Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Operation Date Night: Local Teens Give Military Couples Quality Time Together

By Patricia Adams

The season of thoughtfulness and giving is upon us, and for three sisters from Howard Beach, the spirit of the season has been raised to another level—one they say they intend to keep up.

The Connolly ladies, Rachel, 16, Joanna, 15, and Shannon, 13 say their experience as a “military family”—brother Gerard is a West Point cadet—has made them very aware of the stress and pressure that military personnel face when confronted with being away from their loved ones and families. They are especially concerned with young, married military couples who are often separated during their tours of duty and who have very little quality time together.

“We just wanted to come up with a way for some of these troops to have something special,” said Rachel. “To have a night where they could go out on the town and forget about everything but each other and having a wonderful time.”

And so after many hours of conversation and planning the Connolly sisters came up with “Operation Date Night.” The concept provides for a military couple who are nominated by other troops at the base where they are stationed to be chosen for a night out on the town. Joanna Connolly says that she and her family were inspired by the date night that President Obama and his wife spent in New York.

“It just got us thinking. The Obama’s called attention to the fact that spending time like that is important to all couples,” said Joanna. She also pointed out that there is a very high divorce rate among military couples because of the stress and responsibility that comes with the job.

“They have very little time together and we think something like this could really help.” Rachel Connolly explained. “It gives them the opportunity to go out and have a great time with nothing to worry about—especially finances for the night.”

Worrying about nothing is a great way to describe the evening the girls set up for their first couple, Staff Sgt. Michael Bacon, 28, and his wife, Kim, 25, who were overwhelmingly chosen by fellow military staffers at their home base in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.

Sgt. Bacon serves in the Military Police and recently returned from his second tour in Iraq. While on his first tour which began in 2007, he was shot in the line of duty and awarded the Purple Heart. The couple also celebrated their two year wedding anniversary just days before they went on their memorable date.

The couple was picked up at the army base in Ft. Hamilton by a white stretch limousine, donated by Designer Limousine and whisked off for dinner at Howard Beach’s exclusive Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, Vetro by Russo’s on the Bay. After dinner they were driven to Manhattan’s Broadway where they were treated to a performance of In the Heights. The theater tickets were donated by the USO.

Shannon Connolly was first to praise the restaurant for their willingness to donate a wonderful dinner to help out with Operation Date Night. “The food here is so wonderful and the restaurant and the lounge — everything is so beautiful — you would have to feel special here.”

And feeling special is exactly what the Bacon’s did. “It’s so nice to be appreciated like this,” said Sgt. Mike Bacon. “This is an experience that we will never forget. It is a chance for my wife and I to enjoy ourselves and just to be alone without a care in the world.”

“I would like to thank Rachel, Joanna and Shannon and everyone for doing this for us,” said Kim Bacon. “The restaurant is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. What an unbelievable way to celebrate our anniversary and the upcoming holidays.”

If it’s up to the Connolly’s Operation Date Night will continue with more and more troops being invited to escape everyday military life. “We hope this can go on forever,” said Rachel Connolly. “It’s such a good thing for everyone.”

The girls say that Vetro will continue to donate the dinners and they will continue to seek donations from limo companies. Vetro owner Frank Russo says he is very leased to be able to help out and looks forward to hosting many more couples at his restaurant. “This is a phenomenal thing that these girls have done. Putting this together is something we should all be very proud of them for.”

Officials Vow to Again Fight Proposed MTA Cuts

W, Z Trains, Q56 Bus Among Threatened Lines

By Conor Greene

With a sense of déjà vu, elected officials and community leaders again find themselves fighting against proposed service cuts that are included in the budget plan recently approved by the MTA.

The MTA’s budget plan, unanimously approved last Wednesday, was forced to address a $383 million gap that developed over the past two weeks as a result of state budget cuts and lower than expected tax revenues. To close this gap, the MTA’s budget plan includes elimination of student discount, cuts to the Access-A-Ride program, elimination of the Cross Bay Bridge toll rebate program and service cuts along some bus and subway lines.

Among the proposed service cuts are elimination of the W and Z trains and more than a dozen borough bus lines, including the Q56, which runs along Jamaica Avenue. While this results in a redundancy of services in some ways, residents and officials say having both a bus and train option along Jamaica Avenue is essential for senior citizens, the handicapped, families and customers.

In addition to elimination of the W and Z trains and the Q56 bus, frequency of the J train would be reduced, and the following bus lines would be eliminated: Q24, Q30, Q31, Q41, Q42, Q84, Q74, Q75, Q76, Q110, QM4, Q21 and X28.

To draw attention to the cuts, officials including Assemblyman Mike Miller, Councilman Eric Ulrich, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Assemblyman Rory Lancman gathered on Tuesday and urged the MTA to reconsider. “It is going to have a major impact on Woodhaven and Richmond Hill,” said Miller. “It doesn’t make sense – why would you cut the mode of transportation the majority of the community uses?”

For many seniors, the bus is essential because it is difficult for many to climb the several dozen stairs leading to the elevated train stations along the J line. “We know that cuts have to be made. Let’s start at the top and work our way down,” added Miller.

Lancman noted that his district is being threatened with elimination of the Q74 bus, which brings students to Queens College. He recalled that during the last round of budget negotiations and threatened service cuts, legislators agreed to implement a payroll tax to fund the authority. “That was a bitter pill for our economy to swallow… but we were assured by that MTA that was what as needed to prevent the cuts we’re talking about today,” he said, calling the authority a “very sloppily run organization.”

“The MTA needs to start at the top and make itself a well-run organization,” added Lancman. “Then maybe we can talk about the need for sensible service cuts. The focus of this conversation has to be about how the MTA is going to reform itself.”

Crowley said that Councilman James Vacca has devised a plan to avoid the cuts by instead reallocating $140 million of capital funds to temporarily close the budget gap. The funds would come from two sources: more than $90 million in unspent federal stimulus aid that may be allocated towards operating expenses, and about $50 million in MTA operating funds that are currently being used to supplement the capital budget.

Ulrich called the service cuts “a slap in the face of the working men and women of this city” and said they target the “most vulnerable” including students and seniors. “They are telling us they don’t care about Woodhaven, and to me that is the biggest disgrace,” he said.

Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. reminded those in attendance at Tuesday’s press conference that the same fight was waged just last year. Since Jamaica Avenue’s Business Improvement District stretches for 25 blocks, Thomson argued that having bus service along the shopping corridor is essential. “We’re going to make the MTA care [about Woodhaven] because we’re going to fight for this,” she vowed.

In a statement announcing the budget decision, MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder said that it is impossible not to have service cuts that impact people when $400 million is taken from the budget overnight, but recognized the need to restore the public’s confidence in the beleaguered authority.

“We have a responsibility to assure our customers and taxpayers that every dollar they sent to the MTA is used as effectively as possible,” he said. “We can’t say that today, and that is why we have to fundamentally change the way that we do business. In short, we must take this place apart to find the efficiencies that will make it stronger. We can’t do it fast enough to take off the table the things we’re taking about today, but this effort is our best chance to restore the MTA’s credibility and protect the critical services we provide.”

New Bake Sale Regs Frustrate Students

Restricts Fundraisers Held by Clubs and Teams

By Conor Greene

Fundraising efforts for public school clubs and sports teams has been severely hampered by a new chancellor’s regulation banning bake sales during lunch periods. A group of students representing nearly a dozen schools citywide have launched a petition drive in response to the new rules, which they say were implemented without warning.

Whitestone resident and Bronx High School of Science student Matthew Melore recently attended a Community Board 5 meeting with colleague Seth Hoffman to spread word about the new regulation, and the impact it is having on students. Fundraisers involving food are now only allowed during non-lunch periods, and since most students don’t have free periods at that time, it is difficult for clubs and teams to have enough members available to hold a bake sale, or make money due to the lack of hallway foot traffic.

“There is a better way of getting healthy foods to students than getting rid of bake sales, which we need for clubs and teams to raise money,” said Melore. “It’s had a really big impact on clubs, which have to come up with other ways, or they run out of money.”

