Thursday, July 9, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Field of Candidates Grows for Seminerio's Vacant Assembly Seat

By Conor Greene

The field of candidates seeking the state Assembly seat vacated by Anthony Seminerio continues to grow, as at least six local residents have announced their intentions to run for the seat representing the 38th District.

After holding the position for three decades, a disgraced Seminerio resigned on June 22. Two days later, he admitted in Manhattan Federal Court to accepting illegal payment from individuals seeking to do business with the state. Barring a special election, his successor will be chosen during November’s general election.

Among those vying for the Democrat nomination are Ozone Park attorney Albert Baldeo, Community Education Council 24 President Nick Comaianni, combat veteran Farouk Samaroo, Community Board 5 member Michael Miller and Queens College student Paul Gagliardotto. The lone Republican is Donna Marie Catalbiano, director of the Forest Park Senior Citizen Center.

Baldeo, who came within 700 votes of defeating then State Senator Serf Maltese in 2006, said he has raised about $167,000 so far in support of his assembly bid. He noted that he received 70% of votes in the Richmond Hill portion of the district in 2006, even though Seminerio publicly endorsed and aggressively campaigned for Maltese. “That helps me because I’ve worked in the district before and have the name recognition,” said Baldeo.

Baldeo listed stopping overdevelopment, preventing MTA fare hikes and service cuts, creating a specific zip code for Glendale and preserving the Ridgewood Reservoir in its natural state among his major issues. “These are the issues I’ve been championing,” he said. “I’ve gotten an enormous groundswell of support from all over the district because of my continuous work on issues that affect these areas.”

He said that he has lived in the district for more than a year, meaning he meets the residency requirements to run for the Assembly seat. Last year, he launched a bid for the Democratic nomination to challenge Maltese for his State Senate position. However, he eventually dropped out of the race, clearing the way for Joseph Addabbo, who defeated Maltese in a landslide. “I did that for the greater good of the party and don’t have any regrets,” he said. “It was a heart-wrenching decision then, but I’m ready for this one now and have laid the groundwork.”

It turns out Baldeo isn’t the only native of Guyana to join the fray. Samaroo, of Richmond Hill, recently announced his candidacy and is returning home after serving 12 months with the Army in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Prior to enlisting in the Army, he worked in 2003 for former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison for stealing $3.1 million. He also worked on the 2006 campaign of State Senator Shirley Huntley.

“My experience in the Legislature, and on the battlefield make me uniquely qualified to serve the people of our neighborhoods,” said Samaroo. “We deserve an Assemblyman who will serve us with honor, experience and skill… Our Assemblyman resigned in disgrace, the state Legislature is failing us, and our country needs the service of committed young men and women to lead at all levels of government.”

Also throwing his hat into the ring is Miller, a Glendale resident who, aside from his CB 5 duties, is a board member of the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol, a past board member of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council and a past president of the Glendale Kiwanis. He is a graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School, Queens College and the University of Georgia CUNA Management School.

“With all the dysfunction in Albany today, we obviously need leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up to the status quo and fight for us,” said Miller. “I will be a full time representative of my district. For over 20 years, I have proven my commitment to my neighbors and my community. In the New York State Assembly, you can count on me to continue the service to this community that has defined my life.”

Among Miller’s prior accomplishments are helping to expand the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council from “a small neighborhood group to an organization with 180 employees that serves 6,000 people each year.” He has also been awarded numerous citations from the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol and the NYPD for his anti-graffiti efforts. He was recently endorsed by the Queens Conservative Party.

“I am proud of my work removing and painting over graffiti in my community, leading area clean-ups before it was popular with politicians and supervising prisoners assigned to work in our community,” said Miller, who also founded the Forest Park Aktion Club, a Kiwanis club for adults with mental disabilities.

