Queens Community Orgs Host Town Hall on Tenant Right to Counsel Bill

by Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Woodside on the Move, the Right to Counsel Coalition, Chhaya, Catholic Migration Services and other Queens-based community organizations hosted a tenant organizing town hall Feb. 21 at St. Sebastian Parish Center in Woodside. Organizers spoke to tenants about Right to Counsel for ALL (A1493 / S2721), a bill proposed in the state legislature that would establish a right to legal services in eviction proceedings for all tenants across New York.

Attendees received presentations on what a right to counsel would mean for tenants and demonstrated how to provide feedback and testimony to elected officials. The bill is currently awaiting a new sponsor in the state assembly before it can move forward. District 30 Assemblymember Steven Raga and District 37 Assemblymember Juan Ardila also spoke at the event.

“The purpose and the goal of this event was really to just relaunch Right to Counsel’s legislative and budget campaign. That’s why we had the teach-in, but also it had the emphasis on statewide right to counsel and informing tenants about what that entails and providing testimony to support it and galvanize it,” Frances Hamed, policy & advocacy coordinator for Woodside on the Move, said.

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Tenants at the event spoke about their own experiences with housing court where many felt the judges were biased in favor of landlords who had access to legal representation.

“He has rights who dare to defend them,” one tenant said, speaking into a microphone at the front of the room. “We have to change how housing court judges are put on the bench in New York City. Housing court judges should be elected, not selected. Let them pay for a campaign and be elected.”

Another tenant spoke about how economic suppression of Latino communities adds an additional obstacle to housing burdens. His testimony was translated into English by event organizers.

“I’ve been in housing court fighting my case,” the tenant said. “It has been very traumatizing as a Latino person that we are people that do not have economic power.”

Yhamir Chabur, a housing and tenant organizer for Woodside on the Move, said he is inspired by advocacy and community organizing groups across Queens working together.

“Queens is getting closer to unifying itself,” Chabur said. “We have to keep the momentum going, because all of us experience this. It’s not fair that you have the landlord class and they’re easily able to have access to lawyers to represent them. This system supposedly says that it’s democratic because it’s capitalist, but yet it favors those that have access to capital.”

Raga, who was formerly executive director for Woodside on the Move before being elected to the State Assembly, spoke in support of the bill at the event, saying he feels hopeful there is support for it in Albany.

“It’s a broad coalition of folks that know that this is a moral issue,” Raga said. “Whether or not you have constituents in your district that are fighting for it, no matter what you should know that this is about right or wrong.”

Assembly Member Steven Raga speaks at the town hall. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Hamed said Woodside on the Move and their partner organizations fighting for Right to Counsel are focused on gaining more support for the bill in the state legislature.

“In terms of next steps, I feel it’s very important to garner the support of all the legislators who haven’t signed on,” Hamed said. “I feel confident that Right to Counsel will be something that we see implemented statewide, given all the testimonies we heard from the electeds and the tenants.”

Queens Lawmakers Rally for SMOKEOUT Act

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

State Assemblyperson Jenifer Rajkumar held a rally with State Senator Leroy Comrie and about 20 supporters on the steps of City Hall on Friday to call for the SMOKEOUT Act to be included in the State’s enacted budget.

The SMOKEOUT (Stop Marijuana Overproliferation and Keep Empty Operators of Unlicensed Transactions) Act, first introduced in early January, is Rajkumar’s proposed fix to the state’s bumpy rollout of cannabis legalization and the proliferation of thousands of illegal, unlicensed smoke shops through the five boroughs. Under the proposed rule, local municipalities would have the power to shutter illegal shops and seize all merchandise. Currently, that power is reserved for the State’s Office of Cannabis Management, which has only 14 inspectors statewide.

“I think all New Yorkers feel right now like they’re high, because they look at the situation and it makes no sense,” Rajkumar said at the rally. “There are 1000 times more illegal shops than there are legal shops. There’s only about 60 legal shops in the whole state. And there’s 36,000 illegal shops. How can this be? Am I high right now?”

