Rep. Lynch Seeks Delay In Flood Insurance Hikes

By Shujie Leng
BU Washington News Service

WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, Tuesday afternoon asked the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay a rate increase arising from recently enacted flood insurance legislation until FEMA has completed an affordability study required by the new law.

At issue is the so-called Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which took effect this year. During a hearing of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, Lynch said that a number of residents of his South Shore district have seen their flood insurance premiums increase by 500 percent – with some increases surpassing 1,000 percent — under new flood maps required by the law.

“I would say, just based on looking at my district, the threat of forcing people from their homes by these increases of premiums [is] probably equal to the removal of people from homes during some of those storms that we are trying to address,” declared Lynch, a member of the Financial Services Committee. While not a member of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, he was permitted to sit in at Tuesday’s hearing.

FEMA Director Craig Fugate said it might take four years to finish the affordability study, which is being conducted by National Academy of Sciences.

Fugate cited the difficulty of conducting such study, “How do we determine what’s affordable, at what income, at what level?” he asked. “That’s not something that FEMA does…
At what point is affordability, and how much of that should be shared with taxpayers?”

For his part, Lynch declared: “It makes no sense to implement the premium increase first–in some cases, up to a 3,000 percent increase—[then], after you force them out of their homes, they figure out whether it’s affordable or not.”.

The Biggert-Waters law, passed in the summer of 2012, is aimed at improving the finances of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program which owed the U.S. Treasury $24 billion as of the end of the 2013 fiscal year on Sept. 30. The law requires the program to charge rates that more accurately reflect the actual risk of flooding.

Once fully implemented, houses that are used as second homes or are not occupied by the owner would lose premium subsidies provided under the act. Meanwhile, owner-occupied homes will see, on average, a 25 percent annual increase in their premiums over each of the five years of the law’s authorization period – if these properties are included in a new flood map.

Lynch recently co-sponsored a flood insurance relief bill that delays the changes on insurance premiums under the new flood maps until the affordability study is finished. A similar Senate bill is backed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both D-Mass.

At the hearing, Lynch also asked FEMA to establish an independent committee to review homeowner appeals of the insurance increases stemming from the new law.

Duck Boats Roll for Red Sox Victory Parade

Breaking: Murder victim identified as Danvers High School teacher

A 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher was found dead and a 14-year-old faces charges in her death.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said the body of Colleen Ritzer was found last night in a wooded area near Danvers High School. Ritzer, 24, was reported missing Tuesday evening. Investigators found blood in a second-floor bathroom of the school and soon discovered her body in a wooded area near the school.

All public schools in Danvers were closed Wednesday morning because of the homicide investigation.

The academic wing of Danvers High School had been blocked off with crime scene tape. Blodgett said the 14-year-old suspect was in custody and is expected to be arraigned today. He was reported missing Tuesday night but was later found by Topsfield police, the Associated Press reported.

Blodgett did not confirm how Ritzer died.

Thanksgivukkah: A Holiday Collision

By Paula Sokolska
BU News Service

BOSTON–The holiday season is nearing its traditional Thanksgiving kickoff. And with the looming threats of visiting in-laws, feeding an army, and party planning, many are bracing themselves for the petty debates that come along with opening up their homes to good cheer.  Stuffing in the bird or in a casserole dish? Watch the Macy’s parade or the football game? Pumpkin or apple pie?

This year, things are getting even more complicated as two holidays–Thanksgiving and Hanukkah–vie for a spot at the same table.  With millions of American Jews celebrating the hybrid holiday dubbed Thanksgivukkah, the question arises: which holiday icon, the turkey or the menorah, takes the honor of being a centerpiece?  But rather than choosing one, many are embracing the holiday mash up by boldly reinventing traditional staples to reflect both their cultural and religious ties.

This once-in-a-lifetime holiday overlap will occur on Nov. 28, a coincidence not expected again until the year 79043, according to Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.. Mizrahi calculated the next Thanksgivukkah date by overlapping the Gregorian and Jewish calendars using Mathematica, a computational software program.

