City Council Approves Bill for Simplify Ranked Choice Voting Ballot

By Alicia Venter

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Council Member Sandra Ung discusses her two bills at a press conference before the full City Council vote. (Photo: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

The New York City Council voted to approve Intro 696, a bill intended to simplify the ballot used in Ranked Choice Voting elections, on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

In Ranked Choice Voting elections, voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference instead of casting their vote for only one individual.

New York City uses ranked choice voting in primary and special elections for local offices, with the first Ranked Choice Voting election being held on Feb. 2, 2021 in a special election for Queens Council District 24.

According to the legislation, introduced by Flushing Council Member Sandra Ung, the bill would ensure the following:

  • Contests on the same ballot page are separated from one another in a bold black lines
  • Non-english text can be easily compared to the corresponding English text
  • Each language on the ballot is clearly separated and visually distinct
  • To the extent practicable, instructions regarding ranked choice voting appear in black font on a white background

The bill will specifically replace the form language that the Board of Elections uses for the instructions on Ranked Choice Voting ballots with clearer language using fewer words.

“New Yorkers pulled off the largest Ranked Choice Voting election in the history of the U.S. when they went to the polls in last year’s June primary,” said Ung in a statement. “This new law will simplify the ballot and make it easier to understand, encouraging all voters, especially those with limited English proficiency, to take advantage of the opportunity to rank their preferred candidates and strengthen the democratic process. I want to thank my colleagues in the City Council for passing this legislation, and look forward to these common sense ballot changes being implemented in time for the June 2023 primaries.”

Common Cause, a watchdog group that was one of the founders of Rank the Vote NYC, praised the bill.

Rank the Vote NYC was founded in 2019 to bring Ranked Choice Voting to the city. As it is now part of the electoral process, the group now serves to educate voters and the community on the upcoming changes to local elections.

“Common Cause/NY is thrilled that the City Council swiftly voted and passed Councilwoman Ung’s bill which will build on the successes of Ranked Choice Voting and make the ballot even more voter friendly,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY and Board Chair of Rank the Vote NYC said in a statement. “Ranked choice voting affords voters more choice and more voice and puts power back in the hands of the people, delivering consensus majority winners every time.”

According to an exiting poll conducted by Edison Research through early voting and on Election Day in 2021 (June 12 – June 22) , 83 percent of voters ranked at least two candidates on their ballots in the mayoral primary, and 77 percent of New Yorkers want Ranked Choice Voting in future elections.

The City Council also voted to approve Intro 698, a bill introduced by Ung to codify the Public Service Corps, which will require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to recruit students from diverse backgrounds and offer internships at a broad range of city agencies.

Jamaica man indicted for fatally stabbing brother

By Alicia Venter

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A man faces up to life in prison for allegedly fatally stabbing his brother in his apartment in July.

Henry Gutierrez, 32, was arraigned yesterday on a three count-indictment for his brother’s death according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office. The charges include murder in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and menacing in the second degree.

The charges claim that, following an argument at approximately 6:20 p.m. on July 12, Gutierrez stabbed his 25-year-old brother Oscar Gutierrez numerous times in the neck, torso and arm.

Family members in the home called the police while Gutierrez, evading police. The knife used in the crime was recovered at the scene.

The victim died from his injuries at a nearby hospital.

Gutierrez is of Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica. His court date has been set for Jan. 24 — if convicted, he faces 25-years-to-life in prison.

“This is a horrific family tragedy. One brother is dead, another faces life in prison and everyone else is left to grieve and mourn and deal for the rest of their lives with the emotional trauma,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “In the fallen brother’s memory, we will seek justice.”

With this indictment, Gutierrez has been formally charged with the crime by a grand jury. He has not been found guilty of committing the crime.


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Serge Abergel of Hydro-Quebec recognized by Queens Chamber

By Alicia Venter

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Serge Abergel is the Chief Operating Officer of Hydro-Quebec, a Quebec-based company that generates, transmits and distributes clean energy throughout Canada and areas of the United States.  

For his work in promoting sustainable energy in Queens, he has been honored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce as a Business Person of the Year.

“We are in this huge energy transition. We are trying to lessen our usage of fossil fuel,” Abergel said. “People are looking for alternatives to using fossil fuels. This is especially relevant in the case of New York City and in the case of neighborhoods like Queens.”

Abergel is responsible for the U.S. operations — all energy exports from Quebec to the United States. Talking to Queens residents, Abergel shared, led to an immediate connection between the company’s mission and their desires.

