By Carol Tannenhauser
It seems like 2018 is just getting started, yet suddenly we’re making plans for New Year’s Eve! On the other hand, was it really only a year ago that Lincoln Plaza Cinemas closed? That was the big story of January, 2018, which began with a major fire in a vintage diner, and a massive snowstorm that dropped 10 inches on New York City. The Hudson River was partially frozen; a car burst into flames on Columbus Avenue; community policing came to the 24th precinct; and the Collegiate School moved to Freedom Place South. Women marched for the second time, and Congressman Jerry Nadler came home and criticized President Trump. The month ended with a Super Blue Blood Moon rising over New Jersey.
In February, Big Nick’s Burger Joint and Pizza Joint Too closed; Trader Joe’s was supposed to open, but didn’t, but H-Mart did (pictured at right). The big story, broken by West Side Rag, was that three subway stations along the B/C line would be closed for six months for extensive repairs and renovations. The outcry was immediate. State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal decried the lack of notice to the community. CB 7 wanted “mitigation.” The push for “accessibility” was led by City Council Member Mark Levine. The exact dates of the closings were announced, and everyone suspected that the stations would never be finished on time.
March was the start of the mail-fishing season, which shows no sign of abating any time soon, despite a joint investigation by the U.S. Postal Service and the NYPD. Crosswalks and lane markings were missing from major thoroughfares for months, and the rents were still too damn high, but the residential market was showing signs of softening. Norman, a chihuahua, went missing. The biggest story was the appearanceof “super talls” on the neighborhood’s radar; Upper West Siders began to educate themselves — and, in some cases, mobilize.
A subway musician delighted straphangers on April 1st. In the days following, the weather played tricks on us, and a community group filed a lawsuit to stop the addition to the Museum of Natural History. A church took in an undocumented Guatemalan refugee, and the 20th precinct began community policing. The mosquitoes of 84th Street were finally defeated — we hope. But the big story was new School Chancellor Richard Carranza’s “racially charged” tweet, which raised the tension during the parent-led process of integrating middle schools.
May is the month Trader Joe’s finally opened. Big Nick’s reopened too with a new name and management. Quiet local resident Philip Roth died. We talked to people who had been racially profiled in the neighborhood.
Gerrymandered zoning lots were a big topic in June, particularly as they relate to how tall a building can be — or not be, that is the question developers, the City, community activists, and local elected officials were debating. On a tragic note, a woman died after falling from a subway platform at the 72nd Street station and being hit by an incoming train. Dovetail closed, and the controversial middle school integration plan was presented.
July brought a heat wave; you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. A woman was brutally assaulted on CPW by a 32-year-old resident of a homeless shelter on West 83rd Street. Central Park’s raccoon population was plagued by distemper, to the dismay of the Upper West Side’s many, many dog owners. To the dismay of expectant parents, we broke the story that the renowned birthing center at Mount Sinai West was closing.Read more
By Graham Kates
Marissa Hoechstetter decided about three years ago she needed to get her former doctor's name removed from her twins' birth certificates. The obstetrician had been accused by Manhattan prosecutors of sexually abusing multiple patients, and he would later plead guilty to counts of criminal sex act and forcible touching.
He's since been accused of sexual misconduct in multiple lawsuits by nearly two dozen more women, including Hoechstetter, who says the doctor abused her during and after her pregnancy. But none of that mattered when she contacted New York City officials: It turns out there's no simple process for removing a doctor's name.
That could soon change. New York City Council Member Mark Levine plans to propose a bill Thursday that would require the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Vital Records to redact physicians' names from birth certificates if the doctors' licenses have been suspended, surrendered or revoked by the state.
Hoechstetter had reached out to Levine earlier this year, and he thought he helping her would take just a few calls. But a Department of Health employee told him Hoechstetter would need to hire a lawyer, and get a court order, according to a July 18 email provided to CBS News.
Since then, Levine's office said eight more women who say they were victimized by the same doctor have come forward to request the same change, leading Levine to propose the new legislation.
