Bishop Kearney HS swimmer Brianna Minogue honored for saving drowning swimmer off waters near Brighton Beach

On July 19, in the midst of a heatwave that had engulfed the city that week, Brianna Minogue spotted a man floating face down in the water at Brighton Beach from atop her lifeguard perch The Bishop Kearney HS senior ran toward the ocean, blowing the whistle around her neck. Accompanied by another lifeguard, she jumped into the ocean and dragged the swimmer, Dimitry Zhalkevich, through the shallow waters and back to shore. Zhalkevich didn’t have a pulse, so another lifeguard - Jezebel Ereza, who was about to relieve Minogue of her post - started CPR, while Minogue held the man’s head as he had a seizure. After four rounds of CPR and 30 decompressions, and with another lifeguard - Inez Zuska - now administering CPR, Zhalkevich miraculously regained consciousness. After a 15-minute rescue and recovery effort, Minogue and her fellow lifeguards were branded heroes. Now, with the high school swim season set to begin at the  end of the month, Minogue is already a mini-celebrity at Bishop Kearney, where she also plays golf and volleyball. Minogue and Zuska were both honored with “Employee of the Month” awards by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation last month in Central Park. Energetic and perpetually smiling, Brianna acts as if she wasn’t doing anything unusual the day she aided in rescueing Zhalkevich. But she’s honored to have been recognized.  “I’m 17 and you don’t hear this happening to a 17-year-old every day,” Brianna said Tuesday, sitting in a conference room at Kearney during her lunch period, accompanied by athletic director Anthony Troiano. “I thought it would be really scary when the day came but I wasn’t freaking out. I knew what I was trained to do.” Zhalkevich, 33, spent nearly three weeks in the hospital and had to be put on life-support. Minogue didn’t know if he was going to live or die. “He had brain function Continue Reading

If anyone can bring more visitors to New York City, it’s Willy Wong

If New York City streets seem more crowded with slow-walking visitors lately, blame Willy Wong. He’ll happily take responsibility. It’s tourist season, and his job is to entice people to visit the Big Apple. Wong, 34, is the chief creative officer of NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing and tourism organization. “The mayor’s actual mandate when we first started in 2006 was ‘50 million people by 2015,’ ” Wong says. But they reached their goal in about half that time frame. “We actually hit that target of 50 million visitors in 2011,” Wong says. Last year, the five boroughs saw 52 million tourists, and now, the NYC & Company team’s new goal is to have 55 million annual visitors by 2015. Sounds like a daunting task. But the job has its perks. Since NYC & Company also handles licensing for the city, Wong recently got to play with a taxi-themed Big Bird and Sanitation Department-themed Oscar the Grouch plush toy when the agency teamed up with “Sesame Street.” The bump in visitors to New York, particularly from other countries, has been “more phenomenal than anything we would have imagined over the last few years, especially given the recession,” Wong says. “It’s crazy, everyone’s coming with empty suitcases” — to stock up on goodies they buy here, of course. It’s not just out-of-towners that Wong’s tasked with getting to spend money here. He also creates local campaigns and events to encourage New Yorkers to get out and explore other neighborhoods, thus stimulating the local economy. For example, NYC & Company is behind Restaurant Week and Off-Broadway Week, and recently staged a 125th-birthday celebration for the Brooklyn Bridge. Off-Broadway Week puts butts in seats during the theater’s slow season, and the Brooklyn Bridge celebration brought visitors to DUMBO. Continue Reading

Is this the new bagel? Brighton Beach couple making millions on their Crepini, a half crepe/half blintz creation

