Assemblyman Barnwell will not see re-election

New York State Assemblyman Brian Barnwell recently announced that he does not intend to seek re-election next term.

“It has been a true honor to serve and I will never forget that I owe everything to the kindness of the people who allowed me to serve as their representative,” Barnwell announced on Twitter. “Just like any other job, you deal with various things you do not like and then one thing is the final straw that makes you decide to move on.”

The Queens Ledger recently caught up with Barnwell, whose district includes Maspeth, Middle Villiage, Woodside, Sunnyside, and parts of Elmhurst and Astoria, to help shed some light on his recent decision.

“What it boils down to is that people would rather play politics than solve the real problems we are facing,” Barnwell said in a message. “The recent budget was the final straw for me. We see all the gun problems and innocent people being killed around the city and the country. We need to be strong on that issue.”

Barnwell indicated that one of his biggest efforts as a state legislator was the ability to have illegal possession of a firearm, in its own right, be considered for bail.

“It doesn’t mean that bail would be set, but the Judge should have that option,” Barnwell continued. “It was denied and I found that unacceptable.”

He also expressed his frustration with city agencies, which he said: “do not want to do their job.”

“The number of no heat and no hot water complaints at NYCHA that went ignored time and time again was another truly unacceptable thing,” Barnwell said. “It is just a whole host of various issues with the government. I did my best to solve these problems during my time in the Assembly.”

In regards to plans following his tenure in politics, Barnwell said he doesn’t have any as of right now, except to finish the term.

According to City & State the local Democratic committee selected Steven Raga, executive director of Woodside on the Move and Barnwell’s former chief of staff, to run for open seat. He will square off against Ramon Cando, a Democratic district leader from Elmhurst and business manager of Laborers Local 78.

Gifted and Talented programs given new life under revamped plan

By Matthew Fischetti and Evan Triantafilidis

Education Chancellor David Banks and Mayor Eric Adams announced an expansion of the Gifted and Talented programs to every school district in the city.

The program, which starts at the Kindergarten level with an opt-in citywide test, will have 100 seats added to the existing 2,400 enrollment slots.

The admissions tests administered annually to thousands of rising Kindergarteners will be replaced with a student evaluation and eventual nomination by their pre-K teachers to a lottery system, or through an interview process if they are not yet in school, or attend a private or parochial school program.

The Adams administration says this universal pre-K screening takes the initial burden off families and will increase access to the program, resulting in a more diverse eligibility pool.

At the third-grade level, 1,000 seats will be added to the program.

Although it is not clear yet which schools in Brooklyn and Queens will be receiving the additional seats, the revival of the Gifted and Talented program was met with mixed reactions from elected officials. The Department of Education did not identify which districts will receive additional seats, despite multiple requests for clarification.

With just weeks left in his tenure, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last October plans to phase out the Gifted and Talented program. De Blasio planned to replace the program with “Brilliant NYC,” which would allow students eight and older to participate in accelerated learning programs while remaining in their original classroom.
De Blasio envisioned a program that was touted to reach 26 times more students than the current Gifted and Talented program, and offer a more widespread approach to attain a more inclusive model.

Critics of the Gifted and Talented program argue that the diversity of the program does not reflect the student body population. While Black and Latino kids make up the majority of city students – at approximately 65 percent – the Gifted and Talented programs enroll more than 75 percent of students who are either white or Asian.

The Adams administration says the expansion of the program is the result of the Department of Education’s engagement with and feedback from parents and diverse community stakeholders.

“We’re doubling down on this administration’s commitment to our youngest New Yorkers by adding additional seats and removing inequities in the admission process to allow students throughout this city to gain access to accelerated learning,” Mayor Adams said. “And thanks to this expansion, for the first time ever, there will be a Gifted and Talented program in every school district in this city. This is how we give every young person an opportunity to grow, to learn, to explore their talents and imagination.”

Elected officials along with education advocates voiced their approval of the new Mayor’s plan, while others claim that the move simply expands an already inequitable initiative.

Councilwoman Linda Lee, representing the 23rd District in Eastern Queens, has been advocating for the expansion of the Gifted and Talented program since before she was elected. With her youngest son eligible to test-in next year, Lee applauded last week’s announcement from the Mayor and Schools Chancellor.

“Since the fall, parents, community leaders, and elected officials have consistently called for G&T to be restored, and today the Mayor and Chancellor demonstrated that they are listening,” Lee said. “By not just expanding the number of seats available citywide, but also expanding programs to every school district in the City, and allowing students to test into the program at later ages, this new program will prove that we can have equity and educational excellence at the same time.”

