How a City Hall Shooting Gave New York a Potential Attorney General

On the afternoon of July 23, 2003, New York City Councilmember James Davis escorted his onetime opponent Othniel Askew past metal detectors and into City Hall, explaining to colleagues: “This is the guy who was once against me, but now he’s with me.” At least one fellow councilmember, Charles Barron, was alarmed by Askew, put off by his rough handshake and intense stare. Davis, however, was unconcerned. “Don’t worry, Charles,” he said. “He’s a military guy. He’ll calm down soon.”

Shortly after, just after Davis left the council chamber balcony, where he’d been talking with city employees about a proposed resolution about workplace violence, Askew pulled out a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and opened fire, shooting off as many as fourteen rounds. At least two of those bullets struck Davis in the chest, killing him. Askew kept shooting even after Davis had collapsed. One witness, seated in the public gallery just a few feet from the attack, was struck by Askew’s stillness as he fired, telling the Times: “He looked very serious, and he didn’t even move.”

James Davis’s murder had a lasting impact on New York City, and not just because Mayor Bloomberg immediately banned anyone from bypassing the metal detectors at the City Hall gates. It also helped launch the political career of the woman who is hoping this fall to be elected New York’s attorney general: Letitia James, the current Public Advocate for the City of New York.

While multiple Democratic candidates are running in the September primary — notably former gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout, but also upstate Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and former Hillary Clinton advisor Leecia Eve — James has several advantages over her opponents. She captured 85 percent of the delegate vote during the party’s convention in May, and Governor Andrew Cuomo and several powerful labor unions have endorsed her, making her the favorite to move on to the November general election.

And yet, for all of James’s accomplishments — graduate of Howard University law school, attorney at the Legal Aid Society, head of then–Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s Brooklyn office, chair of the Economic Development and Sanitation committees — she might never have made it to this enviable position if not for Davis’s tragic death.


In 2001, three favorites were vying for the Brooklyn city council seat held by the long-serving Mary Pinkett, who was prohibited from running again because of term limits: James, then a Spitzer official; Davis, a former cop and minister; and Peter Williams, then the director of housing and community development for the National Urban League.

The pugnacious, charismatic Davis edged James by a slim margin, rankling Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman Jr. and the rest of the party machine. Davis rode to the victory largely on the strength of a platform to quell violence in Crown Heights and its environs.

It’s unclear exactly how well Othniel Askew and Davis knew each other prior to that fateful July afternoon two years later. But something was deeply amiss in Askew’s mind. In 1996, he had attacked his partner, Mario Romero, with a hammer, hospitalizing him. Askew later pled guilty to harassment, and orders of protection were issued against him. Still, by 2002, Askew had grand plans to unseat Davis, criminal history be damned.

Askew’s political ambitions got off to a rocky start. He failed to collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary, botching his chance to establish his candidacy.

Angry about being rebuffed, Askew embarked on a farcical campaign to unseat Davis, barging into his meetings and demanding that he sign a letter naming Askew his successor should he ever vacate his position. Asked by reporters about Askew, Davis replied that he’d never heard of him. Yet the former cop had evidently done some recon on this aggressive new irritant, and was well aware of Askew’s arrest record. In a call to the FBI hours before the shooting, Askew accused Davis of pressuring him to drop his city council ambitions by threatening to expose his past crimes. (Davis’s supporters denied this.)

Moments after killing Davis, Askew was shot by Officer Richard Burt, a plainclothes officer who drew his own weapon and fired from the chamber floor. He fired six shots and hit Askew at least five times, causing Askew’s body to crumple on top of Davis’s in the front row of the balcony. The moments that followed were complete pandemonium.

“People were falling down the stairs,” one witness told the Daily News. “Everybody was going crazy trying to get out of there.”

Both men were taken to NYU Downtown Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.


The killing reopened a wound in a fairly recent post–9/11 city, and certainly succeeded in tightening security at City Hall. But amid the shock and horror, there remained a pragmatic question that nagged for an answer: Who would fill Davis’s seat?

After her bitter loss to Davis, James had wasted little time dwelling on her loss, enrolling in Columbia University’s Public Administration masters program while working as an aide to Rep. Roger Green. But when the 35th District seat was left vacant, she immediately launched another campaign, backed this time by the Working Families Party. For WFP’s part, James represented an opportunity to bolster its City Council influence by electing a member on its own line. Yet even as James switched her registration, her ties to Norman, in addition to her time working for Spitzer and Green, still bound her tightly to the Democratic Party.

But now, James had a new problem: Davis’s brother, Geoffrey, the director of an afterschool program affiliated with Medgar Evers College, announced just a week after the shooting that he’d be running to replace the slain councilmember, vowing to carry out his brother’s antiviolence agenda.

For a minute, it looked as though Geoffrey might ride the tide of his brother’s memory straight to council chambers. But it turned out that Geoffrey had a rap sheet, which included convictions for soliciting a prostitute and nonpayment of child support.

