Prayers for Japan Reflect City’s Diversity

First came the Muslim imam, singing an Arabic prayer in an undulating melody. Next came the rabbi, chanting in Hebrew, followed by the Hindu leader praying in Sanskrit, the Christian in English, the Sikh in Punjabi and the Buddhist in Japanese.

One by one, they stood in the chancel of Riverside Church on the Upper West Side on Sunday evening and beseeched the heavens for support of the victims and survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

For all the city’s ethnic diversity, there are surprisingly few occasions, outside of subway cars and rush-hour sidewalks, when the population truly blends in a common pursuit. The service on Sunday — called Interfaith Time of Reflection for Japan — was one of those moments.

Officials at the Interfaith Center of New York, which helped organize the service, say the event flowed from their mission to help the city’s different faiths find common ground and purpose.

“Our goal is to get those religious groups to work together and understand each other better and build a more tolerant city,” said Matthew Weiner, the center’s program director. “Coming together in response in times of crisis is a natural outcome of convincing grassroots religious community groups to work together.”

Mr. Weiner said that many of the organizations and religious leaders involved in Sunday’s service began working together after the Sept. 11 attacks and have collaborated on similar interfaith events after other major disasters, both man-made and natural, including the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 and the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

The event’s spiritual goal went hand in hand with a material one: fund-raising for disaster relief.

“This is both a memorial and benefit event for Japan,” explained the Rev. T Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Jodo Shinhsu Buddhist priest who led the service. The donations were collected on behalf of the New York Japanese-American Lions Club, Humane Society International, the Religious NGO Network on Humanitarian Support, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches.

The two-hour service was attended by about 200 people, who together reflected the ethnic and religious diversity of the city. It included ceremonial offerings of incense, flowers and fruit; the recitation0 of haikus; silent meditation; musical interludes by the pianist Taka Kigawa and the koto player Masayo Ishigure; and reflections and monetary appeals by representatives of the three Japanese prefectures most acutely affected by the natural disasters.

“In prayer, in music, in silence, in simple shared presence, may solidarity, compassion and reverence bathe this sacred space, these sacred moments,” said the Rev. Robert B. Coleman, the church’s chief program minister.

“This,” added Gary Moriwaki, president of the Japanese American Association of New York, as collection plates were passed through the pews, “is really America at its best.”

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Morning Buzz | Budget Deal Beats Deadline

Today it will continue to feel not quite like spring. Sunny but a high of only 43, with mildly heavy winds.

Politicians in Albany have rarely been called overachievers, but on Sunday they reached a budget agreement five days in advance of the deadline. Details of the $132.5 billion budget are still forthcoming, but, if passed, the budget would decrease year-to-year spending for the first time in more than a decade, while still avoiding new taxes.

That includes the exclusion of a continuation on a tax surcharge for wealthy New Yorkers. The budget does include a $2 billion year-to-year cut to health care and education, drawing criticism of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who did score several apparent victories in the negotiations. He successfully implemented two-year appropriations on health care and education, with fixed rates of growth, to avoid another public debate next year; he cut 3,700 prison beds, a longtime priority of his; and he successfully cut state agencies’ budgets by 10 percent. [NYT] (Also see The New York Post, The Daily News and The Wall Street Journal.)

Government & Politics

As investigations into its mishandling continue alongside efforts to implement it, the CityTime payroll automation project continues to draw criticism, specifically for the budget director, Mark Page, who passionately pushed the project, despite little oversight, officials say. CityTime has cost the city $700 million. [NYT]

According to 2010 census data, New York is the first metropolitan area in the United States in which non-Hispanic whites are a minority of the population. That demographic makes up 49.6 percent of the population, down from 54.3 percent a decade ago. [NYT]. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is disputing the recent census data, although not the ethnic makeup of the city. The city will appeal the census data, claiming the Census Bureau undercounted the number of residents in Brooklyn and Queens. [Daily News]

In other human tallying news, a research organization is challenging the Department of Labor’s 2008 count of the city’s artists. The Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability says the city has underreported the number of city artists, so the organization is going to start counting artists itself, claiming that a more accurate assessment will help earn workers’ rights for artists. [Wall Street Journal]


New York University is continuing its worldwide expansion beyond Greenwich Village; on Sunday school officials announced plans for a new degree-granting campus in Shanghai. The liberal arts campus is expected to open in 2013 as way to serve Chinese students looking for American forms of higher education and to give N.Y.U. better access to Chinese study areas. [NYT] (Also see The Wall Street Journal.)

