South Brooklynites Come Together to Drain the Flooded Streets on their Own

By Oona Milliken, Charlie Finnerty and Matthew Fischetti |

From Rockaway Beach to Gowanus to Elmhurst, residents of Queens and Brooklyn faced the brunt of last week’s flooding as roadways, homes, subway stations and airports filled with water Friday in what has now been recorded as the worst storm to hit the city since Hurricane Ida. 

Communities worked together all afternoon to clear drains and save neighbors from rising floodwaters but as the outer boroughs return to dry warm weather this week, questions remain about Mayor Eric Adam’s ability to communicate and prepare New York City residents for the historic severe storm.

Water rose to more than three feet high on the corner of Wallabout Street and Harrison Avenue in South Williamsburg on Friday Sept. 29 as New Yorkers across the city dealt with a bout of extreme flooding that prompted a city-wide state of emergency. Anthony Calderon, a Queens-based resident who works at Top Quality Management, a management company on Wallabout St, said he was cleaning up the trash from his office that the water had swept away and spread out across the area. Calderon said when the intersection flooded, he was reminded of storms such as Hurricane Ida, when New York City was shut down under a Flash Flood Emergency for the first time in recorded history and 13 people perished due to the rains. 

“Hectic. A lot of rain. It’s just kept coming, kept coming. On Wallabout and Harrison, the flood was coming up here, to your knees at least,” Calderon said. “I was afraid, like ‘Not again, what is this flood?’ I remember a couple of years ago when the hurricanes came, all the subways flooded and Queen’s Boulevard…That’s how I felt, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Not again.’”

Mayor Eric Adams was slammed by critics for not giving proper notice of the flooding when his office knew of the dangers on Thursday evening and Governor Hochul had already issued a flash flooding warning for New York City earlier in the day. Adam’s office sent out an email alert at 11 p.m. on Thursday, but did not shut down schools and hosted a public briefing around noon on Friday, hours after the worst rainfall had subsided and the governor had already declared a state of emergency across the city. 

The New York City sewer system was originally designed to maintain 1.75 inches of rain per hour, but areas such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard were hit with 2.58 inches of rain per hour, as early as 8:00 to 9:00 a.m, according to the Mayor’s office.

“And so its no surprise, unfortunately, as a result, that that part of Brooklyn and a couple of other particularly (sic) part of Brooklyn have borne the brunt of this,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commish Rohit T. Aggarwala.

Right before noon, the mayor urged New Yorker’s to stay home or “shelter in place,” while many commuters were already at work. On the Wallabout St. and Harrison Ave intersection, Calderon said the flooding became so bad that community members stepped in and dealt with the problem on their own by removing a manhole cover and letting the storm water drain into the sewer systems. 

“People from the community thought of putting gates around, and I had to go do something, and when I came back I could just see a spiral [of water] going down right in the corner. It was amazing. I mean, you could see cars floating,” Calderon said. 

Sandy Spadavecchia was driving his car through the Wallabout and Harrison intersection when the water partially submerged his car, rising up inside and stalling his vehicle. Spadavecchia said he saw a couple of construction workers and Hasidic community members attempt to deal with the problem until someone finally pulled the manhole cover to drain the water. Spadaveccia said he was lucky his car stalled when it did because he could have driven right into the manhole as the water was running into the sewer system. 

“There was flooding and the car stalled out in the middle of going through it and that was it,” Spadavecchia said. “In some ways I was lucky because I stalled out three or four feet in front of that open manhole cover, I might have gone into that.” 

Spadaveccia said he felt the city could have prevented the piles of trash spread by floodwaters throughout the area had residents been told to keep trash inside during the storm. 

“In my personal opinion, they probably should have suspended trash pickup, because I did see a lot of trash bags that hadn’t been picked up clogging [the streets],” Spadaveccia said. “I mean, they knew this was coming so they probably should have told people to keep their trash in for the day.” 

Calderon and co-worker Peter Nieves, both at Top Quality Management, were mopping other stores on the street and picking up trash that had been spread during the floods Friday. When asked for a quote on the flooding, Nieves said he just wanted some help and maybe an alcoholic beverage.  

“Can I get a beer?” Nieves said. 

Across Queens, where many residents are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Ida, floodwaters closed roads, impacted public transport and filled basements. Cars were overrun with flooding on Grand Central Parkway and in Rosedale, with a number of drivers abandoning their vehicles altogether. Waters engulfed Rockaway Beach, where nearly every home is considered to be at risk of flooding, suspending Long Island Railroad service

As early as 6 a.m. Friday, travelers at LaGuardia Airport were experiencing inclement weather delays. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for the afternoon across the airport, stopping all departing flights due to the flooding and weather in the area, canceling or delaying nearly 40% of all flights Friday. Terminal A, the oldest section of the airport, flooded with several inches of water and shut down 11 a.m. Friday until early Saturday morning. Videos captured travelers trudging through ankle-deep water at gates across the terminal. Ongoing renovations in Terminals B and C have included flood protections that have not yet been implemented in Terminal A.