“Especially in Queens, you have part of the community that is right next to oil burning fossil-fuel peakers,” Abergel said, referencing the Ravenswood Generating Plant — which is currently undergoing their “Renewable Ravenswood” effort to produce 100% renewable energy.

“Those are fossil fuel generating plants,” he continued. “The big issue of these things is that they pollute, they worsen air quality in areas like Queens, and they create health consequences.” 

To engage with the community, Hydro-Quebec cultivates partnerships because “it is the only way we are going to have that successful transition [to renewable energy,]” Abergel said.

The company has worked to partner with community organizations throughout Queens, such as the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens based in Long Island City, and through working with local schools. 

“We are thinking differently and we are thinking about real relationships with real people,” Abergel explained. “This [recognition] is less about me, but all these people who took part in this process.”

Recently, Hydro-Quebec, partnered with Transmission Developers Inc., donated $1.25 million to fund a science lab as well as STEM programming in the new clubhouse of the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens. It is expected to be completed in 2026.

In local schools, Hydro-Quebec supports a laundry program for low-income families to ensure they have access to clean clothing.

These partnerships, Abergel emphasized, are “not transactional” or short-term — they are looking for further partnerships and to be a part of their existing relationships beyond the foreseeable future.

“We deeply believe in this,” Abergel expressed. “We are committed long term… What we want is not just to support financially, but to be there, interacting with people, for years to come.

Owner Loycent Gordon shares his vision for future of Neir’s Tavern

 

By Alicia Venter

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Loycent Gordon has been the owner and proprietor of “Neir’s Tavern” in Woodhaven for 14 years. 

Located at 87-48 78th St., Neir’s has been deemed “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of,” and is in its 193rd year of operation. 

Nearing its bicentennial, Gordon is aiming to solidify the future of Neir’s Tavern, hoping to create a strategic board of directors and to possibly have the building become a historic house. Above all, Gordon feels Neir’s Tavern should be owned, not rented. 

Ownership, Gordon believes, would solidify the safety of Neir’s Tavern. External forces would not impact the future of the bar. In order for “Neir’s for Years” — a community effort, seen on the walls of Neir’s Tavern, to ensure the longevity of the bar — to come to fruition, Gordon feels it must be autonomous from a landlord or anybody beyond devoted supporters.

“I just feel like Neir’s Tavern shouldn’t be dependent on one person. It’s way more important than that. We need to have a real sustainable model, not one that’s predicated on who has the cheapest prices of beer,” Gordon said. “I know that’s counterproductive to a business and trying to get customers, but I think at the end of the day that Neir’s Tavern is the deal. It’s the deal of the century.”

Acting with a board of directors, there are avenues of revenue that Gorden feels will best ensure the future of the bar. 

“We need to figure out how Neir’s Tavern can rise above that fight for customer’s attention. We don’t have all the money in the world to have that economy of scale, of advertising, of buying a ton of products so that you can get it cheaper,” Gordon said. “What we can have is this hope for economy of the community. If everyone can do a little part, we are more powerful than what any advertising dollar can do.”

Gordon does not want the future of Neir’s to sit on his shoulders alone. That, he feels, makes it too vulnerable, and he faithfully believes that it must last beyond his time as owner.

“I’m now transitioning to ‘What is Neir’s like without Loy?’ and that’s scary. I’m looking at a different way that Neir’s can survive without me,” he said. 

He looked at the street name, recently titled ‘Neir’s Tavern Way,’ and emphasized that owning Neir’s is an act of service — hence why it is not named ‘Loycent Gordon Way.’

As a small business owner, Gordon has faced an array of challenges. Most notably, he was nearly forced to close the bar in 2020 following a jump in rent from around $2,000 to $5,000 plus other expenses. 

With support from elected officials — including the office of then-mayor Bill DeBlasio — the community and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, an agreement was reached for a new five-year lease with a considerably lower rent. 

“The small business owners have glorified jobs,” Gordon said. “They could get paid similarly or even more working for someone. But they don’t because there is a level of passion that they aren’t willing to give up — doing something for hopefully the next generation.”

For his contributions in saving Neir’s Tavern and his devotion to the bar — and by extension, the community — Gordon has been honored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce as a Business Person of the Year.

However, he felt it necessary to emphasize that he alone did not save the bar. 

“I can’t eat all the burgers and drink all the beer,” Gordon said. “We have to work together to make sure Neir’s presses on.”