Hanukkah, the eight day Jewish festival of lights commemorating the miracle of a single day of oil outlasting a week-long battle between the Maccabees and Greeks, typically falls in December, reinforcing its commercial role as the Jewish equivalent to Christmas. This year, however, the Jewish holiday coincides with American Thanksgiving.

Leading the forefront of the Thanksgivukkah promotional push is Dana Reichman Gitell, a marketing specialist at Hebrew SeniorLife in Dedham, Mass.  Gitell, who runs the Thanksgivukkah Facebook and Twitter profiles in addition to owning the Thanksgivukkah trademark, has partnered with, a Judaica retailer, to sell holiday apparel marked with the slogan “Thanksgivukkah: 8 days of lights, liberty and latkes.”

“I saw promoting this convergence as an opportunity to really celebrate the Jewish-American experience and give thanks for America as a bastion of religious freedom,” she said.

Ten percent of proceeds from sales of the apparel will benefit the charity MAZON: A Jewish Response for Hunger, which works to combat hunger across America and Israel.

But Gitell isn’t the only one who took early notice of the holiday overlap.  Asher Weintraub, a 9-year-old from New York, was on a drive back from Florida with his parents last December, when his mom, Carline Baron, mentioned the upcoming holiday.

His father, Anthony Weintraub, recalled the drive.  “[Asher] said, ‘You know what would be cool? If there was a menorah shaped like a turkey.’”

“What would you call it,” Weintraub asked his son.

“I’d call it the Menurkey,” Asher said

With the help of his parents, Asher developed his vision of the Menurkey into a prototype, using TinkerCad, a digital design tool that creates computer animated design—or CAD—models for 3D printers.

From there, the family launched a campaign on Kickstarter, an online platform for funding grass roots projects, with the initial goal of raising $25,000 to cover production costs.  At its close, the campaign raised $48,345.

As the name implies, the Menurkey is a menorah, nine-branched candelabrum used during Hanukkah celebrations, shaped like a turkey, and it’s available for purchase to be used at the center of your holiday table.

The Menurkey project evolved even further thanks to a partnership with the Jewish Museum of New York, an exclusive retailer of the Menurkey.  Other Menurkey products include an iPhone app and a Menurkey song available for download on iTunes.

“It hasn’t gotten to his head,” Asher’s father said.  “I could tell you of five ideas he’s thinking of working on next.”

As with Gitell’s Thanksgivukkah merchandise, a certain percentage of proceeds from Menurkey sales will be donated to a charity of Anthony’s choice, which he has yet to determine.

Thanksgivukkah offers an opportunity to share Judaism with a much wider audience than it has traditionally had in the past.

“You’re bringing such a diverse group of people together.  Everyone celebrates Thanksgiving and most Jews celebrate Hanukkah.  You’re bringing people together over the house you may not typically have,” said Jeff Levy, director of which runs, a blog offering resources and suggestions for merging the holidays.

Examples include making a pumpkin menorah, a recipe for pumpkin kugel, as well as craft ideas and ways of explaining Hanukkah to those unfamiliar with the Jewish faith.

Some people have raised concerns that the Franken-holiday is yet another gimmick in the commercialization of what should be a personal expression of faith.

“I think people are looking at it as a way to participate in something that will never happen again in their lives.  They want to share it, and they’re having fun with it,” Levy said.

“We live in a digital age.  When someone has an idea and it’s good, it goes viral.  It’s positive if something is good and shared by many,” said Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz, Director of the Chai Center in Brookline, Mass.

“Everyone’s excited about it.  This is something that’s not going to happen again for another 76,000 years.  As much as I plan to be around for the next time Thanksgivukkuh comes around, let’s love this one.”

Boston Strong Still Going Strong

By Nick Hansen
BU News Service

On the six month anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, a question was posted to the Boston Strong Facebook account: What does Boston Strong mean to you? One member replied: “Giving more when you feel like giving up.”

