The Greenpoint YMCA held its sixth annual Spirit of Community service awards dinner and auction at Giando on the Water on Wednesday Oct. 4 to celebrate important community leaders within the neighborhood. The honorees at the event included Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Apple Bank’s Maureen Douglas, Executive Vice President, Debbie Hootam, Vice President, Business Relationship Manager and Monika Nowicka, Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager as well as those of the Greenpointers blog, Julia Moak and her team.
Tatiana Terzouli, Regional Director for Communications, Marketing and Fund Development at the Greenpoint YMCA, said the event was a chance to highlight another year of the YMCA’s goal of making a difference in the community.
“I thought this year’s Greenpoint Y’s ‘Spirit of Community’ Service Awards Dinner was another success, providing us with a great opportunity to come together, connect with old and new friends, celebrate, and fortify our commitment to another year of making a positive impact on the community we love. The event was filled with camaraderie, inspiration, and a shared sense of purpose as we gear up for another year of giving back,” Terzouli said in an email.
La-Asia Hundley, the co-master of ceremonies, said the honorees were exceptional, not only in their fields of work and passion but also in their commitment to providing for their communities.
“These honorees are not just exceptional leaders, and I will say they are exceptional in their own right, in their own fields, but they are role models for the young people at the Y. Their everyday actions aligned with the core values of the Y: respect, honesty, responsibility and caring. They are driven by a deep passion for serving others,” Hundley said.
Elaine Brodsky, the former co-founder of Citistorage, a Brooklyn-based archival storage and records-management company, the chair of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and keynote speaker at the event, said the YMCA was an important part of her upbringing and wanted to give back to the organization.
“I was a little girl when I learned how to swim at the YMCA upstate in Elmira, New York. The was a central location for all activities back in the day, much as it is in Greenpoint now. We are so fortunate to have such a strong culture of diversity, acceptance, and solidarity in our neighborhood,” Brodsky said.
Terzuoli said it was important to hold community events in order to both recognize community members, bring people in the community together as well and inspire others to dedicate some of their time to service and helping others.
“First, it makes people feel valued and appreciated for the good things they do in our community. Recognizing and celebrating influential individuals acknowledges their efforts and motivates them to continue their support and involvement,” Terzouli said in an email. “Additionally, recognizing influential community members at these events can serve as an inspiration to others. When people see others getting involved with organizations like the YMCA, it encourages them to become actively engaged, volunteer, and contribute to causes they are passionate about, not just the Y. This means more support for essential community programs and services.”
Disclaimer: Walter Sanchez is a board member of the Greenpoint YMCA
Brooklynites know that Brooklyn Bridge Park was not always the picturesque, vibrant green space it is today, but a former abandoned industrial area. Now, the park is continuing to grow and expand with Dave Cho, a former U.S. Veteran and a co-founder of Korean skincare brand Soko Glam, joining the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Board.
The Conservancy first started a grass-roots coalition to get the park built in the late 1980s and has now grown into a non-profit, separate from the physical maintenance of the park, that aims to provide vital programming to the park “with more than 500 innovative and engaging educational, cultural, fitness and recreational programs each year,” according to the organization’s website. Cho said he moved to the neighborhood around the park in early 2021 and loved coming to the park with his wife and daughters but had not thought about getting involved with the organization until he attended their annual gala.
“That’s when I learned more about the Conservancy and the work, so I started to get more plugged in at that point,” Cho said. “I gained a lot more appreciation for the park, the Conservancy, the history but also the future, what we’re trying to do, and I feel like I can contribute and continue to serve in the capacity of the board.”
Though a career in military service and skincare might seem worlds apart, Cho said he started the skincare brand Soko Glam with his wife Charlotte Cho for the same reason he wanted to serve his country: to help people. According to Cho, this desire to serve is also the reason he wants to give back to his community by joining the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy board.
