A Dissident’s Lens on 1980s New York

He was a New York street artist — “a better painter than sketcher,” as a former colleague told City Room in May. He’s the brains behind 12 statues installed near the Plaza Hotel this spring. But the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s photographs of New York are the focus at a new exhibit up this week at the Asia Society Museum.

Lately, Mr. Ai, 54, is probably best known as an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party. While Mr. Ai was in detention, the museum was not sure whether the exhibit — a “newly discovered archive” that showcases more than 200 photos — could go on at all.

But it did. It’s a fresh view of 1980s New York. And it’s up on the Lens blog.

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Google Car Likes to Take Pictures. Pose for Them? Not So Much.

It does not come around often, but when it does, the Google Street View car is hard to miss.

The car is emblazoned with the Google logo, and its tall rooftop mount — supporting the 360-degree panoramic cameras that harvest visual information for Street View, the virtual streetscape feature on Google Maps — sticks up in traffic like a dorsal fin.

It has also gained near-mythic status in towns and cities around the world, as it shows up pacing, Pac Man-like, along streets. Spotting the car has become a parlor game, with many photos posted online.

I spied the car two years ago on West 15th Street and asked the driver for a ride-along. He declined. I wound up writing an article about the car’s task of photographing New York City.

As I was driving Wednesday morning I saw the Google car again, heading east on East 68th Street. It passed my car and I quickly snapped a blurry picture, and the driver — looked like a guy in his 40s — saw me driving after him to try to take another. It was tougher than you’d think.

I could swear the driver was trying to lose me. First, he stopped dead in a flowing traffic lane on Lexington and waited for a few moments. I stopped too, but was in no position to photograph him.

Then he zipped down Lexington and the chase was on!

He banged a left on 66th Street, and so did I. This was no movie chase scene. We crept along in traffic and waited at red lights. He made a left on Third Avenue and began stopping in traffic again and then sped up. At this point, I was videotaping him out my car window. He scowled at me and got on his cellphone. Then he made a quick left on 69th Street and succeeded in losing me.

Deanna Yick, a spokeswoman for Google, which began its extensive photographing of New York City in 2006 to gather images for the May 2007 introduction of Street View — would not provide information about the car’s whereabouts or how long it would be in the city, citing as a reason that the car’s “routes are often subject to change based on factors like weather, driving conditions, speed of collection, etc.”

She did write in an e-mail that the company updates Street View imagery periodically and that the car was “re-driving in the N.Y.C. area to provide both locals and tourists with refreshed street-level views.”

It can be a real challenge to keep an updated photographic likeness of ever-changing New York City.

A quick stroll through the current version of Street View indicates that the recently shuttered Elaine’s restaurant is still open; the Intercontinental Hotel on West 44th Street, which opened last July, is still very much under construction; and that “The Owl and the Sparrow” is playing at Cinema Village on East 12th Street, even though the theater’s Web site lists the film as having closed in June 2009.

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Protests Over Albany’s Role in Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island had long been run like a colony, with local issues like transportation, real estate development and even trash pickup controlled by a board whose leaders were appointed by Albany.

But recently Islanders managed to usher in a more democratic process with the support of former Govs. Elliot Spitzer and David Paterson. Beginning in 2008, the Island held its first elections for the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, voting in six Island residents to the board.

But resident leaders say they now fear that these advances are in jeopardy. Earlier this month, Jonathan Kalkin, a board member elected in 2008, was relieved of his position by Albany leaders, and replaced by Sal Ferrera, executive director of The Child School/Legacy High School, a private school on the island for special needs students.

On Wednesday, a few dozen people gathered on Third Avenue near the entrance to the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The residents carried signs with angry slogans accusing Governor Cuomo of squelching democracy on Roosevelt Island, which has roughly 15,000 residents.

Matt Katz, president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, said the governor’s office nominated Mr. Ferrera, who was then confirmed by the Senate Finance Committee.

The appointment was done quietly and quickly without notifying the Island’s local elected officials, Mr. Katz said.

Mr. Katz said he feared that the governor’s action was an indication that Albany would similarly remove the board’s other five elected members. He said was disappointed that this was Governor Cuomo’s first major action regarding the island’s governance, adding that, “It’s as though we’re starting from scratch and there is no precedent.”