A number of Lee’s colleagues in the City Council, including Speaker Adrienne Adams, Sandra Ung, Lynn Schulman, Rita Joseph, Justin Brannan, Gale Brewer and Oswald Feliz have all praised the move to expand the Gifted and Talented program citywide.

New York State Senator John Liu, chair of the committee on NYC Education, said that he is happy to see “positive movement” on accelerated learning in public schools, but remains cautious to the lottery system and “nebulous recommendations” that are a cause for concern for parents and families.

“Going forward beyond this school year, the administration must be sure to engage parents and students who have long called for more accelerated learning in order to address these outstanding issues,” Liu said.

Critics of the program, like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander, say that the revival and revamp of the Gifted and Talented program does not do away with the underlying tones of modern day segregation in the classroom.

Lander said that Elementary school students benefit from learning alongside a diverse group of peers, calling it one of the core virtues of public education.

“Segregating learning environments for elementary students, based on a teacher’s or test’s assessment of how smart they are, is not sound education policy,” Lander said in a statement. “We’ve seen repeatedly that stand-alone G&T programs lead to racial segregation.”

Other leftists like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have released white papers criticizing the program and instead advocating for a “school enrichment model.”

The model would utilize “a broad range of advanced-level enrichment experiences for all students, and use student responses to these experiences as stepping stones for relevant follow-up,” according to Williams’ report.

“Adding more seats, more access, more opportunity is an improvement that will extend these benefits to more students. At the same time, it is also an expansion of a program that is inherently inequitable,” Williams said in a statement.

Activist arrested during Myrtle-Wyckoff sweep

Update: Raquel Namuche’s case was dismissed and sealed in the interest of justice.

Ridgewood Tenants Union aimed to protect belongings of homeless

As Mayor Eric Adams’ citywide effort to clear homeless encampments continues, advocates in Queens have stepped up to support homeless neighbors in their communities.

This includes Raquel Namuche, founder of the Ridgewood Tenants Union, who was arrested by NYPD officers on the morning of April 9 during an encampment sweep on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood.

Namuche said that at around 10:30 a.m., as members of RTU attempted to make sure no items of value were discarded, a DSNY worker began to pull away a shopping cart.

She requested a few more minutes to review the contents of the cart, but was instead arrested by two 83rd Precinct officers for disorderly conduct and ​​obstruction of governmental administration.

Namuche was taken to the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, where she was detained for four hours and then sent to Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn where she spent 10 hours in a cell while waiting to see a judge.

“The commanding officer told me ‘no,’ that they had no time and other sweeps to do, and that they couldn’t give us one more minute. I assumed the cart belonged to Charlie, a homeless individual who stays at that encampment, but is currently at the hospital,” Namuche said.

“We just wanted to make sure that nothing of importance was thrown away, such as documents or ID,” she continued. “For that, I was arrested. This was not planned, and we believe that this was an unwarranted arrest.”

Cellphone video of police apprehending Namuche

Namuche said that a notice of the sweep was posted a block and a half away from the encampment, and that none of the men who stayed there noticed it.
RTU members agreed to store the belongings in their basements temporarily, and communicated with the homeless individuals about how to support them during the sweep.

“In this instance, we weren’t really trying to block anything, because the men told us that they just wanted help with getting into safe shelters,” Namuche said.

She added that one of the men, Michael, was able to go to a shelter in the Bronx where he lives in a single room.

But another individual named Jo Jo lost all of his belongings as a result of the DSNY and NYPD’s sweep.

“They took all my stuff and threw it away. Now I don’t have nothing at all to live on—no clothes, no socks, they took everything,” he told RTU members during the sweep.
“It’s not fair to us.”

At a recent press conference, Eric Adams said that the ultimate goal of his revamped policy is to build trust by engaging with homeless folks and informing them of the alternatives to living on the street.

But Namuche emphasized that the majority of homeless people have the same fate as Jo Jo when it comes to these sweeps.

“It’s very rare that these individuals actually get placed somewhere that is adequate for them,” she said. “The mayor’s office said that in March, 312 individuals accepted shelter placements. That’s not enough.”

“But in the meantime, they also arrested 719 people and gave out over 6,000 tickets during the sweeps,” she continued. “That just shows how violent they are.”
Ridgewood Tenants Union is in favor of using the 2,000 vacant apartments in the city for housing, as opposed to transitional shelters or Safe Haven beds.

The group also actively advocates for issues such as the Good Cause Eviction Bill, healthy living conditions for tenants and safe working conditions.

Namuche assures homeless folks that tenants’ rights organizations, like RTU, will continue to stand with them and advocate for their rights.