"We cannot undo the damage done by abusers who exploit the vulnerability of women in an OB/GYN's office," Levine said in a statement to CBS News. "The least we can do is not subject survivors — and their children — to the pain of seeing their abuser's name on a document as foundational and meaningful as a birth certificate. This simple legislative fix is a small but important step towards justice for brave women like Marissa Hoechstetter."
For Hoechstetter, the bill is more than the next step in her fight to get new birth certificates, it's an opportunity to help others who she's heard from in the two weeks since she and 16 others filed suit against the doctor, Robert Hadden, Columbia University and its hospitals.
"A lot of people have reached out and now this is something tangible that I can say, 'if this is an issue for you, reach out to your council member and have them support this,'" Hoechstetter said. "I'm just really grateful that Mark was willing to think creatively about this. It really means a lot to me. We say a lot, 'let's support survivors,' but this is someone really doing that."
A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the agency will review the legislation.
A story unearthed during the #MeToo movement could change New York law to make victims’ lives easier
By Alan Pyke
Doctors who violate their patients’ trust in the grossest imaginable fashion can haunt their lives long after they’ve been caught and chased out of the medical professions.
But new legislation to be introduced Thursday in New York City aims to begin to fix that. The proposal would allow sexual assault victims to obtain fresh copies of their children’s birth certificates that do not display the name of the doctor who abused them.
The highly specific proposal, authored by Councilman Mark Levine (D), is motivated by the barely-punished crimes of former OB/GYN Robert Hadden. Hadden sexually assaulted dozens of his patients over a period of years before being caught. When he was caught, prosecutors opted for a plea deal in which he would serve no prison time but forfeit his medical license and agree never to seek one in any other jurisdiction.
The legislation would mark a small but concrete victory for the Me Too movement. Hadden’s crimes came back into national headlines because Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s handling of sexual assault cases and campaign donationsdrew muckraking attention from reporters at the IBTimes last year, after Vance was accused of dogging investigations of Harvey Weinstein.
Vance had accepted campaign checks from close associates of the Hollywood mogul, and from the attorneys who represented Hadden. Though his office hotly contested the notion that those contributions had influenced his handling of either serial sexual assaulter, including in interviews with ThinkProgress, the renewed attention gave Hadden’s victims fresh traction.
Long after press attention had moved on from Vance, a woman named Marissa Hoechstetter was still trying to escape the shadow of what Hadden had done to her. She detailed her experiences to Buzzfeed News’ Albert Samaha in June, most of a year after the Vance connection had reupped the Hadden scandal. The piece ends in sorrow, with Hoechstetter explaining how every time she has to grab her children’s birth certificates for some administrative task, she sees the name of the man who assaulted her while he oversaw her pregnancy. Her attempts to get fresh documents expunged of his name “ha[d] so far run into bureaucratic walls and murky legal grounds,” Samaha wrote.
Levine’s bill would not automate the process. But it would end the legal murkiness. The relevant city authorities would be required to furnish a new, redacted birth certificate upon request any time the doctor involved has had their license stripped or suspended by the state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct.
Thursday’s announcement comes two weeks after Hochstetter and other survivors of Hadden’s abuse — which other outlets have detailed in their coverage — filed a lawsuit against Columbia University, whose hospitals employed Hadden for decades. The suit alleges the university hospital administrators were aware of Hadden’s sexual violence against his patients for more than a decade.
Eight other women victimized by Hadden over the years have anonymously sought the same modest documentary relief that Hoechstetter decided to ask for publicly, Levine’s team said. The councilman had initially tried to help the women get their requests granted individually by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but was told that the unprecedented request left records officials in an untenable position. They wanted to help, a spokesman for Levine told ThinkProgress, but felt that they could not do so without some sort of statutory backing — hence the legislation set to be introduced Thursday.
It’s a short, simple bill. If adopted, it would kick off some regulatory work to craft the procedures by which such requests would get granted while maintaining the integrity of a documents system that’s central to whole lifetimes of interactions between citizens and their government.