Reached by phone, Mr. Ferrera said he had submitted his application for a board position, with the understanding that the other board positions would be decided by elections.

“If I knew this was going to happen, I would not have taken the position, but at this point, I’m not going to withdraw,” he said. “No one told me this would be like going into a tempest.”

Reached for comment, a spokesman for the governor said the appointment was made at the recommendation of State Senator Dean Skelos, the Republican majority leader. Mr. Skelos’s office did not return calls for comment on Wednesday evening.

Gov. Cuomo’s spokesman said, “The administration is committed to true and fair representation of the Roosevelt Island community.”

Mr. Kalkin, an insurance and financial executive, was an active board member who is currently a principle figure in important — and controversial — real estate deals being handled by the board, two of which include affordable housing and filling vacant retail space on Main Street.

He said his ouster was “potentially dangerous for the island,” especially if other elected board members were similarly replaced.
“If this becomes the precedent, this will dissolve what Roosevelt Islanders have fought for,” he said.

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Misdemeanor Charge for Pole-Sitting Rapper

One day after scaling a traffic light in Times Square — and remaining there, rapping, exercising and clogging several blocks of Midtown traffic for nearly two hours — Raymond Velasquez, 34, was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday afternoon on a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment, as well as lesser charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.

“I won’t come down unless Alicia Keys comes outside to see me,” Mr. Velasquez told officers, according to the criminal complaint. Ms. Keys had performed in Times Square on ABC’s “Good Morning America” earlier Tuesday morning.

While atop the traffic light apparatus, Mr. Velasquez told police officers he was searching for his lost son, according to the complaint, which cites Officer Peter Rogers of the Police Department’s 14th Precinct. Then, around 5:40 p.m. Tuesday, Mr. Velasquez admitted his actions were “just a publicity stunt for my music,” the complaint said.

An aspiring rapper from Brooklyn who performs as “Coney Island Joe,” Mr. Velasquez climbed the vertical beam on the corner of 44th Street and Seventh Avenue at about 9:20 a.m. Tuesday. He supported himself atop two small struts attached to the traffic light — as a crowd gathered to watch him sit, pray, complete a set of pull-ups on the beams and, more often, rap in the direction of the “Good Morning America” studios and MTV building on either side of him. Mr. Velasquez also offered his demo CD to the officers below him, according to witnesses.

In the complaint, Officer Rogers said Mr. Velasquez had “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person” by balancing atop the 20-to-25-foot light pole with pedestrians below. Once officers became aware of his antics, they forced spectators to the sidewalk, shut off several blocks of Seventh Avenue traffic and assembled an inflatable landing spot below the traffic light.

Myriad explanations circulated along Seventh Avenue Tuesday morning, as a swelling crowd tried to make sense of the spectacle. Some said they had seen Mr. Velasquez walk into the MTV building in an effort to promote his CD. Others thought he might have been making a political statement.

Some attributed his conduct to Ms. Keys.

“He wanted to get her attention,” said J.R. Foster, 52. “He’s just trying to get played.”

Half an hour before Mr. Velasquez ascended the pole, Ms. Keys had performed “Empire State of Mind (Part II).”

“These streets will make you feel brand new,” she sang. “Big lights will inspire you.”

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What Constitutes a Just Sentence?

Kenneth Moreno and Franklin L. Mata dodged a bullet for a while longer.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

They were the New York police officers — former police officers now — who disgraced the uniform in 2008 with what they did in the apartment of a young woman who was thoroughly drunk. Manhattan prosecutors charged that instead of helping her home and letting her just sleep it off, they raped her.

No way, the men said. Mr. Moreno — described by his own lawyer as “maybe a bit of a simpleton” — did admit, however, to having climbed into bed with the nearly naked woman and having cuddled with her while Mr. Mata napped in the next room.

After deliberating for a week, jurors in state court concluded last month that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove rape. But they found the men guilty of official misconduct, misdemeanor counts that could result in jail terms of up to two years. Hours after the verdict, the Police Department washed its hands of these two mooks, and kicked them off the force.

Tuesday was supposed to be sentencing day, but Messrs. Moreno and Mata won a reprieve. Their lawyers asked, among other things, that the judge throw out the convictions on the grounds that the misconduct charges were not supported by law. So the convicted men got to go free until at least Aug. 8, the next sentencing date.

