D.M.V. Quickly Reviews Policy to Waive Vision Test for Renewals

New York drivers might not get a pass on taking a vision test to renew their licenses for very long.

The Department of Motor Vehicles said on Friday that it was reviewing the policy that went into effect only on Wednesday to allow drivers to self-certify on their renewal applications that they could see well enough to drive.

The move to do away with the test, part of a package of streamlining measures at the D.M.V., prompted complaints that it would allow drivers with faltering vision to stay on the road and lead to more accidents. The agency said, though, that when it suspended the vision-test requirement from 1993 to 2000, it had “no negative impact” on traffic safety.

Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala said on Friday that she would meet with a group of health, safety and transportation experts to figure out “the best and most efficient way to ensure that New York’s drivers possess the vision acuity necessary for safe driving.” The agency plans to work with groups like the American Automobile Association and AARP, she said.

For now, though, the self-certification option remains in effect.

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At the Center of a Trial, a Shabby Queens Home

In the gilded, leafy confines of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, the house on Greenway North and Puritan Avenue stands out for its shabbiness.

While nearly every other one of the Tudor homes in this stately enclave is meticulously maintained, and their English garden-style grounds extremely well tended, the large corner house looks as if it has been abandoned.

“Everyone says he keeps the house that way so it looks like no one’s home,” a neighbor said as she gazed out her screen door at the house on Friday.

She was referring to the house’s owner, John F. Haggerty Jr., the Republican political consultant currently on trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges that he stole $1.1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and used much of it to pay off the house.

The lawn has apparently not been mowed for months, chest-high weeds have sprung up, and the path to the front door is littered with fallen horse chestnuts from the mammoth tree in front. Bricks have come loose from the porch, and a pair of neglected, dirt-laden cars snooze in the driveway.

The neighbor — who like other neighbors interviewed, refused to give her name, lest she look disloyal – said Mr. Haggerty certainly does live there but can be seen only when walking between his front door and his blue BMW SUV.

“If his blue SUV is there, he’s home,” the neighbor said.

Mr. Haggerty is charged with first-degree grand larceny and other crimes. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Haggerty, one of the city’s most adroit Republican operatives, stole the money from Mr. Bloomberg by promising to provide ballot security for the 2009 election when he had no intention of doing so.

Prosecutors say Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign contributed the money to the Independence Party to be used for ballot security. The Independence Party gave $750,000 of that money to Mr. Haggerty, but instead of using it to pay for the security operations, he put most of it toward purchasing the house, owned by his father. His father, also named John F. Haggerty, was an Albany insider and lawyer and one of the most powerful political fixtures in this part of Queens, with its century-old houses built as a utopian escape from the city.

Perhaps the clearest indication that the house would be something of a legal football in Mr. Haggerty’s trial came during the prosecution’s opening statement.

The first thing that prosecutors did was put up a picture of the house in its most pristine state on a screen for the jury and everyone in the courtroom to see.

Brian P. Weinberg, an assistant district attorney, called it “a very nice home on a tree-lined street in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens.”

Mr. Haggerty wanted to own the house outright, Mr. Weinberg told the jury, but he did not have enough money to buy out his brother’s interest in it.

“What he did have, though, was access to one of the largest mayoral campaigns this city has ever seen,” Mr. Weinberg told the jury. “The defendant devised a scheme to steal the mayor’s money just so he could buy that house.”

Prosecutors have filed a civil suit in State Supreme Court seeking to take possession of the house, which local realtors say could likely command $1.8 million if put on the market.

Mr. Haggerty grew up in the house and began working his way up as a Republican party operative, starting as a teenager when he handed out fliers for politicians.

Friends of the family said that, after the death of Mr. Haggerty’s father, the house was left to Mr. Haggerty and his brother, Bart Haggerty, also a political operative in Queens. Prosecutors say John Haggerty bought out his brother’s interest with the mayor’s money.

In his opening statement, Raymond R. Castello, one of Mr. Haggerty’s lawyers, conceded that his client used some of the money the mayor contributed to the Independence Party to buy the house. But that was money that the Independence Party had transferred to a company that Mr. Haggerty owned, Special Elections Operations, Mr. Castello said.

“Since when does the owner of a company not have the right to use the money” for his own benefit, Mr. Castello said.

Mr. Haggerty has long been known for keeping a low profile.

On Friday, many windows in the house were open, and many files and papers could be seen strewn on tables and chairs inside. No one responded to knocks at the door.

Several neighbors said that when the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” was being filmed at the castlelike house next door to Mr. Haggerty’s house, the film crew hired a landscaper to mow his lawn without his permission, which angered him.

