Political arena

Politicians demand shelter’s closure

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Local elected officials are calling for the closure of a homeless shelter in the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx, located just east of Van Cortlandt Park, following the murder of its director on April 27. Police say a former resident with a lengthy criminal record committed the killing.

Councilman Andrew Cohen, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, state Sen. Jeff Klein and other Bronx and Yonkers politicians held a heated press conference at the 4380 Bronx Blvd. site of the shelter on April 30.

Saying about 60 percent of residents at the Project Renewal Shelter previously did jail time for felonies, Mr. Dinowitz called the site a “blight.”

“You can understand the rightful concern of the community when so many people who are convicted of serious felonies are put into one place... It’s outrageous, it’s irresponsible,” he said.

“In the very, very short range, we need to have security here, which I think DHS [the Department of Homeless Services] is finally thinking about doing. In the slightly longer range, and I don’t think too much longer, this shelter needs to be closed,” he said to applause from a small crowd at the press conference.

Mr. Dinowitz called for top DHS officials to be fired and for a moratorium on construction of another homeless facility a block away from the Project Renewal Shelter. DHS did not immediately answer a request for comment on demands to close the Project Renewal site and other questions.

Mr. Cohen said after meeting the murdered director, Ana Charle, last year, he pleaded with DHS to improve security at the shelter. He added that the center has been responsible for 1,000 911 calls.

“It’s outrageous that DHS’ response to this situation has been to go ahead and start work on the Muller Center across the street, bringing in another 200 beds,” Mr. Cohen said. “We need to be heard as a community, that we need facilities that make sense, that can be managed safely and not exposing the community and not providing the appropriate resources to manage those facilities.”

While the elected officials spoke, dozens of people stood outside the Project Renewal Shelter with their arms linked. A coalition of shelters and other service providers called Homeless Services United organized their own demonstration.

A religious leader on the board of Homeless Services rejected calls to close the Bronx Boulevard Shelter.

“Sound policy isn’t made in reaction to tragedy,” said Father Michael Callaghan. “It has to come out of thoughtfulness and dialogue. It has to come out of study and reflection. It has to come out of willingness to collaborate. We want to do all of those things.”

Klein for majority leader?

With Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos arrested on corruption charges on Monday, Albany is teeming with speculation on who his successor might be. Mr. Skelos might avoid voluntarily stepping down from his leadership position, unlike Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who earlier this year resigned as Assembly leader amid corruption charges. Still, discussion on a possible successor to Mr. Skelos has centered on fellow Long Island Republican John J. Flanagan and the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate, Tom Libous.

At least one state senator says the Bronx’s own Jeff Klein, who co-ruled the Senate with Mr. Skelos during the session that ended last year, could be the next majority leader.

“It will be practically impossible for Republicans to keep the majority of seats in the Senate because Hillary Clinton will help Democrats to obtain the vast majority of Senate seats,” Bronx state Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. wrote of 2016 elections in his latest e-mail newsletter.

“The only way — with the scandal of Dean Skelos and the power of Hillary Clinton in play — for the Republicans to keep power is to name Jeff Klein the Leader of the Senate,” he continued. “This will keep the IDC’s five Democrats supporting the Republicans to control the Senate,” he said in reference to Mr. Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference, which currently has a coalition with Senate Republicans.

With Senate Democrats furious at Mr. Klein for allying with Republicans this year, even though he made a campaign promise to form an IDC-Democrat coalition last fall, Mr. Díaz’s missive is no doubt a back-handed compliment. Mr. Klein did not immediately answer an inquiry about the idea of becoming Senate leader.

However, he issued a statement saying, “The allegations outlined in the complaint against Senator Skelos are serious and disturbing… The burden now falls on the Republican Conference to determine if new Republican Leadership is warranted. The Independent Democratic Conference believes that it is our duty to continue the people’s business in spite of these developments and regain the people’s trust.”

After an initial report that Mr. Skelos was under investigation for allegedly taking official steps to help an Arizona company that employed his son, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said, “It’s upsetting whenever we read anything like this.”

“Given the recent history in the Assembly with our former speaker, it’s very upsetting that we may be dealing with another one of the leaders that’s charged with a crime, and obviously that’s not a good thing,” he said in an April 27 phone interview.

Klein targets auto lenders

A new report from the IDC says high-interest rates, fraudulent loan applications and other predatory lending practices are rampant in the state’s auto industry.

Calling the situation for car loans “the subprime mortgage crisis reloaded,” Mr. Klein and the rest of his conference proposed 11 bills to reform the auto loan business.

The measures include lowering the maximum interest rate for loans from 16 to 10 percent for used vehicles costing over $7,000, making lenders liable for fraudulent loans, regulating advertising and banning “kill switches” that let lenders remotely turn off consumers’ cars.

“Lenders think that they could hoodwink us into believing that their bad behavior has stopped, but they’ve just shifted gears. Now lenders see that predatory subprime auto loans could be their next payday, but we in the New York State Senate are watching,” Mr. Klein said in a statement.

“We will pass legislation to get ahead of this practice before it becomes the next bubble to burst on the backs of hardworking New Yorkers,” he added.

Engel supporting same-sex marriage

Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel called on the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage while it is debating landmark cases over whether the Constitution guarantees marriage rights to couples with the same gender.

“Many states are stubbornly refusing to recognize and honor the enduring commitments of same-sex couples,” he said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to recognize what the Constitution says in plain English — that every American, no matter who they are or who they love, is entitled to the equal protection.”

“It is my hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to uphold the Constitutional protections promised to LGBT Americans,” concluded Mr. Engel, who signed an amicus brief urging the court to support same-sex marriage.

Asked about his record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, his office pointed to a day of silence he organizes every year for LGBT victims of discrimination and violence as well as his vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which aimed to let states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

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