Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Ulrich and Gulluscio Square Off in Debate

By Conor Greene

An overflow crowd jammed into Saint Barnabas Church in Howard Beach to hear directly from the two candidates for City Council in the 32nd District: Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich and Democratic challenger Frank Gulluscio.

Tuesday’s election comes at a time when the district is in need of strong leadership, said Patricia Adams, publisher of the Forum, which co-sponsored the debate with the Queens Chronicle. “I’ve never seen a greater need for good leadership,” said Adams, reminding the voters that they “have the last word in who we send to City Hall.”

Both candidates were given a chance to present an opening statement before answering questions from the panel. Gulluscio started by telling the crowd that he has lived in Howard Beach since “before it was famous” and “learned to give back at an early age.” A former business owner and school teacher, Gulluscio said his ability to “listen to what the people are saying” helps him “be a great leader.”

Ulrich, who has represented the district since winning a special election earlier this year to replace former councilman and current State Senator Joseph Addabbo, said the race is “about the future of our community, it’s about the future of our neighborhoods... Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but I make decisions based not on political considerations but based on the people I represent.”

The first question was posed in the form of a classified ad and questioned whether the candidates had the resume necessary to effectively represent the district. Ulrich called the responsibility “a very challenging job” that goes beyond nine-to-five. “Sometimes it’s a thankless job and the best thing you can do is put your right foot forward and try to do the best you can,” he said, adding that he has an “unwavering commitment to serving the needs of the constituents.”

Gulluscio maintained that he has “been doing the job of a city councilman for the past four years, every single day, in my role as district manager of Community Board 6” in Forest Hills. Other than make laws, a district manager deals with many of the same issues a councilman does, he said. Before that, he worked “for a short time” for Addabbo, where he gained budget experience. “The experiences I bring to the table are real whether they be civic, budget or legislatively,” he added.

Ulrich’s graffiti removal program, which he provided $30,000 in funding for, was the topic of another question to the candidates. The councilman was asked how he would build upon the program, while Gulluscio was questioned about a quote attributed to him in a local paper stating it is a waste of money. Gulluscio commended Ulrich on the project, but questioned whether there is a duplication of services. “I felt the money could have been used a little differently,” he said.

In response, Ulrich said that $30,000 “is not a lot of money to eradicate graffiti from the neighborhood” as it “takes a large chunk of change to attack a problem and address it head-on.” He added that it is also important to focus on projects such as street repairs and tree plantings “so people feel happy and proud that they live in this neighborhood so when you drive through it doesn’t look like a ghetto.”

In light of last week’s flooding of parts of Hamilton Beach, both candidates were asked what they did to assist affected residents. “I know about that flooding,” said Gulluscio, de- bunking rumors that he was marching in the Columbus Day parade while residents were fighting rising waters. “We have to get the city to be a lot more accountable.” Ulrich said the problem “is not unique to last weekend” and said it was “insulting and absurd” to suggest he ignored the plight of his constituents. He has been working with Davenport Court residents to push the city Department of Environmental Protection to move ahead with needed repair work in the area.

Both candidates agreed that the city needs to move ahead with repairs of Centerville streets, which has been planned for three decades. Gulluscio called it a “serious problem” and said “there are things that could have been done that haven’t been done” to lessen the impact on residents until the full project commences. “As a councilman, I will make sure we get more than lip service,” he vowed.

Ulrich called the situation a problem he “inherited” from former councilmembers and said “there is a need to get all the agency heads to sit down” and discuss the project. He touted his connections with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and said he “will hold their feet to the fire” if officials put in writing a new proposed start date for the work.

Another ongoing source for frustration for residents is parking, especially along busy shopping districts such as Cross Bay Boulevard and near schools, where parents double park while dropping off their children. Ulrich said there is “no quick fix” and that the “longterm solution to this problem” is improving mass transit. Until people have a reason to abandon their cars, they will continue to sit in traffic every day, he said. Gulluscio said he would “get rid of the mayor,” who he blamed for what many residents say has been a ticket blitz during the Bloomberg administration. “You shouldn’t get a ticket as fast as we’re getting them,” he said.

The redevelopment of Aqueduct race track is also an issue of concern for many, especially those living in Ozone Park. Gulluscio vowed the “community comes first no matter what” and said he has worked with the relevant agencies already as district manager. Said Ulrich: “It’s essential that they understand that if they want to make money in this community, they are going to have to respect the community.”

The role of Mayor Bloomberg – who is supporting Ulrich – in this race was also touched upon when the candidates were asked for examples of times they have stood up to the mayor. Ulrich reminded residents that he carried petitions in support of Bloomberg’s opponent during the 2005 election. “The mayor doesn’t pay my bills... or tell me what to vote for,” he said.

Gulluscio recalled his fight against the Bloomberg administration’s proposal to provide senior citizens with frozen meals and to close some senior centers. “I was one of the guys who stood up and said no... That’s somebody with a backbone, an advocate you need,” he said.

The candidates were then asked about a controversial issue during the campaign – Ulrich’s decision to eliminate funding for supplemental trash removal along Liberty Avenue, which was started during Addabbo’s tenure. Ulrich was asked to defend that decision, while Gulluscio was asked what he would have instead cut to allow the program to continue.

Gulluscio said he favors a “fair share of cutting” as “everyone should feel the pain” instead of one group shouldering the burden. “I think that since I didn’t have a knee jerk reaction, I would have done that differently,” he said. Ulrich argued that Addabbo “had an obligation to continue a program in his district” since he still represents the area on the state Senate. He called it a “tactical decision” that he knew would not be a popular one.

In closing, Gulluscio said he has been “involved in every kind of group you can think of” in the community. “Some people say I’m the past,” he said. “I’m the past, the present and the future for my grandchildren... We’re going to work across the board, across the aisle and work with all the people all the time,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always been about.”

Ulrich called his experience representing the district a “tremendous blessing and wonderful opportunity” that allows him to “see the impact and difference made every day throughout the district.” Pointing out that “most people have much longer to prove their worth and merits,” he asked the residents to “imagine what I could do for you in the next four years.”

Familiar Choices for Voters in 30th District

Crowley and Ognibene Vie for Council Seat

By Conor Greene

Voters in the 30th Council District have two well-known candidates to choose from when they go to the polls on Tuesday: Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley, who has represented the district for the past 10 months, and Republican Thomas Ognibene, who was the area’s councilman from 1991 to 2001.

Since taking office to serve the final year of disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s four-year term, Crowley has made healthcare, environment, education and public safety top priorities. “I’m not really getting too distracted by the campaign – my work as a councilmember does not stop and for one minute I can’t let that fall to the side,” she said.

Ognibene said he has run a traditional campaign that has focused on issues that are important to residents using mailings and visits to community groups. He questioned some of Crowley’s claims, including that she was instrumental in pushing through the long-stalled downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale after taking office. “I think people are beginning to understand that what she says and what she does are two different things.”

Along with the rezoning, Ognibene also questioned the amount of money Crowley brought back to the district. He accused her of inflating the cost of projects – for example, $325,000 was earmarked for upgrades to the bocce courts at Juniper Valley Park – to make it look like she brought back more money. “She made a tremendous amount of claims about bringing back tons of money but we all know it’s inflated,” he charged.

Crowley argued that she has effectively rep- resented the district this year, including bringing back a substantial amount of funding during tough economic times. “The promises I’ve made, I’ve kept and I am bringing back resources in a tough economic year. They trust that I will continue to work hard for them over the next four years,” she said. “I will continue to prioritize education, healthcare and public safety and I hope I have the opportunity to continue what I’ve started over the next four years.”

Ognibene also accused Crowley of focusing on publicity rather than improving the community. “It’s nice to run around and get your picture in the paper, but I call that fluff. If you want to see what Tom Ognibene did, you go out into the community and look,” he said, listing school additions and park projects among his achievements while in office. “These are tangible things I did. There is nothing she has done that is tangible.”

Republican leaders are eying this seat as one they can possibly regain, and Ognibene said the difference between him and Crowley “comes down basically to philosophy... People have to make value judgments about a candidate rather than rely on party affiliation.”

Throughout the campaign, Crowley has sought to portray Ognibene as being out of touch with the community. “The differences are that I know what’s relative today. My opponent has been gone, and I’m not sure he knew what was relevant when he was on council. I don’t see him out there – all I see are his billboards,” she added, referring to several large advertisements for Ognibene located throughout the district.

“She believes in form over substance, and I believe in delivering real services to thecommunity and not misleading the commu- nity,” countered Ognibene. “I want to get elected on what I’ve done while she wants to get elected on what she said... I’m not out of touch – I live in this community, help out on issues including on lawsuits I donated my time to, I’ve been to meetings, I talk to people, pay taxes, so how am I out of touch? It’s a question of who is the best advocate.”