It’s a Brighton Beach twist on the New York bagel - and it’s raking in the dough. Russian immigrants Paula Rimer, 50, and her husband Eric Shkolnik, 48, have turned a family recipe into a hot enterprise making $3 million a year selling Crepinis out of their new factory in Sunset Park. “We are going to give the bagel a run for its money,” Rimer said about the crepe-blintz concoction. “The bagel has limitations. [Crepini\] is a bread alternative.” Like a bagel, the Crepini is a utility food; stuffing it with cheese and meats is the norm. But at 80 calories per serving, the Crepini has less carbs and is a hit in city schools where more than two million have been served since 2010. Rimer’s mom invented the grub when she was a child, taking French crepe batter adding Russian staples like beef and mushrooms to the mix. Relatives always thought the invention should be on store shelves. In 2007, Rimer and Shkolnik started baking the thin, flat cakes in their apartment kitchen on Brighton Beach Avenue selling them to Russian bakeries and markets around the borough. “It is a food we love, and we want to bring it to America. It is not just for Brighton Beach,” Rimer said. They moved into a factory on First Ave. last summer churning up to 6,000 Crepinis per hour, shipping out boxes to stores as far away as Texas and Canada. City schools are their largest customer ordering 250,000 Crepini Rollups each time the Department of Education features its spinach feta wrap on the lunch menu. In the fall, school kids will start munching on Cheesy Crepini Rollups for breakfast, but DOE officials said the addition is no bagel snub - rather an exotic treat. “Bagels are popular. This is New York. This in an innovative addition,” said Eric Goldstein, head of the city’s School Support Services. “The bagel is seared into the New Yorker’s soul. It would be hard to dislodge. But there Continue Reading

Workers at Brighton Beach carwash mull boycott in beef over a slashed hours

Workers at a Brighton Beach carwash who sued over dirty working conditions are now mulling a boycott. The immigrant “carwasheros” say their boss at Hi-Tek Car Wash on Coney Island Avenue started slashing their hours after 17 current and former employees filed a June suit claiming they didn’t get minimum wage or overtime. “We are going to ask people to back us up. We don’t want this to keep happening,” said Salvadoran washer José Oscar Ruíz, 28. “What the boss is doing now is trying to tire us out so that we leave.” Ruiz, who has toiled at Hi-Tek for five and a half years, said after he complained about not getting paid overtime, his boss cut his and other workers’ hours to under 40 hours a week. The carwash is now understaffed, making it very difficult for those who are working, he said. “What we want is a change on the job — that they respect us as people and don’t look down on us,” he said. New York Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai said yellow cab drivers are prepared to stop visiting Hi-Tek in support of the workers. “Most car washes throughout this city, they depend on the patronage of taxi drivers,” she said. “If they want to profit from us as consumers they need to run respectable businesses that don’t exploit workers. “Many drivers live in Brighton Beach. When they’re going home at night, many drivers will go to the car wash in their neighborhood right before they park for the night.” Hi-Tek’s owners did not return a call for comment. In June, manager Gary Pinkus said all Hi-Tek employees are paid properly. Advocates and workers plan to rally at Hi-Tek Thursday. They say they will call for the boycott if their hours aren’t restored. “It’s time to start escalating the pressure and the public attention,” said Deborah Axt of non-profit Make Continue Reading

Next ‘Jersey Shore’? Russian residents slam ‘Brighton Beach’ reality show filming in their nabe

Brighton Beach has got itself a situation. Much like its "Jersey Shore" predecessor, the Lifetime-produced "Brighton Beach" reality show is drawing anger from Brooklynites who claim the made-for-tv antics won't represent the true character of the neighborhood, reported local blog yesterday. Just a few weeks into shooting the 12-episode series, which the network has said will follow "colorful families" in the Russian-American community, locals residents and activists have reportedly written a letter to the network expressing their prediction that the show will become the “highly contentious and ethnically derogatory 'Jersey Shore.' ” The letter, led by founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus John Lisyanskiy, went on to say: “It has come to our attention that the casting call for the show sought out ‘the Russian Snooki and The Situation,’ reducing would-be contestants to vodka-drinking ethnic caricatures who ‘love attention’ and do little more than ‘eat, drink and party.’ ” The outlet reports other groups supporting the letter include Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Councilman Domenic Recchia and the Brighton Neighborhood Association, to name a few. According to the blog, the cast of the show has been spotted around the neighborhood, but business owners are reportedly forbidden to discuss what they've seen because of disclosure agreements with the network. But the network is already at work trying to squash the "Jersey Shore" comparison, according to the outlet. “It’s a multi-generational women’s story about life in the community,” network spokesman Michael Feeney told The New York Times last month. “It’s done in the Lifetime voice, not in the MTV voice.” The MTV-produced "Jersey Shore" has long drawn criticism from Italian-Americans who claim the show is offensive to their Continue Reading

