Christ the King student speaks at Sharpton’s rally in Harlem

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By Mark Hallum

TimesLedger Newspapers


Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekly rally in Harlem brought to the podium a senior at Christ the King High School in Middle Village who was told he could not put the name Malcolm X on a school sweatshirt.

Malcolm Xavier Combs said he was told by a staff member he should not be “associated with that name” when he ordered the shirt through the school to have his first name and middle initial printed on the back because of the perception that the civil rights leader endorsed terrorism.

“I was in AP English when I was called down to the office,” Combs said of his interaction with Assistant Principal Veronica Arbitello “They told me to wait in the office. Once she got there, she told me she could not put my name on the sweater. She said I did not want to be associated with that name. She asked me if that was my real name and I said yes… Her husband walked into the office and she said, ‘This is the new Malcolm X,’ and she laughed at me… I was silent the whole time because I was in shock that in this year that she would say something like that.’”

But Christ the King’s chairman of the board, Serphin Maltese, who once served as state senator in the district now represented by Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), claimed the order form for sweaters only allowed for first and last names, and sometimes nicknames. He said this had been misconstrued by the family and in media reports.

“The recent articles about one of our students and Malcolm X has, unfortunately, been taken out of context and has been misconstrued,” Maltese said. “When this student’s family raised the issue about the name he wished on the sweatshirt, the school readily agreed to meet and discuss the matter. Unfortunately, before that meeting took place, this became a media issue.”

He also said the school places a high priority on educating its students on Malcolm X as well as other African-American leaders.

Combs stood on stage at the National Action Network on 145th Street with his parents and Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, where they confronted the perception that the civil rights leader was a terrorist.

The notion of Malcolm X as a terrorist stemmed from a fiery speech given days before his Feb. 21, 1965 assassination in Washington Heights in which he condoned black retribution against hate groups and bigots such as the Ku Klux Klan, according to news reports at the time.

“A teacher said, ‘You cannot use that name. Why would you use a role model like Malcolm X?’” Sharpton said. “First of all, before you can get to the insult, Malcolm is his name. So the first violation is you’re asking him to deny his name. Secondly, his mama and daddy gave him that name, and no school has the right to disregard or disrespect the decision of parents. You wouldn’t do that to other parents and you’re not going to do that to black parents in our communities… It’s about respecting the identity of this child and it’s about respecting his parents.”

Sharpton said he had sent one of the ministers from his network to speak to the school, which had not been receptive to discussing the matter and refuted the perception Malcolm X was a terrorist.

“Malcolm represented the ability to redeem and build and we found our pride and manhood in him, because he proved we can be broken and put back together again,” Sharpton said.

The mother of the 17-year-old, Mychelle Combs, said the school made no attempt to involve the parents and when Combs’ father went to the school to speak to the assistant principal, he was told she was out to lunch and he would need an appointment.

“No school should do anything to a child and the parent can’t address it that day,” Mychelle Combs said. “Christ the King, you made it a media issue when you messed with our son… Malcolm X is not controversial, but Christ the King, your administration is.”

Shabazz told the story about how her father was gunned down in front of his wife and children in 1965.

“My mother made certain she kept my father’s humanity, his love, compassion and impeccable integrity very integral in our household,” Shabazz, who was born in Queens, said. “Less than 55 years ago, mass lynchings in our communities across the nation were rampant. Men, women and children were strung up and hung on tree limbs… My young father came along and said, just in his 20s, we demand our human rights as your brother, we demand our human rights ordained by God for all people. He was fearless because he loved us and our humanity… We must come together and ensure our educational curriculum is inclusive of historical facts.”

Shabazz said teachers need cultural sensitivity training in a city school system heavily populated with children from different ethnicities and praised Combs for speaking out.

Rev. Kevin McCall, the crisis director of National Action Network, said he attended a meeting at the school following the incident where he claimed to be unwelcome during an attempt to allegedly “sweep this under the rug.”