Supporters of a proposed charter elementary school in Washington Heights in Manhattan are outraged after the Education Department decided to open a KIPP charter school, one of the nation’s most highly regarded and wealthiest charter chains, in the same location. The department had originally indicated that the start-up school, Castle Bridge, run by the principal at Central Park East 1 elementary school in East Harlem, would be granted the space. [NYT]


An adolescent Egyptian cobra escaped from its enclosure in the reptile house of the Bronx Zoo over the weekend. Like most adolescent runaways, the cobra is not expected to have strayed far from home, zoo officials said, and poses little risk to the public, despite carrying deadly venom. [NYT] (Also see The New York Post, The Daily News and The Wall Street Journal, paid subscription required.)

Crime & Public Safety

A series of apparently intentional fires, the latest coming on March 19, razed the Brooklyn Free Store, a tent in Bedford-Stuyvesant that offered free books, clothes and other items. The fires spread to a nearby home, causing its eventual demolition. No motive for the fires is known. [NYT]

Corey McGriff, known in New York hip-hop circles as DJ Megatron, a disc jockey formerly of “Hot 97″ WQHT-FM (97.1), was shot and killed near his Staten Island home early Sunday. The circumstances of the shooting are not yet known. [NYT] (Also see The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, paid subscription required.)

Many illegal street bookies are reporting increased revenue since the closing of the city’s Off-Track Betting parlors. The city’s online horse betting Web site saw business triple in the past year, to $5.1 million wagered last month. [New York Post]


Senator Charles E. Schumer loves to bike, and this city loves to talk about bikes. So how did Mr. Schumer react when asked about the most discussed bike lane in the city, along Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, where he lives? “No comment,” he said. He then repeated it twice, and then once more through a spokesman. Sorry we asked. [NYT]

All aboard the Southern, one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s eight “refuse rigs” that transport heaps of trash discard on the subway system. [Daily News]

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Time to Avert a Disaster: Open Existing Secure Nuclear Waste Storage Facilities

The nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan shows, beyond a doubt, the time has come to open existing, secure nuclear storage facilities in the United States to avert a similar tragedy. Stored fuel is the biggest concern in Japan. We currently store spent nuclear fuel rods at power plants in above ground facilities in secure Transportation, Aging, and Disposal Canisters (TAD). These canisters can be shipped and stored without opening them. There are currently about 71,000 metric tons of spent fuel and high level radioactive waste stored at 121 nuclear power plants and non-military government sites. All of this waste, minus shipping containers, could be stacked forty-one feet high on one football field. Waste grows at a rate of 2,000 metric tons a year. It is time for Congress to authorize opening the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility on an emergency basis.

In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requiring the federal government to provide a high security, permanent, underground storage site and began charging a fee of 1 tenth of a cent on every kilowatt-hour of nuclear power produced to pay for it. According to recent Department of Energy reports, the Nuclear Waste Fund totals $25 Billion and is increasing by $750 Million a year in payments and $1 Billion a year in interest.

The federal response to the act was to build the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, underground storage facility for $13.5 Billion. The initial facility is complete and ready to accept up to 70,000 metric tons of waste and only requires final licensing. The storage capacity of Yucca Mountain could be tripled. Despite being incredibly safer than current storage options, licensing has been stalled by complaints it is not secure enough. The site has passed every safety review and is called by some the most studied piece of real estate in the world. Transporting existing waste would require about 7000 tractor trailer and rail shipments. There have already been an estimated 9000 shipments of radioactive material without incident.

The Obama Administration has tried to close Yucca Mountain by executive order. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is suing to continue the licensing application as an executive order cannot overrule established law. There are elements of the environmental community who do not want this problem solved as they prefer to keep the lack of permanent storage as an argument against building new nuclear power plants. Delayed opening of Yucca Mountain could require refunds on the Nuclear Waste Fund totaling as much as $11 Billion.

We also have a second storage option, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located 25 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico used to store military grade nuclear waste. It is already open and the storage of a backlog of military waste is almost complete with only a small portion of the available space consumed. There is an existing list of civilian waste sites classified by their relative level of security. Congressional legislation should allow immediate use of WIPP for civilian waste starting with the most at risk waste until such time as Yucca Mountain is ready to receive waste.

An additional option would be to reprocess spent fuel rods as only one third of the uranium in a rod is used before re-fueling. Reprocessing is used in other countries, such as France, which produces 75% of its electricity at nuclear plants. Current EPA rules have made reprocessing impractical in the United States. There will be access to materials stored at Yucca Mountain for fifty years before the facility is backfilled.

All the information presented here is available in various reports published at the U.S. Department of Energy website.

David T. Stevenson

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Remembering a Brooklyn Publisher Who Kept the News Local

“Hong Kong Flu Hits Bay Ridge,” screamed the headline. And just in case readers in December 1968 were not already alarmed, a smaller headline below warned: “It’s Upon Us!”

The headlines often shouted from The Home Reporter and Sunset News, every week grabbing readers in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Sunset Park, and other Brooklyn neighborhoods in a way that belied the contemplative, formal man who published them. James Francis Griffin, known as Frank, was rarely seen without a necktie and a dress shirt.