The race was relatively quiet over the past few weeks until this past weekend, when Crowley sent a mailer to voters referencing allegations against Ognibene involving construction bribes while he was in office. Ognibene, who said the allegations against him were ultimately discredited, called the mailer “disturbing” and said that “most people realize that this type of negative campaigning is not effective.”

The decision to raise these allegations, which involved bribes including vacations allegedly provided by building-consultant Ron Lattanzio to Ognibene and Gallagher, who was his former chief of staff, in exchange for help obtaining permits, “deprives Crowley of her Shirley Temple veneer and shows she is in somewhat of a panic,” said Ognibene. “It was discredited a long time ago and proven to be false.”

Crowley defended the mailer, stating that “anything that was in a mailer that I sent out was true.” She accused Ognibene of using “his influence as a councilmember in the wrong way” and said that Lattanzio admitted to bribing Ognibene. “I think that people in the district need to know that,” she said. “While all this was happening, building ran amok in our neighborhood and I’ve spent the last year trying to reform what happened when he was in the City Council.”

The 30th District includes all or parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.

Politics Unusual: Mayoral Race, Showdowns in 30th and 32nd City Council Districts

By Patricia Adams

In the world of politics it seems that history never fails to repeat. The week before elections inevitably brings the mudslinging, chaotic frenzy known as a campaign. Candidates spar in debates; political mailings clog the mailboxes of registered voters; lawn signs and banners are dragged off and shredded by those on opposing sides, and the final plans are laid down for Election Day.

Endorsements are “displayed” like merit badges while the media searches for a special type of Halloween skeleton—those hanging in the closets of candidates. If you put aside all these campaign “tactics”—which leave a slew of nasty little droppings in their wake— you will see the issues clearly and make informed decisions.

In our readership area, three very important races will be decided on Tuesday night— the mayoral race between Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson, the City Council race in the 30th District between Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley and Republican Tom Ognibene and the 32nd Council race between incumbent Republican Eric Ulrich and Democrat Frank Gulluscio.

Let’s start by looking at the mayor’s race. I am tired of hearing about term limits and campaign spending. I’m even more tired of hearing people saying they won’t vote for him just on principles. To those people I say what kind of principle do you have if you are voting for an obviously lesser qualified candidate.

This city faces the most difficult and chal- lenging times we have ever faced. Mike Bloomberg, without doubt, has been facing challenges since he began serving this city after 9/11. There have been some rough spots along the way but at this juncture in the road New York City is doing far better than many other major cities in America. Unemployment is lower, foreclosure rates are lower, crime is lower, schools are better, vital services have been preserved. There have been no layoffs in the NYPD, FDNY or among teachers. These are indisputable statistics. They are based on fact.

We have not always agreed with the mayor and have been quick to point out where we thought he was headed in the wrong direction. But there is a far more important wrong direction to think about here--that one would be following behind Mr. Thompson.

Thompson does not have the experience or the tenacity to run the greatest city in the world in the best of times—the consequence of handing over the city to him in these times is a harrowing prospect. He did not do a great job at the Board of Ed and he’s at best a competent comptroller. He has spent his time on the campaign trail like a human ticker tape, counting Bloomberg’s expenditures and ranting about term limits, while failing to address any concrete plans for sustaining our city.

You don’t have to like Mike Bloomberg. But you do have to recognize what he has done to keep New York running efficiently while on an increasingly turbulent course. There is no one without flaw, political or otherwise. Michael Bloomberg is no exception. But so many things outweigh the negative side of Bloomberg. He is the only candidate in this race with the experience, skill and determination deserving of your vote.

Next up is the Council race in the 30th District which has Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley pitted against former Republican Councilmember Tom Ognibene. Since the challenger has held the seat in the past, this is one contest where a Republican candidate has a shot at regaining the seat.

Crowley’s focus since taking office has been healthcare, the environment, public safety, and education. Her campaign has focused on describing Ognibene as out of touch with the district. In response Ognibene has delivered responses punctuated with criticism for what he says is the lack of tangible progress during Crowley’s tenure.

This race could be fairly close however, we feel that Ognibene should return to his former seat. The district is in need of some conservative “nuts and bolts” policy and service delivery much more likely to be delivered by far more experienced and able Ognibene.

Finally in the 32nd District where Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich faces a challenge from Democrat Frank Gulluscio, we come to the race with our most interesting perspective. You may even recall that during the special election for this seat back in February, we unconventionally endorsed Frank Gulluscio despite the fact that he was eliminated from the ballot because of flaws within his petition process.

But in the seven months since that election, we have watched a very energetic and determined Ulrich take on the role of councilman. Gulluscio has made a focus throughout his campaign on the fact that Ulrich is young, even insinuating immaturity, but we feel that this youth is both refreshing and promising. It is not something voters should be afraid of. No, no, youth is not wasted on Ulrich.

Frank Gulluscio is undeniably a presence in the district he seeks to represent. He knows the area having lived here for more than 30 years and has strong community ties. He has experience as a civic activist, former aide to Joe Addabbo when he was the area councilmember, educator, businessman and most recently District Manager of CB 6. There’s no doubt that Frank is well in- formed and has been around way long enough to know what’s going on.

Ulrich has demonstrated the ability to get things done in this district in the very short time since he was elected. He shows an incredible ability to speak, both publically and on an individual basis to a very diverse community that he serves. Ulrich is informed, quick, always prepared and accommodating to his constituents.

An endorsement in this race was up in the air for quite some time, and the decision was a difficult one. The reason for that is that we are fortunate enough in this district to not have to choose a candidate that is the lesser of two evils. Both men have displayed an earnest interest in representing this district.

But one man has proven, through words and actions and ability, that he is the right choice. That candidate is Eric Ulrich.

Precinct Continues Battle Against Burglaries

Traffic Woes, Homeless Camp Among Issues Discussed

By Conor Greene

An effort to combat a rash of burglaries, on- going traffic issues, problems with a homeless encampment in Maspeth and unruly tow truck operations along Flushing Avenue were hot topics at this month’s COP 104 meeting.

Overall, major crime is down seven percent so far this year and down six percent over the past month, Captain Ray DeWitt told residents at the October 21 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. Among the seven index crimes, robbery is down 13 percent, assault down 11 percent and grand larceny auto 17 percent, he reported.

However, burglaries continue at a steady pace within the precinct’s confines, up eight percent so far this year. There were “some nice arrests” recently, as the precinct has been assisted by the borough’s command’s anti-burglary unit in hotspots. The 104 has “created a mini task force” to address burglaries, which the captain said are taking place “all over the precinct.”

The task force consists of plainclothes officers working with the neighboring 83rd Precinct, investigating leads through pawn shops and checking into whether known prior offenders are responsible for any active patterns. Captain Ray DeWitt reported that two individuals were arrested and linked to a dozen apartment break-ins. Some progress has been made against burglaries, which are down over 34 percent over the past 28 days, a total of 14 less break-ins. “We feel we’re headed in the right direction with burglaries and are focusing on that,” said DeWitt.

Coinciding with the recent progress against burglaries, all felony arrests are up 14 percent this year, and 54 percent over the past month. “A lot of that has to do with the burglary arrests,” said DeWitt. “Our arrest activity has been very high.” He noted that arresting officers are often plainclothes and hard to spot.

The precinct also scored a major graffiti arrest against a vandal with a known tag seen in precincts throughout the borough. The man was hit with 18 counts for incidents “all over the command,” said DeWitt, who noted that graffiti arrests in the precinct are up substantially this year and are near the top among precincts.

The captain was questioned about the precinct’s efforts to reign in reckless motorists and protect pedestrians by residents including civic leaders Robert Holden of the JuniperPark Civic Association and Roe Daraio of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together. DeWitt said traffic accidents are down 15 percent, with officers specifically targeting seat belt and cell phone violations. “We feel our summons activity, which is significant, has led to the decrease in accidents,” he said.

Still, Daraio complained about conditions along Grand Avenue, which she called a “circus” with cars turning into pedestrians trying to cross with the light. Holden said that speeding continues to be a “sore point” with “not enough [speeding tickets] issued... in this precinct.” After some pressing, DeWitt said the 104 has three officers trained to use the radar gun. “We’ve seen numbers [of speeding tickets issued] that are very low - like two,” said Holden. “That’s unacceptable and we need to start addressing that.”

Another resident requested enforcement along Juniper Boulevard North, especially during rush hour with residents cutting to Woodhaven Boulevard. “I’m not talking 40 [miles per hour] in a 30 - I’m talking about 50, 60,” he said, adding the area has a lot of pedestrians due to the park. DeWitt said he will look into devising a plan to cut back on speeding in that area of Middle Village.

Maspeth residents reported ongoing issues with homeless men setting up camp in Cowbird Triangle, a small greenspace alongside the Long Island Expressway at Hamilton Place. The public recently informed the precinct of the problem at prior meetings, and a beat officer made one arrest and issued a number of summonses since, according to Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell.