Sharpton pointed out that February is Black History Month and that the incident indicated educators needed a better understanding of African-American leaders and that Malcolm X himself was victim of terrorism.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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Free LaGuardia Link Q70 bus service is in effect through Feb. 20 to alleviate holiday traffic

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

Travelers heading to LaGuardia Airport can ride the Q70 bus for free until Thursday, Feb. 20, the Port Authority announced.


The free service is being offered in partnership with the MTA to alleviate roadway congestion during the President’s Day weekend.

The LaGuardia Link provides non-stop service linking the main terminals of the airport with subway and Long Island Rail Road hubs in Jackson Heights and Woodside. The Port Authority is expecting more than 370,000 passengers between now and Monday and is encouraging travelers who arrive by car to park in the new Terminal B Garage, which contains more than 2,400 parking spots.

All travelers are advised to check with their carriers in advance to ensure flights are departing on schedule, and allow an extra 90 minutes to get to the airport.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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Nolan demands action after concrete falls from 7 train viaduct in Sunnyside while MTA says structure is safe

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

One Queens lawmaker and a group of straphangers are urging the MTA to perform an immediate survey and review of the 7 train viaduct in Sunnyside after a chunk of concrete loosened and fell to the ground at 41st Street and Queens Boulevard last Friday.

Although no one was hurt, state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City) fired off a letter to MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, calling the incident an alarming situation as many residents of her community walk and drive near the vicinity of the viaduct.

“This structure was rebuilt in the early 1990s using capital funds; our community has been repeatedly assured that the structure would last over 50 years,” Nolan wrote. “This failure, after only a few decades, is shocking.”

Access Queens, a coalition of infrastructure advocates and riders of the beleaguered No. 7 subway line, released a statement saying this could have been a tragic event.

“Incidents like this are unacceptable,” they wrote. “We are calling on the MTA to determine the structural integrity along the entirety of the viaduct to ensure the public’s safety and provide the public with a thorough and transparent report that outlines what occurred and any safety measures that will be put into place. The MTA must ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.”

The MTA explained that water caused a one-foot-square section of concrete to dislodge from the underside of the steel-reinforced viaduct and the material serves as protection for the steel having no structural impact if lost. The agency declared the 7 train viaduct is structurally sound and that New York City Transit personnel responded to the scene immediately to check the structure.

“Safety is our number one priority — the area of the incident was tested immediately and the viaduct is safe,” MTA Spokesman Shams Tarek said. “We’re also conducting a comprehensive inspection of the viaduct this year.”

New York City Transit personnel conducted an annual visual inspection of the structure last month.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Terrace On The Park

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Mayor pushes for better policing in State of City address

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined his goals for New York City at his fifth State of the City address Tuesday.

The mayor unveiled his 12-point plan to improving the city, which included the expansion of affordable housing, early childhood education programs and better policing.

The address began with de Blasio counting down the three years, 10 months and 15 days left in his term, remarking that it’s the amount of time he has to ensure that New York City becomes the “Fairest Big City in America.” Without mentioning the Trump administration by name, de Blasio said that New York has to be the “antidote to the sickness that is gripping our nation” and promised to keep New York City a sanctuary city for all.

“We do this to preserve the social fabric of the most diverse place on earth,” he said. “We do this to ensure that we’re always a place for everyone, that magical openness that has made New York City great is always protected. But we also do this to guard against the threats to our democracy that are growing across this nation.”

De Blasio attributed better relationships between the community and police as the reason for the decline in crime in the city over the last few years.

“Nothing defines the relationship between a society and its people more than how they are policed,” he said. “If policing is fair it makes fairness possible in all aspects of life, and that’s what we have to insure.”

The city will extend and deepen neighborhood policing, which he says keeps crime low while also keeping arrests low. Police will be held accountable and increase trust in the community by having body cameras on all patrol officers by the end of this year, according to de Blasio.

“The beauty of this approach is it keeps getting better year by year,” he said. “The more we heal the wounds of the past, the deeper the bonds become between police and community and the further we go.”

After the success of pre-K for all, de Blasio said he has his eye on a 3k for All program that will give all 3-year-olds free education. He added that extending early childhood education programs to all neighborhoods will shorten the achievement gaps that affect the city’s poorest neighborhoods, which are usually made up of minority children.