The problem has impacted sports teams, especially at smaller schools where funding has been cut or eliminated in recent years. As a result of those budget cuts, sports teams at smaller schools have relied on fundraisers to pay for equipment and other costs.

Adding insult to injury, said Melore, is that the new regulations were passed in the summer, at which time approval from the Panel on Educational Policy was not required. In addition, many schools, including his, were not even aware of the new rules until September, by which time clubs and teams had budgeted for the year based on expected bake sale revenues.

“It was passed without warning,” said Melore. “Getting rid of bake sales and fundraisers is not solving the problem. A cupcake once in a while is not a bad thing to do, and most of the food that students get that’s bad, they get at home, not at school… In my opinion, and many others, the regulation that was passed is not even legitimate.” He notes that it was “hastily written” before mayoral control of schools expired, and was “enacted in such a haste that the Nutritional Guidelines that were a key part of the legislation were not even incorporated until late October.”

After hearing from the students, Community Board 5 passed a resolution supporting their petition drive. So far, Melore and Hoffman have visited three boards, and in all, students from 11 schools have collected 5,000 signatures on the petitions. The students’ goal, said Melore, is to convince officials that the rules should be revised so that bake sales can be regulated, but still provide students with a way to fund raise for teams and clubs.

In a statement, a Department of Education spokesman said that the new rules were co-developed with the Department of Health and represents an important step in combating childhood obesity and ensuring that students develop healthy eating habits. “The city and country are confronting an obesity epidemic the proportions of which are difficult to overstate,” the spokesman wrote. “It is our responsibility to make sure schools are a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

At the same time, the DOE is working to increase students’ access to athletic programs, expand physical fitness education in schools and make sure the city’s school lunches are some of the most nutritious in the country, the spokesman added. However, recognizing that the policy “might affect students’ and parents’ ability to raise money for their schools,” the DOE is “in the process of working with the Department of Health to see how we can maintain our commitment to combating obesity without putting onerous restrictions on student fundraisers.”

Another aspect of the new wellness policy involves a new city contract for school vending machines, the department noted. In October, the school board approved two new contracts for machines that will only sell foods and beverages that meet strict nutritional guidelines. The millions of dollars in revenue that the machines will produce will help fund the city’s middle and high school athletic leagues, the spokesman said.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

The Second Time Around: A Solider Returns to War

By Patricia Adams

Sean McCabe described his flight to Baghdad with one word: nerve-wracking. The journey actually started twenty-one months before when he enlisted in the United States Army in April of 2004.

“It’s a long flight. We left around 8 o'clock at night. We flew from Ft. Hood, Texas to Maine. From Maine we went to Frankfurt Germany and then on to Kuwait.” It wasn’t long after arriving that Sean realized just how very far he was from home. “We were on a training exercise in the desert… sleeping in a foxhole. When we woke up there was a thick mist over the sand and a couple of feet away from our trench, out of nowhere, there was a goat herder saying his morning prayers—I looked at my buddy and all I could say was, ‘This ‘aint Queens’.”

After a few weeks the unit flew the last leg of their trip. “We got to Baghdad at 8:46 PM on December 24, 2005—it was the farthest thing from Christmas Eve you could ever imagine.”

Now, nearly four years later, Sean McCabe will celebrate Christmas Eve at home with his entire family including future wife Melanie Castellano and their 15-month-old baby Kiera. But the memory of a Christmas past spent in the desert will call again on January 17, 2010 when Sean McCabe will journey as a soldier in the United States Army once again—this time to Afghanistan.

The McCabe family watched with anticipation, much like the rest of the nation, a December 2 speech by President Barack Obama, in which he outlined the details of a plan that would send 30,000 additional troops off to war. In the prime-time speech delivered from West Point, the President also told the American public that the same troops will start leaving Afghanistan long before the end of his first term.

Despite the dire warnings of more troops being deployed, no one at the McCabe house expected what was to come in the mailbox the next day. “When you enlist you are committed to the Army for the next eight years of your life,” Sean explained. “I didn’t expect to get notified the day after the speech, but I always knew there was a chance that this day would come.” And so after spending the last two and a half years as an inactive ready reserve, Sean McCabe is going back to war.

In the midst of his world as a soon-to-be-husband—Sean will marry his sweetheart Melanie on December 27—father, Community Board 10 member, firefighter hopeful and a host of other things, Sean McCabe will ship out to begin his second tour with orders that say he will be coming home within 400 days.

“Going back is not something I would say I want to do — I’m going to leave my wife and baby behind this time—that makes it so much harder.” But despite the emotional ties of his current situation, Sean rationalizes his position, “Nobody wants us to go. If they didn’t need us, they wouldn’t call us.”

In response to the many people who are opposed to additional troops being deployed, Sean McCabe says he understands the way people think. “It’s very difficult for the American public to understand what’s going on. But, when you are there and you see these people you start to understand. They’re hardworking and trying to provide for their families in the middle of war and chaos. We are the United States of America, the greatest country in the world. We can fix this and we belong there.”

Much of Sean’s duties overseas he expects will be along similar lines to his first tour. “I will be in a special operations command,” but he further explains how a unit doesn’t generally have the details of their mission much beforehand. “We never know exactly where we are going and what we are doing until that moment is upon us.”

What he does know from past experience is that for about 98% of the time he spends away he will be — his buddies at his side—in harm’s way. “One of the most valuable lessons I learned the first time over was the difference between a snap and a “whizz”. You always want a “whizz”.” The “whizz” is then defined by McCabe as the sound a bullet makes as it flies past you. A snap is the sound of a bullet as it breaks the sound barrier—usually within inches of your head. Sean McCabe chuckles, “You see my point about the “whizz” over the snap right?”

There are many things Sean McCabe says will get him through. “First of all, I am never without friends. Within minutes of my first shipment of vacuum-sealed homemade brownies from Aunt Pat, guys are knocking themselves out to protect me.”

Then there is what Sean says really kept him safe the last time and, ultimately what will get him through again. “A lot of guys do not have the family and the support system that I do. My family is always there to talk, to listen and to hold me up. They are my strength and my armor. Anyway as long as I’m back by St. Paddy’s Day 2011, it’s all good.”

Top: Among Kiera McCabe’s favorite times are those she spends in the "Airborne Division" her father runs in the family's living room. Left: Sean McCabe sits atop a tank with a buddy in one of few idle moments out in the Iraqi desert.

Concerns Over Burglaries, Railroad Security and Response Time in 104th Precinct

By Conor Greene

A number of concerns regarding the 104th Precinct were discussed at a public safety meeting this week, but with no officers in attendance, many of the questions remain unanswered.

Items slated for discussion at Tuesday’s Community Board 5 Public Safety Committee meeting included a review of the precinct’s current staffing levels, updates on crime statistics and concerns over the safety of freight train cars passing through the area.

A member of the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit said on Wednesday that “conflicts in our schedule” prevented the precinct from sending an officer to the meeting. Regardless, he noted that certain issues, such as staffing levels or personal assignments, are not discussed in public due to security concerns. One aspect of the precinct’s crime statistics that was discussed at length is an increase in burglaries, which is the only major crime that is up so far this year compared with 2008.

To date, there have been 415 reported break-ins, up more than 14 percent from the 363that had occurred at the same point last year. Over the past 28 years, burglaries are up more than 70 percent, with 46 reported this year compared with 27 last year.

All other major crimes are down this year compared with the same point in 2008, including robbery (263 to 290), grand larceny (464 to 515) and grand larceny auto (287 to 336). There has been one murder this year compared with four that occurred in two separate incidents last year, and there have been 13 rapes compared with 17 last year. However, all categories except murder are up over the past 28 day period, including double the amount of felony assaults (16 to eight) and grand larceny auto (25 to 18).

Another issue discussed in depth was security along the railroad corridors and train yards located within the community board’s confines. A representative for Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) said that pushing the rail operator CSX to ensure that all necessary safety precautions are being taken is a top priority.

