Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s Bosnia Fairy Tale


I think we've reached a signal point in the campaign. This is the point where, with Hillary Clinton, either you get it or you don't. There's no dodging now. You either understand the problem with her candidacy, or you don't. You either understand who she is, or not. And if you don't, after 16 years of watching Clintonian dramas, you probably never will. Full story at The Wall Street Journal.

CBS Exposes Hillary Clinton Bosnia Trip

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Canal Sweet! Toll Brothers Gowanus Project Fully Revealed

A team from developer Toll Brothers brought their big Gowanus project before a community audience a few blocks from the Carroll Gardens site last night for a session remarkably devoid of fireworks, given previously expressed hostility in the neighborhood. The firm is trying to gain special zoning approval from the city apart from the overall Gowanus rezoning. Toll VP for Development David Von Spreckelsen explained that the firm is pushing for city approval because there is only a year-and-a-half left in the Bloomberg administration, and "we're not sure if that rezoning will happen" before the end of his term.

Asked about the softening real estate market, Mr. Von Spreckelsen said that the firm is "committed to the project" and that "we'd love to go forward" with it. The development would have 447 units of housing, about 140 of which would be affordable rental units developed by L&M Equity. GreenbergFarrow is the project architect. The development would sit on raised ground because of flooding issues around the Gowanus Canal, and it would be LEED certified, feature its own storm sewer system with holding tanks, and have a public esplanade/park on the water. Toll hopes the land-use review process for the development will start before summer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


After years of squabbling, the City Council yesterday gave the green light to a $4 billion project that will create six new residential towers and an office tower on the site of the old Con Ed power plant overlooking the East River.

The council, after winning numerous concessions to reduce the original proposed density of the project and the towers' height, unanimously approved the needed zoning changes for the 9.8 acres of land just south of the United Nations.

"The plan creates five acres of new public open space, a new public school, affordable housing with incentives to create moderate and middle income units, and ground-level retail to establish what we know will be a vibrant, mixed-use community," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Developer Sheldon Solow purchased the site from Con Edison six years ago and spent more than $100 million to demolish the power plant and clear the property.

But his proposal to build towers that would have risen far higher than the United Nations building drew howls from neighbors and lawmakers, including City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who led talks with the developer.

Under the compromise, the tallest proposed tower will rise 595 feet, 90 feet higher than the United Nations. The towers will house about 3,000 apartments and 1.06 million square feet of commercial space, as well as 69,000 square feet of retail.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

License to Dive: City Building Permits Drop 40 Percent

The number of new building permits issued in New York City this January and February was down about 40 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the city’s Department of Buildings.

Building permits, which augur future construction, are a strong indicator of how robust the real estate market is, and the drop-off indicates even New York’s strong market is feeling the effects of the subprime mortgage bust and the tremors it has sent through Wall Street.

The city issued 451 new-building permits in January and February, compared to 764 during those months last year and 859 during the period in 2006.

The decline isn’t surprising, said Barry LePatner, whose law firm specializes in advising corporate construction and real estate clients. Given the credit crunch, lenders are rightfully worried about making big construction loans to developers who may not be able to come through with repayments if they can’t sell enough apartments or lease enough stores.

Lenders are requiring “significantly larger” outlays of capital, he said, which is putting a damper on the ambitions of all but the more seasoned and steady builders. It’s a sign that the development boom of the past couple of years has become but an echo.

“No one has a right to believe that that was going to continue forever unless you believe in the tooth fairy,” Mr. LePatner said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NYC Orders Inspectors On Construction Sites When Cranes Raised

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City officials have told contractors that they can't raise or lower large cranes at construction sites unless a buildings inspector is there.

Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said the inspector must be on the site to ensure the crane is being operated safely. She also said engineers who design the cranes will have to inspect them before they are raised or lowered.

The department has already begun inspecting about 30 tower cranes in the city after the March 15 crane collapse that killed seven people.

Contractors building a 46-story condominium in midtown Manhattan were trying to lengthen the crane — a process known as jumping — when a steel support for it broke. The crane demolished a four-story town house and damaged several other buildings.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Discussion Continues

The Discussion Continues, On February 22, an anonymous UBC member responding to EST Forde's letter "The Outlook For Local Union 157 Is Very Positive", posted the below comment which raised questions about the UBC constitution and supervision of local 157.

Anonymous said...As a member of the UBC I find it appalling that we have a UBC Constitution but it is only the members that have to abide by it. The International and in this case the NYC District Council can ignore it and violate it at will.

Read more about what Anonymous said and join the discussion, CLICK HERE for the latest comments.

Union Files Suit Against Horton

By ANDREA JARES Star-Telegram Staff Writer

A carpenters union in New Jersey has sued Fort Worth-based D.R. Horton for what it calls a scheme to cut costs by using undocumented workers at lower wages and avoiding paying taxes and benefits for them.

The New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters, along with a subcontractor that used union employees, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey Superior Court. The suit alleges that the country's largest home builder violated the state's Construction Industry Independent Contractor Act, as well as the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

"They've engaged in what has really been an illegal hiring scheme," said Albert Kroll, attorney for the union. Kroll, who is New Jersey's former labor commissioner, said D.R. Horton's activities are "the most blatant abuse of laws I have seen in a long time."

D.R. Horton officials declined to comment, saying it was the company's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The suit alleges that in April 2006, the home builder dismissed subcontractor Brookside Construction, a union shop that had been hired to build an age-restricted condominium for D.R. Horton in New Jersey. The workers were replaced by a nonunion subcontractor that hired "a large number of undocumented workers for the express purpose of depressing wages, managing costs, and avoiding payment of benefits and taxes," the suit states.

The workers were classified as independent contractors, not employees, the suit alleges.

The union's lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, or back wages and the contractor's fees, and triple the actual damages, as well as an injunction to end the alleged practice.

The union and the contractor are also seeking their legal fees.

The suit claims that the hiring practices allowed the home builder to reduce labor costs by not paying unemployment and workers' compensation insurance, health insurance, Social Security taxes and federal, state and local taxes, according to the lawsuit.

The 50-page filing outlines the claims of nine confidential witnesses. Among its claims: Horton officials tried to get rid of the union to save money; the new subcontractor hired many undocumented workers; and the subcontractor paid workers in cash to avoid reporting overtime.

D.R. Horton is also being challenged in other states over alleged unpaid bonuses.

On Wednesday, a former vice president in D.R. Horton's Charlotte, N.C., sales division sued the home builder, claiming that it fired him without paying more than $60,000 in bonuses.

The company denies that Richard Schwartz is owed the money, according to a court filing.

On Feb. 26, a former project manager for D.R. Horton's operations in Pennsylvania sued, claiming that he was fired after repeatedly asking about a bonus not paid from 2005. Thomas Huggins' suit is seeking more than $75,000. Attorneys for D.R. Horton have not filed a response.

Inspector Arrested in NYC Crane Collapse

A city inspector has been charged with lying about checking on a construction crane that later collapsed, killing seven people in a dense Manhattan neighborhood.

