Thursday, October 2, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Juniper Civic Pushes for Rezoning

Candidates Speak at Monthly Meeting

By Conor Greene

The need to move forward with an effort to downzone parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, along with the upcoming City Council and State Senate elections highlighted this month’s meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

Civic President Robert Holden began the meeting last Thursday in Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village by urging residents to choose carefully during the upcoming elections in November. Citing the Elmhurst gas tanks property as an example, he argued that residents should elect officials who will be proactive in working with the community.

“We had two to three months left before that was going to be a Home Depot,” he said of the Grand Avenue property, which the city is converting into a park. “In three months, we were able to stop the Home Depot and convince Keyspan to give it to the city for one dollar, and now we’re going to have a park,” said Holden. “We expect our elected officials to stand with us and be proactive.

Holden reminded the audience that the civic began the effort of having the area downzoned in October 2005, when 75 members went door-to-door surveying the existing types of development. “We were promised that by 2006 it was going to become law,” said Holden. “It’s now going to be October 2008, and we’re still waiting. Where are our elected officials?”

He questioned whether Councilman Anthony Como, who was not in attendance, has met with Department of City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden regarding the stalled down-zoning.

“The only thing we are waiting for is Amanda Burden to get in her city car and come over here and give [the rezoning] her blessing. Instead, we can’t get her out here, and the [construction] fences are going up, destroying the character of the neighborhood… I want to see a photo of Como with Amanda Burden, not of him giving out another award,” said Holden.

According to Como’s office, the councilman has met with officials from the mayor’s office regarding the down-zoning. During a recent meeting with reporters, he expressed confidence it would move forward.

The Department of City Planning said on Tuesday it is continuing to “gather information from the community on development trends to complete our analysis and refine our preliminary draft rezoning recommendations.

According to spokeswoman Jennifer Torres, the department “is committed to completing the draft recommendations and will be meeting with elected officials in the coming weeks.” She noted that “the study process for this area did not formally begin until September 2006.”

Councilman Joe Addabbo: Senate Candidate

Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who is challenging Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) for his position on the State Senate, discussed issues including overdevelopment and property taxes with the crowd.

Addabbo said he personally attempted to contact Burden about the stalled down-zoning, even though he doesn’t currently represent the area. He said he has received numerous questions about this from residents as he has campaigned in the area, and contacted DCP in hopes of gaining some answers.

“I hear a lot about overdevelopment,” he said. “It’s often that there’s no answers flowing back to the community, and that’s no good.” Despite his attempts to reach out to City Planning, “we have no information… at this point” regarding the status of the down-zoning, said Addabbo. “We need to make it known that we have very concerned residents here.”

A resident then asked Addabbo about the threat that the city’s property tax rate will increase by seven percent next year, and suggested that the city instead eliminate the $400 rebate and keep the property tax flat.

“Before we even talk of tax increases on any level – either the city or the state – we need to cut government first,” said Addabbo. “We haven’t done it… We can’t raise property taxes at this point in my opinion.” He added that certain cuts can be made to the city and state budgets that won’t affect the quality of services residents receive. “We can make cuts that won’t affect your lives, but at the same time we can’t be freezing senior’s meals to save a few pennies,” said Addabbo.

Council Candidate Elizabeth Crowley

Elizabeth Crowley, a Democrat from Glendale who is challenging Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) this fall, was invited to address the crowd. She vowed to “fight against any tax increase” and touted overdevelopment as one of the area’s biggest issues.

“I’ve seen the changes – I grew up here,” said Crowley, who holds a Master’s degree in city planning. “We don’t have the infrastructure in place. I know how important it is to put in place this downzoning.” She accused Burden of “avoiding this area” and said the neighborhood “is in danger.”

“I guarantee you that as the City Council representative from the area, I will get the commissioner to come out here and get the downzoning passed,” promised Crowley. She also vowed to continue to fight against the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, which would have brought 16,000 trucks a day into Maspeth.

Crowley urged residents to support her in the upcoming election, noting that she lost out to Como by less than a half a percentage point, with less than ten percent of registered voters going to the polls. “It really gives no indication as to what’s going to happen in November,” she said of the special election, which was held in June to replace former Councilman Dennis Gallagher.

Tony Nunziato for State Assembly

Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato, who is a JPCA member, discussed his candidacy to replace Democrat Marge Markey of Maspeth on the State Assembly.