While nobody from the precinct was able to discuss sensitive issues such as staffing levels and response time, board members in attendance expressed concerns over both issues. Robert Holden, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and is president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said he has been hearing complaints from neighbors that there aren’t enough officers to patrol the area or respond to crimes.

One problem, according to Holden, is that a patrol car dedicated to following up on prior crimes was nixed. That has led to a number of complaints from residents who said they had to wait “five, six, seven hours or longer” to report crimes. “We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about that,” he said, adding that the problem will likely be compounded when officers are reassigned for the upcoming terror trials in Manhattan. “That is going to overburden our precinct, which is understaffed already,” he said.

Another complaint from residents, said Holden, is officers discouraging victims from filing police reports. Several residents complained about both of these issues at recent civic meetings, leading Holden to wonder, “How often is it happening?”

Ridgewood North Historic District Approved

By Conor Greene

After extensive lobbying by community members and elected officials, the City Council has overwhelmingly approved the Ridgewood North Historic District.

The vote earlier this month brings citywide recognition to one of the neighborhood’s most distinctive aspects: blocks of multi-family homes built starting in 1908. Known as Mathews Flats because they were built by the G.X Mathews Company, the homes provided affordable housing for working class residents.

The Ridgewood North Historic District (RNHD) includes 96 buildings on former farmland along Gates, Fairview, Grandview and Forest avenues and Woodbine and Palmetto streets. The three-story buildings were constructed in long rows of repeated designs with buff-and-amber-colored brick facades and each included six separate residential apartments featuring a full bathroom.

The homes marked a departure from the overcrowded living conditions many immigrants and working-class residents were subjected to after the turn of the century. Central shafts provided ample light and fresh air, and the design was thought to be such an improvement over prior forms of affordable housing that they were exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Fair in 1915. The company, founded by German immigrants, ultimately built more 300 flats in Ridgewood and hundreds of other buildings throughout Queens.

News of City Council’s Nov. 30 approval of the district, during which 48 members voted in favor with one abstention, was welcomed by activists including Paul Kerzner, a lifelong Ridgewood resident who is hoping the city will ultimately landmark the 2,982 neighborhood buildings added to the state and federal historic registers in the 1980s. Next up is the Ridgewood South Historic District, which is currently awaiting approval from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“This is just another chapter,” said Kerzner, adding that the effort is long from complete. “Some people have gotten the impression that this has taken care of all 2,983 buildings in the district… This is the second one they have approved, and the third is in the hopper. I’m very happy to see that we’re making progress.”

Kerzner noted it is important to recognize the neighborhood’s history so that it can be appreciated by future generations. “Ridgewood has always been a melting pot of new immigrants,” he said, making it fitting that its history of providing affordable housing is being recognized. New immigrants are often concerned with finding shelter and work, meaning many times it is “the next generation starts to appreciate the significance of getting historic designation” as they become more invested in the neighborhood.

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, called the designation “a long time coming and well deserved.” He said that the borough has been “ignored for many years” in terms of preserving historic areas and structures, and as a result Queens has “lost too many of these” notable buildings. “I think it is good for the community’s pride, it’s good for property values, and it’s good for the young people to understand that we recognize our history,” he said. “If Paul Kerzner completes everything he started 15 years ago, we could have the largest historic district in the city.”

The next goal, said Arcuri, is to secure funding and approval for street signs to provide “real visual recognition” similar to the brown and white street signs in Greenwich Village. Arcuri is also looking forward planned to the Wyckoff Avenue reconstruction project, which will help create an inviting entrance way into the historic district.

In a statement, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who represents that portion of Ridgewood, called the approval “a long-awaited victory for many people in Queens.” Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney said the buildings are “innovative in plan, striking in style, and, remarkably, have remained unchanged since their completion nearly 100 years ago.”

Tour of Potential Dog Run Sites Planned

Two New Locations in JVP on Table

By Conor Greene

A tour of potential locations for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park is planned for Saturday, as the community attempts to come to an agreement on an appropriate place for a permanent, fenced in area for canines to exercise and socialize.

Members of the Juniper Valley Park Dog Association have pushed for a dog run within the area of the park near the baseball fields already used during off-leash hours, but the proposal has been met with opposition from some neighbors and park goers. Instead, two other areas of the park – behind the roller hockey rink’s bleachers and a spot near 80th Street will be investigated on Saturday, according to Kathy Masi of Community Board 5.

A third potential location – land adjacent to the CSX railroad tracks along 57th Road near 78th Street – was suggested by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. While officials might look into it in the future, there are concerns that the area isn’t appropriate due to its proximity to homes and lack of parking, according to Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

Masi also sought to end rumors that space at Atlas Park in Glendale is being considered. Speculation began when Atlas Park was mentioned in an e-mail sent out by the board about the upcoming tour, but Masi said that was only mentioned when she raised the possibility of having a park in Glendale to the dog association members and is currently “not on the table.”

The issue has been a hot-button topic since the dog association first presented the plan to the community board more than a year ago, with some residents arguing that the current area used during off-leash hours (which would be eliminated if a dog run is built) is not appropriate because of its location in the middle of the park and due to damage dog urine has caused to nearby trees and plants.

Residents wanting to take part in Saturday’s investigation of the two new potential sites in Juniper Valley Park should meet at noon in front of Crowley’s office at 64-77 Dry Harbor Road. While Crowley is not attending the session, according to her press secretary, she vowed at last week’s CB 5 meeting to fund the project if an appropriate location is agreed upon. A Parks Department official is expected to attend the tour, according to Masi.

Newtown Historical Society Presents Flushing Avenue Photo Exhibit

The Newtown Historical Society is proud to present our first exhibit, “A Walk Down Flushing Avenue, 1929” at Maspeth Federal Savings, located at 58-15 69th Street in Maspeth, starting Monday, December 21st. This photo series is presented to create awareness and foster appreciation of the history of western Queens communities. The exhibit will be displayed in the windows of the recently renovated and upgraded bank building through the end of February and will be viewable from the street.

The photos represent a snapshot of life in Maspeth and Ridgewood on Nov. 1, 1929, just days after the “Black Tuesday” stock market crash that many associate with the beginning of the Great Depression. Several of the buildings featured in the series are still standing, with different uses today. The photos also offer a fascinating glimpse into how people from our communities went about their daily activities 80 years ago.

“Maspeth Federal Savings is pleased to host this photo series highlighting the history of Flushing Avenue and we look forward to working with the Newtown Historical Society to bring more educational exhibits to the public in the future,” said David Daraio, Assistant Vice President of Maspeth Federal Savings.

The Newtown Historical Society will be presenting more photo exhibits, as well as slideshows, lectures and walking tours throughout the upcoming year. Winter 2010 slideshows will include topics such as the development of western Queens neighborhoods, the story of the Newtown Pippin apple and the history of the Ridgewood Reservoir.

For more information about the Flushing Avenue photo exhibit or to join the Newtown Historical Society, visit or call 718-366-3715.

Motion Denied at Sheehan Hearing

Howard Beach Woman Can't Use Battered Women's Defense

By Patricia Adams

Family members and friends filled a courtroom on Tuesday morning in support of Barbara Sheehan, the Howard Beach resident accused in the shooting death of her husband, Raymond, back in February of 2008.

On November 10, Justice Arthur Cooperman handed down a ruling which denies the use, by the defense, of expert testimony to establish a battered woman’s defense. The ruling was handed down because the court stated that Sheehan deliberately missed an interview with a psychologist for the prosecution.

But Sheehan’s team says they never missed the appointment--they informed the court and the prosecution they would not attend because they had not received a decision on a prior appeal they had filed. Tuesday’s hearing was to hear a decision on the motion made by the defense asking that the prior ruling would be overturned — thereby allowing for expert testimony during the trial.

Attorney Michael Dowd stood with his client before Justice Arthur Cooperman, awaiting a decision. After learning that the prosecution had not read the motion, the judge offered a copy of the 30-page document to Assistant District Attorney Debra Pomodore to “peruse”.

