TIMELINES 6/13/13

Suffern Commons residents face eviction in late June
Residents of the three-story Suffern Commons apartment complex on Chestnut Street are worried they will be kicked out to make room for new buyers, according to the Journal News. The potential purchase came to light on May 23, when eviction notices were handed out to residents of the complex, most of whom are families and professionals. The notices stipulated residents were required to move out by June 30, though longer leases could potentially carry residents further than the 30th, depending on their terms. Rumors have circulated that the potential contract, which was confirmed by Village Attorney Terry Rice, was made with the Watchtower Society, the main governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The group has been seeking local housing for construction workers while they build a new world headquarters in Orange County and has already leased several local apartments, including eight in the Commons. Watchtower Society spokesman Richard Devine declined to confirm the contract, but stated that if they did have a housing agreement, the Society would be “very concerned about treating the tenants fairly and honoring their leases.”

Former “Walking Dead” actress arrested on suspicion of sending ricin letters
Actress Shannon Richardson, who played bit parts in television shows including “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries,” was arrested on suspicion of sending letters containing the deadly poison ricin to President Barack Obama and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month. Richardson approached law enforcement and explained she had found ricin-making components and a sticky note with mailing addresses for Obama and Bloomberg’s Washington gun-control group. Though she attributed the evidence to her husband, a failed polygraph test, inconsistencies in her story and the discovery that she had ordered some of the supplies led authorities to believe she engineered the plot. According to Tonda Curry, Richardson’s attorney, Richarsson had no intention of harming anybody, as it was anticipated the letters would be screened before reaching addressees. Richardson is believed to have designed the plot to frame her husband, with whom she was going through a divorce. No charges have been filed against the husband. The charges against Richarson could lead to a conviction of up to 10 years in prison.

Specialized Mobility Vehicles Added to TRIPS Bus Service
County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef announced on Tuesday that the Department of Public Transportation has secured funds for five MV-1 mobility vehicles, which will be purchased to replace older public transit pending legislative approval. The new vehicles will cost $45,984 each, bringing the total cost to $229,920. Funds will be provided in their entirety as part of an allocation of $21 million in state funds designated for public transportation systems. Another five MV-1 vehicles and 15 gas-powered cutaway buses are also slated for possible purchase later in 2013. The MV-1 is a unique vehicle in that it is the only one manufactured in accordance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. As such, it was designed specifically for the mobility community with input from both wheelchair-users and paratransit service providers and includes features such as extra wide access doors, automated entry ramps, and seating for three ambulatory passengers, one wheelchair-user, and one driver.

Pope Francis admits to existence of “Gay Lobby” in the Vatican
In a stunning announcement to the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women (CLAR), Pope Francis I confirmed that a “gay lobby” was at work inside the Vatican and referred to it as part of a “stream of corruption” which he wished to address through reform. “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned and it is true, it is there,” Francis explained. “We need to see what we can do.” The revelation came shortly after the completion of a secret report on a leak of Vatican documents which exposed pervasive corruption and is thought to implicate a small number of Vatican officials who might be susceptible to blackmail if uncovered. The report is also thought to address financial corruption within the church. The existence of gays in high-profile church positions has been rumored for years and may have been investigated by former pope Benedict XVI, but was only publically-confirmed with Francis’ public statement. Francis seemed to indicate during the meeting that he would mostly entrust others with administrative matters and would likely rely on officials such as a recently-appointed eight member commission on curial reform to explore possible changes in the church.

Hepatitis C testing bill passes through NY Assembly
State Legislator Ken Zebrowski (D – New City) announced on Tuesday that landmark legislation requiring healthcare providers to offer a one-time test for Hepatitis C to those born between 1945 and 1965 had passed through the State Assembly and is now headed for the Senate. The legislation aims to curb the spread of Hepatitis C by focusing on identifying the infection in Baby Boomers, who make up a large subset of infected persons. Testing for Hepatitis C in blood donations only began in 1992, meaning that many Boomers ate unknowingly infected due to blood transfusions and organ transplants. “Many people in this birth cohort are completely unaware of their infection status and sometimes do not exhibit symptoms for decades,” Zebrowski, whose father was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1996, explained. “This simple one time test can potentially help save thousands of lives.” If the bill is passed, it will make New York the first state to require such testing.

