New Williamsburg Mural highlights life after incarceration

Inside prison, the tallies marked the months spent incarcerated. Now, in Williamsburg, it represents the continued punishment seen after people are released.

On the corner of Havemayer Steet and Metropolitan Ave, onlookers can now see a large brick canvass dressed with one-half of the tallies representing time spent in prison with the other must longer side showing the more time spent “free” but are still in effect serving a life sentence. A conviction record can lead to basic rights and programs being inaccessible to you ranging from getting a job, securing a mortgage, to receiving a new education.

The mural was created by Michael “Zaki” Smith, a formerly incarcerated New Yorker. The mural was in partnership with the R/GA, a corporate design consultancy that works with major companies like CVS, Google and Samsung. The mural is meant to build support for the Clean Slate Act NY – a piece of legislation that would expunge the records and allow formerly incarcerated individuals to fully participate in society as people who have served their time.

The legislation would add an automatic seal to someone’s conviction record after 7 years for a felony and 3 years for a misdemeanor. The new legislation is estimated by Clean Slate NY to help over two million formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. Currently, New York has an application system to seal records that Legal Aid attorney Emma Goodman, who helped write the legislation, says is often too opaque to reach New Yorkers.

“I started a project at the Legal Aid Society called case closed, that helps people to apply to get the record sealed under the current sealing law. And it just isn’t working. It’s too limited. Very few people know about it, you really need a lawyer to do it. And it takes taking people literally years to get their record sealed for like an old nonviolent conviction. And it’s just kind of waste of everyone’s time,” Goodman said in an interview. “Just automatically allowing the process to happen at the state level so that people can apply for jobs and housing and you know, just move forward is really what we need to do to make it accessible and to really change all of the people’s lives that deserve it.”

While it is a criminal justice bill in nature, Zaki sees it as much more than that.

“This is a human justice bill. This is an economic justice bill. This is actually a safety bill. Restricting individuals from housing does not produce safety,” Zaki said in an interview. “It’s an opportunity to shift legacy for New York. It’s an opportunity to end the the economic promise to upstate New York by building all the prisons and opening all the prisons in upstate New York, and creating an economic boom for Upstate New York, while the city becomes the inhabitants. 80 percent of the prison population is black or Latino 75 percent of that prison population came from seven neighborhoods in New York City. This is an opportunity for New York, for the state, to really clean up and demonstrate what criminal justice looks like.”

After being released over 18 years ago, Zaki still feels the punishment from his sentence. Four years into a job, they found out about his criminal conviction and fired him. He was unable to get a life insurance policy. But his story is just a footnote in the larger tale of how New Yorkers have trouble getting life started again after release.

“This would be a great example to show that it’s not just me, it’s millions of me in the world. I want that to be clear. I’m not just an isolated story, right. But my story is not stories that are typically told. This [referring to the mural] is not going to be on the front of the Daily News or the Post. Right now if I committed another crime, oh, that would be splattered all over the place,” Zaki said.

Greenpoint resident find calling in cooking

Robert Valle, a Greenpoint native, found his life’s calling in cooking.

By Mattthew Fischetti

Robert Valle knows you need the right ingredients to make something special.

He first started flipping burgers at 17-years-old and from there worked his way up every position in the kitchen, from busboy to sous chef, and from the hole-in-the-walls to Michelin starred eateries, to eventually designing his own menus as an executive chef at noted restaurants like Diner in Williamsburg.

But he didn’t always have the right ones of his own. 

Valle, 31, grew up in Greenpoint in a poor immigrant family. He didn’t have options for school. And still living in poverty wasn’t an option. So Valle, in his young teens and early twenties, got involved in gangs and selling drugs. 

“Being a gang member and a drug dealer, you cause a lot of misery,” Valle said. “I wanted to rebrand myself in a way where I changed what I was in the past. Take all the bad that I’ve done, move forward and figure out how to only bring good from the acts that I commit and not feel bad, because of the past that I lived.”