A few minutes later, the hope that Cooperman would overturn his November ruling was quickly dashed as he delivered his decision. Cooperman first spoke to Pomodore, “I presume the people are opposed.” After confirmation from the ADA the judge directed two words to Dowd and his client, “motion denied.”

Outside the courtroom Sheehan’s family and supporters remained collected but appeared disappointed. One neighbor shook her head, “I just can’t believe this keeps happening.” But Barbara Sheehan wasn’t surprised at the judge’s decision. “We’ve come back to court at least a dozen times over the last twenty-two months,” she said. “We haven’t gotten one favorable decision in all that time.”

Referring back to Tuesday’s decision by Cooperman, Sheehan said, “He [Cooperman] had the order to deny the motion fully prepared when he came into the courtroom, without even hearing from the prosecution. His mind was made up.”

Barbara Sheehan shrugged her shoulders, “We just keep trying.”

Michael Dowd was not so accepting of Cooperman’s decision. “It is a gross miscarriage of justice to deprive a woman, who, without question, was so violently abused, of her legal and constitutional rights to a fair trial.” Dowd continued to rail at the court’s decision, “To think there will be no expert testimony at the trial — where such testimony is essential to help jurors to really understand domestic abuse — is unprecedented.”

Sheehan’s parents, Mike and Barbara Henry were in the courtroom. “We cry a lot,” said Barbara Henry. We can’t say anything or do anything. It’s very frustrating and terribly upsetting. Nobody wants to hear what really happened.”

Also in the courtroom were Raymond Sheehan’s brother Vincent and sister-in-law Linda. Before the shooting it was Vincent and Linda Sheehan who helped Barbara seek help through a domestic violence hotline. Now the couple sat on the opposite side of the room from the group who came in support of Barbara Sheehan; Vincent and Linda Sheehan engaged in conversation, marked by laughter, with ADA Pomodore.

Although it appears that Justice Cooperman’s latest ruling in the Sheehan case will stand, he will not preside over the trial. Arthur Cooperman will officially retire from the bench at the end of December.

Barbara Sheehan is scheduled to return to court on January 5, 2010. She will appear before Judge Richard L. Buchter, who presided over the Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci trial in 2005 in the same Howard Beach community.

Before leaving the courthouse on Tuesday morning Michael Dowd labeled the actions of DA Brown’s office as disingenuous. “They’re hypocrites. This is a DA’s office that acts as though it were the champion of domestic violence. It’s laughable,” said Dowd. “You can’t act this way and engender the respect of the domestic violence community. You just can’t do it.” As for Tuesday’s ruling Dowd said, “It’s just another devastating blow to Barbara Sheehan and to her defense.”

City Council Stirs Up Sick Leave Controversy

Bill Would Require Small Business to Provide Paid Days Off

By Patricia Adams

A bill introduced by the City Council has fueled a strong two sided argument over proposed paid sick leave for employees. Intro No. 1059 would require NYC small and medium businesses, (SMB’s), to give workers, both full and part time, nine paid sick days.

Small business is defined in New York State as those enterprises who employee fewer than 100 people, while medium business can employ 500.

Supporters of the measure report that nearly one million New Yorkers of the city’s workforce do not receive any paid sick days. Finger pointing by advocates of the bill supports the idea that a lack of paid sick days contributes to poor health outcomes, the spread of contagious disease and lower productivity from workers.

The Community Service Society of New York (CSS), a 160 year-old institution whose focus is on fighting poverty and advancing public policy innovations for low-income New Yorkers says that workers without paid sick days are more likely to go to work when they are ill and also send their kids to school sick.

Proponents say that when workers without sick leave are faced with decisions about taking off from work, it is not their health that is the biggest contributing factor in their decision. Co-sponsor Councilmember Eric Ulrich says that people are going to work sick because they cannot afford to lose the day’s pay, perhaps even their job. “In times like these, people deserve the peace of mind and know that their hard work merits time off when they are sick,” Ulrich said, “Despite objections, this is not an entitlement. It’s time off that workers must earn.”

While small business owners say they understand the dilemma of employees, they are facing another set of challenges. Carl Hum, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce expressed his views in a statement written on behalf of the 5 Boro Alliance, a coalition of Chambers throughout the five boroughs that is strongly opposed to the legislation.

“In response to the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, many businesses, big and small, have already cut overhead, payroll and services. Add to that increased taxes (including the new mobility tax on payrolls to support the cash-poor Metropolitan Transportation Authority), increased water and electricity rates, and additional fines and fees, and it becomes clear why New York City is renowned for being a difficult and costly place to do business.”

Hum concluded by saying that the coalition’s real objection to the bill is not that employees do not deserve paid sick time. It is the “broad-stroke” approach that would mandate the business community under such legislation and remove all flexibility from business owners.

Now the city council seeks to enact a measure that has proven successful in other cities, namely San Francisco, where initial objections were similar to those being bantered about among New Yorkers. Prior to the enactment of the bill in San Francisco there were almost 120,000 workers without paid sick leave. Now, with the paid days in place, many of the business groups and skeptics who opposed the bill admit that it has posed very few problems for their members.

According to a report released by the Drum Major Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank, the industry most affected by the new mandate in San Francisco, restaurant and hospitality businesses, saw strong growth relative to other counties in the region.

Although it is expected that the bill will be amended to include a lesser number of sick days than the nine originally proposed, the urgency of any inclusive measure is heightened by the infiltration of the swine flu.

“If we make serious considerations about the people most affected by this bill,” says Ulrich, “it is a sector of the workforce comprised of employees that have more public contact than any other.” Ulrich says that the restaurant and hotel workers have the largest potential to impact public health by coming to work sick. He also added that the same people would likely be the ones faced with the decision of having to send their sick children to school or daycare so they wouldn’t have to lose the day at work.

The city council's Civil Service and Labor Committee held a hearing on Intro.1059 back in November. A final vote has not been scheduled to be taken.

DEC Proposes Ozone Park Superfund Site Remedy

By Patricia Adams

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), held a public meeting on December 9th to discuss the proposed remediation for contamination related to the Ozone Industries State Superfund Site. The site consists of eight bays beneath the abandoned elevated Long Island Railroad (LIRR) located across the street from 101-32 101st Street in Ozone Park.

New York’s State Superfund Program (SSF) is responsible for identifying sites suspected of being inactive hazardous waste disposal sites. Sites in the program are categorized as those that pose a significant threat both to public health and the environment. During the course of remediation, a proposed site will go through an investigation, evaluation, cleanup and then monitoring. NYSDEC generally attempts to identify parties responsible for site contamination and require cleanup before committing State funds.

In order to clean the Ozone Park site, the DEC says it will excavate contaminated shallow soils, construct and operate a soil vapor extraction system, and include the construction and operation of a sub-slab depressurization system (see definition below) in the disposal area. Groundwater monitoring is proposed for the contaminated groundwater plume and institutional controls would be imposed in the form of an environmental easement.

The following is an outline of the proposal by NYSDEC for cleaning up the site:

•The floors in Bays 8-15 would be removed and the contaminated shallow soils would be excavated and replaced, as much as practical, with clean backfill.

•A soil vapor extraction (SVE) system of vertical wells and a piping system would be constructed to collect vapors from the deeper soils.

•An active sub-slab depressurization (SSD) system would be constructed beneath the new floors in Bays 8 through 15 to collect subslab vapors. The sub-slab depressurization system basically consists of a fan or blower which draws air from the soil beneath a building and discharges it to the atmosphere through a series of collection and discharge pipes.

•A vapor intrusion mitigation program would be implemented to investigate and mitigate, if necessary, vapors in off-site adjacent structures.

•Monitoring of the impacted groundwater onsite and off-site would be conducted.

•Institutional controls in the form of an environmental easement would be required.

•A Site Management Plan would be developed.

•The property owner would provide a periodic certification that the institutional controls are in place.