Geoffrey began lashing out at the opposition. A month before the general election, two volunteers for James filed a complaint against Geoffrey with the NYPD, saying he threatened them while they waited for the subway. In a signed statement, the volunteers alleged that Davis approached them shouting, “I should fuck you up right here,” among other obscenities, the Daily News reported at the time. Davis’s mother, who was present at the time, allegedly told her son to stop menacing volunteers, to which he reportedly replied, “Shut the fuck up. Didn’t I tell you to stay out of my … business?”

“It was a terrifying experience. He was very angry,” one of the victims told the Daily News.

James, meanwhile, kept her head down and her image out of the tabloids — a tactic that ultimately worked. On November 4, 2003, James defeated Geoffrey Davis in a landslide win, netting 76 percent of the vote. In October 2013, James defeated Daniel Squadron in a runoff election to earn the Democratic nomination for Public Advocate. She ran unopposed by a Republican candidate in the general election and secured 83 percent of the vote.

When news broke that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had abused at least four women, Twitter was immediately aflame with politicians calling for his resignation. James’s account, however, was silent. A little over a week later, she announced her candidacy.


New Law Hasn’t Stopped Anti-Abortion “Pregnancy Centers” From Misleading Women

Just across the street from the Planned Parenthood facility in the Bronx, an enormous yellow banner stretches across several storefronts. “Unplanned Pregnancy?” it asks in giant block letters. “Plan Your Parenthood!”

The banner belongs to an organization called Expectant Mother Care Frontline, and its proximity to Planned Parenthood is no accident. Like other centers of its kind, EMC, as it’s widely known, has for three decades targeted pregnant women seeking a doctor’s guidance — and potentially an abortion — by posing as a medical clinic, offering factually incorrect and often dangerous information in the process. And so far, there’s been little the city has been able to do to stop them.

“We’ve had patients that are on their way to come to us mistakenly go there and ask if they’re at Planned Parenthood, and they were told by someone there, yes,” says Elizabeth Adams, Planned Parenthood New York’s director of government relations. One woman, believing she was in a Planned Parenthood, says Adams, was shocked when EMC Frontline counselors told her an abortion would cause her to “bleed out and fall into a coma.”

More than a dozen such “crisis pregnancy centers” are in operation around New York City, though they’re much more common upstate and in other parts of the country. There are an estimated 4,000 of these centers nationwide, versus around 2,000 abortion providers.

In 2013, the state attorney general launched an investigation into EMC’s practices, concluding that the center “may be engaged in the unauthorized practice of medicine.” But it wasn’t until 2016 that the city finally passed legislation requiring all crisis pregnancy centers to make clear that they are not medical clinics. Specifically, the law stipulates that all advertisements promoting the centers’ services must say, in English and Spanish, “This facility does not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services,” in large, clear type. Failure to do so will theoretically result in a fine from the Department of Consumer Affairs ranging to $200 to $1,000 on the first offense, with succeeding violations ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Health advocates applauded passage of the law — the result of a years-long pitched battle against anti-abortion organizers. The trouble, though, is that enforcement has yet to get off the ground, says Danielle Castaldi-Micca, political director of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

[related_posts post_id_1=”364881″ /]

The Department of Consumer Affairs has two methods for monitoring the practices of crisis pregnancy centers, Castaldi-Micca explains. The first is to add a center to its general enforcement rounds, with inspectors dropping by to ensure that a location is hewing to a list of predetermined standards. No crisis pregnancy centers have been added to that list as of yet, and DCA could not offer a time frame for when they would be.

The other method of enforcement is for individuals to lodge their complaints with 311. Unfortunately, says Castaldi-Micca, the system still has some glitches, though NIRH is working with the city to get them fixed. “We know that complaints have been made from both online and by calling 311, and they haven’t gotten to Consumer Affairs,” she says. “There’s currently a breakdown that needs to get resolved.”

Asked whether DCA has investigated or fined any of the centers to date, an agency spokesperson said only that “fake pregnancy service centers that prey on women at one of the most vulnerable points in their lives have no place in NYC,” adding that DCA is investigating “a number of locations related to this law.”

In the meantime, these centers continue to collect clients, and funds. Earlier this year, it was disclosed that Queens city councilmember Peter Koo had donated at least $24,000 in council discretionary funds to a center in Flushing called Bridge to Life, which says it offers services like pregnancy tests, maternity clothing, and baby items to mothers in need. It also recently made an effort to open a location near Planned Parenthood’s Long Island City location — something Bridge to Life executive director Virginia Gallo initially denied to the Voice, though she conceded the matter after it was pointed out that the center’s newsletter mentioned that the organization was searching for nearby real estate “to bring our story of hope and compassion to women seeking abortions at the new Planned Parenthood.”

Gallo insists she has not tried to talk women specifically out of getting abortions. “Sometimes a woman with an unplanned pregnancy does not realize she has choices,” she said. She claims she does not advertise as a medical facility, and that her center’s signage is compliant with the law. (Images sent by both Planned Parenthood and Gallo reveal that Bridge to Life does not use the required language, the font they use is not the correct size, and the signage is not posted on each entrance as required by the new law.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”560227″ /]

Asked whether he was aware that he was supporting an organization that failed to comply with DCA’s requirements, Koo wrote to the Voice that “These allegations are deeply troubling as full disclosure of services is required by law. I intend to look into them to ensure compliance and to ensure all women and families in our community have access to post-natal and reproductive health services.”