Edward Marquette, 46, was arraigned and released without bail Thursday on charges of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing.

"We will not tolerate this kind of behavior at the Department of Buildings," buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said at a news conference. "I do not and will not tolerate any misconduct in my department."

Marquette, who earns $52,283 a year as an inspector in the department's division of cranes and derricks, was arrested while being questioned Wednesday night, said Barbara Thompson, spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney.

If convicted, Marquette faces up to four years in prison. His lawyer, Kate Moguletscu, had no comment Thursday.

The 20-story crane broke away Saturday from an apartment tower under construction and toppled over, killing six construction workers and a visitor in town for St. Patrick's Day.

A complaint about the crane was logged March 4 to a city hot line, officials said, and Marquette said he inspected it. It was later determined he had not.

Lancaster said it is very unlikely an inspection would have prevented the accident because the equipment that failed was not on site March 4.

In addition to suspending Marquette, Lancaster said, she has ordered a full audit of his inspection reports over the past six months, and also of the cranes and derricks unit.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

NYC Begins Reviews Of All Construction Cranes

City officials have started inspecting every construction crane in use around New York City after a crane collapsed and killed seven people last weekend.

Buildings Department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist says the inspections began Wednesday. Inspectors have 253 cranes to check, and Lindquist says it's not clear how long the process will take.

Buildings Department Commissioner Patricia Lancaster has said there's no indication that Saturday's accident points to a larger problem with cranes.

Six construction workers and a tourist were killed when the 19-story crane broke away from an apartment tower under construction in midtown Manhattan. Pieces of the crane toppled onto buildings as far as a block away.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Carpenters Mystery

By James McNamara

In late November 2007, the 4,500-member Carpenters Local 157 covering the East Side of Manhattan was suddenly placed under "emergency temporary suspension" by international president Douglas McCarron. At the same time, both William Hanley, local president and business manager, and Fred Kennedy, financial secretary, resigned. Vice President George DeLacio, who reportedly refused to resign, was removed as paid union representative. According to McCarron, Business Representative Daniel DeMorato was "suspended and reassigned." But precisely what prompted all this remains unexplained.

Local 157 is affiliated to the New York Carpenters District Council where corruption, and even murder, had been a problem for decades. A 1994 federal consent decree aimed to "rid the union of corruption-that is, the corruption that allows contractors to run 'cash jobs' that deprive carpenters of their benefits and fair pay... and that is used to and opens the door to organized crime." In 2002, the judge concluded that abuses continued; he modified the decree to permit the appointment of a court-approved independent investigator.

But nothing seemed to work out. One investigator followed another. The U.S. Attorney recently charged that the current investigator failed to pursue investigations and demanded his removal. Several district council heads have faced corruption charges. Its current CEO, Michael Forde, is scheduled for retrial on bribery charges this year Forde is one of McCarron's appointees to oversee "the orderly restoration of internal self-governance and the responsible management and conduct of the Local's and the District Council's business in Local 157."

Local 157 is the history of a dynasty. William Hanley (just resigned) was the third-generation ruler of the local. First there was his grandfather; then his father, who was convicted of taking bribes and sentenced to four years. Last year, two local shop stewards were indicted on federal charges of defrauding the union; one pleaded guilty and the other was found guilty on February 7, after an eight-day jury trial.

But in effectively trusteeing Local 157, Carpenters are not reminded of this record. In its press release announcing the emergency supervision, the district council said only that it "had been presented with credible information, showing that some business representatives assigned to work in Local 157 were not performing their jobs in the manner expected of them ...and that they had, in other respects, acted inconsistently with the standards expected of District Council employees." In an article in the Village Voice (12/11/07), Tom Robbins reported that McCarron told the local that the court-appointed independent investigator had charged that Local 157 was "a mismanaged mess where [business agents] come and go as they please..." Murky! Carpenters are wondering what really is going on.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Crane Topples in Manhattan, Killing at Least 4 People

By ROBERT D. McFADDEN The New York Times

A large crane at a construction site on Manhattan’s East Side collapsed Saturday afternoon, killing at least four people and injuring more than 10, officials at the scene said. More Photos >

Emergency crews continued to search the wreckage of smashed buildings on the East Side of Manhattan on Sunday, a day after a gigantic crane toppled across a city block, killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen others.

The collapse occurred at 2:22 p.m. on Saturday as the crane, about 22 stories tall and attached by girders to the apartment tower under construction at 303 East 51st Street, east of Second Avenue, broke away from its anchors and toppled south, across the block between 51st and 50th Streets, as workers at the site and people in high-rises for blocks around looked on, stupefied.

Witnesses told of a rising, thundering roar and clouds of smoke and dust as the crane — a vertical latticed boom for its base, topped by a cab and jib, the swinging arm that lifts building materials — fell across 51st Street and onto a 19-story apartment building at No. 300, demolishing a penthouse and shaking the building with the force of an earthquake.

The Buildings Department ordered 16 buildings vacated after the collapse and said at least six buildings — five on East 50th Street and one on 51st Street — sustained damage.

Workers were removing sections of the damaged crane to allow firefighters to search the rubble, a Fire Department spokesman said. The area around the collapse, 50th and 51st Streets between First and Third Avenues and Second Avenue between 42nd and 52nd Streets, remained closed to traffic on Sunday morning, the Department of Emergency Management said.

The Fire Department said four people were killed and 17 were injured; eight of the injured were taken to hospitals, four were treated at the scene of the collapse, and five firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Many residents of the neighborhood around the site of the collapse — 51st Street between Second and First Avenues — said they had been worried for months about the possibility of a collapse, calling the crane, looming higher each week, a menace, particularly because so many residential buildings were being put up in the area with remarkable speed: several floors a week at times.

Christopher Bianchi, 40, of Manhattan, owner of Crave Ceviche Bar on Second Avenue, said he saw three bodies on stretchers in the street. “Their heads were covered,” he said. “One of the police was giving last rites.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg arrived at the scene hours later, surrounded by an army of police officers, firefighters, city officials and reporters. “It’s a sad day,” he said, as the lights of scores of emergency vehicles revolved and flashed. “Our thoughts go out to those who were killed, and we pray that those who were injured will recover.”

As people were evacuated from a half-dozen buildings and rescue workers using dogs, listening devices and thermal imaging cameras searched the rubble for victims — taking care to cause no further collapses — the mayor said the four known dead were believed to be construction workers on or near the crane. The injured included at least three civilians taken to hospitals in critical condition.

One man was pulled from the debris nearly four hours after the collapse.

The dead, all believed to be members of Local 15 of the Operating Engineers Union, were identified as Brad Cohen, Aaron Stephens, Anthony Mazza and Wayne Binder.

The cause of the accident on a sunny, windless day was unclear and under investigation by city, state and federal agencies. But Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group working at the site, told The Associated Press that a piece of steel had fallen and sheared off one of the girders holding the crane to the building.

A construction worker on the 15th floor, Ismael Garcia, said he saw something fall and strike one or more of the girder ties, weakening or breaking the connections. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a piece falling,” he said, and then the crane pulled away.

