Thursday, August 27, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

City Prepares to Open Eight New Schools in Queens

Overcrowded Dist 24 Gets Bulk of Projects

By Conor Greene

The city School Construction Authority is set to open 23 new facilities around the city this fall, including eight in Queens. Locally, officials and parents of children within District 24 hope five projects in that area will bring relief to the area’s overcrowded schools, as the city prepares to add 3,000 seats to the area over the next two years.

Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24, said the amount of money the city is dedicating to the area is a major victory, but stresses that overcrowding conditions still exist throughout the district. “Getting all these seats is very important and is definitely going to alleviate a lot of overcrowding, but we’re still overcrowded,” he said. “We managed to get one-third of the entire budget in Queens put into District 24. For me, that was a big accomplishment for myself and my fellow board members.”

Despite the progress, the area still needs additional seats, especially on the high school level, that are zoned for local students. “That’s one of the things we’re missing,” he said, noting that 500 seats in the new Metropolitan Avenue complex have been set aside for District 24 students. “We did an excellent job. That’s what happens when you work together with the local elected officials and the community education council – you get things done,” added Comaianni.

This marks the “most ambitious school construction program in the city’s history, and Queens has already started to see this investment pay off,” said DOE spokesman Will Havemann, adding that the five new buildings in District 24 will help “alleviate elementary school overcrowding.” By 2012, the city will also have opened close to 10,000 new high school seats across the borough, he added.

“Ensuring that students have the opportunity to go to school in uncrowded, state-of-the-art facilities is one of our top priorities, and we worked hard in Queens and across the city to make sure that tour school construction efforts keep pace with students demand,” said Havemann.

The following is a glance at each of the local projects, as provided by the School Construction Authority. On Tuesday, a Department of Education official told CEC 24 members that all of the buildings are slated to open on time for the start of the school year.

At PS/IS 49 in Middle Village, a $36.7 million project will provide a new addition and renovation of the existing building on Penelope Avenue. The facility now boasts a fully air conditioned accessible three-story building serving students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Specialty classrooms include a music suite, science lab, a gym, guidance, medical and administrative offices and a library. The addition also includes a parent/community room and staff work areas, while alterations to the existing building include creation of five classrooms.

In all, the project will provide 410 seats, according to the SCA. Construction began in August 2007, with the addition completed this past month. Renovations to the existing building will continue through March 2010.

Also in Middle Village, a new school was built on the site of PS/IS 128 on 65th Drive. The four-story building for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades includes 21 standard classrooms, two special education classrooms, and reading, speech and small instruction rooms. Specialty rooms include an art room, music room and a science classroom including lab space. There is also a 5,400-square-foot gym, a 2,700-square-foot library, a 3,564-square-foot student cafeteria, a 500-square-foot staff lunch/conference room and a 4,800-square-foot auditorium. In addition, the building now offers five citywide special education classrooms, speech and physical therapy rooms, guidance and nurses’ offices, a parent/community room and a medical suite.

The $49.4 million project created 497 seats and is expected to be finished by September. Demolition of the old building and completion of a new playground is expected in May.

In Glendale, PS/IS 113 on 79th Avenue was expanded through a $40.5 million project that will result in 446 seats. The two-story, fully air conditioned handicapped accessible addition provides a new main entrance with elevators to all floors of the new and existing building. The addition includes 11 classrooms, three pre-kindergarten classrooms, two science labs and prep rooms, two special education classrooms, an art room and a music room.

The project also resulted in a 5,400-square-foot gymnasium and a 7,500-square-foot cafeteria/kitchen complex. New and existing spaces include new fire alarm systems, public address, telephone, security and data systems, backed up with emergency power. Alterations to the existing school include a new library in the lower level, medical and guidance suites and improvements to the auditorium. Space has also been created for a school-based support team, parent/community room and a small group instruction room. Site improvements include a new early childhood playground covering 3,000 square feet, repaving the main play area and new fencing and landscaping.

The existing building housing PS/IS 102 on Van Horne Street in Elmhurst has also been renovated with a new four-story fully air conditioned and handicapped accessible addition for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades. It includes three pre-kindergarten, five kindergarten, five first grade, five second grade and 17 standard classrooms. In addition, there are three special education classrooms, two science labs and a resource room, a music suite and two art studios.

Other amenities included in the $56.2 million project, which will result in 936 seats, include a new 479-seat cafeteria totaling 2,339 square feet, a full-service kitchen, resource rooms, medical, guidance and administrative suites, a 5,400-square-foot gym and custodial office. In the main building, the existing cafeteria will be converted into a play space and a 1,859-square-foot library. Site improvements include a 3,000-square-foot early childhood education playground and larger play yard with running track.

The final project in this capital plan for District 24 is the renovation of the Elmhurst building that formerly housed St. Bartholomew School on 43rd Avenue. That building, which the city is leasing, received a new kitchen, windows, roof, electrical upgrades and room conversions through the $6.4 million project started in June 2008.

Three other projects were also completed around the borough in time for the opening of school next month: the new Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, the second phase of the PS 78 annex in Long Island City and conversion of the former American Martyrs School on Peck Boulevard.

At a cost of $77.7 million, the new five-story Frank Sinatra School of the Arts will serve students in grades 9 through 12 with a focus on enhanced education and programs in performing and visual arts. In all, the building has seating for 998 students.

According to the SCA, the information provided regarding project cost reflects the amount of the construction contract and doesn’t cover ancillary costs such as land acquisition (where required) and furniture.

Capital, Credentials and Creativity: Is Steve Wynn the Right Choice for Aqueduct?

By Patricia Adams

Kleenex. Tissues.
Clorox. Bleach.
Q-Tip. Cotton swab.
Bic. Ball point pen.
Hoover. Vacuum.
Jell-O. Gelatin.
Steve Wynn. Fun.

Many industries have seen tried and true products adapted as generic trademarks. The human example of the aforementioned bunch being Steve Wynn, an internationally recognized casino/resort/real estate developer, who likes to dress fun up and invite everyone in.

The billionaire gaming guru is often credited with orchestrating the dramatic comeback and expansion of the strip in Vegas during the 90’s. His companies are responsible for building or re-building some of the most widely recognized resorts in the world: The Golden Nugget, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore.

Having established successful gaming and entertainment venues from Las Vegas to Macau, many community residents are questioning just how Steve Wynn, whom they see as synonymous with Las Vegas, will fit into the landscape of Ozone Park. After all, say local critics of the Wynn Project, the proposal totally strays from the character of the neighborhood; it simply is too grand.

Representatives from team Wynn recant the notion of such thoughts immediately. “It’s the philosophy of Steve Wynn that we should not underestimate what people want,” said Tom Breitling, senior vice-president of strategy & development Wynn/Encore. “Inherently people have good taste and they want to have fun. Our business is showing them a great time.”

And while we’re visiting the subject of fun on the local front, part of the Wynn plan is to make an investment that focuses on the glory days of old—when thoroughbred racing was a sport as rich as the colors of the jockey silks. Silks that will be represented by a line of colored flags along the facade of the Wynn design for Aqueduct. “We’re hoping to re-create the former excitement of racing; bring new, big stake races back to New York, to Aqueduct,” said Breitling.

But the focus on the racing component is just one part of Wynn’s concept for Aqueduct. Among the top four contenders for the bid, Wynn is the only one that will tackle the project with all new construction at the site. “The existing clubhouse is simply not conducive to comfort for patrons,” according to Kim Sinatra, senior vice president and general counsel for Wynn Resorts.

The existing structure of Aqueduct cannot adapt to more than one of the buzzwords in the Wynn plan. Convenience. Flow. Comfort. Their idea is to compartmentalize the gaming floor so that customers can feel totally comfortable and relaxed in more intimate surroundings. Signature Wynn is their attention to detail. “We look at it from A-Z,” said Breitling, “it’s the 1,000 little things that people most appreciate and look forward to.”

The project design will find guests able to enter through numerous points, either directly from a 2,500 parking garage, or from entrances for those travelling by train or bus. Once inside, patrons will be met with a floor plan that has continuous flow designed to maximize the experience. Another feature touted by Wynn Resorts is a staff to customer ratio that is the highest in the industry. Visitors can enjoy a race book room, a famous Wynn Buffet, and host of other eateries and retail outlets all while being catered to by a staff hired by a very serious Human Resource department. In fact according to statistics, getting a job with Wynn is much more like planning a career—this is a company where desk clerks and black jack dealers can work there way into high-level positions.