Valle chose to devote his life to food and make becoming a chef his life’s work. It was mostly because of that fact that despite whatever was going on in his home – kids going crazy, parents being overworked and tired – the dinner table was where everyone would “shut up,” enjoy their food and be happy.

Valle doesn’t like the term “New American”–the cooking lingo for upscale restaurants that do new takes on classic dishes. He prefers to call it New York-style inspired. From the elote carts to the hole-in-the-wall Polish joint he grew up eating in the slice of north Brooklyn he calls home, to the Uzbeki or Taiwanese places he now visits–it’s all inspiration. 

“All these meals have inspired my food. I feel like with food that’s the only way that you can be inspired. By eating all these different dishes and like exploring the world around you without actually having to travel,” Valle said.

Valle takes his New York Style cuisine seriously. After being introduced to farm-to-table cooking at One Stop Beer Shop, Valle has not turned his back. Seeing the level of care that went into the food there, from picking out every garnish to the creation of the final project, is what got Valle serious about cooking and permanently giving up his drug-dealing past. 

While it can create challenges to make traditional dishes from around the world by shopping at the Greenpoint market or from Empire state farmers, Valle says that it also pushes him to think about his dishes in interesting ways by figuring out to work with what he has. 

“It [seeing farmers talk about their produce] made me start to see that that was the route that we have to go. Providing for the people within your community instead of buying stuff from Mexico and supporting like, Dole and all these conglomerate producers. There’s plenty of hard-working Americans who are in our own state that produce fabulous products and need our business,” Valle said. 

Currently, Valle is working as a private chef while talking to some friends about potentially working full-time again at a restaurant. On April 5, he will take over the menu at Rolo’s in Ridgewood, and is creating a menu heavily inspired by his Guatemalan roots. 

Whenever Valle’s family would visit him in the states, his extended family would bring a suitcase full of treats. The first thing he would devour every time was fried chicken from Pollo Compero – or as Valle calls it “G.F.C. baby”, Guatemalan fried chicken. And it is going to be his signature dish for his one-night takeover of Rolo’s.

He’s tried cooking it a few times for his personal friends but this will be the first time he will be cooking it professionally – as the spices needed are hard to source from Guatemala. 

The menu will also feature side dishes including several different types of ceviche inspired from different Latin American countries; a grilled corn dish with lime mayo; a pickled relish with corn, hot chili, carrots, cilantro and feta cheese;plátanos maduros; a slaw; mashed potatoes; and even a flan for dessert. 

While Valle is staving away at the Queens restaurant, he won’t forget his Brooklyn Roots. He doesnt ever. Especially while cooking. Because on the inner palm of his left hand is a tattoo of a hard eight – the four and four dice roll – to remind himself that nothing good in life comes without hard work. Nothing worth celebrating, at least. 

Valle always had the ingredients. It just took him a while to find out the right way to cook them. 

Black-owned bookshop provides more than just good books

By: Matthew Fischetti


Darlene Okpo always had the idea of opening up a bookstore in the back of her head since her early 20s, but it wasn’t until she became a teacher that she realized she needed to open a store that focused on Black authors.

“Instead of me trying to fight the system and change the curriculum to include multicultural education, I felt I needed to open up a black-owned bookstore that focused on black authors, writers and books that talk about BIPOC people,” Okpo told the Brooklyn Downtown Star.

Okpo says that the catalyst to open the store stemmed from her own students not feeling connected to the texts they were reading in class. She talked to a booksmart student in her class who was falling behind on a writing assignment, who admitted that she was having trouble connecting to the assigned texts that didn’t feature Black girls like her. After Opko gave her a copy of “Mondays Not Coming” by Tiffany Jackson, other students of color started soliciting recommendations.

Two years later, in May 2020, Okpo opened her 480-square-foot shop on Water Street. Okpo named the store “Adanne” after her mother’s middle name to honor the support she gave Okpo to be herself and pursue her goals.