Progressive Pols and Advocates Oppose Budget Cut

Critics say budget doesn’t need 15 percent cuts

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]


Lefty politicians and advocates gathered outside City Hall last week to denounce the Mayor’s proposed 15 percent budget cuts across all city agencies next year.

Hizzoner has said that the cuts are necessary due to the lack of total support from the feds and Albany in addition to COVID aid funds are running out of steam.

While Adams believes the across the board cuts are necessary to deal with the city’s finances, electeds at Tuesday’s press conference said they believed there were a range of options to stave off the cuts.

Specifically, they proposed implementing a package of reforms to the CityFHEPS program, a rental assistance program, which the mayor vetoed and the city council overrode back in July. The proposed reforms would make a series of changes to the voucher program including eligibility by changing the requirement to qualify for the program from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent the area median income. The package of legislation, which includes four bills, is estimated to cost $17 billion over the next five years, which was the Mayor’s reasoning for vetoing the package.

(Adams axed a rule that required people to stay in homeless shelters for 90 days in order to qualify for the vouchers, which was one of the four pieces of reforms proposed by the council.)

“There’s one thing we have learned in 20 months of an Eric Adams mayoralty, it’s that this man says crazy stuff every damn day. But let’s ignore the crazy stuff he says and focus on the crazy stuff that he’s doing,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and Greenpoint Councilman Lincoln Restler said at the rally.

“He has already cut billions of dollars from the city budget. Our services have been obliterated. People can’t access federally funded food stamps. People can’t access cash assistance. People with housing vouchers placed in apartments can’t actually get into their homes, because we don’t have the staff. And what does the Mayor want to do? Cut. And cut. And cut,” Restler continued.

Attendee from last week’s rally against the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts. Credit: Gerardo Romo NYC Council Media Unit


Additionally, state legislators and members of the council’s Progressive Caucus who attended the rally also advocated for increasing state taxes on the wealthy, getting additional funding from the state and federal government and expedited federal work authorizations. (Gov. Hochul has been reportedly considering state work permits for migrants while federal work permit authorization has stalled in Washington.)

“Eric Adams should be looking towards other opportunities in terms of how New York should increase its revenue instead of looking toward budget cuts. Year in and year out, for the past two years that Mayor Adams has been in office, he’s looked towards budget cuts prior to the migrants being here and prior to this being a crisis. Mayor Adams should be looking towards solutions of increasing the amount of money that we could be raising,” Bed-Stuy Councilman Chi Ossé said at the rally.

Ossé raised the idea of establishing a pied-à-terre tax on the ultra wealthy, which is a tax on rental properties that aren’t the primary residence of the owner. New York State Senator Brad Holyman originally sponsored a pied-à-terre tax in Albany back in 2014.

A May study from the Comptroller’s office estimates that a combined policy that would repeal Madison Square Garden’s tax free status, a partial repeal of coop-condo abatements and a luxury pied-à-terre tax could increase city revenue by an approximate $400 million per year. Within the same report, the Comptroller’s office estimates that a luxury pied-à-terre surcharge could net up to $277 million within the first year and $239 million within its third year of implementation.

Ossé also suggested that the mayor could hire more auditors to better collect revenue as a possible solution to the problem that doesn’t require austerity measures.

Attendees at the rally also casted doubt on the projected cost of migrant arrivals being the driving factor behind the mayor’s austerity measures.

“Lastly, with these cuts, I want to be clear, the mayor’s administration has proposed cuts to the budget long before the migrants got here. So to pretend the migrants are the reason to propose cuts is disingenuous at best,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said at the rally.

Some groups such as the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute have estimated that the proposed budget impact from the mayor’s office is overblown.

Bed-Stuy Councilman Chi Ossé speaking about potential tax revenues like the pied-à-terre

“The City estimates the total cost for asylum seekers over 2024 and 2025 is $10.9 billion — however, the City’s portion of the cost for asylum seekers over 2024 and 2025 is $8.9 billion, of which $2.4 billion was already budgeted for in the adopted budget. This puts the City’s new funding need at $6.5 billion over the next two years: $2.3 billion in 2024 and $4.1 billion in 2025. The proposed budget cuts of $10 billion per year are billions of dollars higher than the increased cost estimates for asylum seekers,” Executive Director Nathan Gusdorf said in a statement.

The rally also coincided with the recently established 60-day deadline for single adult migrants without children to vacate city shelters. If a migrant wants to stay in the shelter after that time period they must reapply.

“This mayor has attempted to eliminate the right to shelter, has broken our promise of ensuring that New York City is not run with street homelessness by adding directing like the 60 day rule,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and chair of the Immigration Committee Shahana Hanif said at the rally.

Hanif continued to criticize the possible implementation of a 30 day rule, which would cut the stay time for single adult migrants to 30 days rather than 60. The Adams administration is currently considering the possible rule, according to the New York Post.

“Those policies are terrible, unjust and violent,” said the Park Slope councilwoman.

City agencies will submit plans to cut an initial five percent of costs in the coming November budget update and will be required to find additional five percent cuts by the time the preliminary report comes out in January and an additional five percent in cuts submitted by the release of the executive budget in April. The final adopted budget must be reached before July 1 after negotiating with the council throughout May and June.

