Thursday, June 24, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Fabulous Feast

More than 25,000 people flocked to St. Helen’s in Howard Beach last week for the 1st Annual St. Anthony’s Feast.

The five-day event was held on parish grounds and was organized and hosted by St. Helen’s and the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation.

Msgr. Alfred LoPinto celebrated mass in honor of St. Anthony on Wednesday evening with more than 500 parishoners and visitors in attendance. After mass, there was a procession through the streets surrounding the church with devotees of St. Anthony following closely behind a life-size statue of the patron Saint of Padua.

Speaking about the venture, Msgr. LoPinto praised the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation for their contribution to the event. “This partnership helped to bring a feast unlike others to St. Helen’s Parish.” Msgr. LoPinto credited the great success of the event to the addition of a procession and shrine to St. Anthony as well as extensive entertainment and a wide variety of foods.

President of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Mario Faulisi also agreed that the joint venture was a successful undertaking. “At the end of the day we measure success by how many people show up and how many had a good time. In that case, this event was very
successful.” To close out the feast on Sunday, Joe Causi of WCBS radio hosted the day’s activities where crowds ate, sang, danced and enjoyed rides and games. Zeppole and cannoli eaters competed for prizes and feasters were treated to a surprise when Freestyle Queen Judy Torres of WKTU dropped and took the stage for over an hour.

Proceeds from the feast will be divided among the Foundation to support their Language Study Program and St. Helen’s School.

Straphangers Campaign Ranks M Train City's Dirtiest

By Tamara Best

The results are in for the 11th annual Subway Shmutz Survey, and for commuters in Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale, the news isn’t so good. The most widely used subway in the area, the M line, has been named the dirtiest line of all 22 citywide.

The survey, conducted by the watchdog group the Straphangers Campaign, measures the cleanliness of city subway lines based on 2,200 observations between September and November 2009.

The 6 line, which operates in Manhattan and the Bronx, and the C line, running from Manhattan to Brooklyn, were named the best with a rating of 65 percent for cleanliness.

Lines were rated based on MTA official standards. They were named “clean” if subway cars contained ‘light’ dirt or were ‘basically dirt free’-- generally clean overall.

“Moderately” dirty lines had dingy floors and/or one or two sticky dry spots, while “heavily” dirty cars contained spilled food, sticky wet spots and left some seating unusable. The survey did not take litter into consideration.

Commuters waiting for the M train at local stations had mixed reviews for the state of the line on Tuesday morning.

“It tends to be dirtier headed into Manhattan but to me on the Queens side it is pretty clean,” said Michael Phillips, who was waiting for a Queens-bound train.

Another traveler, Michael Ortiz, said he disagrees with the rating. “I don’t believe it’s the dirtiest train line. I’ve ridden it my whole life and there are lines that are much worse like the D train. There’s usually graffiti but that’s about it,” he said.

Diana Kinscherf, who was waiting for a Manhattan-bound train and rides the M line twice a week, described it as “pretty dirty,” with coffee cups and newspapers all over.

There is some good news about the M line. Straphangers reports that 90 percent of M line trains arrive with more regularity, higher than the average of 87 percent. The line also breaks down less with commuters more likely to get a seat.

At the end of the month, the M and V lines will merge, retaining the M line designation.
The new route will run between Forest Hills and Metropolitan Avenue, with service to midtown Manhattan instead of downtown.

Of the 22 subway lines in New York City, more than half run through Queens. In addition to the M line, the E, F, and V service Rego Park and Forest Hills, the L goes through Ridgewood and the E, F, R and V operate in Forest Hills. No lines run through Maspeth. The F and V lines were also cited for having significant deterioration from last year. Overall, fifty percent of cars were dubbed clean, down from 57 percent in fall 2008, while half grew worse according to the survey.

Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers Campaign said a reduction in
the budget has decreased the MTA’s cleaning staff, resulting in more dirt in the subway.

"It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: an MTA Transit cut in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” he said. “And more cuts mean more dirt for subway riders.”

In 2009, there were 1,138 cleaners and 146 supervisors, a decline from 1,181 cleaners and 155 cleaners in 2008. The 2010 budget calls for a further decrease with 1,030 cleaners and 123 supervisors.

“We saw a pretty distinct decline between 2008 and 2009,” said Cate Contino with Straphangers. “We will do the survey again next year and see what happens.”

The MTA also conducted their own semi-annual survey, citing that the overall cleanliness of cars improved over the second half of 2009, according to a report published in February 2010.

However, the MTA and Straphangers differed on its assessment of the percentage of clean cars and overall improvement. MTA cited that an average 95 percent of cars are clean, in comparison to 50 percent cited by the Straphangers Campaign.