“I want to put my name on the most dysfunctional government in the country,” he told the audience. “I want to make it better.”

Nunziato, who owns a florist business on Grand Avenue, touted previous accomplishments as a community activist including fighting for the Elmhurst gas tanks park, opposing the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, working for the preservation of St. Saviour’s church and helping to secure additional funding for the Phelps Dodge property cleanup near the Newtown Creek.

“It was all for the good of the neighborhood,” said Nunziato.

Holden said later that the civic associationhas not yet formerly endorsed any candidates in the November election. He said that Crowley and Addabbo were invited to speak since they attended the meeting. “Once again, Maltese and Como elected not to [attend the meeting], which more than demonstrates their lack of support for the JPCA and our membership,” he said.

Other Items Discussed

Other items discussed at the civic meeting included trains carrying garbage that cause a horrible stench, reduced parking because of the Q45 bus extension to Atlas Park mall and the civic’s victory over an illegal development project in Maspeth.

Holden informed the residents that the civic is collecting signatures for a petition in regard to trains carrying garbage sitting for hours in the middle of the neighborhood. The problem came to a head over the summer when a train sat idling in Middle Village for several hours. The car carrying stinking garbage was uncovered, causing the odor to linger in the air until the train left the area.

He also said the civic has received complaints from several business owners regarding parking near the intersection of 80th Street and Eliot Avenue. According to Holden, a line of metered parking spaces along 80th Street was removed after the MTA decided to reroute the Q45 bus to Atlas Park shopping center in Glendale.

Civic member Manny Caruana reported that the city has forced notorious developer Tommy Huang to remove portions of a house illegally built on Mazeau Street, including the fourth floor. New plans submitted to the city now call for a reduced project featuring a two-family house, instead of a four-family unit originally proposed.

In addition, the contractor building a second house at the site promised to limit work hours to between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, with no weekend work. “This is a major victory” that came as a result of the pressure applied on the developer and city by the civic members.

Aqueduct VLT Decision Coming Soon

By Samantha Geary

The question of who will operate the 4,500 Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park is coming closer to being answered. Leaders in Albany are meeting in Manhattan on Friday morning and it is understood that the VLT decision will be on the agenda.

Local elected and community leaders are anxious that the State choose the best option for the community and not just make a short term decision to take more money up-front at the expense of the local community for the next 30-40 years.

The three bidders are Capital Play, a combination of experienced racing operators and the Connecticut based Mohegan Sun, SL Green, a Manhattan-based REIT and Delaware North, a Buffalo-based company which operates the concessions at ball-parks around the country.

Of the three bidders, Capital Play has been the most active in the community. Several months ago they even joined the Queens Chamber of Commerce and are active members.

They have presented a comprehensive plan for a “world-class entertainment destination venue” which will be an economic generator for Southwest Queens and a creator of several thousand jobs. They have committed to creating those jobs for local residents and to being an active partner in the community.

Capital Play’s proposal is for a phased construction which would include a world-class casino branded with the Mohegan Sun name, name-brand restaurants, a first-class food court, shopping and entertainment venues and a hotel with convention space. Mohegan Sun has presented very strong testimonial support from local business and governments in both Connecticut and at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania as well as a proven record of good treatment of its employees.

SL Green has presented a plan for the Hard Rock Casino at Aqueduct. While it is rumored that they copied the Capital Play plan, according to some in the local community, their plan is not nearly as well thought out as that of Capital Play.

Delaware North has presented a plan for a much more down market VLT facility which is rumored to be dependent on the local community playing the slots. In comparison, Capital Play (and SL Green to a lesser extent) plans to attract people passing through nearby JFK Airport and from the greater New York and Long Island communities by creating a world class destination and entertainment venue at Aqueduct.

In what has been interpreted as a cynical move, Delaware North has offered more money as an up-front license fee to the State but as a result will spend substantially less in Queens in developing its plan for the VLT’s.

Local community and elected officials are said to be very unhappy with the Delaware North plan which is by far the least acceptable of the three bidders. It is also expected that the Delaware North “slots in a box” plan will create more gambling and addiction problems in the local community.

Community Rallies to Halt Parties at MV Cafe

Prior Event Led to Problems in the Neighborhood

By Conor Greene

A Metropolitan Avenue restaurant has agreed to stop hosting parties run by outside promoters after receiving complaints from residents, elected officials, the police precinct and community board.