•The operation of the components of the remedy would continue until the remedial objectives have been achieved, or until the NYSDEC determines that continued operation is technically impracticable or not feasible.

Before finalizing the remedy for the site, NYSDEC will consider public comment. The agency will also release a document known as a Record of Decision explaining why the particular remedy was selected. The document will also serve to address public comment. Following the states filing of the Record of Decision, the project will move into the design phase with cleanup action to follow.

Prior to 1998, The Ozone Industries Facility was sold in 1998 and prior to that manufactured aircraft parts including landing gear, hydraulic assemblies, aircraft steering assemblies and flight controls. The company rented several bays beneath the LIRR which were used to store spent trichloroethylene (TCE), hydraulic fluids, and scrap metal chips. It is believed that releases of solvents, oil and/or fluids may have occurred in one or more of these bays.

The Ozone Industries Site is located in a mixed commercial/industrial and residential area within a block bounded by 99th and 100th Streets to the east and west and by 101st and 103rd Avenues to the north and south. The bays on the property are owned by the City of New York and leased to various tenants for different uses.

If you would like to offer public comment you may do so until December 24. Submit your comments to: John Durnin, P. E. NYSDEC, Division of Environmental Remediation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-7016

Amalgamated Bank Opens Myrtle Avenue Branch

By Conor Greene

Residents have a new option in local banking with the opening of Amalgamated Bank on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. The occasion was marked with a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday attended by a host of local residents and officials.

The bank touts itself as “America’s Labor Bank” and offers services that “work hard for working people.” The new branch at 56-29 Myrtle Avenue marks the borough’s third location, along with Flushing and Long Island City. The company plans to open two more branches in the coming year, including one planned for Maspeth in early 2010.

Derrick Cephas, president and executive officer of Amalgamated Bank, said the company was looking to expand into the “nice, stable, middle-income” neighborhoods of Queens. In particular, they were searching for a location that offers plenty of street traffic, small businesses and population density. “This fits the bill – great visibility and a nice location,” said Cephas. “You can’t beat it.”

He said Amalgamated offers all the various banking service the community needs at competitive terms. “We don’t try to get the last nickel out of the customer,” he said. Speaking before the subsequent ribbon-cutting, he elaborated on why Ridgewood is a good fit for the company. The bank was founded 85 years ago because many immigrants, especially Jewish and Italian, needed a bank that would do business with them. “That’s our founding, that’s our roots,” he said.

The bank provides many services to the community, including free workshops about topics like obtaining a mortgage and building credit, according to Keith Pilkington, executive vice president for marking and retail banking. “Especially in these times, that is really needed,” he said.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Ozone Park) called the opening of a new bank an indication the economy is turning the corner. “That’s a good sign,” he said, adding that it’s “an absolute challenge for someone like Amalgamated Bank to cut a ribbon today.”

Ted Renz, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, called Amalgamated “a bank with a rich social history” that will benefit the area. “It shows they really believe in the Ridgewood community and our commercial strip,” he said.

Top: Bank President Derrick Cephas cuts the ribbon on Amalgamated’s newest branch as staff members, elected officials and neighbors look on. Bottom: Ridgewood resident Andrew Bennett, one of three lucky raffle winners, is congratulated by Lona Gill of Amalgamated.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Maspeth House of Horrors Terrorizes Neighbors

By Conor Greene

Residents of a quiet residential block in Maspeth have been terrorized for several years by an emotionally disturbed man who they say regularly harasses neighbors and has turned his home into a crack house.

While residents of 66th Street will have some temporary relief after the individual, Hani Nasser, was recently jailed on assault charges, they worry about the condition of his house at 52-45 66th Street, which is unsecured and could attract squatters and junkies.

“It’s been a non-stop nightmare,” said one longtime resident of the block who asked to remain anonymous. “He has basically turned this into a crack house” that attracts underage teenagers at all hours of the night, the resident added.

Despite appeals to the 104th Precinct, Community Board 5 and local elected officials and civic groups, the problems have continued. “Half the time they don’t even show,” the resident said of the precinct. “They treat it like it’s a joke… There is not another single problem on this block,” which is home to several dozen children, he said. “The people living on both sides are terrorized. He gets confrontational and targets the neighbors.”

Civic leader Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, has been working with 66th Street residents in hopes of forcing the city to take action. “It’s not really progress, but the guy is in jail right now,” she said. Adjacent residents were affected when a pipe in the house burst last year and are concerned that the house will be left to deteriorate, added Daraio.

Neighbors have informed Daraio that Nasser, 25, is enrolled in an out-patient drug treatment program at Elmhurst Hospital Center and blew up a garage behind the home while getting high several years ago. “He gets confrontational with neighbors, invites teens over there, and meanwhile the house has gone into serious decay,” said Daraio, echoing the laundry list of complaints she has heard from neighbors. “He’s in jail now, but that’s not solving the problem. For six months, they’ll be fine, but it’s a Band-Aid effect.”

Daraio has reached out to local elected officials for assistance, but thinks the city needs to go after Nasser for failing to maintain the home. “Maybe if the family starts getting violations, they’ll start paying more attention,” she said, adding that Nasser lives there alone and is supported by his relatives. “To give him free reign of a private house, I don’t think is the smartest thing. It’s become the neighbor’s problem, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s a quiet block, and everyone is friendly with one another.”

Residents agree that the city needs to step up and secure the house so that it doesn’t pose a danger to local children or cause damage to adjacent properties. “The city has to condemn that house – that’s the bottom line,” the longtime resident said, adding that he fears a physical confrontation will eventually occur. “Somebody is going to get hurt. It’s been ratcheting up since the summer.”

A visit to the empty house this week showed how the situation could become inviting to squatters and drug users. The front windows were wide open, and the unfurnished living room was strewn with trash. Neighbors worry that teenagers who used to hang out with Nasser will continue to use the house to get high while he is incarcerated.

An officer from the 104th Precinct’s Community Affairs Unit confirmed that Nasser was recently locked up, but said he was unaware of ongoing issues with neighbors. According to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, Nasser is currently being held on $2,500 bail after being charged along with three other men in an October assault outside the house.

Addabbo Explains Rationale Behind Gay Marriage Vote

Freshman Senator Broke from Party in Rejecting Bill

By Conor Greene

In the wake of the state Senate’s rejection of the marriage equality bill, several of the borough’s representatives have come under fire for voting against the law, which would have provided gay and lesbian residents the right to marry.

While several of the Queens’ Democratic delegation on the state Senate surprised observers with their no votes, one in particular – freshman Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) has come under especially heavy criticism. Addabbo was elected to the Senate last year to replace longtime Republican Serf Maltese, leaving some of the groups and people who worked to elect the Democrat feeling let down when he didn’t support the law.

At the same time, much of Addabbo’s district, which stretches from Woodside south to Howard Beach, is made up of socially conservative voters in neighborhoods such as Glendale and Middle Village who oppose gay marriage. As a result, Addabbo was left in a tough spot as he is now being viewed as a major reason the bill was defeated 32 to 24.

Throughout the weeks of debate leading up to the vote, Addabbo refused to reveal how he personally stands on the issue. Instead, he says that more than 400 constituents contacted his office in the weeks leading up to the vote, on top of the many more he spoke to each day. Addabbo says about three quarters of the constituents he heard from on the issue were against allowing gay marriage. “This decision of mine was totally constituent driven,” continued Addabbo.

“When I took the oath of office, it was to represent the opinions of the people, and it was very clear that… the residents who I represent in Albany are against marriage equality.” He says not divulging his personal stance allowed him to receive an accurate and clear picture of his constituents’ views, instead of just having residents on one side of the debate contact him.

During the interview, Addabbo repeatedly stressed that the role of an elected official is to get the community’s consensus on an issue. “I keep saying that my personal feeling is my personal feeling, and it’s only one opinion, so I take my opinion out of it and go with the views of many,” he said. “When you have issues along the lines of civil rights, religion or other personal beliefs people have, certainly their voices should be heard… When it came time for a vote, my people had been clear.”