Comrie told the crowd that the issue was consistently top of mind among his constitutents. “Every meeting I attend, everywhere I go, people want to see these places shut down,” he said. “The ones that have been inspected, they found rat feces in the basement. They found other chemicals that are being mixed in with the marijuana. You don’t know what you’re getting. You’re not getting it from a safe supplier.”

Rajkumar’s office estimates there are about 1,500 illegal shops in New York City alone. Previous estimates cited by Council Member Lyn Schulman this past summer put that number much higher, at 8,000. Mayor Eric Adams has claimed that if Rajkumar’s legislation is enacted, the city could shut down every illegal shop in 30 days.

“The state budget is due on April 1. That’s five and a half weeks from today. On April 1, I don’t want to be standing here saying ‘April Fools,’” Rajumar said. “I want to be standing here saying ‘we have put the SMOKEOUT Act in the state budget.’”

Queens Place Mall Celebrates the Lunar New Year with Tradition of the Dragon

By Sherica Daley | [email protected]

“What year are we entering this Lunar New Year?” host  Kitty Kan  asked the audience with Queens residents shopping in the Queens Place Mall. “The year of the dragon!” shouted excited participants as they lined up to watch The Lunar New Year Celebration in collaboration with The Chinese Cultural Center(NYCCC),  The Brooklyn Dumpling Shop  and  Gong cha Bubble Tea. The show participants enjoyed free veggie and pork dumplings and green tea bubble tea samples.  

The Lunar New Year is a yearly celebration that originated in China. The legend behind this tradition is the Chinese beast called Nian, which means “year” in Chinese. Nian would stalk the people in China in the Spring. Nian did like loud noises, fire, and the color red. These things were used to scare the mystical creature away. The Chinese celebrate this holiday with red lanterns and money in red envelopes called “hong bao” to signify good fortune, and dance along with the Chinese dragon to chase away evil spirits like Nian. The Chinese Dragon is a symbol of power and ambition. It is considered the luckiest sign out of the Chinese symbol. 

Mingjun Han, Shuning Huang and Jason Lee performing in the first

“We wanted to celebrate the Lunar New Year with the community by sharing the beauty of the Chinese culture through folk and ethnic dances, traditional music, and martial arts,” explained Kan. Kan first joined the NYCCC as a student taking classes in Chinese classical, sword and ethnic dances.” I was invited to perform with the resident company as I had experience in wushu, performance-based Chinese martial arts.” said Kan

The show began with a sword dance with Jason Lee who demonstrated Chinese sword art and sword techniques for the audience. Next dancers Mingjun Han and Shuning Huang performed a ribbon twirling dance called Dunhaung, in the lucky color red. Chinese ribbon dance has been performed in Chinese culture for thousands of years. The dance is enchanting, depicting the gods and the nymphs flying in the sky. It is both philosophical and mythical. 

The show had two sessions, and during the second session, participants watched the Northern Lion dance performed by Han and Huang in gold and blue. The Northern Lion Dance is a dance from Northern China. It symbolizes the purpose of the lion is to bring wisdom and luck and is popular for performing at business openings and religious ceremonies. “It was a lot of fun for me to interact with the audience as the lion and hear their joy and laughter while parading around” explained Kan.

The Northern Lion Dance is a dance from Northern China. It symbolizes the purpose of the lion is to bring wisdom and luck

The show closed with soloist  Wei Sun , who performed the Guzheng, the traditional Chinese plucking instrumental, which is a hybrid of a violin and guitar. Sun is an artist and teacher of the Guzheng based in New York City. Wearing the lucky color of red, Sun performed an original piece on the Guzheng. 

To continue the celebration of the Lunar New Year of the Dragon. The NYCCC will continue to have shows throughout the year. The shows will celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in May and the Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Moon Festival, in September. There will be outdoor programs in the summer and fall participating in different festivals across the tri-state area. 

“The message and goal of these shows, as we travel throughout the city is sharing Chinese culture through the arts to promote understanding and appreciation” explained Kan. For information on upcoming events, can be mailed to   [email protected].