“We know they’re over there, but they have to be doing something” illegal to be removed from the area, he explained. “Everyone has civic liberties so if they’re not breaking the law our hands are tied.” He added that the men often refuse city services they are rou- tinely offered and can’t be forced off the streets until the weather turns dangerously cold. While a resident complained that the officers just issue tickets, Bell said that is helpful in the long run because they can be arrested on warrants if they don’t pay the fine.

Daraio said people are making the situation worse by giving the men money along Grand Avenue. “They’re better off convincing them to go to a shelter instead of giving them money so they can go get drunk in the park. That’s not solving anything,” she said.

There are also problems along Grand Avenue, including homeless men hanging out at the Hamilton Avenue bus stop, which is used by local children. Daraio informed the officers of a situation involving men sleeping in a boat in the backyard of a nearby home and suggested that the city Department of Buildings investigate. “The boat issue is something we have to look into and research a little more... to see who we need to work with” to deal with the problem, said DeWitt.

The JPCA recently highlighted a problem with tow truck businesses along Flushing Avenue leaving sidewalks impassable because of cars parked everywhere. The problem was the topic of an NY1 television report last month, but has continued, said residents. Holden said that in addition to cars parked on sidewalks, tow trucks are doubled parked without license plates.

“This guy saw himself on NY1 and doesn’t care,” said Holden, adding that efforts to turn to Mayor Bloomberg for assistance have been unsuccessful. “These guys are using city streets, which is illegal. This area needs to be cleaned up - it’s not fair to the residents and it shouldn’t go on for another month.”

Another resident said similar problems are taking place along parts of Grand Avenue. Officer Bell said the precinct has conducted operations in the past to target tow operations and auto body shops that are operating illegally. “We spoke to everyone along Grand Avenue and they all say it is not their car,” he said.

Onderdonk House Event ‘Raises the Roof’ in Ridgewood

Funds Will Pay for Emergency Roof Repairs at Historic House

By Conor Greene

The historic Vander Ende-Onderdonk House in Ridgewood has received a new lease on life thanks to a fundraiser that will fund emergency roof repairs at the 1709 Dutch Colonial stone house, which is hidden amid a row of factories along Flushing Avenue.

The house, located at 18-20 Flushing Avenue, was one of a row of similar homes until the 1920s, when “one by one they succumbed to demolition for new factories,” according to Steve Monti of the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society. By the 1950s, the Onderdonk House was the only one left standing, and the society was formed in 1975 to save it after it was slated for demolition.

The building opened to the public in 1981 and has been placed on the national and state registers of historic properties and the city landmarks register. While it has served the community ever since, including through open hours for the public on Saturdays and events with local schools, the building is badly in need of a new roof, said Monte. It was rebuilt back in the late 1970s out of cedar shingles after a fire damaged the house, but has since developed a number of leaks that has left the attic space unusable for events.

In response, local companies including Waste Management stepped up and organized a “Raise the Roof” fundraiser held last Friday on the two-acre property. Attended by a host of officials including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hugo Gajus Scheltema, the Netherlands Consulate General for New York, the event exceeded the goal of $200,000 needed to move ahead with the emergency repairs.

“We just had a good time, with a jazz band under the tent and the house lit in candlelight,” said Monte. “I think it was a very successful event and raised enough money to at least, from what I understand, do major emergency repairs that will get us through a few years. Then, over the next couple of years we will raise money to pay for a new roof.”

Honored at the event were Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Ridgewood civic leader Paul Kerzner for their efforts to support the preservation of the Onderdonk House. “We’re delighted that Mayor Bloomberg and many distinguished guests attended this special event to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House,” said Linda Monte, president of the historical society.

The event was hosted by Waste Management, which has a facility near the Queens-Brooklyn border and is currently seeking permission to construct a waste transfer station in Maspeth, despite community opposition. “Waste Management is committed to sustainability and to preserving the environment,” said company community relations specialist and event co-chair Rachel Amar. “That commitment extends to maintaining New York’s cultural landmarks such as the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House.”

For the Montes and other historical society members, the event also provided yet another chance to show the hidden property off to the public. “People come by and say they didn’t know this was here,” said Steve Monte. “Just like the Waste Management people, who are interested in history and had no idea that less than a mile from their office we have this place in an area surrounded by warehouses.”

For more information on the Onderdonk House, contact the historical society at (718) 456-1776 or visit

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Liberty Avenue Cleanup Funding Turns Political

Gulluscio, Ulrich Trade Barbs as Council Election Nears

By Conor Greene

City Council candidate Frank Gulluscio is ripping incumbent Eric Ulrich for not pro- viding money for the Doe Fund, which pays for cleanup along Liberty Avenue in South Richmond Hill. The program started under former councilman and current State Senator Joseph Addabbo but ended in July when the fiscal year expired.

Ulrich responded by calling the attack politically motivated and said he had to make decisions regarding community funding after taking office in February. He added that it isn’t his responsibility to ensure that all of Addabbo’s projects continue and faulted the senator for allowing the funding to dry up.

At a press conference Tuesday in front of Moblegott Hardware, Gulluscio and Addabbo criticized Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) for chopping the local Doe Fund from $74,000 to $38,000. That means there is only enough money to continue the program in the Rockaways, and local business owners and civic leaders say South Richmond Hill’s main shopping district has been hurt by the lack of cleanup crews over the past few months.

“This is a serious situation,” said Gulluscio (D- Howard Beach), surrounding by merchants and residents. “This community needs more respect, not less.” He said he is “very disappointed that Ulrich didn’t continue fundingthe program, which provided a valuable service along the avenue from 104th Street to Lefferts Boulevard - a “tax base” Gulluscio said the community “cannot afford to lose.”

In response, Ulrich later said he has his “own agenda and own priorities” and had to make decisions regarding discretionary funding after taking office following his victory over Gulluscio and several other candidates in last year’s special election to replace Addabbo. “This was Joe Addabbo’s project, and if he dropped the ball on it, I’m not going to assume responsibility,” he said.

Addabbo (D-Ozone Park) announced that he is providing a $47,000 state Senate grant to continue the program starting next month. While he had always intended to continue funding the program after winning election to the Senate last year, he said he discussed his council funding with Ulrich after moving on to the Senate and was under the impression that his predecessor would also provide funds, allowing the program to be expanded.

“We’ve seen the success of this program year after year,” said Addabbo. “The community asked for it, and it’s the job of elected officials to respond to the needs of the community - not to cut funding.”He called elimination othe program “absolutely wrong” and said “there is no reason it should have been cut... Unfortunately I don’t believe the current councilman hears the people,” he added.

Ulrich criticized Addabbo for allowing the program’s funding to run out and said he decided in some cases to use his share of the council discretionary funding - which totaled just less than $100,000 as a new council member - for other initiatives. “I assumed Joe Addabbo was going to continue funding something that’s still in his district that he started... I’m not responsible to fund Joe Addabbo’s pet projects. If Frank Gulluscio gets on the City Council, he can do that.”

Gulluscio promised during the press conference that, if he is elected, restoring Doe Funds in the City Council budget would be a top priority.

According to Ulrich, he and Addabbo never had discussions regarding the funding. “Joe Addabbo never picked up the phone to discuss with me Doe Funds. I wish that he had because if I had known he was going to drop the ball on this I could have made other arrangements.” He noted that Addabbo redirected funding from a number of community groups throughout his senate district after defeating longtime Republican incumbent Serf Maltese (R-Middle Village).

Gulluscio claimed during the press conference that his criticism isn’t politically motivated. “There are no politics here. This is about keeping the economic climate strong along Liberty Avenue,” he said. However, Ulrich said the timing shows it clearly is political, considering the cleanups ended months ago. “If this came out on July 1, I wouldn’t complain. They hold this until two weeks before the election and now they want to make an issue out of it. To me this demonstrates a dereliction of duty on the part of Joe Addabbo for not funding something he had previously funded and dumped on my lap.”

Ulrich said that, if he were to move up to higher office, he wouldn’t assume the newcomer would continue funding all his projects. “If I moved up the ladder and he stopped my graffiti removal program, nobody could point a finger at Frank. But somehow this applies to me. It’s an unfortunate circumstance and I was just as disappointed as everyone else, but Joe Addabbo dropped the ball on this and I’m not going to take the flak. The fact that he’s trying to use it for political gain is disgraceful.”

Local groups and programs being funded include the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp., a number of local volunteer fire and EMT organizations and an aggressive graffiti removal program along Rockaway Boulevard, Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard and 101st Avenue. He said the majority of groups funded during Addabbo’s Council tenure are still receiving money from Ulrich.

Politics aside, business owners and residents including members of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association say the program went a long way towards keeping the area inviting for shoppers. “This is not about politics. I fight for what I believe in,” said the group’s president, Margaret Finnerty.“I cannot stand by and listen to, ‘Somebody else is going to fund it.’”

Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, said that talk of fixing the economy must be met with real action. “It’s one thing to talk about economic development, but it’s another to fund the programs that help the local shopping strips,” she said.

Along with helping keep the area trash free, the program provides snow removal and helps business owners avoid Sanitation Department fines for litter in front of their stores - as has been happening lately. It also helps keep the storm drains from filling with trash, which is a major cause of flooding, noted Addabbo. In addition, it provides employment opportunities for ex-convicts and other having difficulty finding permanent work.

Romeo Hitlall, owner of Avenue Lounge, said the Doe Fund has been “very helpful” for businesses like his that typically open later in the day, often times to a ticket for litter. “For the Councilman to cut the funds and take it somewhere else, I don’t think he has respect for this community.” He agreed there has been a huge difference since July.

“The complaints have been out of control,” added Finnerty.

Queens' Changing Healthcare Landscape

By Conor Greene

The borough’s healthcare system was met with more bad news this week, as a bid by the owners of Parkway Hospital was denied in federal court. Meanwhile, the former St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospital properties were sold at auction last week for $26.6 million to a group headed by a Brooklyn developer who has a shady past.

A mandatory injunction to reopen Forest Hill’s New Parkway Hospital, which was ordered by the state to close in late 2006, was denied on Tuesday in U.S Federal Court. The hospital’s owner and chief executive officer, Dr. Robert Aquino, is claiming that he was forced to close after refusing shakedown attempts by disgraced former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio. There are now fears the building will be considered for other non-medical uses such as a federal detention center.

Mark Fogel, a licensed private investigator working on behalf of Parkway told the Forum that the judge is requesting additional information about Dr. Aquino’s financial plan for the hospital. “We are going to put that together and try to answer that for the judge,” he said. “The judge wants to see a credible, valid business plan on how it is going to reopen and operate and that there is sufficient funds available to reopen. The facts are pretty simple, when Dr. Aquino took the hospital over, he turned it around so it could make money, and then the Berger Commissioner came out and said it should close,” said Fogel. “That made all the doctors run away, and without doctors you don’t get patients. That’s what caused the decline.”

Since Parkway owes more than $30 million, the court appointed Thomas Seaman as a receiver on behalf of Medical Capital, which holds a mortgage on the property. His duties include maximizing the recovery of assets so that investor-victims can be repaid, and he notes in his report that the best chance for repaying the debt is if the site is home to an operating hospital. “Simply put, an operating hospital has a far better chance of repaying Medical Capital’s debt, and if the hospital is not allowed to reopen, I will be forced to foreclose on a vacant non-operating hospital without a license to operate.”

Seaman notes that there is a shortage of hospital beds and emergency room centers in the area, a problem that was worsened earlier this year with the closing of St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica. According to the Borough President’s office, there are just 1.6 beds per 1,000 Queens residents, compared to 6.8 beds per 1,000 residents in Manhattan. As a result, “the reopening of Parkway Hospital as a fully licensed and operating hospital would be in the community’s benefit and would be a financially successful proposition due to the apparent demand for such health care services,” wrote Seaman.

However, if Medical Capital is forced to foreclose on Parkway in a non-operating condition, Seaman has been informed that “there would be few viable uses for the building such as a low security correction or detention center or a halfway house.” While recognizing that such uses “would likely meet community opposition,” Seaman determined that the “given the configuration of the [hospital] building, and the well-known need for facilities to detain immigration holds and for halfway houses, that could be the only viable use.”

Fogel said he believes Dr. Aquino’s team has one more shot at convincing the court to allow the hospital to reopen. “I think they have one more chance, that’s my opinion. The judge just gave them what could be a roadmap for how to reopen.”

Meanwhile, the St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals, owned by Caritas Health System and closed earlier this year, were purchased at auction last Friday by Brooklyn development firm Guttman Realty for $26.625 million. The bid was subject to approval during a Bankruptcy Court hearing set for this Thursday.

The package includes the 257,000-square- foot St. John’s building, which sits on a two- acre property on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, and the 301,499-square-foot building on the four-acre Mary Immaculate property in Jamaica. The Elmhurst property includes a 291-space parking garage and the Jamaica property includes a parking deck and two lots.

According to CB Richard Ellis, which conducted the auction, five bidders submitted offers, with four targeting both properties and one bidding only on the St. John’s site. In a statement, the firm said the buyer “envisions several options for redeveloping the Mary Immaculate site, including an educational facility, non-profit organization use, government operations or a religious facility.” The St. John’s site “may be used for office development,” they noted on behalf of the buyer in a statement.

“Despite a weak economy these development sites sparked a heated and highly competitive bidding process,” said Larry Weiss, vice-president of CBRE. “Although driven to sell by a bankruptcy, the excellent central Queens location of these sites, including outstanding public transportation and a dense residential and retail population produced great buyer interest.”

Joshua Guttman, who headed the winning group, gained citywide notoriety when the Greenpoint Terminal Market burned down in 2006. The fire at the 21-acre site on the Brooklyn waterfront marked the largest in the city (not counting the 9/11 attacks) in a decade and destroyed 15 buildings. Guttman, who received more than 400 violations for failing to properly maintain his waterfront property, denied any involvement in the arson, which burned in a six- square block area for hours. According to reports, four other buildings owned by Guttman have burned in suspicious fires.

Caritas Health, which purchased the properties for $40 million several years ago from Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Center, filed for bankruptcy in federal court this past February, and the two hospitals closed for good on February 28. Those closings, coupled with the prior shuttering of Parkway, have left Queens residents and officials concerned about the future of health care in the borough.

Family's Request for 9/11 Benefits Stonewalled by Federal Government

Richard Pearlman's Family Fights to Correct Injustice

By Conor Greene

On 9/11, Richard Pearlman, an 18-year-old member of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, died while assisting fellow New Yorkers at the World Trade Center. He had been delivering legal papers to One Police Plaza when he heard the call for all first responders and was taken to the scene in an NYPD squad car. Despite his heroic efforts, which were chronicled in a photo in Newsweek magazine, his mother is still fighting for benefits due to her under a federal program.

“It’s a smack in the face,” said his mother, Dorie Pearlman. “Any information they asked for, I supplied them. It’s my government and they turned their back on me... I’m not just doing it in the name of my son, I’m doing it in the name of all the EMS workers who seemed to be shoved under the carpet.”

Years after her son was the youngest victim in the World Trade Center, a neighbor told Dorie, 54, about the Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officer Program, which was created in 1976 to provide benefits to families of Americans who are killed in the line of duty while protecting fellow citizens. She applied in March 2008 but was told the time limit had expired. She requested an extension and filed again the following month only to be informed in August 2009 that her application was denied.

In their denial, the feds claimed that Richard wasn’t certified to perform first responder services, even though he was certified by the Red Cross and was at the scene as a member of the ambulance corps, which is certified by the state Department of Health. "This isn't some fly by night organization," said Dorie. Much of her frustration is because it isn't even clear why her application was denied. "Various legal terms I don't understand," she said. "When I called they just referred me to a section of the law."

She approached several area politicians for help, including Rep. Anthony Weiner, who she ran into in September when the ambulance corps dedicated a wall at its headquarters in her son’s honor. In 2001, Weiner (D-Forest Hills) passed legislation that increased payments made by the federal government from $100,000 to $250,000 to help the families of first responders.

“On 9/11, my constituent joined hundred of other heroic first responders who selflessly rushed into the World Trade Center to save lives,” wrote Weiner in a letter to Hope Yankas, director of the program at the Justice Department. “Mr. Pearlman answered the call to help his fellow New Yorkers and made the ultimate sacrifice in the process. His mother should not be denied the benefits due to her.”

Weiner joined Richard's parents at the FHVAC headquarters on Monday to call attention to their plight. “Many in the neighborhood know the story of Richard,” said Weiner. “Clearly, this family is eligible under the law... It’s as simple as that – volunteers are included if supported by groups” such as the FHVAC.

However, Richard’s case is “unusual” since he was “a volunteer, urged to be there by law enforcement” after the call for first responders went out over the radio at One Police Plaza, said Weiner. Even so, the benefit program “is intended for people exactly like your son” and their families, he added.

“The money isn’t important - it’s justice. If I can’t get justice in his name, and for all the EMS workers, what good is the Justice Department? I’ll be the same person no matter what I get. I’m a mother who lost her son,” added Dorie. She recalls “waiting by the phone day and night.” His body was eventually found on Easter Sunday, 2002. In all, eight EMS workers died on 9/11.

While she harbors no resentment towards the police and fire department, she feels like EMS workers aren’t getting the same treatment. “If it were a police officer or firefighter, it would be no problem... I begrudge them nothing - they lost like everyone else. But it is the EMS workers getting shoved under the table,” she said.

Richard joined the FHVAC when he was 14 years old because it was the only department with a youth program, taking the bus to its Metropolitan Avenue headquarters from Howard Beach. “Day and night he was here - it didn’t matter what the weather was,” said his father, Barry, 57. He said his son been accepted to LaGuardia Community College at the time of his death and was licensed in first aid and CPR.