$20 billion to be spent on NYC climate change preparations
In anticipation of potentially-catastrophic changes in climate, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg outlined a broad plan for protecting New York City’s 520 miles of coastline from storms and rising sea levels. The plan involves a wide array of 250 specific recommendations submitted in response to concerns raised after the impact of Hurricane Sandy and will include large infrastructure projects instituted in stages. Improvements would begin with barriers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan before continuing with alterations to strengthen the power grid, hospitals, and older buildings which require retrofitting. Included with the proposal are also plans to raise public funds to finance the projects. In total, the plan will cost $20 billion over the course of several years, though the far-reaching and preliminary nature of the means this figure is not likely to remain fixed. About half of this cost would come from federal and city money which had already been allocated, while another $5 billion would be covered by other federal aid appropriations.

First Newspaper printing of Declaration of Independence to be Auctioned June 25 in NYC
A rare first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, which appeared in the July 6, 1776 edition of Benjamin Towne’s The Pennsylvania Evening Post, will be sold at auction on June 25 in New York City. The auction will take place as part of the Robert A. Siegel Galleries’ 50th Annual Rarities of the World sale, which is being held in conjunction with Seth Kaller, an expert on the authentication and appraisal of historic American documents and artifacts. Though Towne was the first to distribute the document via newspaper, it was actually the second mass printing of the document; the first was done by John Dunlap, who printed the official broadside on July 5, 1776. Where Towne’s printing follows the style of Thomas Jefferson, Dunlap’s more closely follows the style of John Adams. This has led experts to believe that there may have been two different versions of the July 4, 1776 manuscript. This rare first printing of the Declaration of Independence is expected to go for $500,000 to $750,000, plus a 15% auction buyer’s fee.

Orthodox Jews rally in the city against Israeli draft law
A rally at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan drew over 75,000 Orthodox Jews in an uncommon alliance between Chassidic and Lithuanian Yeshiva communities. The communities gathered to protest a recent decision to include Orthodox men in Israel’s mandatory military service. The recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court struck down student draft exemptions, which had been historically used by Orthodox youths in religious education programs to avoid service. Many Orthodox believe the purpose of the change is not to satisfy a need for more soldiers but to integrate the socially-separate Orthodox community into the greater Israeli society against their will. Attendant speakers decried the move as an attempt to undermine the Orthodox community and the Jewish religion as a whole, with Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel describing the move as “politically and ideologically motivated.” Rabbi Yaakov Weiss spoke out against the state of Israel as a whole, considering its establishment before the coming of the messiah as a violation of Jewish law. Many of the attendees were Rockland resident who had previously attended a rally against internet use at Pomona’s Boulder Stadium in May, though not all had explicitly espoused anti-Zionist sentiments as Weiss had done.

North Rockland Teen earns Navy scholarship
Honors student at North Rockland High School John Squillini was awarded a $180,000 scholarship from the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, a high honor for the future Navy serviceman. Squillini joined North’s Navy Junior Officers Training Corps and served as the unit’s commander in his senior year, during which he helped the unit win its highest ever designations as both Distinguished Unit and Most Improved Unit in the Northeast U.S. He now plans to attend Fordham University in the fall as a Navy-option midshipman and will be commissioned as an ensign in the Navy upon college graduation. The scholarship covers tuition, books, and other fees for attendance at a number of major universities. Squillini is one of 1,100 youths who won the award out of 6,500 applicants.

Lawsuits begin to roll out in response to NSA spying allegations
An existing lawsuit against Verizon and several federal officials was amended on June 10 to make it the first class-action suit against Verizon for turning over millions of American users’ records to the NSA. The suit, brought by Former Justice Department prosecutor Larry Klayman, targets companies for data misuse resulting from their involvement with PRISM, the NSA’s secret program to siphon information from the central servers of organizations including Google, Facebook, AOL, Apple, Microsoft, Paltalk, Skype, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn. The program came to light earlier in June when whistleblower and former NSA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked an NSA slideshow of the information to both The Guardian and The Washington Post. In addition to the amended lawsuit, several additional lawsuits are also in the works in response to the recent revelations. Among them are a planned suit by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) against Verizon and other companies associated with NSA intelligence programs and a second lawsuit by Klayman targeting other companies mentioned in the presentation and additional government officials. A suit was also filed by a Philadelphia couple who claims their phone records were targeted after they questioned the Obama Administration’s version of events associated with a 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan which killed their son, a Navy SEAL.