To Mr. Griffin, news meant local news, from politics to garden club meetings, to crime to night clubs. And he tried to make it all colorful. After a motorist crashed into the wall of a bar, a headline read: “Another Wallbanger, Please!” Other, far less dramatic mishaps still merited front-page treatment: “Man Hurt in Fall from Curb.”

His journalism embodied “hyperlocal” long before the concept itself became a journalism buzz word. Yet he never had an e-mail account, and never owned a computer. He declined, repeatedly over the last 10 years, to put his newspapers online.

After 60 years as the paper’s founding publisher — The Home Reporter merged with The Sunset News in 1962 and he bought out his chief competitor, The Brooklyn Spectator, in 1976 — Mr. Griffin sold out to The Queens Courier chain in January. On March 14, he died of cancer at age 83.

“In some ways he was known as an unorthodox publisher,” said Sara Otey, 70, his longtime companion and former managing editor. “He was involved and he was instinctive, and he was old-fashioned in his ideas of a weekly newspaper. I think in the last decade of the paper he was determined to stick to that formula, when he might have allowed himself to be a bit more contemporary.”

Mr. Griffin, who grew up in Maryland, graduated from Loyola College in Baltimore, and earned a master’s degree from Fordham University, worked at The World Telegram and, not surprisingly given his headlines, The New York Enquirer (which later became The National Enquirer).

He founded The Home Reporter in 1952, and from its offices on the northeast corner of 88th Street and Third Avenue, Mr. Griffin mixed murder and mayhem with wedding anniversaries and political gossip. He packed its pages with advertisements that gave some credence to the paper’s boast: “Brooklyn’s Largest Classified Section.”

“You knew every place, everybody that advertised,” said Tony Azzinari, 75, eating fried eggs on Thursday at Hinsch’s, a luncheonette on Fifth Avenue. Beside him sat a stack of recent issues, which were available free instead of for 50 cents. Mr. Griffin had arranged the deal decades ago with Hinsch’s owner, John Logue.

“He told me I could either sell or give them away because most of my customers are seniors and they’re the ones reading the paper,” Mr. Logue said.

He said that in 25 years, he never saw Mr. Griffin without a tie, even when he brought any of his seven children into Mr. Logue’s old ice cream shop, Once Upon a Sundae.

“He was always very quiet, very dignified,” Mr. Logue said. “Even the way his newspaper reflected community stories, it was the same. You could be pretty much assured that your words weren’t going to be twisted. He reported the facts as they were, not as some people thought they should be.”

The paper tackled divisive issues like the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and at first was quite liberal, though sometimes its positions were intended to pique the interest of readers. “The Home Reporter had to take the opposite position of Bay Ridge in everything,” said Charles F. Otey, 72, Mr. Griffin’s former executive editor, and Sara Otey’s former husband. “It became a ‘bring the bridge in, we need progress’ paper, and it became a ‘let’s integrate and not fight busing’ paper.”

Mr. Griffin began catering over the last several decades to his conservative, older readership, Ms. Otey said. But beyond politics, he knew people bought the paper, she said, to read about their neighbors, or themselves. Whether covering the Police Athletic League or the annual Halloween window art that students painted in stores, Mr. Griffin made sure the numerous Bay Ridge civic organizations were all represented.

He became a civic leader himself, serving on Mayor John V. Lindsay’s Urban Action Task Force as well as the local school board. He won the Bay Ridge Community Council’s civic award in 1967 and was a grand marshal of the Ragamuffin Parade.

Mr. Griffin had been separated from his wife, Marvelle, for several years by the time she died in 1987. The Oteys’ divorced, and when Mr. Otey remarried, Mr. Griffin attended the wedding. After the wedding, Ms. Otey said, he called her and invited her out for a drink. When he picked her up, she said he told her, “this is not about business.”

Mr. Griffin and Ms. Otey never married and in the office carried on a typical adversarial editor-publisher relationship. They remained friends with Mr. Otey, who left the paper to become a lawyer, and is now the executive editor of another weekly, The Bay Ridge Eagle, which has hired several Home Reporter staffers.

Ms. Otey retired as managing editor after 25 years, and he stayed on as publisher and editor.

It was not until they were on a Caribbean cruise in mid-January that Mr. Griffin matter-of-factly told her he had sold the paper. When they returned, Mr. Griffin fell ill. He had survived colon cancer six years earlier, and in March was diagnosed with lymphoma. Mr. Griffin lived just six days after the diagnosis.

“He was a man who loved literature and travel and me, and he loved his old grandmother’s farmhouse in southern Maryland,” Ms. Otey said. “But I think his big love was his paper. And he was so connected to it, he would never let go.”

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