“He gave his life to help strangers. He never told them he couldn’t help because he was out of his jurisdiction...“This was his life - the ambulance corps and the Boy Scouts [in Middle Village] was my son’s life,” said Dorie. “He literally died for them, died to help people.”

Weiner hopes that some political and public pressure on the Justice Department will result in the feds releasing the benefit to the Pearlmans. “To me, this seems like an open and shut case, but up to now it’s been shut,” he said. “We’re hopeful that with an additional push, this benefit that is due to your family will finally arrive.”

No Social Security Cost of Living Increase for 2010 and 2011

By Conor Greene

The federal Social Security Administration has made it official: for the first time since 1975, seniors will not receive a cost of living adjustment in 2010 because consumer prices have fallen over the past year.

Local seniors and elected officials rallied in recent weeks following reports that the federal budget didn’t include funding for cost of liv- ing adjustments for the next two years. This will be the first year without an automatic adjustment since it went into effect in 1975, despite outcry from Social Security recipients and elected officials including Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

“To say that the costs for seniors will not go up for two years is to pretend that the laws of economic gravity don’t apply to older people,” said Weiner. “Rent is up. Food prices are up. The purpose of the COLA is to help seniors keep up. The Social Security Administra- tion seems to have forgotten that mission.”

Addabbo said he is “very discouraged” by the announcement, which came last Thursday, and said he called on Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue “to scrap the agency’s plan to cut off costs of living for two years despite rising costs.

“I believe it is important to raise awareness of this critical issue, since the official freeze on Social Security payments for the next two years really puts New York City seniors under a heavy burden, particularly in the weak economy,” said Addabbo, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Aging.

In a statement, Commissioner Astrue noted that Social Security recipients received a 5.8 percent cost of living adjustment last year after consumer prices spiked, largely as a result of higher gas prices. That marked the largest increase since 1982, according to Astrue, who voiced support for President Obama’s proposal for the administration to provide another $250 recovery payment for the 57 million Americans who receive Social Security.

"Even as we seek to bring about recovery, we must act on behalf of those hardest hit by this recession," Obama said in a statement. "This additional assistance will be especially important in the coming months, as countless seniors and others have seen their retirement accounts and home values decline as a result of this economic crisis."

The White House estimated that cost at $13 billion, and Obama doesn’t want the payments to come from Social Security trust funds, since the program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes over the next two years. However, Addabbo was critical of that plan, especially in light of recent federal bailouts of large corporations and industries. “If President Barack Obama can bail out banks, insurance giant AIG and the auto industry, he should do better than his recent call on Congress to approve a second round of $250 stimulus or recovery payments for over 50 million Social Security recipients,” he said.

Addabbo noted that tenants in rent controlled apartments face a six percent increase, while the cost of many items in New York City has also risen, including Medicare prescription drug plans (up seven percent monthly), food prices (one percent) and mass transit (ten percent). “Our seniors need a regional cost of living adjustment. It is not a luxury, but a necessity. Seniors should not have to choose between eating, paying their rent or getting their medication,” he said.

Weiner recently said there is a notion that the Social Security Administration’s “books are being cooked a little” since it was determined months ago that there would be no adjustment, even though the increase is supposed to be calculated each October. Ever more alarming, said Weiner, is that next year’s increase has also been eliminated, more than a year in advance.

In a statement issued last Thursday, he called on the SSA to “immediately open up their books and explain to the American people why seniors will not be receiving a cost of living adjustment...” The first bill Weiner introduced after being elected to Congress would provide a regional cost of living adjustment “to ensure seniors in Brooklyn, New York are not forced to survive on the same benefits as seniors in Brooklyn, Iowa.” If the COLA Fairness Act is enacted, New York seniors would receive an additional two percent in benefits over a five-year period.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Candlelight Memorial Planned for Murder Victim

By Patricia Adams

The family of a slain Ozone Park man is reaching out for the community’s help in bringing his killer to justice. Gerardo “Jerry” Antoniello was murdered in his parent’s home during an attempted home inva- sion/robbery back on September 9. Now family and friends say they want to do something to avenge this “senseless death.” On Saturday, October 24 they will hold a candlelight memorial on Saturday at Romeo’s Pizzeria located at 134-24 Crossbay Blvd., Ozone Park.

Posters with Jerry’s photo have blanketed the surrounding communities lining store windows throughout Ozone Park and Howard Beach. The poster reads that all are welcome to attend and remember Jerry as a hero that lost his life protecting his parents. It goes on to say that Jerry’s life was taken away tragically and unnecessarily leaving a family with a hole in their hearts. As a strongly-knit community our voices and actions should be heard by all elected officials, so that a crime like this does not become just another statistic.

Jerry’s older brother, Angelo, 35, says that although the NYPD is doing a great job, his brother’s killers are still out there. “We are very thankful and appreciative to everyone who has come to the pizzeria and to the services to pay their respects. The community has been great.” But what Angelo Antoniello says will do the family the most good, is if his brother’s killers are found and brought to justice.

“We are doing the memorial to honor and remember my brother, but we also need the community to get out here with us. We need to know if anyone has information. We need to find who did this.” Antoniello explained to The Forum that his brother Carmine is an 18-year veteran of the NYPD and that officers working with him have been collecting money to establish a reward fund.

“We are not asking anyone for money but we are very thankful to those people who have made donations to the reward fund. But that is not what this is about. This is about justice for my brother’s death. It’s about getting the help of the people to find who did this.” Antoniello then described the experience for his parents, “They can never go home again. They lost their son. They lost their youngest child.” Now Romeo Antoniello and his wife Gaetana have put the family home, where Jerry was killed, up for sale.

The pain and tragedy of the Antoniello family has been felt throughout the community where they live and work. Since the shooting, steady streams of friends, new and old, and customers continue to stop by the pizze- ria and offer comfort. The Forum encourages all of our readers to attend the memorial service next Saturday evening to show support for the family in this most difficult time. If you have any information regarding this crime you are asked to please contact authorities. Anyone who wishes to contribute to the reward fund being created should inquire at the Memorial Service or at Romeo’s Pizzeria.

Residents Eye a Cleaner, Greener Glendale

Pushing for Upgrades to Rail Corridor

By Conor Greene

While they’re not exactly out to save the world, Glendale neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold have set forth on a wide ranging and ambitious plan to create a greener, cleaner neighborhood that provides a healthier and better quality of life for residents.

The women, who live in a well maintained block of 69th Street near Otto Road, presented their Glendale Green and Clean plan at last month’s Community Board 5 meeting. To outline their goals, they created a 60-page book highlighting areas in the community that need attention due to graffiti, illegal dumping or structural problems.

However, their main goal is to address issues in- volving the companies operating freight trains along the tracks running through Glendale, including CSX Transportation and New York and Atlantic Railway. “People come to us and ask what our real goal here is,” said Parisen, who has lived there for 23 years. “My main focus is the diesel emissions coming from the locomotives.” As a result of the companies’ operations, residents are subjected to choking fumes, deaf- ening noise and structural damage to their homes.

Parisen began addressing the issue five years ago and was able to push for city funds to create a vegetative barrier between the tracks and street. “It looks nice, but those same problems – noise, fumes – still exist,” she said. Now, the women have turned their attention to new technologies they say the rail companies should be implementing. “It’s a new day now,” said Arnold, noting that clean diesel technology is now available.

“This is the 21st century. When I first moved in here there wasn’t as much activity as there is today,” added Parisen, addressing critics who say she shouldn’t complain since the rail yard was there when she bought her house. Particularly frustrating, she said, was finding out that Anacostia and Pacific, which is New York and Atlantic’s parent company, provided $20 million for locomotive upgrades in California, while just $300,000 was provided to operations in New York.

“That was an eye-opener, seeing that it really is possible and that they’re doing this all over the country,” said Arnold, who moved to the block two years ago. “People around here take care of their property, yet they [the rail companies] are not good neighbors. It’s like they’re dumping on us. It’s disgusting.” She noted that the city is quick to ticket residents if trash blows onto their property, yet the companies seem operate freely. “If they kept their property the way we keep ours, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Aside from the noise and pollution problems, one of their major complaints is that the prop- erty is not maintained, meaning it is often overgrown with weeds, which makes the area ripe for illegal dumping. Evidence of that can be seen along the entire stretch of Otto Road adjacent to the tracks from 69th Place to Cypress Hills Street, which is marked by bags of construction debris and discarded piles of trash including electronics and toilets. “The unkempt properties lead to the dumping. It almost encourages it,” said Parisen.

Since presenting the plan to the community board, Parisen and Arnold have made some progress in getting elected officials on board and beginning to clean the area up. “We definitely have seen improvements since bringing this up in September,” said Parisen. Recently, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and other officials toured the area with the women and vowed to look into legislation gov- erning the emissions of fumes from locomotives.