Metronome Café, which opened earlier this year at 79-28 Metropolitan Avenue, drew the ire of nearby residents after hosting a late night party several weeks ago which attracted scores of patrons, including some teenagers. Numerous partygoers spilled onto the streets at 4 a.m. on September 20, disrupting the peace of many neighbors.

Residents began filing complaints with the 104th Precinct, Councilman Anthony Como, Community Board 5 and local civic organizations including the Juniper Park Civic Association and Middle Village Property Owners Association.

At that point, it was revealed that the restaurant was slated to be rented out last Friday night to a promoter for an event called “Modelz & Bottlez,” which was being advertised online and through fliers featuring a woman in a bikini top pouring champagne on her chest. The flier states that while everybody must have identification, “exceptions will be made [for underage individuals] but u will have to pay extra.”

Women are urged to “not bother” attending if they “plan on wearing jeans [and] sneakers.” Instead, the promoter clarifies, “I want to see lingire (sic) models swimsuit models runway models.”

The restaurant, which was previously a billiard hall, does not have a liquor license, according to CB 5, which has informed the State Liquor Authority of the situation. A separate establishment called Uvarara is listed as the same address and has a wine and beer license, but that is not applicable to events at Metronome.

After learning of last Friday’s party, Councilman Como (R-Middle Village) contacted restaurant owner Rick Chen, who agreed to cancel the event. However, Como’s staff was still able to purchase tickets for the event later that day. At that point, the councilman alerted the 104th Precinct, FDNY and the Buildings Department.

“Nobody is saying you can’t have a bar or restaurant on the avenue – we’re not against that because small business is something we need to promote, but what we want is the type of businesses that work with the community,” said Como. “Not one who is promoting a teen night and asking the young ladies to dress up in schoolgirl outfits.”

The 104th Precinct was also alerted to the event by Robert Holden, president of the JPCA. Officers from the precinct’s Community Affairs unit met with both Chen and the party promoter and warned them that there would be consequences if they moved forward with the event. According to a notice posted online, the event was moved to the Office Lounge in Richmond Hill after the precinct intervened.

Holden said it is important to prevent businesses that will detract from the quality of life from opening in the area. “We don’t want these kind of parties because certainly no good can come from it,” he said. “If one gets a foothold in the neighborhood, others will come in and bring drunkenness, noise, drugs and violence to the area.”

On Tuesday, Ethan Chen, whose brother Rick owns Metronome, stressed that the establishment wouldn’t host any of these types of parties in the future. He said the events were booked through an outside sales person, and the first few were smaller birthday parties. He said the trouble started during the September 19 event, which lead to the residents’ complaints.

“The first couple were okay, but then a lot of trouble started,” said Chen. “After that, we stopped the party, and are never going to do their parties again… It’s a nice neighborhood, so we don’t want to deal with people like that and want the public to know that we are issuing an apology.”

Rick Chen agreed to meet with officers from Patrol Borough Queens North at an upcoming meeting regarding bar and nightclub safety, according to the precinct.

Como added that he is willing to work with the Metronome owners to help their business grow, but not at the detriment of the neighborhood. “It’s a beautiful block, and we’re not going to help him destroy the neighborhood,” he said.

Holden credited the precinct with addressing the issue before it grew into a larger problem, and noted that this occurred near the former Red Zone bar, which was the scene of a shooting several years ago. “I commend the 104 for taking a proactive approach to head this off,” he said. “They know about the problems in that vicinity

Crime Issues Include Street Robberies and Problems in Juniper Park

COP 104 Updates Resident at Juniper Civic Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s meeting of the Community Organizations of the 104th Precinct provided residents with an update on local crime trends, including a rash of street robberies and problems with rowdy groups of teenagers in Juniper Valley Park.

The meeting took place last Thursday in Our Lady of Hope Church in Middle Village as part of the Juniper Park Civic Association’s meeting.

Street Robberies and Problems in the Park

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell reported that there has been a rash of larceny, including several “student on student” crimes involving cell phones such as the popular Sidekick model. “They are walking around not paying attention to their surroundings and people are running up and grabbing them,” said Bell.