While Addabbo called this “one of the hardest” votes he has been part of during his career in politics, he noted that, unlike budget and tax decisions, it only impacts a small portion of the community. “I knew at some point we would have to take up this issue, and there still will be hard issues in the future and I’ll try to get the consensus of my people again in the future,” he said.

Now that a vote has finally been cast on this emotional subject, Addabbo stressed the importance of moving ahead with other state business. “I think the idea here is, we did this issue - which was ery important to many - but we have very serious issues that lie ahead that affect everyone” including budget, education, transportation and public services, he said. “We definitely need to move forward with issues that affect the daily lives of constituents.”

Looking ahead at his own political future, and the possibility that he alienated portions of the Democratic and liberal base that helped get him elected, Addabbo maintained that he never made promises to groups regarding gay marriage.

“One thing I’ve been consistent with was that I kept an open mind and never committed myself to a yes or no,” he said. “I am grateful to all those who supported me, including members of the gay community, but they did that as everyone did, not knowing if I was a committed yes.”

Addabbo said he couldn’t base his decision on the possibility of facing a Democratic primary next year, even though his vote has made that much more likely. “My philosophy is to do my work to the best of my ability, and I put that body of work, both legislation and constituent service-wise, on the lien every other year, and it’s up to the people to judge me I hope not on one issue, but on a whole bunch of issues I put work into.”

He said he “can’t be hung up” on the prospect of facing a party primary challenge on the basis of one vote. “If there is a primary, I’ll put my record up against my opponent, and if there is a general, I’ll put my record up against that opponent.”

Addabbo did seek to debunk one theory that has been presented since the vote: that his vote, which came early in the roll call due to his last name, set off a chain reaction that led other Democrats to also reject the bill. “We knew going into the chamber that there were not enough votes, so the myth that I caused a chain reaction didn’t happen,” he said. “If you do the math, eight other Democrats were solid with their no votes. This issue really wasn’t as cultivated as much as it should have been, and we didn’t have enough votes going in.”

The other Queens Democrats voting against the bill were George Onorato (Astoria), Hiram Monseratte (East Elmhurst) and Shirley Huntley ( Jamaica), while borough Democrats Toby Ann Stavisky (Flushing) and Malcolm Smith (St. Albans) supported the measure. Frank Padavan (Bellerose) joined every one of his Republican colleagues in voting against the bill and not participating in the discussion leading up to the roll call.

Major Shopping Center Nearing Completion

Costco Slated to Replace Home Depot

By Conor Greene

The huge shopping center under construction at Junction Boulevard in Rego Park is nearing completion, but the roster of tenants to occupy the mall remains up in the air, with Costco expected to replace a Home Depot initially planed for the site.

Despite appearing at a recent Community Board 6 meeting to update officials and residents about the project, an official from developer Vornado this week declined to discuss it, citing company policy of not commenting to the media. However, work at the 6.6-acre property, which is also bounded by the Horace Harding Expressway, 62nd Drive and 97th Street, is entering the final stages in advance of an opening this spring.

The 600,000-square-foot shopping center, developed and managed by Vornado and owned by Alexander’s Inc., is adjacent to the Rego Park Mall, which features an Old Navy, Sears and Bed Bath & Beyond. The new four-level center is slated include a 138,000-square-foot Costco, a 134,000-square-foot Century 21 and a 132,000-square-foot Kohl’s. The Costco was included after Home Depot withdrew from the project, and T.J Maxx is also in the process of signing a lease with Vornado for space at the center.

Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6, said he plans to meet with city Department of Transportation officials to ensure the shopping center doesn’t cripple the neighborhood. “I am going to meet with DOT to make sure that the plans that were initiated come to fruition,” said Gulluscio. “The impact of that mall is going to be huge, which everyone knew… We’re going to be inundated with traffic, everybody knows that, but this has all been worked out, so we want to make sure everything is in place.”

One big change from the initial proposal is the elimination of two residential towers that were planned when ground was broken at the site in 2006. Vornado has constructed the building so one of the towers can eventually be built when the market rebounds, according to Gulluscio. “It’s definitely on hold, but the footprint is there so they can build them,” he said. “They built what’s there now with the full intentions of having the towers, so all that stuff is ready to go if they decide they can do that.”

The original plans also included space for a Wal-Mart, but that plan was met with opposition from the City Council after word of that agreement began circulating in 2004.

Gulluscio welcomed the switch from Home Depot to Costco, which he says will be useful to a wide range of residents. “There is such a need for a Costco type store in that part of Queens, so this board feels that is a positive thing,” he said. “If you think about that side of Queens Boulevard, there are some small supermarkets, but nothing that can compare to a Costco.”

He noted that residents at recent CB 6 meetings are eagerly anticipating the additional shopping options close to home, which Gulluscio noted should be an “economic boom” for Queens, as many residents currently head to Long Island. “People want it open now, they’ve dealt with the construction, so there is a sense of ‘Ok, let’s get it open now,’” he said. “The fact that we could stop people from going to Nassau County and keep the tax base here, is the beauty of this whole thing.”

While the property is in the City Council district to be represented by Daniel Dromm beginning in January, much of the impact will likely occur in the Rego Park and Forest Hills area that Karen Koslowitz is preparing to represent. Her spokesman, Greg Lavine, said that Koslowitz "plans on working closely" with the community board and Dromm "to ensure that the transportation situation makes sense for the residents of the area."

A traffic study was previously completed, but Koslowitz still wants to follow up with the DOT and community board "to make sure that all issues are looked at, and that any changes that are needed to be made are accomplished in time for the mall opening," said Lavine.

"The opening of this mall really presents a great option for Queens and all of New York City, and we hope this will keep residents shopping in Queens and provides a service that hasn't been here," the spokesman added.

The large anchor stores will occupy space in the mall’s cellar and upper levels, leaving space on street-level for smaller stores and restaurants. Subway sandwich restaurant has signed a lease for one of the storefronts. Since it only recently signed on, Costco isn’t expected to open until the summer.

The center also contains a parking garage with approximately 1,400 spaces and a 2,500-square-foot community center. In all, the project is expected to cost more than $400million. Questions also remain over the construction of a new entrance at the 63rd Street G/R/V subway station, with Vornado currently planning to pay the MTA to complete that project.

Approval Granted for Greenspace at Rundown Intersection

The LIRR has signed off on a plan spearheaded by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley to beautify the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Metropolitan Avenue, which is currently dominated by a run-down building that was formerly home to a newsstand.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) was joined at the site in September by fellow elected officials to call on the LIRR, which owns the property, to allow a community greenspace be created until a plan to develop the area moves forward. That plan has been delayed for years, leaving the structure to deteriorate at the intersection where Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood meet.

“I am excited that the LIRR has approved our plan to clean up and green up the property,” said Crowley in a statement. “For the past decade this abandoned old newsstand has invited graffiti, vandalism and traffic. As one of the busiest intersections in Queens, beautifying this corner will help east traffic tension, reduce crime and attract consumers to surrounding businesses.”

The next step, according to Crowley, is securing funding for the project. Her office is estimating that about $100,000 will be needed to demolish the structure and replace it with greenery and benches. She plans on working with city and state officials, including Assemblymembers Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) in hopes of finding money to complete the intersection’s transformation.

“This is an important community initiative,” said LIRR President Helena Williams. “We are working with Councilmember Crowley to help the community identify a source of funding for removal of the old newsstand building and to develop a green area.”

The intersection is one of the busiest in the borough, with six different bus lines passing through the area each day, along with thousands of vehicles and pedestrians. At a recent hearing on the MTA’s 2014 capital plan, Crowley testified about the property and provided board members with photos of the abandoned LIRR-owned properties. Board members then surveyed the area before approved her proposal.

Beach Channel High School Among Scheduled School Closings

By Patricia Adams

Nine city schools will be phased out or closed, according to a list released by The Department of Education (DOE).

