De Blasio Longs To Be Our New Sugar Daddy

As if Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t have enough on his plate with the headlines about his wife’s chief of staff, the ongoing battle over banning carriage horses and other City Hall drama, the mayor is reopening that old “nanny state” Mike Bloomberg can of controversy — a ban on sugary drinks.

De Blasio has been brainstorming with soda lobbyists and health advocates to find ways to reduce consumption of such products. You may recall that two years ago, Bloomberg pushed through a law banning sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, food carts and movie theaters. The courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.

But de Blasio seems eager to resurrect the battle. Why, Bill, why?

“The city’s proposal to cap the size of sugary drinks responds to the alarming obesity and diabetes crisis” that disproportionately affects minority groups, the mayor said in June, when he urged New York’s Court of Appeals to reinstate the ban.

Yes, obesity and diabetes are out of control, while the argument rages on between personal freedom and government overreach versus the public’s right not to have to pay inflated health care costs due to the overindulgence of sugar junkies.

But prohibition of harmful products “for our own good” has never worked out, ever since the days of, well, Prohibition. How would a ban be enforced? Diet drinks would be exempt from the ban. When your pal at the movie concession stand slips regular cola into your 32-ounce cup, who can tell the difference? Would we have soda cops monitoring our soda pop? How? Take a sip of our soda, then do spit takes? “Eww, this isn’t diet! Up against the wall!”

If de Blasio wants to sell this rehashed idea to New Yorkers, he’s got his work cut out for him. But he may have an ace up his sleeve. Anxious to change the perception that he takes marching orders from the Rev. Al Sharpton, perhaps de Blasio can turn the tables and put the formerly rotund reverend to work as a spokesman for the soda ban. “I stopped imbibing sugary drinks, and now look how svelte I am,” Sharpton can crow.

You’re welcome, Mr. Mayor.



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NYC Musicians Fight Stigma of Mental Illness

I wish I was like you

Easily amused

Find my nest of salt

Everything’s my fault …

When Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wrote the 1993 hit song “All Apologies,” few understood it as a cry for help. But Cobain suffered from severe mental illness, including bipolar disease and depression, and soon took his own life.

To reach out to the millions of less famous but equally tormented young Kurt Cobains, the NYC chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has partnered with five New York bands to launch the “I Will Listen” album and movement. The participating bands are Controller, Sweet Lorainne, Boola featuring Jeni Fujita, Romans Are Alive and Jenna Kyle.

“After 9/11, the stigma about going for help for mental health issues was reduced because everyone was affected by the tragedy,” says Robert Goldblatt, former director of psychiatric rehabilitation for the NYC Department of Health. “What is important now is continuing to reduce that stigma.”

Beverly Cobain can attest to that. Kurt’s cousin, Beverly was strongly affected by his death. Now a registered nurse and mental health professional, she speaks nationwide about suicide prevention and other mental health issues.

“Kurt’s risk was very high: untreated bipolar disorder, family history of depression, his drug addiction and alcohol abuse,” Beverly Cobain told HealthDay. Beside medication and talk therapy, she believes “the primary antidote is the presence of caring people in one’s life who know when something is wrong and take appropriate steps to help.”

The campaign encourages people to do just that. Participating musicians received guidelines asking them to compose songs about their experiences with mental illness, citing as examples “All Apologies,” The Who’s “The Real Me,” about schizophrenia, and “Manic Depression” by Jimi Hendrix.

The “I Will Listen” album’s official launch show will be Monday (10-20) at NYC’s Mercury Lounge. Meanwhile, the album is free and available on Guidelines on how to listen to people in need — including being nonjudgmental, letting them know they’re not alone and knowing when to call for help — can be found on the site.

Spread the word.

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The Groundhog and the Public Advocate

Riddle: What do the NYC public advocate and Staten Island Chuck, the Groundhog Day media hog, have in common?

Answer: Both rarely poke their heads out, and their function is a total mystery to most New Yorkers.

