Pols, Advocates Rally for One Brooklyn Health

Rally happened after Ouster of CEO

By Matthew Fischetti

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Piles of union members, faith leaders, and elected representatives from across Kings County filled the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall to deliver one message: “Save One Brooklyn Health.”

Safety-net hospital system One Brooklyn Health is an approved co-operator of several medical centers in Brooklyn, including Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center , Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, which largely serve low-income neighborhoods in Central and East Brooklyn.

Union Member speaking at the rally. Photo credit: Matthew Fischetti

The rally came off the heels of last month’s ouster of CEO LaRay Brown by the hospital system’s board.Attendees at Wednesday’s rally sharply criticized the board’s move due to its lack of communication with local stakeholders in the decision.

“They are safety net hospitals that largely serve the neighborhoods of color in Central and Eastern Brooklyn. Neighborhoods that have been deprived of high-quality healthcare for too long and we’ve come in and set forth a system in OBH that was finally going to take care of those neighborhoods that have been long neglected,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Reynoso continued to emphasize that the system was built by a consortium of different people including residents, union members, local elected officials and faith leaders but recent decisions were not made in consultation of these groups.

“The board of OBH has decided to make decisions that are going to affect all of our communities, are going to affect all of the patients, and are going to affect all of the workers inside these places. They thought that they could make those decisions unilaterally and we’re here to say no,” the Beep continued.

Crowd gathered at the rally. Photo credit: Matthew Fischetti

Beyond the recent ouster of Brown, rally goers had several other changes they would like see implemented to One Brooklyn Health, including: restructuring the board to ensure community representation and adherence to governance procedures, supporting independent review of the state’s progress towards Vital Brooklyn goals, including OBH’s financial position, expediting investments in OBH (i.e. fully funding the Rutland Nursing Home at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and more.

One of the other major policy decisions that the coalition is pushing for are changes to Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Last February, The New York State Safety Net Hospital Coalition released a policy proposal which included tie medicaid rates for safety net hospitals to the regional average commercial rates to “ensure access to adequate funding for inpatient and outpatient services.” The changes made to Medicaid rates would help increase funding for the hospital and services.

“And as we know, we have COVID-19. Several issues that compound it, impact, expose us, taught us, showed us the way. We haven’t learned from that,” said Bed-Stuy and Crown Height Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman.

Members of the New York State Nursing Association, 1199SEIU, the Committee of Interns and Residents, Reverend Herbert Daughtry Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and many other Brooklyn representatives also spoke at the rally.

“That led to a staffing crisis. I have a hospital that has issues with staffing, and making sure they get paid. Exuberant costs and underfunding of Medicaid. We are here today because the mission of One Brooklyn Health System is on the line,” she continued.

Rallygoers also called for the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office to restructure the OBH board to ensure “full community representation and adherence to proper governance procedures.”

The Attorney’s General office is aware of the complaint and is currently reviewing the request. The Governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store to Close

Over a Century Old Institution Closing Doors on April 10

By Matthew Fischetti

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When George Esposito was eight-years-old, his first job at his Grandfather’s store was selling garlic by the pound for 25 cents. 55 years later, he’s now ready to close shop.

The over a century old and four generation family-owned G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store, located on Court Street in Carroll Gardens, will be closing its doors on April 10.

In an interview with the Brooklyn Star, Esposito said that he would have liked to keep the store open for the decades long customers who have enjoyed the store but buyers were intimidated.

“Lots of people were interested [in buying the business] but when they see what we do here – it scared them away. We make everything. You know this isn’t a Trader Joes,” he said. “This is a homemade family business that makes everything from scratch.”

Esposito’s & Sons Pork Store is known for a lot more than just their pork: they serve hot and cold sandwiches, are well-known for their sausage and rice balls, and offer everything from cavatelli to potato salad.

The store was originally founded by Esposito’s grandfather, Giovanni Esposito. Originally from Naples, Giovanni immigrated to the United States in 1922 and opened up shop on Columbia and Union Street the same year. The store moved over to the Court Street location in 1977 when the original location’s nabe started to get more dangerous, said Esposito.