The Boston Strong  campaign, organized by three Emerson College students, has raised over $900,000 for the One Fund by selling blue and gold t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Boston Strong.” They have sold  60,513 shirts as of Oct. 15. Each shirt sells for $20.

Emerson Students NIck Reynolds and Chris Dobens came up with the idea to sell t-shirts to support vicitms. Fellow student Lane Brenner stepped on as Communications Manager. Originally, they had very modest goals. “We were just hoping to sell 110 shirts,” said Brenner.

The campaign has gained national notoriety. Musicians such as Jason Derulo and Fall Out Boy have worn the shirts. Their Facebook page has over 27,000 likes. They were also recently nominated for the local online news site BostInno’s 50 on Fire, which recognizes innovative individuals who are influencing Boston. Brenner never thought it would get that big.

It was not easy keeping up with the demand. Brenner said that it was like a “second full-time job,” which often kept them up till four or five in the morning. All three were students at Emerson as well. The group received plenty of support from school. “We offered a place for them to breathe,” said Jason Meier, Director of Student Activities at Emerson. “They were really bombarded and we hard their backs,” added Meir.

Brenne believed that the campaign took off because it allowed people to do something. “We wanted an affordable and powerful way to support victims and their families,” said Brenner.  The three students also came from backgrounds in communication and business.

Currently, the three live in separate cities: Brenner in New York, Reynolds in Los Angeles, and Dobens in Boston. Brenner now only spends a few hours a week promoting and raising awareness for Boston Strong. He mainly sends out tweets thanking people who have purchased shirts and reminding people that there are victims out there who still need help. There are no official plans yet for next year’s marathon, but Brenner said that plans are on the way.


You can purchase a Boston Strong shirt here


Links to FB Page:

BU Brings Back Bingo…In Drag

By Natnicha Chuwiruch
BU News Service

A large man with fake breasts, wearing a spandex bodysuit and heavy make-up: not something people expect to hear all in the same sentence. Nevertheless, all of these things came together for “Drag Bingo” at Boston University.

Bingo, the traditional game of old retirees and church-based fundraisers, elevates to a whole new level when you add a transvestite to the mix. BU’s drag bingo night on October 4 was hosted by a drag queen named Katya Zomolodchikova, who is also the self-proclaimed “Sweatiest Drag Queen” in Boston. In between rounds, Zomolodchikova did splits on stage, lip synced to songs that were not very subtle on the topics of male genitalia and coitus, grinded her way towards the audience, and picked random undergraduates in the crowd for a mid-Bingo game lap dance. Bingo and drag, two completely different things, filled up the student-run nightlife venue, BU Central.

“When put together, they’re even better,” said Boston University senior Allison Macika, who was the organizer of the event. “There’s a lot of other drag events going on in the city but they’re all for ages 21 and up, and we wanted to have one that was open to the whole BU community.”

Drag bingo used to be an annual event at BU Central, but for the past two years, it had not been organized. The reception for the return of drag bingo was overwhelming as the dark little room under the George Sherman Union was packed with students trying to find empty tables.

One thing to know before scouting out a drag bingo event: if you do not possess a sense of humor or the ability to withstand being publicly made fun of, avoid it at all costs. Zomolodchikova may be the host, but she is still a drag queen.

“You study English? Are you allergic to money?” sassed Zomolodchikova, in response to finding out one audience member’s university major

The drag queen bingo phenomenon started in Seattle in the early 1990s as a fundraiser for an AIDS support organization, the Chicken Soup Brigade. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, drag queens dressed as nuns, hosted the Brigade’s first drag bingo. The event enjoyed huge success and interest in drag queen bingo spread to Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles. There have also been some accounts of the game spreading all the way to Utah, Alaska, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Zomolodchikova has been a drag queen performer for six years. She has done a number of college shows, even a drag workshop at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she taught about makeup, costumes, and the art of drag. But Friday was her first time hosting a drag bingo event.