The collapse occurred, the mayor said, as workers attempted to jack up the crane, raising its height to enable work to continue above the 19th floor of a planned 43-story building. Builders had city permission to raise the crane, and the crane had been inspected on Friday, with no violations found.

Mike Shatzkin, a resident of the 17th floor, said he was talking on the phone when it hit. “All of a sudden, I felt a very violent shake, and stuff fell off the walls, and my wife said a bomb went off.” After discovering that their building had been struck by the crane from across the street, he said, “We worried about this crane every day.”

The upper reaches of the crane — including the cab and the extended swinging arm — broke away from the boom, which was left leaning against the facade, and hurtled southward across the block toward 50th Street, tumbling in the air, some witnesses said.

The crane’s blue cab and white jib, itself a latticework of steel, made a direct hit on a four-story town house at 305 East 50th Street, a modern stucco structure with apartments upstairs and a bar called Fubar on the ground floor. The building, on the north side of 50th Street, was demolished.

The bar was not open, and the owner, John P. LaGreco, who had been the proprietor for a decade, said that Juan Perez, 38, a Queens resident and the father of three children, was in Fubar at the time, preparing to open about 4 p.m.

Mayor Bloomberg said one or two people were in the building at the time. The fire commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, said that a man, apparently referring to Mr. Perez, was taken alive out of the collapsed town house shortly before 6 p.m. He said there had also been reports of a woman in the building, and search efforts continued late into Saturday night.

In addition to the collapsed town house, the toppling crane jib sheared away the side of a six-story gray tenement building at 301 East 50th, just to the west, exposing tiers of apartments and haunting images of shattered homes: a pink suitcase dangling from the sixth floor, a mattress, a rack of shoes, broken bookshelves.

Debris also damaged buildings on the south side of 50th Street, and bricks demolished parked cars — a dark blue BMW flattened, a Mini Cooper battered with debris.

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse, stunned people rushed into the streets from restaurants and shops, from apartment buildings in the surrounding blocks, many of them unaware of what had happened and fearing the worst.

Within minutes, an armada of fire engines, police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles converged on the scene. Water from broken mains was gushing into the street, and an odor of gas was in the air. City and Consolidated Edison workers quickly moved in to cap the leaks and prevent explosions. Throughout the afternoon and evening, traffic was blocked off for blocks around the site.

Some residents of the area saw or heard the collapse from their apartments. Bruce Silberblatt, a retired building contractor who lives at 860 United Nations Plaza, said: “I heard this big double bang. Bang! Then, bang! The first bang must have been the crane hitting the first building, then the second must have been everything else going into the street.”

Scores of evacuated residents from at least a half-dozen damaged or imperiled buildings were offered shelter at the High School of Art and Design, at 228 East 57th Street, the mayor said.

Mayor Bloomberg identified the site’s principal developer as James P. Kennelly, a former firefighter, and the construction company as RCG, an apparent acronym for Reliance Construction Group. He said the crane owner was the New York Crane & Equipment Corporation. The manufacturer, he said, was an Australian company known as Favco, which makes a tower crane with an eight-ton lifting capacity.

“There are no words to describe the level of devastation we feel today as a result of this tragic event,” Mr. Kennelly said in a statement. While the mayor and other city officials said that there had been a relatively small number of violations issued against the construction site in the more than two years since work began, many residents questioned the safety record at the building site.

“We had been very unhappy with the way he was doing his work,” said Mr. Silberblatt, a member of the Turtle Bay Association, a civic group. He cited debris in the streets, a lack of a sidewalk bridge, and other faults.

According to records from the New York City Department of Buildings, the agency has issued 14 violations against contractors doing work at the site, 10 of them against RCG. The citations were issued between Jan. 17, 2006, and Feb. 8 of this year. The violations included failure to safeguard the public and property and failure to provide roof protection on adjacent property.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman, Kate Lindquist, said that of the 14 violations, 13 remained “open” — meaning that a court date is pending or the company did not appear at a scheduled court hearing and the violations are in default status.

Ms. Lindquist said that Buildings Department inspectors performed an inspection of the site Saturday morning in preparation for predicted high winds. Upon inspection, she said, a partial stop-work order was issued to halt all concrete operations at the site. The order was issued because inspectors found material stored too close to the building’s edge on several floors. The order did not apply to the extending of the crane, which was under way at the time of the accident, she said.

The last major crane collapse at a construction site in New York occurred in September 1999, when a 383-foot crane fell at 24th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, crushing a carpenter and injuring three other people.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Influence Peddlers Cash In Big Time On Manhattan's West Side Properties

By Brian Kates Daily News Staff Writer

Politically wired influence peddlers pocketed more than $5 million from 2004 to last year from developers pushing plans to build a midtown metropolis on the borough's last major swath of available real estate.

A Daily News review of city, state and federal records uncovered a West Side gravy train funded by:
  • Madison Square Garden, which would move across Eighth Ave. into the western portion of what's now the Farley Post Office building.
  • Developers bidding on Hudson Yards, a huge residential and retail community planned to rise over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's West Side railyards.
  • The Venture, a partnership of Steven Roth's Vornado Realty Trust and Stephen Ross' Related Companies, picked to transform the Farley Post Office at Eighth Ave. and 33rd St. into Moynihan Station to replace dingy Penn Station.
All those projects are on the drawing board at the same time. They involve extensive land-use review, zoning changes and approvals from multiple city, state and federal agencies — and they all need billions more to meet expected costs.

That spells a bonanza for lobbyists.

None of the West Side players has spent more on lobbyists than Madison Square Garden — $2.9 million on 14 companies since 2004, records show.

The Garden's army of lobbyists helped defeat Mayor Bloomberg's Jets Stadium plans and worked to slam the lid on plans to expand the Javits Convention Center.

Now, they're lobbying federal officials for funding and going after city officials on zoning issues related to the move into the Farley Building.

Their efforts to continue the arena's property tax exemption, worth $300 million over the past 25 years, make it apparent the Garden is willing to spend to get what it wants.
The Garden has hired some of the state's highest-paid lobbyists: Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch Associates, Greenberg Traurig and Kasirer Consulting.

Lynch, a former top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, reported $633,000 in fees from the arena from 2004 to last year. Silver's opposition killed the Jets Stadium, which would have competed with the Garden.

Lynch also has pulled down big bucks from the other major West Side development, Hudson Yards.

There, four mega-developers — Extell Development; Related Companies; Tishman Speyer, a partnership of the Durst Organization, and Vornado, and Brookfield Properties — have been vying to build a huge commercial/residential minicity over the MTA railyards. Brookfield dropped out on Feb. 26.

Lynch has received $120,000 from Tishman Speyer and $22,000 from Vornado. She did not return calls.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


The woman for whom Gov. Spitzer tossed away his political career, reputation and, perhaps, his family finally has a face.

Ashley Alexandra Dupre, a 22-year-old aspiring singer from the Jersey Shore, is the high-priced hooker at the heart of the sordid, sex-filled drama. Her name was revealed on the same day Spitzer resigned from office.