But advocacy groups take particular issue with EMC Frontline, which operates in three locations around the city. “We’ve heard some really gruesome stories from our patients, particularly things they were told that were really medically inaccurate — what abortions are, what they do, and the impact they can have on your health — to a scary degree,” says Planned Parenthood’s Adams. In some instances, she charges, a center will offer a woman a sonogram (for which a doctor is not necessary) and intentionally misdate the woman’s due date, which can then lead to her missing the window for an abortion.

Chris Slattery, who runs EMC Frontline, acknowledges to the Voice that the center has made “mistakes” in sonogram dates. “No one would do that intentionally,” he says, but adds, “Whether there have been mistakes made over the years, it’s possible.” He said he has told women that they can obtain an abortion up to their ninth month of pregnancy in New York — misinformation that can lead to women delaying their decisions until abortion is no longer an option.

As for whether he intentionally opens locations near Planned Parenthoods, Slattery says, “There’s no law against locating near abortion clinics.” Nowhere on EMC’s website are any of the required disclosures made, but Slattery insists that those requirements do not apply to him, since he claims to have medical personnel on site when performing procedures like ultrasounds.

For now, pro-choice organizations are doing what they can to mitigate the damage these centers are causing. “Their attempts to say they are not doing any harm have proven to be completely untrue,” says Adams. “New Yorkers deserve to have safe and timely access to the full range of high quality reproductive and sexual care, and that includes abortion. The tactics of delaying people’s access to care and confusing them have real implications.”


Art Historians Say NYC’s Offensive Statues Should Be Annotated, Not Removed

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a review of New York City’s controversial statues, declaring in a post-Charlottesville fervor that all “symbols of hate” would need to be scrutinized by a committee if they want to maintain their place in public spaces.

De Blasio may have tossed off the announcement in hopes of accruing quick plaudits from voters happy to see New York living up to its progressive reputation. But the matter of decreeing who stays and who goes has not been nearly as easy as de Blasio might have hoped. Now a new debate has been spurred: What exactly is the best way to handle monuments to personages with a history of racism, sexism, or oppression — most notably, the massive pillar topped by Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle — that are nevertheless woven tightly into the city’s fabric?

Backtracking from his initial impassioned tweets that monuments could start coming down soon, the mayor was quick to come up with the alternate proposal of affixing explanatory plaques to some problematic statues.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding of what options could be utilized,” the mayor told reporters. “There’s more than one way to address this. I don’t think anyone should leap to any conclusions. They should see how this commission does its work and what it presents.”

Many local art historians say it’s not the worst idea, arguing that contextualizing the sculptures is a far better solution than removal. Michele Bogart, an art history professor at Stony Brook University and author of Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930, tells the Voice that adding accompanying signage could offer crucial historical explanations for how the statues got there in the first place, and perhaps “enable people to challenge certain histories without having to deny them.”

Bogart argues that nearly every statue has an interesting origin story, and that it’s important to remember that the works are not “inert objects.”

“I see them as part of a process that ends in this sculpture but that has an afterlife as well, as we’re seeing now,” she says.

[related_posts post_id_1=”561811″ /]

The 76-foot-tall marble monument supporting a likeness of Columbus, for example, was erected in 1892 with funds raised by a New York–based Italian newspaper in commemoration of the four hundreth anniversary of Columbus conquering the Americas. But Bogart says the statue’s meaning has evolved with time. Whereas before Columbus was largely ignored by passersby, people have started to think about why the statue is there and how it figures into American life today. Rather than take it down, why not use the opportunity to engage in a conversation?

“My belief is you need to learn to deal with these contradictions and complexities in modern life,” says Bogart. “There’s something to offend everybody. And so we can remove everything, which is really what it kind of boils down to. ”

Harriet Senie, the director of art museum studies at the City College of New York, agrees with Bogart that context is key.

“We don’t want to get caught up in a presentist state of mind where we think that everything we believe now is the gospel,” she said.

De Blasio has yet to announce the members of his commission, though a spokesperson said that more information will be available in “the very near future.” Once appointed, the committee will be taking nominations about which works to review.

Last week, Columbia University history professor and candidate for New York City Public Advocate candidate David Eisenbach unveiled his proposal to divide Columbus Circle into a trio of educational “plazas,” featuring panels detailing, according to DNAinfo, “Columbus’s bloody conquests, his exploits with slavery, and the symbol he has since become for Italian Americans.”

“The idea is involving these three sections of the circle, what you can actually do is tell the story of Columbus’s legacy, the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he told the outlet.

But what about those who would rather not walk by a symbol of oppression each day at all? After all, some monuments, like the two plaques honoring Robert E. Lee in Brooklyn, were disappeared without debate. Senie says to her, the physical location of the statues matters.