Another suggestion came from City Council candidate Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village), who promised to push the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct a study of operations in the corridor running through the area. “That’s the kind of big picture thinking that’s needed,” said Arnold. “It’s about awareness and engaging all the stakeholders, including those people who are using our neighborhood and not giving us anything back. The profits are pri- vate but the costs are public,” she added.

“This is a great neighborhood, but people realize they are not going to get anything unless they demand it and make their voices known,” said Arnold. “They are all very concerned about this. They know it’s a problem but they’ve been stonewalled... It isn’t just this neighborhood - they need to clean up the whole corridor. There is money for it, so why not get in line?”

“The most important thing for me, and it’s got to be done, is the locomotives need to be upgraded,” said Parisen. “To me, that is a quality of life issue, breathing in these fumes which have been proven to cause cancer... If you have people not saying anything, they will get away with it.”

Law Would Help Prevent Theft of Unattended Vehicles

Crowley Pushes Bill in Light of MV Tragedy

By Conor Greene

While motorists often don’t think twice about leaving their vehicle running while they run inside a store for a quick errand, doing so can have deadly consequences, as in incidents in Chinatown and Middle Village earlier this year that killed four people.

The City Council is currently considering a bill that would increase the fine for leaving a running vehicle unattended from $5 to $250. A hearing on the law, sponsored by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), was held in City Hall during last Thursday’s Transportation Committee meeting. The committee will likely vote on the bill at its next meeting and the full Council is expected to consider it by the end of the month.

Crowley is pushing the new legislation in the wake of several tragedies that resulted after drivers left their running vehicles unattended. In January, two children were killed and 11 others injured in Chinatown after a van slipped into reverse and drove onto a sidewalk after the driver had exited the vehicle.

Several weeks later, 18-year- old Robert Ogle, for whom the law is named, was killed along with 20-year-old Alex Paul of Brooklyn by a drunken driver who struck them while speeding along Eliot Avenue before fleeing the scene. The driver, Kenneth Guyear, had stolen the unattended vehicle just minutes earlier from outside a deli after the owner of the car went inside to buy cigarettes. He was arrested several minutes after the incident.

Robert Ogle’s parents, Brendan and Mei, attended last Thursday’s committee hearing in support of the law. Brendan Ogle testified on its behalf along with Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which represents 1,600 families in the area. Also voicing support for the new law were Councilmembers John Liu (D-Flushing), who is chairman of the Transportation Committee, and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

“I’m here on behalf of Councilmember Crowley’s bill,” said Ogle. “I know too well that an unattended and running car can become a deadly weapon. It is necessary to increase the awareness and penalties for people who are careless with their personal property because money talks... This is necessary legislation that will avoid big problems for a lot of people because of someone else’s carelessness.”

In addition to the increased fines, a campaign to increase the public’s awareness over the dangers of leaving running vehicles unattended would be a centerpiece of the new law. Crowley noted that ten percent of all car thefts within the 104th Precinct are of unattended running vehicles.

“Sadly, the death of the two young men may have been avoided if a man had not left his car running while shopping in a store,” said Crowley. “Leaving your car running and unattended seems like a minor, careless mistake but all New Yorkers must understand that it is irresponsible, dangerous and potentially deadly... As a mother and a neighbor, I admire [the Ogle’s] strength and courage to be here with us to help prevent this from ever happening again.”

Holden said the death of Ogle represented a “tremendous loss” for the community and compared leaving a car unattended and running to “leaving a loaded gun laying around for anyone to take.” Despite the dangers, “too often the city overlooks these small crimes with fatal consequences.” He said the bill “is important to ensure these mistakes,” which he chalked up to “laziness and carelessness” do not happen again.

Susan Petito of the NYPD’s intergovernmental affairs unit weighed in on several aspects of the bill that might require wording changes. She said the NYPD supports the bill’s intention, but suggested that the law also include incidents where a driver turn off the engine but leave the key in the ignition of an unattended vehicle “so that the separate public safety interest in preventing vehicle theft continues to be addressed.” Not making this change could “unintentionally weaken the law,” she noted.

In addition, the NYPD has concerns as to how the new law would apply to bus drivers, including charter and passenger lines. “There may be particular situations in which a bus driver leaves the bus in order to help passengers or unload luggage, and it is unclear whether a driver in that circumstance would be leaving the bus unattended,” said Petito.

Ulrich, who represents the portion of Queens directly south of Crowley’s district, said the tragedy in Middle Village personally affected him because he knows the Ogle family. “What happened in Middle Village could happen anywhere in this city,” he said, adding that he strongly supports the new law.

Liu said that it appears the NYPD and Bloomberg administration is in favor of the bill overall, but would like some minor changes. “These are wording changes that can be reconciled quickly over the next couple of weeks and this bill will pass,” he said. “It crushes me to think that lives can be taken because of some- one’s careless mistake. The thought of those little kids being crushed against a wall because somebody was idiotic enough to leave the ve- hicle in reverse. That can’t happen in this city.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Questions Over City's Plan for Ridgewood Reservoir

By Conor Greene

As the Parks Department prepares to begin the first phase of work at the Ridgewood Reservoir, local elected officials and community leaders have questioned aspects of the plan, and were not impressed with the response they received from the city on their input.

Parks is planning $7.7 million worth of improvements to Highland Park, which includes the Ridgewood Reservoir. Work will include replacing existing perimeter fencing around the reservoir’s three basins, upgrading the lighting and improving the pathways.

Phase one work will take place as the department and community continues to debate the overall future of the park and reservoir property. Many, including Community Board 5 members, want the city to preserve the reservoir in its natural state and upgrade existing ballfields in Highland Park, instead of filling in one of the basins and constructing fields there.

While the debate over the future of the property continues, CB 5 members and elected officials including State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) are asking Parks to reconsider aspects of the phase one plan.

In July, CB 5 informed Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski in a letter that the board had unanimously adopted several recommendations concern- ing phase one, including that perimeter fencing be six feet high, instead of four feet as planned; that the electrical service conduit be installed on the reservoir side of the pathway, where the lighting fixture will be installed and that an existing stone stairway not be removed.

In an August 24 response, Lewandowski informed the board that the fence is not meant as a security barrier, since public access to the basins is planned for the future. “The four foot proposal provides a clear view into the basins which will allow the public to better appreciate the interior as well as provide easier observation by the police and parks patrols.”

Regarding the electrical setup, Lewandowski said the decision to locate the light poles on the reservoir side “was made for both ecological and aesthetic reasons.” She argued that since the electrical conduit can’t be placed between the pathway and the basins due to a lack of soft surface, Parks “decided that spending an additional $90K now to locate the conduit in the grass area [on the other side of the path] is a price worth paying to make maintenance in future less complicated and less expensive.”

Parks did agree that facing the lamp post panels away from the path to help prevent vandalism and theft “is a very good idea” that has been incorporated into the design. In addition, Parks has accepted the board’s recommendation that the northeast stairway should be restored. This can be done within phase one “barring any costly surprises revealed in our ongoing structural investigations.” Either way, the stairs will not be removed as planned.

While the board’s push for a pedestrian bridge over Vermont Avenue “is an idea worth studying in-depth,” Parks has determined that it is “cost prohibitive at least in the initial phase of work at the reservoir.” However, the department has directed consultant Mark K. Morrison and Associates to ensure that the current plan would allow for a pedestrian bridge in the future.

Board members expressed displeasure at a meeting earlier this year after receiving Parks’ response to the suggestions. “We’re not dumb – we suggest things for a reason,” said CB 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri, vowing at the time to “fight this politically.”

In September letter to Lewandowski, Addbbo noted that he generally agreed with the board’s suggestions and said he also has “concerns” over the current plan. He agreed that the light fixtures and related electrical wiring should be on the same side of the path to save money, and also called for a six-foot high perimeter fence. “While six foot fencing might hinder some public access viewing, that issue is far outweighed by the greater issue the of public safety and security of people visiting the site,” wrote Addabbo.

“As you are aware, in these difficult fiscal times, the city needs to allocate funding efficiently,” the senator continued. “I am hopeful that prior to any work commencing on Phase I at the reservoir, your department conducts the necessary research and public input consideration to create a safe and accommodating venue.”

Crowley also wrote a letter to Lewandowski last month, calling the board’s proposals “a good set of improvements to the current plan.” She agreed with the board and Addabbo on the issues of the electrical wiring and fence height. She also noted that she continues to support “ a passive recreation option” at the site and wants a portion of the $19 million earmarked for phase two on renovations of the existing ballfields in Highland Park “before even considering the decon- struction of a basin.”

A Parks Department spokeswoman did not provide information regarding when phase one construction is slated to begin, or a response to Addabbo and Crowley’s letters.