“On the surface, people will see it as polar opposites of the spectrum, and I get that. But I think if you really understand why I’m doing what I’m doing, like ‘Why did I join the military?’ I joined the military to help people, to serve others,” Cho said.
According to Cho, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is an incredible resource for the community, both for getting neighbors outside, but also as a way for building strong ties and relationships within the neighborhood. Cho also said the park is a natural way to get people more involved in the outdoors without outwardly trying to sway people to care about the environment. He also said that inclusion and empathy can go a long way in building strong ties in a community such as the one along the Brooklyn waterfront.
“I’m a true believer that in order to get people to be more empathetic, you need to live outside of what’s in your own world,” Cho said. “I think we need more inclusion, more empathy, not only for the parks but for society. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but I do believe that encouraging people, not forcing people, meeting where they are and encouraging them in their own natural organic way to get involved and to opt-in.”
Cho said he is excited to usher in a new era of community involvement and is an area where the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy can improve.
“I think that there’s a great opportunity to get more community involvement. And I think that maybe the assumption is made that because the park is just so pristine, because the programming seems so put together, which they are, but people feel like, ‘They’re good,’” Cho said. “But I think that what can be so much more beneficial for everyone, including the people that are enjoying the park, is to have more people to opt in, and to share even what they would love to see.”
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.
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.
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.
The NYC Department of Transportation announced Aug. 16 that they would move forward with a compromised plan of the McGuinness redesign in Greenpoint after years of meetings with elected officials, community advocates and residents.
The new plan, one of three potential candidates for redesign of the street, includes adding a protected bike lane on each side of moving traffic and removing a lane for cars and other automated vehicles. Construction is set to begin in September, according to the DOT.
Marisa LaScala, a parent at PS 34, said she is happy that community efforts to make McGuinness safer have finally paid off.
“I have a kid that goes to school at one of the schools right off McGuinness, and it’s really frightening seeing the way cars whip around the turn or creep into the crosswalk, so anything to make that a little safer is just such a load off,” LaScala said. “I like the idea of taking it down to one car on each side, I think that would be a big step forward in terms of safety.”
The push to renovate the street, which gained traction in 2021 after a beloved local teacher Matthew Jensen was killed on the road, has embroiled Greenpointers in a controversy for over two years. Two competing factions, Make McGuinness Safe in favor of the redesign, and Keep McGuinness Moving in opposition, have clashed over whether or not McGuinness needs a revision. Kevin LaCherra, a local activist and coordinator for Make McGuinness Safe, said that the road is too dangerous to stay.
“In the wake of Matt’s death in 2021, we came together, led by the parents of PS 110, and we said ‘This is not an acceptable situation,’” LaCherra said. “McGuinness Boulevard has been killing people since the moment it opened, the moment they widened the street and built a highway through Greenpoint. That status quo has been hurting people for 70 years, and has been killing people for 70 years. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people have been killed.”
According to LaCherra, the efforts to modify the street has been a long and difficult fight, but he is pleased to see the proposal going forward, even if all the proposed safety measures by officials and local community leaders were not met. Averianna Eseinbach, a Greenpoint resident involved in Keep McGuinness Moving, said traffic flow on McGuinness needs to be kept in motion, and that there were other ways to reduce accidents that do not remove any lanes of traffic,
“We do need to preserve four lanes on McGuinness to prevent gridlock because it’s such a major artery in Greenpoint. This region has thousands of businesses that rely on McGuinness. It’s the only North-South artery in the area, and yet businesses were left out of the conversation,” Eseinbach said. “I like raised crosswalks, that would definitely improve pedestrian safety. More red light cameras, and rumble strips at the foot of the bridge.”
LaCherra said these efforts are not enough to prevent deaths, and that there have been two years of conversations with various factions of the Greenpoint community on the best way to reduce deaths on the boulevard.
