Poll Position: Fighting for relevance

The Guardian Angel, media personality and prolific cat owner Curtis Sliwa has a new venture: breaking the democratic stronghold in Astoria. 

At least, that’s what he plans on doing. Whether he can be successful is a much bigger question.

Sliwa, 68, is no newcomer to politics. BUt even more so, he is no newcomer to generating some media buzz.

As a savvy PR operator, Sliwa knows more than most on how to generate a press cycle. Just back in January, Sliwa was able to generate a similar buzz by announcing his offer to help the mayor clean up rats at his Bed-Stuy apartment with cats.

What both these stories show, more than anything else, is Sliwa’s ability to generate press and cling on to relevance while his political cache has waned in recent years.

His new venture, the Ronal Reagan political club seeks to challenge the growth of DSA within the neighborhood.

“We’re going into the belly of the beast of the Democratic Socialists of America in New York City. We’re going to take on AOC and Caban,” Sliwa said in his announcement.

The club aims to challenge DSA’s grip on the Western Queens neighborhood by  promoting “ fiscal responsibility, small government, and lower taxes in Queens while maintaining an open dialogue with the community about the issues facing them,” per the announcement’s press release. 

While the announcement got some press, his venture to actually make change will be a much more uphill battle and nearly impossible.

In the 2021 City Council election cycle, Tiffany Cában resoundingly won the primary against other more liberal candidates, capturing 62.6 percent of the final vote in the final round. In the general election the candidate only netted 30.5 percent of the vote, a measly 6,209 votes to Cabán general election total of over 12,000 votes. 

The large gap in the polls demonstrates the stronghold that Astoria is. If Sliwa was more interested in actually spreading his message and trying to get more conservatives elected he would focus on closer elections like South Brooklyn or in the Bronx where the issue of crime is much more salient on voters minds and actually has a chance of change in representation.

But of course, this whole announcement was more pomp than anything else –  hoping to score a few headlines for an increasingly irrelevant person in Big Apple politics.

In Our Opinion: Legislative Staffers deserve a union

Staffers of the state assembly announced that they are trying to get union recognition, as City and State first reported last month. We believe that they deserve recognition.

The move follows organizing efforts by staffers of the state senate to be recognized as the  New York State Legislative Workers United group. 

As reporters who engage with these offices regularly, good staff are the unsung heroes of a successful politician. Many staffers who work these jobs often can’t afford to live in the district they are representing despite long hours and demanding work. 

Behind every good policy proposal, solving constituent services complaints or positive perception of a politician is a hardworking staffer.

“Far too many of us can barely make ends meet, regardless of our office, credentials, seniority, or responsibilities. Most of us work long hours, including late nights and weekends, and our overtime is unpaid. Compounded by the rising cost of living these factors disadvantage employees from less privileged backgrounds and make long-term careers with the Assembly increasingly difficult to manage,” a Jan. 17 letter from New York State Legislative Workers United, explaining their want for a union.

If we want New York’s brightest to keep working in government rather than go to the private sector, a union is the best way to ensure they are able to stay for the long haul. If we want the staff to reverse the economic and racial diversity of our city, having a union to secure decent wages is of utmost importance.

This is especially true when the legislature voted at the end of last year to boost their own salaries by 29%, making them the highest paid legislature in the country and netting them an $142,000 annual salary. 

A Nonagenarian and WWII Veteran Looks Back at His Life

By David Paone

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They call them the Greatest Generation: those who lived their childhoods during the Great Depression, only to have to fight the Second World War when they became of age.

Bill Isaacson, a resident of North Shore Towers, can check both those boxes. The Navy veteran sat down with The Queens Ledger and looked back over his 97 years.

Beginnings

Isaacson was born in the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn on May 5, 1925, the second of five children of Russian immigrants. 

His father owned a furniture manufacturing and sales company, but during the Depression, lost the business. He also lost the family house, which he owned. 

Isaacson said his family survived, “as best we could.”

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and America entered World War II. Isaacson remembers the day.

“I was in a basement socializing with a group of teens,” he said. “And we heard about the war breaking out. And I went to enlist. My father wouldn’t sign the papers.” 

Isaacson was only 16 at the time but sensed the need to volunteer. “I felt I wanted to do my part,” he said.

His friends were eager to enlist and all were later drafted. “Likewise, they wanted to do their part, of course,” he said.