One of the first to announce his candidacy was Comaianni, who, aside from serving as CEC 24 president, is a member of Community Board 9, the Glendale Civic Association and the Forest Park Co-op board of directors. A U.S Navy veteran, the 41-year-old father of three coaches at the RGMVM Little League and is a lifelong resident of district 38.

“I have dedicated a great portion of my life to community service and feel that I am qualified to serve in the New York State Assembly, where I can continue to work and have a greater impact on the quality of life in the community in which I reside,” he said in a statement. “I am like every other New Yorker who is upset with the dysfunction currently in Albany. If elected, I will go to Albany to foster changes, to limit special interest involvement in government and to fight for transparency. I will oppose taxes, try to restore some of the sanity in the budget process and put the interests of the community first and foremost.”

Gagliardotto is among the latest to declare his candidacy, which he did in an email sent Tuesday night to local media outlets. A lifelong district resident who grew up in Ozone Park, he now lives in Glendale and says he is “the only candidate who can truly bring the understanding of the entire district to Albany.”

The 23-year-old is a graduate of PS 60, IS 119 and Forest Hills High School and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in labor studies. “From Ridgewood to Ozone Park I have friends and relatives that span the entire 38th district,” said Gagliardotto. “They are constantly expressing their thoughts and concerns to me looking for guidance. I help them and now I want to extend my hand to all residents.”

Among his priorities would be affordable healthcare for all residents, education, preserving parks and recreational areas, lowering taxes and making sure working class constituents receive appropriate living wages.

The lone Republican, Catalbiano, said this week that her campaign has been going “non- stop” since she announced that she is running. “Even though we haven’t officially started fundraising, people have been sending checks which is building my spirits. “We’ve been calling people non-stop and I’m pounding the pavement to get my face known in areas that I might not be as well known.”

Catalbiano, who received the backing of the Queens Republican Party, is also hoping to receive the Independence Party’s support. On top of her 14 years at the senior center, she boasts a civic record that includes spearheading the push for an expansion at PS 64, which came to fruition in 1991. “I think the community needs a person like me. Over the years I have many accomplishments,” she said. “We have our forces ready and we’re giving it our best shot.”

Fisherman Drowns in Jamaica Bay

By Conor Greene

The rough, uneven waters of Jamaica Bay claimed a life this past Fourth of July weekend, when a 19-year-old drowned while fishing in Broad Channel. A second victim was saved by a witness who jumped into the water and dragged him to shore.

Mario Acatilta, a Mexican immigrant who moved to Brooklyn two years ago, drowned after wading into the waters at North Channel Beach at about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. His friend, Jesus Gonzalez, was saved by midtown hotel worker Cesar Meneses, 39, a former lifeguard who was at the small beach with his wife and son. After Meneses pulled Gonzalez back to shore, a park ranger performed CPR until an ambulance took the teen to Jamaica Hospital.

Meneses returned to the water in search of Acatilta, but the only remaining signs of him were sneakers and a yellow fishing hat, floating near the spot where he went under. As sobbing relatives including Acatilta’s brother watched from the beach, rescuers searched for hours before bringing his body ashore at about 5:30 p.m.

Rescuers later said that Acatilta’s body was recovered in a deep sink hole near where he was dragged beneath the water surface. Locals said that despite the calm waters, the bay is especially dangerous for swimmers because the ground surface drops off suddenly in areas. “If you are a fisherman and you don’t know the water and are not an advanced swimmer you should be extremely careful in this area,” said FDNY Deputy Chief Bob May.

A witness described the anguish of watching Acatilta drown and not being able to do anything about it. “It was crazy because I’m actually witnessing somebody die and I can’t help him,” said the man, who didn’t provide his name. “It was crazy.”

Acatilta’s brother later told reporters that the victim worked in a supermarket and grew up in the Mexican state Tlaxcala. He is the city’s second drowning victim this year. Last year, three people drowned at city beaches.