But perhaps the most integral part of the structure of the Wynn plan has more to do with brass tacks than aesthetics and fun. Wynn Resorts is prepared to deliver funds promised to the state immediately upon being chosen. One-hundred million at the announcement of the bid, followed by one-hundred million upon closing and another one-hundred million over the life of the 30 year contract with the state. Wynn Resorts will provide more than 6,000 jobs as a result of the project, hiring and training local residents as part of the employment program.

The money factor in this equation is one which state and local officials are considering very carefully. As a result of a failed bid by former and current bidder, Delaware North, the microscope of finance is over the heads of all bidders.

It appears that Wynn’s $300 million bid is the highest among the lead competitors, Aqueduct Entertainment Group, SL Green and Delaware North, the group who has returned in this round of bidding. A central concern to officials is whether or not the bidders can deliver the funds promised. Weighing the evidence says Wynn absolutely has the money, which is not contingent on future happenings. If chosen they have committed to the guaranteed sum of $300 million for New York State.

For the people of south Queens most directly impacted by the winning bidders, there are many factors to consider. And when they look beyond the glitz and glamour of that which is Wynn, perhaps they will also note the company’s foundation --clearly rooted in financial strength, industry experience and customer focus.

For the elected officials who will contribute to the decision of choosing the winning bidder, the onus is upon them to deliver the candidate who can absolutely guarantee the money promised the state without exception.

In summing up Wynn Resorts as the best partner for the community and for the state, Tom Breitling offered his explanation. With regard to the man who would re-define the current conception of a racino, Breitling says simply and with a smile, "With Mr. Wynn, there is a certainty of execution." In other words, with Steve Wynn behind the curtain, the show will go on.

This concludes The Forum series on the companies involved in the bidding process. A decision is expected to be made in the very near future with a possible announcement coming from Governor David Paterson on Labor Day from Saratoga Race Track.

Above: Steve Wynn at the entrance of the atrium at Encore Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Wynn Resorts.)

Ozone Park Man Struck and Killed

Hit by Driver While Coming Home From Work

A quiet Ozone Park community was saddened over the weekend by the death of local resident Donald Bryan. The 32-year-old was coming home from the Jacob Javits convention center where he worked as a security guard.

Bryan took a cab home after finishing his late shift and had just arrived at his home near Sutter Avenue and 85th Street when he was struck by a late model Lexus shortly after 1 a.m.

As Bryan began walking to his house, witnesses say a car “roared around the corner,” according to publisher reports. The vehicle was driven by 18-year-old Alfred Barcenilla Jr. After Bryan was struck he flew into the air and landed on the rear windshield of the car, shattering it.

A neighbor, Christopher Gianni, tried to perform CPR on Bryan. “I knew he was in really bad shape,” Gianni said. I was holding his hand and he told me he felt really cold. That’s when he started to slip away. A short time later, Bryan was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital.

Following the impact, the Lexus came to a stop after hitting a gate at the cemetery on 84th Street off Pitkin Avenue. It is there, that friends and family constructed a makeshift memorial to Donald Bryan. His brother John, told reporters that he and his brother were really close. “We always enjoyed laughing together,” said John. My world is turned upside down right now.” John Bryan said he wasn’t angry with Barcenilla, he felt pity for him instead, having taken a life.

The 18-year-old driver was not hurt in the accident. He was tested for alcohol but was not charged. Barcenilla graduated from St. Francis Preparatory School last year. According to published reports his father, Alfred Barcenilla Sr., said “He’s going to have this nightmare for the rest of his life,”

One couple at the scene said they didn’t know the victim or the driver, but they lived across the street. “We were coming home from a wedding and just pulled into the driveway. Everything happened so quickly,” said the neighbors. “Both of these families will be in so much pain.”

PS/IS 87 Upgrades and Concerns Over Playground Highlight Meeting

Superintendent Honored; Swine Flu Concerns Discussed

By Conor Greene

Hot topics at this month’s Community Education Council 24 meeting in Glendale included the ongoing push for upgrades at PS/IS 87, concerns over the conversion of the playground at PS 91 into a public park and a possible outbreak of swine flu this fall.

The meeting, held on Tuesday inside PS 91, began with a farewell to outgoing Superintendent Catherine Powis, who is retiring after 37 years with the district, and included election of the council’s officers for the coming year.

Superintendent Powis Honored

Prior to her final report as superintendent, Powis thanked many of the people she has worked with over her three-plus decades in the district. “I’m reordering my priorities,” she told the board and residents. “They’re called Sarah, Kate and Megan.”

She said her time here has been “very rewarding” and that she was “very fortunate to spend it in this wonderful district… I am very proud that I am part of this great district and its accomplishments,” she added, before being presented with a plaque from the council, a proclamation from Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and heartfelt praise and well wishes from a number of parents.

Push for PS/IS 87 Upgrades Continues

Carlos Mercado, president of the PS/IS 87 parent’s association, told Sandy Brawer of the DOE that parents are “still fighting for our extension.” Among the most pressing issues is the lack of bathrooms, with just two stalls serving about 225 students on one floor. “We have kids who have medical needs who can’t wait,” he said. Other issues include the gym and cafeteria, which are not large enough to accommodate the school’s 600 students.

According to Mercado, the school agreed in 2000 to become the area’s first kindergarten through eighth grade facility under the understanding that the building would be expanded to handle the additional students. However, Brawer, the DOE’s Deputy Executive Director, had a different recollection of those events. “We understood that the facilities weren’t there to meet the needs of K through 8,” he said, adding that the parents still wanted to move forward with the change in grade structure.

Still, Brawer, who recently took part in a tour of the building, said he understood where the parents were coming from. “We do understand the cafeteria issues, and we do understand the bathroom issues,” he said. He noted that aside from the facility issues, “the building is in excellent shape” structurally. In addition, the majority of capital dollars generally go towards creating new seats within the overcrowded district. Hearings on the DOE’s next five-year capital plan will take place this fall, he added.

“We acknowledge some of the issues and are looking at what funding is available,” said Brawer. Once the DOE and SCA reviews the options, he will bring a proposal back to the education council. He wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a full addition, but stressed that officials are “going to be looking at competing interests in District 24 as to what the priorities are… The hope is that we will be able to do something to make it better.”

Council Vice President Peter Vercessi, who is a school administrator on Long Island, pushed Brawer to characterize whether the school’s facilities are at or below average. Brawer responded, “The building has needs, no doubt about it… but there are a lot of buildings in New York City that have needs.”

PS 91 Playground Concerns

Several residents expressed concerns over the city project to convert the playground at PS 91 into a public park that is open after school hours and on weekends. Parents and board members accused the DOE of pushing this project on them without providing an opportunity for public input and fear the property will be destroyed.

Brawer explained that the project is part of a mayoral initiative designed to make the space available to the community. However, residents pointed out that there is a public park just two blocks away and said living next to a school yard is very different than living next to an open park. “They put a park out there but never had any community input,” said CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni, agreeing with residents who are concerned the location will become a magnet for misbehavingteens. “This is an ideal spot if I’m a teenager and I don’t want anyone to see me,” adding that the project never came before the council.

“Nobody in this community was notified – they’re just forcing this down our throats,” added a resident who lives adjacent to the school and wants the park only open during school hours. “We want this for the children of PS 91. They deserve it.” Adding insult to injury was seemingly minor decisions by the DOE such as to install regulation height basketball hoops, which are only useful for older teens. “The 104th Precinct has too much to do to come here every time we call,” she added.

Comaianni said the issue isn’t necessarily with the overall program, but rather the poor implementation of it in this case. “The program is not a bad program – I think the issue is you put it in the wrong school,” he said.

Brawer said he would bring these concerns back to DOE officials. He wouldn’t say definitively who has the final say as to what hours the park would be open, but noted that city money was used with the understanding that the community-at-large would benefit. He said the principal “has some leeway” as to the park’s usage, but wanted to look into the issue further.

Preparing for Swine Flu Outbreak

Dermot Smyth, the area’s United Federation of Teachers representative, asked the board to consider devising a strategy to deal with a possible outbreak this fall of the swine flu, which killed 522 people across the country earlier this year.

Smyth referenced a recent report issued by a presidential panel report predicting a “plausible scenario” in which as many as 120 million people across the nation become sick, overwhelming hospital emergency rooms. The report suggested that as many as 1.6 million people could be hospitalized, with 300,000 intensive care patients.

He asked the council if the proper preparations are taking place on a local basis and asked members to come up with a “protocol” by next meeting. “We can’t leave it up to the chancellor and mayor” and instead need a “local answer,” he said.

