Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Gov's Special Election Call Leads to Criticism

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Councilman Vows to Wipe Out Graffiti

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Formed to Handle Dog Run Proposal

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Push for Action in Wake of Rockaway Drownings

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Vegetables for Seniors' Program Kicks Off

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Worker Dies after Fall onto Tracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Council Prepares to Renovate New Building

Busy Summer Included Cancer Awareness Event

By Conor Greene

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

New Building Effort

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

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

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

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

Cancer Awareness at PS 153

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

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

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

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

Board Concerned Over Restaurant Depot Demolition

City Prepares to Move Forward with Maspeth School Project

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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