Back then the menu was different: selling traditional Italian foods like lamb heads and calf lungs. Around the mid to late 80s is when the store started to sell more Italian-American dishes and added sandwiches to their menus, as the nabe changed.

G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store will close on April 10

“I’ll never eat sausage again anywhere. That’s a fact. I bought a shrink wrap machine just for myself,” Esposito said.

Since the announcement of the store’s closing, Esposito said he has been inundated with orders. For the first time in the store’s history they are running low on inventory.

“I have like 30 trays ordered. Whole trays that people are going to freeze. I don’t know if you like eggplant parmesan, but there’s okay and there’s bad and there’s great. Our’s is outstanding,” said Esposito.

“I was heartbroken,” Brian Geltner, a 20 year customer of G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store said in an interview while munching on an Italian combo.

Some of his favorite things to order over the years have been the sausage parm, the italian combo and the eggplant parm – “but it’s all good,” he said.

“Whenever I buy sausages here to make tomato sauce, the sauce always comes out better than any other place,” Geltner said. “I don’t know why, but I go out of my way to come here before work.”

BP Appoints Rev. Kimberly Council as Deputy

By Matthew Fischetti

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Last week Brooklyn Beep Antonio Reynoso appointed Reverend Kimberly Council as Deputy Borough President.

The Deputy will serve as a surrogate for the Borough President as well as leading faith-based work for the administration, according to a Friday announcement.

Prior to her appointment she served as Assistant Pastor of Greater Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Crown Heights since 2021.

“Rev. Council’s history of specialized community service and faith-based work in Brooklyn will bring the work our administration has been dedicated to for the past year to the next level,” Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said in a statement. “Our borough and this city are facing serious challenges right now – issues like undignified and unaffordable housing, food insecurity, and the looming fear of violence and loss. For many years, Kim has worked alongside our communities to address these inequities and invoke change that people can feel in their everyday lives.

The former Sunday School teacher has worked on issues such as building affordable housing, fighting hunger through food pantries and violence prevention programs as the Executive Director of the Berean Community Center in Crown Heights.

She has also served as the President of the East Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation and sits on the Executive Board of Women of Faith Advocating Change – a group of female pastors, elected officials and community service providers. In 2019, she was appointed to the HBCU International Task Force

“I’ve dedicated my career to the communities and people of Brooklyn, focusing on finding ways to better lives and strengthen opportunities for all. Being appointed Deputy Borough President gives me the opportunity to carry this work out at a larger, borough-wide level alongside a colleague I’ve long respected,” Reverend Kim Council said in a statement. “Agreeing with Borough President Reynoso’s approach, policy priorities, and general strategy to reach the strongest, most sustainable future for all Brooklynites, I look forward to building that vision for the millions of people who call this beautiful borough home.”

The appointment will be effective starting on April 17, 2023.

Interview with New Brooklyn Rep for Education Panel

By Matthew Fischetti

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Jessamyn Lee is the newest Brooklyn Representative for the Panel for Education Policy – the citywide board that replaced the formal Board of Education.

Lee has served as a public school English Second Language teacher for over eight years, the Parent Teachers Association Board for her children’s schools and the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory council. She also served as District 14 President Council President – a group of PTA presidents representing North Brooklyn.

“When I became a public school parent, I wanted to contribute to my school communities, and then eventually, the larger community in any way that I could, because I feel like I have a couple of different lenses on things because I do have this sort of institutional knowledge from my background working for the Department of Education,” Jessamyn said in a recent phone interview. 

When asked about her primary focuses, Lee said that stopping colocation of charter schools was among her top interests. 

“I feel like what we’re seeing in New York City, and what we’re seeing really nationally is a momentary drop in public school enrollment. And my main priority is looking at building utilization, which is tied to enrollment numbers to ensure that our public schools remain public schools.”

Lee told the Brooklyn Star that one policy she would like to see changed is that soft spaces – meaning Speech pathology, counseling and other services – would be included in building utilization stats. The figure is often used to make the case for potential co-locations of charters.