While that was happening in the courthouse, dozens of women’s rights advocates rallied nearby in Foley Square. They were decidedly (some would say understandably) unhappy, accusing the city of not taking rape seriously enough. They demanded the maximum penalty for the former officers, and denounced what several speakers called “a grave miscarriage of justice.”

It no doubt helped these speakers to be unburdened with having actually followed the trial in person. Unlike the jury, criticized for having let the officers “get away with rape,” they had not sat through more than six weeks of testimony and seven days of deliberations. So much for faith in the jury system.

Still, the issue of what constitutes a just sentence remains. It is a thread running this week through several otherwise unrelated cases.

In compelling interviews with Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times, the federal judge in the Bernard L. Madoff case explained how he came, two years ago on Wednesday, to impose the maximum prison sentence: 150 years. At the time, some questioned whether the judge, Denny Chin, had shown appropriate toughness or, instead, had gone overboard, possibly inviting disrespect for the judicial system.

Judge Chin said he had concluded that the crimes were so “extraordinarily evil” that Mr. Madoff, now 73, deserved not even a glimmer of hope of ever being free again. “A defendant should get his just deserts,” he recalled thinking.

Mr. Madoff’s reaction to this? He went: Boo hoo hoo. In a phone interview with Mr. Weiser from a federal prison in North Carolina, he whined that the judge had turned him into “the human piñata of Wall Street,” and said, “I’m surprised Chin didn’t suggest stoning in the public square.”

Sentencing will also be scrutinized in the case of four men who could get life in prison for plotting to blow up synagogues and military planes. On Wednesday, three of the four are to be sentenced by a federal judge in Manhattan.

The case has been dogged by defense charges of government entrapment and by questions of whether these men were gullible dopes more than committed jihadists. The judge, Colleen McMahon, agreed last month that there was “something troubling about the government’s behavior.” That said, she upheld the guilty verdicts.

It showed, once again, that for all the chest-thumping talk in some circles about how military tribunals are the only acceptable settings in terrorism cases, the federal courts have proved to be a lot tougher, consistently imposing long sentences in trial after trial.

For more local news from The Times, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s tough stance on New York’s nuclear power plants, a judge’s explanation of Bernard L. Madoff’s 150-year sentence and a police crackdown on Midtown food trucks, see the N.Y./Region section.

Here’s what City Room is reading in other papers and blogs this morning.

Isayah Muller, a football star, was stabbed to death hours after his high school graduation in the Bronx. [Daily News] (Also see The New York Times and The New York Post.)

Federal agents arrested several Brooklyn dealers with large quantities of what the agents said were “bath salts,” or methylone, a popular designer drug. [Brooklyn Paper]

The trading slump has led to layoffs on Wall Street. [Wall Street Journal]

A man who opened his home to Rudolph W. Giuliani during the former mayor’s messy 2001 divorce said that Mr. Giuliani promised to conduct a wedding ceremony between the man and his husband if gay marriage were ever legal in New York, but that he has not returned his calls now that it is. [New York Post]

The legalization of gay marriage may force some couples to wed to keep benefits like shared health insurance. [Wall Street Journal]

The State Department of Corrections said they were rewriting the rules for conjugal visits to accommodate gay unions. [New York Post]

A New Jersey gay rights organization plans to file a lawsuit in State Superior Court demanding that same-sex relationships be recognized as marriages, not civil unions. [Star-Ledger]

There is an unfortunate clash between walkers and bikers on the Brooklyn Bridge’s narrow pedestrian walkway. [mcbrooklyn]

The principal of a Manhattan middle school geared toward writers is accused of having plagiarized a David Foster Wallace graduation speech for his own commencement remarks. [Daily News]

A 500-pound pop-up piano was apparently stolen from Norwood Park in the Bronx. [Daily News]

Video: “Pianojohn” tickles the ivories of the piano in Brooklyn Bridge Park. [Brooklyn Heights Blog]

Check out the Second Avenue Subway line construction to see some real-world Autobots. [Lost City]

A guide to this year’s Summer Streets program, which starts Aug. 6. [Gowanus Lounge]

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What Did You Learn From 9/11?

For nearly 10 years, The New York Times has reported on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent local and global effects of the worst terrorist attacks ever to occur on American soil. Now, with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks a few months away, we want to hear from you.