“We know exactly where the problem comes from, but to defeat structural racism and to overcome this achievement gap, we have to flip the script,” he said. “We have to do something different when it comes to education because, in truth, we started educating children too late in their development and that exacerbate equalities already baked into their lives at an early age.” De Blasio said by 2021 all 3-year-olds will have access to childhood education.

The mayor then moved on to affordable housing. Last week, he unveiled his new plan for affordable housing in Willets Point that ensured at least 1,100 units in the new development will be affordable.

“In the last few months, the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of New York City got even bigger,” he said. “When it comes to fighting income and inequality and creating fairness in our everyday lives, nothing is more important than affordable housing. It’s not just that this is the number one expense for every family and that the costs of housing defines whether you can live a decent life or not in this city. It’s also about a basic question of fairness. Will the people who built this city, the people who were here in good times and bad, will they get to stay in the city they love?”

He said he will continue to fight so that families are protected from illegal evictions as well as building more building with affordable units.

De Blasio ended his address by encouraging New Yorkers to vote in the November elections.

“This November you will get a chance to vote for reforms that get big money out and grassroots democracy in,” he said. “It will help to make sure that we can get you involved in so many ways that will strengthen the democracy of our city and the involvement of our people.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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Judge rules in favor of 5Pointz artists

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

The leader of the 5Pointz artists is hailing the federal judge in Brooklyn who ruled in their favor Monday, forcing developer Jerry Wolkoff to pay $6.7 million in compensation for ordering the whitewashing of the world famous graffiti mecca in November 2013.

In his 100-page decision, Judge Frederick Block awarded the maximum of $150,000 for each of 45 murals that were destroyed in the dark of night without warning at the Long Island City warehouse complex that was torn down a year later to make way for two residential towers.

“The legacy of 5Pointz may be this ruling and the clear statement that aerosol art and public art are not disposable. The 21 plaintiffs, including myself, believed in the law and stood up for our rights, we believed in the value of our art and we were heard,” 5Pointz Founder and Curator Jonathan “Meres” Cohen said. “The art adorning 5Pointz is gone and can never be replaced, the 7 train commute will never be the same, but Honorable Judge Block’s judgement is historical for generations of artists all around the country. 5Pointz art was a true form of free speech, and this ruling honors this great American tradition of standing up for our rights.”

The ruling followed a three-week trial at Federal District Court in November with a jury finding Wolkoff had violated the federal Visual Artists Rights Act which was enacted in 1990, granting artists the rights to prevent intentional modification of their visual artworks and the destruction or mutilation of artworks “of a recognized stature.” It is the first time VARA has been used to protect aerosol artwork.

In his decision, Judge Block wrote, “If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed. If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”


Wolkoff was stunned by the judge’s ruling.

“What permits?” he asked. “Have you ever had to deal with the City of New York? I could have waited years for those permits. It’s an insane decision and I’m going to go through the appeal process. Why would he think any differently if it was two days or six months? I’ll appeal it and we’ll go from there.”

Court documents labeled Wolkoff a “difficult witness” who was argumentative and prone to tangents and non-responsive answers.

“I was going insane, I couldn’t believe I was there, in a courtroom being sued by people I allowed to paint on my building,” Wolkoff said. “I had no idea why I was being sued in the first place.”

Block, meanwhile, praised the artists who “have conducted themselves with dignity, maturity, respect, and at all times within the law” adding their behavior contributed to his decision to award them significant damages.

“This legal process was trying and difficult on all of us but in the end to see the rights of art prevail in New York City is extremely rewarding and emotional,” Cohen said. “As a curator seeing over 10 years of my work recognized and valued, and knowing that justice sided with the artists who selflessly painted at 5Pointz, is the biggest victory.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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Richmond Hill residents to receive tax-prep help

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By Prem Calvin Prashad

TimesLedger Newspapers

Richmond Hill is underserved by government agencies, while community organizations struggle under a dearth of funding. Yet, despite this benign neglect, the neighborhood has swelled in population, sustained by immigration that has increased the Indo-Caribbean and South Asian community. The neighborhood features a robust variety of small businesses, with a high level of homeownership. However, the need for services has never been higher.