Colorful New Gateway Unveiled at Marsha P. Johnson Park

A group of around 20 people stand in front of a park gateway, posing for a photograph. The gateway is made of black metal with glass flowers and metal sculptures of flowers in different colors. Large trees with green leaves and light gray skies can be seen in the background.

Attendees pose for a photograph in front of the new gateway.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

Williamsburg’s Marsha P. Johnson Park has a new gateway honoring its namesake, complete with colorful metal and glass flowers and the Trans activist’s famous “Pay it No Mind” motto. 

Brooklyn pols, members of Johnson’s family, New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation and local residents attended a celebration of the gateway’s opening on Thursday, what would have been Johnson’s 78th birthday. 

The park has also been outfitted with new landscaping and informational panels highlighting Johnson’s life and community. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who spoke at the event, said that many involved in the project had wanted the park to be filled with plants, which influenced the final design.

Gallagher also said that the community fought the original plan for the park, which called for a large plastic walkway to be built across it and for its pathways to be covered in black asphalt, alongside the Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform, which Johnson co-founded.

“This, as you know, had been a garbage dump for a long time, and it had never been treated with the care that the community really wanted when it had become a park,” Gallagher said in an interview. “It was a very basic park, so we wanted something really beautiful, and we were frustrated by that.”

The original plan, which was created under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, stirred controversy among local community members, many of whom felt blindsided and unheard.

The local community was notified that the park would be closed for construction for six months in January 2021, but North Brooklyn residents and activists criticized New York State Parks for lacking public outreach before the design was created. 

A community group called Stop the Plastic Park gathered more than 2,100 signatures in a petition opposing the plastic walkway design, noting that the community was only given a few days’ notice of the plan. After pushback from the North Brooklyn community, the Black Trans community, Johnson’s family and local politicians, Cuomo halted construction on the site in early March. 

James Carey, Johnson’s cousin and President of the Marsha P. Johnson Family Foundation, said the park’s current design is the result of years of community activism.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the community,” Carey said in an interview. “We kept coming up here during COVID-19, looking at plans and going through walkthroughs, and as a result this is the fruit of our labor.”

Ryan Kuonen, a member of Stop the Plastic Park, said that pressure from the local community helped lead to more public input in the plan for the park.

“It didn’t feel respectful, it didn’t feel in the spirit, it felt gimmicky, and the one thing this neighborhood wanted, because activists had built this park, they wanted it to be a tribute to the activist that honored her truly,” Kuonen said in an interview. “Then all the groups came together, the family, the Black trans community, our community, and it was a trinity of superpowers that couldn’t be stopped.”

Councilmember from North Brooklyn Lincoln Restler, who spoke at the celebration, said he was pleased New York State Parks listened to concerns from the local community and Johnson’s family over the original design in an interview. 

“I was so happy when the state designated this park as Marsha P. Johnson Park, I cannot think of an activist and champion for trans rights and human rights who deserves this recognition more,” Restler said in the interview. “This entrance is breathtakingly beautiful, and the cobblestones and historic nature of the park have been preserved, and Marsha P. Johnson Park looks better than ever.”

New York State Parks New York City regional director Leslie Wright said that the planning and construction of the park have led to a greater focus on public engagement for larger-scale parks projects.

“Every park community acts and feels and behaves a little bit differently,” Wright said in an interview. “This one is home to many, many, many super passionate, extraordinarily dedicated community members, folks who’ve been working to make this particular property a public park for decades. So the feelings, the passions, that commitment runs really, really strong. And we completely respect that and embrace that and this park, and the way it looks today is proof of exactly that.”

Gutiérrez joins BetaNYC and North Brooklyn Parks Alliance in Mapping Equity Project

A digital map of a housing complex in Brooklyn in light green, grey and different shades of white. Small black spots marking different amenities are spread throughout the map.

Cooper Park Houses, which a group of attendees learned to map during the event, as mapped on OpenStreetMap.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

A program run by BetaNYC, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance and councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez’s office is looking to make data on public resources in the city more equitable across communities, making it easier for communities to advocate for their needs.

The program, called Mapping for Equity, focuses on areas that have been mapped in the least detail. The program uses OpenStreetMap, a mapping software that allows the public to contribute to its features, to map amenities like benches, trash cans, playgrounds and more in public spaces. 

BetaNYC, NBPA and Gutiérrez’s office held a launch event for the program last Monday, where they presented the results of their mapping efforts thus far.

Karrie Witkin, a representative for the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, said that the mapping tool could be useful for the organization as it is focused on the maintenance of public amenities in parks. 

“We’re very interested in this tool from a planning perspective and figuring out where we need to be and how to get our services equitably distributed throughout the district,” Witkin said at the event. “This is an exciting tool, it makes visible so much that’s invisible in our maps.”

On OpenStreetMap, wealthier areas are often mapped in greater detail than low-income neighborhoods, which can make using data based arguments for better resources in those neighborhoods difficult, according to the BetaNYC website.

Attendees were able to try mapping for themselves during a field section of the event, and were encouraged to later add their findings to OpenStreetMap. Reverend Dr. Katie Cumiskey, a professor at the College of Staten Island who attended the event, said she hopes to replicate the mapping process on Staten Island.