MTA surveys are conducted only on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. while the Straphangers’ surveys are random throughout the day and night and on weekends.

The MTA released the following statement in response to the survey’s findings:
With the current budget challenges being faced by MTA New York City Transit, we acknowledge that some subway car floors may not be as clean as our customers expect or deserve. However, we will monitor conditions and shift forces as necessary. We also take the opportunity to remind customers to pitch in and help keep the subway as clean as possible by utilizing proper refuse receptacles.

Despite a harsh review for the M line by the Straphangers Campaign, experienced commuters say it’s all a matter of perspective and subway experience. “All of the lines are dirty,” acknowledged seasoned rider Samantha Villafane. “It’s New York City— you have to get used to the dirt.”

Authorities Look to Curb Underage Alcohol Sales

By Tamara Best

With the official start of summer here, local law enforcement officials say they are looking to curb the annual trend of underage drinking which peaks this time of year.

Since February, the 104th Precinct has been conducting a series of stings on major streets in the area, penalizing businesses that sell alcohol to underage customers.

“It’s definitely a quality of life issue that we have to address and we take it seriously because the alcohol leads to other problems,” said Special Operations Officer Lt. James Lombardi, who helps coordinate the precinct’s efforts to reduce the sale of alcohol to minors.

Between May 17 and June 13, the precinct issued a total of 264 summonses, of which 112 were alcohol related. In 2009 for the same time period, 370 summonses were issued with 160 for alcohol sales. Though numbers are on a slight decline from last year, the 104th Precinct is gearing up to conduct more stings in coming weeks.

***Got I.D.?***

In an effort to identify businesses selling alcohol to minors, officers from the 104th Precinct conduct undercover visits to local stores and bars.

Auxiliary police officers between the ages of 18 and 20 who are specially trained for underage alcohol sales attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages. The auxiliary officers are from other precincts to ensure their personal safety and are always under the supervision of officers from the 104th Precinct while working. Officers are not allowed to participate if they are within six months of their 21st birthday, Lombardi said.

“They are really professional and they love it,” he said of the auxiliary officers.

The auxiliary officers enter a business and attempt to buy an alcoholic beverage, without presenting any form of I.D. If the seller asks the officer to present I.D., they are not issued a summons. Officers are required to reveal their real age if and when asked by the seller.

“We’re not trying to fool the owners, we just want them to ask for I.D.,” Lombardi said. “I would prefer to give zero summonses.”

If the seller provides the undercover officer with alcohol, another officer in uniform will then enter the business and issue the seller with a summons. The purchased alcohol is poured out and the officers move on to another location.

Since February, the precinct has conducted undercover operations at 56 locations and has issued 21 summonses over the last 28 days alone. Most stores checked for violations have I.D. signs posted for the sale of tobacco but very few for alcohol.

Out of the 56 visits, there was a heavy concentration of sales on Woodward, Onderdonk and Seneca avenues in Ridgewood. Woodward Avenue had some of highest numbers of stores with more than one violation including Rodriguez Deli, Anais Deli and Woodward Supermarket.

Management at Rodriguez and Anais Delis were unavailable comment upon store visits by press time. However, management at Woodward Supermarket, who declined to give their name, said the two sales were an honest mistake.

“The guy came in and looked like he was in his 30s, he didn’t look young so the clerk didn’t think to check for I.D. But now, we always check,” they said.

Businesses that receive three or more summons are cited for nuisance abatement, which penalizes entities that pose a recurring problem to the public. Businesses cited for nuisance abatement face possible fines and closures of their store, according to Lombardi.

***Booze and Consequences***

According to The International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, underage drinking cost the state $3.2 billion in 2005. New York ranks 38th in the highest amount spent for the cost of youth for underage drinking.

Aside from costing tax buyers money, underage drinking poses problems for law enforcement.

“The drinking leads to other behavior, sometimes violent,” Lombardi said, adding that alcohol is often a factor in assault and other violent domestic cases.

However, the most significant threat underage drinking poses serious injury and loss of life.

Consumption of alcohol by teens contributes to three of the most common causes of death according to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Last year 1,900 people under 21 died in alcohol related accidents, 1,600 from homicide and 300 from suicide in addition to injuries ranging from fall, burns and drowning.

Organizations devoted to curbing underage drinking say prevention and education on the part of retailers is crucial to efforts to stop minors from having access to alcohol. OASAS has an “Underage Drinking Not a Minor Problem,” campaign, a toolkit which gives others who want to spread the warning about underage drinking through flyers, public service announcements and other resources.

The New York State Liquor Authority also provides a handbook for retailers that offer tips on how to check for valid I.D. when presented by customers.