He said the precinct has made “a lot of arrests” in these incidents, but “is still battling” the trend. He urged parents to remind their teenagers to be aware while walking around using cell phones and other electronics.

As with the rest of the city, the precinct has seen a number of incidents of identity theft. Officer Bell reminded residents to shred all financial documents and other items that include personal information. He also stressed the importance of not giving out credit card or social security numbers online or over the phone.

The precinct has responded to complaints in the area around Juniper Valley Park and has “issued numerous summonses,” said Officer Bell. On one recent day, seven summonses were issued within a few hours, he added. “We hear you. If it continues, let us know,” he told the residents. “Best believe, we are out there.”

No Answer at the Precinct

Resident Patrick Trinchese followed up on a complaint he made at previous meetings: the lack of officers available to answer the phone at the precinct stationhouse. He said that there are often times he tries to call for non-emergency reasons that need a more immediate response than dialing 311 generates.

In response to his complaint, an officer provided him a precinct phone number at a town hall meeting a month ago. “Within three days, the number was disconnected,” Trinchese informed Officer Bell. The main number for the precinct “just rings off the hook,” he added.

Officer Bell explained that there is a person assigned to the switchboard around the clock. “You may call and think nobody is answering the phone, but they may be on the phone with someone else,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are some people you can’t get off the phone.”

Trinchese later cited several specific examples of calls to the precinct going unanswered, including an instance where a vehicle with an expired inspection
was parked in a no standing zone on 77th Street for several days.

“After multiple calls to the precinct with the phone ringing 20 to 25 times, there was no answer,” he said. After three days, the vehicle was ticketed for the expired inspection and was moved the following day.

“Occurrences like this slowly degrade the neighborhood by allowing people to exploit our facilities,” said Trinchese. “The response from the 104th Precinct to Middle Village residents’ quality of life is drastically dropping and needs to be addressed.”

Another resident related a story of successfully calling the precinct three weeks ago to report a theft in progress. He saw somebody stealing the rims off a car parked near his house, and his call to the precinct led to the apprehension of the suspects in Brooklyn, he said.

“That’s what we need – the eyes and the ears of the community to help catch these people,” said Officer Bell.He noted that there are undercover detectives assigned to these types of crimes.

Officer Bell stressed to residents that they should always call 911 to report emergencies and crimes in progress.

Concerns Over Homeless Camp

Officer Bell said the precinct would look into a resident’s complaint of a homeless camp that has been established near the Long Island Expressway off Borden Avenue in Maspeth.

A “large, large group” has set up mattresses and are urinating and defecating in a grassy area that can’t be seen from the service road, the resident said.

The resident reported the situation to the city after four of the homeless men, who were drunk, tried to fight a man working outside her home, she said. “I don’t know if it’s really safe,” she told Officer Bell, adding that her 311 report was cited as having action taken, despite the fact that the problem persists.

The officer told her that the precinct had previously received reports of homeless people gathering in a nearby park. “We moved them out previously, but it sounds like they are trying to set up shop again,” he said. Officers would be sent over to the area to check the situation out, he said.

Graffiti and Abandoned Cars

As is usually the case, a resident complained about the amount of graffiti in the area. Officer Bell called it a “constant problem” in the 104th Precinct, which often leads the city in vandalism-related arrests. “Unfortunately, we often lead the city in complaints as well,” he said, adding that the precinct has an officer assigned specifically to coordinating graffiti prevention and cleanup efforts. “It is something we are constantly battling,” said Officer Bell.

Civic executive board member Christina Wilkinson asked about having abandoned cars removed from in front of private houses. She said that a car has been parked in front of her mother’s house for months without being moved. She reported it to 311, and ten minutes later the complaint was logged as having been addressed. “It’s still sitting there,” she said.

Officer Bell said the precinct gets numerous calls reporting abandoned cars and must send an officer over to investigate. He said that cars can only be parked in the same place on the street for up to seven days. After that, the officer has the option of issuing a ticket or having the vehicle towed. “It doesn’t mean the car is automatically going to be towed,” he said. “That’s optional.”

Tony Nunziato said that Department of Transportation Queens Commissioner Maura McCarthy recently said at a meeting that after seven days, residents can notify the local precinct of an abandoned car. It then takes another seven days for the precinct to determine that the vehicle has actually been left for that long. It can then be towed.