Prior to becoming the owner at Neir’s Tavern, Gordon had never runned a bar or restaurant. He is an immigrant, coming to the United States at age 10. 

Helped by a community of staff at P.S. 116, he went from being overwhelmingly behind educationally in his fourth grade class to graduating at its top, receiving a standing ovation from parents and staff at his graduation. He recalls janitors peeking their heads through the door windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gordon crossing the stage.

This experience left a lasting impression on Gordon — an impression that made him see the failing state of Neir’s Tavern as a way for him to give forward the support that was given to him.

“I came into Neir’s Tavern seeing that it was going to close. The long forgotten place that was special, just as I felt I was, but wasn’t given the love,” Gordon said. “This was my opportunity to give back. What if I could save one of America’s oldest places as an immigrant, as my service.”

Beyond his work at Neir’s Tavern, Gordon is an active firefighter. He was the first graduating class to be hired following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Neir’s Tavern offers a distinct experience to its customers. Service is part of Gordon’s identity.

From a bowl that allows people to leave behind a community memory and mementos from the 1800s, there is more to Neir’s Tavern than beer. 

“It’s about preserving one of America’s oldest places,” Gordon said. “There’s not many of them left.”

 

Neir’s has a community bowl to leave a memory, emphasizing the importance locals have on the historic building.

Queens Gigabit Center opens in Jamaica

LinkNYC CEO Nick Colvin

By Alicia Venter

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The Queens Gigabit Center held its grand opening on Friday, Dec. 2 in the Allen Senior Center in Jamaica. In an attempt to bridge the digital divide in New York City — where two in five households lack either a home broadband connection or mobile broadband — the center will bring free high-speed internet access and access to computers to the seniors at the center. 

This is the third Gigabit Center in New York City, and the first in Queens. The center was created in partnership between Office of Technology and Innovation and LinkNYC, a free public Wi-Fi network with kiosks across the city that provide Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging among other services. 

The opening was held to a crowd of approximately 100 senior citizens, who were encouraged to connect to the internet. Members of LinkNYC and staff of the center were available to help the attendees who were struggling to access the service. 

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez serves as the commissioner for the New York City Department for the Aging, and she expressed how access to the internet at the center will help eliminate the barriers that the older population faces in the city.

“When anyone does anything in particular communities like this one to just equal the playing field, to bring technology to the level that many other communities enjoy, it is a gift,” Cortés-Vázquez said.

The digital divide, she shared, was devastating on the older community during the pandemic. Through the ingenuity she attributed to the New York City Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser and the directors of senior centers in the city, she applauded the speed in which programming transitioned to virtual.

“We knew that virtual programming for some is just a technical skill. For us, it broke social isolation,” she said “We know that social isolation is one of the hardest things that older adults can experience. We know it hurts us mentally and can affect us physically.”

Firing in at 800 megabits per second (Mbps), the free high-speed internet at the Gigabit Center is 32 times faster than low-end broadband internet. As defined by the Federal Communications Commission, internet speeds must be 25 Mbps or greater to be considered broadband. 

The internet is provided by LinkNYC, with numerous high-ranking members of the organization attending the grand opening. 

“To the older adult members who are here with us today, I want to welcome you to this space that was created specifically for you,” Nicole Robinson-Etienne – Director Of External Affairs LinkNYC. “At LinkNYC, we believe that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury. It’s a necessity to modern life.”

Through a public-private partnership with the city of New York, LinkNYC installs kiosks with free services, CEO Nick Colvin shared with the Leader-Observer.

Currently, LinkNYC is working to expand 5G coverage to communities in need. Currently, about 100 Link5G kiosks have been deployed throughout the city — approximately 90 percent of the locations are to be deployed outside of Manhattan or above 96th Street. 

Quantity is important, since 5G uses a high-frequency wavelength that struggles to connect through buildings or skyscrapers. LinkNYC says users can connect within 750 feet of the kiosks.

“For LinkNYC, we are a mission-driven organization. We believe that access to the internet is a human right. It is necessary to fully participate in society,” Colvin said. “That’s really the core of what we do. It’s really to bring free internet to as many people in New York as we can.”

Evette Ennis serves as the Vice Chair of the Allen Community Non-Profit Board and the Greater Allen Development Board, and spoke on behalf of the center.

“We are extremely thankful and honored that our senior center was chosen as the Queens Gigabit Center,” Ennis shared. “This will provide greater access and equity to all.”

