West Side Notes From the Neighborhood

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Marriage Affirmation for V-Day
If you’d like to step away from the romantic-comedy drivel tossed around every February and instead celebrate real, lasting love, take heart in knowing that five long-married senior couples will be renewing their marriage vows on Valentine’s Day this year. Goddard Riverside Senior Center is hosting a ceremony for the loving duos and their families at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14. One couple married on the Upper West Side over fifty years ago; another met at the NYC School for the Deaf in 1947 and will sign “I love you” into each other’s hands as part of their vow renewal. If that’s not enough to warm your heart, nothing will.

Rosenthal Turns Bright Blight into Charity
Last year, Upper West Side residents raged against a Duane Reade sign that lit up the corner of West 72nd Street and Broadway. The digital sign flashed images of products for sale nonstop, and locals and elected officials argued that it was too intrusive for a residential neighborhood. They spouted off about it until Duane Reade finally capitulated and de-commissioned the sign.

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, a vocal critic of the offending sign, worked with Duane Reade’s parent company, Walgreens, at the time to broker the compromise and suggested that the company make a local donation to smooth over the ill will it had engendered in the community. Earlier this month, Walgreens executives toured the West Side Campaign Against Hunger and took up the suggestion, presenting the food pantry with a first-time donation. “This is the best possible ending to a situation that began with a lot of anger and frustration,” Rosenthal said in a statement.
Hopefully, the donations will continue for longer than the sign was in place.

Local Reps Denounce National Public Transit Cuts
West Side Rep. Jerrold Nadler joined other local legislators and transit leaders on Monday to decry a Republican effort to cut federal spending for public transit, a move they say would directly impact New Yorkers. Opponents of the proposed spending cut say it would deprive New York state of $1.7 billion that would go to fund capital improvements for subways, buses and commuter rails. The bill, H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, just passed the House Ways and Means Committee, and would use revenue from expanded domestic drilling permits to fund infrastructure projects while cutting certain funding streams.

“The Republicans are proposing nothing less than the dismantling of mass transit,” said Nadler, who is the senior northeastern member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a statement. “In the GOP bill, mass transit would be dependent on appropriations from general revenue for the first time in 30 years, rather than being funded, as it has been, from the Highway Trust Fund. Such a shift in federal priority could be catastrophic for urban centers like New York which rely on mass transit for basic mobility and economic functioning.”

East Side Rep. Carolyn Maloney said the bill “isn’t worth a warm bucket of asphalt,” and MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota said that the bill would undeniably “hit the MTA hard.” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign, also derided the bill.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly condemned the bill for keeping cities out of the 21st century. “Eight million people take mass transit every day in New York, which helps to cut traffic, reduce pollution, spur our economy and improve public health,” he said. “The bill passed today ignores the needs of cities across the country by relegating transit to an ‘alternative’ transportation with an uncertain funding stream.”

Following a press conference at City Hall on Monday, Nadler went even further in an op-ed for The Hill’s Congress Blog. He wrote that H.R. 7 is the worst transportation bill he’s ever seen and called it “such an outdated way of thinking that it would, if enacted into law, set us back decades.”

Speaker John Boehner said that the House will be moving to vote on the bill in the coming months.

Lappin Speaks Out Against Churches in Schools
As the state legislature considers passing a bill that would unequivocally allow religious organizations to hold worship services in public schools, Upper East Side City Council Member Jessica Lappin has been one of the few in the Council to speak against the measure. Thirty-five council members have signed onto Resolution 1155, which calls upon state legislators to pass a bill “amending the New York State Education Law to afford houses of worship maximum access to school property,” but Lappin contends that its passage would amount to state-subsidized religious services and would violate the separation of church and state.

“Most New Yorkers probably don’t realize that, right now, about 160 New York City schools are doubling as churches,” said Lappin in a statement. “I’m not talking about a religious after-school club or Bible study group; these churches use the same public space, at the same time, in the same school each and every week for free or just the cost of custodial fees.”

Lappin cited a decision by the Second Circuit Court last year supporting the Department of Education’s argument that allowing regular worship in public school spaces is essentially state-sponsored religion, and asserted that the state bill’s language would force the city to allow any group, including “the Ku Klux Klan or a pornography club,” to hold meetings in public schools.

Churches and other religious groups that have regularly held services in public schools, some for many years, have until Feb. 16 to move out, according to a directive from the Department of Education, unless the state legislation stopping that move passes first.

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