“It’s really important that citizens of our city feel empowered to be involved in how the city comes to understand the neighborhoods that they live in, especially for those folks who live in public housing or neighborhoods that have been historically excluded or underserved by the city,” Cumiskey said in an interview. “BetaNYC has a really fun and cool way for folks to feel like they can engage with how the city interprets and views their neighborhoods.”

BetaNYC has had two cohorts of Civic Innovation Fellows, all City University of New York students who were matched with the fellowship through a university program, participate in the Mapping for Equity program. Together, the two cohorts mapped over 5,100 features in OpenStreetMap, according to BetaNYC fellowship manager Jazzy Smith.

Kinji Donald, one of the fellows who worked on the project, said that once features are uploaded to OpenStreetMap, they take around a week to be visible to the public.

“I feel like I’m actually making a change and helping the public,” Donald said in an interview. “Hopefully we can see certain patterns that will allow us to see areas that may need more amenities, or may have a lot of damaged amenities that need fixing, and we can take care of.” 

Noel Hidalgo, BetaNYC’s executive director and a Technology & Democracy fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said he hopes to work with nonprofit organizations and other community groups to use the mapping data for advocacy purposes.

“The fight for open data is about getting the opportunity for everyone, not just government, take the information and use it for analytical purposes,” Hidalgo said in the interview. “Something that we’re very, very passionate about is figuring out how communities and individuals can take that information and use it for their local advocacy purposes.”

Anya Lehr, Gutiérrez’s senior adviser, said that as chair of the New York City Council’s Technology Committee, the councilmember has seen the inequalities caused by technological infrastructure, and that it can be difficult to make arguments for addressing issues in a community without quantitative data to back them. 

“When she started thinking about all the other inequalities, which there are a lot from a long time of not having investments, the thing that we would always do is go ‘well where’s the data?’” Lehr said at the event. “Super excited to be working on this project with everyone, as soon as we saw this, as soon as Jazzy showed us what came out of this, it was like ‘this is awesome.’” 

Hidalgo said BetaNYC began working with Councilmember Gutiérrez around a year ago, and that she had continued the work of her predecessor, now Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, in providing funding for the organization’s data literacy work. 

BetaNYC has been running literacy classes for OpenData, a government platform that includes public datasets ranging from crime statistics to film permit data, since former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the “Open Data Law” in 2012. The law required that by the end of 2018,  all public datasets be accessible on a single portal online.

Hidalgo said that the organization uses mapping to teach how to use OpenData, an idea that arose when gathering in office spaces for literacy programs became difficult due to the pandemic. He also said that the next step in the project is working with BetaNYC’s community partners, such as NBPA, and teaching them to run data collecting events, data entry and how to maintain the data.

“This project is just one rung in the ladder of a very long ladder of data literacy,” Hidalgo said in the interview. “We now have a nuts-to-soup perspective of how to teach and how to collect data, and walk you as the general public into the context of collecting data.”

Migrants Being Housed in Brooklyn Rec. Centers Amid Crisis

A red brick building with columns at the entrance stands in front of a blue sky. The U.S., NYC Parks and New York State flags hang off the building. The words "Sunset Play Center" are written on the building's facade, and people can be seen walking up the steps to the entrance.

The Sunset Park Recreation Center.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

As New York City’s migrant crisis continues, the city has taken to housing the influx of asylum seekers in unconventional locations, most recently in the recreation centers of Brooklyn’s McCarren and Sunset parks. 

Over a hundred asylum-seekers are being temporarily housed in the centers as shelters and emergency hotel space in New York City have exceeded capacity. In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said the number of asylum-seekers coming through the city’s intake system has left it to deal with a national crisis on its own. The spokesperson also said almost 100,000 asylum seekers have passed through the city’s system since last spring.

“We are constantly searching for new places to give asylum seekers a place to rest their heads, and recently located a wing of the McCarren Recreation Center and the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn to house adult asylum seekers,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

The new shelter spaces, which have been met with mixed reactions from local residents, will house around 80 and 100 migrants, respectively. Those housed in the centers receive three meals per day and have access to onsite shower and bathroom facilities.

When a group of 60 or so migrants moved into the Sunset Park center last week, around 100 local residents protested their arrival, while others offered them food and other resources, according to Gothamist.

Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who represents Sunset Park, said she asked those planning the protests to instead focus their efforts on community funding and problems with the immigration system in a statement.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity,” Avilés said in the statement. “I recognize community frustrations and share them over a lack of communication from the Mayor’s Office and a temporary disruption of services, but we must not fear monger. Whether you’re the Governor of Florida or a local, I will not stand for the use of human beings for political gain.”

A group of six city, state and federal Brooklyn politicians, including assemblymember Emily Gallagher, councilmember Lincoln Restler and councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, said they were notified that the McCarren Park center would be used to house asylum seekers ahead of time and that access to pool and fitness facilities would remain open in a joint statement.

“We will continue pushing to secure more appropriate facilities to house people in need and expedite moving New Yorkers from our shelter system into vacant permanent housing,” the statement reads. “In the interim, we will do whatever we can to galvanize compassion and support for our new temporary neighbors.”