“When we look at the history of Black-owned bookstores, we went from 300 to around 120. And people don’t know, when it comes to the history, that Black-owned bookstores have been such a staple in the community because of what we experienced in just the United States alone,” Opko said about her decision to focus on BIPOC writers. “It’s not to exclude any other ethnic group. It’s just to say that this is a store where you can get all the knowledge that, for so many years, has been banned.”

While The Strand is one of her favorite bookstores, she didn’t want Adanne to feel overwhelming with the sheer volume of inventory. Or for her customers to feel rushed to simply purchase books and get out. Instead, Okpo opted to keep a smaller inventory and use the rest of the store to create a welcoming environment.

Inside the store, you’ll find couches, floor cushions; Black Panther posters and stickers of James Baldwin; racks for store merch; white shelves that pop off the bright orange and red color themes; and plenty of African-inspired artwork. Definitely not like a Barnes and Noble or even your average hole-in-the-wall bookstore.

“I wanted it to feel like a home. As if you’re walking into your grandmother or your auntie’s or your grandfather’s living room, and you’re just receiving all of this knowledge from books,” Okpo said.

One of the favorite programs that Okpo has held at the store has been the “Black book swaps” – days where people can come into the store and swap out three of their books for others and talk to fellow readers about what they enjoyed or what they didn’t about the books. Okpo has also hosted poetry reading sessions and talks where, usually self-published,  writers can talk about their projects and field questions from readers.

“It’s not about just signing the book. The author will go over why they wrote the book, their purpose and what they want people to take out of it. It’s great because I think when it comes to local bookstores, we want to support local writers because it’s very hard to do – putting out a wonderful body of work and then being able to have a community that supports you,” Okpo said.

Starting this Friday, Adanne will be hosting “sister sessions” where women can come into the store to participate in a meditation session, do some journal writing, and have a topic discussion. She hopes for it to be an outlet for women to discuss what they’re going through and be able to heal from it.

Opko told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that she hopes to expand into a bigger space within the next one to three years and turn the store into a center for writers so that they can do research, attend writing workshops and be a true community space.

In the meantime, Okpo is looking to set up a work-study program to help get high school students job experience. She specifically wants to participate in the mayor’s new program that will help employ 100,000 New York teens over the summer, with tailored programs meant to help at-risk youth.

“That was my original mission, it took time for me to do it because I needed to set the store up and make sure that people understood what Adanne was about. It’s not just a bookstore. It’s definitely a community for people of color, families, friends, activists, and everyone to just come in, learn, share, and contribute to what we need to do in this world.”







Fort Greene open street meeting gets heated

By Matthew Fischetti


The open street on Willoughby Avenue hasn’t made everyone happy.

At the community meeting about the project, hosted by Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and members of the Department of Transportation (DOT), critics of the program constantly interrupted, shouted at speakers and derailed the conversation multiple times.

The open street program was introduced during the pandemic as a safe social distancing measure. In May 2021, New York City passed legislation to make some of the open streets extend permanently. Willoughby Avenue isn’t a “full open street” but a variation known as a limited local access street – which allows limited vehicle usage for uses such as parking and local deliveries. Full closure lanes don’t allow for cars, besides a 15-foot emergency lane reserved for emergency vehicle use. Willoughby Avenue is also a street that is open 24 hours a day.

The Fort Greene open street recently made headlines recently for being temporarily closed and then promptly restored within the span of a few hours. Mayor Adams didn’t deny that the call to close the street came from someone in his office before taking action to correct the issue, as Gothamist has reported.

Councilwoman Hudson’s office conducted a survey via Google forms for the open street that had over 400 respondents. The results of the survey showed that 85 percent of respondents expressed full or partial support for the open street. People who didn’t support the plan expressed concern about traffic, emergency vehicle access and accessibility for elderly and disable people.

Throughout the meeting, opponents of the program complained about not knowing about the survey. Staff from Councilwoman Hudson’s office offered notecards to members of the audience in order to take their concerns as a remedy.

“This meeting should have been held two years ago when the plan started,” said Renee Collymore, a candidate for State Committee in the 57th district, who was in attendance that night. “I hope the community can come together to resolve what was unresolved tonight.”