In response, CEC member Brian Rafferty asked what exactly Smyth had in mind, noting that the council has limited power and doesn’t decide if schools are closed due to a swine flu outbreak. Comaianni reminded Smyth that the council’s requests in the spring that additional schools be closed were ignored.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said her office would assist in coming up with a plan. “We need to make sure we get enough vaccinations… for those who are most susceptible,” she said, adding that a 27-year-old NYPD officer recently died from swine flu complications. “We need to make sure in our community that elderly and pregnant moms are the first to receive the vaccine. Then we have to make sure it’s available to the young,” she said.

A Crowley spokeswoman later said the councilmember is working with the health department to make sure proper precautions are taken in Queens, which was hardest hit by the swine flu outbreak this past spring.

Council Elections

Before the start of the regular meeting, the council held its annual elections. Comaianni was again named president and Vercessi was reelected as vice president. This year’s treasurer is Jeanne Forster, while Shwe Zin OO was again named secretary.

Officials Demand Repairs to Jamaica Ave. Elevated Tracks

Say Eyesore is Hurting Businesses, Accident Waiting to Happen

By Conor Greene

Area elected officials and community leaders are pushing the MTA to repair the elevated subway tracks above Jamaica Avenue, arguing that years of neglect has produced a dangerous eyesore that is stifling economic development in the area.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. gathered with residents near the intersection of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard on Monday to draw attention to the need for immediate structural repairs.

“For far too long, the Jamaica Avenue elevated train has been neglected,” said Crowley. “This is an accident waiting to happen… It is a serious situation that has to be addressed.” She noted that the structure was included in the MTA’s five-year capital plan that just expired but was eliminated due to lack of funding. Now, Addabbo and Crowley are pressuring the MTA to ensure that the work is included in the upcoming capital plan.

“I’ve been coming along Jamaica Avenue since I was a kid… and it hasn’t changed since I was five years old,” said Addabbo. “It looks the same, and that’s a sad story. I’m hopeful to bring this project to the forefront.”

Thomson, who has been involved with the GWDC for more than two decades and is a thirty-plus year resident of the neighborhood, said “it’s time for Woodhaven to get some attention from the MTA” after being ignored for years. “For far too long, Woodhaven has suffered with this monstrosity,” she said, adding that the GWDC has been pushing to have the tracks repainted and repaired for the last 15 years.

Crowley and Addabbo made the case for repairs in a letter to Senate Conference Majority Leader Senator John Sampson, urging him to immediately move the project forward.

“Jamaica Avenue is lined with businesses and we believe it is on the cusp of turning into a thriving economic engine for the borough… Unfortunately, the most prominent feature is the rusty and deteriorating overhead J-line subway,” they wrote. “The condition of the elevated train not only deters visitors but is, most importantly, an accident waiting to happen.”

While the project has yet to go out to bid, Crowley said the repairs would likely require a multi-million dollar contract. “That’s what happens when you neglect steel for far too long,” she said. “I’m not sure why they haven’t [solicited bids] and that’s why we’re here today… People like to shop in a beautiful business district… It’s a tough economic time and painting the elevated train would definitely help businesses in the area.”

In response, MTA NYC Transit spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said agency officials “realize the importance of regular painting of the steel elevated subway structures to protect against corrosion, extend the life of the structure and improve neighborhood aesthetics.”

The proposed 2010-2014 MTA capital program contains $521 million for line structure rehabilitation, painting and enhancements including overcoat painting of 18.5 miles of elevated structure on the Brighton, Broadway-7th Avenue, Canarsie, Culver, Jamaica, Rockaway and White Plains Road lines. In addition, repairs are planned for 7.3 route miles of elevated structure on the Jamaica line and the Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park viaducts, added Parker

Groundbreaking in Glendale: Community Garden to Get Underway

By Patricia Adams

Dorie Figliola has lived in Glendale for her whole life. And according to those who know her best, the community activist leaves no stone unturned when it comes to her beloved Glendale. When she noticed an unused piece of land on 88th Street near 74th Avenue, Figliola started thinking about how wasted property could turn into something that would benefit the community.

It didn’t take long to recognize a great project for the undeveloped quarter of an acre spot on the property of the Yeshiva Gedolah Seminary—a community garden where neighborhood school kids could plant a vegetable garden.

When Figliola started the wheels turning, she picked up the phone to several local officials, the Glendale Civic Association, community members and organizations.

In arranging to “borrow” the property from the Seminary, Figliola worked out the details with building manager Abraham Markowitz and administrator Rabbi Katz. “It’s a very nice thing for the community to have. We are happy to offer this space for everyone to use and enjoy,” said Markowitz.

Community residents and organizations including the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Haspel Staab Post in Middle Village joined with elected officials, Senator Joe Addabbo and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley in picking up their shovels for a ceremonial groundbreaking last Thursday.

At the center of the shoveling pack was a beaming Figliola. “I just couldn’t stand us having to look at all the weeds. Everyone is really liking this,” she said. “It’s all part of bringing families back to Glendale.”

Others involved in helping the project get off its feet is district manager of CB 5, Gary Giordano, and the Glendale Kiwanis Club which donated $500 to begin the project.

The cleanup is slated to begin in early September and many have promised to pitch in with their time and materials required. The local Home Depot manager has told Figliola to compile a list of everything she will need and the store will see about furnishing supplies for the project.

“This is a great chance for Glendale to have some more much needed green space. The garden will really be something beautiful on 88th Street,” said Gary Giordano. And according to plans, children from a number of schools in the area will have the chance to get some fresh air and test out if they have green thumbs.

This week Figliola finally got the keys to the gate that surrounds piles of cement and overgrown weeds. “Now we have the keys and we’re just waiting for the lease," Figliola said there are so many people to thank, especially CB 5 member Tom Rossi, an attorney who has donated his time to negotiate the lease. At the end of the paper trail is what Figliola hopes is a very happy and a very green ending.

Jay Dee Bakery Closes its Doors

Russian Restaurant Will Replace It

By Conor Greene

Local preservationists and historians were saddened to learn that Jay Dee Bakery on Queens Boulevard has closed its doors and will be converted into a Russian restaurant.

While the Rego Park neighborhood institution - well known for its kosher treats - will be lost forever, Michael Perlman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council is spearheading an effort to save the distinctive features of the Art Deco building on Queens Boulevard. He recently tried to convince the owner to preserve and adaptively reuse the property to no avail.

However, the owner did agree to give away any salvageable Art Deco features to any individuals, museums or groups that are interested in obtaining a piece of the bakery’s history for free. “The Rego-Forest Preservation Council is hoping that several features will live on elsewhere and showcased or creatively and adaptively reused, which has been done countrywide,” said Perlman. “We would be sad if these unique businesses’ Art Deco attributes are demolished forever.”

Perlman first learned in mid-July that the bakery was closing its doors after 60 years. “I had to do a double-take,” he recalled. “I found it heartbreaking on the basis of it being one of the earliest remaining businesses in the neighborhood, one of the oldest mom and pop style bakeries in the boroughs, an Art Deco commercial gem that drew patrons in, which is currently few and far between,” said he, recalling visits to the bakery as a child.

Among the available items are a Jay Dee Bakery neon sign; Ravenna green mosaic columns surrounding the window, which feature a class Art Deco orange and red vertical swirl pattern; Art Deco Lucite door and steel handle with “pull etched vertically; green terrazzo exterior floor; circular Art Deco recessed ceiling and indented cake displays built into upper walls.

On Wednesday, Perlman said he has received e-mails from more than a dozen individuals and groups interested in preserving the items. Among them was a couple who are in the process of moving the famed Cheyenne Diner from its old location in Manhattan to Alabama, meaning some of the Jay Dee’s history will live on down south.

For more information, contact Perlman at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Gov's Special Election Call Leads to Criticism

By Conor Greene

The governor’s decision to once again call for a September 15 special election to fill the vacancy in the 38th Assembly District created by Tony Seminerio’s resignation has led to criticism from candidates who won’t be on the ballot as a result.

Gov. David Paterson’s announcement, which came last Friday, meant that the county Democratic and Republican party leaders got to choose which one of their candidates will run for the seat. If a regular election had instead been held, any candidate who received enough signatures would have qualified for the ballot.

The governor’s announcement came a week after he first called for a special election before issuing a press release several hours later stating that no final decision had been made. “Although there were concerns raised about last week’s announcement, after a comprehensive review of the issues at stake, I have determined that a special election on Primary Day is the most cost-effective, expeditious way to ensure the people of the 38th District are appropriately represented in the Assembly,” said Paterson in a statement.

Following the announcement, the local Democratic district leaders voted 2-1 to nominate Michael Miller of Glendale for the ballot spot. Seminerio, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to influence-peddling, was eligible to cast a vote but did not take part in the selection process. On the Republican side, Donna Marie Caltabiano, executive director of the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center, is the only candidate running.