Until now, she has been publicly known only as "Kristen" - a woman the love gov ordered from the skin peddlers at Emperors Club VIP for a tryst at a Washington hotel on Feb.13.

But a relative said Dupre - born Ashley Youmans and raised in Belmar, NJ - and Kristen are one and the same. Read more...

The Five Points Of an 'Irish City'


In the 1963 study of immigrant succession in New York City, "Beyond the Melting Pot," Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan wrote that "New York used to be an Irish city." Irish had lived in New York from its earliest days. But not until the famine migrations, beginning in the late 1840s, did New York become "an Irish city."

By 1855, nearly one-third of all New York City residents were Irish-born. William Tweed (of Scottish Protestant descent), "boss" of the Tammany Hall Democratic machine in the 1860s, and formerly an anti-Catholic nativist, rose to power by recognizing the political strength latent among the new Irish. To win them over, he placed Irish in key positions in the Tammany hierarchy. When Tweed's corrupt tenure abruptly ended in 1872, Honest John Kelly, an Irish Catholic immigrant, was poised to take the Tammany reins. For several decades, the Irish dominated New York politics — and for several decades the stereotypical New Yorker spoke with a brogue.

That it's hard to pick a spot in New York where some tangible sense of Irish history may be had is a measure of how thoroughly the Irish assimilated into the American mainstream. Yet Irishness imbues much of New York life. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was not struck by how many of the fallen firefighters and police had Irish surnames? It seemed as though the names might not have been much different in 1901. And New York has not, to this day, had a Catholic archbishop not of Irish descent.

The approach of St. Patrick's Day makes one ponder the remarkable role of the Irish in the building of New York City. A brief stroll through New York's Irish history might begin in front of one of the city's grandest edifices, the old Police Headquarters building on Centre Street, between Broome and Grand streets (pictured). This Hoppin & Koen building opened in 1909, when Irish utterly dominated the police force. The subsistence farmers of Ireland arrived in New York with apparently no urban skills. Irishmen therefore took heavy-lifting jobs, such as dock, warehouse, and construction work. But their seemingly alien skills — for oral storytelling (the "gift of gab"), or clandestine organizing (a necessity amid repressive British rule) — suited the Irish for success in organizational life, and they succeeded wildly in politics, in the church, in the police and fire departments, and in the public school system. The glorious, great-domed building on Centre Street was a monument to a force just a bit more than 60 years old, and one dominated for half that time by the Irish. (The department moved to the new One Police Plaza in the 1970s, and the old headquarters is now apartments.)

On Centre between White and Leonard streets stand "the Tombs," officially the Criminal Courts Building, a striking Art Deco design by Charles B. Meyers and Harvey Wiley Corbett from 1939. The original prison on the site went up in 1837. Its Egyptian style apparently led to the nickname "the Tombs." The building was adjacent to the filled-in Collect Pond, a freshwater lake (bounded roughly by Lafayette, White, Duane, and Baxter streets) that had become so polluted that the city drained it, along with the marshes that occupied much of what has become TriBeCa, via a drainage ditch constructed along what is now Canal Street. The drained hollow was filled by 1811, and a new neighborhood of respectable homes emerged in due course. The fill, however, proved unstable. Houses began to sink — as did "the Tombs."

The abandoned houses and other buildings of the neighborhood came to be occupied by the city's worst-off residents, many Irish immigrants among them. Sizable numbers of the native working class, German immigrants, and African-Americans also lived in Five Points, as the area was known for its five points at the intersection of Baxter, Worth, and the demapped Park Street. When the Irish arrived amid the famine migrations of the 1840s and 1850s, there were as yet few tenements — or purpose-built multiple-family dwellings. The poor were crammed into abandoned houses, with several families occupying space intended for one family. Others lived in cellars and squatters' shacks. Martin Scorsese's 2002 film "Gangs of New York" offers a vivid depiction of Five Points's physical conditions. An excellent historical book, dealing not only with the miseries but with the remarkable cultural synergies of the neighborhood where African-American and Irish folk dances blended into the new form called tap dancing, is Tyler Anbinder's "Five Points" (2002).

Today, nothing of Five Points remains. Columbus Park (bounded by Worth, Mulberry, Bayard, and Baxter streets) occupies much of it. Built as Mulberry Bend Park in 1897, the park came in response to calls from the crusading photojournalist Jacob Riis and others for the reform of the slums, and reminds us that urban renewal didn't begin with Robert Moses. The park took its current name in 1911, by which time the neighborhood had become heavily Italian. Between Worth and Pearl streets, to the east of Centre Street, a passageway runs behind the New York County Courthouse to an alley called Cardinal Hayes Place. In 1867, Patrick Hayes was born on this street, then called City Hall Place. His parents were from Killarney, Ireland, and he went on to become one of New York's most successful archbishops, presiding in the 1920s and 1930s when seminaries had to turn away prospective priests in droves. A founder of Catholic Charities, he was made a cardinal in 1924. New Yorkers deeply mourned his death in 1938. At the end of Cardinal Hayes Place stands the lovely Georgian Revival St. Andrew's Church, commissioned by Hayes, though not opened until 1939. It replaced an earlier church where Hayes had served as an altar boy. At that earlier church, services were held every midnight for the night-shift pressmen from the newspapers of Printing House Square, not least those from The New York Sun.

The Irish, one of history's immemorially poor people, at first suffered, and then thrived in New York. The economist Thomas Sowell calls it "Historically … one of the great social transformations of a people."

Construction Worker Killed as Wall Collapses in Brooklyn

A construction worker digging a foundation in Brooklyn was killed on Wednesday when part of a wall from the building next door collapsed on him.

The 30-year-old worker, whose name was not released, was pronounced dead at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center. Another worker, who was also injured in the collapse, refused treatment.

The city Buildings Department said the accident occurred about 10 a.m. when workers were digging the foundation for a commercial building at 791 Glenmore Avenue in East New York and undermined the wall next door.

The wall should have been shored up, said the buildings commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, who visited the site. She added that there was “evidence of shoddy work conditions” and that the department had issued a stop-work order.

“This work should not have been going on here this morning,” Ms. Lancaster said.

The site, at Shepherd Avenue, had been excavated about 8 to 9 feet deep, stretching below the ground floor of the adjacent residential building, where an extended family of seven lived in apartments.

The part of the building’s outer wall that collapsed spilled rubble into the pit, leaving a ragged hole that exposed pipes, wiring and some of the interior of an apartment: a closet, drinking glasses and an aquarium.

The three people inside the residential building, 795 Glenmore Avenue, escaped unhurt, but they and the rest of their family were left homeless, and said the Red Cross was providing shelter. In the afternoon, the authorities pulled down the rest of the building, which is owned by William Lattarulo, who also owns the site under construction.

Before then, officials retrieved belongings, including bags of clothes, two plastic cases filled with documents, photo albums, a laptop and a portrait of one of the women who lived there.

That woman, Joan Michelle Fresse, 46, said she was in her apartment on the second floor when the wall started cracking.