Councilwoman Hudson noted that she is currently drafting a bill that would require community notification of changes to the open street program but did not elaborate on the specifics of how such a program would work.

Kyle Gorman, a senior project manager at the DOT, also highlighted the department conducted a community feedback survey in Summer 2021 that had over 1300 respondents and a 90 percent approval rate. Gorman also said that a post-implementation survey will be conducted this month and a presentation will be held at the next Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting.

Janis Russel, a local community member and car owner, says that she partially supports the open street program but doesn’t understand why they are open 24 hours a day.

“My opinion is that the open streets weren’t really figured out completely at the time. Because at the meeting, certain questions were asked, and they said ‘well, we’ll get back to you we’re doing a study’ or ‘we’re coming out with these numbers.’ So it just seems like some of that should have been done upfront,” Russel said.

Kevin McGhee, a resident of Clinton Hill who is involved with the Clinton Hill Safe Streets campaign, told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that while the opponents of the program interrupted the discussion it was understandable.

“This kind of venue is always tough, because the people that tend to show up are here, because they’re passionate. Sometimes that passion comes in the form of anger. But I think that you have to really listen to what people are saying, but also try to understand where they’re coming from. Ultimately, every person in this room cares about the well being of their community, they want a better quality of life, we just have different ideas about how to get there,” McGhee said.

McGhee also added that critics brought up a solid point about accessibility issues for the street and that he would like to see the DOT address that in future plans. He also noted that there is still work to be done on Willoughby Avenue and that he would like to see protected bike lanes and residential loading zones in order to counter double parking.

When asked about the common complaint about lack of community input, McGhee had his doubts.

CM Hudson awaits community input on the Fort Greene open street.

“I mean, community input, what does that mean? Does that mean in a public forum like this, where people show up and they yell over everybody that tries to speak in favor?” McGhee said.  “I don’t think that you necessarily just let the loudest, angriest voices dictate what happens.”


BK — the progressive way

CM Shahana Hanif has been named one of the co-chairs of the progressive caucus (Credit CM Hanif’s office).

By Matthew Fischetti


New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler and Councilwoman Shahana Hanif aren’t cut from the same cloth.

Restler got his start with reform-oriented politics by co-founding the New Kings Democrats – a group that helps elected transparency-oriented leaders. Then he beat the Brooklyn machine in an unusually high profile race for District Leader before working for the De Blasio administration.

Hanif served as director for community engagement and organizing for then-Councilman Brad Lander’s office. But that’s exactly why they think they’ll be good co-chairs of the New York City council progressive caucus.

“I come from a more leftist, Democratic Socialist tenant organizing background, while also having navigated leading participatory budgeting and community engagement in my predecessor, Brad Lander’s office. And then he worked for the de Blasio administration. So we’ve got really two diverse track records, which I think really allows for a blossoming relationship and partnership,” Hanif said.

The New York City caucus was formed in 2009 and has gone through a few different iterations under the previous three different speakers and two mayors it has existed.

“It was a more contentious dynamic between the Progressive Caucus, Speaker Quinn, and Mayor Bloomberg. It was a much closer partnership with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is one of the co-founders and original co-chairs of the caucus. The caucus perhaps played a less behind-the-scenes role during the Corey Johnson era,” Restler said.

CM Lincoln Restler has been named as a co-chair of the progressive caucus.

Hanif echoed similar sentiments, describing the previous progressive caucus under Diane Ayala and Ben Kalos as “dim and dead” and that now was a great opportunity to resuscitate the caucus as an “accountability machine” to the mayor.

When the caucus was founded it only had 12 members but this year has over 30 In the most historically diverse class of legislators yet with a high number of progressive-minded legislators. The caucus features some high-profile names like Majority Whip Councilwoman Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Finance Chair Justin Brannan and even Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

This caucus will be a “big tent progressive caucus,” as Restler described it, with a range of ideologies from more DSA styled members to center-left liberal reformers. Both chairs emphasized having robust dialogue and debate in order to ensure different versions of being progressive can be embodied in the work the caucus does going forward.