Chhaya Community Development Corporation is a Jackson Heights-based non-profit that has long operated in Western Queens to facilitate economic and civic empowerment in immigrant communities. The organization focuses on South Asian communities, but maintains networks with immigrant organizations across Western Queens. According to its executive director, Annetta Seecharran, “Chhaya has had a long interest in Richmond Hill, [but] over the last few weeks, we’ve been trying to bring more sustained, regular programing to the neighborhood.”

Under a broader theme of “poverty-fighting” services, the organization announced the launch of free tax prep for the community at a Feb. 7 press conference, held at the Lefferts Library on Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill. Queens Library President Dennis Walcott praised the organization and its partnership with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs as the reason why the library “is able to provide free, high-quality services.”

The organization has been offering tax-prep assistance since 2015. Tax preparation efforts are centered on maximizing the Earned Income Tax Credit for families.

“Conventional tax preparers are usually not focusing on this,” Seecharran said.

In a press release, the organization notes that “qualified individuals do not take advantage of the EITC, leaving thousands of dollars on the table.” The service is available to families that earned less than $66,000 in 2017.

Lack of access to financial tools is a citywide issue and is especially pertinent where, according to Seecharran, as much as 30% of the community may be self-employed. The economic reality of how many earn a living, as well as the fact that the neighborhood has a high level of homeownership is why the organization identified tax services as an opportunity to make a high impact. These economic and cultural similarities to Jackson Heights made expanding into the neighborhood a natural “next step” for the organization.

“I’d love to see a full-fledged Chhaya center in the neighborhood, one that provides full-fledged wraparound services,” Seecharran said.

Wraparound services are services that adapt to the dynamic nature of people’s lives and utilize the support systems that they already have available. In Chhaya’s case, that would include financial counseling, adult literacy, immigration services and civic engagement — a model that has been successful in Jackson Heights since its founding in 2000.

The organization has been able to identify some of the more unique challenges that neighborhood residents face. Adult literacy is a major issue, which in turn affects the quality of information that people are able to access, as well as their ability to pass the citizenship test. Though the Indo-Caribbean community is english-speaking, some adults and the elderly do require assistance with legal documents and government forms.

Additionally, Chhaya intends to begin targeted programming at raising the profile and civic engagement of women in the community. Local activists have declared domestic violence against Indo-Caribbean women as an issue of importance in the community. Recent, high profile murders of women by intimate partners has brought the community into a period of reflection, largely to ensure that women in these situations know about their options for safety, as well as ensuring that people are able to identify friends, relatives and neighbors in abusive relationships. Seecharran hopes that raising the number of female leaders in the community contributes to the goal of elevating people that represent the interests of the community.

NYC Free Tax Prep is offered at Lefferts Library on Feb. 7 and 21; March 7 and 21; and April 4 at 11 AM. Information on this and related tax services is available at

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New York City must make smart decision regarding commercial waste

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By Kendall Christiansen and Thomas Grech

TimesLedger Newspapers

Every day, it’s no small miracle that the 12,000 tons of waste, recyclables, and organics generated by the city’s businesses and industries are managed by a small, efficient, and resourceful cadre of companies.

But in August 2016, the de Blasio administration proposed converting the city’s successful, open-market commercial-waste pickup system — which was last reformed 20 years ago — into a system of geographic “zones,” each served by a single company.

A similar system is now being implemented in Los Angeles, and like other “West Coast” ideas, it needs a closer look. The plan is a disaster: tens of thousands of service disruptions and prices to customers doubling, tripling, and quadrupling, along with myriad other charges. On top of that, complaints there are now directed to city bureaucrats instead of service representatives eager to keep your business.

This week, the Los Angeles City Council is demanding answers from city officials about what went wrong. Angry businesses have initiated a ballot referendum to repeal the new system. The Los Angeles Times editorial board called it a “trash monopoly that’s gouging customers” and said that city officials “need to fix it.”

Fortunately, New York can watch and learn before making the same mistake.