“I grabbed my coat, I went to get my mother and the front door was jammed,” she said. The two women and Charles Triola, Ms. Fresse’s brother, escaped through the back door.

Another brother, Michael Delaro, 36, a medical equipment technician, said he was away from home when he learned of the accident. He said the workers started digging in the lot about a month ago. He and other family members became irate when they learned their home would be taken down, and some started crying when it happened.

“If I’m going to be homeless, he should be, too,” Mr. Delaro said, referring to the landlord.

Mr. Triola added, “They could have shored up the wall, but they didn’t because it’s a poor neighborhood.”

Ms. Lancaster said that the permits for a construction fence, a new building, and underpinning and shoring had expired earlier this month. She said that there were no violations or complaints against the owner, but that the architect, engineer and contractors faced fines and censure.

The Buildings Department said in a statement that the two workers were “reportedly” employed by Greenleaf Construction. Eight violations are being issued against the contractor, the department said. Santosh Nath, a supervisor who answered the phone at Greenleaf, referred all calls to Mr. Lattarulo, the owner of the work site and of the house next door.

Mr. Lattarulo said in a telephone call that he was sorry about the accident, which he called a “cave-in,” and that he had no further comment.

The department said it expected to issue violations against the engineer, Louis Sanchez, of Sanchez Associates. A message left at his office was not returned on Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer Resigns as Governor; Lt. Gov. Paterson to Succeed Him

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation this morning, completing a stunning fall from power following revelations about his involvement in a high-end prostitution ring.

Mr. Spitzer's resignation will be effective Monday. He will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who will become New York's first black governor.

Eliot Spitzer announces his resignation following revelations about his involvement in a high-end prostitution ring.

"The remorse I feel will always be with me," Mr. Spitzer said at a Manhattan news conference with his wife, Silda, at his side and his aides nearby. He spoke for just over a minute and didn't take questions from reporters.
Click to read more


By Tom Topousis NY Post
Like the neighborhood dry-cleaning store and the corner tavern, the Jacob Javits Convention Center is being priced out of Manhattan.

State officials who recently pulled the plug on an ambitious plan to expand the Javits on the far West Side are now turning their attention to three possible sites in Queens for a new mega-convention center.

All three sites - the Sunnyside rail yards, an industrial area at Willets Point and Aqueduct Race Track - offer something Manhattan has in short supply: relatively inexpensive land with access to mass transit and a network of highways.

"Queens has some obvious advantages because it's home to two airports," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership. "And since government has to pay for a lot of the cost, using a prime piece of Manhattan real estate is not the highest and best use of scarce government dollars."

Pat Foye, chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., told a Senate committee that the state is committed to upgrading Javits and adding a modest expansion only as a short-term solution.

A task force will be formed to study the long-term options, all of which Foye said remain outside Manhattan. "The future of the convention center in the city of New York down the road will likely involve looking at options outside of Manhattan," Foye said.
So far, the only sites on the state and city's radar are the three in Queens.
Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, said all three options have to be explored given the enormous costs of expanding in Manhattan and the changing nature of the neighborhood around Javits, now rezoned for housing and office towers.

"All three have possibilities and liabilities," Lieber said. "To do big conventions and trade shows you need land."

In terms of raw space available on a relatively flat building site, Lieber said Aqueduct stands out.
A large site, he said, Aqueduct allows for easy truck loading, plenty of parking and lots of room for the large, single-floor convention hall needed for the big shows.

But Lieber said there will always be a need for a smaller conference center in Manhattan, possibly using part of the current Javits site in the future to complement the big hall.

Building Workers' Union Contract Talks At Impasse

BY BILL EGBERT Daily News staff writer

Residents in 500 Bronx buildings could find themselves taking out their own garbage and mopping their halls by the end of this week, as contract talks between owners and building workers head down to the wire.

Nearly 4,000 building workers could walk off the job at midnight Friday, when their current contract expires.

Members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union voted last week to authorize a strike if the Bronx Realty Advisory Board didn't make a deal by a new contract deadline.

"They're worried," porter German Rochez said of residents in his north Bronx building, "asking who will take out the garbage and things like that.

"I tell them that we need their support for a good contract," said Rochez, 40. "They understand. They have jobs like us and face the same kind of thing."

Bronx building workers have long negotiated a separate contract from workers in the rest of the city, mainly because rents - and landlord income - tend to be lower in the borough, though Bronx property values are starting to catch up.

Workers are seeking a hike in the minimum-wage rate, now $10 an hour, and a pension increase.

The average hourly wage for building workers in other boroughs, according to the union, is $18.69.

The negotiations come at a time when the Bronx real estate market is booming.

According to Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Bronx property values have jumped 76% in the past four years, rents have increased 17% since 2005 and the Bronx has the lowest vacancy rate in the city.

Local 32BJ Vice President Kyle Bragg said SEIU - which merged three years ago with the union that started the two-tiered wage system - is trying to close that gap, but he acknowledged that will be a long-term project.

For now, he simply hopes to avert a strike with a contract that brings Bronx members a bit closer to parity, but even that modest goal, he predicts, will take hard negotiations down to the wire.

"Things don't look very good," Bragg said. "We're still very far apart."

Bronx Realty Advisory Board president Michael Laub said it's the Bronx and the rest of the city that are far apart.

"The economic ability to pay higher levels of rent is nowhere near that of the other boroughs," Laub said.

He also pointed out that higher property values can mean higher taxes, but not necessarily higher rent. And while land prices have gone up, record-high heating costs are draining landlords' cash flow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Click for Video

The troubled Trump SoHo condo-hotel construction project was slapped with its second stop-work order when a hoisting device broke free and shattered glass on three floors due to high winds Saturday night, officials said yesterday.

About a dozen glass windows on northern side of the building at 246 Spring St. were cracked.

City officials ordered work stopped on the luxury project Jan. 14 after a construction worker fell 40 stories to his death.

The Buildings Department had allowed work to resume on Feb. 24.

Regarding the latest accident, the department said that contractor Bovis Lend Lease will install protective netting between Floors 20 and 24, after which it will be allowed to remove the cracked glass.

The Trump Organization and its partners issued a statement saying that they "rely on the knowledge and expertise of our general contractor to take all necessary steps to properly oversee job-site construction."

A Bovis spokeswoman, Mary Costello, said yesterday that "after a large wind gust last night, Bovis personnel on duty at the project immediately inspected the site and identified a few broken panes of glass."

Related Article

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer Linked to Prostitution Ring, Apologizes to Public and Family

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was recently involved in a prostitution ring, according to a person familiar with the situation. On Monday, without referencing any specific behavior, Mr. Spitzer apologized to his family and the public at a hastily called news conference.

With his wife at his side, Mr. Spitzer told reporters that he "acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family."

"I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he said. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."

Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged four people with organizing and managing an international prostitution ring, known as the Emperors Club VIP. The charges, unsealed Thursday, refer to a "Client-9" who, according to a person familiar with the situation, is Mr. Spitzer.

The New York Times reported earlier in the day that Mr. Spitzer told senior administration officials that he was linked to a prostitution ring. The report cited an anonymous administration official.