But unlike so many other stories of benevolent legislative intention and fuzzy follow-through regulation, where the best intentions of lawmakers can run aground in bureaucratic shallows — or run afoul of litigious opposition, as entertainment industry experts have sweatily worried may happen with various Hollywood efforts to take concrete action in response to sexual assault in the industry– Hoechstetter’s ask is too simple to screw up.
“Access to my body and delivering my children was a privilege that Hadden abused. While I now live with the reminder of his actions, I refuse to leave my daughters with his name on the document that marks their entrance into this world,” Hoechstetter said in a statement ahead of the bill’s official introduction. “With this legislation, I can now find comfort knowing that my daughters will not continue to carry my abuser’s name into their lives.“
By Felipe De La Hoz
New York City policymakers are mulling a wide-ranging proposal to provide subsidized health care to people who cannot qualify for federal or state-managed health insurance — primarily undocumented immigrants. If it comes to fruition, it would be the country’s largest municipal health care plan for the uninsurable, following those in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Officials know it would work because they’ve tried it. The principles were tested in a pilot study the city conducted from May 2016 to June 2017, called ActionHealthNYC. The program technically was not insurance—it simply offered members reduced health costs and a managed care framework at facilities in the publicHealth + Hospitals system. It allowed members to use their New York City municipal identification cards to sign up at a Primary Care Home, which could be at a public hospital or a community-based Federally Qualified Health Center(FQHC), where they could receive general examinations and screenings. Those needing specialized care were referred to specialists, and all participants were charged a standardized fee based on income.
The pilot study provided benefits to 1,265 uninsurable New Yorkers and compared their outcomes to a control group of 1,139 others. The evaluation of the program, conducted by the American Institutes of Research(AIR), stated that “significantly more members reported having a primary care provider, and used primary and specialty care, than did the study group,” and concluded that the program had improved the use of preventive services and the diagnosis of chronic conditions. “[Members] appreciated being able to get medical help when they needed it at a reduced cost. Many discussed how their health improved after enrolling inActionHealthNYC because of their improved access to care,” the report read.
AIR enthusiastically recommended its expansion, writing that “the feasibility of implementing such a program rapidly, perhaps even beyond the initial geographic areas, is demonstrated” by the fact that the program “succeeded, in less than half a year, in recruiting and enrolling more than 2,400 eligible low-income uninsured adults to the demonstration program and this research study.”
Chatter about reviving and expanding ActionHealthNYC has bubbled ever since the pilot ended, but planning has kicked into overdrive as policymakers brace for a budget fight in Albany over a proposed state-level single payer health system and stare down a possible change in federal rules over what benefits immigrants can access without jeopardizing their efforts to get certain visas or legal permanent residency. A federal court ruling last week in Texas putting the federal health insurance program in legal jeopardy has further muddied the waters. The de Blasio administration has been largely silent on why ActionHealthNYC wasn’t expanded, even as members of the City Council, city officials, advocacy groups, and health providers have signaled support.
State health insurance effort
Most of the initiative’s proponents are publicly supporting the state-level single-payer insurance proposal, the New York Health Act, which if passed might render a local program unnecessary. Despite an incoming newly Democratic State Senate, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not supported the proposed Act and it’s unclear whether he would sign it if passed. Moreover, it may not be fully legal for a state to offer full-blown insurance to the undocumented, although the bill’s framers and supporters insist that the use of solely state funds would insulate it from a lawsuit. A municipal non-insurance health plan, logistically, would be much easier to implement.
“A lot of the pieces are in place, and that’s one of the reasons that doing this in New York City wouldn’t be as hard as in other places,” said Max Hadler, the Director of Health Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. He has been speaking with “pretty much anyone who would listen” in city government about the benefits of a building out a citywide access-to-health program, he said.Read more
Some workers struggling with 9/11 illnesses still don't have unlimited sick time two months after deal announced
By Jillian Jorgensen
Nearly two months after Mayor de Blasio touted a deal to provide unlimited sick leave to all city employees sickened by the 9/11 attacks, some of them still have to choose between cancer treatments and getting a paycheck.