Recent revelations show that both are also long past their expiration dates.

Actually, Charlotte G. Hogg reached her expiration date in February, when Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped the squirming rodent, who passed on to groundhog heaven a week later. Turns out Charlotte was substituting for her more aggressive brother Chuck, who took a bite out of former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s finger on Groundhog Day a few years back. Yes ladies, as in the Secret Service fiasco, the female again takes the fall.

A Staten Island Zoo spokesman said Charlotte’s previously undisclosed death a week after being dropped by de Blasio was pure coincidence. When a doctor dropped my cousin Arnold on his head and he immediately forgot the alphabet, the doctor also swore it was a coincidence.

Whatever the case, you can bet de Blasio isn’t looking forward to Feb. 2, 2015.

Meanwhile, Public Advocate Letitia James often disappears for long stretches from her office to attend to personal appointments, according to a recent story in the New York Daily News. Other than providing name recognition to ambitious politicians (e.g., Mark Green and de Blasio), the usefulness of the office established in 1993 remains very much in debate.

A year ago, I suggested that when James took over as public advocate, she might change the perception of an office that Bloomberg once called “a total waste of everybody’s money.” So far, no good.

Not only is the annual budget for public advocate $2.3 million, but a wasteful election runoff for the post last year cost the city an additional $13 million.

Back in the groundhog hole, Staten Island Chuck continues to luxuriate on the public dole, existing on his “six more weeks of winter” scam while he sends relatives out to be manhandled by the latest mayor.

Truth be told, if the groundhog and the public advocate switched jobs, would you notice the difference? Time to end both of these useless sinecures.

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Where Have You Gone, Derek Jeter?

On September 25th, Derek Jeter left the stage in dramatic fashion, with a sharply hit “walk off” single to score the winning run. His last at-bat in Yankee Stadium brought ecstatic cheers from fans__a perfect farewell to their idol, beloved for his off the field demeanor almost as much as his athletic abilities.

When Paul Simon composed the song Mrs. Robinson from the Oscar-winning movie The Graduate nearly a half century ago, the line that jumped out (and confused many) was “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

What exactly did you mean, Paul?

“I meant that Joe DiMaggio was an American hero when genuine heroes were in short supply,” Simon explained when DiMaggio died in 1999.

Hero? Not quite (real heroes are 9-11 rescuers who gave their lives running up the stairs of the burning WTC towers to save others), but I know what Simon meant. While noble, dignified role models may have been in short supply decades ago, they are all but extinct today. From athletes to entertainers to politicians, those in the public eye continually disappoint with their greed, narcissism and worse.

And while the Mrs. Robinson character Simon wrote about in the 60s was considered the villain, a drunken,  middle aged woman who corrupted a 21 year old young man, today she’d be the heroine in Cougars.

In some ways, Derek Jeter is a throwback. Yes, he achieved great deeds on the ballfield, a certain first round Hall of Famer. But it’s what he didn’t do that brought respect. He didn’t use PEDs. He didn’t make headlines for domestic abuse, or driving under the influence. He didn’t curse at fans.

Nope, Jeter always conducted himself with dignity and class. With media and fans watching him like hawks, he kept his personal life private and never seemed to make a misstep, which is a huge achievement in the biggest market in the nation.

“Being in New York, where one little hiccup can fry you, this kid’s done everything the right way,” said his friend Michael Jordan.

Good looking, confident without being cocky, the kid from Kalamazoo with the African-American father and Caucasian mother was admired by all.  Standing beside him as I boarded a flight to Tampa a decade ago, I was surprised by how big and imposing a guy he was: about 6’ 3, 200 pounds of solid muscle. Women’s eyes lit up when they saw him. But Jeter never seemed to let his appeal and good fortune go to his head, and was gracious to anyone who approached him, man, woman or child.

Maybe it’s a sad state of affairs when not being a jerk brings adoration. But living on and off the field as a worthy role model to thousands of athletes and kids at a time when role models are in very short supply is certainly a noteworthy achievement.