One neighbor who said she knew Mr. Haggerty since he was a child, said, “He used to mow my lawn – now I just wish he’d mow his.”

Mr. Haggerty’s trial continues in Manhattan on Monday, when Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to take the witness stand.


John Eligon and occasional guest reporters take you inside the city’s halls of law every Friday. Have a tip? Send an e-mail message to [email protected].

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The City Rediscovered, in Color

Our photographic memory of New York — its ragamuffins and ruffians, dandies and dowagers — has been frozen in black and white. Until now.

New York in Color,” a hefty tome spanning a century of Gotham in photographs, includes 200 images that represent a visual conversation about New York. The photos make the city’s history come alive. (At least, David Gonzalez writes on Lens, in one borough.)

See a selection of the work here.

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L.I.R.R. Expects ‘Near Normal’ Morning Service

Following a lightning strike that disrupted Long Island Rail Road service just in time for Thursday night’s eastbound commute, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced the resumption of “near normal” service for Friday morning’s commute.

A posting on the transportation authority’s Web site warned that several early trains on the Babylon, Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson branches would be canceled, and that additional delays could be expected.

The troubles began around 4:30 p.m. when a bolt of lightning struck near a key electrical tower by Jamaica Station in Queens. A swath of signals just west of the station, a critical choke point in the railroad’s network, immediately lost power, paralyzing train traffic in the area.

Late on Thursday evening, limited service resumed on the L.I.R.R., according to a spokesman, at a rate of about one train every hour on each branch, as railroad workers used manual methods of their trade to pass trains through the system’s bottleneck at Jamaica Station.

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Long Island Rail Road Expects Near Normal Morning Service

Following a lightning strike that disrupted Long Island Rail Road service just in time for Thursday night’s eastbound commute, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced the resumption of “near normal” service for Friday morning’s commute.

A posting on the MTA’s Web site warned that several early trains on the Babylon, Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson branches would be canceled, and that additional delays could be expected.

The troubles began around 4:30 p.m. when a bolt of lightning struck near a key electrical tower by Jamaica Station. A swath of signals just west of the station, a critical choke point in the railroad’s network, immediately lost power, paralyzing train traffic in the area.

Late on Thursday evening, limited service resumed on the L.I.R.R., according to a spokesman, at a rate of about one train every hour on each branch, as railroad workers used manual methods of their trade to pass trains through the system’s bottleneck at Jamaica station.

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L.I.R.R. Service Is Knocked Out by Lightning Strike

Updated, 12:30 a.m. Friday | Service on the Long Island Rail Road was largely suspended out of Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn Thursday evening after a lightning strike near the Jamaica hub of the railroad knocked out signal systems. Officials were warning customers that the continuing trouble with the signals would most likely affect service Friday morning.

The doors to Penn Station were closed for a while because of overcrowding. After 11:30 p.m., commuters could again get into the station, and the railroad resumed hourly service to Babylon, Huntington, Long Beach and Ronkonkoma.

At 10:30 p.m., three packed trains were stuck on the tracks between Pennsylvania Station and Jamaica Station in Queens, said Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the railroad. Engineers were trying to return those trains to Pennsylvania Station because the agency did not know when the problems with the signals would be resolved, Mr. Arena said. He said the passengers had been on the trains for several hours.

“I presume it is hot and stuffy and not comfortable” aboard the trains, Mr. Arena said.

Just before 6:30, the railroad said it had begun running some trains out of Penn Station through Jamaica. Service east of Jamaica was operating on a limited basis.

The Port Washington branch, which runs through northern Queens into Long Island, was the only line of the railroad running out of Penn Station at full capacity.

The troubles began around 4:30 p.m. when a bolt of lightning struck near a key electrical tower by Jamaica Station. A swath of signals just west of the station, a critical choke point in the railroad’s network, immediately lost power, paralyzing train traffic in the area.

With no way to safely direct trains between Jamaica and points west (including Brooklyn and Manhattan), railroad workers scrambled onto the tracks with the ancient tools of their profession, mallets and spikes, to manually set the signals so that some trains could move through.

The method, known as block-and-spike, was used last year when an electrical fire knocked out the Jamaica signal system for nearly four days. The problems on Thursday, at least according to the railroad’s initial accounts, were not expected to last as long.

Last year’s incident stemmed from a nearly century-old lever contraption that had been used for decades to run the signals. That machine was later replaced, to much fanfare, with a state-of-the-art computerized signal program, but transit officials said on Thursday that the new system was powerless against a widespread electrical failure.

Passengers in the evening rush were urged to take the E, J, or Z subway lines to Jamaica Station, where they could connect with eastbound trains.

Andy Newman contributed reporting.