Uncle Sam Wanted Him

When Isaacson turned 18 in 1943, the war was not over, making him eligible for the draft. 

“I didn’t get drafted right away because I had pneumonia at the time of my 18th birthday, and the draft board gave me 90 days to get well,” he said.

By this point Isaacson had one friend from the neighborhood – also 18 – who was in the service and had died in Italy. 

Isaacson chose the Coast Guard, but the draft board had a different plan for him and he was inducted into the Navy in April 1943.

As an honor graduate from signalman school, Isaacson was a Signalman Second Class and appointed to Flag Command, which is the personal staff of admirals. 

“I served with Admiral Sherman aboard the USS Missouri and with Admiral Fechteler aboard the USS Wisconsin,” said Isaacson.

“I was on all the biggies,” said Isaacson, regarding the ships on which he served. These included the USS Wisconsin, the USS Missouri, the USS Enterprise, the USS New Mexico and the USS Guadalcanal, which brought back 495 former prisoners of war from Japan. 

“I was on duty when five of them jumped overboard,” said Isaacson. 

He saw each of them light a cigarette and jump, in what Isaacson believes were definite suicides. “This was in the middle of the night,” he said. They circled until daylight but never found them.

Japan surrendered in 1945, bringing an end to the war. Isaacson was on the island of Guam at the time. It just so happened his younger brother, Boris, was on a minesweeper in the harbor, and the two were able to connect for four hours. 

Once the end of the war was announced, “Everyone was celebrating,” said Isaacson. “Guam was muddy up to your knees and everybody was dancing.”

Isaacson said he served, “Two years, six months and 15 days.”

He was offered the rank of Signalman First Class, if he reenlisted, but decided to pursue his education instead.

Having served in the military, Isaacson was eligible for the GI Bill, which would cover his college tuition. He earned his Bachelor’s with a major in Spanish (inspired by his high school Spanish teachers) from Brooklyn College in 1949 and his Master’s in 1951 from there, too.

Isaacson calls himself a member of the “52-20 Club.”

“We got $52 for attending school for 20 weeks,” he said with a laugh.

A Brush with Death

In 1950, Isaacson was a student at the University of Havana, in Cuba.

On November 1, a student strike was called for 72 hours. At breakfast, his cook told him, “Something happened in Washington,” and there was no school that day.

Isaacson phoned his professor who said he was conducting class nevertheless and he should attend.  Isaacson did.

On the steps of the university, Isaacson was stopped by three men who began to interrogate him. “I answered all their questions,” said Isaacson, and then one asked to see his student ID. It was green, which signified he was from the United States.

“One of them pulled out a pistol and held it to my head and walked me to my room,” he said.

One of the others nudged him and said, “We’re not looking for an incident,” which Isaacson interpreted as his desire to avoid an international incident.

Two of them marched Isaacson and his professor to the curb at gunpoint. They were told, “If you come back in the next 48 hours, you will be shot on site.”

The man who told the gunman not to start an international incident was the president of the student union who called the strike, and a law student as well. It was Fidel Castro.

His professor later told him that the man who held a pistol to his head was the son of Enrique Collazo, the Puerto Rican nationalist who attempted to assassinate President Truman in the Blair House on the same day.

 

The 20th Century

Isaacson was born before the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge were erected. He remembers when “peddlers” sold their wares from horse-drawn carriages in Brooklyn.

But the 20th Century saw endless advances in modern comforts and Isaacson was there for most of them. 

During the Golden Age of Television in the 1950s, he watched TV comedy pioneers Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. But it was the moon landing in 1969 that struck him as the greatest achievement.

During his childhood, the “Buck Rogers” serial was a complete fantasy; space travel was only achieved through movie magic.

But watching an actual human set foot on the moon was real life and not a special effect. 

“I couldn’t fathom people walking on the moon,” he said. 

Isaacson’s family had relocated to Bayside and he met his future wife in Queens. They had a son and a daughter.

In 1959, Isaacson became an appointed Spanish teacher at Bayside High School and remained there working in various administrative positions until 1985, ending his tenure as assistant principal of the Department of Foreign Languages.

Isaacson spent his entire career in education, also teaching on the college level at Brooklyn and Nassau Community Colleges, and as dean of instruction at Five Towns College. He retired in 2020 after spending 70 years in the classroom when Covid-19 struck.