Following the tragedy, local officials called for measures to help prevent future drownings. “This heartbreaking accident is all the more painful because it could have been avoided,” said Frank Gulluscio, a local Democratic District Leader and City Council candidate. “As many longtime residents of this area know, there are a number of common sense proposals that can ensure that our parks and beaches remain safe for everyone. We need to make sure that there is adequate signage on Jamaica Bay shore areas, not only that swimming is prohibited, but that the dangerous tides and crevices can pose a threat. Additionally, we need increased patrols on land, especially those under Gateway’s jurisdiction, during weekends and high volume days.”

Lawsuit Filed Against NYRA

Property Bidder Claims Foul on Public Auction

By Patricia Adams

The June 10th auction to sell off 64 lots belonging to the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has resulted in a lawsuit filed last month by one of the bidders at the sale. John Sita, a Brooklyn resident, attended the auction and purchased a total of more than $1 million of property being offered by Maltz Auctioneers on behalf of NYRA.

Now Sita contends, NYRA says he is not the owner of three of those lots, located along Huron Street near Hawtree Street and Eckford Avenue. The lots named in the suit were, according to Sita, sold to him as the highest bidder at the auction for $233,200.

Stephan Gleich, Sita’s attorney told The Forum that the three lots were the only ones being held up by NYRA and that there were no problems with the rest of his client’s purchase.= Gleich says that Sita got a signed contract from NYRA on the day of the auction and that copies of that document were filed as part of his client’s lawsuit.

According to Gleich NYRA agreed on the day of the sale to Sita’s bid but decided not to honor the sale after having received a higher bid from a party who did not even attend the auction. “It is my client’s position that when an auction is held and all the rules of the seller are followed and you put up your money and are the highest bidder then the process is complete,” said Gleich. “It is unconscionable to think that the auction would continue to force bidders to pay more than the original agreement.”

Gleich further explained that if NYRA did not want to sell the property for less than a certain amount they could have entered a reserve on particular lots which would pre-empt the sale at anything less than their target price.

Rules for the auction were posted on the website for Maltz Auctions prior to the sale and clearly stated that successful bidders would meet immediately following the auction with David R. Maltz & Co. Inc. representatives to complete the necessary documents. Within 48 hours after the auction, a total deposit and buyers' premium equal to 16% of the high bid at auction must have been received.

Gleich states that his client followed through with every requirement, but notification never came within 48 hours of the auction. What did come however was a phone call from Maltz to inform Sita that if he wanted the three lots he thought he already owned, he would have to fork over an additional sum to match a bidder that came in roughly $70,000 higher than his bid.

“My client has a signed contract and there was failure of notification. If that does not secure the property for Mr. Sita then I am confident that the fact that the process is inherently unfair will prevail in this matter.”

According to Dan Silver, NYRA’s Director of Communication and Media Relations, "NYRA conducted the auction with full transparency and to the letter of the rules that were widely published and known to all auction participants. That being said, NYRA will not comment on the particulars of any pending lawsuit pending resolution of the matter through the judicial system."

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Sita in late June must be answered within twenty days of service. A spokesperson at Maltz Auctions refused comment in the matter.

Eight Years After Terror Attacks, Statue of Liberty's Crown Reopens

By Conor Greene

For the first time since the 9/11 attacks, visitors to Liberty Island were allowed to make the 354-step climb to Lady Liberty’s crown this past Fourth of July.

While Liberty Island was reopened three months after the terrorist attacks, the statue itself remained closed to the public until 2004, when portions, including the statue’s pedestal and observation deck, were reopened. However, the crown remained closed, despite objections by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and other officials.

Last summer, the National Parks Service finally issued a request for quotes on a security plan that would allow the crown to reopen. That document outlined a one-year timeline to prepare a report on how to provide safe, secure access to the crown – exactly what Weiner said he had requested NPS to prepare four years prior.

“July 4th represents a glorious day for Lady Liberty and her many visitors. She becomes the last national monument that was closed on 9/11 to reopen,” said Rep. Weiner. “A true symbol of American values again stands tall…An era of foot-dragging and excusemaking comes to an end.”