Front view of the Queens Place Mall

IN OUR OPINION: The Perfect Storm For The Migrant Violence

Migration to NYC is nothing new. In the 1800’s, early 1900’s and during the wars in Europe, people fled here for a multitude of reasons. We just handled it better. The immigrants came to New York then, just as they are now.

It’s been nearly two years since this new migrant crisis started. Just like it was in the early 1900’s and Ellis Island, new people are arriving daily, if not weekly.

Here’s the difference; we had a plan.

Similar to other times when migrants came here, many people are able to live with relatives. Although it creates a housing problem in many neighborhoods where people are living in spaces meant for far less people, there are still many migrants who are in our migrant housing programs for housing.

It’s living in shelters. It’s living on Randall’s Island, Floyd Bennett Field, at the Roosevelt Hotel and we know there are dozens of other shelters.

The perfect storm has arrived. In perfect storm situations Mother Nature takes over and an inertia is created that can’t really be stopped.

The perfect storm in the migrant crisis results in migrant-on-migrant violence, a lack of regard for police – leading an even more dangerous lack of respect for anyone. 

They can’t work, they have little to do but hang out in public spaces, just watching, wondering and waiting. And since it’s been nearly two years it has reached a perfect storm where migrant gangs grow and a crime wave persists.

While, for the last year or so, we have been worrying about retail stores closing because criminals know they can’t be prosecuted, the migrant community has now realized that ‘thuggary’ might be the only way to survive at the moment. 

We don’t entirely blame bail reform. We can’t entirely lame the mayor for calling migrants here. We remember when he exclaimed, “We’ll take em.”

We can’t entirely blame the legislature for hot figuring out a way they can get work visas. It’s everything … all at once.

POL POSITION: Drugged Driving Battle Heating Up

While we visited the State Capital Monday, we were greeted with unexpected Senate passion for a few legislative initiatives we see as important. First; The Drugged Driving Bill is picking up steam. Senator Mannion and Woodhaven’s native son Senator Joe Addabbo are fighting to get this bill into law. It would essentially make it illegal to drive impaired on marijuana.

What, you say?

It’s not illegal now?


The State’s definition of impairment is tied to alcohol, not drugs.

Crazy, right?

Well there is another side to this. There are those legislators who don’t trust law enforcement, and giving cops any more ability to stop and arrest someone is seen as violating the right to live free.

Hey, we’re all about being voluntarily impaired. But stay home!

Second, we were impressed to see Woodside’s freshman Assemblyman, Steven Raga speak about, and sign on to a bill that supports community media. QPTV, BRIC and Bronx Net happened to be up on Albany getting talking on what they see as a change that could put them out of business in 5-years. Cable companies have funded their existence since the mid 80’s. Their multiple cable TV channels are basically the only place for people to find out what is going on at their local library, the many cultural places in the boroughs and even community board meeting listings.

Readers can find them in our papers too, but community media like public access TV is essential to fund. ‘Cord Cutting’ has led to a lack of funding and while other states have had an excise tax (one which can not be passed along to the consumer) on streaming services we have none. Part of that tax goes to public access networks.

Public Access broadcast agencies operate programs that teach regular people to use professional video equipment to produce videos for a public need. Those videos are used on their channels. One producer, Dr. JJ Abularrage, is a doctor out of NY Presbyterian Queens. He spoke quite passionately about how his work as a producer with QPTV was essential for his passion on doctor/patient relationship. “I could not have set up these learning videos for the doctors at my hospital without QPTV,” he said. “I know it saved lives.”

“I love BRIC,” said Greenpoint Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher. “Community media is essential.”

Glad to see the support of a bunch of other Senators and Assembly members who spoke about their support at the press conference on the 4th floor of the Senate area.

Middle Village Bagels Named Best Bagel in Queens

Middle Village Bagels, located at 79-16 Eliot Ave, was named Queens’ Best Bagel by the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

The nomination process included over 55 of Queens’ top bagel shops in a public vote. Over 3,000 bagel connoisseurs across the borough cast their votes in what the Queens Chamber of Commerce called the “closest vote of all the competitions.” 

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz awards Middle Village Bagels ownership with a certificate.