The progressive caucus is ready to flex its muscles under the more moderate Mayor Adams administration. Before he was even elected, Mayor Adams said that city council members who opposed solitary confinement had no desire to move the city forward but to simply be disruptive. After Mayor Adams released his preliminary budget, which includes a series of budget cuts, progressive members have attended rallies to fight against them.

Restler has emphasized that while challenging the Mayor on issues they disagree with is part of his responsibility as an independently elected representative that going to “nuclear war” with the mayor won’t help anybody. When Hanif was asked about some of the things she envisions being able to work on the Mayor with she paused.

“I guess that’s a tougher question for me,” Hanif said before laughing. “We haven’t necessarily articulated this in the caucus yet but, I think the mayor’s position on food justice in schools is something that I support and want to improve. But at this moment, with the preliminary budget out and seeing that nearly every single agency is seeing a reduction in funding, it is really tough to see where there’s alignment right now.”

Later in her interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star, Hanif qualified her statement by saying she wants room for debate and dialogue with the Mayor, as she wants for internal disagreements within the caucus, but still said the mayor’s policy decisions so far will make that a harder possibility.

In order to really build power and be a true accountability machine against the mayor, Hanif said just having a high membership rate won’t cut it.

“Something that the leadership has been in active conversation around in whether we see value in having quantity or do we see value in really ushering in a caucus that is very deliberate about some working groups that we’ve identified? We really want participation, we want this to be an effective caucus,” Hanif said.

Hanif said that the working groups – covering topics like the budget, communication, policy and bylaws – are a measure to ensure that members are there in just name only but are actively helping the caucus.

Restler will be leading the principles of statement and bylaws group, Hanif is running the communication group, vice-chair Carmen De La Rosa will be in charge of the policy group, and the other vice-chair Jennifer Gutiérrez will be taking the helm on the budget.

Hanif and Restler also said they would consider booting members from the caucus if they don’t participate enough.

Hanif also emphasized that it will take an inside-outside strategy working with unions, outside groups like the Working Families Party and DSA, as well as community activists and organizers to build an adequate coalition that can secure wins.

The legislative agenda has yet to be finalized as the first meeting of the progressive caucus won’t be until April 1. In talks with members, Restler said that treating housing and healthcare as a human right is near the top of priorities for the caucus and that they hope to create “a budget agenda that advances our goals of housing justice, environmental justice, and racial justice.”

Hanif said that the top issues she heard from members surround creating a just budget and divesting money from the police budget.

“My hope is that we can lean into areas of common ground with the speaker and the mayor to successfully advance a robust agenda that delivers for New Yorkers,” Restler said. “We’re independently elected council members and it’s our collective prerogative to represent the values of our districts and we are going to craft an agenda that that does just that.”







UMEC on strike for nearly 11 months

UMEC workers striking outside of their workplace

By Matthew Fischetti


The workers at United Metro Energy Corporation (UMEC), one of the largest energy producers in the city, have been on strike for nearly 11 months.

They have been standing outside their Greenpoint workplace every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. since April 19, 2021. Throughout the heat, throughout the rain, throughout the cold winter months and throughout the pandemic; they have been fighting for better wages, better healthcare and for a better workplace.

Ivan Areizaga, who has been working at UMEC for over five years, said that he is on strike but is not looking for a ‘handout.’ He just wants to be paid what he and his co-workers deserve. In his five years of employment, the only days he missed were when his mother passed away. He returned to work three days later.

“We dedicate ourselves to work to be loyal. But the bosses and owners are not loyal to us,” Areizaga told The Greenpoint Star.

A few months into the strike, John Catsimatidis, the billionaire CEO of Red Apple Group, sent a letter to some of the striking workers that they would be “permanently replaced.” Striking workers said they were paid $26.78, which is $10 less than the industry average. When the replacement workers were hired they had a starting wage between $30 and $32.