The governor’s sudden about face two weeks ago led to speculation that Paterson was caught between two competing factions within the Democratic Party: county leader Rep. Joseph Crowley, who sought a special election, and State Senator Malcolm Smith and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who reportedly pushed for a regular election so that Ozone Park attorney Albert Baldeo could continue with his candidacy.

Paterson’s decision was predictably met with harsh criticism from the candidates who had completed the petitioning process but now will not appear on the ballot. One candidate – Farouk Samaroo – has already filed a legal challenge to the governor’s decision to call a special election. The matter was scheduled to be heard on Thursday morning in U.S District Court.

“Our right to vote in a free and fair election is being violated by the governor’s action. I am suing under the Voting Rights Act and asking the court to set aside the bad joke played on the electoral process,” said Samaroo, a veteran of the Afghanistan war.

Baldeo, who has previously run for City Council and State Senate, said he is also considering his next step. “We are still going through our options. We’re very disappointed now,” he said. “It’s a sad day for democracy as the decision was taken out of the hands of the voters… We don’t know why [the special was called]. There was such a diverse mix of candidates on the ballot, so it’s very troubling.”

Particularly outraged over the decision is Nick Comaianni, who told The Forum that the district leaders were initially set to back him 2-1 before Crowley, the county party leader, pressured the district leaders to vote for Miller.

“The Queens County Democratic Party is anything but democratic,” said Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24 and a Community Board 9 member. “The whole system was a disappointment to me. It was very shady the way the vote went,” he said, adding, “one leader obviously flipped” positions before the vote this week.

“Crowley took every leader into a room by themselves and he grilled them until they changed their minds,” continued Comaianni. “This was obviously a big thing for him [since] he promised Miller they would give him the race. I’m upset this entire election is decided by a handful of people. I would have been more comfortable if I ran and lost because as much as I wouldn’t have liked that, the people would have spoken.”

Messages left on Miller’s cell phone were not returned by deadline Wednesday.

Queens Democratic Party Executive Secretary Michael Reich denied claims that leaders were pressured into voting for Miller, who he noted is a lifelong Democrat who was also endorsed by the Conservative Party. “He has the Democratic and Conservative lines in a district that tends to be more conservative,” said Reich, adding that Comaianni recently switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

While Miller has not been especially active in local party politics, his extensive community involvement helped him secure the nomination. “That’s all we’re looking for, someone who is active in the community on the grassroots level. None of the district leaders who would have had a leg up on this were interested in running, so it was natural to go into the community to find someone active there who has support,” said Reich.

Reich refuted claims that the district leaders were pressured to switch their support from Comaianni to Miller. “There was no pressuring. There was a meeting here of district leaders, it was a very friendly meeting and there was only one vote. How could there be pressure? It would make no sense… The district leaders decided he was the candidate best able to represent the party and get elected.”

Councilman Vows to Wipe Out Graffiti

By Patricia Adams

The scourge of graffiti is the latest to jump on the “zero-tolerance bandwagon” - that is, at least, in the city council district that encompasses Howard Beach, Broad Channel and parts of Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Rockaway and Woodhaven.

Last Friday, Councilmember Eric Ulrich held a press conference announcing the decision to bring to his district what is being touted as “an aggressive and effective initiative” aimed at the total elimination of graffiti vandalism.

“I funded this program to tackle graffiti once and for all in this district,” Ulrich said standing in front of the MET Supermarket at 102rd Street and 101st Avenue. The store is an obvious backdrop choice--its outside walls littered with graffiti. The site typifies, according to the councilman, “the burden that graffiti imposes on local business owners and shoppers at the hands of vandals.”

The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation has partnered with Ulrich in the initiative. “Our communities are strong and stable-- graffiti can make them look as though they are not,” stated Maria Thomson. Ulrich thanked GWDC as well as commending police at both the 106 and the 102 for all their efforts to eliminate graffiti.

The group acted as the administrator for the $30,000 in discretionary funding allotted by Ulrich who earmarked the money for the organization to use toward efforts to eliminate graffiti. The bidder was chosen after reviewing five respondents who replied to a Request for Proposal issued by GWDC. The selected bidder agreed to the initial clean-up, monthly maintenance schedule and constituent component of the program.

“For years the Mayor’s office and the police have attempted to eradicate this nuisance. But, we’re going to take a very different approach”, Ulrich explained. The approach he refers to is one taken by City Solve, a firm that concentrates solely on private graffiti removal.

The company that was awarded the bid for the project has a plan of action that began with a complete “graffiti inventory”. Specially equipped trucks were to begin attacking identified targets as early as the weekend, using a combination of pre-treatment, power washing and paint matching, to restore surfaces to look as though there had never been graffiti present.

City Solve’s owner, Bruce Pienky, acknowledges that the battle with graffiti takes time, but with his company’s approach, the war is being won. “In the beginning there usually is a lot of new graffiti.” Pienky’s comments are based on his experiences in more than a dozen different neighborhoods he provides similar services to. “There is still plenty of graffiti for us to clean, but … we have worn down their resolve.”

Effective immediately, Ulrich declared the areas of 101st Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard from 75th Street to 111th Street and along Woodhaven and Crossbay Boulevards from Atlantic Avenue to the south end of the Joseph P Addabbo bridge as “Graffiti-Free Zones.”

The three zones were chosen because they were ranked as the most adversely affected areas throughout the district. “That does not mean that residents outside of these areas will not be included in the plan,” explained Ulrich. In addition to the target zone automatically covered, resident and business owners can phone the councilman’s office to report complaints at any address in the district. Those calls will be handled as part of the constituent component of the plan which will dispatch trucks to these locations on a weekly basis.

Ulrich says his district has more than 127 instances for roll down gates just on 101st Avenue. In addition there are hundreds of more “pieces of inventory” that include garage doors, side walls and other commercial and residential property faces.

Business owners and private residents would be charged anywhere from $500 and upwards of $1,000 for the service if they had to hire a private company. Now the same service will be provided free.

Those in attendance at Friday’s conference were forced to agree that an on-site demonstration at the supermarket made a great first impression. Within three minutes after a technician started the job, the side walls of Met Food looked as if had never been vandalized. According to experts it would have taken more than an hour and a half to paint by hand. And it was Ulrich who volunteered to take the power washer from the technician, going on to wash away the graffiti. After rolling down his sleeves the he joked, “I have a new confidence in this equipment. It’s so easy even a councilman can do it."

Committee Formed to Handle Dog Run Proposal

By Conor Greene

Residents frustrated that a proposal for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park has been placed on the backburner hope the plan will gain momentum now that the community board has formed a subcommittee to deal exclusively with the issue.

At its meeting last Wednesday, Community Board 5 members voted to create an offshoot of the Parks Committee to investigate a proposal the Juniper Valley Dog Park Association submitted to the board in May for a permanent, fenced-in area in the part of the Middle Village park now used for off-leash hours.

“It has occupied all of its time and I feel there are enough parks and parks issues in our community that warrant our attention,” said Kathy Masi, who proposed creating the subcommittee. “This can go around and around… At some point we have to address it.”

The board voted 39 to 2 in favor of the subcommittee, which is needed because the “issue of a dog run in Juniper Park has caused extreme tense relations within our community,” the resolution states. It suggests that steps be taken “in an effort to cohesively work towards a better relationship and understanding of the needs of all concerned…”

The subcommittee is being formed “in order to address the location of a future dog run” and will “consist of an equal representation of dog owners, homeowners and community board representatives.” The resolution also demands that any major changes regarding usage or construction at the park be brought before CB 5 “and that the concerns of the community board not be circumvented.”

The board’s vote to create the subcommittee was welcome news for JVDPA member Joe Pisano, who has attended CB 5 meetings over the past 10 months to speak in favor of a dog run. “I really don’t think this kind of thing should take this long,” he said. “They’re in every park in the city and I don’t see what is so different about Juniper. I don’t think it’s such a big deal. There are tons of dog owners around here.”

The resolution was included in a letter CB 5 sent to Borough Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski earlier this month. A Parks spokeswoman said the borough commissioner plans to meet with CB 5 officials next week to discuss the issue.

“The Parks Department has been working with community members, dog owners and other park users alike to address the needs of both groups,” the spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to The Forum. “Parks is open to working with the community to meet the needs of its people and animal users alike.”

The JVDPA’s proposal is being reviewed by Parks’ capital team, which will submit its comments to Lewandowski in advance of next week’s meeting with CB 5, according to the spokeswoman. Parks said estimates on cost, size and other details have not yet been determined since the proposal is in a draft form. However, a rough sketch submitted to CB 5 shows a maximum length of 383 feet and a maximum width of 152 feet.