But so far, Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia continues to work behind closed doors towards a zone-based plan that would harm small businesses, threaten good jobs for local residents, and accomplish virtually nothing that couldn’t be achieved sooner, better, and cheaper by working together with local companies.

Even the data used to justify the decision is flawed, incomplete, and inaccurate — ask how many licensed companies currently provide waste-related services and you’ll hear answers ranging from 70 to 110. (The answer: closer to 70, with 20 providing more than 80% of the total service.) And local companies, already heavily regulated and skilled at implementing the city’s commercial-recycling rules, have every incentive to operate efficiently.

Now is the time for real public discussion before lurching down the path of no return.

Los Angeles’ new system debuted last July and seven companies now control waste and recyclables in 11 zones. Businesses — including apartment buildings — in those zones have new haulers assigned to them without regard to their service requirements or cost. Imagine such a transition in New York. The results would be disastrous.

Armed with a team of consultants and an $8-million taxpayer-funded budget, the de Blasio administration is committed to proving that it’s smarter than a well-regulated open market. It is already drawing lines on maps, deciding what constitutes good customer service, and determining what arbitrary recycling goals should be enforced. It created an advisory board, but denied a request to open the meetings to the public, and debate has been limited to how to design a zoned system — not whether it even makes sense.

To be clear: Every complex system, which waste services are, can benefit from continuous improvement, even in the face of collapsing global markets for recyclables, over-heated industrial real estate, and relentless NIMBYism. The commercial-waste system already is undergoing significant and positive transformation with renewed focus on safety, clean trucks, zero waste, and managing organics as a resource. While the elements are in place to move the industry forward into the 21st century, the city’s dispiriting message instead is: Get ready to shut down your companies and let the monopolies take over.

For the business community, the question is: will Mayor Bill de Blasio learn from Los Angeles and change course? Or will that realization not come until it is too late?

Kendall Christiansen is the executive director of New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management. Thomas Grech is the president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce

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Katz recommends approval of 116th Precinct site

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By Naeisha Rose

TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz recommended approving last week the rezoning and site selection of the NYPD’s new 116th Precinct station house.

The new precinct will be located at 242-20 North Conduit Ave. in Rosedale, according to the borough president’s office.

“The need for this new 116th Precinct was first identified generations ago by the families of Laurelton, Rosedale, Brookville and Springfield Gardens,” said Katz. “The plans are moving forward expeditiously toward fruition.”

The borough president’s approval came after the NYPD presented its application two weeks ago at her Land Use Public Hearing at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

The proposal would rezone a parking lot within Community Board 13 into a two-story building that would be 45,000 square feet.

“Once built, the creation of the new NYPD 116th Precinct station house will help fulfill that need by improving response times and having a more proactive presence closer to the neighborhoods it protects and serves,” said Katz.

The project was funded in full by the mayor’s office with a commitment of $70 million in capital for the new precinct and station house.

With Katz’s affirmative recommendation, the project can now move forward to the City Planning Commission and the City Council for review.

Another purpose of the new precinct is to provide relief for the 105th Precinct, which is one of the largest in the city. The precinct, which is fifth in precinct population and fifth in geographic size out of 77 precincts, covers nearly 13 square miles in southeast Queens and parts of Nassau County from Glen Oaks to Rosedale.

The 105th Precinct’s geographical challenges made it difficult for it to fully serve that large swath of southeast Queens, which also includes Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Bellaire, Hollis, New Hyde Park and Floral Park.

According to Inspector Jeffrey Schiff in an August 2017 meeting, the 105th Precinct has a 6 minute and 58 seconds response time.


By relinquishing the eastern most parts of its coverage area (Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Brookville and Laurelton) to the 116th Precinct, the 105th Precinct could possibly reduce its response time in the future.

Renderings for precinct depict as stretching from 242nd to 245th streets on North Conduit Ave., and will run parallel to the Rosedale LIRR train station.

The creation of the precinct was first included in the borough president’s 2014 Strategic Policy Statement.

The new station house will have a staff of 400 who will report to work on three eight-hour shifts, will include a community space on the first floor and have 163 parking spaces, according to the ULURP application from the NYPD.