Benjamin Rodriguez, an asylum-seeker staying in the Sunset Park center, said that he came to New York from Peru seven months ago, and that he was previously being housed in a hotel. He said that while he has been able to find employment in the city, many others have not and would benefit from more government assistance with employment, such as work permits.

“We have a roof to live under, and for that I give thanks,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “We know we are going through a very difficult situation, but it will pass one day.”

Mohammed Yamdi, who traveled to the city from Mauritania and is also staying in the Sunset Park center, said that there is little work available for migrants. He also said he has been told his request for asylum could take six months to a year to be processed.

“I want to bring my family here,” Yamdi said in French. “My children would learn to write and go to school and be alright, not like in Mauritania.”

Currently, there is a backlog of over two million cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to a 2023 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report. The average wait time for a hearing is more than four years, and receiving a final decision can take even longer.

Luke Petrinovic, a city employee who lives near Sunset Park, said he had worked in a migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas last summer, and he thinks it is important to be welcoming of asylum seekers.

“It’s talked about like it’s a crisis, but migration is a fact of human civilization,” Petrinovic said. “People oftentimes get very discouraged because it’s an unsolvable problem, but that means it’s the sort of thing that you have to accept and learn to be a good person in that circumstance.”

Opioid Use Treatment Center Opens in Downtown Brooklyn

Mayor Eric Adams stands before eight other politicians and advocates, many of whom are wearing suits. He wears a white polo shirt and stands behind a small podium with a microphone attached. A television screen behind the group reads "Center for Community Alternatives."

Mayor Eric Adams at the new center.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

Treatment for opioid addiction can be difficult to access, but a new center in downtown Brooklyn is looking to remove barriers to care.

The new wellness center, which is run by the Center for Community Alternatives, will provide opioid use disorder treatment through medication, counseling, employment support, court advocacy and other services at no cost to patients. The center is a part of a New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports project that will create up to 39 of these programs across the state. 

Mayor Eric Adams attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the center on 25 Chapel St. this past Friday, praising the De Blasio administration’s past efforts to curb drug overdoses and voicing concerns over the rise of fentanyl. Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon, State Senator Jabari Brisport and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Kimberly Council were also in attendance.

“Because you’re at a bend in the road, it’s not the end of the road, as long as you allow it to make the turn,” Adams said. “On the other side of addiction, we see viable, healthy New Yorkers that want to give back.”

There are currently 35 other outpatient centers for substance use disorder licensed by OASAS in Brooklyn, but this will be the first center to take a holistic approach to treatment.

Mayor Eric Adams stands in front of a crowd of around 10 people, holding a pair of comically large scissors behind a large ribbon. The ribbon is navy blue and has white text reading "GRAND OPENING" on it twice.

Adams cutting the ribbon at the center’s opening.

Carole Eady-Porcher, a former opioid user who now serves on CCA’s board, spoke about her experiences with drug use and how difficult it was for her to find help. She said that she lost her job due to her drug use and was eventually arrested for selling drugs while pregnant. 

Eady-Porcher said that she had sought a treatment program from a judge in her case, but that when her request was accepted the center she was sent to shamed patients for their past drug use. She eventually enrolled in a CCA program for women, which gave her access to employment and counseling. 

“Across this country, people who use opioids are overrepresented in jails and prisons, and after at least they are the most likely to overdose due to their reduced tolerance,” Eady-Porcher said. “What New York has needed for a long time is an integrated opioid treatment program that is tailored to the needs of people who’ve been impacted by the criminal injustice system.”

Eady-Porcher said that while treatments for opioid use disorder have existed for years, they have not been widely accessible. She said that if she had had a program like what’s offered at the new center when she was first struggling with drug use, she might have avoided using and being homeless for 12 years. 

Black and Latine people are the most common demographics for drug-related arrests in New York City, according to 2023 arrest data. So far this year, there have been around 3,400 arrests of Black people, more than 700 of Black hispanic people and just under 2,000 of white hispanic people over drug-related offenses. 

Council spoke about the role mass incarceration and criminalization play in drug addiction, as well as her own experiences with drug use in her family. She said her father was a drug addict and that she lost her sister to a fentanyl overdose last year.

“The thing that brings us here today is a very big deal. The Center for Community alternatives is showing up for Brooklyn in a major way,” Council said. “When we leave from this place of love and care, that's when we turn the tide in the opioid crisis. That's when we put an end to the senseless preventable deaths incurred by our failure to show up in a real way, for those who need our support.”

OASAS commissioner Chinazo Cunningham, who is also a physician and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the center aims to improve access to treatment for underserved communities, including minorities and justice-involved people. She said a person dies from an overdose every 90 minutes in New York, and that justice-involved people are up to 40 times more at risk of overdosing than the general public.

“We know we're in a historic place in terms of the overdose epidemic. This is the worst we've ever experienced in this country, in this state and in this city,” Cunningham said. “This work happening here at CCA is so important, more important now than ever before, and specifically for the population that it serves.”