It’s one last round of Sunday stumping for Mayor Bloomberg, Thompson

The battle for City Hall turned into a street fight Sunday as Controller William Thompson insisted he was gaining ground and Mayor Bloomberg warned his supporters not to get complacent. The candidates drew hundreds of backers to rallies in Brooklyn and Queens, while sound trucks roamed the streets urging voters not to skip what is expected to be a low-turnout contest tomorrow. "We can't take this election for granted," Bloomberg told arally in Jackson Heights, Queens. "People say, 'Oh, Mike, you're going to win.' I'm only going to win if you come out and vote. If you don't vote, we don't win." Bloomberg used the advantages of incumbency to pose with New York City Marathon winners in Central Park, while Thompson spent his morning in services at four black churches. In the afternoon, Bloomberg met Russian-American supporters in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Thompson spoke to a packed auditorium in Rochdale Village, Queens. "The distance between Mike Bloomberg and myself is somewhere between 3 points and 7 points," Thompson told the mostly African-American crowd. "It's all about who comes out and votes on Election Day." Thompson is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. But the Working Families Party has been hamstrung because many of its constituent labor unions have bucked it to back Bloomberg. Bloomberg is running on the Republican and Independence Party lines, and he addressed an Independence Party meeting in Manhattan. The party's political director, Jackie Salit, said its line will help Bloomberg pick up votes. "I can understand why they might not want to [vote Republican]," Salit said. "This is another option." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Brighton’s familiar ring: Russian circus stars feel right at home

Ringling Bris. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performer Olga Surnina longed for her mother’s homemade Russian blintzes as she traveled the country. Now, her cravings are being satisfied.Ringling’s Boom-A-Ring circus has set up its tent and trailers in Coney Island, just down the Boardwalk from the city’s most famous Russian enclave — Brighton Beach.“When we first got here, before we even settled in, we walked over [to Brighton,]” said Surnina, who rides a motorcycle inside a globe.“The first day, I completely overate. I had the pelmeni [Russian dumplings] and blintzes. Just like my mom makes,” she said, rubbing her stomach.Of the 24 circus performers in the act, 16 are Russians who have been touring small-town America since 2007. Although they’ve come across smaller Russian communities in places like Orlando, Fla., nothing has come close to Little Odessa by the Sea.The performers said they missed everything from the food to kvas (a drink made from yeast) to Cake Napoleon (a dessert) to Russian toys for their kids, newspapers in their native tongues, medicines and just being able to talk to people who understand them.“This is so comfortable for me. I don’t speak English well, and to be able to walk in and explain myself at a bank is great,” said juggler Dmintry Kasnin, 29, who is from St. Petersburg.Fellow juggler and clown Stanislav Knyazkov was relieved to find his pain medication on the pharmacy shelves. “As soon as I’d get a headache, I think, ‘Tsitramon,’ but where to find it? I got it here!” said Knyazkov, 33, as he strolled Brighton Beach Ave.“I haven’t had a chance to get new books on the road,” he said, noting that he picked up the newest reads by author Boris Akunin at Brighton’s St. Petersburg Bookstore.Brooklyn News took five of the performers out to breakfast at Brighton’s gourmet food playground, M&I International Continue Reading