Lee said that the lack of soft spaces being included in building utilization rates can alter the numbers. She highlighted how her own son is in a specialized program for Autistic students and although it only has around 19 students, a general education class could hold upwards of 30. Due to the disparity, Lee said that the current models don’t account for that disparity and could incorrectly label a classroom as being underutilized 

“When we’re talking about English language learners and special education students, in particular, the preservation of those soft spaces are necessary for the implementation of their mandated services and supports.”

In her interview with the Brooklyn Star, Lee also highly criticized the Mayor’s education cuts, which have been estimated by the Comptroller’s office to total $469 million. 

“I obviously, stringently and stridently, oppose the Adams administration’s cuts to the DOE’s budget. I find them indefensible.”

Lee encouraged readers to learn more about their local Community Education Councils in order to get more involved.

“A lot of what I’ve learned over the years is that what it takes for the average person or the typical person to kind of exercise some political power in this city is sort of directly tied to their ability and willingness to sit through long meetings that cover a lot of dry material,” she said. 

“But the parents are empowered and they can and should reach out to their city council members and their state assembly members to advocate for our public schools.”

Greenpoint Assembly District on chopping block

By Matthew Fischetti

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Greenpoint residents are organizing against new proposed lines for their assembly district, claiming that the lines are politically charged.

Assembly District 50, the current district represented by Emily Gallagher covers Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The proposed draft lines submitted by the Independent Redistricting Committee would currently split the district in half, along McGuinness Boulevard with the right half of the district being absorbed into Western Queens-based Assembly District 38, which is  currently represented by Juan Ardila. 

The current maps boundaries are a result of the earlier redistricting, which after court challenges only was set to be used for the last election. The maps that are currently being considered are to replace the 2023-2024 maps. 

“The bifurcation of McGuinness Boulevard under the current redistricting plan will serve to separate the longstanding Greenpoint Polish Community, diminishing its heritage, unique character, heart and spirit, like the BQE did to our Williamsburg neighborhood,” a letter from a group of local activists opposing the proposed lines obtained by the Greenpoint Star. “The split of AD50 along McGuinness Boulevard and lower along Driggs Avenue will also divide a community that has successfully faced environmental challenges threatening our neighborhood. This includes the designation of two federal superfund sites, the building of at least three power plants, and flood resiliency planning.”

Kevin LaCherra, a local Greenpoint activist, told the Greenpoint Star that the lines’ potential impact are dire.

“This is such a critical time not just for our city, but for this community – in terms of climate, housing, resources and planning. In the midst of that the state of New York wants to cut us in half. Divide our power, divide our voice.”

In reference to the unique challenges Eastern Greenpoint faces, LaCherra said that the plan was especially troublesome.

“These are some of our most vulnerable areas of the community that really need the expertise of elected officials that have and will represent the majority of Greenpoint,” he continued. “And that is not the case here.”

Karen Blatt, the co-executive director at the Independent Redistricting Commission, did not answer any questions regarding the decision making behind the change but encouraged people to participate in public hearings about the subject.

“The map that was released on December 1st is just a draft and the commissioners will redraw the lines in March, based on the testimony at our public hearings and the submissions they read on our website. Everyone is encouraged to participate and inform the commissioners how the lines affect them and their community,” Blatt wrote in an email. 

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher urged constituents to testify at the upcoming meeting.

“Greenpoint and Williamsburg are sister communities and have never been separated politically. They share a history, a heritage and many common challenges. The new draft lines proposed by the Independent Redistricting Committee reminds me of the carelessness of Robert Moses driving the BQE through the heart of our residential neighborhoods,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Eastern Greenpoint belongs with Greenpoint and Williamsburg—not in a mostly Queens district.” 

The upcoming public hearing for the proposed Greenpoint district, and Brooklyn at-large, will be hosted both online and in-person at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 15 at Medgar Evers College. 

Exclusive: A year in office with Councilman Restler

By Matthew Fischetti

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After years in working in local reformer politics, as an aide for Mayor DeBlasio and stints at local non-profits, Lincoln Restler was ready to take on City Hall.