The board’s district manager, Gary Giordano, said the proposed size of the run might lead to objections. “It’s almost as big as a football field, so to me it’s shocking to ask for that much space for a dog run,” he said, adding that the board is in the process of forming the subcommittee.

The community board’s requests that it be alerted of any construction plans came after fencing was installed around the area used during off-leash hours, which run from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Parks said the fence was installed “to address some park users’ concern about people using the paths during off-leash hours… It provides a border along an adjoining pathway so in morning hours when dogs are off-leash and pedestrians are using the paths [the groups can co-exist] without interfering with each other.”

Pisano hopes the new subcommittee will allow the dog group’s request to move forward. “There are certain people that are really against it, and unfortunately, those are the people I had to get the ok from,” said Pisano. “It sounded sincere that Kathy Masi wants to find a place where we can all use the park together. Hopefully nothing but good comes out of this, and I look forward to working with them.”

In the Aftermath of Hunting Tragedy, Howard Beach Man Awaits His Sentencing

By Patricia Adams

A tragic hunting accident in November of 2008 claimed the life of 16-month-old Charly Skala when the toddler was struck with a bullet fired by Howard Beach resident Eddie Taibi. Almost one year later, Taibi broke his silence and spoke with The Forum in an exclusive interview.

With more than thirty years of hunting experience, using bows and guns for all of his adult life, Taibi had never before encountered any problems. He had travelled to North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia - the list goes on and on — to hunt. But while hunting at a friend’s 40-acre property in Sullivan County near Swan on November 16, something went terribly wrong.

After having spent the two days prior hunting in rainy and windy weather, Taibi and a buddy decided to call friend, Butch Froelich to see about hunting on his nearby property, which was flatter, more open and okay to hunt in wind and rain. The landowner told the men they were welcome to come on over and go about their hunting.

They got to the tree stands they were to use from about 2 p.m. and around 4 p.m. Taibi turned to his right and saw four does feeding. “They were positioned like the four corners of a diamond. Three were feeding heavily but the lead doe stared back at me,” Taibi said, “and then repeatedly looked toward a brush pile.”

Further to the right he spied a buck approaching the lead doe. Taibi looked through his binoculars noting a three point antler rack on one side of the bucks head. It was a legal deer. Putting the binoculars away, Taibi lined up his rifle and fired once. He watched as the buck collapsed.

Climbing down off the tree stand, the hunter walked parallel to where the buck had fallen. About 50-60 yards out Taibi saw the buck was gone. Knowing that deer are habitual by nature he turned to look back toward where he had originally spotted his target. About 20 yards to the right, he saw the buck again. Lining up another shot, Taibi fired. But this shot, according to a post mortem necropsy performed on the animal, missed.

Minutes later Taibi said he heard screaming coming from the top of the hill. “Who’s shooting? The voice screamed. “Who the f—k is shooting.” Taibi yelled back that it was him. “I ran toward the guy,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think.” When he met up with the man who had screamed for the shooter, Taibi learned that the bullet fired at the buck had struck the man’s toddler niece in a nearby trailer.

Amidst the frantic commotion, Froelich pulled up to the tragic scene. The property owner told reporters later that Taibi collapsed at the side of his jeep in tears totally overwhelmed after learning that a little girl had been hit with the bullet.

Taibi was arrested and taken to a local jail where he was questioned by investigators and police. After a while, one of the detectives told Taibi he had to leave the room and would be back in a little while. Taibi waited for nearly 45 minutes. Upon his return, the detective told Taibi that Charly Skala had died at the hospital.

“I never felt that way before in my life,” Taibi says as he remembered the moment. “Not even in 2006 when I lost my own daughter.” Suddenly, the remorse and the sorrow in Eddie Taibi’s eyes were clearly defined. Two years before, his own daughter Carmela died from cancer. “She was 12 years and 326 days old,” he said. He was with her when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, known as an astrocytoma. No, Eddie Taibi was no stranger to parents losing children, he knew all about it. Carmela died one month and two days before a bullet from her father’s gun accidentally killed Charly Skala.

Taibi’s trial was to start back in June. A jury comprised of 9 hunters and 3 non hunters; a good mix for the defense. Ballistic experts, forensic photographers and medical experts were all hired to work on Taibi’s case. On the morning of June 15, with the trial set to begin, Eddie Taibi walked into the courtroom.

“I remember vividly. The family was there,” he explains. “They were crying already. Sobbing. There were boxes of tissues.” Taibi headed past the rows of seats in the courtroom, approaching the table where he would sit as the defendant. He called to his lawyer, Patrick Brackley. “I need to talk to you outside,” Taibi told the attorney. He said he knew from looking at his face that Brackley knew something was up.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Taibi stunned his lawyer. “I will not go through with this trial,” he said. Brackley bristled. “Eddie you have to. We’re going to beat this thing.” But Taibi had reached his resolve. “I want you to plead guilty and try and get as good of an arrangement as you can. But I cannot put these people through the pain of a trial.” Taibi told his attorney, “I don’t want to see the pictures and the blood and them crying. I don’t want to bring pain. I want to take it away if I can.”

Taibi is a man who well understands a pain not known to many. When asked what it was like to have been involved in an accident which claimed the life of another parent’s child, he answers with a question. “Do you know what a child is called when they lose their parents?” Taibi doesn’t wait for an answer. “You call them orphans.” The hunter’s follow-up question came right after, “Do you know what you call a parent who loses a child?” This time he does wait. But an answer doesn’t come. He looks at you, finally he says, “You don’t know the word because there are no words to describe a parent who loses a child.” A deep sigh comes from Eddie Taibi.

When hunting season begins in October this year, it will be marked in one upstate courtroom by the sentencing of Edward Taibi on the charges of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Charly Skala. Taibi could conceivably get up to eight years in a state penitentiary. He could get as little as two years, with possible parole.

Regardless of whatever prison stay Judge Frank LaBuda decides upon, it will likely sit without the weight of that already self imposed by Taibi. “Every time I open or close my eyes, I think of what happened on that day,” says Taibi. “I think of that child and how I can’t bring her back. I think of her family and how one shot changed their lives forever. That is what I live with every waking minute. I accept total responsibility and for whatever time the judge decides I should wake up in prison, then so be it.”

Taibi says that although there was absolutely no criminal intent he wishes the judge would allow him to speak at hunting safety awareness groups about the consequences of accidents such as this. When asked if he will hunt again, Taibi slowly shakes his head. “No. That’s not an option.”

Push for Action in Wake of Rockaway Drownings

By Conor Greene

Six people have already drowned off the Rockaway coast this summer and officials say the worst conditions will arrive in the coming weeks when hurricane season takes full effect.

The latest incident came last Friday when Jose-Luis Olivares, 36, of Ozone Park died while trying to save his eight-year-old daughter from the waters off Jacob Riis Park. His daughter, Stephanie, made it back to shore safely. Lifeguards were off-duty for about an hour before the 7 p.m. drowning, which was the second in three days off the Rockaway coast. On June 12, 40-year-old Hayward Patterson of Jamaica disappeared while swimming in the water off the 15th Street Beach in Far Rockaway; his body has not been recovered.

The number of deaths this year has already doubled the total amount from the past two years, leading several elected officials to push for steps to help prevent more drownings. City Councilman James Sanders, Jr. (D-Laurelton) held an emergency meeting Monday night with Parks Department officials, community leaders and residents, where he said several “out of the box” ideas were discussed.

"Six deaths are too many... This year is just out of control," Sanders told The Forum. "With that in mind, we have to think out of the box on this one. We explored many things [Monday] including getting a boat or Jet Ski to patrol the waters." He noted that the closest Coast Guard station is now in Sandy Hook since the Rockaway one was closed. "Why not put a Jet Ski in the water or at least have them available on land so we can get to people quicker?"

Other suggestions included reopening safer beaches where the riptides are not as strong, staggering hours when beaches are open and encouraging people to visit public pools on hot days. "There are beaches that are closed in the Rockaways [that] absolutely need to be opened. The beaches that are open are not necessarily the safest ones," said Sanders.

The councilman noted that several of the victims traveled to the Rockaways from other parts of the borough and city and might not be familiar with the area's strong currents or sharp drop-offs. "One of the big secrets we have here is the big drop off in the water... Unless you know how to swim in ten feet of water you should not go past your hips."

In response to the spike in deaths, a Parks spokeswoman said the city has more than 300 lifeguards at Rockaway Beach and 50 Urban Park Service staff patrolling the area. Three of the drownings this year have occurred at city beaches, along with two at Jacob Riis Park, which is patrolled by the National Parks Service, and one at a private beach. Lifeguards were off duty during all of the incidents.