“We need to work together to demand the city build and open up housing for every homeless individual,” she said. We have to keep pushing the city to actually do its job in providing the residents with the services, adequate housing, healthcare and work that they need to live fulfilled and dignified lives.”

Spree of hate attacks target Sikh Community in Queens

A Brooklyn man is facing charges related to a string of hate crimes against the Sikh community in Richmond Hill.

Vernon Douglas, 19, has been hit with first and second degree robbery charges as hate crimes, as well as a slew of assault and aggravated harassment charges. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

A second man, Hezekiah Coleman, 20, has also been charged with Douglas in connection with one of the attacks. The Queens resident could face up to 25 years in prison

The first attack took place In the early hours of Sunday, April 3, near the the intersection of 95th Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

The victim, 70-year-old Nirmal Singh, was punched several times in the face and head, leaving his turban and clothes soaked in his own blood.

Elected officials initially denounced the attack at a community peace rally, held at the corner renamed for the thriving Indian community in the surrounding Southeast Queens neighborhoods, “Little Punjab.”

Just nine days later, on the same block, a second 45-year-old Sikh man was attacked with a stick and robbed of $300.

Minutes later, a third 58-year-old Sikh man was also assaulted and robbed of $200 by the same shirtless Brooklyn teenager.

Douglas was arraigned on Saturday, April 16, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Anthony Battisti on a 13-count criminal complaint. Coleman was arraigned on Wednesday, April 13 before Judge Marty Lentz on a five-count complaint.

“This defendant is accused of targeting three men, all members of the Sikh community who wore turbans at the time of the attacks,” District Attorney Katz said. “We will not tolerate beatings motivated by hate in the borough of Queens – the most diverse county in the world. Our diversity is our strength and no acts of violence will undermine who we are. This defendant, along with his co-defendant, will be held to account for the charges of which they are accused.”

Elected officials were outspoken and condemned the attacks, including Councilwoman Joann Ariola who called on Mayor Eric Adams to “empower the NYPD and our justice system”, as well as calling on fellow City Council members to “wake up”.

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar condemned the first of what would be a trio of attacks, saying “As the first Punjabi American ever elected to New York State office, I want Nirmal Singh and all members of our community to know that I am here for you. An attack on any Sikh-American is an attack on all Americans.”

New COVID-19 testing, vaccine site opens at Astoria Houses

Residents of Western Queens and Astoria Houses now have a new and closer COVID-19 vaccination and testing site made out of repurposed shipping containers.

The temporary medical care unit located just steps from the Astoria Houses Community Center will be operated by NYC-based charity hospital, The Floating Hospital, and will provide free vaccines and tests. The site will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

NYS Gov. Hochul shakes hands with residents of the Astoria Houses

With only a single permanent vaccination site located within a half-mile of Astoria Houses, and just two permanent vaccination sites in the 11102 area code, the lack of access to vaccines has shown higher case and death rates in the area compared to other parts of Queens and New York City.

In the area code 11102, there is a case rate of 30,300 per 100,000 individuals, compared to 13,350 and 12,600 in Queens and New York City, respectively. The death rate within the same zip code is approximately 616 per 100,000, compared to 448 and 408 to the borough and city, respectively.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was joined by NYS Governor Kathy Hochul, NYC Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, and other community leaders to unveil the new 40-foot-long medical care center in the courtyard of the housing complex.

“We learned during COVID that there are great inequities in health care, there are great needs, and that we have to do a better job to support and provide health care, equally, to all people,” Maloney said.

The temporary medical care unit was designed by a research and development consortium composed of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and The Tuchman Foundation. Maloney worked with the aforementioned agencies, as well as the New York City Housing Authority, to secure the placement for the temporary healthcare unit.

Hochul praised the leadership of Maloney, as well as echoing similar sentiments about unequal access to healthcare.

“Today, we begin to right the wrongs of the past. If anything, this pandemic demonstrates that there are systemic disparities in healthcare access and therefore healthcare outcomes,” Hochul said. “Nowhere do we see that more intensely than in this neighborhood and in this community.”

Claudia Coger, the former Astoria Houses Tenants Association President, said that a high number of unvaccinated individuals live in the neighborhood. She says access is key when it comes to providing knowledge to the place she has called home for her entire life.

“Let’s get rid of some of the excuses,” Coger said.

SQWM celebrates new Richmond Hill office

South Queens Women’s March started out as an idea from founder and director Aminta Kilawan-Narine over two years ago, with the goal of promoting gender justice and empowering women, girls and gender-expansive people.

Although the pandemic prevented the original march from happening, it did not stop the organization from blooming into a movement that supports the diverse communities of South Queens.