Despite an October agreement with union District Council 37 — which de Blasio’s office said would be extended to other workers — employees like Linda Mercer, an NYPD traffic agent with inoperable liver cancer, still don’t have the unlimited sick leave long afforded to police and firefighters.
“As of this day, I still don’t have unlimited sick time. Come Jan. 4, 2019, I have to go back and do more chemo,” Mercer testified to the City Council Monday. “And my doctor told me this is going to be a heavy dose of chemo, that I won’t be able to come to work. So I don’t have no sick time, so I’m asking ya’ll to please help me. I have to support my family. Without sick time, I can’t go to work, I won’t get paid.”
Mercer stood on the steps of City Hall in late October, weeping as she begged de Blasio to extend the benefit to city workers like her who were sickened working downtown in the months after 9/11. That press conference was interrupted with the news that a deal had been inked with D.C. 37, and that it was expected to be extended to other unions and even non-unionized city workers.
But nearly two months later, only nine other unions have signed on to the deal, Office of Labor Relations counsel Steven Banks testified Monday.
Asked when the city expected to have the benefit extended to all unions, Banks noted that was partly up to the unions.
“That’s a bilateral discussion between us an each union, but based on the feedback that we’ve received so far – obviously it’s a new benefit, on top, we’re not asking for any give-backs or trade-offs,” Banks said.
Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine said that it wouldn’t be right to expect unions to make trades for the time.
“I don’t think it would be fair if workers who didn’t ask to be sent to work near Ground Zero now are told they have to give something up to receive the benefit of paid sick time,” Levine said during the hearing.
De Blasio adviser Sherif Soloman said that the city’s intent was always “to keep the discussion solely on the issue of extending sick leave benefits.”
But many have questioned why, then, the mayor wouldn’t support Albany legislation to provide the sick leave, or why he didn’t simply do it himself administratively.
Advocate John Feal ripped the D.C. 37 agreement at the hearing — saying the unions had “hijacked” his press conference in announcing it — and he urged remaining unions to spurn the deal. He argued workers should never have been required to bargain for the time, and he criticized the D.C. 37 deal for requiring workers to have the sick time they used for 9/11 illnesses deducted from any leftover sick time they would have banked at the time of their retirement.
“Now I understand the mayor and his labor team are telling all the unions take what has already been negotiated or get nothing,” Feal said. “I am here to tell everybody every union, do not negotiate with the mayor’s office because we’ll be back in Albany in January to get legislation passed so nobody has to negotiate and get force fed.”
A mayoral spokesman on Monday said every effort was being made to get the benefit for those who need it.
By Jeff Coltin
Corey Johnson and Bill de Blasio are not friends.
And for Johnson, the New York City Council speaker whose friendliness is his defining trait, that’s saying something.
Johnson didn’t even wish the mayor a happy birthday, something the speaker admitted at a City Hall press conference on May 9, the day after de Blasio turned 57. “I meant to, and I forgot. And now you made me feel bad,” Johnson said, with the obvious disappointment of somebody who puts a high value on such social currencies.
Did de Blasio call you on your birthday, Johnson was asked, just a couple weeks earlier? “Um. Definitely not. I didn’t get a belated happy birthday either.”
Then he delivered his kicker. “But I make decisions based on their merit, not based on how I was previously treated,” Johnson said, echoing a line that de Blasio has repeatedly used to defend his decision-making as free from the influence of political donors.
As the press corps laughed, Johnson immediately walked it back – “I’m joking! … I’m not making fun of him!” – but the tension between the two officials has been more than a punchline. Johnson ran for City Council speaker on a bold promise to assert the body’s independence from the mayor, and de Blasio reportedly didn’t want Johnson to get the job. After his first full year leading the council, Johnson has delivered more than just quips – there’s widespread agreement among the council’s members and political observers that he has unified and revitalized the council, delivering legislative victories while acting as a check on the mayor.