On Wednesday, Arcuri called Parks’ response “foolish” and said that six-foot-high fences are used in other projects around the city, including the promenade along Flushing Bay without complaints of obstructed views. “I think they’re a little hard-nosed; their consultant came up with a design and they want to stick with it,” said Arcuri. “I think part of it is the ego of the designer, and the ego of the agency.”

Looking ahead to phase two, Arcuri agreed that some of the remaining $19 million should be used at the existing ballfields. “They can develop a program for the restoration of the upper ballfields and playground so the reservoir can stay a natural preserved area as every- one wants it,” he said. “There really isn’t a need for additional facilities; the need is for the facilities that exist to be restored.”

Arcuri charged that recent surveys of parks users con- ducted by the city “weren’t realistic” and didn’t reflect the desires of many to preserve the reservoir. “The results of that survey were contradictory to the results of all the public meetings, so we question that... We think that if we have enough political support we could get them to go along with the idea of a nature preserve [at the reservoir] and fixing the upper ballfields. I think we need the mayor to come out and side with the people who are familiar with the area.”

Seniors Vow to Fight for Cost of Living Increase

By Conor Greene

Spurred by rumors that the Social Security Administration will not provide a cost of liv- ing increase in 2010, local officials and community leaders have launched a petition drive urging the federal government to provide seniors with this much-needed boost.

Concerns that there won’t be a cost of living increase next year stem from the presidential budget unveiled this year, which didn’t include funds to provide the annual boost meant to off-set rising prices, according to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills). An announcement is expected in the coming weeks, and this would mark the first time in three decades that an increase wasn’t pro- vided.

In response, Weiner gathered at the Howard Beach Senior Center on Monday with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio to announce the petition effort. “The price of many things has gone down, but many more [costs] are going up,” said Weiner, including health care, housing and food.

Particularly concerning, said Weiner, is that while the cost of living increase is supposed to be calculated each October using current prices, it was determined that it would remain flat months ago. Even more alarming, he said, is that next year’s increase has also been eliminated, more than a year in advance. That has led to the “notion that maybe the books are being cooked a little,” said Weiner. The focus now is “making sure this is on the up and up.”

To pressure the Social Security Administration to provide a cost of living increase, Gulluscio is spearheading the petition effort, which began in earnest at Monday’s event. He is calling for a “true COLA” that prevents seniors from having to choose between milk and medicine. “It’s a shame we have to deal with this during a recession,” he added.

While the cost of many non-necessities such as electronics have dropped as a result of the recession, Weiner noted that drops in cost haven’t applied to necessities. “The fact is, most seniors are not buying cell phones, they’re buying things they need – housing, food, medicine, [and] those things are going up,” he said. The COLA should be calculated using the “breadbasket of things seniors use” with regional differences taken into account, added the representative.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Social Security program has a huge surplus that is currently used to bring down the national debt. In addition, any increases in Medicare will come from a senior’s social security check, despite the lack of COLA increase. “On one hand they’re saying costs aren’t going up” while at the same time claiming that Medicare costs are rising, said Weiner.

Howard Beach senior Robert Drake said the lack of increase comes at a time when the city is “nickel and diming” its residents at every turn. “They even raised the price of parking your car. How can they say there is no COLA?” he asked. “Is that considered in COLA? No. If they don’t [provide an increase] then we will just have to struggle through it.”

Another local senior, Grade DiPippa, took exception with the federal government using the Social Security fund to help close the deficit. “That’s wrong,” she said.

Gulluscio vowed to continue the fight until the federal government changes course. “We will not take zero as an answer. There are no excuses for this situation,” he said. “This is not about politics - this is about real people making decisions.”

This year’s COLA increase was 5.8 percent for the more than 50 million individuals receiving Social Security. While the recession has kept inflation in check in some areas, seniors have still been hit hard with some growing costs including a six percent increase in rent-controlled apartments, a 1.4 percent rise in food prices, a seven percent average monthly increase in premiums for the Medicare prescription drug plans and a 10 percent increase in bus and subway fare for seniors.

Controversy Erupts Over Glendale Kiwanis Funding

By Conor Greene

A $3,500 allocation to the Glendale Kiwanis by former City Councilman Anthony Como has turned into a political hot potato after he accused Elizabeth Crowley, who currently represents the area, of diverting the money to another organization.

Como (R-Middle Village), who briefly represented the 30th District after winning a special election last year, sent a letter on Tuesday to fellow Kiwanis members and local papers stating that the funding had been reallocated in January. “I found this very upsetting because I know that groups such as yours depend greatly on this money,” wrote Como.

In the letter, Como stated that he had been contacted by the group’s past president, Joe Aiello to find out why the Kiwanis never received the funds. In the e-mail containing the letter, Como included correspondence he said was from the City Council’s Finance Division confirming that Crowley had diverted the money to another group. “Since we didn’t do a transparency resolution until late January, CM Crowley’s office decided that they wanted to give that money to another [organization] as it is her prerogative to reallocate any funds that had not yet been registered with the Comptroller’s office,” the e-mail stated.

In response, Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she is “very surprised [Como] would stoop this low” and contended that Como never came through on his promise to fund the Kiwanis. “He is making accusations that are not true, just because he failed to meet the community’s concerns as a councilman.” She maintained that the money was never included in last year’s budget and was never diverted to another group.

“He’s being dishonest,” added Crowley. “This is an example of mudslinging that is really based on lies. I’m disappointed in Anthony Como because honestly I thought more of him as an individual than to put together a letter which is not truthful.” Crowley noted that she provided the Kiwanis with $5,000 in this year’s budget. "If you look at the truth, you will know that Anthony Como didn't put a dime aside for the Kiwanis last year as he promised,” she said.

Caught in the middle is Aiello, who said Wednesday that the whole situation is much ado about nothing. He chalked it up to a simple mistake and says he lays no blame with either Como or Crowley. “At first I said ‘gee, we could have used this money,’” he recalled. “Anthony Como called apologizing and I told him there is no foul here. I had a meeting with Elizabeth two weeks ago, she said she would see what she can do about retrieving the money and I said again it was no foul and not to worry about it.”

Como said the letter wasn’t intended to be a political attack against Crowley, despite his relationship with fellow Republican Tom Ognibene, who is challenging her in November. “This is not a political thing, it’s coming from me. If anyone is to blame here, it is Councilmember Crowley – she’s the only one who put me up to this by pulling their funding.”

Ognibene said he had “zero” involvement in the letter and noted that the whole issue arose when Aiello contacted Como. “She’s trying to deflect the fact that she pulled the funding for the Glendale Kiwanis, that’s what the city of New York said, not Tom Ognibene. They asked Anthony why they weren’t getting funding so he made the inquiry and that’s the answer that came back... Let her say it’s not true instead of blaming me. Of course if she did she would be lying again.”

While he doesn’t blame either side, Aiello said he wasn’t thrilled that the club, which is ded- icated to helping those in need, was thrust into the middle of a political fight. “I’m caught in between here and I don’t like it,” he said. “I appreciate what they try to do for the club and I have the utmost respect for Anthony Como and Elizabeth Crowley. What happened here was just a mistake, something that happened. Our club could have used the money, no doubt, but we didn’t lose any sleep over it. There is no harm or foul here... I’m a little bit disappointed. This didn’t have to go to the papers.”

The City Council Finance Division did not return a call by press time seeking clarification as to whether the money was ever allocated.

Crowley Funds Bocce Court Upgrades and Courts Italian-American Votes

By Conor Greene

The popular bocce courts at Juniper Valley Park were refurbished just in time for the annual tournament held there last weekend, thanks to funding provided by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who gathered there with supporters on Monday.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) allocated $352,000 of City Council funding for upgrades to the two bocce courts located in the Middle Village park. Home of the annual tournament, the courts are also frequently used by local residents throughout the week, as was the case on Monday afternoon. Thanks to the money, the courts were resurfaced and canopies will be installed, along with other capital upgrades, according to Crowley’s office.

After gathering next to the courts with dozens of members of the local Italian-American community in support of her re- election bid this November, Crowley and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) tried their hand at a couple of rolls on the newly-smoothed courts. Among those supporting her in her bid for a four-year City Council term were Peter Cardella of theItalian-American Federation of Greater New York and Mario Malerba, chair of the Italian-American Federation of Brooklyn and Queens.

Crowley noted that Italian-American heritage is celebrated in New York City throughout October, and said that the 30th Council district – which includes Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill - has one of the highest concentrations of Italian-American residents in the city. “We have a very solid community with a lot of culture,” she told her supporters.

Initiatives Crowley has spearheaded during her nine months in office include raising more than $20,000 for the victims of the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, who Crowley said are “very close to our hearts” and provided New York with assistance after 9/11. She also allocated discretionary funding for the local Italian-American federations and served as Grand Marshall at the 16th annual Fresh Pond Road street festival in honor of Madonna Santa Maria de Trapano, the patron saint of Sicily.