“The one word to describe Derek Jeter is trustworthy,” said Joe Torre, Jeter’s manager for a decade. “Derek is someone you could always count on to do the right thing.”

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, indeed.

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The MTA Puts Me Through My Paces

I walk down a Brooklyn alleyway and arrive at the NYC Transit Adjudication Bureau, prepared to fight my $100 bus fare-evasion ticket.

After I wait an hour, the hearing officer swears me in, records my testimony, then sends me back out into the waiting room.

On my right sits Bong Jin, a polite young Korean student, who tells me his tale in halting English. He paid his subway fare, but the turnstile wouldn’t let him through. A woman held open the emergency gate, but when he followed her a transit officer grabbed him and scribbled an “entered without payment” ticket.

“I don’t understand,” he tells me, “but the more I try to explain the angrier he gets.”

They call Bong Jin’s name and hand him a paper. He stares at it, puzzled. “What this mean — dismissed?” I answer, “Not guilty — you are free to go.”

On my left is Shakaya, a restaurant manager who paid her $2.50 bus fare in quarters. Soon after an inspector claimed she shortchanged the box and issued a $50 ticket.

“The box gave that beep that signals when you paid in full,” she tells me, “and the driver gave me my transfer. I know they have a job to do, but catch the bad guys. It kills me to have to take time off for something I didn’t do, but I don’t have money to throw away.”

About an hour later, they call me. I receive my printed verdict: “The respondent’s MetroCard reveals an entry at 1:34 p.m., approximately three minutes prior to the notice of violation, and supports his testimony that he paid his fare.


Justice! But do they plan to pay me for my lost time, or the extra fares I had to pay to and from the hearing, and after they yanked me off the M34 bus way before my stop? What do you think?

The process took almost all morning. If the inspector had scanned my MetroCard when he confronted me, it would have taken two minutes. I paid the fare. Why didn’t he have a mobile reader?

I call MTA headquarters, and get an emailed response from spokesman Kevin Ortiz: “We explored the idea some time ago, but the mobile readers that are available would only be able to say what is left on the card . . . We will look at mobile readers again as we work toward implementing a new fare payment system in 2019.”

So good news! They will be putting us through this unnecessary hell for only five more years.

If we’re lucky.

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Fare Evasion? Not Fair!

I get on the M34 bus, insert my MetroCard, and sit down to read the newspaper. Two stops later at Park and 34th Street, a uniformed MTA guy jumps on through the rear door. “Where’s your receipt?” he demands.

“Excuse me?” I ask. “I paid my fare. You can ask the driver.”

“Step off the bus.”

But my stop isn’t –

“Step off now.”


“Fare evasion.”

Special Insp. Padro demands ID. I reluctantly hand over my driver’s license. He then requests my Social Security number. Seriously? I refuse.

“Off the bus,” he repeats, and I comply. Didn’t I know to get a receipt from the machine on the street for Select Bus Service routes?

No, I usually ride the subway, and there aren’t any SBS buses in my neighborhood, I tell him. If I’m supposed to present a receipt, why didn’t the bus driver ask for one?

But Padro is already scribbling a ticket.

Last year, such fare evasion tickets accounted for more than three-quarters of dollars the MTA raked in from all rules violations. When I get off, I step past a bewildered, non-English-speaking woman who was also nabbed.

Supervisor Arthur Bianchini steps over to me. Pleasant enough man. He requests and inspects my MetroCard, then asks where and when I got on. If I want to contest the ticket, he tells me, I can go to court, and my MetroCard will confirm if I’m telling the truth.

Padro hands me the ticket. $100!

Smoking on the subway carries a $50 fine. Not having a bus receipt is double that?

And where is court? Somewhere in Brooklyn. Between the subway ride and the hearing, we’re talking about a half-day wasted. Most people can’t afford to take off from work for that. You know some just swallow hard and pay the ticket, even if they’ve paid the fare.

