Correction appended

Hands held high

More than 100 community members packed into the cafeteria of the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center on Sunday morning to face their legislators and ask questions.

Rep. Eliot Engel, Councilman Oliver Koppell, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera fielded queries for more than two hours on topics large and small (from Libya to the need for a new basketball hoop in Ft. Independence Park).

The list included multiple questions regarding Indian Point, with some people calling for its closure.

Weeks ago, after the partial nuclear meltdown in Japan, Mr. Engel called for Indian Point’s closure. He reiterated his position at the meeting and said the evacuation plan in place is a joke. As for the big picture, he said the country should look away from nuclear energy in the future. 

“I don’t think nuclear power is the way to go. I think we should take that position long term. I think long term we need to have a balanced energy policy and that includes air and wind,” he said, adding that we should have cars that run on ethanol and alcohol, like Brazil.

On local issues, many residents from the immediate area were concerned about the pipeline that might run down Sedgwick Avenue from the Croton Water Treatment Plant in Van Cortlandt Park as well as about Jerome Park Reservoir access. 

Health care and war were also subjects of interest. In a line of questioning reminiscent of years gone by, Mr. Engel was asked why he voted for the war in Iraq and responded by saying it was the worst vote of his career. There was even a 9/11 conspiracist in the midst, but the person’s question was dutifully ignored.

On health care, Riverdale resident Madhavi Jatania asked the following: “In general, the citizens of this country pay a ton into the health care system and we have relatively poor outcomes as a country relative to the rest of the world. So what are we doing to prevent illness in the first place instead of just trying to cure it as it comes up?”  

Mr. Engel fielded the question and said he thought the country needed to focus more on prevention and applauded First Lady Michelle Obama for her fight against childhood obesity.

For Mr. Rivera, the event marked an important moment in his political career: his first town hall meeting.

“And it will be one of dozens,” he said after the meeting.

Mr. Rivera held his own, taking scrupulous notes on the back of a press release and writing down each question that was asked. 

He spoke out on his support for independent redistricting, as well as the need for the state to push for a single-payer health care option.

“I think it went great, man. This is the type of stuff that I wish I could do every weekend,” Mr. Rivera said after the meeting.

Mr. Dinowitz, who ran the town hall meeting, showed support for Mr. Rivera’s first-time performance. “I thought he did good. I thought he did very good. He certainly knew his stuff,” he said.

Cannon shenan-igans

Hugo Subotovsky — an architect who works with Jackson Development — wants the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association to retract statements it made on the proposed 93-unit building on Cannon Place. At last week’s Community Board 8 Land Use committee meeting, FIPNA handed out a stack of papers chronicling the top ten reasons why the group is not in favor of the development. On April 8, the attorney representing the architect, Jerry D. Reichelscheimer, sent a letter addressed to FIPNA’s president, Kristin Hart. Jackson points out that FIPNA spells architect Hugo Subotovsky’s last name incorrectly. It takes issue with the assertion that all Jackson buildings look the same and that past Jackson projects exceeded zoning regulations. 

In the letter, Mr. Reichelscheimer demands that FIPNA “immediately retract in writing, [its] gross misstatement of facts as this inaccuracy is both harmful and slanderous to the reputation of Mr. Subotovsky.”

FIPNA’s attorney, Ezra Glaser, sent a letter back on April 10, arguing that FIPNA’s statements are matters of opinion and therefore cannot be used as the basis of a defamation claim. 

As for the zoning, Mr. Glaser argues that past zoning is raised as a question and never concretely says the company was in the wrong. Mr. Glaser said the developer’s letter is an attempt to squelch legitimate public debate. One thing the letter does not mention, oddly enough, is that Mr. Reichelscheimer’s letter, which points out the correct spelling of “Subotovsky,” is addressed to the president of FIPNA, “Kristen,” not Kristin Hart.

It’s getting heated, folks. Stay tuned.

Corn vs. onion

Possibly the greatest debate of this political season is just heating up, crossing all party lines and allegiances in the three-conference State Senate. The issue at stake is this: sweet corn or onion? That’s right, the debate is over which vegetable will become New York State’s official one.   

State Sen. Jeff Klein is going with fellow IDC member state Sen. David Carlucci, who introduced a bill for the onion, which State Sen. Gustavo Rivera threw also supports as a member of “Team Onion” while state Sen. Adriano Espaillat said he’s a corn man.

If sweet corn loses, its supporters will be sure to shed a few tears. 

To voice your opinion, go to the New York Farm Bureau’s Facebook page at

Secret skating

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — who is not on the board of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy but dropped in on its last meeting — said he was surprised to learn that the skating rink planned for Van Cortlandt Park would not be placed under a protective bubble. 

He said he was upset that the rink is still being planned in secret and that when he found out about the meeting, he decided to check it out on a whim. He said he was met with no opposition, though the public was not invited.

A letter faxed out to members of the public and the media the day of the meeting also framed the meeting as “secret.” It read: “Save Van Cortlandt Park! Go to the ‘secret’ meeting of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy where more plans to give away bits and pieces of Vannie without public hearings or community input will surely be hatched.”

Mr. Dinowitz said he did not send it out but did receive it.

Worth mentioning ...

• Good news for those who feared the worst: an e-mail circulating among Community Board 8 members from an attorney representing Friedland Properties says the Friedlands have no plans to build on Johnson Avenue. If you tie that to Blue Bay signing a lease to stay open for another decade it was a pretty good week for Johnson Avenue, which has been the source of troubling news lately.

• The Assembly passed a bill that would strengthen the rent regulations that are due to expire on Wednesday, June 15. After the extension was excluded from the budget despite backing from Gov. Cuomo, the Assembly took matters into its own hands and started what will most likely be an interesting legislative skirmish in the next month.

Correction: April 15, 2011

Last week's A11 story misidentified Ezra Glaser. Mr. Glaser represents the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association.