“The reality is that the sort of things that Keep McGuinness moving are proposing are either things that have already been publicly adjudicated, or are things that we are also asking for, they’re just insufficient to tackle the scale of the problem,” LaCherra said. “We’re all in favor of raised crosswalks, raised crosswalks would be great, but they do nothing to disincentivize the massive amount of traffic coming onto the boulevard off of the outer highway.”
LaScala said she does not understand why anyone would be opposed to the redesign, and that she is proud of the way that the neighborhood fought for a change on McGuiness.
“I actually can’t really understand why someone would look at this and say they would be against it,” LaScala said. “It was really inspiring to see the way that the neighborhood came together. I went to the rally, I saw other parents from my kids’ schools, parents from other schools. It just seems like people can really come together and make their voices heard, and actually affect change.”
Smoke rose over the cars on Brooklyn Queens Expressway Aug. 20 after a fire engulfed nine stores on Lee Avenue in South Williamsburg. 10 New York Fire Department firefighters were injured in their attempts to control the five alarm fire.
In a press conference, Laura Kavanagh, NYC Fire Commissioner, said that the call came in at approximately 9 a.m. and though fire department personnel arrived at the site in under four minutes, the fire was serious by time FDNY appeared on scene. According to Kavanagh, while members of the FDNY were injured, one firefighter sustaining life-threatening red-tag wounds, no other people or animals were hurt.
John Hodgens, Chief of Department for FDNY, said in a press conference that the situation on Lee was quite advanced by the time the call came in and that up to 200 fire department and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel were needed in order to control the fire and secure the site. According to Hodgens, most of the stores were closed, so firefighters had to break through the metal roll down gates of each storefront.
“It takes a lot of staffing, a lot of hard work, it’s not an easy task. Our other
members have to go in and search to make sure there are no victims and start opening with tools the fire that is hidden above the ceiling [and under the roof],” Hodgens said. “It’s a very labor intensive operation, and they did a great job. Unfortunately, a couple were injured, but they are doing well.”
Hodgens said the 90 degree heat on Sunday added a further challenge to fighting the fire, as well as the sizable amount of smoke from the burning street block, but that the fire was under control as of the early afternoon. To ensure that the fire did not spread to the multi-unit dwelling next door and that no residents were hurt, Hodgens said that fire department personnel secured the wall bordering the fire and evacuated all residents. In accordance with FDNY protocol, an investigation led by a fire marshall will soon begin in order to determine the cause of the fire.
Carlos Masri, a South Williamsburg community member, said Lee Avenue is considered to be an economic and cultural hub of the Hasidic community, and that the damages to the area will be considerable.
“This will affect [the community] very much. This was one of the main centers where people will come here throughout the holidays, or before shabbat. It’s the main hub of this few blocks, and this is one of the major strips. There are restaurants, dry-good stores, all kinds of stuff. It’s like a little mall within the community,” Masri said.
Masri said many Hasidic families right now are out of New York City for the summer while their children attend summer camps, which also might be one of the reasons that all stores were empty at the time of the fire. However, with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah fast approaching in September, Masri said that the community will feel the effects of the loss more strongly.
According to Masri, having strong local businesses is important for the Hasidic community because they are in compliance with Jewish laws and cultural norms.
“It’s a unique neighborhood because everyone is shopping locally,” Masri said. “Because of traditions and rules, it requires you to shop locally in accordance with Jewish laws and Hasidic culture so that’s why it’s really important to have local stores. It’s not like you can go out to any ot
Lincoln Restler, New York City councilmember for the district, said the fire is a tragedy for the South Williamsburg community, and that he is saddened by the incident.
“This is the street that everybody in South Williamsburg comes to shop for all their needs. To have a devastating fire like this, that destroyed nine beloved local businesses, it breaks my heart,” Restler said. “There are many dozens of people who worked on this c
orner who don’t have jobs, and there are nine small business owners who poured their blood, sweat and tears into building out great small businesses for our community. In a flash, it’s all gone.
Restler said that the city council will work with the business owners and community leaders to rebuild the Lee Avenue shopping center.