According to Nunziato, McCarthy said that if a “moral majority” exists among residents, she would consider bringing back two day parking limits. However, residents noted that would lead to problems when residents go on vacation and in other cases.

Elmhurst Gas Tanks Park Taking Shape


By Conor Greene

The city is slowly shaping the former gas tanks property in Elmhurst into a six-acre park, providing residents with green space on a site that was originally eyed for a Home Depot.

Phase one of the project is scheduled to be completed this fall and includes new fill, landscaping and plantings. According to the city Parks Department, the footprint for the park has been established and landscaping, including 365 trees and shrubs, is complete.

The second phase is slated to continue next fall and will include a comfort station, maintenance house and a fenced-in playground featuring two separate play areas for younger and older children. A walking path around the park’s perimeter will also be installed during phase two, which will go out for bid in the spring.

The final product will be a “passive” park situated between Grand Avenue and the Long Island Expressway. It will not include any areas for soccer or baseball, but the Parks Department plans to install a small artificial turf field. The park will also include water sprinklers so that children can cool off in warm weather and a Vietnam War memorial. The rear of the property will include crabapple trees, reminiscent of the orchards that used to exist in the area.

The city aims to plant another 100 trees and shrubs on the site, and although the plantings won’t block the view of the expressway, they will help reduce the noise. Former property owner KeySpan cleared the property of contaminated soil, leaving it relatively flat, so the city created hills on both ends of the property to give it a little character.

The property was formerly used by KeySpan to house large gas storage tanks there. When new technology rendered the storage tanks obsolete, the property sat idle and the tanks were dismantled in 1996. In 2002, the company unveiled plans to market the property, which would have paved the way for construction of either a big box store like Home Depot or a large shopping mall.

At that point, the Juniper Park Civic Association organized a strong opposition to the development plans. With the help of local elected officials including former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, the group convinced KeySpan to sell the land to the city for one dollar. In 2005, the land was formally transferred to the city, paving the way for the nearly $10 million park project.

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, said this week that “seeing this space become a park is the most satisfying aspect” of his role as a civic leader. “It’s tremendously satisfying to see the fruits of a hard-fought struggle to save this space for the community,” he said. “I’m proud of the way that the [JPCA] put all of its talents, resources and energy into the fight when everyone was saying it was impossible to win.”

However, there is one aspect of the project that Holden and the civic does not agree with: the decision by Parks to install synthetic turf on the property. “There are too many health questions still unanswered concerning artificial turf,” he said. “The synthetic surface is contrary to the ‘green movement’ and should not be considered for this park.”

Politics Unusual: Bailout Proposal Leaves Egg on Faces; More Negative Campaigning, Will Bloomberg Eat His Words?

Anyone who says politics is boring certainly has a few words to take back after this week. In fact, so much has gone on this past week that suffice it to say, it would have been one of my last wishes to have been a fly on the walls of more political offices than I could shake a stick at.

Many say “all politics is local” but this week, I’m compelled to start at the top. About this time last week, the guy who’s supposedly running the show here in the good ole’ US of A, (and pretty badly if you’re following any of the opinion polls on his job performance), finally figured out that our economy is just a horrible mess. I’m quite sure the flies on his walls would have preferred landing on cow manure for the day than to have been privy to some of George W’s “wise” words of the day…Can’t you just hear it now: “Where’s that kid who stuck his finger in the dike?”, “How many zeroes in a trillion?”, and “Gee, those guys on Wall Street are my buds, can’t we fix this?”

What did they come up with? Well, in a nutshell, Mr. Leader of the right-wing and his Treasury guy trotted out of the West Wing and ran a very, very left-wing proposal over to Congress. The flies over there worked overtime to catch the buzz of what was being said. Not much of it was pretty and even the ultralibs told the Texan “whoa, boy, this needs some changes, if you want us to support it.”

The boys and girls in Congress spent the weekend keeping the flies on high alert. Deal or no deal? How many from each party have to stand up and face the wrath of the home town crowd by voting “yes”? How many get to slide by voting “no”. “We have a deal.” “Oops, not.”