Nyack College explosion likely result of excavation damage
An investigation by Orange & Rockland revealed the explosion which rocked Nyack College on June 4 was likely a result of a faulty excavation which jostled a pipe and caused a gas leak. In a June 6 press release, Orange & Rockland explained a service pipe from a recently-excavated area was revealed to have been struck and pulled free from its connection to the gas main, allowing gas to build in storm and sewer drains under the Sky Island Lodge, the site of the explosion. The damage was consistent with use of excavation equipment such as a backhoe and the area over the pipe was found to have been recently-excavated, both adding further weight to the digging mishap theory. Additional pressure tests have shown no additional damage which could have caused the accident and the investigation remains focused on the excavated pipe. Police report that no criminal intent is believed to be behind the accident and no charges have been filed at this time.

Metro North faces delays due to summer repairs
Metro North riders will face crowded trips this summer as workers repair sections of Melrose and Woodlawn stations where concrete tiles have been degraded by poor drainage and accumulated mud. Repairs are expected to be completed around Labor Day, but until then, the tracks will be shut down one at a time. Included among cancellations are a morning rush hour train on the Harlem Line and a train on the New Haven line, which will be replaced by one combined train. Schedule readjustments will also take place on eight other Harlem and New Haven trains. Concrete tiles have previously proven to be a significant problem requiring summer repairs in the Bronx. In addition, the city has faced issues with defective tiles from a previous supplier and criticism that concrete tiles might not be the most effective solution for a Northeastern line with drainage issues. Amtrak has also reported difficulties with defective concrete tiles. The work may only be a preliminary, short-term fix for the disrepair, so long-term cost estimates are uncertain.

State Department on defense over prostitution and other sex allegations
An alleged coverup of various sexual improprieties by State Department employees was revealed by the leak of an internal memo, placing the government agency on defense during an administration already weighed down with scandals. Among the eight claims of wrongdoing outlined in the memo by the State Department’s inspector general are that Hillary Clinton’s security detail hired prostitutes, a U.S. ambassador attempted to solicit paid sex in a public park and a security official committed sexual assault in Lebanon. Making the allegations worse is a suggestion that the Department directed the security official to meet with Undersecretary of State Management Patrick Kennedy in Washington before being allowed to return to his job. The memo also stated the four members of Clinton’s security detail were given one-day suspensions. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced a request by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for an outside review of current procedures, though the ability for the State Department to police itself has been placed into question with the allegations of internal corruption.

Cuomo requests public election financing system
Governor Andrew Cuomo requested on Tuesday that the State Senate approve a system of public election financing modeled after a NYC system. The system, a version of which was passed by the State Assembly, would raise public money to match private donations over $125 at a 6-to-1 ratio at an estimated cost of $166 million over a four-year election cycle. The proposal Cuomo is backing would also lower contribution limits, require contributor and independent expenditure disclosures and eliminate personal expenditures of campaign funds. With the legislature set to end its summer session in June 20 and significant opposition remaining from a coalition of Senate Republicans and Democrats, Cuomo acknowledged the law’s passage was uncertain, but expressed a wish it would serve as another piece of a broader set of anti-corruption reforms.

State Working on Anti-Text Legislation
Distractions behind the wheel are a problem for all drivers, particularly those who don’t have as much experience on the road as others. Assemblywoman Annie Rabbit has announced the passage of new legislation that hopes to cut back on distracted driving, particularly among teens and those with permits or probationary licenses. The Pediatric Academic Societies has reported that 43 percent of teens admit to regularly texting while driving, and in 2010, 3,000 people were killed and 416,000 injured as the result of distracted driving. Though Assembly Bill 7739 targets teens and other inexperienced drivers, texting-while-driving is illegal for all drivers in New York. Penalties for using a mobile device while on the road include fines up to $400 for multiple offenses and as many as three points on the driver’s license. The penalties are set to increase this summer. Assemblywoman Rabbit’s new bill will allow for suspension of probationary or junior licenses and permits. It has been passed in both houses and is awaiting approval by the governor.