New Legislation Introduces Speed Limiting Device Proposal in Brooklyn

By Oona Milliken[email protected]

At the Brooklyn Heights intersection where Katherine Harris was hit and killed by a speeding driver in April of this year, Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher introduced legislation that would impose hindrances on drivers going more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. According to a press release, the bill would mimic the model of drunk driving legislation where convicted drivers must prove that they are sober by blowing into a device before they can start their car. Similarly, the legislation would only impact driver’s with six or more speeding tickets in one year. 

In a statement, Assemblymember Gallagher said the bill is important to take precautionary measures to ensure that people like Katherine Harris do not have to die. 

“As more Americans continue to die from motor vehicle crashes than in any other country in the world, we need to take proactive and common sense measures to reduce traffic violence,” Gallagher said. “Cars and trucks can act as weapons when used recklessly, and people who have repeatedly demonstrated they will endanger lives while operating vehicles should be limited in how fast they can drive.” 

According to Kate Brockwehl, the survivor of a near fatal car crash and an advocate for the organization Families for Safe Streets, the legislation is a big step in reducing serious car accidents and deaths. Brockwehl said that many people in the United States think of traffic fatalities as just an unfortunate part of life, something unpreventable, and said she wants people to understand that serious car crashes can be avoided by infrastructure like this bill. According to Brockwehl, she was hit by a speeding car as a pedestrian in 2017, and spent a year and a half in recovery from the incident. 

‘I’m a huge fan of the bill,” Brockwehl said. “To me, this bill is incredibly straightforward. It doesn’t remove your keys, it doesn’t affect your ability to drive, you can go all the places you need to. It says you can’t go more than ten [sic] miles over the speed limit. You don’t get a ticket until that point.” 

According to Brockwehl, bills such as the one that Gounardes and Gallagher are putting forward were nonexistent in the United States until recently because the technology to safely slow down cars did not exist in American markets, though some form of speed reduction technology has been used in the European Union on all new cars since 2022, according to Autoweek Magazine. 

Under the new legislation put forward by Gounardes and Gallagher, offending drivers that try to go more than five miles will have their speed reduced by intelligent speed assistance . The bill has a precedent in an ISA pilot program installed on New York City fleet vehicles, in which 99 percent of vehicles successfully remained within the speed limit parameters. 

Brockwehl said that the legislation is just one step in fighting traffic violence, and said that Families for Safe Streets is also pushing to introduce alternative street configurations that would slow down drivers, including something called a “road diet” which would add more room for bicycle paths and turning lanes. Brockwehl said that her ultimate goal is for fatal and near fatal traffic incidents to be a thing of the past. 

“There’s nothing preventing my being killed next time, or like someone I love, unless I never go outside again in my life,” Brockwehl said. “I think we’re just so incredibly used to [traffic deaths] in the United States to the point that it affects so many more people than people who are involved in Families for Safe Streets, but I think people don’t realize it yet.” 

In a statement, Councilmember Lincoln Restler said that, if passed, the legislation will ultimately lead to safer and more habitable streets. 

“Too many New Yorkers are victims of traffic violence due to reckless drivers,” said Restler. “I’m excited to support Senator Gounardes’ and Assembly Member Gallagher’s common sense legislation that will increase accountability on the most dangerous drivers, make our neighborhoods safer, and ultimately save lives.”

Notorious B.I.G Statue Unveiled in Downtown Brooklyn

By Oona Milliken[email protected]

On Cadman Plaza, nestled amongst a cluster of institutional buildings like the Brooklyn Borough Hall, the County Clerk’s office and various other courthouses criminal and otherwise, stands an institution in its own right: Brooklyn’s own Biggie Smalls. A nine-foot tall interactive sculpture of the late rapper was unveiled on Wed. Aug 2 and was celebrated with speeches from Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and other community leaders, a dance performance by Victory Music & Dance Company as well as a marching band concert. 

Sherwin Banfield, the artist who created the sculpture, said he was inspired to make the piece because of his connection to Biggie’s creativity and artistry. 

“I was exposed to Biggie my first year of Parsons School of Design, my next door neighbor, he invited me over and said ‘You’ve got to hear this, this album just dropped,’ this was in 94, it was ‘Ready to Die,’” Banfield said. “When I listened and I heard it, I was completely blown away. It was completely unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was cinema, cinema as music.” 

The sculpture, dubbed “Sky’s the Limit in the county of Kings,” is cast with Biggie’s face in bronze, complemented with a variety of different materials such as resin, stone and stainless steels and also includes an audio component powered by solar panels that run alongside Big’s back. Hip-hop is not just being honored in Cadman Plaza: there is a world-wide movement to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music, with multiple events happening in New York City this summer. Banfield said he was heavily inspired by hip-hop music, and that he wanted to mix different artistic mediums to mimic the genre’s amalgamating of different sounds and musical styles. In an interview, he also said he wanted the statute to inspire young people. 

“This sculpture is not for everyone, but for kids that find themselves in unusual circumstances that are hurtful, or they might feel like the world is against them,” Banfield said. “You know, they can look towards this sculpture as an achievement for someone that took their talents, that took their God-given talents, and ran with it. Biggie said, ‘If you find something that’s in you, just develop it.’” 