“I would certainly say the site frames the content,” she said. “If it’s at City Hall, that’s a different place than if it’s in Columbus Circle.”

Like Bogart, Senie also wonders where it’s appropriate to draw the line. “When you say, ‘Should it stay or should it go?’ — that’s a very divisive kind of a question,” she says. “I think what we do with these sculptures is very, very important, and I think that they can be used in a constructive way.”


Plug-In Promises to Show You How Crappy That StreetEasy Apartment Listing Really Is

Renting an apartment in New York is invariably a game of roulette. A place may look great from the outside — central heating and exposed brick, you say?! — but then it quickly falls to pieces once you’ve moved in.

A new feature from the apartment listings site Rentlogic is aiming to give renters a heads-up about apartment woes before they’ve hung all the pictures and plants. The site’s original plan, to take city housing violation reports and provide letter grades like the health ratings issued to city restaurants, earned positive media coverage when it launched last year.

But Rentlogic CEO Yale Fox soon found that landlords weren’t eager to have their listings on a site that might give them a low grade — Citi Habitats pulled its listings after just eight days — and realized that apartment hunters aren’t necessarily inclined to toggle back and forth between his site’s ratings and rental listing sites like StreetEasy and RentHop. So Rentlogic is working around the problem with a new browser plug-in launching today that lets apartment seekers have their ratings and eat them too.

The Rentlogic plug-in, which works on Chrome, Firefox, or Opera browsers (Internet Explorer and Safari are coming soon), is intuitive and easy to use: Once installed, it opens a small Rentlogic pop-up window that floats over your choice of two hundred of the city’s most commonly used listings sites — though not Craigslist, whose listings often don’t even include addresses. And because it relies on city violations data, only dire issues tend to show up — I entered the addresses of several New York City apartments I’ve lived in over the years and all had received A ratings, despite the fact that in some cases, my experiences were only a B- at best. (If a landlord drops below a B rating from Rentlogic, I would run for the hills.)

Fox tells the Voice that the vast majority of listings sites get their information from brokers, who are disinclined to reveal an apartment’s flaws. By marrying the apartment’s data with its rating, Rentlogic hopes to provide a level playing field: “We don’t want to sway too close to landlords, and we don’t want to sway too far toward tenants.”

Fox launched Rentlogic after experiencing a series of housing nightmares that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever dealt with the chaos of the New York City rental market. In one case, Fox leased an apartment from the notorious — and now jailed — landlord Steve Croman, whose reign of terror covered 140 buildings across the city. The problems at Fox’s West Village building weren’t minor: Shortly after moving in, he (and his dog) began experiencing health problems that turned out to be caused by an abundance of mold sprouting in his swanky new pad. In another case, a $4,000-a-month apartment in Hell’s Kitchen turned out to be in “the most unbelievable state of disrepair for a building that was only a few years old.” The landlord demanded that he pay to have it cleaned himself, and balked when he tried to navigate his way out of the lease.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get completely fleeced,” Fox says.

Fox emphasizes that Rentlogic isn’t simply out to crucify landlords: One mold violation, for instance, isn’t going to tank a rating, though multiple will. He compared a landlord’s relationship to violations to a driver who got a speeding ticket: “If you do it once, are you really a speeder? Not necessarily. But if you’re getting a speeding ticket every month?”

And as much as Rentlogic helps identify bad landlords, it also helps highlight the good ones, of which there are many. Without easily accessible ratings, he says, “there’s no positive enforcement for being a good landlord. There are a couple of bad ones that ruin it for the whole industry.”


The Macabre History of Central Park’s Waters

The year 2017 has truly been a prolific time for bodies surfacing in the waters of Central Park. Two were recovered by authorities within days of each other in May — one was pulled from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir; another from Swan Lake. Two bodies is strange, so when the third corpse was hauled from the Conservancy Pond in June, it was unprecedented. 

Of the three, only one has been identified by police. Anthony McAfee, 36, was pulled from the lake after his body washed up on the shore on May 10. His ID was found in the pocket of his pants, and his body suffered no apparent signs of trauma. Authorities estimate he’d been in the water for no more than two weeks.

The park has been the site of numerous deaths over the years, but rarely do these unhappy victims wind up in the water itself. This is thanks in part to precautions taken by the city, like the eight-foot-tall fence surrounding the reservoir, originally implemented to protect New York’s drinking water from polluting elements, but serving the dual purpose of protecting people from themselves.

Rare as they are, deaths in Central Park are far from new. Here’s an exhaustive list of every documented case I could locate, stretching all the way back to 1884.

“The Body Found in the Reservoir” (February 27, 1884)

This fellow had been in the water for around a month at the time he was discovered, though the article the covered the death in the New York Times contends that “the face is in no way disfigured,” and that “any friend of the dead man would have no trouble in identifying it.” It was suspected at one point that the body belonged to Mr. Carl Sturz, but no, that was a false alarm.