In doing so, Johnson has won over his toughest critics in the council. Behind the scenes during the 2017 speaker’s race, an informal group of members was formed who would have preferred “Anybody But Corey” – the ABC caucus. In phone calls with lobbyists and over coffee with reporters, they pushed a theory: Johnson would be a vindictive speaker, crushing the budget hopes and legislative dreams of anybody who got in his way. City Council staffers whispered of “the list” that Johnson kept like a political Santa Claus, keeping track of who supported his candidacy and who had crossed him. A year later, nearly a dozen critics said their worries were unfounded.
“I will fully admit that during the speaker’s race I was a leader of the Anybody But Corey caucus,” New York City Councilman Ben Kallos told City & State. “I will say that after working with him over the first year as speaker, that I was wrong. And everything he has done since becoming speaker has been about getting things done.”
Others echoed Kallos. “If Corey had an approval rating in the City Council,” said City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who also ran for speaker, “I suspect it would be nearly 100 percent.”
Much of the praise for Johnson comes at the expense of de Blasio. “I think there’s a general recognition that there’s a leadership void in New York City. And Corey is filling it,” Torres said. “He is a larger-than-life speaker in the midst of a vanishing mayor.”
De Blasio will reach the term limit of his office at the end of 2021 and already seems to be suffering from final-term fatigue. While he won re-election in a landslide last year, New York City’s overwhelmingly Democratic voters just gave their Democratic mayor a lackluster 43 percent approval rating. And The New York Times recently reported that the mayor showed up at City Hall just 10 days a month over the first nine months of this year. By contrast, Johnson seems to everywhere. At City Hall, yes, but also at tree lightings, beach volleyball matches, canvassing days and dance parties. His star is in the ascendant, while de Blasio’s is setting. Talk of a Johnson run for mayor in 2021 has already begun, and Johnson isn’t ruling it out.Read more
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – The city’s Latinos remain at a higher risk for preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and asthma, and now there’s a new push to address some of the reasons behind it.
The disparities Latinos face in getting health care was at the center of a panel in Washington Heights on Saturday.
From his office in Harlem, Dr. Diego Ponieman, the director of Somos Community Care, says he sees some of the disconnects that are keeping Latinos from getting the care they need.
“I would say socioeconomic. I would say language barriers. I would say poverty,” Ponieman said. “It’s sometimes overwhelming to go to get an appointment. To get lost in the system.”
A new report from the nonprofit Somos Community Care notes that 62 percent of the city’s Latinos cite cost as a barrier, while 79 percent of providers think a lack of cultural understanding is another obstacle.
“The community needs to get healthier from the grassroots,” Ponieman said.
For example, while 60 percent of people in the Bronx are Spanish speakers, only 10 percent of the physicians there are.
Councilmember Mark Levine says it’s emblematic of the obstacles Latinos across the city face in getting health care.
“Latinos are more likely to be uninsured, to face barriers to getting primary care and preventative care, and it’s had devastating health consequences,” Levine said.
Those that are undocumented might be even more fearful of seeing a doctor, Levine said.
Something as simple as more translators in doctors’ offices and better nutritional options at grocery stores could go a long way, activists say, but in the meantime there needs to be more community outreach and cultural understanding.
By James Ford
NEW YORK — Now that the weekend is here, people may consider going out to the movies. However, one moviegoer that nobody wants to come across is a bedbug.
Because some of the tiny pests have been found at New York City film venues in recent years, there’s a new city council bill that would require annual bedbug inspections at city movie theaters.
Some filmgoers, however, are saying that the proposal does not go far enough.
The bill, filed by City Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, reads that it "would direct the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, in coordination with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to develop a program for movie theaters to annually certify they are free of bed bugs."
The bill is a response to instances in the last eight years or so of bedbugs being found in theaters across the city, including the AMC25 Theater on 42nd Street, the Pavilion Movie Theater in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the United Artists theater in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
A variety of moviegoers with whom PIX11 News spoke expressed support for the idea.
"Makes sense," said one customer at the AMC25 at Times Square, who'd said she heard about a previous instance of bedbugs having been reported, but added that she'd had an excellent movie viewing experience on Friday afternoon.
"I think they should," another filmgoer said about the proposed annual inspections.