The crown’s reopening marks both a symbolic victory in the nation’s recovery from 9/11, and a “victory over the bureaucratic naysayers that have kept the crown closed for eight years,” said Weiner. “They said it shouldn’t be done and they said it couldn’t be done. For years, the American people and I have disagreed,” he said. “I am thrilled that this odd chapter in the history of the Statue of Liberty is closed. But it is hard not to ask: ‘What took them so long?’”

On Independence Day this past Saturday, events marking the crown’s reopening kicked off at about 8 a.m. on Liberty Island with a ceremony for seven military personnel who are among the nation’s newest citizens. “The idea of freedom is why I moved to this country, and this moment means more than I can even describe with words,” 26-year-old Sameh Zaki, aa native of Egypt, told the Daily News.

About an hour later, the first of the 240 lucky individuals who scored tickets to visit the crown on Saturday gathered at the base of the statue. Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony by officials including United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, New York Governor David Paterson, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Rep. Weiner, the first group of 30 began the long climb to the crown, which rises about 265 feet high.

“We are going to open up the crown to the people of America and to the people of the world,” said Salazar. In a statement released this week, Weiner recalled a vow made by Interior Secretary Gale Norton from the observation deck of the Hoover Dam on December 12, 2001. “Even though atrocities such as those of September 11 can affect us, they cannot close us down.”

The effort to having the crown reopened to the public picked up steam last August, when the National Parks Service awarded a contract to a Baltimore firm to conduct a emergency management study for the Statue of Liberty. This past January, newlynamed Interior Secretary Salazar toured the site with Weiner before announcing in May that the crown would reopen for this past Fourth of July.

First in line on Saturday morning was Barbara McLean, 56, of Atlanta. “Being able to look out from the crown is what this country is all about,” she told the Daily News.

And, while the statue is a symbol of the nation’s liberty, one could say that 26-year-old Aaron Weisinger of California said goodbye to his freedom after proposing to girlfriend Erica Bender inside the cramped crown. “I was beyond surprised,” Bender told the New York Times. “It’s the perfect place for both of us,” she added of the location, as both had relatives who immigrated to America through New York City.

Tickets to take the ferry to Liberty Island and tour the statue cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $5 for children and are only available at Tickets for the next 12 months are currently on sale, but tours are sold out through mid-October. While those who cannot wait unit then should avoid purchasing a ticket on secondary markets such as E-bay or Craigslist (each ticket has a specific name printed on it), some spots could open up due to cancellations. Check the Website or call (877) 523-9849.

Streets Renamed for Nancy Cataldi, Frederick Haller

By Conor Greene

Streets in Richmond Hill and Glendale have been renamed after two notable members of the neighborhoods, announced City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley.

The Union Turnpike mall between Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue in Glendale will be named the Frederick D. Haller Way, and 109th Street between 86th Street and Jamaica Avenue will be known as Nancy Cataldi Way. The ceremonial names were approved on June 30, when the City Council passed legislation to rename streets throughout the five boroughs.

“I am proud to honor both Nancy Cataldi and Frederick D. Haller for their leadership and dedication to preserving the character of our community and improving the lives of our members,” said Crowley (D-Middle Village) in a statement. “Both Nancy Cataldi and Frederick Haller demonstrate how each of us, when we work hard and remain dedicated, can make lasting change in our community. That is why I believe it is important to recognize those who are proactive about improving the lives of all our neighbors, and documenting our history.”

Nancy Lucia Cataldi settled in Richmond Hill is 1963 and had many of her photographs published in prestigious magazines. In 1994, with boyfriend Stefano Palo, she purchased a 1905 Victorian House in Richmond Hill at 86-22 109th Street. She marveled at its romantic and historic allure and developed a deep interest in the neighborhood. The house was tenderly restored and refurbished. Through research she learned that the house was designed by noted Richmond Hill architect Henry E. Haugaard.