The politically adept council member represents the 33rd district which stretches waterfront Brooklyn nabes like Greenpoint down to Brooklyn Heights. In his first year of office, he has introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation – ranging in wide scale reforms like the city giving first preference to non-profit developers when selling land to planting over 3,000 trees in the district.. He has released a climate action roadmap, which combines legislative priorities with organizing strategies to try and make the district the first carbon-neutral in the county.

Our paper decided to catch up with the councilmember to reflect  about the challenges and successes in his first year of office.

“I’m really proud of the work that we’ve been able to do. I love this job, I thought I would love it. But until you’re actually in it, doing it every day didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy it,” Restler said in a recent interview. 

Restler described his legislative philosophy as being driven largely by constituent services complaints. After being inundated with complaints about helicopter noise and placard abuse – he introduced legislation to ban non-essential helicopter use and banning placard abuse.

“The three key prongs of the office are having a really rigorous and robust constituent services operation to solve every problem. You develop proactive organizing plans across our district to address issues at the neighborhood level and then sponsor and pass transformative legislation that addresses the inequities in our city,” said Restler.

While Restler has introduced many pieces of legislation, most of them are still sitting in committee, even while having co-sponsors from a majority of the council. 

“2022 was a year for a whole new city government in New York, not just to the mayor setting up this whole administration, but a new speaker  and 80 percent of the council are freshmen members,” Restler said.”And so it’s taken us a little bit of time to develop our priorities and consensus in this legislative council, under Speaker Adams, but I think we’re really starting to hit a groove and the passing rate packages built in the summer and fall.”

Back in March, Restler was appointed as co-chair of the Progressive Caucus with Shahana Hanif. The caucus, which represent a majority of the council, unveiled their formal agenda, a cadre of 20 bills that had been introduced throughout the year – including legislation relating to banning solitary confinement, abolishing the gang database and establishing a public bank. 

“we’re making steady progress in driving those pieces of legislation forward. You know, as the largest caucus in the council, when we’re organized, we are in a very strong position to see our priorities enacted. The speaker, I think, listens to and cares about what her members want. And when we’re organized as a caucus, we can come forward as a large compelling, you know, influential block of votes to say, these are our priorities,” Restler said.

“The reality is that Eric Adams is committed to austerity, politics and austerity budgeting. City government has been hollowed out as it is, and it is severely hurting our city agency’s ability to generate affordable housing, to connect New Yorkers to public assistance and food stamps,” he added. 

When pushed about voting for the original budget, Restler expressed regret.

“I think there was a lot of misinformation and misleading information. I think there was a lot of deliberately misleading information provided by the administration and in advance of the last budget that hid the severity of the cuts that they were imposing on our neighborhood school,” he said. The councilman emphasized that although he has allocated funding out of his discretionary budget and testified in oversight hearings, that “I should have known better, and I should have pushed harder. And I regret voting in favor of a budget that cut funding from our schools.”

Restler took the opportunity to critique the Mayor’s November Plan – a budget update which included cuts to libraries and other services.

“We were sorely disappointed with the November plan that the mayor released imposing nearly an additional billion dollars in cuts to the universal 3k program cuts across our city agencies. It’s clear where his priorities lie. His commitment to austerity budgets is unacceptable. And we as a council, we must fight back to stop.”

In the following months, Restler said that he was looking forward to introducing more legislation: specifically relating to rooftop solar, battery storage and improving conditions of homeless shelters.

Freelancer protection bill vetoed by Governor

By Matthew Fischetti

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Governor Hochul vetoed legislation concerning freelancer work last week.

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, sponsored by Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes, would have created a right to a written contract from a hiring party for contracts over $250, creating a process for the Department of Labor to investigate complaints and the ability for the Attorney General to investigate patterns of non-payment, among other changes.

“Much of the language in this new section 191-d in the Labor Law is drawn from existing language in Article 6 that provides wage theft protections for traditional employees, creating parity between the two different types of laborers,” according to the bill’s memo. 