Those comments supported the bill that one of its sponsors, Councilmember Mark Levine, explained in a written statement sent to PIX11 News: “Anyone who has ever had to suffer through a bed bug infestation in their homes knows the tremendous financial and emotional toll it can take. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about what might be lurking in the seats of a movie theater. This bill is a simple accountability measure that will ensure our city’s movie theaters are pest free.”
There's one significant aspect to Levine's bill, however, that some theater customers viewed skeptically.
"Failure to so certify [an annual bedbug inspection] would be punishable by a fine of $1,000,” the bill reads.
"They throw out $1,000 of popcorn a month," said one customer.
He was not alone in saying that the proposed penalty for not complying with the proposed annual inspection was low enough that a theater or theater chain could choose to forego the inspection because it finds the fine to be more affordable than actually paying for an inspection.
PIX11 reached out to AMC Theaters for comment on the bill.
However, in previous coverage of reports of bedbugs at the AMC25, the movie theater chain has said that a pest control company is brought in immediately after any reports of bedbugs.
AMC Theaters has also said that every seat in the theater is inspected every month.
If there's any sign of bedbugs, the chairs are treated, the company said.
The bedbug inspection bill is still in its introductory stage in the city council.
It's possible that the fine amount could be raised in rewrites of the bill, and it’s also possible that the bill will ultimately not be adopted, and not become law.
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Movies can leave you with all kinds of different feelings — but itchy shouldn’t be one of them, according to one City Councilman.
It’s no secret that bed bug infestations are, unfortunately, a persistent issue at movie theaters throughout the five boroughs. But Councilman Mark Levine doesn’t believe enough is currently being done to prevent them.
“It’s one of the reasons I don’t go to the theater every now and then,” said one New York City resident.
That’s why, Levine has introduced legislation that would require theaters to certify, on an annual basis, that their seats have been inspected and deemed free of the bloodsucking pests.
“They can be everywhere,” said one woman, who was waiting outside an AMC Theater on Friday. “We don’t know if we sit on a chair and there’s a bed bug.”
If passed, the Department of Consumer Affairs would oversee the inspections.
Under the bill, if a theater does not certify that they’re free of bed bugs, they would have to pay a $1,000 fine.
Levine’s office told WCBS 880 that there has, so far, been no push back from theaters over the proposal, and that most theaters check once a year anyway.
By Michael McDowell
Earlier this fall, sharp-eyed West Side Rag reader Brennan Szabo noticed something missing on West 111th Street between Broadway and Riverside. Two parking spaces that had been previously occupied by carshare vehicles—part of an ongoing two-year citywide pilot the NYC Department of Transportation is running with Zipcar and Enterprise CarShare—had been removed. The spaces were there one day and gone the next, according to Szabo, the carshare signs apparently swapped overnight for the original alternate side parking regulation signs.
Carshare is a novel type of shared mobility—like Citi Bike—that many cities are implementing. The programs typically provide designated spaces for vehicles that are available to rent for set limits of time, often by the hour; fuel and insurance are included with a subscription or membership. Carshare programs present an alternative to individual car ownership in cities, and are designed to maximize the efficient use of a limited—and often scarce—resource: public parking on city streets.
What happened to the carshare spaces on 111th Street? According to DOT, in August, two carshare spaces on West 111th between Broadway and Riverside were indeed moved to 115th between Broadway and Riverside, the goal being to more evenly distribute spaces in Morningside Heights and increase access for all residents of the area. The new site had been vetted during the planning process by the community and local elected officials, according to an agency spokesperson.
Several hundred spaces have been designated citywide for the carshare pilot, in both municipal parking garages and on street in select neighborhoods, including the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights.
DOT has a multi-part evaluation plan to assess whether the sites allocated to carshare vehicles are fulfilling the program’s goal to provide new mobility options and shorten the often headache-inducing search for parking in the city; each quarter, carshare companies submit data to DOT showing membership numbers, fleet composition, trip records, and more, according to the agency. The department is conducting parking counts to see whether the presence of carshare vehicles has an impact on parking availability.Read more