The owners of Middle Village Bagel and Chamber President Tom Grech were joined by Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz at the shop to award the top bagel business a plaque and certificate of their new title.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce has held similar vote competitions to name the best taco, best pizza, best empanadas and best barbecue in the borough. Voters ranked Utopia Bagels and Rockaway Bagels second and third respectively in the competition.

The winning bagels. Courtesy Queens Chamber of Commerce

John Bowne High School Agricultural Program Receives $5m in Funding

By Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Member James F. Gennaro announced a $5 million allocation of capital funds to John Bowne High School’s agricultural program in a press conference at the Flushing school Monday, November 20. The agricultural program dates back to 1917 when young New Yorkers were recruited to fill positions on farms upstate when workers were recruited to fight in World War I. Since then, the program has grown into a nationally recognized hub for agricultural education on the school’s campus in the heart of Queens with over 500 current students and eight teachers managing four acres poultry, livestock, animal laboratories, greenhouses, orchards and field crops.

Assistant Principal of Agriculture Patrycja Zbrzezny said the financial support from City Council will fuel the agricultural program for years to come.

“It is with great pleasure and heartfelt appreciation that I extend our deepest thanks to Councilmember Gennaro, and Speaker Adams for the extraordinary generosity of donating the $5 million in our historic school farm,” Zbrzezny said. “The impact of this donation extends beyond the fences of our farm. With this significant support. We can now envision a future where innovation and sustainability flourish in our agriculture education program.”

Senior Melissa Pratt said the unique position of John Bowne’s program in New York City provides unique opportunities for students to learn about hydroponics and micro farming operations that might not be seen in the typical agricultural programs in more rural parts of the country. Pratt pointed out that, as the agricultural industry in the United States changes, the techniques and tools for small-scale farming taught at John Bowne are increasingly important.

“The [agriculture] program has helped us build on urban agriculture,” Pratt said. “There’s a big difference with people from Texas or from Florida or even in New York outside of the city. Agriculture is much different with us compared to them. We have a much smaller area but we still get to do all that hands-on learning to understand and have a better idea of how the future might look for us as a whole with a lot of farmland being cut down.”

Aniyah Findlay Thomas speaks alongside Council Member Gennaro

Senior Aniyah Findlay Thomas said her work with animals and farming at John Bowne has given her a sense of purpose and direction since starting high school.

“Growing up, I very much didn’t know what I wanted to do. You know, you want to be a doctor, a scientist, an astronaut,” Findlay Thomas said. “I feel like I really didn’t discover what I wanted to be until I reached high school. This program has done wonders for me.”

Zoe Valencia said her time at the agricultural program has inspired her to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

“I didn’t know I wanted to be doing something in agriculture in the future until I got here at Bowne,” Valencia said. “It helps us develop traits that help us in certain careers. For example, I want to be a veterinarian in the future, and being in [the Veterinary Science Club] I’ve been able to learn about procedures and terms that are actually used in the veterinary world.”

Sophomore Maria Rivera said in addition to the skills learned through the agricultural program, she has found working with the animals to be a therapeutic outlet.

“Just being out here working with the smaller animals or the barn animals, yeah, it’s a lot but it’s honestly very therapeutic. It brings comfort to me,” Rivera said. “Just being in this school, it has kinda opened new doors for me.”

The students also emphasized that the program teaches a wide array of skills beyond farming, from math and sciences to law to photography and more.

“Being here has helped us broaden our horizons. It’s not just farming,” Pratt said. “There’s a whole bunch of different aspects. There’s aquaculture hydroponics, there’s different law parts to it, there’s reporters, photographers, different stuff like that which has just opened everybody’s eyes. There’s much bigger things than just working with animals.”

Paladino Wins Reelection

Paladino speaks to news cameras. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

By Celia Bernhardt and Charlie Finnerty

Vickie Paladino won reelection to City Council to represent District 19 for a second term, defeating former State Senator Tony Avella, who also held the seat in the past. Taking home 60 percent of the vote in contrast to her narrow 47 percent plurality last time she faced Avella in 2021, Paladino’s win solidified her hold in eastern Queens — showing that her election to City Council as a hardline firebrand conservative could not only be repeated, but strengthened. On election night, Paladino emphasized that her victory would not have been possible without support from conservative Democrats across the aisle and the local area’s growing Asian-American population.