In 1996 with the help of Dr. Stanley Cogan, Queens Borough Historian, her house received one of the first Queensmark awards for historical, architectural and cultural merit. In 1997 she and other residents formed the Richmond Hill Historical Society, and by 1999 she was President of the organization. In 2000, during a House and Garden Tour, her beloved mother Lucia passed away. Teaming up with Richmond Hill Historian Carl Ballenas, the idea of writing a book on the history of Richmond Hill evolved. Working with Arcadia Publishing they gathered many vintage postcards and newspaper articles. The book has over 200 photographs and many informative historical accounts.

Frederick D. Haller helped organize the first Home School Association at Sacred Heart School in Glendale and was a charter member of the Monsignor Sherman Council, Knights of Columbus. He is also a member of the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, founder of the Greater Ridgewood YMCA, board member and past president of the Glendale Kiwanis Club and a member of Community Board 5, serving as chairman from 1972 to 1983. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Wyckoff Heights Hospital for forty years and served as Chairman of the Board for more than fifteen years (1982 – 1998), the longest chairmanship of the hospital in its more than 100 year history.

The new names are ceremonial, meaning they will not replace the official name on maps. The new signs are expected to be installed by the fall.

A Cakewalk Through Forest Hills

By Steve Tiszenkel

As a Forest Hills loyalist, I’m always looking for ways in which we trump all other neighborhoods. I continue to believe that FoHi is pound for pound the best nabe in New York, but where is our dominance indisputable? We’ve got great public transportation, pretty streets, top-notch schools, great housing stock, an eclectic collection of restaurants, shopping galore—but we’re hardly the only place around that can make those claims. Yes, Cottage Living Magazine named Forest Hills Gardens the No. 1 cottage community of 2007, and I feel fortunate every day to live right around the corner, but if you don’t actually own a cottage of your own there—to say nothing of your ability to take advantage of the enclave’s restricted parking—that distinction is as much frustration as triumph.

But seemingly out of nowhere, in the darkest depths of the Great Recession, when storefronts sit sad and empty for months — even years — at a time, Forest Hills has slowly but steadily been developing a secret weapon, an embarrassment of riches that the most precious South Brooklyn neighborhood can only hope to equal.


Yes, bakeries. Haven’t you noticed? The offerings weren’t too shabby before—over on the little block of Ascan just north of the Gardens, one of the Hills’ poshest stretches, Bonnelle has been turning out perfect fruit tarts and shortbread cookies for years, and a co-worker who grew up in the area has been begging me to pick him up a chocolate babka from Andre’s Hungarian way on the other side of town. Jay-Dee maintains one of the neighborhood’s coolest old neon signs, a true landmark on Queens Boulevard. And even with all the local culinary luminaries who set up shop at the Forest Hills Community House’s Taste of Forest Hills event a couple of years back, Metropolitan Avenue’s La Dolce Italia managed to make a huge impression on me—and probably my waistline—with its beautifully done Italian cookies and pastries.

But those places are old hat. Ever since Astoria import Martha’s Country Bakery opened a Forest Hills outpost and quickly found it had to install one of those take-a-number systems to help with crowd control, we’ve experienced a bakedgoods renaissance. Fay Da has brought good and, not unimportantly, dirt-cheap Chinese buns to the neighborhood, and Brooklyn-based newcomer Oko has given the old Queens bakery a minimalist twist. Manhattan chain Europan Café — I believe the name means “European bread café” in European — is still setting up shop on the corner of the 70th Road Restaurant Row.

What’s truly remarkable is that at a time when business owners can’t seem to catch a break, in a place whose picture Merriam-Webster Unabridged could use to illustrate “saturated market,” all these bakeries seem to be thriving. The only failure has been Broadway Bakery, but it doesn’t take Ray Kroc or Sam Walton to figure out that you don’t open a new location a block away from your old location and keep the old one open—and anyway, Broadway was always an also-ran in the bakestakes, in taste if not in inexplicable success. No matter—a new Italian bakery has moved into the space, and things look like they’re doing fine in there.