As a result of the announcement from the DOE, Councilman Eric Ulrich, whose district includes Beach Channel High says he will circulate a petition to his fellow Queens council members to stop the proposed closures.

“As elected officials we don’t want them [the schools] to close,” said Ulrich. “We all share the same goals to improve education, but I don’t see these closures as the way to fix the problem.” Ulrich supported his position with the belief that closing one school and opening another does little to address the failing academic progress that has been seen at some of the schools for more than a decade.

“We need to put the schools that we have on the right course. Kids need stability and structure. If we’re closing schools, bringing in new principals and new teachers, we continue to take stability away from these students.” Ulrich says this is a classic example of band-aid measures that won’t hold up in the long term. “Kids need to come to school each day and know there is a system—there is order.”

The Department of Education announced its decision to phase Beach Channel High School out of operation beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. Beach Channel will begin phasing out one grade per year, with Grade 9 eliminated in 2010-2011; grade 10 eliminated in 2011-2012; and grade 11 will be eliminated in 2012-2013. Beach Channel will close in June 2013. Nearby, Jamaica High School, which also serves grades 9-12 will be phased out of operation during the 2010-2011 school year.

The eventual closure of Beach Channel will provide space at its current location of 100-00 Beach Channel Drive to house 27Q324, a new school. The DOE is proposing a new high school as Beach Channel phases-out. 27Q324 will open in 2010-2011 with grade 9 and will serve grades 9-12 at scale. DOE says the phase-out and eventual closure of Beach Channel and phase-in of 27Q324 will address the need to provide higher quality high school options throughout the City. According to a press release, the DOE says it will continue to assess the available space and needs for additional options at Beach Channel in 2011 and 2012.

The decision to eventually close the school is the result of a DOE evaluation and determination that the school does not have the ability to improve student performance. The department’s framework mandates that schools scoring either a D or an F in progress reports are subjected to the institution of school improvement measures. If no significant progress is made over a three-year time period, the DOE will implement a leadership change, restructure or possible closure.

The same is true for schools receiving a C for three years in a row and for schools that the Chancellor has determined lack the necessary capacity to improve student performance.

In accordance with feelings expressed by Councilmember Ulrich was a spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), District Representative for Queens High Schools, James Vasquez. “The UFT really feels that the DOE and the chancellor are responsible for every single school and every single child—the same way a teacher is responsible for every student in their classroom and the principal is responsible for every teacher in the building.”

Vasquez says the DOE has “abandoned” the schools. “The schools they’ve deemed to be failing and not achieving have been the same way for at least the past 7 years. Where has the DOE been?”

Instead, critics of the DOE’s intended plan say it will not serve students, their families or school faculty and staff. “They [DOE] have other choices,” said Vasquez. “They don’t have to upend students, parents and families.”

The public will have the opportunity to attend hearings scheduled at each school in early January. To submit public comment on the issue you can e-mail your comments to You may also leave verbal comments at 718-935-4414.

For more information on any of the intended citywide school closings, visit the DOE website at

Food Shortage Takes Toll on Local Pantries

The nationwide struggle to provide food for those in need has, according to statistics, left its mark on Queens county. A study which tracked the number of meals served in Queens this year as compared to 2006, shows a 106% increase for 2009 - an additional 14.3 million meals served. Overall 87,552 Queens households were either unable to obtain enough food for their families or were uncertain about having enough food. Throughout the county the total number of meals served between July 2008 and July 2009 is 27.7 million.

The term food insecurity has been coined to define households that are uncertain of having or acquiring enough food for all members and the number of those families rose in 2007 from just over 10 percent of U.S. households to nearly 15 percent by the end of 2008. Across New York, approximately 800,000 households are now food insecure, with the number of meals served by emergency food outlets across New York rising by early 60 million – an increase of 55 percent. In New York City, approximately 340,000 households are food insecure, with nearly 50 million more meals served by emergency food outlets since 2006 – an average increase of over 75 percent.

In response to the crisis, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation in an attempt to spearhead an increase in charitable donations this holiday season. The legislation will provide double federal funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), make the Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive permanent to encourage more businesses to fill food banks with unused food items, and extend tax credits that incentivize seniors to donate portions of their retirement savings to New York charities.

“The holiday season is a time for giving, but because of the bad economy, New York families that typically donate food, warm clothes and other basics to those in need just can’t afford to this year,” Senator Gillibrand said. “As a result, food bank shelves have gone bare, and hunger and food insecurity have reached disturbing, historic highs. We need to make sure we’re helping New York children and families who were hit the hardest by this economy. So this holiday season, I have a plan to double federal funding for emergency food outlets like food pantries and soup kitchens, make tax credits permanent for businesses that donate to food banks, and extend tax credits for seniors who donate to New York charities.”

Charitable giving fell 2 percent to $308 billion last year -- the first decline since 1987, according to the annual report published at Indiana University, Giving USA. It is also estimated that corporate giving through 2009 is expected to drop as much as 5 percent.

More than 50% of emergency food providers reported huge deficits in food resources in October due to rising poverty and food prices according to a study by FeedingAmerica, a nonprofit national network of food banks.

Man Sentenced to 75 Years in Muggings of Elderly Women

A Queens man convicted of robbery, burglary and assault in the 2007 mugging of three women, including one who was 101 years old at the time – has been sentenced to 75 years in prison, or about one year for every dollar he stole from the three victims.

Jack Rhodes, 47, whose last known address was 1525 Ericksson Street in East Elmhurst, was convicted in October of first-degree burglary, first-and-second-degree robbery – all as hate crimes – and first-degree burglary, first-and-second-degree robbery and second-degree assault following a four-week jury trial. Last week, he was sentenced to 75 years in prison by Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory L. Lasak.

“The defendants disturbingly cowardly attacks on elderly and defenseless women – two of whom needed the aid of a walker to get around – has rightfully cost him his future,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “He will now spend the rest of his life behind bars, never again having freedom to breathe fresh air or the opportunity to prey on society’s most frail and vulnerable citizens.”

According to trial testimony, Rhodes accosted 51-year-old Angela Khan as she entered her 182nd Street residence in Jamaica through the basement garage on the evening of Dec. 30, 2006. Rhodes punched and kicked Khan while robbing her of cash and other personal property, causing her to suffer a fractured nose, black eyes and lacerations to her face which required six stitches. The attack was caught on surveillance tape.

Shortly before noon on March 2, 2007, the superintendent of a Devonshire Road building in Jamaica confronted Rhodes, who was trespassing in the basement, and ordered him to leave. The super watched as Rhodes left the property with a red, pink and black bike.

Less than an hour later, Rose Morat – who was 101 years old at the time and uses a walker – was caught on surveillance video exiting the elevator on the main floor of her Highland Avenue building. Rhodes approached her in the vestibule and offered to open the front door for her. Rhodes then repeatedly punched Morat on the left side of her face while demanding money from her. The defendant then grabbed her pocketbook, which contained $33 and her house keys, before knocking her to the ground and fleeing on a bike. Morat sustained a fractured cheekbone, bruises and facial swelling in that attack.

About a half-hour later, 85-year-old Solange Elizee, who also uses a walker, was getting on the elevator of her 170th Street building at the lobby level when she saw Rhodes already on the elevator. Elizee exited the elevator alone one floor below her apartment and waited for the next elevator. As she exited on her floor and entered her apartment, Rhodes blocked the door from closing and forced his way inside.

Once inside the apartment, Rhodes repeatedly punched Elizee in the face, knocking her to the floor. The defendant then removed two yellow metal rings from her hand and took her pocket book, which contained $32. Once again, Rhodes fled from the scene on a bicycle, and Elizee was taken to a local hospital for treatment for lacerations to her lip, abrasions and bruising to her forearm, face and buttocks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Remembering Mickey Hornung: Aug. 27, 1953 - Nov. 24, 2009

The staff at the Forum is deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of Mickey Hornung.

Mickey’s column was to run this week, however in its place we would like to share with you two selections from family members. We invite you to also read the editorial (p.8) in his memory. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to Mickey’s wife and children, Camille, Bettina, Michael and to the entire Hornung family. Mickey will be greatly missed by all of Howard Beach.