The station house will have a green efficient design.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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Borough-based prison coming to Kew Gardens as plan to close Rikers moves forward

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

Less than a week after a Rikers Island prison guard was viciously attacked by six alleged gang members and hospitalized with a fractured spine and bleeding on the brain, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an agreement Wednesday to move forward with the closing of the notorious prison complex by creating a borough-based jail system.

City Council members from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, Speaker Corey Johnson and the Mayor agreed to a single public review process for four proposed sites that together will provide space for 5,000 detainees.

“This agreement marks a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island,” de Blasio said. “In partnership with the City Council, we can now move ahead with creating a borough-based jail system that’s smaller, safer and fairer. I want to thank these representatives, who share our vision of a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system that brings staff and detainees closer to their communities.”

In Queens, the city identified the old Queens Detention Center in Kew Gardens after nearly a dozen Queens council members suggested the former jail in October. City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), the chairwoman of the Queens delegation, spearheaded the “unprecedented” move with former councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

“The reopening of the Queens Detention Center not only makes sense, but it’s the right thing to do,” Koslowitz said. “This proposal restores the Center back to its original purpose and ensures that Queens’ borough-based jail facility is located in our civic center, close to our courts. This smaller facility will bolster the safety for our Department of Correction staff, will create an environment that is more conducive to rehabilitation and will save taxpayer dollars in transportation costs.”

The safety of DOC personnel became a hot-button issue since Saturday’s attack on Correction Officer Jean Souffrant, 39, who was sucker punched by an inmate and then brutally kicked by five others. Four of the inmates pleaded not guilty in a Bronx courtroom Monday.

De Blasio spoke with Souffrant and members of his family in a phone call Sunday, and he called the officer a “noble man.” Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, is criticizing the Mayor for banning solitary confinement for inmates 21 years old and younger in 2016, a move Correction officers contend takes away one of their most effective tools.

But de Blasio was adamant that the ban would not be rescinded and instead the administration announced Wednesday it will invest $4.5 million to fund a rapid increase of safety and security measures designed to immediately address violence against DOC officers. The enhancements, which will be completed by the end of June, include more Emergency Services Unity patrol groups, expanding the number of tasers for emergency personnel and select uniform staff, boosting cooperation and coordination with the NYPD on intelligence-sharing and gang intelligence training, and assigning NYPD gang intelligence staff to DOC facilities.

“With these high-visibility and comprehensive measures, we send a clear message to the gangs and violent inmates behind the recent attacks against our officers: We aren’t tolerating it,” DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann said. “These steps will be taken immediately to boost safety to our staff, especially those working in our highest risk facilities. We want all our officers and staff that we have their backs, and they have the full support of the security apparatus at the department’s disposal. We are acting aggressively to make sure our jails are safe.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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Bayside actress makes silver screen debut

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By Tammy Scileppi

TimesLedger Newspapers

The future looks brighter than ever for Bayside actress Elyse Price, who says 2018 “started off strong!”

Price is making her debut on the silver screen after catching director Usher Morgan’s eye to play the lead in his new movie. “Pickings” premieres March 1 in Whitestone at the College Point Multiplex (2855 Ulmer St.) at 7:30 p.m. It opens at select theaters across the country March 2.

This intriguing neo-noir about a feud that develops between a crime family and an actual family has been described at festivals as “visually stunning” with “gut-punching” performances. The film centers around Price’s character, Jo Lee-Haywood, a single mother of three who starts a new life in a new city and is trying to protect her children from her violent past.

“She is just a really fierce woman and, as Usher describes her, a lioness who will stop at nothing to protect her cubs,” Price says. “It is stylistically unique, mixing film noir with spaghetti western, with a definite nod to Quentin Tarantino.”

The budding star had no inkling that one day she’d be starring in a feature movie.

“I got a notification from about a trailer to promote an upcoming feature film. I submitted and was called in for an audition, booked the role for the trailer but was not guaranteed the role in the film. After shooting the trailer, it was obvious that Usher and I loved working together, and he offered me the role,” Price recalled.

Since there’s so much that goes into embracing a character, from where does an actor draw to become that person?