At around 9:30 PM, a cheering crowd from Paladino’s election party began to spill into the parking lot outside of her Bay Terrace campaign office as Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” blared over the speaker system.

“This couldn’t have been done without God—and all of our amazing volunteers that have been out since the beginning of this campaign,” Stefano Forte, Paladino’s campaign manager, said to overwhelming whoops and cheers from the crowd. “This is a mandate. The people of district 19 are telling us that Vickie Paladino is doing the job that they want.”

Paladino’s son, Thomas Paladino, took the stage after Forte.

“This race was never what the media made it out to be. We won this race from the day it was announced,” Thomas Paladino said. “This was a concoction, a figment of our opponent’s imagination. It was a concoction of the media who needed something to talk about. And I think that we put to bed the notion that there is any competition in this district for Vickie Paladino.”

“Now we can finally say that this district is rid of him once and for all,” Paladino said. “We rejected his poison. This district looked him in the eye, saw what he was saying, and said, ‘no, thank you. We’ve had enough of you. Vickie Paladino is doing the job that we want her to do. And we don’t believe you.’”

Paladino emphasized that his mother could not have won the district without votes from Democrats.

“I think that when all the votes are counted, and when everybody sees where our votes came from, they’re going to be very, very surprised about the bipartisan support that we have in this district.”

Thomas then called up Yanling Wagner, the campaign’s Asian Liaison, to embrace her. “I love Yanling—we all do,” he said. “We could not have done it without her and without the support of the Asian community.

After her son’s speech, Vickie Paladino was welcomed to the mic with thunderous applause as “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty played. She sang and danced in place as her staff held a giant sign reading “VIC-TORIOUS” behind her.

“You need any more proof than that?” she said. “My theme song.”

Paladino supporters celebrate. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

“We taught the people of this district that slander will not sell,” Paladino said. “We taught the people of this district that they could trust me.”

Paladino also took a moment to emphasize her gratitude to Wagner. “I want to thank Yanling for everything that she’s done with me, for me. That’s my Asian liaison. I cannot thank you enough, Yanling, from the bottom of my heart I thank you.”

A dancing conga line of Paladino’s staff and supporters formed after the speeches concluded.

Speaking directly to the Queens Ledger, Paladino expressed gratitude for her voters.

“Most important is the constituents themselves. They showed me tonight the trust that they have in me, and they cross party lines,” Paladino said. “This wasn’t Republican, this was quality of life. I resonate to everybody. I cross all barriers.”

She also relished the successful defeat of her longtime rival. “I beat [Avella] big in ‘18,” Paladino said. “I beat him again in ‘21. And now I beat him huge tonight.”

On the topic of winning as an incumbent for the first time, Paladino said she considered it “an honor.”

“Now I get the opportunity to finish the job that I started. Two years is not long enough. But I got done so much in two years that I’m looking forward to the next two. And then after that, the next four.”

“We will tackle everything that comes our way, with the same vigor that we did these last two years,” Paladino said. “There’s no such thing as problems for my office, only solutions, and the constituents know that as well. They know they can pick up the phone and call Vickie.”

2023 Campaign Election Profile: Tony Avella

By Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

Former State Senator Tony Avella is challenging Vickie Paladino for a second time in an attempt to win back the seat he once held in the 19th city council district. Avella represented District 19 from 2002 to 2009 before heading to the state senate. As a member of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of conservative democrats that caucused with the republicans to protect the republican senate majority — Avella has branded himself as a moderate in contrast to Paladino’s firebrand conservatism.

“I don’t believe the people of northeast Queens want an extremist representing them,” Avella said. “I think now people know what Vickie Paladino stands for, and that doesn’t represent our district.”

After being primaried out of the senate by former Comptroller John Liu, Avella attempted to return to City Council in 2021 but lost to Paladino by less than 400 votes.

“I think last time there was a red wave that went through the city and people voted for [Paladino] down the line, not knowing who she was,” Avella said.