During several days this summer, journalists on our multimedia team will be stationed at locations around New York and the region with video cameras, ready to record your thoughts about Sept. 11. Our purpose is to answer the question: What did you learn from 9/11?

The first stop we’ll be making, on Thursday, June 30, is at the Journal Square PATH station on Kennedy Boulevard between Pavonia and Sip Avenues in Jersey City. We will be there for two hours, from 4 to 6 p.m. You will see our small camera crew and a blue, rectangular flag with the logo of The New York Times on it.

The short interviews (about five minutes each) we conduct with you will be used in a video story that will accompany our 10th anniversary coverage of Sept. 11 on NYTimes.com. If you can’t make it this time, please spread the word to others who might want to participate. And there will be other chances to have your say this summer, in other locations around New York. Stay tuned.

If you have questions or comments about this project, please post them in the comments below. Or, on Twitter, tweet to @LisaIaboni, the journalist leading the project.

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Bloomberg Ad Invokes Al Qaeda in Fighting Illegal Guns

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is back on the air with another political ad, and this time his focus is guns.

Just a few weeks after an operative from Al Qaeda released a video urging Islamic militants to take advantage of America as a country “absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” Mr. Bloomberg and his national anti-illegal gun coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, released a commercial on Tuesday urging Congress to close what they say is a loophole in gun laws. That loophole is gun shows, the mayors say, where all kinds of people — even terrorists — can purchase firearms.

The ad features snippets of the comments from the operative, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American convert to Islam, together with gun show footage from Mr. Bloomberg’s 2009 undercover video operation, and urges viewers to press Congress to approve legislation that would tighten rules on gun shows.

The ad will run through Thursday on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, as well as on the Sunday morning talk shows. Mr. Bloomberg is paying for the ads out of his own pocket — at a cost, media buyers estimate, at $200,000 to $250,000.

In a statement, Mr. Bloomberg said: “Criminals already know how to take advantage of gaps in our gun laws, and now Al Qaeda knows, too. Americans, including N.R.A. members, overwhelmingly support stronger laws to keep guns away from terrorists and other dangerous people.”

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association did not respond immediately to an e-mail seeking reaction to the new ad. But in the past, the organization and its supporters have cast aspersions upon Mr. Bloomberg and his group.

The ad marks the first time Mr. Bloomberg has cut a national ad since April 2010, when he and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has more than 500 members, chastised senators — both Democrats and Republicans — for failing to address the gun show loophole.

But Mr. Bloomberg has not been totally absent from the airwaves, either. Earlier this year, when his popularity was sinking in the aftermath of the December blizzard and his appointment of Cathleen P. Black as schools chancellor, he rolled out an ad called “Independence” that had the upbeat feel and message of a man in full campaign mode.

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Union Challenges State on Use of Tests in Teacher Evaluations

The usually friendly relationship between the state teachers union and the State Department of Education fissured on Tuesday with the union’s announcement that it was taking the state to court over new teacher evaluation rules.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the State Supreme Court in Albany on Monday, accuses the Board of Regents — the state’s policy making body on education — of giving districts more power to use test scores in teacher evaluations than the law allows.

The law in question was passed last year, with the union’s support, as part of New York’s successful effort to win a $700 million federal Race to the Top grant.

Using a 100-point scale, the law dictated that 20 points of a teacher’s evaluation come from students’ progress on the state exams and that another 20 points come from local assessments that would be negotiated with the unions. The remaining 60 percent would come from subjective measures like principals’ evaluations.

In May, responding to criticism from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Board of Regents voted to give school districts the option of weighing the state tests more heavily so they would count for 40 points. Proponents of this plan said that asking financially struggling districts to create their own local tests was unrealistic.

But Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union, said that the state’s guidelines were more about evaluating teachers “quickly and cheaply, instead of doing it right.”

He said the guidelines would encourage poorer districts to save money by using the state tests, effectively diminishing the quality of their teacher evaluations.

“For a school district to opt to count a state test twice, the cost to it is close to zero,” he said. “But for a school district to provide professional development, it’s going to cost more. The wealthy school districts can provide that, but the poorer school districts will find that they have no choice.”

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said that the state teachers union had made no secret of its plans to sue once the regulations were passed. The union’s suit has little basis, she said, because districts still have to reach a deal with their unions on whether to create local assessments or use the state exams.