Lawyers said it was unlikely Mr. Spitzer himself would be indicted as part of the case, although they didn't rule it out.

Federal prosecution of prostitution-related offenses are rare, according to Michael Bachner, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. He said to the extent Mr. Spitzer is charged it would likely be under the Mann Act, which prohibits transportation of people across state lines with the intent to commit prostitution.

[Eliot Spitzer]

But "the Mann Act really was designed more towards those who get someone to travel against their will," Mr. Bachner said. "If Spitzer gets indicted, it would seem to me he would be indicted based on who he is rather than what he's done. Those who frequent prostitutes are very, very rarely the subjects of a federal prosecution when clearly it's commercial and consensual."

As for possible state charges, he said "customers are rarely prosecuted in the state" and charges that are brought are typically disposed of with a plea to disorderly conduct, "which is akin to a traffic ticket," Mr. Bachner said.

The Web site of the Emperors Club VIP displays photographs of scantily clad women with their faces hidden. It also shows hourly rates depending on whether the prostitutes were rated with one diamond, the lowest ranking, or seven diamonds, the highest. The most highly ranked prostitutes cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the defendants arranged connections between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris. The Times reported that the governor's travel records show he was in Washington in mid-February, and that one of the clients arranged to meet with a prostitute.

Complaint Alleges a Washington Rendezvous

The Washington hotel was believed to be the Mayflower Hotel, according to a federal complaint unsealed last week.

According to the complaint filed against four defendants charged with running a prostitution ring that charged rates of as much as $5,500 an hour, the first evidence of Mr. Spitzer's dealings with the ring occurred on Feb 11, when one of the defendants, Temeka Rachelle Lewis, asked to be informed when a "package" of money from a person identified in the complaint as "Client-9" and believed to be Mr. Spitzer, arrived.

Though the money apparently still hadn't arrived on Feb. 12, Ms. Lewis called a prostitute who used the name "Kristen" to book a trip to Washington. "Kristen" was going to take the train from New York to Washington and the client, believed to be Mr. Spitzer, would pay for everything – "train tickets, cab fare from the hotel and back, mini bar or room service, travel time and hotel." Ms. Lewis added that the client believed to be Mr. Spitzer "would not do traditional wire transferring."

Later that night, Mr. Spitzer called Ms. Lewis. Ms. Lewis told him the "package" hadn't arrived and asked if there was a return address, and he responded that there wasn't. He said he was interested in an appointment the following evening.

The next day, Feb. 13, "Kristen" was told that the money had arrived and that she should go to New York City's Penn Station, where she would get the Amtrak train for the trip to Washington. That afternoon, Mr. Spitzer, identified in the complaint as Client-9, called and told Ms. Lewis he expected to have an appointment at "10:00 pm or so," and asked who would be serving him. When told it was "Kristen," he replied "great, okay, wonderful." According to the complaint, this wasn't the first time that the client had used the Emperors Club service.

The complaint also said he was asked whether he could give "Kristen" extra money at his appointment that night to avoid payment issues in the future. The client said he might, according to the complaint.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on Feb. 13, the person who is said to be Mr. Spitzer told Ms. Lewis that he had arranged to leave a key in the room for Kristen. According to the complaint, he asked Ms. Lewis to remind him what "Kristen" looked like. Ms. Lewis responded that she is a five-foot five-inch petite brunette, according to the complaint.

The client arrived shortly after 9:36 p.m. according to the complaint, and left soon before 12:02 a.m. Mr. Spitzer apparently paid "Kristen" $4,300 before he left. The prostitute told Ms. Lewis, "I don't think he's difficult."

The day "Client-9" was said to be in Washington, Feb. 13, was the day Mr. Spitzer appeared before lawmakers do discuss problems facing the bond insurance industry.

The case is being handled by prosecutors in the Public Corruption unit of U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia's office. Garcia spokeswoman Yusill Scribner said the office had no comment.

Around a stunned state Capitol in Albany, lawmakers and staff huddled around televisions to see the news conference. A media mob gathered outside the office of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who would become governor if Spitzer was to resign.

Mr. Spitzer, 48, built his political reputation on rooting out corruption, including several headline-making battles with Wall Street while serving as attorney general. He stormed into the governor's office in 2006 with a historic share of the vote, vowing to continue his no-nonsense approach to fixing one of the nation's worst governments.

Time magazine had named him "Crusader of the Year" when he was attorney general and the tabloids proclaimed him "Eliot Ness." But his stint as governor has been marred by several problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear Mr. Spitzer's main Republican nemesis.

Mr. Spitzer had been expected to testify to the state Public Integrity Commission he had created to answer for his role in the scandal, in which his aides were accused of misusing state police to compile travel records to embarrass Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno.

Mr. Spitzer had served two terms as attorney general where he pursued criminal and civil cases and cracked down on misconduct and conflicts of interests on Wall Street and in corporate America. He had previously been a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, handling organized crime and white-collar crime cases.

His cases as state attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and into tourism involving prostitutes.

In 2004, he was part of an investigation of an escort service in New York City that resulted in the arrest of 18 people on charges of promoting prostitution and related charges.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Troubles Hit Chelsea Building Slated To Carry Autos Up To Condos


High rollers who pony up millions for an ultraluxe Chelsea condo will be able to drive into an elevator and be lifted, car and all, to their apartment door.

But they'd better hit the brakes on the Rolls.

The 19-story building rising at 200 11thAve. with a first-of-its-kind "sky garage" is so plagued with problems that the Buildings Department has halted all work there, citing "questionable construction practices."

"The pillars forming the exterior walls are misaligned," Buildings Department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said after a stop-work order was issued Wednesday. "This could be characterized as a structural deficiency."

The building is truly unique. While car elevators have long been used in commercial buildings, this is touted as a first in the U.S. for individual apartments.

Fourteen of the 16 condos, designed by high-profile architect Annabelle Selldorf, feature the 300-square-foot elevator garages. They sell for $6 million to $17.5 million.

Owners drive into the elevator and are lifted virtually to their apartment doors.

From the start, the building has raised concerns of community leaders, the FDNY and union activists, who are picketing to protest what they say is shoddy workmanship at the nonunion site.

"The building leans, it is out of plumb," said Tom Costello, an organizer for the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

Costello said he fears that when the condo is complete, its sculpted stainless steel exterior will mask structural deficiencies. "It's like bad plastic surgery," he said. "The skin will look great, but the skeleton is rotten."

Neil Wexler, a prominent structural engineer who examined the building for the Daily News, said the building appears to be structurally intact, but that the crooked pillars raise concerns that "the [exterior] skin might not fit properly, causing some leaks or other architectural problems."

Lee Compton of Community Board 4, which opposed the elevator garage - promised to "raise a ruckus" with the city to make sure the building is safe.

The Fire Department initially said it was "opposed to any contemplated ... design concept with an elevator that allows apartment owners to drive and park their cars into designated garages adjoining their high-rise apartments." But fire officials changed their mind after the Buildings Department said the design called for fire-rated materials and sprinklers in the garage and lift.

