Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell

Community Newsletter
Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell
Manhattan Valley Morningside Heights
Upper West Side West Harlem



Dear Neighbor,

Since my last newsletter in May, my district office has been busy with district priorities and events.

As I have written before, I have been a longtime advocate of preservation, specifically the proposal to designate a historic district in Morningside Heights. In this newsletter, I provide an update on my efforts to move this proposal forward and outline ways you can get involved.

Preserving and improving access to affordable housing is crucial. I recently testified at hearings in opposition to the use of “phony demolitions” to remove apartments from rent regulation, and in support of dedicating more funding and resources to accomplish NYC Housing Authority’s 2009 Annual Plan. My office is hosting an event to raise awareness about the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE), which provides a rent freeze for qualified seniors. Reports indicate that thousands of eligible seniors across this city do not currently take full advantage of this important program.

I attended Assembly committee hearings on two important topics since my last report. One focused on the needs of English Language Learners in public schools, and the other focused on the environmental impacts of drilling for natural gas. Both hearings are detailed in these pages.

In December, my office will host its annual Coat Drive with New York Cares. And in January, we’ll be collecting cell phones for victims of domestic violence. Please mark your calendars and donate gently used coats and cell phones to support these efforts.

My community office is located at 245 W. 104th Street, just off Broadway. My staff and I are available to assist you. I encourage you to call, write, or visit us, Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. For those with specific housing problems to discuss, I have a dedicated housing specialist on staff and host monthly legal clinics for tenants.

I hope you find this latest community newsletter informative and useful. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call my community office at (212) 866-3970.

Very truly yours,

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell
Info Session for Seniors and Caregivers
Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE)

Co-sponsored by:
Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council

Medicare Rights Center will present information on changes to Medicare and EPIC for 2009. NYC’s Department for the Aging will discuss how senior rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants can file for relief from rent increases. There will be opportunities to speak with representatives and make follow-up appointments.

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Goddard Riverside Community Center

593 Columbus Avenue @ W. 88th Street
RSVP by calling 212-866-3970

For more details, click here.

Update on Morningside Historic District:
A Call To Action

Morningside Heights is home to some of the most striking and cohesive architecture in New York City. This unique characteristic is the direct result of a relatively brief span of time over which the neighborhood was developed, and the relatively small number of architects that were directly involved in the building boom.

For over twelve years, beginning with his service on Community Board 9 and as a founding member of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee (MHHDC), Assembly Member O’Donnell has advocated for the designation of a historic district that would pay homage to and protect the built heritage of Morningside Heights.

The May community newsletter reported that O’Donnell filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to gain access to documents that could shed light on the extent of LPC’s progress on this designation. Upon reviewing the records, it became clear that LPC’s response was incomplete, inadequate and that the Commission has taken absolutely no action on the proposal. This is troubling considering that LPC is a governmental agency that should be transparent in its actions and responsive to the public.

In September, O’Donnell convened a meeting of community activists, preservation groups, and members of Community Board 9 and MHHDC to discuss strategies and reinvigorate the community’s efforts.

Shortly before that meeting, Columbia University announced plans to demolish three adjoining brownstones that were among the first residential buildings constructed in Morningside Heights. The buildings—408, 410 and 412 W. 115th Street, circa 1898—have been left vacant and ill-maintained since their purchase.

Brownstones at 408-410 W. 115th Street, circa 1940. Credit: NYC Municipal Archive.

Following a request from the 115th/116th Streets Block Association, Assembly Member O’Donnell sent a letter to President Lee Bollinger asking the University to reconsider its decision. Community Board 9 recently expressed concern over Columbia’s plan and reiterated its strong support for the designation of a Morningside Historic District. Columbia’s announcement certainly underscores the need for the protections that a historic district would provide.

O’Donnell’s office has begun to work with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (NYSHPO) to assess sites in the neighborhood deemed eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Following that review, his office will prepare and submit applications for NYSHPO to consider more buildings and districts that could be added to the National Registry. The hope is that more determinations of eligibility could convince LPC of the district’s merits.

Over the last year, O’Donnell has been collecting letters of support from elected officials, institutions, and neighborhood organizations. Below, is the list of individuals and groups who have submitted letters of support.

It is possible to balance the needs of institutional growth and flexibility with the protection of a neighborhood’s built fabric. A historic district does not need to be considered an undue burden on property owners but rather a mechanism to ensure that re-development, façade renovations, and new construction are harmonious and built in context with surrounding structures.

Elected officials and organizations in support of a Morningside Historic District:

Ways to support a Morningside Historic District

  1. Write a letter of support to Robert Tierney, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North, New York, NY 10007. Upon request, O’Donnell’s office can provide you with historical background on Morningside Heights and sample language. Please provide a copy of any letter to Assembly Member O’Donnell and other local elected officials.

  2. If you are affiliated with or familiar with any local institution, block or tenant’s association, or other community group, engage in conversations about the importance of the district and ask the institution or group to write a letter of support.