Avella pointed to Paladino’s approach to Local Law 97, a measure which sets limits for greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings across the city. Of the roughly 50,000 properties over 25,000 square feet that are subject to the law, the vast majority have already reached 2024 targets, according to the New York Times. How to enforce the measure for the number of properties that have not yet reached those targets — only about 10 percent — and keep the city on track for future emissions goals has become a thorny issue in city politics this year. 

Avella said he had issues with the original construction of the bill but emphasized its importance in protecting New Yorkers from the growing effects of climate change highlighted by recent severe weather events. He particularly emphasized the burdens faced by co-ops and condominiums under the law and has called on the city and state to either offer municipal bonds and tax breaks to those property owners or directly implement the changes needed to reach emissions goals for those properties at no cost to owners.

“You can’t place the burden of addressing climate change on the very people that are least able to afford it,” Avella said.

Paladino has called for the law’s implementation to be delayed by seven years to allow more time for property owners to meet its requirements, which Avella said shows a lack of desire by the councilwoman to find solutions and take accountability on tough issues.

“Vicky Paladino introduced a bill to kick the can down the road and extend the implementation by seven years,” Avella said. “That would coincide with term limits, so in fact she wouldn’t have to deal with the issue, just pass the buck to whoever comes in after term limits kick in. That’s not leadership.”

Robert Hornack, a representative from Paladino’s campaign refuted this characterization in a written statement, saying the seven year delay will allow time to provide financial relief for property owners and claiming Avella’s plan is not feasible.

Avella has been vocally critical of Mayor Adams’ approach in dealing with the current influx of asylum seekers to the city and called on the mayor to file lawsuits against the federal government, Texas and Florida for causing what has been called a crisis by many elected officials in order to recoup costs, rather than cut city services as Adams has called for.

“We should be compassionate, but we don’t have the money to house them, we don’t have the jobs available for them. How are we helping these individuals? We certainly can’t afford them,” Avella said. “The mayor has to get this money from the federal government.”

Avella also called on the federal government to close the border, a stance he said he was surprised to see himself take, and said he would not accept any shelters in his district.

“Northeast Queens is not the place to put them,” Avella said. “When you place them here, where are they going to go? There’s no health services, we don’t have a hospital in the district. We have a transit desert, so it’s hard to get from one place to another without a car. And we don’t have the jobs in the district, they have to go someplace else.”

Avella said another major disagreement he had with Mayor Adams was the administration’s recent attempt to push city employee retirees off their existing and expected pension benefits plan in favor of a private healthcare plan. The plan was blocked by a judge this past summer but has been appealed by the Adams administration. Avella signed a pledge in support of the lawsuit against the mayor’s plan and called on Adams to drop his appeal, calling it “disgraceful.”

“Government, if it does anything, has to be fair and it has to be consistent. If you promise something as a government, we should follow through on it, despite any administration,” Avella said. “I understand the mayor is trying to save money, but you don’t save it on the backs of the people who put in their whole lives working for the city. It’s very very wrong.”

Avella said he would push for increased city revenue by taxing the wealthiest one percent of income earners and Wall Street. One key measure Avella proposed in the senate and said he would pursue in city council is reimposing a tax on stock transfers. While the state has had a tax on the sale of securities in the books since 1915, that tax has been functionally nullified by a 100 percent rebate instituted in 1979 handing the money back to the industry. While the tax only comes out to about one tenth of a percent on the average trade on Wall Street, Forbes estimates the lost tax revenue has cost the city over $350 billion. In the senate, Avella proposed lowering that rebate to 60 percent but said even a change of 10 or 20 percent would bring in billions of added revenue to the city.

On property taxes, Avella said the New York City carve out to the state-wide two percent cap on property taxes is wrong and voted against it in the senate. In addition, Avella called for a separate tax classification for co-ops and condominiums alongside one and two family homes rather than their current commercial rental property classification which subjects owners to much higher tax rates.

“Why can’t we have the same two percent property tax cap that the entire state has?” Avella said. “Why are co-ops and condos continually disadvantaged by paying a higher property tax than they should?”

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