Bakeries seem like an oddly specific business to be booming right now, but it does make sense—baked goods are a relatively inexpensive luxury, and they make you feel good, at least until they make you feel very bad. It’s sort of like buying overvalued real estate with a variable-rate mortgage. I’m not complaining. Sure, it would be nice to see some more variety out there, but unlike the endless banks that proliferated in better years, at least this is something we all can enjoy—except diabetics, of course.

Giant cookies are good. And being the best at something is even better.

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

Interview with a... Thespian

By Mickey Hornung

This interview is not being done by Christian Slater to a vampire Brad Pitt about his life and struggles with Tom Cruise, but with a local Howard Beach’er transplanted down to Rockaway Beach. Our very own thespian, Thaddeus Schneider who I banter and tell him whenever I meet up “Hey it’s the handsomest man in old Howard beach!”

All joking aside we have a man living the hard life of ups and downs of being an actor. So I ventured into his world asking 20 or so questions into the mind of hoe he sees his art—acting. The following questions and answers from this affable man and his artiest I was able to get him to fit me into his schedule off the set of his 1st action film in NYC.

Q – Where did you get the bug to act?

A- My first taste was a ADIDAS commercial with Brooke Shields in central park. To say I caught the acting Bug was after a scene with Angeline Jolie in the movie “Hells Kitchen” and I gota teacher and casting agent, that’s when I really felt drawn in.

Q- How has your environment affected your art?

A- Being a bartender you pick up a lot of different emotions good and bad and carry on a conversation on with every wanting person that ponies up to the bar.
Q- How do you keep financially afloat when you are in your down periods?

A- Mostly picking up bartending gigs and the residuals from my TV shows.

Q- What is your ultimate goal and what do you want to achieve?

A- Focusing on producing a project, A NYC script and looking for investors.

Q- Is there anyone in the family who is artistic?

A- Yes My cousin April Deveraux who is an actress and model on the west coast.
Q- Your status?

A- Single – father.

Q- Your likes?

A- Surfing and bike riding in Coney Island.

Q- Your Dislikes?

A- Negativity.

Q- Do you have any other artistic outlets?

A- Photography, writing, scripts, and I support
independent films in all forms I can.

Q- Who are your mentors or who do you look up to as actors on and off the silver screen, TV, and on Broadway?

A- It fluctuates from year to year; I would like to work with Clint Eastwood as a Director

Q- I know it is about the art of acting, but what awards have you been up for or won?

A- Best actor in the NY International Film and video festival I was up for Best Supporting role LA international Film and Video Award, I also won Best actor in Hunter College Film Festival.

Q- Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?

A- Directing and producing.

Q- Are there any people you especially like to work with?

A- Patricia Arquette, Dennis Farina, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Martin, Danielle Sun Jha.

Q- After winning the NY Best Acting Award, where did you go from there? And have you benefited from it?

A- Because of it, I shot a TV pilot called, “Skells” I was also introduces to a large agency in NY which has now gotten me into producing.

Q- Weren’t you involved in NYC parks lifeguarding?

A- Yes I also received the highest award for saving woman while off duty!

Q- Do you have an Agent? And what do they do?

A- I have no agent, its hard in NYC where as in LA they scope you right up.

Q- How long do you give it to make it?

A- It takes 20 years to become a overnight success.

Q- How do you prepare for your roles?

A- It is personal.

So you think it’s that easy becoming an actor or actress, it certainly isn’t. You give up so much of your life for minutes of recognition or payment for your art. So remember the next time out, tip that bartender or waitress a little above because they are probably someone committed to some degree of the arts which e all enjoy, and have enjoyed all though the ages.

See ya around the beach!