Now, SQWM has a brand new office space on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, and they held a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 16 to celebrate the milestone.

Many of SQWM’s 70 members attended the event, along with Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and NYS Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson.

“South Queens Women’s March has made enormous contributions to the civic and community life right here in Southeast Queens and right here in the Great 28,” Adams said.

“You have empowered and amplified the voices of diverse women across this borough, connected neighbors to important resources and advocated fiercely for gender and racial justice. Your work has been so critical, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of our own underserved conditions.”

“It is so important to have community-based organizations at the forefront of these conversations, and South Queens Women’s March has been at the forefront of so many of these conversations,” Richards said.

“As gender-based violence reached a crisis level during this pandemic, for every one encounter we are seeing 20 that go unreported,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to support the work of South Queens Women’s March.”

As part of their mission, SQWM has offered various programs and services to the community, including food pantries, political education, youth and professional development workshops and healing circles.

They actively seek to serve and empower historically underserved communities in South Queens, namely women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

“A South Queens Women’s March space is a dream—a dream that the younger me wishes had growing up in South Queens. As a gender justice organization, it is critical to have a space that can be a home away from home for community members and the younger me,” Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of SQWM, said.
“Our space will be a resource hub, a safe space for survivors, a community centered space for monthly pantries, healing activities, and workshops and a space where we cultivate grassroots organizing to build a movement.”

At the event, light refreshments were provided by local businesses Tropical Isle Roti Shop, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, Shivram’s Bakery, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Shakti Mission.

SQWM also extended its gratitude to Bob Lawrence and Annie Mohan of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, LLP and the Aqualia International Foundation for their support.

Performances were given by SQWM members, including Harmehar Kaur Kohli on guitar and Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed and Sacha Sulaiman, who performed an intersectional dance routine.

To welcome SQWM’s new space to the neighborhood, Pratima Kushmani Doobay, an organizer within the faith-based circles of the Hindu community, initiated a goddess blessing before the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“In Hinduism, we often worship the goddess, and Shakti is the feminine energy, the power associated with the goddesses in Hindusim,” Kilawan-Narine said. “We’re a women’s group, and we wanted to make sure the space was blessed.”

“The most exciting part about all of this is the space being open to our members and to women and girls in our community who are looking for a safe space,” she continued. “When you walk in here, you feel that inclusion and the peace.”

Kilawan-Narine said that the efforts from SQWM are anything but glamorous, and certainly not something done for personal gain.

“We all do this for the love of the community. Not for personal gain, or for accolades and praise or for social media followers,” she said. “This isn’t charity work, it is solidarity work, and you see that in the way we treat people.”

Ground breaks on affordable housing development in Corona

New supportive and affordable housing options will soon be made available to seniors and New Yorkers recovering from substance use or mental health issues, along Northern Boulevard in Corona.

Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities, Inc., along with the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Community Preservation Corporation and elected officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the project, located at 104-10 Northern Boulevard.

The mixed-use housing project will bring 30 affordable homes to Corona, made up of 21 supportive homes and nine homes for low-income senior households.

The Queens-based nonprofit, Elmcor, will serve as the developer and supportive service provider. Monica Lopez Uran is the project’s architect, and Queens-based Penta Restoration Corp. is the general contractor.

Saeeda Dunston, executive director at Elmcor, says the initiative addresses needs of the community, and thanked the late Honorable Helen Marshall in her remarks.

“This building will be a home that is consistent with who we are; a community that doesn’t separate people but integrates groups to support the healing and recovery that happens when we see each other as one community,” Dunston said. “We will provide supportive housing both for individuals in recovery and affordable housing for older adults. We know the impact that the lack of affordable housing has on the physical and mental health of people.”

Financial support for the project comes partly from CPC with a $1.7 million construction loan, and a $2.5 million permanent loan through its funding partnership with the New York City Retirement Systems. An additional $2.9 million in subsidy is provided by HPD through its Supportive Housing Loan Program.

The office of the Queens Borough President is also providing $5.4 million in ResoA funding, along with the City Council providing an additional $2.5 million for the same purpose. The project will utilize the NYC 15/15 Supportive Housing Initiative, which provides rental assistance and supportive services.

“Elmcor has diligently and effectively served the families of Queens for decades, a mission that continues with Thursday’s critically important groundbreaking,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “By providing those recovering from substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as our older residents, with supportive, affordable housing right here in our community, we are creating a model of human justice through housing for the rest of the city to follow.”

Councilman Francisco Moya, representing District 21 which includes East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, LeFrak City, and Corona, added that he’s grateful to have this initiative in one of the neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic.