Additionally, this week state Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) introduced legislation aimed at curbing underage drinking by offering incentives to bar owners who participate in training programs.

"As we enter the high season for underage drinking - with proms, graduations, summer festivals, block parties and July fourth right around the corner - we've got to be on alert and ready to take action,” he said. “By enlisting local bars and restaurants we prevent more minors from being served and together ensure a safer summer for all New Yorkers."

Overcrowding, Standardized Tests Key Concerns In District 24

By Tamara Best

Improving performance on standardized tests, overcrowded classrooms and budget cuts were among key topics at the Community Education Council 24 meeting Tuesday.

“Seniors, public safety and education—those are three things you don't cut,” said Nick Comaianni, president of council. “Fill my pothole next year, I'll drive around it. But don't cut education,” he said.

Comaianni and other parents said they were thankful that MTA decided not to cut the student MetroCard program, which provides free or reduced fare cards to students.

A representative from state Senator Joe Addabbo’s office said legislators are diligently working to meet the June 28 deadline to complete the budget and are hoping to avoid cuts to the education system.

***Standardized Test Performance***

Madelene Chan, community superintendent for District 24, offered parents a preliminary assessment of state standardized test scores for spring 2009. The official scores for spring 2010 are not expected to be available until July, she said.

Enrollment across the district, which covers Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village, Corona, Woodside and parts of Long Island City and Sunnyside, hit 49,525 students this year, an increase of 1,000 from last year. Chan reported that the district is also in good standing, meeting testing benchmarks for the 2009-10 school year.

Preliminary results of spring 2009 show that students in third through fifth grade, performed well in areas of math and science. Ninety one percent of students performed at or above the state standard in math, followed by students with disabilities at 72 percent and 80 percent for English language learners.

In the science assessment for fourth grade, 84 percent of all students performed or at above the standard, followed by 63 percent of those with disabilities and 64 percent of English language learners.

The trend in math continued with six to eighth graders, in all three categories, scoring above 50 percent. However, Chan said there is still much work to be done to improve overall performance.

"Some subgroups didn't meet all the target goals," she said, adding that improving reading is a top priority.

Only 41 percent of students with disabilities performed at or above the state on the English Language Arts test, with 47 percent of English language learners met the target for grades three through five.

In grades six through eight, the results were worse with only 31 percent of students with disabilities performing at or above state standard, followed by 24 percent for English language learners.

Chan said the overall performance of special populations in District 24 is a primary area and focus for improvement in the coming year.

***Overcrowding, Charter Schools and Gifted Education***

“Our biggest enemy is that we can’t find space to build a school fast enough,” said Comaianni of the overcrowding, adding that parents should have a say in where schools are built based on need.

The board is waiting to receive updates on a new school expected to be built at Metropolitan Avenue and Tonsor Street at the site of a former Rite Aid.

The lack of seats for students in need of gifted education was also a hot issue among parents at Tuesday’s meeting. Some expressed frustration that their children passed the test only to be told that there were no seats available at their respective schools.

“No one is going to set the bar higher for education higher than parents,” said one audience member.

Comaianni said in addition to increasing the performance index, more attention needs to be given to opening seats in the gifted program.

“Special needs is not just for kids with special needs but for students who excel,” he said. Comaianni also hailed the progress being made with reform to state charter schools. “It’s no longer we take the crème de la crème,’ he said.

In May, the state legislature passed legislation that widened the statewide cap for charter school enrollment from 200 to 460 and limits the role of those who profit from the schools operation, according to the United Federation of Teachers. Twenty three schools can be opened in September 2011.

The bill now requires charter schools to accept students with disabilities, English language learners, bars for-profit organizations from operating schools and give parents a voice in co-location issues.

However, Comaianni said he still has concerns over the lottery system used for enrollment and accountability. Additionally he said that when “public funds are used for a private school, some oversight is needed,” adding that school administrations should have to answer to the community at local education council meetings.

After 50 Years of Service, DA Richard Brown Still Going Strong

By Tamara Best

Over the better part of the past two decades, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has just about seen it all.

Brown is the longest serving district attorney in county history and has more than 50 years in public service. On Thursday, Brown was honored with a plaque for his work by the John F. Kennedy Regular Democratic Club.

“We had him as a guest speaker and he’s a very special individual to us,” said Jeff Gottlieb, president of the club. “He’s very personable and approachable, He treats everyone the same and does a great job.”

Raised in Queens, Brown held several judicial positions including Justice of the Supreme Court in Queens County. He said having a judicial background has helped in his work as the district attorney.

In 1991, he was appointed Queens district attorney by then-Governor Mario M. Cuomo. Brown said he can still recall the struggle he faced when he was elected district attorney for the first time in the early 1990s.

