Gjonaj pushing local anti-graffiti program

Graffiti tagging is something of an everyday occurrence in the Pelham Parkway nabe, where scrawls of spraypaint often stain the White Plains Road business strip.

One day graffiti comes up, then comes down, only to come back again.

And while city agencies work to control the problem, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj intends to stop the issue before it begins.

He’s created a scared straight program, taking his anti-graffiti message to neighborhood high schools.

With support from the police department, Gjonaj is now relying on ex-taggers to warn children on the dangers of graffiti tagging.

“The actual testimony of someone who went through the system because of it, and what it’s costing him and his family,” said Gjonaj, “would be the message every child can relate to.”

The issue hit home for Gjonaj after a gate next to his Morris Park realty office wound up awash with spraypaint. He quickly repainted the gate, though he fumed over having to clean up the vandalism.

Gjonaj suggests taggers perform community service that fits the crime, favoring that sentence over jail time.

“I would imagine any child who performs 100 hours of community service will not touch another spraycan again,” said Gjonaj, though he backs incarceration for repeat offenders.

Edith Blitzer, head of the Pelham Parkway Neighborhood Association, was glad – and supportive – to hear about the plan.

“They should be educated before they hit the streets,” said Blitzer, though she suspects many of vandals are adults.

“The kids who are doing this are going to high school,” she said. “Because this is happening at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

It was one of the topics of discussion when Judge Douglas McKeon was the special guest at the March 12 PPNA meeting, with Blitzer pushing for graffiti cleanup for those convicted.

“I’m living in this neighborhood for 40 years,” said Blitzer. “I’ve never seen graffiti as bad as it is now.”

Gjonaj’s platform, a more proactive than reactive step, contrasts with Sen. Jeff Klein’s Graffiti Cleanup Program, a state-funded initiative that wipes away scribbles of graffiti after the crime.

Klein also favors community service that fits the crime, even sponsoring a bill that’s now in the middle of a committee review.

Reach reporter David Cruz at dcruz@cnglocal.com or follow him on Twitter @CWEBCRUZER.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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