“His Income Too Small: Oliver Perry Lewis Prefers Death to Poverty” (April 26, 1889)

Man, these early Times reporters could really set a scene:

“A young man with handsome features and soft, brown mustache, whose evening dress suit was covered with a dark top coat of fine material, and whose feet were incased in patent leather dancing shoes, walked up to the railing around the reservoir in Central Park yesterday morning at 10:30 o’clock, and, stopping for a moment, gazed over the placid waters. He then carefully removed the top coat, showing a buttonhole bouquet of roses in the lapel of his dress coat, and a light colored vest. Placing the coat as as well his [sic] black derby hat on the railing, he climbed upon the railing and, walking down to the water’s edge, stepped into the water.”

Imagine reading this stuff every day.

“Found in a Central Park Reservoir After Stern & Co.’s Failure” (October 25, 1894)

This unfortunate man’s death was buried under details about his failed business venture. The report points out that aside from the demise of his wholesale firm, Louis S. Stern had appeared to be in good spirits when he left the house, but his body was found in the Central Park Reservoir just a few hours later.

“Ignored Ethics of His Art: A Cook Committed Suicide in the City’s Drinking Water” (July 17, 1896)

“The man was apparently a German.”

“The Central Park Suicide: Mrs. Ethel Marie Reis the Woman Whose Body Was Found in the Reservoir” (May 12, 1897)

According to this story, Mrs. Ethel Marie Reis spent a lot of time with a mysterious man in his sixties known only as “the Professor.” This became a problem for the proprietor of the Brooklyn home in which Mrs. Reis lived, and eventually she said so, sending Mrs. Reis into such a spiral that she “moped in her room and refused to have a fire built.” That’s not to say that things with the Professor were great — apparently they quarreled quite a bit over their regular breakfasts at the Hotel St. George, so much so that Mrs. Reis frequently left her meal “untasted.” It was only a little while after the Professor was ordered away that Mrs. Reis’s body turned up in the reservoir.

Reporters for the Times were unable to determine the whereabouts of the Professor by press time, though they did say this about her funeral: “The dead woman, in her wildest and most emotional moments, could not have imagined a funeral as weird as hers really was.”

“Woman Dead in Reservoir: Body Supposed by Police to Be That of Suicide” (April 22, 1905)

The death of this woman earned only a few short inches in the Times when her body was found, just below the news of Mrs. Mackay running for the Roslyn School Board of Trustees.

“Woman Ends Life in Park Reservoir” (June 20, 1922)

This woman was seen pacing alongside the reservoir before jumping in, prompting a nearby police officer to jump in after her “without even stopping to remove his hat.” Unfortunately, she “sank at once.”

“Drowns Himself in Central Park: Man Had Spent Long Life Trying to Write Poetry and Plays, Says His Friend” (July 20, 1925)

“Almost penniless and convinced he was a victim of heart disease, although his doctor had assured him his heart was normal,” begins this entry, which details the death of Stephen R. Bernheimer, a once-wealthy man whose family lost its fortune during the Black Friday financial panic of 1873.

Despite that setback, Bernheimer still received a good education, but eschewed a life as a businessman in favor of becoming a writer, a venture that proved unsuccessful.

. . . And suddenly, the deaths in the reservoir stop. This is almost certainly thanks to the installation of a taller fence in 1926, since the original was “sufficient to prevent anyone from accidentally falling into the reservoir, but did not prevent self-destruction,” as a Times story from that year put it. “Few months pass that police of the Arsenal Station in the park are not called upon to make a report of death by drowning in the reservoir.” As such, a ten-foot-tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire was installed somewhat controversially, but it was effective.

Unfortunately, there remain plenty of other, less protected bodies of water in the park, all of which have borne witness to a variety of other tragedies.

In 1984, the body of an unidentified woman in her fifties was found behind the boathouse at the park’s Conservatory Water, according to the Times. She was fully clothed, and while her body was free of apparent gunshot or knife wounds, she did have a plastic bag stuffed in her mouth. The boathouse had been burglarized the evening before, and three small fires had been set inside. Members of the Central Park Model Yacht Club were trying to determine how the burglars had entered the building when they came across the body.

In 1995, the Daily News reported that a “stunned jogger watched an unidentified man neatly fold his clothes, climb the ten-foot fence that surrounds the reservoir, and dive in.” A police sergeant told the paper that the man swam around 150 yards before diving under the water. He never reappeared. It took four NYPD and four FDNY divers to eventually locate his body, which was resting on the reservoir’s bottom roughly 30 feet below the surface.

Two years later, in 1997, another body would be dredged from the reservoir, this one heavily publicized thanks to the bizarre circumstances of how it wound up there.

Daphne Abdela and Christopher Vasquez were both 15 when they brutally murdered 44-year-old real estate broker Michael McMorrow, stabbing him dozens of times before disemboweling him and hurling his body into the lake. Abdela, the city’s newspapers seemed delighted to report, was a grungy, aggressive teen with rich parents who had taken to drinking beer in the park with a ragtag group of other outcasts. Vasquez, who was from a working-class family, was diagnosed early in life with agoraphobia, and tended to be reticent around other kids. The connection the two shared was a mystery to their friends, who often found Abdela’s boisterousness obnoxious and Vasquez’s guarded nature creepy.