“When I started out in 1991 it was a very bad year,” he said, adding that the county - much like other areas of the nation - grappled with the crack epidemic that left communities paralyzed with drug addiction and violence. “We had 361 homicides in my first year.”

Brown was later elected to a full four-year term as district attorney in the November 1991 general election and re-elected in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007.

In his role as district attorney, Brown said a key emphasis is being visible and accessible.

“I get to the crime scenes because it is important to maintain a close relationship with law enforcement,” Brown said.

Three days a week, he meets with different bureaus to stay up to date on the cases. “If I ask a question I want an answer,” he said adding that “it helps everyone stay on their toes.”

Over the years, Brown said he has dealt with many memorable and tragic cases such as the College Point massacre of 1995 in which six people held hostage in a Queens apartment were killed. However, out of all the cases he has worked on, Brown said the Sean Bell case was the most “physically and emotionally taxing.”

“The Sean Bell case was the most difficult case I’ve had in a long time,” said Brown. “Emotions were high on both sides.”

Sean Bell, a 23-year-old man Queens man, was shot and killed on Nov. 25, 2006 outside of a Jamaica strip club just hours before his wedding. Bell, along with two friends, was inside a Nissan Altima, when five officers fired 50 bullets into the car. It was later determined that Bell and his two surviving friends were unarmed.

At 5:30 that morning, Brown said he took immediate action after receiving a call from an assistant district attorney alerting him to what happened.

“That morning I called three people: the mayor, the police commissioner and Al Sharpton.”

The case sparked controversy across the country, centering on discussions of race and use of deadly force by police. In 2008, Justice Arthur J. Cooperman acquitted the officers of all charges they faced in Bell’s shooting death.

High profile cases aside, Brown said each year and situation presents new challenges. One of the most substantial in the last few years has been the budget.

“We’ve taken budget reduction since 9/11, about 20 percent,” he said, resulting in a decrease in the amount of assistant district attorneys and forcing law enforcement to do more with less.

When asked by members of the Democratic Club his thoughts on the current budget deadlock in Albany, he said he hopes it will resolve itself soon.

Despite the early days and late nights of the job, Brown said he still looks forward to going to work everyday.

“The agency is busy 24/7 and I love it,” Brown told the audience.

As for when he will retire, he says it’s too soon to tell. “It’s been a wonderful career and it’s not over by a long shot.”

Baseball Ticket Fees Add Up

Yankees and Mets fans who buy tickets online hoping to save time are being hit with added fees.

According to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Forest Hills), who conducted a study on baseball ticket fees, the Yankees and Mets have some of the highest fees amongst Major League Baseball teams.

Fans are required to pay a series of fees depending on whether they buy their tickets over the phone or online. Convenience fees, which allow customers to choose which venues their buy their tickets from, cost fans between $3.60 to $10.95 for Yankees tickets and between $4.00 and $15.00 for Mets tickets.

Tickets printed at home for each team costs $2.50, in addition to an order processing fee of $3.30 for the Yankees and $5 for the Mets. The only way to avoid the fees is by purchasing tickets at the stadium.

And fans of both teams say they are less than happy about the added costs.

“It definitely curbs my desire to buy tickets,” said Liz Peterson, a Mets fan. “In fact, it generally annoys me so much I rethink tickets I've already decided to buy when I get hit with a $5 fee for calling for tickets, then fees to e-mail tickets, then fees for if the tickets themselves weren't overpriced enough.”

Yankee fan Jerry McGuire says he’s glad to have the new stadium but is disgusted by management tactics to soak fans for ticket extras.

“If I want to give my tickets to someone for one of my games, I shouldn’t have to pay the team for that privilege,” he said. “They continue to make idiots of us and the worst is we keep going back for more.”

However, the biggest issue with the added fees is the impact on ticket specials. For select games, the Yankees offer a $5 ticket special with fees sometimes adding up to $ 9.40.

“It is reasonable to pay some convenience fees when buying tickets online, but a $9.40 fee on a $5 ticket is ridiculous,” said Weiner. “Why should New York fans pay more in fees than their ticket is worth?”

Student MetroCards Saved

By Patricia Adams

New York City students will still be able to get discounted rides to school after a decision last week by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) not to suspend the issue of free student MetroCards.

In an e-mail sent by the MTA on Friday, the authority realized "charging students would have a life-changing impact on the ability of New Yorkers to receive a quality education."

Threats to start charging students half fare began when MTA Chairman Jay Walder announced that unless the city and state contributed more money to the program the agency would have to make up for the lack of funding by charging students. According to the MTA, the student cards cost $214 million per year.