Modern Times

For most of Isaacson’s life, computers were something the government and huge corporations used; nobody owned one. “Software” and “internet” weren’t even words. But Isaacson has embraced modern technology and uses email and carries a cell phone, although he uses it, “very seldom.” 

“I feel it’s a wonderment that I will never understand,” he said.

The Isaacsons were married for 52 years.

It took him 77 years, but Isaacson recently joined American Legion Post 103 in Douglaston.

Isaacson is the picture of health. His memory is still sharp and although he sometimes walks with a cane, he’s still very spry.

World War II veterans are passing daily and in a few short years there will be none left.

“All my friends are gone. They were all in the service,” said Isaacson. “That’s the punishment for living to 97.”

Swastika found at Greenpoint Playground

By Matthew Fischetti

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A swastika was found defacing one of the trees at American Playground in Greenpoint this past Sunday.

“This is one of the most wonderful spots for kids in our community,” Councilman Lincoln Restler, whose office was first alerted about the vandalism, said in an interview with the Greenpoint Star. “And I was deeply disturbed to learn of this hateful imagery appearing in the park.”

The councilman said that he turned the hateful carvings into a square with a key when he first went to check on the Franklin Street park, between Milton and Noble Street, on Sunday Feb. 26.

The councilman then alerted the local precinct and parks department about the issue, he said.

“Unfortunately, we have experienced anti semitic incidents in Greenpoint over many years. And a number of anti-semitic incidents across the city has grown exponentially over the last few years,” Restler said. “From swastikas being scraped, painted or drawn to physical attacks against Jewish people, and we need it to stop. Unfortunately, the anti-semitic attacks have been disproportionately targeted towards Orthodox Jews, who are more obviously Jewish, based on their dress and custom.”

The United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Restler said that creating cross cultural engagement opportunities with various community leaders and developing curriculum for schools are part of the solution to battling anti-semitism across the district.

Shortly after his election, Restler participated in neighborhood canvases along with Jews for Racial & Economic Justice in order to address anti-semitism, as the Jewish-Telegraphic Agency first reported.

There have been no arrests at time of publication.

Black Veterans for Social Justice receives $1M in funds

By Matthew Fischetti

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Over 70 people packed into the halls of Black Veterans For Social Justice last Friday to witness the unveiling of a $1,000,000 donation to the group.

The Bed-Stuy Veterans Resource Center and Community Organization was founded in 1979. The 665 Willoughby Avenue location helps connect veterans returning home from combat with resources and helps place veterans with benefits such as housing, benefits, employment and more during their transition back to civilian life.

“Serving Black veterans – people who have fought in wars, to lift up to the principles of American freedom, liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law, protecting democracy – you all have been a part of that black history and that American history. And were so thankful for you and your work,” said U.S. minority leader and Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who delegated the funds, at the announcement.

The funds were made available through Community Project Funding, a program where congress members can appropriate funds to their district.

After the announcement was made, Veterans and attendees were able to connect with a series of government offices in a veteran resource fair: including the Veterans Justice Outreach Program, which helps connect veterans with Veteran Administration benefits; the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program; the Jobs to Build On Program, a city program that helps unemployed people with job preparation and placement; among many others.

“That’s what today’s veterans resource fair is all about – continuing that work. To make sure that our veterans upon their return can live a decent, comfortable life. Having sacrificed for us, we should always be there for them,” Jeffries said.

Army Veteran and member of Brooklyn CB-2’s Veterans Committee, Andre Parker, 65, said that he came to familiarize himself with the services and check on some of his personal benefits.

“When you get out of the military, they don’t really give you too much information,” Parker explained. “But if you look at the benefits, or if you’re looking for like medical issues – this place here is good with job placement, housing, and it’s just not widely available.”

Parker emphasized that resource centers like Black Veterans for Social Justice are especially important for younger veterans, who may have recently left and not know what kinds of benefits they qualify for.

“I think it’s good – especially since we have our congressman leading the way. That was a good thing. As you can see, it was pretty packed downstairs,” Parker noted about the recent $1 million in funds that BVSJ can now tap into.

BVSJ President and CEO Wendy McClinton said that the funds would go a long way in providing programming and services for formerly incarcerated veterans coming home.