“I know I may be glamorous,” said Zomolodchikova. “But I swear to God I’m just your average run-of-the-mill, Russian, bisexual, transvestite hooker with nothing to lose. We’re going to have a good time!”


Michael Nichols still in running for City Council

Jon Anderman (left) came to Michael Nichols' party from Boston Public Library and waits to talk to Nichols. Photo by Kiva Kuan Liu
Jon Anderman (left) came to Michael Nichols’ party from Boston Public Library and waits to talk to Nichols. Photo by Kiva Kuan Liu

By Natnicha Chuwiruch
BU News Service

The room resonated with the sound of applause at 9:50 p.m. when Michael Joseph Nichols walked to the middle of a small rented room above a bar on 1617 Tremont Street and declared that he was still in the running for Boston City Council in District 8.

Nichols is now running as the number two candidate after a winning Mission Hill in the preliminary election, following Josh Zakim in the City Council race in District 8. They have another six weeks until the general election on November 5 to push the name “Nichols” among Bostonians. He and his team will resume campaigning immediately. Compared to other District 8 candidates, Nichols is the only one with practical experience at both the city and state government levels.

“I honestly think he’s the smartest person in the race, certainly the most qualified,” said Dennis Burke, Nichols’ friend and supporter. “He knows the city, front and backwards, he will certainly have to overcome a certain name that has befallen our race.”

The small room was filled with 30 people, all friends, family, and supporters who congratulated Nichols for still being in the race and edging out the rest of his competition.

“He’s just a great person to be around, always fun, always thinking of other people. Anytime he’d have any Red Sox tickets and concert tickets, he would just give it to us,” said Adam Barrett, neighbor, friend, and supporter. “He’s just a genuine person, a really good guy.”

Nichols’ main campaign points focus on pushing for more K-12 schools in the district, an improved late-night public transportation system, affordable housing, and easier access to jobs, with a main focus on new start-up companies.

One of the many concerns and problems that a majority of university students have is finding accommodations. The majority of the new housing units that are under construction in Boston are luxury units, aimed at those with middle-level incomes. Nichols promised to address the supply of affordable housing to better accommodate people in the low- to middle-income bracket, which includes students.

“Students pay because they need a place and they’re eager and they just go with the first one in,” Nichols said. “We need a better and more modern housing stock.”

Touching on the subject of Boston’s inability to retain young talent in the job pool, Nichols described that the best way to remedy that is to make starting new companies. He said he believed that increasing the amount of small businesses in the city would help fresh graduates find jobs.

“We have to be friendlier to small start-up companies,” said Nichols. “Not just the big national, sexy companies.”

As friends, family, and supporters started to leave for home, Nichols shook hands and thanked them for being there and helping him throughout the campaign.

“Some of the other candidates in this race are paying people to be there, while everyone here is a friend of Michael’s,” said Barrett.

Walsh and Connolly to vie for Mayor of Boston

By Ashley Davis
BU News Service

ROXBURY–City Councilor John R. Connolly secured a place in the November Boston mayoral election Tuesday night after tallying the second-most votes in the preliminary Boston municipal elections.

“I have never been more thankful to be in second place in my life,” Connolly said, addressing his campaign party’s reception Tuesday at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury.

Connolly will oppose state representative Martin Walsh.

The November election will name the successor to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who will retire following 20 years in office.

Connolly took the stage in Roxbury as final votes were tallied–fitting to his campaign platform–to the chorus of Jackson Five’s “ABC 123.” Connolly’s focus on education reform is one of the most emphasized pieces of his mayoral campaign.

“I’m running for mayor because I know that together we can transform our schools so that every child receives a high-quality education,” Connolly said at the reception. “And together we can build safe and healthy neighborhoods–and ensure that everyone has access to great jobs.”

Connolly’s connections to education were emphasized throughout the night through references to both his previous employment as a public-school teacher and also the number of campaign supporters who are parents with school-age children in the Boston area.