Citywide legislation on the issue was passed in 2017. Complaints are handled through the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections. More than $1.3 has been recovered in penalties or restitution from 2018 and 2019 complaints alone, according to the bill.

The bill argues that the enforcement mechanism at a citywide level isn’t strong enough as the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections, as they cannot compel hirers to pay, leaving freelance workers to take their cases to small claims court.

A 2019 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, UpWork and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment found that over a third of New York City residents are freelance workers.

“It’s unfortunate that this holiday season will leave freelancers out in the cold, but that only strengthens my resolve to go back to Albany nex year and keep fighting to protect these workers,” Senator Gounardes said in a statement.

According to a report from the Independent Economy Council, 59% of freelance workers are owed $50,000 or more for their work.

“With 39% of the entire U.S. workforce freelancing this year and a total of $1.35 trillion in annual earnings to the U.S. economy from freelance contributions, we are saddened by the Governor’s calculation that there is not enough room in our budget to adequately protect the growing independent workforce in the state,” Executive Director of the Freelancers Union Rafael Espinal said in a statement. “We thank the legislature for passing this significant legislation and we will be no doubt back in January to make sure we get this done next session.”

“The National Writers Union and the tens of thousands of freelance writers, authors and media workers in NYS are extremely disappointed in the Governor’s veto. Freelance Isn’t Free simply requires a written contract and payment within 30 days of invoicing, which should be the bare minimum in worker protection,” Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union, said in a statement. “To veto a package of bills over a lack of funding for the Department of Labor at the last minute is disturbing, particularly when Freelance Isn’t Free, like the other bills in the package, passed both houses in a legislative session that ended over six months ago. This is especially concerning given that Governor Hochul was elected in November with the support of unions and workers.”

State Senator Andrew Gounardes sponsored the recent freelncer protection bill which was vetoed by the Governor.  (Credit: NY Senate Media Services)

Brooklyn pols’ voting rights reform bill signed

By Matthew Fischetti

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Voters will have more time to register to vote next year, thanks to Governor Hochul signing new legislation sponsored by Brooklyn electeds. 

Assemblymember Robert Carroll sponsored the voting reform legislation.
(Credit: Twitter). 

The new legislation, which takes effect on January 1, shortens the registration deadline from 25 days before an election to 10 days. While the state constitution stipulates that voters have 10 days to vote before elections, election law made the timeline longer by requiring voters to either be submitted 25 days before the election in person. If you wanted to mail in your registration, the previous law mandated that it be postmarked 25 days in advance and received by the board of elections within 20 days of the election. 

The new legislation was sponsored by Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Park Slope) and State Senator Brian Kavanagh (D-Greenpoint). (Kavanaugh will not represent Greenpoint in the upcoming term due to redistricting.)

“In recent years, we’ve taken many significant steps to change our laws and make elections more voter friendly. We know that many New Yorkers, with busy lives and many competing priorities, may choose to engage with the election process within the final weeks before an election. With the registration deadline set nearly a month before elections, new voters are routinely excluded from participating,” Kavanaugh (D-Greenpoint) said in a statement. 

The legislation builds on top of voting rights reform that has occurred in the past year. Earlier this month, Governor Hochul signed the “wrong church” legislation, also sponsored by Assemblymember Robert Carroll, which requires the counting of affidavit ballots if a voter showed up to the wrong polling location. 

Back in July, the Governor signed the John Lewis Voting Act of New York. The legislation made many changes to voting law including: requiring language assistance with areas that have enough population of minority language groups, establishing civil liability for voter intimidation and requiring preclearance of changes to voting by the Civil Rights Bureau under the attorney general’s office.

“New York State must ensure that New Yorkers don’t face unnecessary obstacles in exercising their right to vote and this legislation, which reduces the voter registration deadline from 25 to the constitutional minimum of 10 days before an election, is a good step,” Carroll said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and voting rights and election reform advocates in making New York State a true model when it comes to fair, transparent, and well administered elections.”