“A lot of the issues that our city is facing stems from the lack of affordable housing, which is why when I set foot in the City Council, creating a true path has been a priority,” Moya said. “The construction of these new supportive and affordable housing units means less people struggling to put a roof over their head.”

Queens Foodie pens book on favorite local spots

Mike Schulte says he always had a big appetite. It’s what prompted him to chronicle his New York City food adventures on social media. And with more than 259,000 followers on TikTok in the two-and-a-half years since he began, it’s clear that things have really taken off.

“I saw things blow up in a way I have never seen before on social media,” Schulte said. “It went incredibly well… so much better than I expected.”

Born and raised in Queens, Schulte said he can’t pick one favorite, because for him it’s all about letting his gut call the shots.

“That’s the beauty of New York,” he said. “You can eat so many different genres of food that it’s hard to be like ‘I gotta have this’ or ‘here try this.’”

He has shared numerous dishes from more than 250 food establishments all across the city, from delis to fine dining and everything in between.

TikTok personality Mike Shulte launches “99 Places You Must Eat in NYC”

Now, thanks to his success on social media, Schulte has just written his first book highlighting 99 of the best places he has reviewed across NYC.

The book is based on his own social media content, which he organized and hand-selected, with the goal of sharing these spots with both the native New Yorkers who have eaten at these establishments most of their lives and those who are just trying it for the first time.

“Good food is about good food,” Schulte said. “There’s not often exceptions.”

In addition to publishing his own book, Schulte has used his online presence to create his own marketing agency, Its Your Boy Mike Marketing, which shares its name with his social media presence.

“It’s really opening a door for me that I kind of pushed shut for a while,” Schulte said about his endeavors with marketing. “Sometimes I’ll just show up, shoot a video, post it, and show up again randomly.”

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became difficult for restaurants to remain open. However, thanks to social media influencers like Schulte, a number of local hotspots continued to keep their doors open.

“Social media, in general, had a big impact on how we consume,” he said.

Despite competition from such renowned guidebooks as Zagats and Michelin, Schulte remains confident that his book is more concise, offering more than just “34 different Thai places in the area.”

He said that he hopes the book will be successful enough to where he can continue to put one out every year.

“Over the course of a year, a bunch of things will probably happen… some places may just be significantly better than what was in the book previously,” he said.

Schulte also says that he hopes to expand the book into other cities, bringing other influencers in to share their experiences in other parts of the country.

In addition to working on the book, he plans to continue expanding his presence on TikTok and through his social media marketing agency, which specializes in “Invite Only” networking events that range from intimate dining experiences to lessons and training with the chefs.

To check out his exclusively digital ebook visit or for more content from restaurants throughout the city.

Flushing Library to reopen on April 25

The Queens Public Library Flushing Branch will officially reopen to the public on Monday, April 25, at 10 a.m.

The facility closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, along with other QPL branches and it remained closed while other branches began offering partial in-person and pick-up services.

For a brief period in 2021, it was reopened as a vaccination site, offering more than 200 appointments a day, before problems with the HVAC system caused the facility to shut down entirely.

While a temporary HVAC system was put in place, the branch still remained closed for the construction of a second elevator. The work is still ongoing for now, however, a safety plan has been put in place so the work can proceed while the public resumes visiting the library.

With an average of approximately 6,000 visitors per day, the Flushing branch is one of the largest and busiest public libraries in the entire country.

NYC Councilwoman Sandra Ung said that reopening the library has been a priority for her, even before taking office.

I’m so pleased that we finally have a definite date for the reopening of the Flushing Library,” Ung said. “The library is truly the heart of this community, especially for our large immigrant population. More than just a place to check out books, it is essential to our seniors and families, as well as a place for students to gather after school. Not having this facility in our community for over three years was a real hardship.”

Last month, Ung toured the facility alongside U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott.

The Flushing Library is one of America’s busiest, and getting this branch open again couldn’t be more critical for all those who rely on it,” Richards said on Twitter back in March when the announcement was first made.

Beginning April 25, the Flushing library will be open from Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Sunday service will be restored at a later date.

Flushing’s Adult Learning Center will also reopen on April 25. The hours will be Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rego Park resident goes for a ride

Rego Park resident Bill Jung normally rides a Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider but he said that his “real ride” is in the shop for repairs. Until the big bike gets fixed, he still wears his Harley motorcycle “colors,” and continues his beloved two-wheeling tradition.

Jung said he rode out to the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota a few years ago and had a great time there.

You never know what you’ll see on Queens Boulevard.

(Photos by Walter Karling)

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