"Rockaway, unlike some of the other beaches around New York City is a true ocean beach and the ocean is a powerful and unpredictable force of nature and you have to expect it and be careful when you're going into the waters," Liam Kavanaugh, First Deputy Parks Commissioner, told NY1. "We urge the public, as tempting as it may be, particularly on hot days such as this, that they should not go in the ocean where there is no lifeguard around."

Sanders said the Parks Department - whose lifeguards have come under fire for safety violations - is paying attention to the issue but he wants to see real steps taken in the near future. "I want to see more action... The typical things are not working. Under those conditions, let's go with outside thinking."

On the federal level, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) is calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to expand a $4 million study of the Rockaway Beaches to include safety measures to help prevent the riptides, which are caused by currents of water between sandbars and the coastline. In a letter to the Army Corps Lt. General Van Antwerp, he argued that the study "won't be complete if it doesn't closely examine the serious safety concerns for swimmers and recommendations for structural changes to prevent drownings."

The study, which focuses on fighting beach erosion, is scheduled to be completed by 2011 and construction of the 100-year storm protection plan for the Rockaways could begin in 2012, according to Weiner. "The ocean currents may at times be very strong, but the Army Corps can help us turn the tides of the awful tragedies that have hit the Rockaways and make our beaches better and more importantly safer."

While the ocean waters off the Rockaways have long been known for the strong riptides, Sanders said the city has looked into whether the conditions have worsened. "We looked into that. I wanted to know if there was something going on in the waters... The Parks Department assured me that is not the case," he said.

The first drowning came on June 12, followed by the death of a 19-year-old Bronx boy off Beach 27th Street on July 31. The first four days of August claimed two more victims - a 21-year-old who drowned after going into the water to help his friend and a 56-year-old Brooklyn man who died in Breezy Point despite efforts to revive him.

"The waters will absolutely get worse. From this point forward the conversation is about how we turn this around and stop the senseless deaths in our community," added Sanders.

'Vegetables for Seniors' Program Kicks Off

By Conor Greene

Judging by the rush for free fruits and vegetables at the Middle Village Adult Center, a new initiative to provide surplus produce to local seniors is already a huge success.

Members of the senior center on 75th Street were treated Monday to fresh, locally grown produce that was donated by a dozen local gardeners who inevitably wind up with a surplus of goods and three local businesses. The program, started by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) connects growers who otherwise would throw away extra fruits and vegetables at the end of season with residents on fixed incomes.

“I believe Vegetables for Seniors is a community initiative we hope to continue throughout the growing season. It’s a great way for community members to give back to our seniors, who are on fixed income, and to encourage the production of locally grown food,” said Crowley, who hopes to expand the program through the rest of the growing season. “I am proud that our community is finding ways to come together, limit the amount of waste we produce and to improve the community’s quality of life.”

The program kicked off Monday when Middle Village resident Dave Shapiro, who helped organize the effort and donated produce from his garden, stopped by the senior center to help distribute the items. “Every year I have a surplus of vegetables that I either give away or throw away. After all, how many cucumbers can you actually eat?” said Shapiro. “I came up with the idea for giving away the vegetables I could not use to those who could use it, those on fixed incomes: the senior citizens of my neighborhood.”

Roughly a dozen local gardeners contributed bucket loads of produce including tomatoes, green peppers, Italian frying peppers, eggplants, leeks, peaches, apples, cantaloupes, watermelons, bananas and spices for the first Vegetables for Seniors giveaway day. Also contributing surplus vegetables were the program’s three local sponsors: Key Foods on 63rd Drive, Florist Hills on Woodhaven Boulevard and C-Town on Metropolitan Avenue.

After coming up with the idea, Shapiro quickly enlisted other local growers. “I found that other people in the neighborhood liked the idea, too,” he said. Shapiro and Crowley hope to continue providing produce to local seniors through the end of the harvest season this fall, with the next Vegetables for Seniors day scheduled for September 14 at the Middle Village Adult Center.

In the meantime they hope to recruit more growers to bolster their supply of produce to distribute to seniors. “What we have today is the start of something even larger to come,” said Crowley. “Who better to bring produce to than our seniors? With the cost of everything going up today it is important to give back.”

As seniors scrambled to get to their hands on the free produce on Monday, Shapiro told them there is only one stipulation: “Take them home and promise me you will eat them,” he urged.

For more information about the program contact Shapiro at 347-234-9519.

The first Vegetables for Seniors Day at the Middle Village Adult Center was a huge success, with the seniors taking home free produce donated by local growers and supermarkets. The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CONOR GREENE

Transit Worker Dies after Fall onto Tracks

Firefighters administered CPR to a transit worker from the MTA Tuesday morning, after he fell onto the tracks at the Rockaway Boulevard station of the “A” train.

Scott Baur, a 26-year transit employee, fell off the platform around 10:30 AM and hit the electrified third rail, according to fire department officials.

The 48-year-old father of three was lying on the tracks when the fire department arrived. “He had no pulse when firefighters arrived at the scene,” said FDNY press spokesman Frank Dwyer. Attempts at resuscitation were made on the tracks, again on the platform and on the way down the stairs to a waiting ambulance. Baur was rushed to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“The untimely passing of any transit worker is a tragedy but because of my background working on the tracks, the death of a track worker hits me especially hard,” said Department of Subways Senior Vice President Steven Feil. “He will be sorely missed by his co-workers.”

Initial news and web reports indicated that Baur had collapsed before falling onto the tracks. Charles Seaton, a spokesperson for the NYC Transit, said that the cause of death had not yet been determined.

On a website where MTA and NYC Transit workers exchange thoughts online, there were expressions of sympathy and the need for improved conditions with regard to the third rail.

One comment spoke of the need for safety markings. “Me being in OSHA training, having 3rd rails well marked is something that I think needs to be looked at by all agencies. Yes there are some that have the rail better marked than others, but the rail covering should have some form of reflective or very noticeable markings on it”.

Another submission read “One thing that WOULD help would be the contact shoe/rail arrangement. NYC Subways use a 'hot shoe' pickup riding on the 3rd rail's top surface. Somewhere, I can't remember, possibly LIRR, uses a shoe that rides the bottom of the 3rd rail which would allows better fitment of safety guards, plus reduces snow/ice build up problems with the pickup being forced up, off the rail by packed ice, then stalling equipment. I remember a few guys mention some have been hit with the 3rd rail current & live. But just a few.”

Youth Council Prepares to Renovate New Building

Busy Summer Included Cancer Awareness Event

By Conor Greene

It's been a busy summer for the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, which recently closed on its new building, hosted a cancer awareness day and ran its annual summer camps, which serve more than 1,000 local children and provide hundreds of jobs.

New Building Effort

Using $1 million provided by former State Senator Serf Maltese, the council took over the former Garity Post building on Fairview Avenue earlier this month and is looking forward to renovating it to fit the group's needs, said GRYC Director Bob Monahan.

"We now own the building which is great... We did it here [at its current Myrtle Avenue home] 10 years ago and we're ready to rock and roll again," he said of the upcoming construction effort. "The classrooms will be state of the art, the office and community meeting space is better. It's a home run for everyone."

The project is funded by $1,750,000 provided by the Queens City Council delegation headed by Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). Also assisting is Borough President Helen Marshall ($500,000), State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood). "It was truly a concerted effort by all of our elected officials, past and present, to get us going," said Monahan. "It's nice to be doing something that everyone knows will benefit the community."

Since the city funds come as a reimbursement, the council is planning on borrowing on the equity of the new building so it can begin the renovations. "We have to spend the money, start fixing, submit bills and then start getting reimbursed," the director explained. The move was necessitated when the council found out last year its monthly rent on Myrtle Avenue would double to $10,000.

Cancer Awareness at PS 153

As part of its summer programs, the council recently held a Cancer Awareness Day, inspired by several of the GRYC and school's staff members. "As a youth council, we have a couple of women battling breast cancer, so PS 153 having one who is in the fight for her life, they decided to have a cancer awareness day to show support for her and other women battling cancer," said Monahan.

The day included shows and songs, along with a painting presented to Councilwoman Crowley, who participated in the day. "I am saddened by how many people in this world continue to suffer every day from this disease and how many lives are taken," she said, adding that she and a staff member have both personally lost loved ones to the disease. "It not only hurts the person with the illness but deeply impacts all those who love them."

Crowley pointed to early detection as an important part of the fight against cancer. "When cancers are caught early and treated, people have a higher chance of surviving longer and beating the disease. I know what you are doing today will save lives tomorrow," she told the children, who raised several hundred dollars that day.