Q44 SBS Lane Enforcement to begin Dec. 2

Fines beginning at $50 for drivers who block bus lane

By Alicia Venter

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The Q44 SBS Route. Photo: MTA

The Q44 SBS Bus Lane Enforcement Warning Period ends on Dec. 2. Drivers who violate the bus lane regulations — any instance of violating the bus lane — will be issued summonses, with fines beginning at $50. Repeat offenders will face up to $250 in fines.

The DOT has issued warnings to drivers blocking the bus lane since Oct. 3, a period meant to serve as an opportunity to inform drivers of the regulations. Since the warning period began, 3,325 warnings have been issued.

“Bus lanes are for buses, period. Automated camera enforcement is a critical tool in keeping our bus lanes clear, providing faster and more reliable commutes for New Yorkers,” said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “As the agency that created, revitalized and made permanent the Main Street Busway in support of bus riders on the Q44 SBS and other routes in Downtown Flushing, DOT is thrilled to support the MTA’s continued expansion of bus-mounted cameras as part of our close collaboration to improve bus service across the city.”

The Q44 SBS runs from the Bronx to Jamaica, cutting through College Point, Flushing and Forest Hills. According to the MTA, it is one of the busiest routes in the MTA bus network.

The bus lane regulations will be enforced through ABLE cameras. According to the MTA, the technology will be expanded to all the boroughs and cover approximately 50% of bus lane miles across the city.

The MTA and DOT plan to expand camera enforcement to cover up to 85% of existing bus lanes by the end of 2023.

“As more and more bus lanes and busways are camera-enforced, we hope that drivers begin to change their way of thinking and avoid blocking a bus lane,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “New Yorkers need drivers to comply with bus lane rules regardless of whether they are camera enforced, so err on the side of caution and avoid a ticket.”

Each bus lane corridor will have signage indicating the hours that the bus lanes are operable, and they will warn motorists that the lanes are camera-enforced.

West Hamilton Beach Home Illuminates for Holiday Season

By Alicia Venter

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This holiday season, a home along the waterfront in West Hamilton Beach holds “a million and a half lights of illusions.” 

Visitors will be welcome to the sight of hand-painted decorations of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, the Grinch, Sindy Lou Hou — and more.

The owner of the house at 102-24 Rau Court, Michael Giglio, asks only one thing from any ongoer who visits his illuminated home:

“Get the hell out of your car,” he said.

Giglio sits outside his home every night to put his lights on for the community. He wants the people to come and talk to him, share their stories and participate in the experience. He offers candy to all children who visit him, and he wants to give out more.
He is always there — weather permitting.

 “If it is raining, Mr. Giglio will not be turning on the lights,” he emphasized. 

Monday through Thursday, lights are on from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Friday through Sunday, lights begin at 6:00 p.m., and remain on for an undetermined amount of time. Giglio will keep them on until 2:00 a.m., he shared, if there are people enjoying the lights.

Since he was 21, Michael Giglio has been decorating his homes in New York with as many decorations as he could create and as many lights as he could muster across his lawn. He started in a rental home in Richmond Hill on 104th Street, and since retiring from the Department of Environmental Protection, he has been able to put more energy into his decorations.

In what he describes as “a Christmas decoration of art,” Giglio has been putting on his light show for over 30 years in love for his community.

The newest addition to the home is a Christmas shop, where visitors can purchase a variety of items including reindeer ears, 

Giglio has a donation box in front of the house, of which 70 percent of the proceeds will go to an undetermined charity. 

On Dec. 10, from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m, Giglio is holding the “Great Cupcake Giveaway,” where one kid will get a chocolate chip cupcake with sprinkles and a bag of candy.

On Dec. 17, the “big fat man himself,” Santa Claus will be giving away free candy to visitors and interacting with the visitors.

Once, the two daughters of Giglio asked him why he put such effort into decorating his home, to which he replied with a deep laugh: “Because once Santa Claus flies over our house, he’s not going to miss it.” 

Giglio, who describes himself as “Vintage Mike” because of his connection to his oldest self-made decorations, continues every year with his decorations for both his community and for a personal reason.
“I still haven’t met my destiny,” he shared.

GigThis destiny is to be featured on the Great Christmas Light Fight, a television show that displays the best Christmas displays created by families across the United States. A $50,000 reward is offered to the best home that year — a reward Giglio wants.

Giglio lives by the water, but refuses to let the fear of flooding prevent him from his passion of decorating for the holiday season. Instead, he gets creative — each of his decorations sit at least a foot above the ground to prevent damage. 

Giglio “asks out of his heart” for people to tell friends, family and neighbors to travel to Beach 1, tucked away near JFK Airport, to visit his winter wonderland light show.

