Downtown Digest, Week of Aug. 29, 2012

Silver takes blame for Assembly payment scandal
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is wrapped up in a scandal involving the way he handled claims of sexual harassment against another assemblyman, which eventually led to a secret settlement payment of more than $100,000, the New York Times reported on Tues., Aug. 28.

Evidence of the backroom deal began to emerge on Fri., Aug. 24, when Assemblyman Vito Lopez, of Brooklyn, was implicated in the sexual harassment of two female employees following an internal investigation by the Assembly’s ethics committee.

Over the following weekend, the Times reported the discovery that Silver had never actually referred the women’s claims to the ethics committee. Instead, he had authorized a secret payment of $103,080 on June 13, which was used to settle the allegations against Lopez before they could be made public.

The growth of the scandal has led Silver to admit that he was wrong to approve the settlement. In an Aug. 28 statement, Silver said he had previously believed that, if an employee bringing a harassment claim requested confidentiality, then the Assembly should follow that route and not refer the claim to the ethics committee.

“I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee,” he said. “I now believe [my decision] was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency.”

W.T.C. Health Registry survey deadline extended
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (D.O.H.) has extended the deadline for responses to the 2011-12 World Trade Center Health Registry child survey until Sept. 30.

Only about a third of the more than 3,000 families with children currently enrolled in the Registry have responded to the survey thus far, according to the D.O.H.

Marijo Russell O’Grady, a long-time Downtown resident who also chairs the W.T.C. Health Registry’s Community Advisory Board, stressed the importance of completing the survey. “As a parent with a child enrolled in the Registry,” he said, “I know that my response and the response of my son have helped advocate for World Trade Center-related pediatric services and may help protect children during a future disaster.”

The Registry’s child enrollees and their parents have been sent a copy of the survey by mail, but they also have the option to complete it online. A survey for parents inquires about the children’s physical and mental health, while an adolescent survey asks about their current symptoms and behavior, according to the D.O.H.

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the D.O.H. established the W.T.C. Health Registry in 2002 with the goal of monitoring the health of people directly exposed to the 9/11 attacks. Today, the Registry is an ongoing collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

For more information about the survey, enrollees can call the W.T.C. Health Registry at 866-NYC-WTCR (866-692-9827), Mon. through Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or send an e-mail to wtchr@health.nyc.gov. Visit www.nyc.gov/9-11healthinfo for information on research and services for those affected by the 9/11 attacks.

New Fiterman Hall opens
Nearly 11 years after its predecessor was damaged beyond repair by the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s new Fiterman Hall opened its doors to students on Mon., Aug. 27.

The 14-story building, which features a modern design and advanced educational technology, increases B.M.C.C.’s classroom capacity by about a third, according to the college’s website. The new space will be vital to health of the college, given that since the 9/11 attacks, many students had been forced to attend classes in trailers near the B.M.C.C. headquarters on Chambers Street.

Fiterman Hall will also include a fine art gallery and a public café, both of which are currently under construction.

“People will be able to see life within this building,” said B.M.C.C. President Antonio Perez, in a statement on the college’s website. “They will be able to see students taking advantage of this opportunity. So this is, in my perspective, a jewel that will shine forever in downtown Manhattan.”

Downtown Express photog honored by Olympus
Photographer Milo Hess, a frequent contributor to the Downtown Express and its sister papers, has been selected to join the Olympus camera company’s “Visionary” program for 2012.

In a Tues., Aug. 23 press release announcing the program’s 2012 roster, Hess was listed alongside 12 other decorated photographers from around North America who shoot exclusively with Olympus digital cameras. Of nine new members selected to join the Visionary program, Hess is the only one based in New York.

As a member, Hess will work to educate the photographic community about the possibilities of digital photography and assist in the development of innovative new equipment, according to the Olympus release.

Hess, 60, has been contributing to the Downtown Express and its sister papers since 2003. He is also an accomplished graphic designer and art director, having won five Emmy Awards for his television work at CBS, FOX 5, WPIX and NY 1.

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