“It’s going to be a long road, a long process, but we’re committed to working as closely as we can with each of the businesses affected to help them get back on their feet,” Restler said.
It’s hard to stand out among the flooded streets of Williamsburg. Restaurants and shops line the busy streets of Bedford Ave, hoping to entice passerbyers with colorful window displays and fancy signs. But walk past McCarren Park, down 11th St. and you will find something different. A simple building, with a simple but daunting task. Rethink Caribbean food.
For Kevin and Ria Graham, opening a restaurant had never been in the life plan, but neither had their whirlwind romance either. After meeting at a culinary event for Black History Month, the two-hit it off, and their partnership began. In less than a year, the pair was already married with a baby on the way.
Before she knew it, Ria had become a stay-at-home mom.
“I started feeling unsatisfied,” Graham explained, “I knew that I wanted to get back out there.”
So the couple put their heads together and decided to start a restaurant.
Kevin had experience in events and the culinary scene, while Ria brought the marketing knowledge, together forming a business partnership as harmonious as their personal one.
They opened their flagship Caribbean restaurant, Kokomo, in July of 2020, quickly gaining a following of loyal fans. It was the height of the pandemic, and if opening a restaurant in general was hard, this was on another level. But the atmosphere and the food stood for itself, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple.
Now, three years later, the Grahams are taking their Caribbean concept to another level, with a fast-casual modern take on the flavors they know so well. The concept is simple, a healthier version of Carribean food. They want their guests to experience the classic spices and foods of the Caribbean paired in new and inventive ways.
The name of the restaurant, OxKale, follows this concept to its core. Inspired by the classic Caribbean meal of Oxtail, the name uses a play on words to include the beloved health food of the moment: Kale.
“We don’t serve traditional dishes in a traditional way,” Ria explained. “There isn’t one thing on the menu that you can find at another Caribbean restaurant.” The menu is packed with colorful dishes, everything from bright salads, jerk chicken and oxtail bowls, to their newest creation, a Gyroti.
The dish, a meld between Roti and a Gyro, is a staple of OxKale. Inspired by two staples of Trindadian cuisine, the finished product is a soft, slightly crispy, thick wrap that holds meats and vegetables like warm island-dream. “It’s kind of like our brain love child,” said Ria. “We brought two different cuisines; the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisine, into one beautiful mixture.”
Going into the second week since opening, the restaurant is already bustling. Now, with expanded hours, those looking to try OxKale can come in anytime until 2 am on weekends.
“If the cravings hit late, you don’t have to break your diet,” Kevin said with a laugh.
At the Brooklyn Heights intersection where Katherine Harris was hit and killed by a speeding driver in April of this year, Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher introduced legislation that would impose hindrances on drivers going more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. According to a press release, the bill would mimic the model of drunk driving legislation where convicted drivers must prove that they are sober by blowing into a device before they can start their car. Similarly, the legislation would only impact driver’s with six or more speeding tickets in one year.
In a statement, Assemblymember Gallagher said the bill is important to take precautionary measures to ensure that people like Katherine Harris do not have to die.
“As more Americans continue to die from motor vehicle crashes than in any other country in the world, we need to take proactive and common sense measures to reduce traffic violence,” Gallagher said. “Cars and trucks can act as weapons when used recklessly, and people who have repeatedly demonstrated they will endanger lives while operating vehicles should be limited in how fast they can drive.”
According to Kate Brockwehl, the survivor of a near fatal car crash and an advocate for the organization Families for Safe Streets, the legislation is a big step in reducing serious car accidents and deaths. Brockwehl said that many people in the United States think of traffic fatalities as just an unfortunate part of life, something unpreventable, and said she wants people to understand that serious car crashes can be avoided by infrastructure like this bill. According to Brockwehl, she was hit by a speeding car as a pedestrian in 2017, and spent a year and a half in recovery from the incident.