Helen Day shares devotion to Richmond Hill history

By Alicia Venter

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Day also is the Vice President of The Center at Maple Grove, dressing up as a ghost in their Halloween event this year.

Helen Day has been president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society for two years, after devoting 19 years of her life towards the organization.

Coming to Queens at age three from England, Day, 69, quickly fell in love with his history and culture. Despite living in Maspeth when she first moved here, she joined the Richmond Hill Historical Society per the encouragement of her friends, and never thought to leave after.

“Our mission is really to preserve the historical legacy of Richmond Hill, and to make sure people are aware of the history of this community,” Day said.

“It’s not just about books,” she added.

The Richmond Hill Historical Society just celebrated their 25th anniversary on Nov. 5 with a “70’s Spectacular” at Holy Child Jesus Monsignor Murray Hall in Richmond Hill.

165 people attended the buffet dinner/dance — “likely the biggest celebration we’ve ever had,” Day notes — in honor of its past president and founder Ivan Mrakovcic and Patricia Winters, principal of the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy.

Mrakovcic, who passed away two years ago to brain cancer, always wanted to host a 70’s themed dinner, Day said.

Much of her success with the community, she notes, comes from the people she works with in the society. Many of the board members were among the founding members when the organization first began in the 1980’s. Laura Mrakovcic helped found the society with her husband, and she resumed her place on the board following his death.

Carl Ballenas, the Vice President and Historian of the society, wrote the Arcadia book on the history of Richmond Hill.

“It’s quite a great group of people, and still we continue to add on new board members when needed,” she said.

A retiree following a 30-plus career at Verizon, Day engages with the community in a number of ways. She serves as the vice president of The Friends of Maple Grove, a center within the Maple Grove Cemetery. She sets up art displays at the center and attends many of their events, including a self-guided walking tour of Maple Grove Cemetery known as “Spirits Alive” around Halloween. She dressed in a long black cape, pink dress and tiara to portray Josephine Adams, the wife of a sea captain who went on to discover Swan Island off the coast of Honduras. She has been part of the event since 2003.

Historical locations Day recommends locals visit include the Buddy Monument in Forest Hills Park, which commemorates fallen veterans from World War I and World War II, and Richmond Hill Republican Club, which is an official New York historical landmark.

Day has been married to her husband John for over 35 years, and together they have a daughter in her thirties who works in theater.

Day hopes that as president, she can expand the Historic District. A northern part of Richmond Hill was deemed a Historic District in May 2019. She would like to put up plaques through the area so people realize they are in a historic district.

Eventually, she would like elected officials to support putting historic street lights in the area.

“It’s been a wish of ours for quite a while and [elected officials] said, ‘well, maybe if you get a historic district we can do something,’ and now we do,” Day said. “So maybe they can do something.”

For more information on the Richmond Hill Historical Society, visit https://www.richmondhillhistory.org.


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CB9, electeds honor local veterans

By Alicia Venter

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Three members of Community Board 9 (CB9) had no idea when they sat down for their monthly meeting on Thursday of the heartfelt surprise waiting for them once the clock hit 7:15.

Joe Iaboni, Joseph Richard Smith and CB9 District Manager James S. McClelland were ushered to their feet to be recognized by their community and elected officials for their service in the United States armed forces. 

With Veterans Day only a few days after the meeting, Community Board Chair Sherry Algredo organized this surprise for her fellow community board members — and her friends.

The three veterans were provided official citations and awards from a number of their leaders. State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilwoman Joann Ariola and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar each attended to celebrate Iaboni, Smith and McClelland. 

However, each of these officials are involved in Veterans Affairs within their political sphere, and made an effort to illustrate how the recognition of the service the men provided must extend beyond Nov. 11.

“We need to do what we can do for our Veterans each and every day. Every day is Veterans Day,” Addabbo said. “When we take care ofthese issues that face our Veterans every day — mental health, physical health and housing — we get to address the most serious issue, and that is the suicide rate.” 

By recognizing these veterans and all the veterans in Queens, the county that has the most veterans in New York City, Addabbo explained how that helps bring down the suicide rate among veterans.

The political leaders were friends with the veterans long before Thursday night. Ariola knew Iaboni for many years, and they are neighbors.

When I go down 157th Avenue, I see [Joe’s] flag on one of the tallest poles you can legally have on your front lawn waving so proudly,” Ariola said “As I go by, I always say God Bless America.”

 

 

 


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