By instituting a charge for students, the authority was depending on about $30 million in student revenue through 2010 and an additional $62 million for the year through 2011.

Now the agency says although the student contributions would have made a “small but important contribution” to closing the $750 million deficit, the consequences would be devastating. "The budget deficit that we are facing will increase," the MTA said in its statement about continuing the free cards, "but the alternative is far worse."

As of 1994, city and state contributions to the program were $45 million each but as of this year, the state had proposed to lower their kick-in to $6 million as a result of the budget crisis. Now the city will continue with its $45 million while the state will be responsible for a $25 million contribution according to a proposal issued by Gov. David Paterson in January.

The heated debate over student fares has played out for the last several months, with politicians and public officials displaying more resistance and hostility over proposed changes for students than the agency’s plans to eliminate bus routes, subway lines and make other service cuts.

Following the announcement by the MTA to continue funding the cards, local elected officials expressed their feelings on the restoration. Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) who vehemently opposed the cuts said, “This represents not only a victory for my constituents, but for families of the more than 500,000 city school children who rely on free MetroCards to get to and from school each day. It was totally inappropriate to use students as pawns in the budget negotiating process, and I am glad to see that the state legislature and MTA have decided
to finally do the right thing.”

State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who earlier this year organized a petition drive in his district to stop the cuts said, “Together we rallied to send a clear message that eliminating student MetroCards that allow students to ride the subway and bus at a substantially reduced cost would be catastrophic for working families.Our message was heard loud and clear.” The MTA says it will set out to address the agency’s budget deficit as early as next month.

Ulrich Law to Crack Down on Noise

Legislation seeks to strengthen residential noise control

Noise complaints still hover at the top of the charts when it comes to 311 complaints. City
Councilman Eric Ulrich says residents in his district are continuously plagued by noise, which is causing a serious decline in their quality of life.

“These complaints continue to represent one of the main issues for residents throughout my district,” and according to the Councilman, law enforcement officials and courts need a stronger noise control ordinance, “so that inconsiderate neighbors, especially chronic offenders, are held accountable for their bad behavior.”

Statistics from July 1, 2009 through June 15th show that a total of 5,424 noise related complaints were filed through 311 by residents in Community Boards 9, 10 and 14.

The new law would close a loophole in existing legislation allowing action only against noise made by a device. Under Ulrich’s bill, enforcement officials will be able to act against all excessive noise, including that of a human voice.

Highlights of the Bill:
•Prohibits noise above 35 decibels between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and noise in excess of 42 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., as measured from the complainant’s property.
•Fines between $250 and $1,000 for the first offense. Officers have the option of issuing a warning for a first offense if the noise is below 50 decibels.
•A second violation within 72 hours, even if a warning was given the first time, results in fines of between $500 and $2,000. The person is then considered a willful violator, and the sound device can be impounded by police.
•Penalties ranging from $750 to $5,000 if three violations are received within two years for the same offense. Four violations within one year results in misdemeanor charges.
•If at any time the sound is found to be excess of 75 decibels, the individual is considered
a willful violator and the sound equipment can be confiscated, even on the first offense.

The bill only applies to residential homes and apartment buildings, and not to commercial
establishments, which are already covered under the existing noise control ordinance. It has been referred to the Committee on Environmental Protection for review.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Railcar Causes Health Concerns Among Residents

By Tamara Best

Shortly after 5 a.m. as the night sky gives way to sunrise, residents in parts of Middle Village and Glendale receive their morning wake up call.

Garbage trucks rumble down residential streets and rail cars sit idling as they wait to be loaded with waste before heading to their final destination.

Though the sounds have become in some ways ambient noises to the morning routine, residents and local civic groups say the cars are not only a nuisance but pose a hazard to the quality of life. Over the last few months the battle has heated up, with discussions of waste routes taking center stage.

“We’ve always had the railroad but now they are using our backyards as rail yards and that’s what people in the community didn’t bank on,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “It affects peoples lives with the noise and pollution. These people can’t sleep and if you can’t sleep it affects your whole life.”

The trains, which operate using diesel fuel, create soot, mostly made of carbon and other gases including nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide among other pollutants. When combined, breathing them in can have adverse health impacts.

Health impacts from diesel soot in Middle Village “exceeds the risk of all other air toxics tracked by EPA combined,” for lifetime cancer risk, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

Criteria that increase the risk, according to CATF, include living near: highways and busy roadways; bus and truck depots; construction sites; major bridges, tunnels and ports, freight warehouses— and railroad yards and terminals.

“We’re not willing to compromise the effects of our health. Until someone can tell me breathing in that dust is good for me- I’m going to keep coming here,” said Laura Zimmer, Middle Village resident, during the Community Board 5 meeting last week.