The Eulogy of Mickey Hornung

Delivered on Saturday, November 28 Our Lady of Grace Church by Mickey’s sister, Maureen Hornung

My brother Mickey was the sweetest gentlest little boy I ever met. He was kind, quiet and unassuming as a child—yet he was no coward. He never gave my parents or teachers an ounce of trouble. He was a wonderful brother, but had the unfortunate distinction of having my older brother Johnny as his big brother when Johnny was refining the art of teasing.

Although much of Johnny’s good natured teasing was directed toward Mickey, who was naïve and gullible as a child, Mickey adored Johnny and was always following him around, which made him an easy target. When things occasionally got too much, Mickey came to me to tell on Johnny. In those days, kids didn’t run to their parents unless there was a calamity but attempted to work out disagreements on their own. Like the Little Rascals and Charlie Brown, parents were always busy doing grownup things. He and my brother Johnny grew up to be close friends, confidents and inseparable for good and sometimes the not so good. Their escapades were legendary in Howard Beach.

My fondest memory of Mickey occurred one Sunday morning when he was about 7 years old. His beloved salamanders, Sally and Mander (they actually turned out to be Sal and Mander), appeared to be lifeless. He ran to tell my parents who were preparing for mass. They told him that they would have a funeral when they returned from church.

Ever organized, Mickey took it upon himself to hold the funeral and bury his salamanders in the back yard. When my parents returned he ran up to tell them that he had taken care of the situation. My mother replied, “What if they weren’t dead?” He said it was OK because he buried them with their heads sticking out of the ground in case they were still alive.

At age 24, Mickey took on the adult responsibility of organizing the funeral of our father and later in his life, the arrangements for our brother Johnny, both of whom died at an early age.

When I spoke to my sister Annemarie who was in Florida, she was so happy that she came up for Camille’s 50th costume party last month so she could remember him as he was that night. I said “Yes” but reminded her that he was dressed as a “Whoopee Cushion” at the time.

Over the past three days, I have heard comments about him ranging from loyal, sweet, gentle, good friend, trustworthy to goonbaka, and if he said ‘ZSA, ZSA one more time, I was going to beat him!” Let’s face it, Camille was a saint and he adored her. She was good to him and took care of him and my family is forever grateful.

Mickey was a loving husband to Camille and unconditionally supportive and loving father to Bettina and Michael. He was a good family man, like his father before him, a generous, loving brother to his siblings and a respectful son.

Some of you may remember Mickey for his good deeds to this community, some as a childhood friend, others as a devoted family member. I will remember him as my little brother who thought I could fix everything and everybody.

As you know Mickey’s life was an open book and sometimes… you were literally a character in it. Yet he was never mean or vindictive. Mickey dealt with his personal tragedies with dignity and forgave his trespassers with grace.

“Blessed are the pure in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If there is a heaven and he wanted to go there, I am certain that there is a spot for him.

When he gets to the pearly gates, I know he will be ushered in without hesitation…Unless of course, my brother Johnny is there convincing him to take one last adventure with him.

Thank you for celebrating my brother’s life with us. He will be sorely missed but forever loved.

My Cousin Mickey

By Maria Hornung

As I sit here writing this it is the evening that I learned of my Cousin Mickey’s death. I know that his passing has affected most of you in some way, and I couldn’t let it pass by without a farewell column in his honor.

Those of us that know Mickey know he took the writing of each article very seriously. Although each article had some flaws, a misspelling or a run-on sentence, they were all from the heart. (I am not a professional writer so you may find the same things in this article also.) What made them special was that they took us back to a time of childhood innocence. A time before fears of losing jobs, raising families, and paying bills were even thought about. A time of worrying about the health and well-being of our parents, children, families, friends, and ourselves were even a concern. To lose yourself for those few minutes in each column was a relief.

What was our biggest concern back then? For the boys, it was getting the newest pack of baseball cards, making sure your baseball mitt was oiled and formed perfectly. To being at the schoolyard on time for whatever was going on. For the girls, the right Barbie dolls, what were we going to wear so the ‘cute’ guy will notice, or what the new type of shoe to get was. Our biggest worry was to make sure we were home for dinner by the last chime of the church bells, and home at night by the time the street lights went on. We were gone for hours without contact with our parents. No cell phones or any connection to those who would worry about us. Lost innocence.

How great that Mickey could bring us back to better days. I was fortunate that I was present for some of the things he wrote about. (The squeaky step at the top of flight of the stairs was scary to this young girl) One of the articles that I remember the most and still brings a smile to my face was the nickname article. Who had names back then? How many people approached me in my youth to ask if my parents actually named my brother John Mugger? Who would do that to a child? That did not stop us, however. My uncle Harry, Mickey’s dad, gave each and everyone a nickname, whether you wanted one or not.

A couple of months ago I sat and asked Mickey a question that was on my mind since childhood. He was a great singer and I had always heard stories of him trying out for a roll in the original Broadway version of Jesus Christ Superstar and coming in third for the roll of Judas Iscariot. When approached he assured me the story was true but he didn’t go through with it because he was about seventeen or eighteen at the time and he would have to wear tights for part of his costume and he didn’t want his friends and his girlfriend at the time making fun of him. In response I told him he could have been an actor today and could have had money and everything. As I rambled on he response to me was a simple “Yeah but would I have been happy?”

The bible states that Jesus says “Bring unto me the little children”. That is how I will always remember my cousin. He had the ability in every article to bring unto ourselves the little child. Although I say goodbye to him I know for sure his presence will always be felt “About Town”.

Bus Overturns After Collision with Car

Residents Say Intersection Needs Safety Measures

By Conor Greene

Nine students from a Middle Village preschool were taken to a local hospital after the bus they were riding in was struck by a car and flipped onto its side on Tuesday afternoon.

The bus, carrying nine students from the Positive Beginnings school and two adults, was headed eastbound on 69th Road at about 1:10 p.m. when it collided with a car traveling northbound on 75th Street, according to reports and witnesses. The impact caused the bus to spin around before flipping onto its left side, striking parked vehicles in the process.

The children had exited the bus by the time emergency workers arrived at the scene. They were treated for minor injuries and taken to Jamaica Hospital for observation. A woman who answered the phone at the school on Wednesday said none of the children suffered serious injuries and all were discharged from the hospital later that day. They were on the way home from school when the accident occurred, said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

The bus was operated by a private company and is assigned to the school through the city Office of Pupil Transportation, according to the school. While a police report on the accident was not immediately available, several witnesses said the car might have ran a stop sign before colliding with the school bus.

“We’re very grateful because the children not hurt and were all strapped into seats and wearing safety belts,” the school staffer added. “It certainly looked frightening and we’re very grateful everyone is fine.”

Local residents and officials say the area near where the accident occurred is dangerous due to speeding drivers. Several approached Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) with their concerns over the past year, which prompted her to write at least four letters to Department of Transportation Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy requesting that safety measures be implemented.

In June, McCarthy responded with a letter informing Crowley that an analysis that considered factors such as vehicle and pedestrian volume, accident history, vehicle speeds, visibility and sign spacing was completed by her office. Based upon that study, McCarthy determined that all-way stop signs were not needed at 69th Road and 76th Street, but agreed to install a “stop ahead” sign along that stretch.

Following Tuesday’s accident, Crowley wrote yet another letter pushing for a stop sign at 69th Road and 75th Street. She notes there was a fatal motorcycle accident there in 2008, and a child recently had his foot run over by a turning car while he was standing on the sidewalk. “We can no longer wait; given today’s accident… we must take immediate action and at minimum install a “stop” sign, or speed hump,” wrote Crowley.

In her letter to the DOT, Crowley attached a petition from residents, a 2008 letter written by former state Senator Serf Maltese (R-Middle Village) and photographs showing the aftermath of accidents at the intersection, including one incident where a car drove into the bedroom of a nearby home.