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Local ‘Occupy’ protesters take on LIC’s Citi building

Performance artist Bill "Rev. Billy" Talen (l.), of the Church of Life after Shopping, speaks at an Occupy Astoria/LIC protest near the Citi building at Court Square. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

Long Island City and Astoria activists affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement held a 12-hour-long protest adjacent to the Citi Building at 1 Court Square last week.

The activists, who numbered between 15 and 50 at any given time June 27, contended that while Citigroup Inc. received a stimulus package from the U.S. government to stave off bankruptcy in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, the company has not paid any federal income taxes for years since then.

“We paid these bailouts so that they can pay their benefits, so that they can advertise,” said Nicholas Levis, 47, an Astoria financial adviser and translator.

The claim comes from a statement put out by U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2011 and is a talking point on liberal-leaning blogs, but could not be independently confirmed.

A financial professional familiar with Citigroup’s performance pointed out, however, that the banking company recorded heavy losses after the bailout, which offset its profits for at least two years.

Citi said in response to the protest, “We understand and respect that consumers have choices when it comes to their banking needs. We are proud that millions of Americans choose Citibank and we will continue to work hard to earn their business.”

While the Occupy movement is often associated with young college students, their counterparts at Court Square Park, at the intersection of Thomson and Jackson avenues, were older, ranging from their late 20s to middle age. Many of them said they were employed, and some said they had not considered themselves activists before being galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street protests, originally in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, which began in September 2011.

“I believe that people need to be held accountable for their actions, especially big banks,” said Emily Frail, a 27-year-old restaurant manager from Astoria who became an activist with the Zuccotti protests.

Occupy Astoria/LIC was created by Astoria resident Ted Alexandro, 43, and his neighbors, Mark Marone and Stacey Mazurek. Alexandro had recognized Marone in Zuccotti Park and after being neighbors for years, they became friends through the protest.

“I was fascinated by this idea that people were sleeping in a park to protest this corruption,” Alexandro said. “I was invigorated by it, fell in love with it.”

He said after the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were kicked out of Zuccotti Park in November, the three of them began a local chapter. They had 20 to 25 people at their first meeting, but their numbers have grown to about 200 through Facebook and the group’s website.

“It’s been in some ways gradual and some ways very rapid,” Alexandro said.

Despite the NYPD’s controversial role in clearing Zuccotti Park last year, the rally at Court Square Park was amicable between police and protesters.

“This is a very peaceful protest against the very unpeaceful actions that have occurred,” said 51-year-old Astoria copywriter Jerry Khan.

Citigroup representatives did not speak to the protesters June 27, Alexandro said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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