composting:  nyccompost.org
America Recycles Day:  americarecyclesday.org


    Monday, February 06, 2006

TAX TIME
If you have received the State tax credit forms IT 210 or IT 214 and need assistance filling them out please call my office at 718-931-1721 and speak to Michael Rivadeneyra to schedule an appointment. If you have not received either form and are not sure if you qualify, the following are the requirements:

IT 210 - This is a NYC school tax credit form. One must have lived in NYC for all of 2005. If you do qualify for NYC school tax credit and are not a dependent on anyone else's taxes and are not filing a tax return on form IT 150, IT 201 or IT 203.

IT 214 - This is a real property tax credit for homeowners and renters. One must have lived in NY for all of 2005. If you or your spouse paid real property taxes and your household income is $18,000 or less.

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto will be providing tax preparation assistance to those senior citizens of the area that are over the age of 65 in his district office. Please call his office ahead of time to set up an appointment with one of his staff members 718-892-2235. Staff will be available to do tax preparation on Wednesdays between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

CPR & FIRST AID COURSES
The Throggs Neck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc. Will be hosting CPR and First Aid during the month of February and March. CPR classes will be held on Saturdays and the Basic First Aid classes will be held Sundays. The cost for the classes is as follows:

CPR - $50 for a 1 year certification; $75 for a 2 year certification. Basic First Aid - $50 for a 1 year certification; $75 for a 2 year certification. Combination of both Courses: $75 for a 1 year certification; $100 for a 2 year certification.

For registration and more information, please call 718-430-9501.


    Monday, January 30, 2006

BUILDINGS DEPARTMENT OVERSIGHT
I am pleased to report that I have joined a select group of City Council members seeking to galvanize the NYC Council as we seek meaningful change at the NYC Buildings Department.

In my inauguration, I stated quite clearly that this agency needs more than reform - it must be turned upside down. The staffing levels at the Borough Offices, the constant vacancies in important positions, as well as staff that are employed without proper credentials, appear to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Time and time again, we have found mistakes on approved applications. We have successfully fought for down zoning of our neighborhoods, only to find out that decisions on new construction are based, in error, on the former zoning, not the new down zoning in place. We need the new zoning regulations to be properly enforced to effectively stop any further over development in our community.

The whole issue of self-certification, where an architect has the right to avoid Buildings Department review of newly filed plans, is an administrative procedure used by the agency that must be eliminated. Every plan must be analyzed for compliance with the new zoning resolution. This is why we have a New York City Buildings Department!

I feel strongly that this agency has not realized the impact that over development has had on communities throughout our city. Their business as usual approach reflects years of administrative ineptitude. It is now time for major change.

I will keep you in touch with the progress our working group on the Council makes towards this end.


    Monday, January 23, 2006

IS MONEY WAITING FOR YOU?
Did you know that you could qualify for as much as $6,000 from Federal, State and City government by filing your taxes?

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a payment to working people who meet specific income limits. However, you must file a tax return to claim it even if you don't owe any taxes. More than 21 million working people claimed the credit last year. You can too!

If you are a single person whose annual gross income is at or below $11,750 or a couple filing jointly with income not exceeding $13,750 you may qualify for a tax refund. With children, the income limit rises to as much as $37,263.

You can claim the EITC up to three previous years if you either didn't file taxes or didn't claim the EITC when you filed. So, if you worked in 2002, 2003, 2004 but didn't either file taxes or claim the EITC, you can file now and claim this credit.

If you think you qualify speak to your tax preparer or go to irs.gov to prepare your own taxes using the "Free File" programs. If you need information on community based organizations assisting in this effort you may call my office at 718-931-1721.

PARK ISSUES
The largest Park in the city of New York, Pelham Bay Park, is in the 13th Councilman's District as are a host of local parks and playgrounds we must protect from vandalism and crime. As your City Councilman, one thing I am committed to is legislation requiring a minimum baseline budget for the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) so that a set amount of officers are hired by this agency to keep our Parks safe, provide orderly use of park land and enforce park usage laws for the benefit of those who love our parks. In the past, this program has not been sufficiently funded. It is a key component to parks maintenance and can actually fund itself through tickets and summonses they issue to people abusing our park land.


    Monday, January 16, 2006

PRIORITIES FOR 2006
As a new member of the NYC Council, last week I watched the inaugural address of Mayor Bloomberg and also attended my first City Council meeting. Mayor Bloomberg and the new City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn both spoke of the necessity of getting guns off the streets. Although crime in our city is down for 2005 as it has been in previous years, guns and other weapons remain a major problem on the streets of our city. We need to seriously analyze programs now in place to rid the city of guns and laws on the books that deal with those who illegally possess guns or use them in the commission of a crime.

Education was another common theme. We must look at reading and match scores and identify why they are seriously languishing during the intermediate grades, especially grade 8. We must determine why scores are so low in these grades and what we must do to improve pupil performance. Poor performance in the intermediate grades can only portend problems in high school and lead to unacceptable drop out rates and failure.

While I support the Mayors effort to eliminate social promotion, we must make sure that students receive the type of assistance that will result in permanent improvements rather than band aid approaches that only got them into the next grade without the needed skills or strategies to excel in future years.

A final item I plan to examine deals with the rising costs of fuel. With gasoline once again increasing in price and home heating fuel also increasing, we are in for an expensive winter. Governor Pataki announced in his State of the State message that he was proposing to increase funding for the HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program). While that suggestion is a worthy one, we must also look to increase the income guidelines for this program so that more families, particularly the elderly, can receive needed assistance as they strive to make ends meet.

These are only some of the issues that I hope to address in my first year serving as your councilman.


    Monday, January 09, 2006

PUBLIC SAFETY, ALWAYS A CONCERN
The fatal shooting of Police Officer Daniel Enchautegui on Arnow Place and Westchester Avenue has brought us back to a dangerous reality. Even though crime rates have dipped throughout out city over the course of the past eight years we must remain always vigilant when it comes to safe guarding ourselves against types of crime.

In this particular murder, residents on a quiet residential street in a safe low crime area were shocked to learn that an off duty police officer protecting his neighbors was shot and killed in cold blood.

From a policy perspective, I must note that the state of New York no longer has a death penalty law on the books. Over a year ago, a state court threw out the New York State death penalty statute. The legislature has failed to act to this day and our state has yet to enact a new death penalty statute.

In the case of those who kill police officers as well as in other cases where heinous murders are committed against innocent citizens, society has the right to enact laws that give to judges and juries the ultimate penalty. It is important that our state lawmakers make this a priority when they reconvene and restore the death penalty.

The entire issue of how police manpower is allocated and why precincts such as the 45th and 49th have historically not received their fair share is of concern to me as well. We realize that police officers cannot be at all places at all times. Yet, it is important that we restore foot patrol programs on major commercial strips so that citizens will get to know a beat officer and the officer will get to know situations that must be watched and addressed.

FLU SHOTS:
A reminder, I will be joining Bronx Municipal Hospital (Jacobi) in sponsoring flu shots on Tuesday, January 10, from 4pm to 6pm at the Throgs Neck Ambulance Corp., 3955 East Tremont Ave. Appointments are required. These shots are free and available for all ages. Please call 718-892-1161 as soon as possible.