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‘We’re going to miss the customers’
Long-time dry cleaners to close shop

Richard and Linda Weiser will soon be hanging up their long involvement in the dry-cleaning business.

The Weisers have announced their plans to retire from owning and operating Hodson Cleaners at 1606 Frederick Ave. Richard’s health factored in as a major reason, said Linda, who herself retired four years ago from Weiser’s Family Cleaners at 2201 Jules St. When Hodson’s closes Friday, May 31, it will spell a conclusion to 48 years the couple has spent in dry cleaning. The Weisers have spent the past 22 years running Hodson, and they previously ran and worked at Family Cleaners for 26 years.

“We just decided it was time,” Linda said. “We’ve been debating it for a couple of years.”

Already, the memories of serving the public’s needs in clothing care have welled up as the final days pass at the shop.

“We’re going to miss the customers,” she said. “Sooner or later, you know their grandkids.”

That’s a familiar reaction to the Weiser’s son, Rick, who runs Family Cleaners. He said it’s understood that dry cleaners get to know their clientele fairly well over the years.

“They’re all about mom-and-pop-type stores,” he said. “You do build relationships.”

Although the goal of ensuring clean clothes has never changed, the dry-cleaning industry has seen some changes over the years. For instance, Rick said solvents are no longer used in the processes and that more eco-friendly materials are employed.

“It’s not good for the environment,” he said on why the solvents were shunned and eventually shelved.

In another change, today’s dry-cleaning equipment is more user-friendly and easier to learn than the rugged machinery of the past.

“The clothing has evolved,” he added, noting different styles and fashions have surfaced. He said today’s preference focus more on casual modes, while Linda notes the inclination for women to wear dresses and men to wear suits over the decades. It also took time for customers to get used to the idea of wrinkle-free clothes.

“This business has evolved more into a service-convenience” type of industry, Rick said.

Some of the equipment has stayed the same, such as the White conveyors garment sorter still used at Hodson. Yet the shop still boasts a mid-1940s Hoffman manual pressing machine.

“You use pedals to bring the press down,” Rick explained.

Among the humorous incidents that have occurred at Hodson are Richard’s recollection of the time a female customer used the portable door bells to register her unhappiness with an order.

“I told her we couldn’t do it,” he said, bemused.

Hodson personnel have discovered numerous unusual items in customers’ pockets. The list includes money, love letters, and a set of diamond-studded earrings.

But for the great majority of Hodson customers, satisfaction with the results has been the norm.

The building where Hodson has been housed appears to date back well into the 19th century. Information from the National Register of Historic Places shows the structures in the 1600 block of Frederick vary in age from 1880 to 1919. A clothing-care business under one name or another has largely been a mainstay at the address.

“The dry cleaner has been here for 100 years,” Rick said. The name Hodson seems to have been affixed to the location since at least the 1950s.

It’s estimated the business handles from 500 to 600 pounds of clothes per week.

There are no definite plans for the site’s future use, although Rick is hopeful the location can be repurposed in some manner.

The business has had several employees over the years.


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Newly promoted guard member reflects on holiday

A female member of the 139th Airlift Wing is making history this Memorial Day.

Alicia Sobotka was promoted to senior master sergeant within quality assurance a month ago. She’s the first woman to hold the rank for the wing’s maintenance group.

Sobotka downplays the significance of her gender in her new role, however.

“I don’t think being a female really had a lot to do with it,” Sobotka said. “It was just putting in the time and making sure I was doing what I needed to be doing.”

Her relationship with Memorial Day began at an early age.

“My grandpa was a member of the (American) Legion, so of course he got me involved,” Sobotka said. “A lot of times (we’d) go on Memorial Day and do the services at the cemeteries around my local community.”

On the wall of the desk in her office a sign reads “The first 4 days after a weekend are the hardest.”

The sign can be interpreted a couple different ways: Either the weekend is hard to overcome or it’s advice to know what you’re up against on Monday.

Sobotka began her service at the 139th in 2001, and at that time she was planning on becoming a nurse. However, things changed.