Greenpoint State Senator Brian Kavanagh sponsored the voting reform bill in the Senate which was signed by 
Gov. Hochul. (Credit: NY Senate Media Services)

Greenpoint ferry service returns

By Matthew Fischetti

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After 18 months of delays and setbacks, the Greenpoint Ferry officially restored service to residents on Monday.

The ferry initially closed in May 2021 due to problems with the piles, and the reopening date has been pushed back a few times due to complications with the work.

The ferry was reopened after the Small Business Services department closed out work permits, according to the private developer Lendlease, which owns the pier. The New York City Economic Development Corporation holds the contract with San Francisco-based vendor Hornblower.

In an interview with the Greenpoint Star, Councilman Lincoln Restler reiterated his support for public ownership of the pier, stating that “public transportation should be a fully public asset where we utilize public land and to ensure that we can reliably move around reliably and safely move around.”

While the councilman acknowledged that the engineering issues were complex, he said that the closure happened longer than he would have liked it to.

“For many Greenpoint residents who were nearly a mile from the subway station, this closure caused extreme inconvenience. And we just simply cannot afford for future closures to happen again, at this location.”

The pier will have a temporary gangway while shoreline improvements are made in the meantime. 

“We are thrilled to be bringing NYC Ferry service back to Greenpoint and it was great welcoming riders back this week. We appreciate the patience of Greenpointers, and all NYC Ferry riders, as we worked with Lendlease to safely restore the landing,” Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the Economic Development Council Jeff Holmes said in a statement.

“We’re excited to announce that the Greenpoint landing will reopen on Monday, November 14,” NYC Ferry said in a statement. “We appreciate your patience and look forward to serving our Greenpoint riders once again on the East River route.”

Credit: Dan Nguyen

Brooklyn DA: “Suspect charged in the death of Matthew Jensen”

The Brooklyn District Attorney named a suspect believed to be responsible for fatally striking beloved P.S. 110 school teacher Matthew Jensen. 

The incident took place along McGuinness Boulevard last May, when Jensen was struck by the driver of a Rolls Royce whilst walking home from his 58th birthday party. 

According to the DA’s office, 30-year-old Tariq Witherspoon from Bushwick was arraigned on charges. The allegations include crimnally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, second-degree reckless endagerment, reckless driving, and excessive speed.  

“Matthew Jensen was a beloved teacher at P.S.110 who is sorely missed by his students, co-workers, friends and family,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will now seek to bring this defendant to justice for his alleged actions, which left a community heartbroken.” 

Following a rally over Jensen’s death, former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the city would spend $39 million to redesign McGuinness Boulevard into a safer thoroughfare. 

“One driver may have committed this act, but it is our city that is ultimately responsible. The way to ensure that this tragedy is never again repeated is through a comprehensive redesign of McGuinness Boulevard. Eliminating travel lanes on McGuinness eliminates the possibility of dangerous speeding by design,” members of the Make McGuinness Safe Coalition, an advocacy group that has been advocating for safety changes in the redesign, said in a statement.

Matthew Jensen on the bulletin board of P.S. 110 (Photo Courtesy of Jensen Family)

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, who has been an advocate for making changes to McGuinness Boulevard for years, suggested that policy is the correct way to get justice for Jensen rather than incarceration. 

“Since 2013, there have been 1,450 reported crashes, injuring 40 cyclists and 59 pedestrians. Some of them will never fully recover. The only way to permanently reduce and eliminate these needless tragedies is to redesign our roadways to be safer for everyone,” Assemblywoman Gallagher said.

Councilman Lincoln Restler, a friend of Matthew Jensen’s, echoed similar sentiments. 

“Accountability matters. I’m hoping for healing and restorative justice for Matthew’s cousin John, the rest of his family and friends, and all of our neighbors mourning this painful loss,” Restler said. “Our office is committed to moving the Make McGuinness Safe project forward as swiftly as possible to protect our community.”

Witherspoon is currently being held on bail of $75,000 bond or $15,000 cash and is due to return to court on April 27, 2022.