Overall this summer, the GRYC served 1,000 local children at its camps and provided jobs to 800 young adults, reported Monahan. "We had an awesome summer and spent $1 million for kids in the summertime," he said.

Board Concerned Over Restaurant Depot Demolition

City Prepares to Move Forward with Maspeth School Project

By Conor Greene

Members of the local community board are concerned about the imminent demolition of the former Restaurant Depot building due to the presence of toxic materials found on the 74th Street property, where the city plans to build a new 1,100-seat high school.

At last week’s Community Board 5 meeting Chairman Vincent Arcuri noted that the building, located at 74th Street and 57th Avenue in Maspeth, appeared on that month’s list of buildings to be demolished in the near future. Due to the level of toxins, including carcinogens, found on the site, the board sent a letter to city School Construction Authority President Sharon Greenberger to ensure proper precautions will be taken to avoid any risks to the community.

“Considering the contamination found at this planned Maspeth High School site previously, it is critical that maximum protection against contaminants escaping into the environment be employed during demolition, excavation and removal of the existing building, the foundation, the footings and the soil,” wrote Arcuri, who also requested a meeting with the construction company hired by the city and SCA officials “responsible for oversight of this controversial project.”

Earlier this year, CB 5 members voted against the city’s proposal to build an $80 million high school on the 54,000-square-foot property adjacent to the Long Island Expressway. Despite objections from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), the City Council voted 38 to 10 in April to approve the Department of Education’s plan. In May, the city purchased the property for $16,250,000, according to public records.

Arcuri told his fellow board members and the audience at Christ the King High School that he is “a little concerned” due to the presence of toxins on the site. “Not knowing anything about the contaminants, we’re bringing that question back up,” he said of the board’s letter to the SCA.

In response, a city DOE spokesman told the Forum that no exact demolition date has been set, but it’s expected to take place “within the next few weeks.” The spokesman said the site is safe for construction and that safety precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the property’s neighbors and future occupants.

“As to the concerns raised by CB5 in regards to toxins found at the site, it's important that I express as unequivocally as possible that this site is absolutely safe for the construction of a new school building. Like all urban soil, the soil at the Restaurant Depot site does contain some mild contaminants,” said DOE spokesman Will Havemann.

Approximately ten feet of dirty soil will be removed from across the site before construction begins. In addition, building will be equipped with a “barrier system to ensure that no soil contaminants can ever enter the building,” said Havemann. “These controls far exceed the standards observed by private developers, and are precautionary measures taken to make double-sure the school building will be a safe and excellent place to learn.”

Earlier this summer, former City Councilman Thomas Ognibene filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Juniper Park Civic Association and Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together claiming that the SCA withheld information about high levels of toxic substances on the property.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Health Care Debate Begins Quietly on Local Level

Weiner Visits Senior Centers to Tout his Plan

By Conor Greene

The debate over President Obama’s health care plan is gearing up on the national level, highlighted by town hall meetings across the country. At the same time, the discussion on the local level has been much quieter - with the exception of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who pushed his version of the plan during two recent stops at neighborhood senior centers.

Weiner (D-Forest Hills) dropped by the Austin Street Self-Help Center last Thursday for what marked the first public forum in the city on health care reform. That event, which was not widely publicized ahead of time, and a similar one on Monday in Howard Beach, did not attract emotional protests witnessed at public meetings elsewhere in the country.

At the Howard Beach Senior Center, Weiner pushed his “single-payer system” plan, under which all hospitals, doctors and other health care provides would bill a single entity for their services, eliminating administrative waste that currently exists. During a recent speech on the floor of Congress, Weiner argued that his amendment “would be less expensive… and would ultimately cover more people in a way they understand.”

Before a pre-lunch crowd of nearly 100 local seniors, Weiner argued that with 47 million Americans currently uninsured, the current system is already paying those costs in a less effective way. “We do in the form of high taxes,” he said. “Something has to give.” A plan is needed that will help “contain costs” but still “makes sure people can choose to go to their own doctors,” added Weiner.

In contrast to President Obama’s plan, which Weiner said makes some “very minor changes” to Medicare, the congressman’s single-payer amendment will come to the floor for a vote following the summer recess, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I think the President is making a mistake… I think we’re missing a big opportunity,” said Weiner, adding that the “insurance industry hates” his single-payer version.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said that “it’s a disgrace” that so many Americans don’t have health coverage. “Some of them are right here in this community” including many young adults who are having trouble finding work, he added. He credited Rep. Weiner for holding public discussions on national health care, despite the prospect of attracting protestors. “It’s wonderful we’re having this dialogue,” said Ulrich.

While a single officer from the 106th Precinct stood guard outside the senior center, there was no sign of any protests. Inside, Weiner faced some tough questions from the audience, including about long-term care, dental, assisted living and how the plan would apply to illegal immigrants. Of course, two of the main questions were about how the plan would be funded, and how long it would take to implement.

“The problem is, right now there are winners, and the winners are the insurance companies,” argued Weiner. He told one resident that we already are paying to cover the uninsured through the form of higher taxes. “But you are paying inefficiently” through emergency room visits and a lack of preventative care. “We’re going to wind up at the end of the day in my view paying less,” said Weiner. “Right now we’re paying for it – it’s not new things we’re paying for.”

One resident asked whether she would see the bill passed during her lifetime. Weiner responded that “two of the most powerful forces in Washington” – inertia and the insurance industry – “don’t want this to happen.”

After the discussion, which ended with the singing of “God Bless America,” Weiner said a large part of the effort is explaining the proposal to residents to clarify some of the myths, including that seniors wouldn’t be eligible to stay on their current plans. “It’s completely unfounded and one of the yarns that is being spun by the opponents of the plan to scare people… Most Americans want to hear the nuts and blots of the plan. I’m trying to sell them because I have a different plan than President Obama that I think is better.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said he is hosting a series of smaller gatherings with constituents throughout this southeast Queens district and will hold a teleconference to make sure all residents can take part in the discussion. A small meeting was held this past Monday at his office, and more will be announced in the near future, said his spokeswoman Candace Sandy.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) is not planning any meetings specifically about health care reform, but has been discussing the issue during general sessions with constituents, according to his communications director Angela Barranco. “I think he’s having all sorts of meetings where he will be talking health care,” she said, noting that there are a host of other issues constituents want to discuss, including the economy. “We didn’t specifically exclude it, we just didn’t chose to highlight it only,” added Barranco.

Paterson Calls for Special Election Before Quickly Reversing Course

Blames Confusion on Staff Mistake

By Conor Greene

The uncertainty looming over the 38th Assembly district continued after Gov. David Paterson announced that a special election would be held in September to replace disgraced ex-Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, before changing course just hours later and issuing a statement that no decision has been made yet.

The latest embarrassment for Gov. Paterson came last Friday, when his office announced that a special election will be held on September 15 to fill the vacancy created when Seminerio resigned before pleading guilty to fraud charges. “This special election will ensure that the residents in part of Queens County will have the representation they need in the New York State Legislature,” said Paterson in the release.

However, just four hours later, the governor’s press secretary Marissa Shorenstein issued a statement informing the media that the prior press release has “been recalled” and that “no final decision has been made at this time with respect to a special election.” Several weeks ago, the governor’s office had informed the city Board of Elections that Paterson intended to call for a special election.

The unusual move to rescind the special election announcement led to speculation that it had first been called at the request of county Democrat party chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley, before Gov. Paterson reversed course due to pressure from state Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who are backing Albert Baldeo in the crowded field.

On Wednesday, Shorenstein refused to comment on reports the governor’s reversal came as a result of political pressure and instead chalked the error up to a mistake. “The announcement of a special election was made in error. The governor did not sign off on such an announcement. There is currently no special election,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Forum.

If a special election was held, the candidates would be hand-picked by county party leaders. If a primary is held, candidates who qualified through the petitioning process would appear on the ballot. At the center of the dispute are reports that while Baldeo has the support of certain party members, he wouldn’t get the nod if a special election was held. There are also questions regarding whether Baldeo meets the one-year residency restriction to be eligible to run for the seat, an issue the Ozone Park lawyer refuted.

“The governor eventually made the right call, but it was done in a sort of convoluted way,” said Baldeo. “The voters should decide who our next assembly member is after all we have gone through, and no one else. As much as it created confusion, I think… that the right decision was eventually made.” He said he has the paperwork needed to prove that he has lived in the district for well over a year.

Baldeo said that he was not aware of any politicians lobbying the governor on his behalf against a special election. “I would imagine there would be a lot of folks who have seen my work and are very supportive of my candidacy because I’ve been working very hard in my district,” he said, adding that he helped the party by abandoning his bid last year for the party’s endorsement for the state senate seat eventually won by fellow Democrat Joseph Addabbo. “I’ve done a lot for the Democratic Party,” added Baldeo.