  3. Call O’Donnell’s district office at 212-866-3970 to provide your e-mail and mailing addresses to receive updates.

Other Preservation Highlights

O’Donnell Testifies in Favor of Landmarking George Bruce Branch Library

At the Tuesday, June 24th Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing, Assembly Member O’Donnell testified in favor of designating the George Bruce Branch Library at 518 W. 125th Street as a historic landmark. The Assembly Member testified about the cultural and architectural significance of this building.

Morningside Park a Scenic Landmark

On July 15th, 2008 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated this Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed park a scenic landmark. The last such designation was made in 1983. The New York City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks approved the designation at its October 15th meeting, where Assembly Member O’Donnell submitted testimony. The designation must now be ratified by the City Council.

O’Donnell Testifies in Opposition to Phony Demolitions and in Support of Increased Funding for Affordable Housing

On August 12th, 2008, Assembly Member O’Donnell testified in strong opposition to a new definition of demolition proposed by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. From the testimony:

“When originally passed, the [demolition] law allowed owners of buildings that were dilapidated and dangerous to replace them with new, safe housing. This provision in the law has been abused by landlords seeking nothing more than to empty buildings of rent regulated tenants so that they could replace them with market rate tenants.”

Assembly Member O’Donnell called for increased local, state, and federal funding to support affordable housing with his testimony at the August 13th, 2008 hearing on the Annual Plan put forward by NYC Housing Authority.

“I am here today to say that for too long our government at all levels has not demonstrated the kind of monetary commitment necessary to ensure that public housing in New York City is maintained properly, that maintenance crews are well trained and are adequate in number, that innovative job training programs are offered regularly and that measures are taken to ensure that residents are safe and secure. Relying on increased rents to make up for government’s refusal to allocate larger amounts of money to public housing to cover operating expenses is the wrong approach.”

Successful Community Events

During the months of April and May, hundreds of students participated in Assembly Member O’Donnell’s 5th Annual Community Reading Challenge. Children pre-K through eighth grade submitted book reviews and drawings and attended reading parties at the district’s three branch libraries—Bloomingdale, Morningside Heights, and George Bruce. Assembly Member O’Donnell especially wishes to recognize the hard work of the New York Public Library staff and businesses whose time and generosity made this year’s reading challenge a success. Westside Market, Gristedes, and Citarella continue to sponsor healthy snacks for our reading parties, and this year Book Culture donated gift certificates and totes for door prizes.

In May, an Electronics Recycling Event co-sponsored with the 102nd/103rd Street Block Assn. and coordinated by Lower East Side Ecology Center collected 9-1/2 tons of electronics over three days. That same month, Assembly Member O’Donnell’s Annual Book Drive collected nearly 1,000 gently used children’s books for Project Cicero to distribute in NYC public school classrooms.

On June 9th, O’Donnell moderated a Quality of Life Forum at Goddard Riverside Community Center. Residents addressed a panel of 15 representatives from various city departments and agencies on topics they chose. Representatives from NYPD, NYCHA, and the departments of Homeless Services, Transportation, Buildings, Environmental Protection, and Sanitation fielded questions and participated in meaningful dialogue.

Many community residents attended Assembly Member O’Donnell’s three Community Health Service Days. The fairs, hosted by Grant Houses on August 16th, Wise Towers on September 20th, and Children’s Aid Society at Frederick Douglass Center on October 4th featured over fifteen health organizations—many of which provided free screenings and consultations.

Most recently, Assembly Member O’Donnell co-sponsored a Flu Shot Clinic at Grace United Methodist Church. At the clinic New York Presbyterian administered the vaccine to over 90 neighbors.

Assembly Education Committee Hosts Roundtable on Needs of English Language Learners

photo O’Donnell participates in the English Language Learner roundtable. He is pictured next to Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee.

On September 23rd, the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education hosted a roundtable discussion on the needs of English Language Learners (ELL) and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Assembly Member O’Donnell, a member of the Education Committee, participated in the dialogue between government officials, professional organizations, advocacy groups, and members of the public. The topic is of great importance to the 69th Assembly District, with its large proportion of families whose primary language is not English.

With the wide-ranging needs of ELL/LEP students, New York City and State need to continue to develop policies that will ensure that they have access to quality educational opportunities and programs that meet their needs.

Families with ELL/LEP students may struggle with language barriers which make it difficult for them to be fully aware of education options and may hinder a parent’s ability to advocate on behalf of their child’s placement.

At the meeting, Assembly Member O’Donnell pressed representatives of the New York City Department of Education (DOE) on the possible impacts of high numbers of ELL/LEP students at individual schools, and how this may affect the school’s evaluations, including letter grades. O’Donnell noted that ELL/LEP students must be fully supported and that DOE must take a broader view by revisiting the way it allocates resources and places students.

The roundtable discussion also included Assembly Members Cathy Nolan (Chair of the Education Committee) and Carmen Arroyo (Chair of the Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force), as well as representatives from NYS Board of Regents, NYS Education Department, New York Immigration Coalition, and the Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners, among others.