“For me, I was more excited about aircraft maintenance than I was about nursing, so I decided to stay,” Sobotka said.

Sometimes Sobotka is the third set of eyes to review mechanics for the 139th. The wing’s C-130 Hercules was originally designed and built by Lockheed in 1956. It’s been used for a wide variety of operations including troop transport, aerial refueling and also as a gunship.

“We can haul 45,000 pounds of cargo (or) 64 paratroopers (or) 94 troops, so not only do we haul cargo, but we can also haul people,” Sobotka said. “We can set up litters (stretchers) for medevacs and stuff like that also, so the C-130 is very versatile.”

When walking around the C-130, she can explain what engine specifically starts the aircraft. Even when seats have been pulled out of the aircraft during an ISO inspection, she can tell the difference between each one, based on tiny distinctions that don’t appear to the untrained eye.

“Basically, we’re the eyes and the ears of the commander, so that he has a good idea of what is going on in his maintenance group,” Sobotka said.

Sobotka is performing a role that to this point has only been done by male counterparts, and even though she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer, she did offer one word of advice for girls who also enjoy taking things apart.

“Dedication. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it,” Sobotka said. “Keep the determination and just try, really, that’s the biggest thing.”

This Memorial Day, Sobotka plans to spend time with family and remember the sacrifices other military members have made.


Nation_and_world
Protest

Protesting

Men and women held

pro-choice signs up

on the Belt Highway

and Frederick Ave.

Details on Page B1


Nation_and_world
AP
State prosecutors struggle with human trafficking cases

BOSTON — Laws cracking down on human trafficking are on the books in all 50 states, but convictions are notoriously elusive, and state prosecutors haven’t come close to matching the success their federal counterparts have had in winning cases.

States need to add resources into support trafficking victims, educate the public and train law enforcement if the numbers of prosecutions and convictions are to improve, officials and experts say. In at least a dozen states, attorneys general are not even authorized to pursue human trafficking charges.

Records requested from all 50 states by The Associated Press indicate a low conviction rate since Washington became the first state to enact a human trafficking law in 2003. A previous study suggested a 45% conviction rate through roughly the first decade of the laws.

In contrast, the conviction rate for prosecutions under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in 2000, is about 80%, according to Justice Department data.

“We’re not fully where we need to be, but it’s encouraging to see states pursue these cases,” said Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, which lobbied for passage of the state laws. “Prosecutors are still learning how to prosecute these cases successfully. We’re in the process of seeing the field mature more. It’s going to take time.”

Underscoring the difficulties is the misdemeanor case against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose attorneys May 13 succeeded in getting video evidence suppressed . The decision, if upheld, could force prosecutors to drop charges against Kraft and potentially others among the 300 men facing solicitation charges as part of a sweeping investigation of massage parlor prostitution and possible human trafficking in Florida.

Some spa owners and operators also face felony prostitution charges, but none of the defendants has been charged under the state’s human trafficking law.

Some local officials point out that prosecutors do often win convictions on other, oftentimes lower charges that can still take suspected human traffickers off the street for a time, not unlike how murder charges are sometimes downgraded to manslaughter. The study that found a 45% conviction rate also found that 72% of human trafficking cases that were examined did lead to some sort of conviction.

In the Florida prostitution case, many of the spa operators are being prosecuted under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which calls for the same maximum penalty, 30 years in prison, as for human trafficking.

That means prosecutors won’t have to rely on the testimony of trafficking victims, which is frequently difficult to procure, in order to build their cases while still being able to pursue long sentences, said Jeffrey Hendriks, a prosecutor in Fort Pierce handling six of the felony cases.

“From a legal analysis, what’s the loss? We want to try to put these people away for up to 30 years. Why rest your whole case on the victims?” Hendriks said. “I don’t want to sound flip, but that’s the analysis. It’s just a better fit.”

Most states aren’t required to track prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking crimes.

The AP asked state attorneys general or other state agencies for tallies of human trafficking prosecutions, human trafficking convictions and convictions on other charges in their states since their local law was enacted. The AP also asked for how many cases resulted in no conviction or are still pending.