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Budget Cuts: Why Fire Departments and Police Departments Need to Change the Question

As city, county, and state budgets are being discussed and finalized around the country, one thing is clear: those who allocate resources are asking the wrong questions. As a result, recipients of government services are being short-changed because resources are being misallocated.


During city/county/state budget negotiations, the primary questions generally are:


1. How much must we cut so that our city/county/state has a balanced budget?

2. How much must each agency cut so we can achieve this outcome?


The problem is that these are the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on money, politicians and administrators need to begin with the end in mind i.e., the services to be provided. Here are the questions they should be asking instead:


1. Is this service something that (city/county/state) government should provide?

(If it is not, stop it!)

2. If it is, what level of service do we (decision-makers) choose to provide?

3. What is the best way to provide this service?


4. How much are people willing to pay for it?


Using public safety (i.e., fire departments and police departments) as an example, here are the questions decision-makers should be asking:


1. Should the government provide public safety services?

2. What level of public safety do decision-makers choose to provide?

3. What is the best way to provide this service?

4. How much are people willing to pay for it?


When the conversation is all about cutting the budget, then guess what becomes the #1 priority? (You are correct if you said “cutting the budget.”) Focusing on cutting the budget can lead to dysfunctional behaviors (e.g., proportional sharing) and outcomes (e.g., ineffective resource allocation). (Elsewhere I explained why the tactic of proportional sharing as a budget cutting tactic is an ineffective way to allocate resources.) As a result, the public loses. In terms of public safety, for example, there may be fewer fire fighters, emergency medical personnel, and police officers available to respond to calls. Fewer civilian staff as well as outdated equipment and infrastructure also are consequences of cuts to public safety budgets. Together these results mean longer response times in situations in which seconds or minutes matter. Are longer response times okay with the public? If so, then theres no need to change the question. But if public safety has taken a hit because of misdirected questions and stakeholders are not okay with longer response times, then its time to insist that decision-makers stop asking and answering the wrong questions.


The bottom line: if you want different answers, you have to change the questions you ask. If the public is at greater risk due to budget cuts and the heads of fire departments and police departments are not okay with that, its time for them to re-direct the conversation by changing the questions. While re-focusing the discussion wont change the reality of scarce resources, it can ensure a much more effective resource allocation process.


What are you waiting for?

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Why “Fixing the Problem” IS the Problem

Dramatic increases in public sector pension liabilities at a time when state and local governments have seen their revenues shrink drastically have resulted in an explosive backlash against public sector unions and the workers they represent. At the very time that high levels of unemployment increasingly have forced those who have lost their jobs to seek government services, they are being told that those services are being cut because of huge payments required to fund the pensions of public sector employees. This news has turned a spotlight on public sector pensions and served to demonize public sector employees.


Some states are taking advantage of this backlash to curtail or dismantle completely public sector workers collective bargaining processes. While discussing public sector pension reform efforts, the executive director of the California Labor Federation recently was quoted as accusing partisan lawmakers across the country of undertaking a “strategy that goes beyond simply fixing the problems as we know them.” Presumably he wants them to stick to the pension funding issues and leave everything else alone i.e., maintain the status quo.


Aspiring to the status quo is a big mistake. Simply “fixing” public pension systems is like treating the symptoms of a recurring illness and ignoring the underlying cause. While the symptoms may go away in the short-term, they will recur often at a much more severe level. The cause itself must be addressed and a workable, long-term resolution achieved. There is overwhelming evidence that the status quo is not working any more. Its time to stop merely “fixing” the problem and begin working toward eradicating its source.


Unfunded or under-funded pension liabilities in the millions and billions of dollars are grabbing headlines because they drastically reduce the amount of money available for state and local government services. As serious an issue as this is, in fact it is a symptom of a larger and more complex problem, namely the process by which public sector employees are compensated. That process is dysfunctional, which means that a continuation of the status quo is not sustainable.


There are many aspects of public sector compensation systems to consider, including what form the compensation takes (e.g., current vs. deferred salary, types and levels of benefits) and how pay is determined and changed. In unionized workplaces, these issues are addressed through a negotiation process. Bargaining often is conducted between elected officials and labor unions whose leaders provide substantial support in the form of money and campaign workers to labor-friendly candidates during elections. It seemed easy for lawmakers to agree to generous pensions and other terms of employment whose results wouldnt be felt for years, or even decades long after the elected officials had retired or (more likely in these days of term limits) moved on. How can that dynamic not influence the provisions of the resulting contracts? Who is looking out for the public in this process?