“I am hoping the court will make a quick decision to allow the implementation of the teacher evaluation system to move forward,” she said.

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Video Shows Brazen Bushwick Copper Theft, Police Say

From the annals of brazen thievery that brought you the guy stealing the safe in Queens a couple of weeks ago comes the tale of the copper rustlers of Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

On June 2 at about 8 p.m., the police say, three men let themselves into 95 Evergreen and helped themselves to a vanload of uninstalled copper pipes that were not theirs to remove. They did so in clear view of a surveillance camera, and the police released the video above Tuesday afternoon.

If you have any information about this crime, you are asked to contact the Police Department’s Crime Stoppers unit by phone (1-800-577-8477), Web site or text (send “TIPS 577,” followed by the message, to 274637).

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One Move Ahead of Opponents, and Two Ahead of Trouble

It is impossible to miss that James Black Jr. is a chess champion when you walk into his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Three trophies, each nearly three feet tall, sit on the floor in front of a fish tank. Other trophies crowd the floor in front of a living room cabinet that is covered with more trophies, many with medals dangling from them. There is an inlaid chess board on the coffee table in the center of the room with carved wooden pieces, and another board on the kitchen table.

James, 12, is a seventh grader at Intermediate School 318 in South Williamsburg, a perennial powerhouse in chess. Though the school’s teams have many talented players, James stands out.

He is the second-best player in the school, based on the ranking system used by the United States Chess Federation, the game’s governing body. And he is on the cusp of becoming a national master, the second-highest title awarded by the federation and one that fewer than 2 percent of its active members have earned.

In April, James led his team to the championship of the kindergarten through eighth grade section of the Junior High School Chess Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. James tied for first in his section.

James learned to play chess five years ago from his father, James Black Sr., but within a couple of weeks, James was winning most of their games.

“Throughout my life, whatever my dad showed me, I was interested,” James Jr. said last week. “I tried to beat him at other things, but he’s always destroying me.”

Some of the school’s players come from families where chess is seen as a way to avoid trouble, and James is a particularly stark example. He has two older half-brothers by his mother. One spent 33 months in prison for selling drugs, though he is now on parole at age 25. The other, Terrance Daniels, 19, was convicted of murder in 2009 and is serving 20 years to life at the maximum-security prison in Elmira, N.Y.

James also has a half-sister, Tanique Daniels, 18, who was thrown out of the house this spring by James’s father after a series of arguments.

Photos of James and his siblings line the walls of his house on Stuyvesant Avenue, ghostly reminders of an earlier family life.

James, who can be quiet around strangers, said that he missed his siblings. “I kind of get lonely at night,” he said.

He said that he was “a little disappointed” in Terrance and that he did not understand how he could have murdered someone. “That just doesn’t seem like him,” he said, and added, “He has to do his time and I guess hopefully he’ll come out soon.”

James’s coach at I.S. 318, Elizabeth Vicary, said that the difference in James’s life has been the commitment of his father.

“I see his dad more than I see any other parent,” Ms. Vicary said. “I feel like his dad is kind of saving him. James is not going to become a street punk. He is going to get a great education because his dad is going to see that happens.”

James Black Sr., a deli clerk at a D’Agostino’s supermarket, acknowledged that he kept a close eye on his son and that young James sometimes chafed against his rules — limits on video-game time chief among them — and wondered why his older siblings seemed to have more freedom. “He asks plenty of times, ‘Why can they do things that I can’t?’ ” Mr. Black said.

James has also been studying with a grandmaster, Alexander Stripunsky. The money for the weekly lessons, which run $200, has come from a private benefactor and the nonprofit Chess-in-the-Schools program. The lessons are paid through August, but there is uncertainty about how the cost will be covered after that.

As summer rolls in and the thoughts of the average 12-year-old turn to vacation, James is focused on achieving his master ranking. For two months now, he has been just a few of points short of the 2,200-point threshold. He could reach it in his next tournament by winning three or four games.

As for the long term, James is still too young to know what he wants to do when he grows up — asked if he had any ideas, he grinned and suggested perhaps he could be an ice cream taster, a job he read about in school.

But he said that chess may provide a backup plan. “I feel that if I don’t find a job that interests me that I’ll be teaching chess for a living,” he said. “It’s pretty decent money.”

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