In an interview with The Greenpoint Star, Catsimatidis said that the figure was an “unfair extrapolation” and represented an “apprentice wage.” Paystubs from April 2021 reveal that terminal operators were paid $26.78 per hour.

Catismatidis also claimed that between February 2019 and April 2021 that the union had never met with management and blamed COVID-19.

Demos Demopoulos, the principal officer of Local 553, refuted those allegations and provided several dates from his calendar of virtual bargaining sessions that were held.

Catsimatidis and the Red Apple Group did not respond to requests for a follow-up interview.

Local Teamsters 553, the union representing UMEC workers, has three open cases for unfair labor practices against their employer, according to the National Labor Review Board’s case search. The cases include claims of the company refusing to bargain in good faith, coercive statements and discriminating against union employees.

Areizaga, a father of four, said that UMEC’s inability to come to the bargaining table has put a significant financial strain on his family. One of Areizaga’s sons is type-one diabetic, and was unable to get his medication due to losing health benefits.

“I just thank God nothing bad happened,” Areizaga said.

Andre Soleyn, the strike captain and father of three daughters, echoed the financial strain the strike has placed on his family.

“We have to literally sit down and budget every penny that I could use. There’s nothing extra, I have to budget down to how many trips I can take to the grocery in a week. And that’s very exhausting,” Soleyn said. “It’s hard for me to look in their eyes sometimes and say, ‘Okay, we can’t – because they don’t ask for anything extra. They ask for the bare necessities.”

Striking workers had six months of unemployment but have been relying on a GoFundMe fund ever since. To date, the fund has raised $13,786.

Union members on strike also expressed concern about the safety of UMEC hiring what they say are unqualified workers to handle the dangerous and technical work of operating the facility.

“I’m not running some kind of Mickey Mouse operation,” Catsimatidis said on the claims that the workers weren’t properly trained or licensed to operate the facility.

“They [workers on strike] know how difficult it can be to obtain those certificates of fitness from the fire department, because they are specific to the terminal. And it takes time and effort to study and be taught. So there’s no way that in the amount of time that he fired these replacements that they were having, you know, had all the proper qualifications,” Demopoulos said.

“We’re willing to fight now more than ever. Because look at all of the other strikes that have been going on like John Deere, Warrior Met Coal, Columbia teachers [referring to the graduate student union] and so forth… just to name a few,” Soleyn said. “All of that is part of that labor movement that we’re a part of. Saying enough is enough. We need to be paid what we are worth. We put our lives on the line, we did everything necessary to keep this place open while they were at home.”



Mayor’s new subway safety plan goes into effect

By Matthew Fischetti

A new subway safety plan went into effect on Monday, but homeless advocates fear the “crisis mode” plan doesn’t go far enough to deal with the root causes of the problem.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the initiative as violence in the city’s subway system is on the rise. Even since the Friday announcement, there have been a series of violent attacks.

The plan includes outreach teams for the homeless, cross-agency teams that include clinicians and police, increased police presence and enforcement and increased availability of safe haven and stabilization beds.

While the mayor’s plan tries to strike a balance between assuring public safety while also helping homeless individuals, advocates say the plan leans too heavily on public safety without getting homeless people the adequate resources they need.

“There are aspects of this report that have an encouraging amount of information, that they’re aware of the problem and some of the root causes of the problem, but the solutions they offer are less about addressing those root causes and are more directed to a crisis mode,” Dr. Deborah Padgett, a professor and researcher on homelessness at NYU Silver, said in an interview.

Dr. Padgett said that models like converting hotels into supportive housing, as former-mayor Bill de Blasio did early in the pandemic, would be one of the primary solutions to addressing homelessness.

Dr. Padgett published a study in 2021 examining the effectiveness of these programs and in New York found improvements in “general medical and mental health, personal hygiene, feelings of safety (from COVID-19 as well as violence), improved sleep, diet and nutrition, easier access to public assistance such as food stamps, and other advantages of having a stable address for applying for a job.”