‘I’m a huge fan of the bill,” Brockwehl said. “To me, this bill is incredibly straightforward. It doesn’t remove your keys, it doesn’t affect your ability to drive, you can go all the places you need to. It says you can’t go more than ten [sic] miles over the speed limit. You don’t get a ticket until that point.”
According to Brockwehl, bills such as the one that Gounardes and Gallagher are putting forward were nonexistent in the United States until recently because the technology to safely slow down cars did not exist in American markets, though some form of speed reduction technology has been used in the European Union on all new cars since 2022, according to Autoweek Magazine.
Under the new legislation put forward by Gounardes and Gallagher, offending drivers that try to go more than five miles will have their speed reduced by intelligent speed assistance . The bill has a precedent in an ISA pilot program installed on New York City fleet vehicles, in which 99 percent of vehicles successfully remained within the speed limit parameters.
Brockwehl said that the legislation is just one step in fighting traffic violence, and said that Families for Safe Streets is also pushing to introduce alternative street configurations that would slow down drivers, including something called a “road diet” which would add more room for bicycle paths and turning lanes. Brockwehl said that her ultimate goal is for fatal and near fatal traffic incidents to be a thing of the past.
“There’s nothing preventing my being killed next time, or like someone I love, unless I never go outside again in my life,” Brockwehl said. “I think we’re just so incredibly used to [traffic deaths] in the United States to the point that it affects so many more people than people who are involved in Families for Safe Streets, but I think people don’t realize it yet.”
In a statement, Councilmember Lincoln Restler said that, if passed, the legislation will ultimately lead to safer and more habitable streets.
“Too many New Yorkers are victims of traffic violence due to reckless drivers,” said Restler. “I’m excited to support Senator Gounardes’ and Assembly Member Gallagher’s common sense legislation that will increase accountability on the most dangerous drivers, make our neighborhoods safer, and ultimately save lives.”
On any given Sunday on the outskirts of the Orthodox Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, passerby might turn the street to see hundreds of migrants gathered outside of Parcare, an unassuming private health clinic on Park Avenue, speaking animatedly in languages like French, Bengali, Arabic and Spanish.
The migrants are there for a drive that Parcare operates in order to help people who have recently arrived in the United States navigate the asylum seeking process, which includes information on how to obtain health insurance, registering for an IDNYC card and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, getting in contact with immigrant lawyers or finding permanent housing. Gary Schlesinger, founder and chief executive officer of Parcare, said the drive emerged when patients who spoke little English started turning up at Parcare around Nov. 2022 without insurance, identification or long-term housing.
“It started affecting us because all of a sudden, we started seeing people coming to our front desk asking for help,“ Schlesinger said. “So we jumped in, trying to help. I felt, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do.’”
Levi Jurkowiz, community liaison for Parcare, said that Parcare runs three drives a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for anyone that might need assistance, but migrants are the primary visitors. Jurkowiz said Parcare is trying to help with the migrant crisis as much as they can, but he said he feels frustrated that there is no broader plan of action from the city and federal government.
“There is no plan, there’s an immigrant crisis. The people here are really, all of them, just looking to work, pay taxes and get their papers. We should help them get that,” Jurkowitz said. “I think there’s an issue with the federal government, they have to figure out what to do.”
According to Jurkowitz, the people who come into Parcare often live in shelters and speak little English, which makes it difficult to obtain health insurance, bank accounts, or a job as you need a permanent address to register, and it is difficult to find work if you do not speak the language. Jurkowiz said the system is incredibly difficult to navigate, and many newcomers arrive after long and arduous journeys with debt from cartels and other predatory lenders who make enormous profit off of smuggling migrants across the border.
“It costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to come here,” Jurkowiz said. “And the people who lend them the money aren’t the nicest people in the world.”