One night, their regular park revelries led them to cross paths with McMorrow, whom Abdela recognized from her time in rehab. What happened next is somewhat unclear, though by the teens’ own accounts, a confrontation occurred after McMorrow kissed the much younger Abdela in the park’s gazebo, sending Vasquez into a jealous rage that led him to attack McMorrow with a knife. Abdela told authorities that she joined in the assault, kicking McMorrow’s feet out from under him. His mangled body was pulled from the reservoir by authorities a short time later, and both Abdela and Vasquez were convicted of manslaughter and served six years in jail.

In 1998, the body of a man who was believed to have committed suicide was found floating in the reservoir, the Daily News reported. The outlet, which did not identify the man, said that his shoes were spotted on the jogging path around the corner from the reservoir. Police took this to mean that the man had removed his shoes, climbed the reservoir’s chain link fence, and “accidentally fell in or committed suicide.”

In 2002, the body of a schizophrenic woman named Rosemary Murray was found floating in the park’s Harlem Meer. According to Newsday, “her frail body was pulled from the waters” by a parks department worker who “mistook the homeless woman for garbage.” Newsday claimed to be the only outlet to report the woman’s death at the time, and later expanded upon it in a longer feature exploring the sad tale of her life and, eventually, death.

A good student with a talent for art, Murray was once on track to lead a happy life. She was engaged to be married and was enjoying her first glimmers of success as an artist, having won a grant from the parks department to exhibit her paintings in their offices and other locations around the city.

While Murray had long exhibited signs of schizophrenia, it wasn’t until she was an adult that the illness really took hold. Her downfall, her mother told Newsday, seemed all but unavoidable. As the power of the voices in her head grew, Murray left her job as an art therapist and broke off her engagement.

“She couldn’t handle the responsibility of being married,” her mother said. “And she said she could never have any children because she didn’t want her kids to have what she did. She just kept hearing voices inside her head. They would tell her to do things or talk to each other.”

Murray’s condition continued to deteriorate. Her parents attempted to register her in an outpatient clinic, but she often skipped her therapy sessions. Before long she was homeless, having one day packed up her things and thrown them in the trash before simply walking out of her apartment and never returning. Her parents saw her only intermittently before her death, and neither they nor the police suspect foul play. Her mother posits that Murray had simply bent toward the Meer’s water for a drink and fallen in.

“She used to drink water from the curb because that’s what the voices in her head told her to do,” her mother said. “That’s how powerful the voices were.”

In 2014, the body of 22-year-old Aronno Haque, who had gone missing while visiting family in the city, was found in the park’s lake by the NYPD’s scuba team. A bag of his things was found near the lake’s shores, and his death was ruled a suicide.

In 2015, 27-year-old Taiquan Collier jumped into the park’s reservoir one September afternoon. First responders arrived at the scene and pulled him from the water, but he could not be saved.


Starbucks’ New Italian Bakery Opening in Former Red Hook Ship Repair Terminal

A Starbucks-owned Italian bakery is opening in Red Hook in the former Golten Marine machine shop, a nice metaphor for a neighborhood that, if developers get their way, will soon resemble Battery Park City.

Princi, a Milan-based chain in which Starbucks invested last year, will open an 18,000-square-foot mega-center at 160 Van Brunt Street. Despite its cavernous size, the space will not be open to the public, at least not immediately. Instead, it will act as a base of operations for goods to be sold at Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery, a three-year-old “coffee experience” that one can investigate in disgusting detail here. The Reserve Roastary currently operates in Seattle, with plans to expand to Manhattan next year and Chicago in 2019.

Prior to its new life pumping out artisan-baked breads, the hangar served as a ship repair shop, where mechanics spent long, grease-covered hours rebuilding engines and drive systems for watercraft from around the world. But as the number of ships docking in New York Harbor began to peter out in the Nineties, things began looking bleak for Golten as well.

According to the Red Hook Star-Revue, the area enjoyed huge amounts of ship traffic in the Seventies, with around 120 vessels docking daily. By the time the facility closed in 2014, that number had dwindled to just 13 ships per day on average. Engineers from around the world who had spent decades working in the shop on Van Brunt Street, which opened in 1945, were crushed by its closing. “I’m devastated. When you spend 42 years here, that’s all your best years. Now it’s over,” said Ivo Sisic, who served as Golten’s general manager at the time.

The bakery will open just up the street from a shiny new Tesla dealership, and several other mega-projects loom on the horizon. On Richards Street, Thor Equities is threatening a 7.7-acre office and retail development atop the location of a former sugar refinery, though it has yet to secure permits from the Department of Buildings. Thor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans for the site.

The Italian firm Est4te Four also had plans for a 1.1 million–square-foot development called Red Hook Innovation Studios, though that project seems to have hit a wall. The Star-Revue reports that the developer sold five of its waterfront properties to a private equity company for around $110 million in May, and that some of the warehouses will now house e-retailer distribution centers. 