As I walk off, Bianchini calls out “just doing my job.”

A few minutes later, it hits me. Why don’t the inspectors carry a MetroCard scanner? They could have swiped my card and instantly known if I was telling the truth.

But then they couldn’t have written a $100 ticket.

I’m going to court today. Should be a load of laughs.

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13 Years Later, Complacency Is Biggest Threat

On the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on NYC and Washington, we seem to be living in denial.

Recent polls show a terrorist attack on America down the list of our concerns. When a Gallup Poll earlier this year asked Americans to name the most important problems facing the nation, the top three were jobs, the economy in general and dissatisfaction with the government. Terrorism and another possible attack didn’t even make the top 12.

On Aug. 29, the United Kingdom raised its terror threat level from substantial to severe. In the States, we seem more unsure, even as President Barack Obama coordinates a military strategy to stop the murderous Islamic State.

Former members of the 9/11 Commission recently assessed the terrorist threat to the United States. “Many Americans think that the terrorist threat is waning,” the panel said. “They are wrong. . . . We cannot afford to be complacent.”

Too many of us have not only grown complacent, but also cynical. After the lies about weapons of mass destruction and the like, and the electronic invasions of our privacy, it’s not surprising that many Americans distrust anything the government says.

Along with cynicism and apathy, the commission report cites a dysfunctional Congress as an impediment to preparedness. The funding of national security is fragmented, the report notes, with the Department of Homeland Security reporting to more than 90 congressional panels. “Congress has proved deeply resistant to needed change,” the report concludes.

Meanwhile, cyberattacks and homegrown terrorists are perhaps our greatest domestic threat. While there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks on us since 9/11 (a number have been thwarted), the Boston Marathon bombing shows that we still must be vigilant.

So as we pay our respects to those innocents who died on 9/11, and those heroes who sacrificed their lives to save others that day, let’s stop our political squabbling and focus on the fanatics who couldn’t care less if we are Democrats or Republicans — we are all infidels to them. Hopefully this realization will make us again band together as Americans, drop the petty politics and focus on our true enemies — before it is too late.

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Are You Familiar With Jose?

Left permanently blind at birth from congenital glaucoma, José never used that as an excuse not to excel. His family moved to NYC’s Spanish Harlem from Puerto Rico when he was 5. José immediately gravitated to music, teaching himself to play the accordion.

At age 8, José already was entertaining classmates on his little concertina, then taught himself to play guitar by listening to everything from ’50s rock to such classical guitarists as Andrés Segovia.

When he was 17, José had to quit school after his father lost his job. Passing around the hat in Greenwich Village clubs, he gave whatever money he got to his struggling family.

But José was clearly gifted, and lightning was about to strike. A music critic from The New York Times saw the teenager perform at Gerde’s Folk City, wrote that he was a “10 fingered wizard” and urged people to come down and see him “if you want to witness the birth of a star.”

The critic was on the money. Before José was 23, he had won two Grammy Awards for his self-titled album. His sensual rendition of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” became an international hit.

An unexpected turn soon put his career in jeopardy. José was asked to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before game five of the 1968 World Series. His unique, Latin-influenced performance enraged some purists, and afterward many radio stations refused to play his music.

But José didn’t back down, and later said he was proud to pave the way for other personalized versions of the anthem. You can now hear his groundbreaking rendition at baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

José moved on to international fame. In the 1980s, he wrote “The Sound of Vienna,” which is now the official anthem of that European city.

World-renowned but still a New Yorker at heart, José was proud when P.S. 155 in East Harlem, a performing arts school, was renamed in his honor.

Now in his late 60s, José is still going strong. He will celebrate his 69th birthday Wednesday with a concert in Vienna, and will return home to perform at the B.B. King Blues Club on Dec. 5.

Later that month, when you hear the Christmas classic “Felíz Navidad” on the radio, you can thank the writer, José Montserrate Feliciano García — better known as José Feliciano.