McClinton said in an interview that the program aims to engage veterans in the 90 day period that veterans re-enter society after incarceration.

“The veteran must be engaged within those 90 days, and then set up with those wraparound services, which may mean little basic things like clothing, job readiness, employment, making sure their mental status is correct, and tying them into other wraparound services,” she said.

McClinton also said that the funds would help hire more individuals to work on the program, which could have up to nine staff people in order to help reduce veteran recidivism and “learn that time served means new beginning.”

“We can employ more veterans, with the right background and credentials, peer to peer, to make sure that these formerly incarcerated veterans transition back into society with a veteran, with tender love and care and a listening ear,” McClinton said.

U.S. Army Corps hosts resiliency town hall

By Matthew Fischetti

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Over 100 Greenpoint residents packed into the Triskellion Arts Center last week in the neighborhood  to attend a town hall co-hosted by the North Brooklyn Parks Association and U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez to address draft plans from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers for creating a more resilient waterfront.

While the town hall was attended by mostly Greenpoint residents, the event marked the first time both representatives from the Queens waterfront neighborhoods along the Newtown Creek were working cooperatively over the issue. Elected officials franging from Sunnyside Assemblymember Juan Ardilla to Greenpoint Councilman Lincoln Restler were in attendance last Thursday to discuss the draft plans.(Queens residents were able to log-on and attend the meeting virtually as well to voice their concerns.)

The tentatively selected plan would include sea walls along the coastline and storm surge barriers as well as raised promenades as mitigation measures.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer representative Byrce Wisemiller emphasized that the Army Corps main focus was reducing storm surge risk.

“Some refer to our view on storm surge as somewhat myopic. But that is the impact that has caused 10s of billions of dollars of damage and has the greatest life safety threat of all those risks,” Wisemiller said.

Many residents who spoke out at the town hall were concerned with proposed renderings for a 17 foot tall sea wall in Greenpoint, stretching from Kent Street to Newtown Creek. At the Town Hall Wisemiller noted that the rendering was five feet too high and emphasized the designs are subject to change following the public comment period.

“But the bottom line of what we’re really trying to communicate is this neighborhood goes as unaddressed, severe coastal storm risk – as you probably all know that way better than me having lived here. We need to do something,” Wisemiller said. “Maybe the seawall, bigger flood wall, maybe the location needs to change. But this is not something that cannot be addressed.”

Willis Elkins, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, raised concerns about how the plan will affect the remediation of the creek and how the current plan could limit connection between the East River and the Newtown Creek and cast aspersion on storm surge gate would adequately protect the area.

“But for us more than anything, the exchange between Newtown Creek and the East River is incredibly vital to the health and the remediation of Newtown Creek, we have strong current flows that are coming in and out twice a day,” Elkins said, referencing the proposed clean-up of the creek which is supposed to happen within the next five years. “And anything that’s going to inhibit the flow of that water is going to have, in our opinion, strong impacts on the water quality of Newtown Creek and how Superfund remediation is going to happen.”

Elkins’s presentation also noted that he believes the storm surge gate as it ignores other causes of flooding like sea level and groundwater rise.

In a Feb. 17 letter addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance also had several critiques of the draft plan ranging from that is cuts access to long fought for waterfront parks; that the plan doesn’t protect the Williamsburg waterfront; that the sea gates will restrict water flow and lead to increased combined sewer overflow, thereby slowing down the Superfund clean up; and not having enough “natural and nature-based solutions.”

“In summary and conclusion, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance feels it is incumbent on the USArmy Corps of Engineers plans to fully incorporate community feedback and visions; employ an environmental justice framework; consider the potential impacts of past, current, and future New York City and State projects; and clearly address existing environmental conditions—especially where hazardous toxins, contaminated sites, and greater risk of flooding are involved,” the letter reads. 

During the question and answers point of the town hall, western Queens Councilwoman Julie Won raised equity issues with how Queens and Brooklyn are getting their flood protections.

“We have had the least amount of public and social infrastructure investments in all five boroughs. And Brooklyn is not too far behind that,” Won said at the meeting, noting that Manhattan has received funding for flip-up barriers, a type of flood protection that would leave pedestrian spaces unimpeded. 

Construction for the project would start around 2030 with a duration of 14 years.

Comments are available until March 7th about the proposed design. Readers interested in voicing their position can email their comments  to  [email protected]

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