Est4te does continue to own property at 160 Imlay Street, which it is converting into seventy luxury condos and ground-floor commercial space, as well as 202 Coffey Street, which it intends to make into a cultural programming space.


Albany’s ‘Extraordinary Session’ Ends With Ordinary Dysfunction

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the state assembly passed an omnibus bill containing a jumble of legislation that failed to make the cut before the state government’s session officially ended last week. It passed the senate on Thursday afternoon (after being briefly held hostage by Brooklyn state senator Simcha Felder) and was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo during a press conference. 

Among the loose ends tied up was the extension of mayoral control over New York City schools, which would otherwise expire tomorrow, as well as a three-year extension on various local taxes in Lower Manhattan. Lots of essential legislation — speed cameras, universal healthcare, additional MTA funding, basic rights for female New Yorkers — was left on the cutting room floor, but at least Cuomo’s father will be the namesake of the new Tappan Zee Bridge!

“He would say, ‘I don’t want a bridge named after me,’ ” the governor told reporters at the press conference, explaining that the elder Cuomo often pooh-poohed such frivolous acts of vanity.

Cuomo said that while the special session was initially called to extend mayoral control over schools, other state agenda items were appended as the session convened. Many would argue that the issue of mayoral control and the tax extenders should have been prioritized in the regular session, and that nonsense like the bridge need not have been addressed at all. (Cuomo’s office explicitly said it was not on the table for discussion, but life comes at you fast.)

“The bill and the whole special session epitomizes the dysfunction of the state legislative process,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “It’s little wonder people feel their government is about politicians serving their own interests first.”

Once the bill was signed, the press seized the opportunity to ask about the future of the MTA, after Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the agency this morning and pledged an extra $1 billion toward its resuscitation. Cuomo’s only action prior to Tuesday’s A train derailment had been to propose legislation to add more seats to the MTA board in order to “control it,” which he already does.

“I think control is control,” he said today. “Six seats is not control. If you really want to make a dramatic change, it’s hard to build consensus.”

He also quashed the idea of a tax as a viable revenue stream for the agency, saying that it’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled state senate would be on board.

“The local governments have all heard my position, which is that we should put in more money,” he said.

Asked whether there was a future for congestion pricing, Cuomo was doubtful. “It’s a nice idea, but it’s been talked about for years, and it was very controversial and didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “I don’t see any change in the political appetite.”


A Train Derails In Harlem, Injuring Dozens

Dozens of people were injured during an A train derailment in Harlem on Tuesday morning, with passengers reportedly experiencing a “huge bang” followed by several minutes of darkness and smoke.

According to the FDNY, the “possible derailment” occurred at West 123rd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue around 9:45 a.m. Firefighters responded to a smoke condition and as of 10:45 a.m. were still on the scene. A spokesperson told the Voice that the three injured passengers were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. As for everyone else:

One passenger, Carrie Courogen, told DNAinfo that “we were going fast and all of a sudden I felt this big bump, like it went up in the air and rocked side to side in the air, off the tracks. I flew up onto my seat and onto the ground. It came to a screeching halt. We saw sparks. It smelled so bad, like burnt rubber.” She added that several people tried to pry open windows or doors to escape.

This incident is the latest in an increasingly galling series of catastrophes for the MTA. Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the man primarily responsible for allowing New York City’s public transit to crumble, proposed legislation to add more seats to the MTA board in order for the state to better control the MTA — which it already does. Cuomo’s absurd contortions struck most observers as ineffectual politicking amid a very real, very drastic problem. As John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, said in a statement:

“Governor Cuomo’s MTA board proposal obscures the very real fact that the governor already controls the MTA.”

“The governor appoints the MTA chair, the governor appoints the most board members, the governor dictates MTA spending priorities, and the governor dominates the state budget and legislative negotiations that determine how the MTA does its job. In practice, can the governor point to any situation in which other MTA board members have teamed up to block his initiatives?”

As of 11:34 a.m., the governor has not issued a statement on the derailment.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s Joe Lhota is on the scene, probably already regretting his decision to rejoin the agency.

Update, 1:12: p.m.: According to Lhota, the train’s emergency brake was activated, which caused the train to sail off the tracks. He did not give a reason for why the brake was pulled.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 34 people were being treated for minor injuries, and 17 were taken to nearby hospitals.

Image at top via Dr. Kirk A. James/Twitter


Time Is Running Out For NY Lawmakers To Guarantee Basic Women’s Rights

Wednesday is the final day of New York’s legislative session, and lawmakers are making their final pushes to pass bills before they adjourn for the year. With President Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress dedicated to slashing as many Obama-era protections as they can, New Yorkers — particularly women — are more anxious than ever to see laws passed that will ensure our basic rights in the event of disaster.

While there are many worthwhile bills that will surely wither and die in the Republican-controlled state senate, here’s a list of the most vital to female New Yorkers.