Across the nation, Queens ranks in the 99th percentile for unhealthiest counties as it relates to diesel soot intake. According to a study done for CATF, approximately 21,000 people in the U.S. die prematurely each year from breathing diesel soot and 3,000 from lung cancer.

Seeking to counter the effects of the harmful emissions, New York & Atlantic Railway in April announced plans to invest $1 million to aid in emission reduction by one third and its carbon footprint by 35 percent.

In an October 2009 letter to Mary Arnold, a Glendale resident impacted by the trains, the Environmental Protection Agency touted “repowering,” replacing older engines with newer and cleaner certified engines, as the most effective way to reduce emissions.

While diesel emissions pose a hazard, odor and debris from the cars are also a cause of concern. There are primarily two types of rail cars: those that contain construction and demolition debris and those that contain solid waste.

Each type carries its own hazards, depending on how they are stored in the yards. The rail cars with solid waste, covered with solid lids, often emit foul odors during the sweltering temperatures of the summer while sitting in the yard before leaving.

“They shouldn’t leave the trains for hours on end, cooking in the hot sun, stinking up
the entire neighborhood,” Holden said.

However, Holden admitted adding that trying to contain the odor can be difficult. “No matter what you are going to do with these rail cars, the trash is going to stink.” Sealing the lids would trap methane and cause the cars to explode, Holden said.

Though solid waste cars give off pungent fumes, uncovered construction cars can be just as damaging. Though most construction cars have black netting across them, civic groups say it isn’t enough to keep dust and debris from becoming airborne.

Mary Parison, co-chair of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, said she has stood on porches and see a cloud of white smoke coming from the cars. “There’s plenty of times that there haven’t been netting on them,” she said of the rail cars carrying construction and demolition debris.

CURES along with other groups are pushing local officials to propose legislation that would require railroad companies to utilize a tarp to cover the construction rail cars, as opposed to the netting.

Holden and Parison admit that although seeing change happen in an uphill battle, they are committed to fighting for the communities. Although there are different approaches and ideas to how to improve the situation, Parison said ultimately requires a change in mindset.

“We need to get the railroads to think differently and realize that they are going through the most densely populated areas in New York and there are changes that have to be made,” Parsion asserted.

Trial Begins in Fatal MV Arson

The Forum

The trial of the former Middle Village woman accused of setting a fatal fire during an argument with her boyfriend on Father’s Day 2008 has begun in Queens Criminal Court.

Agnes Bermudez, 48, of Newburgh, is charged with multiple counts of murder, arson, reckless endangerment and assault in connection with the fire in an apartment building at 69th Street and Metropolitan Avenue that killed her boyfriend, William Salazar, and a family of three that lived above the couple. The trial began last Friday.

This week, jurors saw raw footage of the aftermath of the fire that showed Salazar running into the ground floor deli while flames engulfed his body. They also heard a witness recount the death of upstairs resident Flor Sandoval, 48, who fell from the top floor before firefighters were able to reach the scene.

Also killed in the blaze were Sandoval’s husband, Heriberto Garcia- Vera, 68, and son Felipe Garcia, 20. Salazar died four days after the fire.

Police say the fire began after an enraged Bermudez doused Salazar with carpet cleaning fluid before setting him ablaze. The fire quickly spread to the hall and stairs leading to the upstairs family, dooming Sandoval, Garcia-Vera and Garcia. The video was taken from the Z-Star Deli, where employees doused him with gallons of water.

As jurors watched the gruesome surveillance video on Monday, Bermudez “hunched her shoulders and wept,” according to a report in the New York Post.

Her attorney refuted the authorities’ version of events and said that Salazar had actually torched Bermudez during the confrontation.

“The two people from the apartment upstairs came into the store. They were on fire – their hair and their clothes,” Mohammed Al- Matari told The Forum shortly after the fire. “We got them outside of the store and started to pour cold water on them. It was the only thing I could think to do.”

If convicted, Bermudez faces 25 years in prison.

Traffic and Crime Highlight CB5 Meeting

The Forum

Area crime, transit issues and executive committee elections were among the key issues discussed at the June meeting of Community Board 5.

Troutman Street Woes Several residents attended last Wednesday’s session at Christ the King High School to express concern over traffic on Troutman Street. Despite a “no left turn” sign at the intersection of Troutman Street and Metropolitan Avenue, residents noted that drivers
constantly make illegal turns at high speeds.

One resident suggested that traffic be rerouted to become one-way or that a barrier be erected to force drivers to Flushing Avenue.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano said that while measures are needed to ease the situation, they need to be implemented in a way that doesn’t adversely impact other nearby streets.