“There might be a word or phrase that encapsulates the identity of the character or the story. Or a poem. Or even a single gesture,” says Price. “A song that inspires you can be a great place from which to take your point of departure. What’s important is to find the thing that speaks to you.

“I have played Shakespearean princesses, southern belles, Irish country girls, war widows, turn-of-the-century prigs, prostitutes on the streets of NYC. I love this art form, because you can draw from every moment of life that you experience and figure out how it fits into a particular story. I feel like I’ve been doing that my whole life anyway.”

Lutheran School of Flushing and Bayside

As fate would have it, her boyfriend Joel Bernard (also a Bayside resident) got a leading role in the film as well.

“He plays my younger brother Boone. Joel was still in California finishing up grad school at [American Conservatory Theater] when Usher was casting the film. I still remember him describing the character of Boone. I said ‘just wait until you meet Joel, he’s exactly what you’re looking for.’ They met a few weeks later and the rest is history.” Price said.

The Bayside lovebirds met at Queens College, where Price graduated in 2010, and it seems as if they were destined to be together.

“I remember seeing him in a show and thinking he was insanely talented. When I got involved in the theater department, we were constantly cast opposite one other and became very close,” Price said.

After her mentor and acting teacher, Claudia Feldstein, cast them as George and Emily in “Our Town,” they really fell for each other and have been together ever since.

The actress recently returned to QC to perform with other alums, including Feldstein, in a fundraiser for the Drama, Theatre and Dance Department — a staged reading of “The Kitchen Plays” (three short plays written by QC alumni). Price said one of her proudest moments was bowing afterwards with some of her oldest and dearest friends.

She recently started teaching an acting class at QC, and she’s also collaborating with Feldstein and Bernard to create their Equity Alumni Theater Company.

When they were drama majors at Queens College, Price and Bernard started an independent theater collective called Benefit of the Doubt Theatre Company, dedicated to keeping theatre a fearless, imaginative and entertaining art form.

“We try to offer as many opportunities as possible, and in the last ten years we have collaborated with over fifty performers,” Price said.

Most recently, they produced the American premiere of “Phantom Pains” by Vasily Sigarev at Under St. Marks Theater. The actors were all alumni from American Conservatory Theater and it was directed by Matt Raines of Studio 6 of the Moscow Art Theatre.

“BotD brings people together across borders and boundaries to create the opportunity to grow personally and professionally in and through the arts,” says Price, who hopes to expand what BotD has started in the form of the Queens College theater company. “The idea was inspired by our collective appreciation for our beginnings at the school and general love for the arts and culture alive in Queens. A huge goal is to be able to make theater as accessible as possible in our Queens community, to be able to provide quality entertainment and opportunities to artists wishing to work onstage, backstage, in the writer’s room or as an audience member.”

Several projects are in the works, according to Price, including a full-length play.

“What I truly believe is there is nothing stronger than building up the people around you. There is nothing more bulletproof than authenticity.”

When she’s not acting, teaching or working at a local Carvel , where she had scooped for 16-plus years, the family-oriented 20-something loves spending quality time with her parents.

“My family is really tight knit — we’re really supportive of each other. My mom and dad have always inspired me because it seems like they can do anything,” Price says.

Her father, now retired, held several important positions including as a first responder at Ground Zero for the American Red Cross after the 9/11 attacks.

“Basically, they taught me that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I pursued it with passion and commitment and integrity,” she said.

A few years ago, Price moved across the country to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, to pursue her MFA in acting.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to leave my family, friends and my boyfriend for the first time in my life and miss all the holiday dinners, the birthdays … But it was one of the most important experiences of my life,”

But fate again conspired to being her and Bernard together.

“Miraculously, my boyfriend was accepted to the same program the following year — even though only ten applicants are accepted into the program. It seemed like a sign.”

Fast forward, and now they have both graduated and moved back to Bayside, reunited with their families and friends — and Price has finished shooting another film.

“We both grew up in Bayside, attended Queens College, spent years all over the place — California, Canada, Ireland, Moscow — and after all these years,” Price said, “we have the privilege of returning to our hometown. Talk about full circle. It is surreal.”

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Source: Times Ledger