Ibrahim, 23, said he had traveled through five countries and several American states to come to New York from his home in Mauritania, a country located in Western Africa. We are only using Ibrahim’s first name to protect his identity. Ibrahim speaks French and Arabic but minimal English, and communicated via a mix of spoken word and Google Translate. According to Ibrahim, life in Mauritania was extremely difficult, and he felt confined by government constraints, social and family pressures as well as a lack of opportunities.
“I have a lot of problems with Mauritania. You can’t be free,” Ibrahim said. “I want to be free in my decisions, I want to do what I like to do.”
Ibrahim said he studied computer science and business in Tunisia before coming to the United States, and hopes to continue his studies. However, he said he has had trouble finding work and resources in the U.S. due to his uncertain legal status in the country. Ibrahim said that immigration services cater to people from Spanish speaking countries, and that many under-the-table job opportunities available to Spanish migrants are not given to African migrants. According to Ibrahim, it has also been hard adjusting to living in the shelters where there is a lack of showers and personal space, and that theft is a big issue.
“It’s very hard to live where I live,” Ibrahim said. “[In the shelter] we live 70 in one room, eight floors. The big problem for me for now is stealing. You have phone? Steal. You have bag? Steal. I have papers, they steal that.”
Schlesinger, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, said he feels an obligation to help the asylum seekers after hearing stories from his parents who escaped the Holocaust from Hungary.
“My father used to always tell me how grateful he was for anyone that used to help them because they came here with nothing. He was talking the immigrant language, you know, he was an immigrant,” Schlesinger said. “So, when I started looking into this, I thought, ‘You know, this is a crisis, let’s do something.’”
As of July 19, there are 54,800 migrants under New York City’s care with hundreds of people arriving in the city each day. In a press conference, Mayor Eric Adams said the crisis has reached its breaking point as news broke that newcomers have been turned away from overflowing shelters and forced to sleep on the streets; Adams urged President Joe Biden to give aid to the city in order to alleviate the issue.
According to Jurkowiz, squabbles between Republican and Democratic politicians have caused the situation, and that the migrants have been caught in the middle. Since April 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abott has been sending busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities like New York and Washington D.C. in order to protest the Biden administration’s border policy. Since last spring, New York City has seen an influx of 90,000 migrants and asylum-seekers. Schlesinger said that the work Parcare does is not enough to help all the people arriving into the city, and that there needs to be more money and infrastructure to deal with the issue.
“Let’s face it, the money really comes from the federal government, that’s where the billions are,” Schlesinger said. “And if they don’t recognize this as a crisis, there’s a big issue here because there’s thousands of people and if the money isn’t going to come from Washington, God knows where this is going to end. Private people like us can only do so much.”
The New York legislature recently passed an act that would require those operating or profiting from limited liability companies, a type of business that shields the owner from personal consequences over debts and other liabilities, to disclose their names, addresses and other information, some of which would be included in a public database.
The new legislation, called the LLC Transparency Act, is meant to target money laundering and other financial crimes by publicly identifying beneficial owners of LLCs. The act was co-authored by Greenpoint Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher and State Senator Brad Hoylman.
“LLCs are used in a variety of ways, and because of their anonymity, they’ve really opened up the door to people not taking responsibility for certain things that their business does, as well as using LLCs as a mask to do illegal activities,” Gallagher said in a recent phone interview. “That’s pretty wide ranging, everything from wage theft, to tenant problems to drug trafficking.”
The act, which Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to sign into law, is similar to the federal Corporate Transparency Act that will go into effect this coming January. Unlike the CTA, however, which requires all corporations to disclose beneficial owner information to a confidential database, the LLC transparency Act would create a database searchable by the public, with the names and business addresses of beneficial owners.
The public database is likely to be beneficial for tenants, many of whom do not currently know their landlords’ identities if the owner of their building is filed under an LLC. Anonymous LLCs can also be used by landlords to evade code inspections, according to Gallagher’s legislative director.