“While we understand that Troutman Street is a dilemma, the feeling is that the adjacent streets are very much residential and could cause just as great of a problem,” he said.

However, Giordano noted that plans have been drawn to create a traffic island at the intersection and to increase police presence in the area.

***Area Crime***

The board’s Public Safety Committee reported that felony assaults are up 62 percent so far this year across the 104th Precinct. In addition, auto theft is up 25 percent, with Toyotas and Hondas among the most popular models.

However, sting operations targeting underage alcohol sales and prostitution have been successful, Undercover officers visited 37 local bars and delis and issued a total of 39 summonses. In addition, prostitution stings along Starr Street in Ridgewood have also been effective. Residents have long complained about prostitution activity in that area.

Still, board members expressed concern that there aren’t enough patrol cars on the streets
between 4 p.m. and midnight. While response time for emergencies has hovered around six minutes, members say the number of patrol cars still needs to increase.

***Car Sharing and Transit Changes***

There was also a discussion on implementing car sharing programs in the area in an effort
to ease traffic and parking issues. The city Department of City Planning is currently considering a zone text amendment that would allow for parking spaces to be set aside for car sharing services such as ZipCar.

While some residents spoke in favor of the plan, others expressed concern that some cars are already violating the zoning rules in place, particularly in residential neighborhoods.

The board voted to recommend that parking for car sharing services mainly be limited to commercial areas instead of residential areas.

Beginning on June 28th the V and M trains will be merged, with the new line retaining the M line designation. The new route will run between Forest Hills and Metropolitan Avenue, with service to midtown Manhattan instead of downtown. Beginning on September 12, the Q58 bus will begin making limited stops.

The Transportation Committee also noted that it is seeking to have Flushing Avenue resurfaced at night so that necessary improvement can be made without disrupting traffic in the area.

Local Martial Arts Instructor Helps Area Special Needs Children

By Tamara Best

Almost every Sunday for the last five years, Tim Bevan has spent his mornings at All the Buzz dance studio on Myrtle Avenue.

There in a room accented with bright green and purple walls, Mr. Tim as he is known at the studio, teaches autistic children tae kwon do.

“I try to cater to each kids individual needs,” said, Bevan, adding that the children ranging from being almost non-verbal to having advanced communication skills.

But regardless of level, he said each student has potential to grow.

“We always start with baby steps, everything is progression.”

The idea for the classes began with owner Sandra Olenick, whose friend had an autistic son and was looking for physical activities to strengthen and challenge her child.

“All kids should be able to take whatever they want, they all have the right to enjoy different things,” Olenick said.

Physical activities, such as martial arts, can help promote increased attention, calming, improve motor planning, decrease stereotypical behaviors and body awareness in autistic children, according to Deborah Riccardi, of Association for the Help of Retarded Children, a local group offering services to those with developmental disabilities.

Louise Marchini, with AHRC, said that inclusion in physical activity is important for children with special needs and teaching children tolerance.

“Kids with autism are no different than the next kid—they experience both the mental and physical health benefits of fitness just like everyone else,” she said. “Too often, people with developmental disabilities are segregated within the community, even at school or other extra curricular activities.”

And area parents say they are thankful for the outlet.

“It’s so hard tough to find classes for special needs children,” said Nelli Muller, whose 10-year old son Paul, attends the class. “When he came it was impossible to get him to sit on the floor. He has changed dramatically,” she said. Joe Sasso, who often accompanies his 10-year-old grandson

Joe to the class, said Bevan’s background helps the students make progress.

“The teacher is unbelievable, he’s worth his weight in gold,” he said with a smile.

Bevan, who caps each of the classes at five students, said smaller size classes helps students from getting “lost in the shuffle.”

Students go through a series of exercises such as the superman stretch, where they lay on the floor with their arms and legs in the air, imitating the flying motion of Superman, to help them warm up and focus.

And then the work begins.

Legs and fists fly in the air as they hit a punching bag as they track their progress via full length mirrors at the front of the room. And after all the jumps, kicks and punches, students prepare for the “Four Way Punch.”

“Jumbie… cross… step back…low block… target… step…punch!” Bevan calls out to students, who repeat the routine turning 90 degrees each time, until they have completed a circle. “They learn initially through imitating me, then it’s something they do on their own,” he said.

At 2 p.m., Bevan leaves after completing another day of training. And his assessment of progress made is based on a simple formula.

“I measure success by if a kid wants to come back.”

Gillibrand Announces Proposed Anti-Gang Legislation

The Forum

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a conference call Tuesday emphasized the need to crackdown on gang activity as a way to curb substance abuse and violence throughout New York.