Assembly Hearing on Drilling Focuses on Protection of Natural Resources Including NYC’s Drinking Water

Assembly Member O’Donnell attended a public hearing on the effects of drilling for natural gas in upstate New York. At the October 15th hearing, he vigorously questioned drilling company representatives about their refusal to disclose chemicals used and plans for recapturing and disposing of these compounds. Some drilling in shale formations requires a technique called hydrofracking, which utilizes millions of gallons of water mixed with large quantities of sand and potentially toxic chemicals that get forced through the rock at high pressure.

Drilling companies insist the composition of their hydrofracking mixture is proprietary and have fought previous requests for disclosure. Reports indicate a number of potentially toxic chemicals may be used in shale drilling. The release of only a minute amount of these chemicals could contaminate millions of gallons of water.

The issue has gained urgency as energy companies aggressively pursue the rights to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation which borders directly on New York City’s Catskill watershed. The federal government currently allows New York City to supply its drinking water from this watershed without filtering due to the city’s adherence to very strict environmental control provisions. New York City-based Assembly Members are seeking assurances that drilling in the vicinity of the watershed will not put the quality of New York City’s drinking water in jeopardy.

The goal of the hearing was to examine the environmental protections needed in order to safeguard natural resources. At the hearing, State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis assured those in attendance that no drilling permits would be granted unless it is proven safe for the environment. Assembly Member O’Donnell will continue to follow this matter closely.

Assembly Member O’Donnell and District Leader Cynthia Doty at Goddard Riverside Community Center’s Eighth Annual Neighbor to Neighbor Dinner. Nominated by O’Donnell, Doty was the recipient of a Good Neighbor Award for her extraordinary work in the community.

Free Legal Clinic for Tenants
Assembly Member O’Donnell will host opportunities for constituents with housing issues to consult a volunteer attorney. To make an appointment, please call Joyce Goodman at (212) 866-3970.
Thursdays: Nov. 20th / Dec. 18th / Jan. 29th / Feb. 26th

O’Donnell Hosts Business Roundtable

This spring, Assembly Member O’Donnell hosted a roundtable discussion with Manhattan Valley’s small business owners at Grosvenor Neighborhood House YMCA. The Columbus/Amsterdam BID co-hosted the event at which small business owners voiced their thoughts and concerns about emergency insurance, street vendor oversight, area criminal activity, commercial parking regulations, outdoor café permits, and the need for financial resources, among other issues.

Representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Empire State Development Division for Small Business, New York City Department of Small Business Services, and Baruch College’s Small Business Development Center participated. These entities offer a wide range of support to small business owners, including micro-loans, business and marketing development programs, opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), damage assessment, and commercial parking violation reductions, among others. O’Donnell’s office will continue to help businesses access these resources.

Assembly Member O’Donnell strongly believes that small businesses are integral to the economic and cultural vitality of Manhattan Valley, New York City, and New York State. He is dedicated to working with owners, government agencies, and his colleagues in the Legislature to develop solutions to the challenges faced by local entrepreneurs.

More Seniors Eligible For Rent Freeze

Effective July 1st, more seniors are eligible to be exempt from rent increases through the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE). If you

then you may qualify for the program.

If you, a relative, or someone you care for might be eligible, please attend our upcoming information session on December 3rd. Program experts will answer questions and arrange follow-up appointments. Event details can be found by clicking here.

O’Donnell Among Top Pro-Environment Legislators

Assembly Member O’Donnell is proud to announce his score of “100” in the 2008 Environmental Advocates legislative survey for his support of the organization’s pro-environment agenda. For details, please see

December Coat Drive for New York Cares

Thousands of New Yorkers are forced to make a choice between buying a winter coat and putting food on the table, or meeting other basic survival needs. Assembly Member O’Donnell’s office will host a coat drive in December, as part of a larger effort by New York Cares which collects nearly 90,000 gently used winter coats during the coldest months of the year. Please bring your gently-used coats to Assembly Member O’Donnell’s Community Office; 245 W. 104th Street (bet. Broadway and West End).

January Cell Phone Drive

A donated cell phone can become a lifeline for domestic violence survivors. CALL TO PROTECT is a national campaign to collect cell phones to support organizations that provide services to domestic violence survivors. Please bring your gently used cell phone to Assembly Member O’Donnell’s Community Office during the month of January; 245 W. 104th Street (bet. Broadway and West End). For more information, visit


Assembly Member O’Donnell’s office puts out a monthly update to these community newsletters. Historically, they have been available at community meetings and at the community office. We have begun to distribute these updates electronically, and if you’re interested in receiving these emails, please e-mail the office at to be added to the list.


La oficina de la comunidad del asambleísta O’Donnell tiene disponible empleados que hablan español para asistir al público tiempo completo, lunes a viernes de 9:00 AM a 5:30 PM. La oficina está localizada en el 245 West 104th Street, cerca de Broadway. También pueden llamar a la oficina en horas laborables al (212) 866-3970.

Recuerden que nuestro noticiario está disponible en español, para obtener una copia favor de comunicarse con la oficina del asambleísta Daniel O’Donnell.

Looking for Volunteer Opportunities?

Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell

Open Monday through Friday
9:00 AM - 5:30 PM
245 West 104th Street
(Between Broadway & West End Avenue)
(212) 866-3970