Perhaps Sen. McCain should have paid more attention to the “buzz of the flies” and found out that the vote did not go through before putting his campaign on hold and announcing that he took care of things. By the way, that announcement was made on national television. We don’t really know what was in McCain’s head when he supplied this fodder for the political talking heads around the country. Maybe he still believes the “fundamentals of our economy are sound.” Or frighteningly, maybe he was briefed by Sarah Palin. But really, if she got it wrong it’s not her fault. She’s much too concerned with other things of more importance. After all she’s out every morning checking on Russia. By the way the flies in the room with she and Katie Couric had to be revived from almost laughing themselves to death. We put in a call to Katie to ask what she thought of the interview but she told us she’d have to get back to us and asked for our e-mail address.

All kidding aside, it might do John McCain well if he were to drop Palin and try to get Tina Fey to fill in for her. It would definitely help his Nielson ratings never mind his falling poll numbers.

And now finally back to the political scene we love the most…the real local beat. There are some poll numbers going around here that certainly have the flies in our area with their wings at attention. Locals in the 15th State Senate District where Joe and Serf are vying for victory got some polling calls towards the end of last week. They were of the “push” poll variety.

So, what is a push poll? Fundamentally, what is labeled as a push poll is just disguised as a poll but really isn’t a poll at all. It is the early political celebration of Halloween, where telemarketers masquerade as pollsters. In a typical push poll, an interviewer, costumed as a verbal executioner, feeds damaging innuendo to the unsuspecting voter at the other end of the line, and in many cases, false and damaging “information” about a candidate under the guise of taking a poll. They want to see how this 'information' affects voter preferences. In fact, the intent is to shape opinion by pushing the voters away from one candidate and toward the opposing candidate. Purpose? Influencing voters. There is no intent to conduct research.

Why, you may be asking, is this important? The flies on Senator Upside Down’s campaign office walls got an earful. Seems like last Wednesday, the Sienna Poll – a reputable really information gathering polling outfit – released some numbers showing the race between Joe and Serf to be neck and neck—not particularly good news for a twenty year incumbent. Aha! Time to do a “push” poll. To those who got the calls last week, don’t expect to see the results published like Siena’s. You see by law, pollsters must disclose the questions when they release poll data.

There were even more flies buzzing around and those lucky enough to land on the walls of Mayor Mike Mega-bucks got quite an earful. He and the other mega-bucks guy, Ron Lauder, who funded the campaigns to get voters to support term limits – twice – apparently did a deal. Mayor Mega-bucks, be reminded of your own words, "My experience in business has been, whenever we've had somebody who was irreplaceable, their successor invariably did a better job, and I think change is good.” Well we agree with you Mike, change is good.

Speaking of the Mayor’s words, maybe the flies should drop by and remind him of some of his other utterances. As far as his support for Serf, whose main campaign focus is trashing Addabbo for the tax increase back in 2002, we think Mike must have forgotten what he said when asked if it was fair to criticize Council members, like Joe, who voted for the 2002 increase. According to the flies, Mikey said, “For doing what? Paying our firefighters and police officers and improving our schools? I don’t understand what you think they did wrong.” Neither do we Mike, so maybe we should take a poll among the flies who have heard all and remember all, why you’re supporting Serf? Did you make a deal with him, too?

Until next week...

Five Charged with Selling Guns to Undercover Cops

Sting Operation Nets 38 Illegal Weapons

Five men, including two from Queens, have been charged with selling dozens of weapons including sawed-off shotguns to undercover police officers over the past year.

Ali Kabeer, 25, and Ali Hassan, 42, both of Queens and Thomas Suarez, 26, along with Brooklyn residents Thomas Suarez, 26, Scott Kwaak, 21, and Clinton Kwaak, 24, were charged last Wednesday following a thirteen month investigation.The suspects were charged last week on a 63-count indictment variously charging them with criminal sale of a firearm and conspiracy.

If convicted, Suarez and Scott Kwaak each face up to 25 years in prison, Kabeer faces up to 15 years and Hassan and Clinton Kwaak each face up to seven years. Four of the men were taken into custody last week and arraigned in Queens Criminal Court. The fifth, Kabeer, has been located in Florida and will be extradited to New York, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

“The defendants are accused of attempting to see the streets of New York with dozens of illegal weapons that would have posed a serious public safety threat if their plan had been carried out,” said Brown.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Tommy Gun, began in July 2007 when detectives with the NYPD’s Firearms Investigation Unit received information that the defendants were selling illegal guns on the black market. Detectives then set up a sting operation that included a series of telephone conversations followed by face-to-fact street deals.