Another would-be Democratic candidate, Mike Miller of Glendale, said he isn’t concerned about what form the election takes and is instead focusing on running a “vigorous campaign” that already boasts endorsements from City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Democratic District Leader Frank Kotnik and the Queens Conservative Party.

“I’m honored and proud to be even considered to run for office, and no matter what kind of election it is, I will be ready,” said Miller, who serves on Community Board 5. “I’m spending my time campaigning instead of lobbying for the type of campaign it will be. That’s out of my hands, so why waste my time trying to change it?”

Other residents who have announced their intentions to run for the vacant seat include Democrats Nick Comaianni of Community Board 9 and Farouk Samaroo, who recently returned home from a military deployment in Afghanistan, and Republican Donna Marie Caltabiano, director of the Forest Park Senior Center.

Parkway Hospital Claims Failure to Bribe Seminerio Led to Closure

By Conor Greene

New Parkway Hospital is claiming in a lawsuit that it was ordered to shut down by the state after its chief executive officer Robert Aquino refused to pay bribes demanded by former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Queens Supreme Court, names the state as a defendant and seeks to have its operating license renewed after it was revoked last November based on the findings of the Berger Commission. Despite that group’s recommendation that the state wait two years before closing the Forest Hills facility, it was shut last year – something the lawsuit blames on Seminerio’s inappropriate lobbying activities.

The state Health Department has previously said that the closing of Parkway was because it received the lowest score on criteria used by the commission to rank struggling hospitals. Seminerio recently resigned after 30 years in office and pleaded guilty to fraud charges accusing him of taking illegal consulting fees from Jamaica Hospital. The lawsuit argues that Seminerio’s guilty plea dissolves his right against self incrimination and seeks to have him deposed regarding his alleged extortion attempt of Parkway.

In court documents, Aquino states that Seminerio told him that he would make Aquino’s life “miserable” if he didn’t agree to pay him consulting fees that reportedly would have been between $10,000 and $15,000 per month. “It is self-evident that Seminerio’s criminal conduct had a direct impact on the decision to close Parkway Hospital,” he argues. “As an operating hospital, Parkway’s license could not be revoked absent of due process. Having a license revoked for the refusal to pay a bribe to a public official surely constitutes the denial of due process.”

Aquino also argues that the 251-bed hospital should be considered for reopening since two other local hospitals closed after the Berger Commission made its recommendations. He also questions whether the city is ready to handle a possible new outbreak of Swine Flu this fall, which has hit the Southern Hemisphere hard during the first few weeks of its flu season.

The federal indictment against Seminerio also accused him of attempting to force another hospital, now know to be Parkway, to pay him monthly consulting fees. When Aquino refused his demands, Seminerio lobbied on behalf of Jamaica Hospital.

“There is little doubt that such ‘advocacy’ resulted in the closure of the ‘non-client hospital,’ which as everyone now knows is the New Parkway Hospital. Indeed, the Department of Health essentially overrode the initial recommendation of the so-called Berger Commissioner that a wait-and-see approach be taken with respect to Parkway and directed its closure,” wrote Aquino in a letter to Gov. David Paterson and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Failure is NOT an Option: A Woman's Journey to Save Her Son

By Patricia Adams

Tracy Catapano-Fox is one of those people who almost need another business card to accommodate her full job title: Principal Law Clerk to the Administrative Judge, Civil Term of the Supreme Court State of New York - to be exact. And what does it all mean? Simply, Catapano-Fox works with Justice Jeremy Weinstein, running the Queens Supreme courthouse.

If you ask her what the job entails, Fox effortlessly rattles off a list of responsibilities that could exhaust a mere listener. Her job is to assist Justice Weinstein in the day-today operation of the courthouse which includes overseeing more than 500 judicial and non-judicial employees. She schedules the cases, organizes the calendar, is the research program administrator for the foreclosure program and handles matrimonial and commercial remediation. Yet another task is overseeing the film schedule at the courthouse, a very popular location for shooting movies and television. Oh and on Wednesdays during her lunch hour, the former aerobics instructor teaches a yoga class that’s open to employees at the courthouse.

At 35 years old, the wife and mother of two boys became the youngest ever President of the Queens Women’s Bar Association in June.

The lifelong Howard Beach resident has loved the law for her whole life. “I always wanted to be a dancer or a judge.” Although she treasures the years spent at Joe Stamford’s Dance Studio in Howard Beach, it was St. John’s University and Boston College Law that led her on a career path which started in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

After time spent as a prosecutor she worked for a law firm before taking a position as the Principal Law Clerk to another Howard Beach native, Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate. “Tracy is one of the best attorneys I have ever known,” said Judge Agate. “It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with her and when she gets to the bench she will be a fantastic judge herself.”

To be a judge is the one thing that Catapano-Fox really looks forward to, as is obvious in the passion she exudes when speaking about the law she so loves. But as obvious as is her professional passion, there is something far more emotional for Tracy Catapano-Fox, the sons she shares with husband Charlie, eight-year-old Benjamin and five-year-old Ethan.

“Ethan’s my miracle and Benjamin is my blessing,” reveals Tracy who goes on to explain the designations for her two sons. “If Benjamin wasn’t such a great kid, I would never have had the time to do as much as I did to save Ethan.” Benjamin is further described by his mother as “the happiest kid in the world,” “the best kid on the planet,” and just a “good soul.”

The miracle associated with Ethan however, did not come as easily as Benjamin’s great personality. “When Ethan was 18 months it was bad,” Catapano-Fox began, “I had Ben and I kind of knew what a typical child would be like.” But things were not like they had been with Ben. Tracy told her husband before Ethan’s 18-month checkup what she thought. “Charlie,” she said, “we’re going to have a problem.”

The painful realization of what lay ahead was revealed when Tracy responded to her husband’s query. “What do you mean we’re going to have a problem?” he asked. Tracy answered her husband, “He doesn’t look at us. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t acknowledge any one in our house. He doesn’t spend any time with us.”

The agony of the situation grew as the couple relived the details of the first 18 months of Ethan’s life. He hadn’t slept more than two consecutive hours in his life. When finally he did sleep it was only because he collapsed from the exhaustion of running around and around and jumping on and off everything in his path. Ethan refused to eat anything but bread, French fries and milk.

“He used to eat so many things,” Tracy recalled, “fruit, vegetables, cookies. Then it just switched off.” His family never heard Ethan speak. The only sounds he ever made were the cries that came from his night terrors. He would scream for three or four hours, and then pass out. Ethan would wake up and start screaming again. “He hated the sound of running water and electrical things,” Tracy explained, “I would hold him and he would bite me 50-60 times a day.”

The family took Ethan to be evaluated. “I didn’t know about autism,” Tracy admits. “The only association I had was headbanging and spinning.” But, she says, she knew that this was a likely diagnosis for Ethan. “When we first went for evaluation, they wouldn’t tell us anything.” She questioned whether it was autism but could not get a definitive answer. Frustrated and with no answers, Tracy decided to take Ethan to an evaluation center for autism in Manhattan. The answers she got didn’t make her happy but they were answers.

At 18-months old Ethan was diagnosed with autism. And from that minute Ethan’s mother started the journey to help her son. The family’s quest to save Ethan began in Rhinebeck, New York with autism specialist Dr. Kenneth Bock.

The ensuing fight against the mysterious disease began shortly after meeting with Dr. Bock who told the Fox’s he thought he could help Ethan.

A little more than three years later, after instituting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, utilizing hyperbaric and chelation therapy, Ethan has been re-evaluated. He is no longer silent. His diet is rich in variety. He talks. He smiles. He laughs. He sleeps. In September he will begin kindergarten at MS 207. Ethan is definably recovered; he shows no signs of autism.

Ethan’s parents are smiling too; as is the rest of his family. And in November, his mother will take some more steps for her son. Tracy Catapano-Fox can be seen nightly running through the streets of Howard Beach as she trains for the New York City marathon in which she will run for Ethan, her miracle, on behalf of Autism Speaks.

For Tracy Catapano-Fox the road back has been marked with a success hardly measurable by any normal standards. A predictable quality about Tracy Catapano-Fox after having spent an hour with her is of course to credit what she terms “an unbelievable support system. That system she says starts with her mother, Linda Catapano.

“For everything good that anyone sees in me, my mother is responsible. She is the greatest person on the planet.” And for Linda Catapano’s daughter, the woman who has managed to run a family and a career without missing a beat, well she is probably best described by a rectangular red button that rests on the base of her computer monitor; it reads simply, “Failure Is Not an Option.”