Feliz cumpleaños, José.

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What Makes a Real New Yorker?

While Zephyr Rain Teachout sounds like a course in weather forecasting, it’s actually the name of a candidate challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Tuesday’s Democratic primary — and the governor is far from happy.

Cuomo attempted to boot Teachout off the ballot, claiming the Vermont-born and raised woman isn’t a real New Yorker and thus ineligible to run. Fordham law professor Teachout replied that she’s resided at various Manhattan and Brooklyn addresses over the past five years. A state appeals panel recently ruled that she satisfied the residency requirement.

But is Teachout a true New Yorker? Does she ride the subway? Can she find her way to Coney Island, Chinatown or the Cloisters? How does she handle the maddening F train schedule on weekends?

Is she familiar with L & B Spumoni Gardens? Zabar’s? Dinosaur Bar-B-Que? Has she ever eaten a calzone or bialy? Does she even know what they are?

Can she name any great destinations in the Bronx beside Yankee Stadium? Find her way to Belmont racetrack? OK, how about Saratoga? Can she identify Joey Chestnut? Curtis Sliwa? Robin Byrd?

Being a real New Yorker doesn’t mean spending chunks of time in Vermont and keeping an apartment in the city. Teachout likes to tell her childhood story of tickling a bull’s nose, then racing to the farmhouse to lure him back into the pen before he caught and gored her. I don’t recall playing that game in Brooklyn.

To be fair, that was years ago. More notably, it was only last year when, stopped by a cop for a traffic violation in North Carolina, she gave a Vermont address.

In today’s mobile society, people do often have more than one residence. Hillary Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000, despite having been born and raised in Illinois, living in Arkansas for two decades, then spending 1992 to 2000 in Washington, D.C. She and Bill Clinton bought a home in Chappaqua. While Bill hasn’t held elected office here, doesn’t he seem more like a real New Yorker than Hillary?

Judges have criteria to determine whether someone meets the legal requirements of being a New Yorker.

For the rest of us, we know one when we see one.

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Rules? We Don’t Obey Your Stinkin’ Subway Rules!

Catching up on my light reading, I perused the NYC Transit Rules of Conduct and Fines while riding the D train downtown last weekend.

Good news! I discovered that violations of subway etiquette such as leaning on a pole, “wide stance” sitting and holding a door open for your slow-footed, cackling friends are all against the rules and carry stiff fines.

The bad news is no one enforces them.

That’s right, we’re on our own. So what to do?

I recently encountered a pole hogger slouched against the pole during rush hour. When he leaned away for a moment, I grabbed the pole, with my middle knuckle slightly extended. When he leaned back again the fun began.

“Yahh!” he gasped, turning and glaring. But by that time four others had also grabbed the pole, while I gave him the “Do you have a problem?” look. Hey, civilizing self-absorbed subway nitwits is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. (For some reason, that one’s not covered in the Rules of Conduct and Fines.)

Some of the rules seem a bit strange and arbitrary. For example, “carrying a long object” on a subway or bus brings a $75 fine, the same amount as “riding on the outside” of one. Meanwhile, smoking will cost you only $50.

What prompted my sudden fascination with this reading material? When I boarded the train on Saturday, a wide-stance guy was taking up two seats, while shopping-bag-lady-from-Macy’s was taking up three. I quickly Googled the rules, and yep, it was right there under Seat Obstruction: Riders may not “occupy more than one seat.”

A citizen’s arrest? Not wide-stance guy. Yes, the male anatomy requires a bit more room to accommodate it — but not that much. This guy had the same defiant look as door-blocker guy. You know, that “I dare you to say something” look. I’ll bet a $50 fine would wipe that sneer off his face.

Meanwhile, backpack-tourist guy almost took my head off when he swung around to talk to his British mates. I looked through the rules. Yep, carrying hazardous or obstructive objects, $75 fine.

Of course, none of these fines were imposed. But we can dream, can’t we?

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