The men are charged, either individually or jointly, with selling a total of 38 weapons – many of which had their serial numbers removed – to undercover officers at locations in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan between July 2007 and August 21 of this year.

The sales to undercover officers included one meeting in July 2007 in which Kabeer and Suarez sold a defaced Tec 22 9mm; the sale of a sawed-off defaced .22-caliber rifle by Suarez in January; and an August meeting in which Scott Kwaak sold an officer a .45-caliber assault rifle for $2,400.

The men also allegedly sold the officers a 9mm pistol with a silencer, a .32-caliber revolver, other handguns of various calibers and 12-gauge sawed-off shotguns. The guns were all sent to the NYPD ballistics laboratory, which confirmed that they were operable.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the 38 guns seized are among 3,000 taken off city streets so far this year by the department. “The fact that they are out of criminal hands is one of the reasons why New York City remains the safest big city in the country,” he said.

According to the district attorney, Kabeer has home addresses on 108th Street, Chestnut Street, Liberty Avenue and 128th Street, while the other suspect from Queens, Hassan, lives on 102nd Road in Ozone Park.

Wishing a Sweet Year to All!

By Steve Tiszenkel

Walk up 108th Street in Forest Hills from Queens Boulevard to the LIE and you'll see a neighborhood change before your eyes. Starting from the exhaust-clogged hustle and bustle of the Boulevard of Death, you pass grand prewar apartment complexes with white-railed balconies and sprawling lawns, then lower-key brick residences that eschew ornamentation, before you get to “Bukharian Broadway,” the Central Asian shopping mecca where a lone Mexican takeout joint stands out for holding limited Uzbek appeal. Finally, as the shopping peters out, you get to some decreasingly grand apartment blocks capped off by the long-controversial Forest Hills Houses projects, before one of Queens' most-desired neighborhoods is cut off suddenly at the expressway overpass. On the other side of the divide is working-class, heavily Hispanic Corona, where many of the residents on the south side of the LIE dare not tread.

You'll see a lot of differences on that walk. But you'll also see one major similarity. From Queens Boulevard to the LIE more than a mile later, synagogue after synagogue after synagogue appears on the landscape. From old-school Ashkenazi to new-school Bukharian, Google Maps counts no fewer than five centers of Jewish worship along the relatively short stretch. That’s an average of one every 4.6 blocks, and that doesn’t even count the prominent Y—the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, that is, not the Village People kind.

108th Street may be Forest Hills’ Jewish axis, but it’s hardly the only place local Jews flocked this week to ask God to forgive their transgressions for another year. Throughout the neighborhood every imaginable subgroup of Jews is represented. There are houses of worship Conservative, Reform and Orthodox—that’s both regular Orthodox and Modern Orthodox, thank you very much—for the plain-vanilla Jews who have been here for the better part of a century and for Georgian Jews who poured in after the fall of the Soviet Union. All in all, there are better than a dozen synagogues in Forest Hills alone. Add in adjacent Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Kew Gardens Hills and, well, that’s a lot of minyans.

Forest Hills has been a Jewish population center for years. In the first half of the 20th century, European immigrants and their children made their way from the tenements of the Lower East Side to greener pastures, where the new subway line could whisk them away to their city jobs and back to their more-idyllic life in the Borough of Homes. Even as prestigious Forest Hills Gardens banned them, they settled just outside its limits, in the ranch houses and six-story apartment buildings that sprung up with the influx. They opened shops and supermarkets, restaurants and, of course, synagogues.

Their children grew up and, as children are won't to do, moved away—many to the suburbs north and east of Queens, where they found houses were bigger and better and their new-found wealth was more easily flaunted. This phenomenon wasn’t unique to Forest Hills, but another one was: over the years, Israelis, Iranians, Russians, Uzbeks and more flooded in to replace them. According to a 2007 article in The Jewish Week, more than 100,000 Jews from all over the world make their home in Forest Hills today. It isn’t a city, but if it were, it would be one of the biggest outside Israel.

This is the week that Jews everywhere celebrate a new year—it’s 5769, which by my count is at least a few thousand up on the secular world. They dip apples in honey in the hope that a sweet year is to come, and more of them will do it in Forest Hills than pretty much anywhere else. But truth be told, in Forest Hills, Jewish life is always pretty sweet.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website, Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.