The community board says the sky garage ignores zoning aimed at limiting parking in the area and contradicts Mayor Bloomberg's call for fewer vehicles in midtown.

The community board says the sky garage ignores zoning aimed at limiting parking in the area and contradicts Mayor Bloomberg's call for fewer vehicles in midtown.

However, the city Planning Commission - factoring in "car ownership rates of high-income families" - approved the plans last August, documents show.

The developer, Gaia House, an offshoot of Young Woo & Associates, paid lobbyist James Capalino $22,500 last year to schmooze the Planning Commission, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Community Board 4.

The developer did not return calls for comment. Quinn's spokesman said the speaker did not meet with the lobbyist and that unanimous Council approval followed a vote by the City Planning Commission and two public hearings.

Setbacks have delayed occupancy, originally set for 2008, to early 2009, said Leonard Steinberg of Prudential Douglas Elliman, the building's broker.

Four of the units have yet to be sold, including the $17.5 million penthouse, said Steinberg, who bought one of them for himself.

Steinberg said three major union contractors declined to bid on the job "because it was too small."

Last summer, the developer applied for a hefty tax break for the millionaire buyers under the city's 421-A abatement program. The application has not been ruled on, city officials said.

Since August, the Buildings Department has slapped the site with 19 serious violations. Wednesday's order marked the second time work had been halted at the site.

In January, a stop-work order was issued after inspectors found an inoperable fire safety standpipe and lack of required safety netting.

That same month the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined contractor, Seven Star Construction and Development, $2,250 for blocking access to firefighting equipment and problems with guardrails.

Wednesday's stop-work order came only hours after a union worker on the picket line was struck by two 3-inch long, arrow-shaped metal pins that apparently blew off the building.

"I was just standing there and I turned and it hit me in the chest," said Danielle Leggette, 45. "It was really scary."

Contractor Seven Star did not respond to a call for comment.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ex-Labor Leader, Guilty of Racketeering, Recites a 45-Minute Catalog of Crimes

Click for Video.

The former head of the nation’s biggest municipal labor council painstakingly detailed years of thievery from his own union and the state on Friday as he pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in federal court in Manhattan.

Standing and facing the judge as he spoke, the defendant, Brian M. McLaughlin, once a seven-term assemblyman from Queens and the leader of a million workers as president of the New York City Central Labor Council, delivered his 45-minute catalog of wrongs in a tone that at times seemed blasé and at other times abjectly cooperative.

But he never, even after the proceeding was over and he was asked to comment, expressed contrition.

“Do you have anything to say to the members?” a reporter asked when it was over, referring to the rank and file he stole from. To that, Mr. McLaughlin, 55, walking toward the elevator, replied, after a slight hesitation and a barely visible wince, “I don’t have any comment right now.”

Earlier, in reciting his crimes — contained in two counts encompassing 21 separate criminal acts — he sounded as if he were reciting a biblical passage about plague and destruction, so repetitive were the verses. The crimes took place from 1995 to 2006.

He said he had sent out letters asking for contributions to benefit members of Local 3, one of the 400 locals under the labor council’s umbrella, and “those contributions were at times used for personal purposes by myself and other members of the group.” Mr. McLaughlin was apparently referring to unnamed co-conspirators referred to in the indictment who were part of the racketeering enterprise.

He said he had “falsely and misleadingly” persuaded people to give personal contributions and government support to a youth athletic association in Queens that he used as a personal piggy bank.

There were two separate checking accounts for the athletic association, one that provided funds to the youth programs and another that “wasn’t necessary to fund the athletic programs,” he said. The proceeds of the second account, he said, “were used by myself and members of my group for personal use.”

He said he also stole money from his Assembly campaign committee, requiring his campaign treasurer to disguise personal expenses as legitimate political ones.

Judge Richard J. Sullivan of United States District Court asked for a “ballpark amount” that he had siphoned from his campaign committee.

“A considerable amount,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“Tens of thousands of dollars?” the judge pressed.

“Yes, your honor,” Mr. McLaughlin replied.

He said he had created no-show jobs within the Central Labor Council and on his Assembly staff, and made it look as if “they had real responsibility and were working real hours.”

In reality, the judge asked, were they giving kickbacks from their salaries to Mr. McLaughlin?

“Yes, your honor,” he replied.

He said he had siphoned money for personal purposes from the William Jefferson Clinton Democratic Club in Queens; solicited the use of automobiles from companies that employed union members; and asked members to perform “favors, errands” and household chores for him, like hanging Christmas lights.

And he had lied on a mortgage application, saying that he was renting his house to a union officer, he said.

The assistant United States attorney on the case, Daniel A. Braun, told the judge that Mr. McLaughlin, who remained free Friday on $250,000 bail, could have to forfeit up to $2.2 million in illicit proceeds, as well as his Long Island home and a car that was paid for with $60,000 in kickbacks from a company that used union members as unpaid labor.

The Central Labor Council released a statement on Friday saying it had made changes to improve accountability within the organization since Mr. McLaughlin’s arrest in October 2006. “That being said, we wish the McLaughlin family well at this difficult time,” the statement said.

The original indictment charged Mr. McLaughlin with illegally obtaining $2.2 million from taxpayers, labor unions and contractors. He pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and one count of making false statements to a lender.

The judge told him he could be sent to prison for a maximum of 50 years when he is sentenced in September. It is more likely, however, that given his guilty plea, he will be sentenced under federal guidelines to about 8 to 10 years, the judge said.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New York Cracking Down On Contractor Shakedowns

David B. Caruso , Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - The builder was an out-of-towner, but was well-schooled in the ways that business sometimes gets done in New York.

So when a group of burly men turned up at his Queens construction site in 2005 and threatened to shut the place down unless he hired someone from their crew, he quickly made peace. He put one of them on the payroll for a no-show job that paid $15 per hour.

The arrangement may have looked like a traditional Mafia shakedown, but it wasn't. The men lining their pockets were leaders of a "minority labor coalition," ostensibly set up to help blacks land jobs in an industry still dominated by whites.

The difference may have been lost on the contractor. When he cut the checks, he wrote the word "extortion" on the stub.

Prosecutors say these kinds of shakedowns keep happening in New York, despite an intensive effort to rid the construction industry of a brand of corruption with roots in the civil rights movement.

Over the past year, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has obtained a string of indictments against the leaders of minority labor coalitions.

Labor coalitions have existed in the city since the late 1960s, and their rallies and pickets at construction sites were originally aimed at integrating trades once notoriously closed to minorities. But in later years, authorities said, legitimate groups became outnumbered by intimidation squads looking for payoffs.

"They keep popping back, because there is a lot of money to be made," said Daniel Castleman, the district attorney's chief of investigations.

These days, Castleman said, the few gangs working the extortion racket mostly prey on small, immigrant-owned companies doing work in New York City outside of Manhattan.

Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association, said tough law enforcement has largely driven the labor gangs away from bigger projects.

And while some gangs engaged in brawls and gun battles in the early 1990s, outright violence over jobs is rare these days, in part because some crews have found they don't need to play rough to get paid.