Providing short-term “solutions” to long-term problems has done a disservice to the public and to the workers who agreed to the employment conditions they were offered. Lets not forget, however, that there are at least two parties to every contract, and that both must agree to its terms. Public sector unions did not impose their terms on elected officials; both sides were parties to the negotiated agreements. Unfortunately the public has been woefully uninformed about these issues. Yet whose fault is that? How many members of the public have taken the initiative to seek out that information?


In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. But playing the blame game is counterproductive because it doesnt change anything. “Fixing” the problem with an eye on maintaining the status quo is not a viable option because it doesnt address the underlying dysfunction. Instead, the focus must be on (a) what government services we as a society are willing to pay for, (b) compensating public sector employees fairly, (c) creating transparency and accountability in budget processes, and (d) implementing a plan that will enable us to achieve those objectives.


Its time to stop “fixing” the problem by applying short-term “solutions” to long-term issues. We need to go well beyond the status quo, which is not functional or sustainable, to create a process that serves employees and the public well. What are we waiting for?

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Women Spared Deportation to Bangladesh, for Now

Nadia Habib and her mother, Nazmin Habib, are not being sent back to Bangladesh just yet.

At an immigration hearing in Federal Plaza on Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to review the Habibs’ case and decide whether to reopen it, their lawyer said.

The women, who live in Woodside, Queens, are to report back to the immigration agency in three months and remain under an order of supervision requiring them to notify immigration authorities if they intend to leave the state for more than two days, their lawyer, Aygul Charles, said.

Ms. Charles said the Habibs “could still be deported any day,” but she added that she thought the director of the New York office of ICE, Christopher Shanahan, “recognizes that it’s a sympathetic family.”

Officials at the immigration agency said they could not comment on an individual case without a privacy waiver from the Habibs, which was not immediately available.

Nadia Habib, 19, and her parents came to the United States in 1993 when she was 20 months old. Her father now has a green card and her three younger brothers, all born here, are citizens, but Nadia and Nazmin Habib overstayed a tourist visa and have been trying to reopen their case and press a political asylum claim since 2000.

All morning in front of Federal Plaza, friend and supporters had held up signs and protested for the Habibs not to be deported and the family split up. Nadia, a psychology major at Stony Brook University, was swarmed when she left the court building.

“I’m very excited, nervous,” she said. “I’m just going home to chill out.”

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In the Moments Before Deportation, Holding Onto Hope

With shoes piled at the entranceway, the Habib house in Woodside, Queens, appeared to be having a celebration Wednesday night — teenagers drew on bright paper on the living room floor; women in headscarves and flowing salwar kameez dresses passed out cupcakes after a hearty meal of chicken biryani; kids bounced on leather couches and swung miniature American flags.

Nadia Habib, a 19-year-old with a shining nose stud representing both her Bengali culture and youthful style, munched on a Burger King fish sandwich. Her brother Naiem Habib, 17, made a joke about a smudged poster reading “We are all immigrants.”

“It’s not like people are going to focus on the sign and say, ‘oh that looks kind of bad, we’re going to deport her!’ ” Naiem said.

Nadia laughed. But to the 40 friends and family members at the Habibs — and to 6,000 other people around the country who have signed a petition on their behalf — the deportation to Bangladesh of Nadia Habib and her mother, Nazmin Habib, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, seems almost as arbitrary as a smudged sign.

The family immigrated to the United States in 1993. The father, Jawad Habib, a taxi driver, has his green card. Nadia’s three younger siblings were born here and are citizens. But Nadia — who left Bangladesh when she was 20 months old — and her mother overstayed a tourist visa and are not legal residents.

Ever since an order was issued in 2000 for mother and daughter’s removal, the family says they have been trying to appeal and seek political asylum. Their case has never been reopened, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement never enforced the ruling — until last month.

The Habibs’ lawyer, Aygul Charles, noted that new government policies focus on deporting immigrants with criminal records first (the Habibs have none). Ms. Charles filed a request Monday to block the deportation but says she has not gotten a reply.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Luis Martinez, would not comment directly on the case, but he said ICE focused its efforts on convicted criminals, who represented over half of last year’s deportations.

So the Habibs haven’t given up hope.

Though asked to arrive at Federal Plaza ready for departure on Thursday, Nadia Habib and her mother brought no suitcases for their deportation date, when they arrived at 10 a.m. Outside the building, protesters rallied to urge the government to let them stay.

Wednesday night on the terrace of the Habibs’ brick apartment house, Jawad Habib watched rain drip off white roses. “My daughter’s my heart,” he said. “How could I live without her?”

Inside, as Nadia and her friends made signs, she fielded an endless string of calls from friends, family members and reporters. “Are you coming to the rally?” she’d ask. Every night, she said: “I’ve broken down and cried. But you have to keep yourself together.”

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