“It’s insane that we bestow that legal privilege upon people anonymously, but that’s been the norm thus far,” the director said. “We have to adjust expectations of what should be expected of corporations doing business in New York, and I think it was a public policy mistake to let corporations do business in New York with only a P.O. box.”
The legislation would make it easier for tenants to take legal action against their landlords in the case of negligence, according to Yana Kucheva, an associate professor of sociology at the City College of New York and an expert in housing policy. Kucheva said that the act would also allow tenants with negligent landlords to find other buildings owned by their landlord and organize with tenants across properties.
“If something bad is happening to you, chances are that your landlord, if they own another building somewhere else, they might be neglecting that building as well,” Kucheva said. “This type of law would shift the balance in who might have the upper hand in a court if you can actually find your landlord more easily.”
Roberto Rodriguez, a tenant in Williamsburg, said he thinks the act will make it easier for tenants to resolve issues with their landlords and that it is a necessity that tenants know who their landlord is.
“It gives tenants that piece of leverage because now you know exactly who to go after in the courts,” Rodriguez said. “Right now there’s nothing we can do in the court system to protect ourselves, and knowing who owns the building is great.”
The act would also help create better housing legislation, according to Gallagher, as it would give lawmakers a better idea of how many buildings people own on average.
LLCs are relatively new in the United States, with the first one having been established in the late 1970s. Gallagher said that these kinds of corporations have been badly abused, and are currently easier to get than a library card.
“This is not something that is baked into the origins of American business,” Gallagher said. “Transparency is a really good thing that we should be seeking and protecting, and it’s terrible that folks who are cheating, either consumers or other businesses, have had such an advantage for so long.”
Under the act, beneficial owners of LLCs would also be required to disclose their date of birth and a unique identification number, such as from a passport or driver’s license, to the government. A beneficial owner is a person who controls or profits from an LLC, with some exceptions listed in the act. The 23 exceptions to the definition, which are the same as those in the CTA definition of a beneficial owner, include minors, banks, credit unions and governmental authorities.
Many countries outside the United States have long had corporate transparency laws like the CTA and LLC Transparency Act in place. In 2014, the European Union established a transparency rule similar to the CTA, and in 2016 the United Kingdom created a public register for beneficial owners of corporations.
Samantha Sheeber, a real estate attorney at Starr Associates LLP, said that she doesn’t see the act discouraging property ownership under LLCs, but that she thinks it is not clear enough what would count as having a significant privacy interest, which would allow a beneficial owner’s information to remain confidential. She also said she thinks the goals of the act could be accomplished without a public database.
“What they were trying to accomplish here, really could have been accomplished by having this same database, the same requirements, but not on a public scale,” Sheeber said. “They could have done all the enforcement, they could have had all the registration requirements done in a capacity that law enforcement or regulatory enforcement could have been enforced, but it wouldn’t be on a public open domain.”
Gallagher’s legislative director said that the legislation is less specific because the details of what counts as a significant privacy interest are being put under the responsibility of the department of state, and that there will be a period for comment before the agency implements regulations.
The director also said that there are many benefits to the database of beneficial owners being public, including that it would allow the public to flag illegal behavior by beneficial owners and help lawmakers make more informed public policy decisions.
“Among the motivations of the bill is the fact that the benefits that beneficial ownership transparency can bring to the public, to government and to civil society and to the business industry, are dependent upon that information being public,” the director said. “This bill creating a public database is the main motivation, the federal government’s already going to be collecting this information, but it does a disservice to the public to have it be private.”
James Vacca, a former New York City Councilmember and a distinguished lecturer at Queens College, said that he had pushed for LLC transparency during his time in office, but that he was unable to pass anything because LLCs are state entities and were therefore outside of his jurisdiction.
“They’ve been used to circumvent transparency and accountability, so anything that sheds light, anything that gives citizens information and gives sunlight to where there was none before, I think is a step in the right direction,” Vacca said. “The transparency that a law like this provides is invaluable.”
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.
“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.”