The Reproductive Health Act

Contrary to widespread belief, New York’s abortion rights lag far behind those of most other states. Though the law legalizes abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, it doesn’t offer adequate protections to providers performing those procedures, meaning most of them simply choose not to perform them. The Reproductive Health Act would essentially update New York’s abortion laws to bring them into accordance with Roe v. Wade. While this legislation has been drifting around the state government for years, Trump’s erratic nature has renewed the need for strong laws in New York in the horrific event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. It’s a big deal.

This bill is currently being debated in the senate’s Health Committee.

The Comprehensive Contraception Act

The Trump administration is well on its way to rolling back a protection that requires employers to offer insurance plans that include free access to birth control, meaning costs for emergency contraception could spike to a prohibitive degree.

This bill would require insurers to provide coverage for contraception, including birth control, emergency contraception, and sterilization procedures.

This bill is currently being debated by the Insurance Committee.

The “Boss” Bill

Being a woman is truly a double-edged sword. In the eyes of many Republicans, abortion should be restricted and birth control shouldn’t be a basic right — but if you do get pregnant, prepare to suffer the consequences at your job.

The so-called Boss Bill would prohibit employers from accessing an employee’s personal information regarding her reproductive decision making, or imposing any requirements that would meddle with the employee’s right to make whatever reproductive choices she wants. The bill would also require that employers make it explicitly clear that their employees can do whatever they’d like with their bodies, and would penalize any who don’t.

This bill has been passed by the senate’s Labor Committee and referred to the Insurance Committee.

Feminine Hygiene Products In Prisons

In New York’s prisons and jails, feminine hygiene products are perversely considered a luxury. As the New York Times reported in April, women’s periods are treated as an “inconvenience, almost a surprise,” to supervisors, with little by way of departmental policy on how to dole out tampons and pads. This bill would provide feminine hygiene products to women housed in state and local correctional facilities.

This bill unanimously passed the senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee and has been committed to the Rules Committee.

The Equal Rights Amendment

A broad-based bill that would extend equal rights to all New Yorkers, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or identity, or physical or mental disability.

This bill is being reviewed by the senate’s Judiciary Committee.

The Fair Pay Act

Women, as you know, make 80 cents for every dollar made by men. This bill would make that unlawful in New York. The Fair Pay Act would stipulate that it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate between employees on the basis of sex, race, and/or national origin by paying them different wages.

This bill has been referred to the senate’s Labor Committee.


Albany Republicans Kill The Child Victims Act

The Child Victims Act will not be voted on this legislative session, despite a monumental push from survivors and lawmakers, and even a program bill from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan confirmed to reporters yesterday that the bill was done for the year. “It’s under discussion, but the senate is not going to be taking that bill up,” he said.

Advocates of the CVA had high hopes that this would be the year the bill — a version of which has existed since 2006 — would finally get passed, particularly after one Republican, State Senator James Tedisco, signaled his support for it. Earlier this month, the legislation passed the state assembly for the first time since 2008, and last week Cuomo introduced his own version that matched the assembly’s.

The act, though, has powerful detractors. The Catholic Church has worked diligently to keep the bill from passing, fearing a deluge of costly lawsuits. The Boy Scouts of America shelled out $12,500 per month since February to the lobbying firm of a former state senator in an effort to have it killed.

The bill would have extended the time frame in which child victims of sexual abuse could either file a suit or bring charges against their tormentors. New York’s laws are currently among the most restrictive in the country, allowing survivors only until the age of twenty-three — five years past their eighteenth birthdays — to take some form of action.

[related_posts post_id_1=”557579″ /]

Survivors are understandably devastated that the bill has been scuttled yet again.

“I’m more than disappointed,” said Ana Wagner, who was abused for three years by her father’s best friend beginning when she was nine years old. “The justice system here just doesn’t make any sense.”

Wagner told the Voice that she’d traveled to Albany twice to appeal to Flanagan — not as an advocate for a piece of legislation, but as a parent worried about her children.

“He saw me in the hallway and looked the other way,” she said.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, the bill’s main sponsor, called Flanagan’s announcement “a crushing disappointment.”

“It’s mostly sad that it sends a message to New Yorkers that the government is not working for them,” he said. “Big money has trumped victims’ rights.” He added that while there’s some chance the issue may be resurrected in a special session, the reality is that it’s probably done for the year.

Despite attracting widespread media attention, the CVA was never discussed by members of the Republican-controlled senate in a public hearing. Then again, Hoylman pointed out that it did just pass its 54th bill on sex offenders, so “you can’t say the senate isn’t aware of the issue,” he said.

“I think it’s going to require more work on the part of everyone who cares about the issue to push it ahead next year,” he added.

Wagner said she’ll spend much of the day fielding inquiries from the media. “I wish we wouldn’t have to be talking to the press about this issue. I wish I could take my kids to the beach.” She worries for the children whose abusers will continue to walk free.

When asked whether she’d continue to lobby for the CVA’s passage, Wagner replied, “I don’t feel like I have a choice. But the only way is to get right back up.”