Biggie Smalls, who also went by the Notorious B.I.G, Biggie or just Big, was born 1972 as Christopher George Latore Wallace in Clinton Hill. He is often named by critics and other musicians as one of the best rappers of all time. Biggie was multi-faceted, and touched upon deeper subjects like struggle, depression, compassion, love, and suicide in a way that other hip-artists at the time would not speak about publicly. Oftentimes, he was also vulgar, rapping bluntly about sex, violence and drugs, and was controversial for the darkness of his lyrics. Overall, his rumbling voice, melodic lyricism and gritty storytelling came to represent East Coast hip-hop alongside peers such as Nas and Jay-Z. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that hip-hop was incredibly important to young people growing in the city, and it was heartwarming to be celebrating such an influential artist in his birthplace.

“Hip-hop was, and is, the soundtrack of our lives,” Williams said. “To see the impact hip-hop has is amazing. To be celebrating 50 years [of hip-hop], to be able to unveil a Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G bust and statue in front of Borough Hall…who would have thought that it going to be what it was when we were bumping our heads on the train, on the bus, listening to “Ready to Die,” listening to Biggie. It’s just amazing.” 

An attendee of the event who goes by K.C., short for King Crust, went to the same school as Biggie, and said that watching someone from Brooklyn become such a big name in the music industry inspired others from the neighborhood to follow their own passions. According to King Crust, Biggie represents the essence of Brooklyn. 

“Hip-hip is life, hip-hop is everything. The rhythm of how you carry your everyday is hip-hop,” King Crust said. “Biggie Smalls is the illest. That should be known all across the world. He was the illest to ever do it.” 

The statue will be available for viewing on Cadman Plaza until November. 

Council Grills Officials on Air Quality Response

By Carmo Moniz

[email protected]

The New York City Council committees on oversight and investigations, health & environmental protection and resiliency and waterfronts questioned city officials on their response to last month’s air quality emergency at a hearing Wednesday, with many politicians criticizing the timeliness and effectiveness of city agencies’ emergency communication.

In early June, New York City’s air quality index — which measures air quality on a scale from zero to 500 — rose to 460 due to smoke from Canadian wildfires, posing health risks to the public. Some councilmembers criticized officials for being slow to warn the public of the situation and being inconsistent in its emergency messaging.

“When smoke descended on New York last month, New Yorkers were shocked to see the sky blotted out and find the air was dangerous to breathe,” Councilmember Gale Brewer, who chairs the committee on oversight and investigations, said in the hearing. “They looked to state and local leaders for guidance during this unprecedented incident, however to many people it appeared that our local executives and agency chiefs had little advice to offer on how to stay safe or aid to provide.”

The council’s questions were mostly addressed to Office of Emergency Management commissioner Zachary Iscol, who defended the city’s response to the emergency. Iscol said that city agencies used Notify NYC, a citywide alert system, along with other avenues of communication to get information about the emergency to the public, distributed hundreds of thousands of masks and coordinated response efforts across agencies.

“We will continue to pivot and shift our response to ensure New Yorkers are best served and protected,” Iscol said. “That said, I am incredibly proud of our robust response.”

Iscol said that the city did the best it could with the air quality data it had available. He said that AQI forecasting is especially difficult for smoke, and that the information is only available less than 24 hours ahead of time from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Iscol also said that forecasts did not project “hazardous” air quality levels, where the AQI is 301 or higher and the general public is “more likely to be affected” by pollution, until June 7, the first day Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference. He also said that public messaging around the crisis began June 1. While an air quality alert exists for June 1, it warns against poor air quality caused by Ozone rather than smoke pollution. 

Lynn Schulman, a councilmember from Queens who chairs the committee on health, noted that the air quality emergency was a new challenge for the city and that city agencies had limited reliable air quality data to work with.

“We’re facing a new norm now, so the city did the best that it could do but we can always do better,” Shulman said in an interview.

Samantha Penta, an associate professor of emergency preparedness at the University at Albany, said that while the speed of public messaging in emergency situations is important, the accuracy and detail of the information should also be a priority.

“It wasn’t necessarily like New York City starting from scratch, they have a long history of emergency management and risk communication, but just because you have experience with it doesn’t mean it isn’t still an undertaking,” Penta said in an interview. “Inherently we’re talking about systems under stress and that always poses an additional challenge for the folks whose job it is to help people survive those moments of stress.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood, asked what would be done for communities living near manufacturing areas with already lower air quality in an emergency, such as in North Brooklyn.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Health Corinne Schiff said that the agency will be sharing the public recommendations made during the emergency on its website, and that it worked with community and faith centered organizations to share information.

“We know that these burdens are not distributed equally throughout the city,” Schiff said. “We were, all of our agencies including the health department, messaging to communities that are disproportionately burdened by air quality and conditions like asthma, we were doing outreach to those communities and we’re going to continue to do that.”

A committee report created prior to the hearing included recommendations for how to handle future air quality emergencies from press outlets and public experts, including providing more advance notice of the emergencies and using subway system announcements and police car loudspeakers to alert the public. They also recommended issuing a Code Red warning, which is usually used in instances of dangerous heat, so that outreach workers can help get homeless individuals into shelters.

Lincoln Restler, who represents parts of North Brooklyn, said that the California government sets up public clean air centers in air quality emergencies, and criticized Iscol for not implementing a similar system or calling a Code Red.