An indictment filed last week accused a pair of men calling themselves the "Committee on Contract Compliance" of threatening to report dozens of builders for safety violations unless they forked over cash. Many contractors grudgingly complied. An indictment said at least 16 made payoffs as high as $10,000 to make the pair go away.

"As we've been able to prosecute them, they've changed their tactics to some degree," Castleman said. "They've become a bit more sophisticated, and they've learned what the definition of extortion is. They try to step right up to that line but not cross it."

That isn't to say that violence is no longer part of the picture.

The list of the recently indicted includes two leaders of a group called Family Construction who prosecutors say threatened to burn equipment and beat up workers if they weren't hired to provide "security" at job sites.

Two men who ran a Brooklyn coalition supposedly dedicated to improving the lot of minority construction workers, Akbar's Community Services, pleaded guilty last year after investigators caught them threatening to hurt contractors who didn't pay kickbacks or provide no-show jobs.

In an offshoot of the same investigation, two ex-convicts, Reginald Rabb and Steven Mason, pleaded guilty to using their coalition, P & D Construction Workers, to extort money from contractors, including the builder who provided the $15-per-hour no-show job in Queens. Mason was sentenced in November to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison. Rabb got 8 1/2 to 17 years.

And while prosecutors said the two men who ran the "Committee on Contract Compliance" did not resort to violence, they say intimidation was still a factor.

One of the defendants, Anthony Lewis, weighed 400 pounds and previously did time for racketeering and extortion. His alleged partner, Kyle Correll, has been in prison for robbery and drug possession.

In the latest round of investigations, the district attorney had undercover agents pose as builders, wiretapped phones, and set up elaborate stings to record suspects soliciting money and jobs.

Not every labor coalition in the city is dirty, prosecutors say.

David Rodriguez, the longtime leader of a Bronx coalition called United Hispanic Construction Workers, insisted that his organization is among those operating cleanly.

Every workday at 6 a.m., the group piles workers into vans and drives them to a list of construction sites that might be looking for laborers. Workers who land jobs pay a fee back to the coalition.

Rodriguez said contractors use coalition labor because it is reliable and cost-effective, not because they are afraid of what will happen if they say no.

"Once in a while, we run across some contractor who thinks they're back in the '60s, who says, `We're not going to take anyone we don't need. You can't make us. We're not afraid of you,'" Rodriguez said. "I've got to explain, 'No, that's not what it's about.'"

He acknowledged that on rare occasions, the group still resorts to picketing construction sites to pressure builders to hire more Hispanics, but he said there is nothing wrong with the tactic, as long as it is legitimately aimed at getting jobs.

The government hasn't always been convinced; Rodriguez was indicted in the early 1990s on extortion charges but was acquitted. Today, he explains the case by saying investigators have been "brainwashed into thinking that we're all crooks.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Questions For Spencer

I spoke with VP Spencer several times about the questions posted by members and with his assistant Mike Capelli. On April 11, Mr. Capelli told me "UBC lawyer Brian Quinn, is drafting an answer to the questions and I should have them in a few days."

I spoke with Mr. Capelli at Wednesday’s May 7th meeting and he told me “UBC lawyer Quinn is still working on the answers.”

An outraged member that is familiar with the issue, and wishes to remain anonymous said, “In the amount of time that has past since the membership has asked Spencer questions…Extreme Makeover Home Edition has built 12 houses, and the membership of local 157 still have not received an answer to six simple questions raised regarding this trusteeship.”

Below is six questions posted on this blog and sent to VP Spencer on March 4th, on behalf of the membership of local 157, which Spencer has refused to answer...

1. General President McCarron's letter to local 157 members dated December 3 cites section 10H of the constitution that granted full supervisory authority. Specifically where in section 10H does it state that the General President has the "authority to remove elected officers" of a local? This would seem to bypass Section 52, which guaranties the right to a fair and impartial trial.

2. Where in section 10H does it give the General President the authority to appoint officers to fill the vacated positions in a local? Section 10M gives the General President the right to appoint interim officers in NEWLY, CONSOLIDATED and MERGED Locals, which does not apply to local 157.

3. Why is Section 32D being bypassed, which gives the recording Secretary of the Local the right and duty to call a meeting to order and in the absence of a President and Vice President those Present shall elect a "President Pro Tem"

4.Why is the District Council involved in the supervision by appointing business reps, business manager and involved with the locals finances and books? This right, under supervision is the Internationals not the District Council.

5. Why is the District Council paying the bills when the only thing the LMRDA limits is the ability of the Councils or International to move money out of the Local to either one of them? It does not require the International to freeze the local’s accounts and stop them from paying their own bills.

6. What is the reason for the continued supervision? If Hanley and Kennedy resigned on November 21 and the District Council fired Dilacio and no accusation of financial impropriety or other fraud was found isn't the problem solved?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Featured Video Posting

Saturday, March 1, 2008

City Will Inspect Scaffold Sites

The city is launching a scaffolding crackdown - inspecting 1,500 construction sites in the next month - following accidents that have killed two workers and rained down dangerous debris this past year.

Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said the city was "putting developers, contractors and workers on notice: scaffolds and sidewalk sheds must be up to code, or we will halt your work until you comply."

Nine inspectors will check out randomly selected sites in the five boroughs and issue stop-work orders to code violators, officials said. Violations that aren't corrected in 10 days could earn building owners and contractors fines.

"Recent incidents involving structural failure of supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds have clearly demonstrated the need for additional measures to protect the safety of scaffold workers and all New Yorkers," Lancaster said.

She cited the Jan. 30 accident in which a worker plunged 13 stories to his death at 525 Clinton Ave. in Brooklyn and five incidents this month that were triggered by high winds.

In addition, the city will inspect lower-level scaffolds in the city, such as those on brownstones. Normally, scaffolding less than 40 feet in height is not inspected, officials said.

The city is also issuing a new rule requiring contractors who install scaffolds less than 40 feet high to notify the Buildings Department two days before work begins so that inspectors make sure that they are complying with the code.

There are 1,266 scaffolds higher than 40 feet in the city but thousands that are shorter. The exact number is unknown because the lower-level scaffolding doesn't require a permit.

The recent spate of accidents includes one on Dec. 17 when two brothers plunged 47 stories on East 66th Street after their window-washing scaffold gave way. One brother died but the other miraculously survived.

High winds were to blame Feb. 10 for accidents citywide. They knocked down a scaffold and scattered debris on Avenue B and Eighth Street in the East Village. Winds were also to blame in the collapse of a scaffold near East 12th Street and Avenue O in Midwood, Brooklyn, which brought down electric wires and crushed cars with debris.

The city is also investigating whether faulty scaffolding caused a concrete worker's fatal plunge at the Trump SoHo site this month. Officials said yesterday the city will also try to reduce the number of sidewalk sheds, the structures designed to protect pedestrians from falling debris - but which critics called advertising-packed eyesores.

The city inspects the façades of apartment buildings every five years. But so many buildings face the same five-year deadline that owners rush to put up sheds for needed repair work at the same time.