The study also cites data from Seattle, where similar programs were enacted, that showed it increased transitions to permanent housing and keeping appointments with health care providers.

“And for those of us who are advocates, it’s not a good sign to increase the police presence, because it’s ultimately going to end up probably criminalizing more than it’s actually going to help homeless persons get off the street or out of the subways,” Dr. Padgett said. “And without someplace for them to go other than crowded shelters, this problem is not going to be resolved.”

Part of the subway safety plan includes joint state and city “Safe Options Support Critical Time Intervention” teams.

Critical Time Intervention was a model developed in the 80’s as a phase-approached program of engagement with vulnerable populations to help them adequately transition through periods of life and sustain success after they graduate from a nine-month program.

While the state and city teams utilize the name Critical Time Intervention, one of the creators of the model says the plan falls short of actually achieving it.

“We developed critical time intervention and that does work, but you need somewhere for people to go to help people make a transition,” said Dr. Ezra Susser, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Training program at Columbia University. “And if there’s nowhere to transition to, then it’s not really what Critical Time Intervention is.”

Dr. Susser’s model of Critical Time Intervention has proven to be very successful. In a randomized trial at 18 months after the original project started, time spent being homeless was reduced by two-thirds.The study also found that it was more cost-effective than typical measures.

While the subway safety plan will increase the availability of 140 Safe Haven Beds and nearly 350 Stabilization Beds in 2022, something Dr. Susser emphasizes is a good measure, he believes it falls short of really stemming the tide of homelessness.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there were over 48,000 homeless people in New York City in December 2021.

On the campaign trail, Adams introduced a plan to convert 25,000 hotel rooms into supportive housing for the homeless, but there have been problems making the proposal a reality.

Nonprofits that provide services in supportive housing have taken anywhere from six months to two years to get reimbursed, according to Gothamist. There have also been issues with zoning regulations.

Neither the Mayor’s office nor the Governor’s office responded to a request for comment by press time.

“The city and state need to make a big investment now in order to make a dent in the problem,” said Dr. Susser.

Reyna to ally with Suozzi for Lt. Gov. bid Read more: Brooklyn Downtown Star – Reyna to ally with Suozzi for Lt Gov bid

In the next Dessert with Andrew & Yvonne Zoom Seminar, the dynamic duo will discuss ways you can help those in need this holiday season. The seminar is titled, “Holiday Edition: Community Service.” From soup kitchens to nursing homes; learn about the various ways one can volunteer, and hear from organizations that are making a positive impact in our community.

Brought together through God

By Matthew Fischetti

Kevin and Regina McCormack on their wedding day 34 years ago


He wanted to be a priest since he was in middle school. She wanted to be a nun since she was in college. But it turns out, God had a different plan.

Over 35 years ago, Kevin and Regina McCormack traded their respective robes and veils and their vow of celibacy to serve Him in a greater way: through each other.

She was in her second year at the Sisters of St Joseph when the novice nuns had classes with the priests in the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. They quickly became friends.

It wasn’t until they attended the same wedding, Kevin being the best man and Regina the maid of honor, that Regina felt like there was something more than friendship.

“I was still in the convent at that time, and I guess the wedding triggered something,” Regina said in a recent interview. “And I knew then that maybe the life I thought I wanted to live was not the one that was intended for me.” 

One night after the wedding, Kevin was stationed in Glen Cove, when he heard a knock on the door. A nun was waiting for him.

“You can get to Flatbush by accident, but there’s no freaking way you’re getting to Glen Cove by accident,” Kevin said.

They braved the bad weather to go to a bar two miles away called the Barefoot Peddler. Over a few beers and mozzarella sticks, they started talking. They couldn’t deny it any longer.

Kevin left the seminary in January of 1985 and Regina left St. Joseph that following June. Two years later they got married at Queen of All Saints in Fort Greene.

As you may imagine, Kevin and Regina were more focused on their mass than their wedding party. They had about 15 priests at their altar and fretted on choosing the perfect music and readings for the ceremony.