Many in attendance, including Cardella, spoke in favor of reelecting Crowley next month, when she faces former Councilman Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village) for a full four-year term in City Hall. “As councilmember for only a short time, she has done a terrific job to improve the quality of life and to protect our seniors,” said Cardella. “I encourage people to vote for her so she can continue the work she has started for the next four years.”

However, the focus of the day was the revamped bocce courts, which are the daily site of some serious matches among a group of local residents. “People who know Italian-American culture know how im portant that sport is” said Crowley, adding that improvements will include canopies over each end of the court, an idea which was met with enthusiasm from the crowd of supporters and bocce plays in attendance.

Council Might Strengthen City’s Graffiti Removal Law

The City Council is considering an amendment to the current graffiti removal law that would make it faster and easier for officials to have commercial and residential eyesores repainted without approval from the building owner.

Council members voted overwhelmingly last month to introduce the bill, which strengthens the powers of the decade-old Graffiti Free NYC program by reducing the amount of red tape required before the city can remove the graffiti. The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Gale Brewer, has the backing of local members Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) and Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village).

Under the new law, a building owner will receive a notice of removal from the city once the structure has been identified for cleanup. The owner then has thirty five days to inform the city that they will have the graffiti removed themselves or that they want it to remain on the building. If the owner doesn’t respond, the city is allowed to remove the graffiti. In addition, the bill also subjects owners to fines of up to $300 if they don’t respond to the notice and provide the city with the necessary access to the property.

“We need to use every tool possible to fight graffiti vandalism. This bill is a step in the right direction,” said Ulrich, who has also allocated discretionary funds for a separate graffiti cleanup program in trouble spots within the 32nd District. “Now, this bill lets the city remove graffiti without the waiver requirement, and will greatly increase the efficiency of the Graffiti Free NYC program going forward.”

Crowley, who has joined with Brewer, Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) as a sponsor of the legislation, said the key now is getting word out about the removal program to local property owners. “In the past getting graffiti removed has been a difficult process hindered by too many obstacles,” said Crowley. “This legislation gets rid of those obstacles and will allow for much of the city’s graffiti to be cleared from our build- ings.”

Since it was launched in 1999, the Graffiti Free NYC program has cleaned graffiti from more than 27,000 sites, and officials hope that number will increase due to the amend- ment. Residents can submit requests for cleanups by calling 311 or online at

The majority of the repainted properties are in Manhattan, and Crowley is hoping to increase the program’s effectiveness in Queens. “So far, the city’s graffiti removal program has been weighted to projects in Manhattan. I look forward to working with community members and building owners in the neighborhoods I represent to take advantage of Graffiti Free NYC,” she said.

Addabbo Seeks Elimination of Runoff Elections

Last Week’s Contest Cost $15 Million; Attracted Just Seven Percent

On the heels of last month’s runoff elections for city comptroller and public advocate, in which just seven percent of registered Democrats cast ballots, State Senator Joseph Addabbo has announced that he will seek to eliminate these costly rematches, which occur when none of the candidates receive at least 40 percent of the vote.

In last week’s runoff election, Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) won the party’s nominee for comptroller, defeating Brooklyn Councilman David Yassky, while Councilman Bill de Blasio defeated Mark Green for the party’s nominee for public advocate. Those results mirrored the results of the September 15 primary, leading critics to wonder if it was worth the $15 million price tag to hold the runoff contest.

With it costing about $72 per vote, Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) announced a new law on Monday that would eliminate the runoff system. “As chairman of the Senate Committee on Elections, I plan to research the process by which runoff elections can be eliminated entirely,” said Addabbo. After researching the means necessary to abolish runoffs, he will draft legislation or seek a city Charter change.

The current runoff system was created after the 1969 mayoral primary in which conservative Democrat Mario Procaccino won with just 32.8 percent of the vote in a five- way race. He eventually lost the general election to incumbent John V. Lindsay, who ran on the Liberal-Fusion line. In response, legislators determined that citywide candidates must receive at least 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff beginning in 1973.

“This is an old and antiquated process that needs to be reexamined,” said Addabbo. “Although it seems impossible that voter turnout could drop below the record low turnout of the September 15 primary of 11 percent, less than roughly eight percent of registered voters voted in the runoff election.”

As chair of the Elections Committee, Addabbo says his goal is to increase voter turnout while making the voting process more accessible and efficient. He also expressed concern for military personnel overseas who are disenfranchised under the current system because there is not enough time for ballots to make their way through the mail and to the Board of Elections in a runoff election.

“Spending $15 million to hold an elec- tion the voters do not wish to participate in is a waste of taxpayer dollars in a time of economic difficulty,” said Addabbo. “That money could have instead been spent more wisely, like on our seniors or school children.”

Newtown Pippin Apple Trees Planted Around Town

The Newtown Historical Society, in conjunction with The Newtown Pippin Project, identified 3 locations at which to plant his- toric Newtown Pippin apple trees, bringing the fruit back to its place of origin. The fruit trees were planted today at Maspeth Federal Savings, the Middle Village 75th Street Block Association’s community garden and at Ridgewood’s Onderdonk House.

The Newtown Pippin variety of apple was named after the western area of Queens, once known as Newtown Township. The original apple tree was located on the Gershom Moore farm along a tributary of Newtown Creek in the 1700s. From it, cuttings were taken and planted in orchards throughout the world. The apples were cultivated by some of our country’s founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

As part of a history and environmental project, the Newtown Pippin Project is offering free Pippin trees for planting throughout the city, with added emphasis on locations in western Queens, where the Pippin once grew and was first discovered by colonial Americans. Thanks to a sponsorship from Green Apple Cleaners, care and guidance from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and pioneering local orchard replenishment by Slow Food NYC, a distributed orchard is being created among the city’s open spaces.

The Newtown Historical Society scouted out locations suitable for the trees and volunteers planted them in Maspeth and Middle Village on Monday, October 5th. The planting consists of a Newtown Pippin tree and a pollinator tree. The Onderdonk House received an Elstar apple tree as a pollinator, which is a Dutch variety, planted by the Ridgewood Historical Society. The other two locations received St. Edmund's Russet trees.

“The Newtown Pippin represents an important part of our agricultural history which is often overlooked,” said Christina Wilkinson, President of the Newtown Historical Society. “We hope by bringing a little bit of it back, we can use it as a teaching tool to help people understand the rural past of this area and the once-pristine condition of Newtown Creek.”

Erik Baard, Outreach Coordinator for the Newtown Pippin Project, said, “Let the abundance of these trees, and those to come, remind us of how lush and fertile the Newtown Creek and the surrounding city once were, and inspire our actions.”

"I commend Christina Wilkinson for her leadership in bringing back Maspeth's own Newtown Pippin tree," said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. "As a member of the Environmental Protection committee, I am working with my colleagues to restore the growth of these beautiful trees through New York City and to declare the Newtown Pippin the official apple of the Big Apple!"

The trees may bear their first fruits by 2011. For the next planting in Spring 2010, Newtown Historical Society will focus on bringing the trees to area schools, houses of worship and cemeteries. For more information about the Newtown Pippin Project, please visit newtown- or

Arrest in Fatal Shooting of 13-Year-Old Bystander

Police have announced an arrest in the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old on Linden Boulevard near a Queens high school.

Nnonso Ekwegbalu, 16, of 183rd Street in Springfield Gardens has been charged with second-degree murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and tampering with evidence in connection with the shooting last Friday. He was arraigned on the charges Monday in Queens Criminal Court and ordered held without bail. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison and is due back in court on October 19.

Ekwegbalu is accused of shooting his weapon in front of 208-15 Linden Boulevard at about 3:15 p.m. in the direction of three unarmed teens with whom he had just been fighting. The three teens, who are known to the district attorney’s office, were running from the scene with the defendant opened fire. One of the bullets struck innocent bystander Kevin Miller in the head, killing him, and a second bullet struck an employee of a nearby car wash in the left thigh. Authorities say neither Miller nor the second victim were involved in the altercation. Ekwegbalu was arrested the following day by officers from the 105th Precinct.

“This case is another example of the mindless gun-related violence that too often takes innocent lives and recklessly endangers public safety,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “It is alleged that the 16-year-old defendant had an altercation with some other teenagers and fired a handgun, cutting short the life of an innocent 13-year-old child and injuring a second teenager.”

Both teenagers were students at Humanities and the Arts Magnet High School in Cambria Heights. Surveillance video showed that Miller, who just entered his freshman year, was struck while walking towards a nearby McDonalds restaurant. Ekwegbalu had no prior criminal record.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pushed for stiffer gun control laws, weighed in on the incident to reporters. “I don’t know when we’re going just as a society finally say enough is enough... I don’t know what we have to do to get people to understand guns shouldn’t be in the hands of children,” he said.

Miller died at Long Island Jewish Medical Center several hours after the shooting. The other victim, a 17-year-old, was treated and released from North Shore Hospital.

The Forum Newsgoup/photo by ROBERT STRIDIRON