Yet not all of Connolly’s supporters are singularly focused on his dedication to education reform. Some, like Sherry Dong of Jamaica Plain, were drawn to working with the Connolly campaign for the overall progressive attitude that they feel he would bring to the office.

“I’ve known [Connolly] since he was on the council and I’ve seen how open and representative he is of the whole city,” Dong said. “So, to me, it’s the balance that he represents and the vision and new ideas that he brings.”

Dong said that moving forward Connolly’s campaign has a clear differentiation from Walsh, which should aid decisions for undecided voters.

“I think the two candidates are very different,” Dong said. “It will make a clear choice for people.”

Dong echoed Connolly’s reception address remarks that the campaign has busy weeks ahead, amping up the campaign to attract voters like Luis Groz of Boston who did not go out to vote tonight.

Groz plans to vote November 5 but did not visit the polling stations Tuesday. He said he felt that many were waiting to vote after the pool of 12 candidates had been narrowed in Tuesday’s preliminary.

Others, like James Peterson of Roxbury, who voted for Charlotte Golar Richie, will need to be swayed from other preliminary candidates.

Peterson, who is concerned with crime and safety, said it was straightforward for him what a candidate would need to do to earn his vote: “I need people more involved in the community.”

Connolly, rallying supporters to build momentum, will continue his campaign tomorrow.

Golar Richie sends strong message to minorities despite loss

Rachel McCubbin
BU News Service

Minorities in Boston were empowered by Charlotte Golar Richie’s campaign for mayor despite the candidate’s loss, her supporters said.

“Charlotte Golar Richie may not be the next mayor, but she’s the first black woman to run and make a name for herself,” said professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School, senior advisor to Golar Richie. “We’ve opened up dialogue all over Boston.”

Golar Richie came in third in the preliminary Boston mayoral election on Tuesday night, earning 13.8 percent of the popular vote. Even though she lost to Martin Walsh and John Connolly and she will not be continuing in the race, Golar Richie’s supporters at her campaign celebration at the Fairmount Copley Plaza still believed that she made a difference for the city.

“Charlotte has a lot to offer,” said Patricia Lynch of Mass Women’s Political Council, which endorsed the candidate early on. “Of course I’m disappointed.”

Lynch said she hoped that women of Boston will follow Charlotte’s example.

“We need more young women to put themselves on the line,” said Lynch.

Golar Richie represented more than just the female community, according to her supporters. She wanted all minorities to feel they had a voice.

“We wanted to be a bigger and better city,” she said. “And not just for some of us—for all of us.”

“The campaign wanted to capitalize on the minorities,” said Kim Vermeer of the South End, a volunteer for Charlotte. “The minority communities are mobilizing and making their voice heard.”

Vermeer was one of many wearing a sticker that proclaimed, “I voted in honor of Trayvon Martin,” right below her “Charlotte Golar Richie for Mayor” badge.

“If you talk about Charlotte Golar Richie, you better talk about Trayvon Martin,” said Ogletree.

Golar Richie joined rallies to protest the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman this summer. She thought the trial was an issue important to both minorities and young people of Boston.

“We want our young people to know that they have a stake in this city,” she said on Tuesday night. She mentioned the youth forum she hosted to talk about the Zimmerman trial, saying that she hoped Walsh and Connolly would take up the dialogue with young voters.

“Young people aren’t just the future leaders of our city, they are the leaders of our city right now,” she said.

Golar Richie specifically thanked all her young supporters. She had many young men and women, some not even old enough to vote, present at her campaign celebration on Tuesday.

The race is over for Charlotte but she does not plan on letting her plans for the city end with her campaign. She plans on speaking to both Walsh and Connolly about her ideas for housing, gun control and job creation in Boston.

Martin Walsh finished on top in the Tuesday night preliminary, clinching 18.5% of the vote. John Connolly came in second with 17.2%. The two candidates will face off in the November general election.