They went with a passage from Corinthians: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

And persevere it has. This July, Kevin and Regina will be married 35 years. They have four adult kids, two dogs, a grandchild and another on the way, and one remarkable lifetime of memories together.

Today, Kevin is the principal of Xaverian High School, a private catholic school in Bay Ridge. Regina teaches religion to 8th graders at the same school.

“If you come to my house, I yell and scream at my kids,” Kevin said. “I like a cocktail on the weekend, I have to mow the lawn. I live like everybody else does, but that’s the way I think God needed me to live.”

Their secret to making it work? Not an act of God, but pretty mundane stuff like communication, listening and work.

But they still consider themselves incredibly blessed.

“We were being called to something that we had no idea many years prior to that,” Regina said. “We both thought our lives were set.”

“I still think she’s the cutest thing in the world,” Kevin said. “So that kind of works out for me.”


Gonzalez runs for new Senate district

By Matthew Fischetti

Kristen Gonzalez is running in the the Senate district that covers Greenpoint and parts of Queens

As a working-class girl from Elmhurst who commuted to middle school on the Upper East Side, Kristen Gonzalez developed an early political consciousness.

Even though she was in the same city, she realized she lived in two different worlds. At her Roosevelt Avenue station in Queens, she saw lines of immigrants waiting to get free breakfast from a Catholic charity. 

When she got off the subway at 86th Street in Manhattan, she saw lines of businessmen in fancy suits and coats grabbing their morning Starbucks. 

Even though Gonzalez is only 26 years old, she already has an impressive background in politics. At Columbia University, she was president of the local College Democrats chapter where she got involved in Get Out The Vote campaigns. 

From there she worked at the City Council writing policy recommendations through the Young Women’s Initiative, but felt like she didn’t see the needle moving. So during what would have been her senior year, she dropped out to work in Washington as a Latino Engagement intern for the Obama administration and then in Senator Chuck Schumer’s office. 

While she says the experience was informative, it also made her realize the change she wanted to make wouldn’t be found in the confines of City Hall or in the Capitol Rotunda, but rather, “it was in the working-class communities that raised me back in Queens.”

Less than 24 hours after the new State Senate district maps were released, Gonzalez declared as a candidate for District 17, which includes areas of Woodhaven, Maspeth, Long Island City, Glendale, Ridgewood and Greenpoint. 

She was first approached by the Democratic Socialists of America to run for office in December. Gonzalez thought it was a real opportunity to build a larger socialist movement in Albany.

“Next week, the strategy is to start down in southern parts of the district and, and really try to build on the movements we’ve seen with campaigns like Felicia Singh to turn up more folks in the Punjabi, Bangladeshi, and Guyanese communities,” she said. “Then coming back up to really engage and build a base of more Latino working-class families, as well.”

Gonzalez has assembled over 20 veteran progressive politicos who worked on campaigns for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán.

Gonzalez’s top three priorities are passing single-payer health care, building publicly owned renewable energy, and passing good cause eviction and ending subsidies for luxury developments.

She first got involved with DSA in 2018, organizing their tech action working group, rallying support for privacy bills like the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act to force the NYPD to be more transparent about the types of surveillance technology the department uses.

When asked about Mayor Eric Adams’s push to make New York City a hub for cryptocurrency, Gonzalez rolled her eyes.

“It’s a replication of the issue where the city moves forward in a way that benefits the very wealthy who are invested in things like crypto, but without thinking about those who are behind who just don’t have basic access to the internet,” Gonzalez said. 

A recent report from the state comptroller’s office found that over one million New Yorkers lack access to quality broadband services. As a member of the tech action working group, Gonzalez helped create the Internet For All campaign, a 46-page blueprint on how to achieve municipal ownership of broadband utilities.

Gonzalez has already raised over $23,000, and her Twitter account had such a quick influx of support and followers, the social media service put her account under review for “suspicious activity”.

“I could not be more grateful and just humbled by the support that we saw in this last week,” Gonzalez said. “We believe this is the best campaign for the district because we are representative of it.”

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