Missing vet tribute’s sign of unpatriotic neighbors, claim supporters

It's a local attack on Iraq combat veterans. A street sign in Brighton Beach that honored military members who served in Iraq has been stolen, and residents say the culprits are unpatriotic. "Whoever did this crime is against America," said Raisa Chernina, founder of the Be Proud Foundation, who lobbied for the corner of Oriental Blvd. and Corbin Place to be renamed Heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom Way in 2005. The green street sign has been missing since late December, and Chernina suspects that critics of the controversial 2003 invasion of Iraq pilfered the marker because some saw it as a show of support for President Bush. "I have no doubt about it, because so many people were against the war," said Chernina. "But they mix people fighting the war with the war itself. "Those are our kids over there and they need our support 100 percent," she added. "The war will be over eventually, but we don't want to honor them in 30 years - we want to honor them now." Local peace activists insist they're not to blame. "There's no basis for thinking that's true. We're not interested in taking down street signs," said Brooklyn for Peace chairwoman Charlotte Phillips. Although Brooklyn for Peace opposed the Iraq War, Phillips said that her group has no problem with honoring the troops who fought there. "We feel it's a war that should not have been fought, but we certainly honor the people that have gone and given their lives." The sign became a symbol of the contributions to the war effort made by local immigrants from Russia and former Soviet countries. "We were so happy when it was installed. This is a piece of history for us," said Susan Soloway, a Russian immigrant who lives in Kensington and is the mother of a Marine sergeant who did a tour in Iraq. Chernina called the sign's disappearance a crime, although she did not report it to the police. Others agreed that it looked like it was deliberately removed. "I've had a lot of street signs gone," Continue Reading

City may decide if beaten tot is taken off life support

Doctors were trying to decide yesterday whether it should fall to the Administration for Children's Services to authorize taking a horribly beaten Staten Island girl off life-support - since her family is allegedly responsible for her injuries.The city's child welfare agency had knowledge of the family but did not remove 21-month-old Hailey Gonzalez from her home, a law enforcement source said.The tot's mother, Marlene Medina, 24, and her boyfriend, Edwin Garcia, 30, are both jailed on assault and endangerment charges in Tuesday's attack on the girl.The baby's biological father, Manuel Gonzalez, is behind bars for abusing the child in a prior incident, said William Smith, a spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan.A source at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island said the authorization for removing the toddler from life-support equipment could fall to ACS. An agency spokeswoman declined to comment.Prosecutors allege that Garcia shook Hailey early Tuesday and then slammed her into her crib at home on Jersey St. in New Brighton in front of her mother.For the next five hours, the toddler foamed at the mouth, wheezed, twitched and had her eyes roll back into her head, court documents allege. But Medina did not dial 911 until about 7 a.m. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Russian trainer’s boxers hit it big

Boxers may compete inside the ring as individuals, but for Brighton Beach trainer Oleg Bnsygin, the sport is a team effort. At a recent evening workout, he led his small gym of a dozen boxers through their workouts together. "Professional fighters can afford personal coaches. But we are used to changing and sharing sparring partners. So we must train together," said the 42-year-old Bnsygin, who moved to New York more than 10 years ago to train kick boxers and karate champions. "In a big gym, it's not so comfortable. There are too many distractions. But here is a humble group that is training as a team," said Bnsygin, who turned to boxing full-time two years ago, opening the Brighton Beach Boxing Club on Seabreeze Ave. And on April 20, Bnsygin and his team will be rooting for 18-year-old Vasily Zherenbnenko, who fought all the way to this year's Golden Gloves finals. "Boxing is usually an individual sport, but with us everyone on the whole team wins when one of us wins. We support each other like a family," said Ruslan Bukharin, a 27-year-old construction worker who made it to the quarter finals as a 178-pound novice class fighter. Even though he is now out of the tournament he is still training and pulling for his teammate. "All the Russians want to see [Zherenbnenko] in the Garden," Bukharin said. This year, Bnsygin entered the Golden Gloves with six fighters, advancing two boxers to the quarter finals and a third, Zherenbnenko, to the finals. "The progress is good, but we need at least one champion," he said. Past Russian champions like Yuri Foreman and Dmitry Salita have fared well in the Gloves, but Bnsygin he is the first trainer to sculpt an entirely Russian team out of one gym. "It's a lot of responsibility. I've grown many gray hairs in this tournament," he added. Despite the pressure, Bnsygin keeps a friendly atmosphere at his gym, one that his boxers agree keeps them winning. Zherenbnenko, also a construction worker, who Continue Reading