Iscol said that Department of Social Services outreach teams were deployed to encourage homeless people to enter shelters and hand out masks during the emergency, similarly to in a Code Red. He said that a Code Red includes heat emergency specific protocols, such as sending out cooling buses and distributing sunscreen, that would not make sense in an air quality emergency.

“The most important thing during an event like this is taking care of our city’s most vulnerable, and we did that,” Iscol said.

“I disagree,” Restler said in response.

A day after the hearing, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Councilman  Keith Powers announced a package of new legislation addressing indoor air quality in schools and municipal buildings at a press conference.

The first of the four bills would require the Department of Education to update the standards of regulation for indoor air quality in public schools, and another similar bill was proposed for city owned buildings. The other two bills would create five-year pilot programs for monitoring air quality in other buildings, one for commercial buildings and another for residential buildings.

Schulman, who is a sponsor of the new legislation, said that the bills will help provide the public with air quality education and improve air quality in schools and public buildings.

“We have these wildfires that are proliferating around the globe, and they’re creating dynamics where it creates unhealthy air quality for people that breathe it in,” Schulman said. “It’s important now to be on top of that and have legislation that will help to enhance air quality moving forward.”

The legislation has been in progress for almost a year, but became more urgent due to the recent air quality crisis. Councilmembers Pierina Sanchez, Rita Joseph and Mercedes Narcisse also helped sponsor the package.

“When we came out and saw our sky was orange, it was a panicked time for us, wondering what was going on,” Narcisse, who represents parts of South Brooklyn and chairs the committee on hospitals, said at the press conference. “The air we breathe is so important, so we’re going to continue to hold those accountable to make sure we have the best air quality inside of school buildings, inside of hospitals, inside of offices and wherever we are.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast Returns to Williamsburg For Its 136th Year

The Giglio stands over the crowd in front of a cloudy sky, facing another structure with a wooden boat on it.

The Giglio stands before the crowd.


By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

Hundreds gathered in Williamsburg on Sunday to celebrate one of the oldest existing Italian American traditions, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and San Paolino di Nola Feast.

The 12-day-long feast features plenty of food stands, carnival-style games and community traditions, including the lifting of the Giglio — an 80-foot-tall and 7,000 pound structure decorated with statues of saints and flowers.

Anthony Croce, who guided the Giglio through the festival, said that the structure honors an event dating back to 406 A.D.

“It was wonderful, it was one of the greatest days of my life,” Croce said. “It’s a show so I’m glad they’re happy and they’re cheering.”

The festival is a celebration of the return of San Paolino di Nola thousands of years ago after he was taken on a pirate ship. The saint had offered himself in exchange for the freedom of a young man captured on the ship, and was later released when word of his selflessness reached a Turkish Sultan. According to the legend, the residents of Nola welcomed him with lilies when he returned, marking the beginning of an annual tradition.

Just before the event began, Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, a pastor at nearby Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, led the crowd in prayer, after which a band played the national anthem.

“Summer doesn’t begin in Williamsburg until the opening of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” Gigantiello said in a statement. “The highlight of the Parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is our feast! It is the pulse and showcase of our parish family.”

This Sunday’s celebration involved around 100 men lifting the structure and moving it through the streets of the festival in what is called the “Dancing of the Giglio.” Another, shorter structure featuring a boat was also carried through the crowd, and the two met at the intersection of North Eighth Street and Havemeyer Street.

Nick and Andrew Conte, two brothers who helped lift the Giglio this year, said that they have been taking part in the tradition for many years.

“Our dad grew up around here so we’ve been doing it since we were big enough, and he’s been doing it since he was a kid,” Nick said. “It’s just tradition, family tradition, family, friends, every year it’s a good event to look forward to in the summer.”

Louis Passaro, who was also on this year’s lifting team and attended the festival with his daughter, said that he has been lifting the Giglio for 42 years. He said he had been unable to take part in the lift in the last two years due to a hip injury, but was finally able to return this year.

“My daughter loves it, and we’re going to keep the tradition going,” Passaro said.

A child sits on the shoulders of a man watching the Gilgio's procession. The child wears a headband with a unicorn horn and holds an inflatable mermaid doll in each hand.

A child looks on as the Giglio makes its way through the crowd.

Musicians and singers were aboard each structure, putting on a show for the crowd as they made their way to their destination. The afternoon saw scattered rain hit the festival, but the performers and crowd continued the celebration through the bad weather.

Other attendees were newer to the festival, like longtime Brooklyn resident Gil Moreno. Moreno had never attended the festival before this year, but said that he had been able to see the Giglio before all the way from the highway, due to its height.

“It’s been at least 30 years and finally I made it,” Moreno said. “The atmosphere is good there’s lots of food — too much food I think — it’s definitely a good time.”

Debbie Ferrara, a Williamsburg resident whose grandfather brought the Giglio tradition from Nola, said that she attends the festival every year and that people come from around the world to take part in the celebration.

“It gets better and better as you age, it’s like a fine wine,” Ferrara said. “It’s who we are, it’s our lifeblood. This is our Christmas in July.”

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