Five states did not respond. Of those that did, many supplied figures for one or some of the categories but not others, so full tallies and direct comparisons aren’t possible. But the AP’s review does suggest there have been many hundreds of prosecutions for human trafficking nationally, but relatively few convictions, let alone for human trafficking crimes.

At least 2,700 defendants nationwide have been charged since Washington state enacted the first law in 2003, the AP found. Only about 440 were convicted specifically of sex, labor, child or other trafficking crimes.

Nearly 500 others were convicted of lesser but related crimes, such as prostitution and drug charges. Nearly 300 others resulted in no conviction, either because of a not guilty verdict or because charges were dropped or dismissed, and more than 200 cases are pending.

Some states should consider giving their attorneys general authority to prosecute human trafficking cases, suggested Julie Dahlstrom, a law professor who heads Boston University’s Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Program.

State attorneys general in Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia told the AP they lack the authority to prosecute human trafficking cases, either because primary criminal prosecutorial powers lie with district and county attorneys or because state law doesn’t specifically allow them to prosecute the crimes.

But even in states where the attorney general has prosecutorial powers, convictions are still low, the AP review suggests.

In Massachusetts, at least 216 people have been charged with human trafficking crimes under the state’s 2011 law, but just 18 have been convicted of them, the AP found. About 50 others were convicted of other crimes, 70 weren’t convicted at all, and about 80 have pending cases.

That’s a conviction rate of just over 8%.

State Sen. Mark Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford who has proposed changes to increase the success rate, has proposed requiring the state to provide training programs for local law enforcement agencies; launch a human trafficking public awareness campaign; compile an annual report of investigations and prosecutions statewide; and designate additional public money to trafficking survivor support services.

“Sadly, these numbers are not surprising,” Montigny said. “Prosecutions and convictions are unlikely to increase unless and until we enact necessary reforms.”


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Habitat for Humanity could see HOME funds

For the second year in a row, the city staff has recommended against giving federal funding to Habitat for Humanity, but the St. Joseph City Council has shown interest in going against that proposal.

City staff made a recommendation to the council to give funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of $480,232.49 to Community Action Partnership to build three homes along with $36,050 for HOME program administration. No money was set aside for Habitat for Humanity, which requested $90,000 to build a home on Powell Street.

The total estimated HOME revenue that the city will be receiving from HUD is $516,282.49.

Last week when the council had a first reading on the HUD allocations for next fiscal year Councilman Brian Myers motioned to amend the ordinance in order to take $90,000 from the CAP allocation to give to Habitat.

The council unanimously agreed to make the change.

“Because of different matching funds that are available, if we give Habitat for Humanity money I felt that it was more appropriate that we give them at least something,” Myers said.

Cate Manley, executive director for Habitat for Humanity, said there was confusion about where the group was in its contracts for building homes. Some felt the volunteers working on construction were behind in their efforts, when actually they were years ahead, she said, adding the closest upcoming deadline isn’t until 2022.

Manley also said HUD funds are complicated, and staffing changes at Habitat and the city may have caused confusion with how funds with multiple projects, financed from multiple sources, are requested for projects going on at the same time.

She feels that the issue has been cleared up and there shouldn’t be a problem in the future.

“I think that we’ve added a lot of transparency, a lot of collaboration between not only us and the city, but also with CAP,” Manley said.

Manley said the volunteer hours that people give building homes translates into matching funds for the city when it comes to HUD.

Last year, the city also didn’t recommend funds for Habitat, but the council chose to split the HOME funds with between CAP and Habitat 50-50.

Myers said he spoke with the city’s community development department and he believes the funding recommendation will be 50 percent between the two groups in the future.

Manley said this has been a busy year for Habitat, which currently is accepting applications for people who want homes built.

“Most of the time in our history we’ve done two to three homes per year,” Manley said. “Currently, we’ve already closed on three new homes, we did three rehabs within the last 12 months and we’re currently working on four townhome units and two single-family homes.”

The council is scheduled to vote on the allocations at its June 3 meeting.

The HUD funds also include $1.97 million in Community Development Block Grants for community service agencies in town.