“We can never allow the lure of gangs to surpass opportunities for our children to grow and achieve their full potential,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Too many communities are seeing increasing gang activity and the violent crime that comes with it. It’s time to fight back with better resources for our law enforcement, tougher penalties to lock up offenders, positive role models to guide our children to success, and unite communities to keep our families safe.”

According to statistics provided by the Senator, there are more than 22,000 gang members in New York City with more than 670,000 suffering from substance abuse as a result of gang trafficking. It is estimated that there are between 2,500 and 3,499 gang members in Queens.

In an effort to help combat the issue Gillibrand is introducing legislation which she says would combat gang activity, keep at-risk youth out of gangs, and keep our communities safe and economy growing.

On Long Island, there are as many as 5,000 gang members and more than 335,000 people suffering from substance abuse fueled in part by gangs trafficking drugs.

Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Youth PROMISE Act, aimed at preventing children from joining gangs through policy development.

In addition to prevention, Gillibrand said it is also important to have access to youth mentoring and is cosponsoring the JUMP Act. It would also authorize the Department of Justice to continue funding for quality mentoring services. The program implements one-on-one mentoring between responsible adults and youth.

While, reaching youth is important. Gillibrand is also hoping to give law enforcement agencies more resources to combat gang related crime. Co-sponsoring the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2009, the legislation creates tougher penalties for gang related offenses in addition to authorizing the Attorney General to expand the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program and the Safe Streets Program.

A media campaign would also be launched to help inform people on the dangers of heroine.

Gillibrand is also working to restore funding cuts to state grants administered through the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools that were eliminated in budget cuts.

Queens Couple Benefits from Free CityParks Seniors Fitness Classes

The Forum

Queens residents, Richard, age 87, and Erma Hill, age 86, hit the tennis courts at least twice a week to practice their serves, work on their volley skills and socialize with friends at CityParks Seniors Fitness free tennis classes at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

For the couple, who met while attending George Washington High School in Manhattan, City Parks Foundation’s exercise program provides an outlet for them to stay activein their golden years. The two, who have been playing tennis since they were 18, have been participating in CityParks Seniors Fitness program since it began in 2006 and credit the classes to keeping them going everyday.

“There is no excuse for seniors not being able to get active with the free program City Parks Foundation offers,” said Ms. Hill. “Over 35 years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia and given six months to live. Now I’m on the tennis court multiple times a week, thanks to our tennis classes. The more you stay active, the more you can do.”

Mr. and Mrs. Hill are just two of the seniors who are currently participating in CityParks Seniors Fitness. The spring program offers free tennis, yoga and fitness walking instruction to adults over 60 in 11 parks across the five boroughs.

In Queens, classes are offered at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Astoria Park, Cunningham Park and Roy Wilkins Park. Each fitness class, including free use of equipment, is offered twice a week for one hour and encourages participants to maintain regular attendance to maximize the health benefits.

CityParks Seniors Fitness, which has served over 3,400 participants since it began in 2006, provides older adults the opportunity to learn a new activity and make new friends, while aiming to promote neighborhood parks as a great place for community activity.

The program also encourages seniors to stay active, as exercise, even in moderate amounts, can help participants feel and look better, maintain or lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,
and minimize the symptoms of arthritis.

CityParks Seniors Fitness Spring Program runs through June 25th. For more information, please call the Sports Department at 718-760-6999.

Founded in 1989, City Parks Foundation (CPF) is the only independent, nonprofit organization to offer park programs throughout the five boroughs of New York City. CPF works in over 750 parks citywide, presenting a broad range of free arts, sports, and education programs, and empowering citizens to support their parks on a local level.

CPF’s programs and community building initiatives reach more than 600,000 people each year, contributing to the revitalization of neighborhoods throughout New York City.

For more details, please visit

Seniors Under Siege

Budget Cuts Threaten Local Centers

By Patricia Adams

Among the many casualties of proposed spending cuts by the Bloomberg administration is $44 million slated to be slashed from the Department for the Aging (DFTA). The result of such a cut will be the shuttering of 50 senior centers throughout the city by the end of June. The closures are expected to save the city $4.2 million.

The Wakefield Senior Center in South Ozone Park is one of 10 centers in Queens that could face the budget axe, and members of the center say they are devastated.Rose McGreevy, 78 is one of dozens of seniors who says she doesn’t know what to do about the possible closing.

“This is like our home away from home. If we don’t have this, there is really nothing. I guess we
would have to stay home and watch television if we can’t come here.”

But television, alone and at home, is hardly a suitable replacement for the joy and companionship so many seniors rely upon. Card games, bingo, trips to concerts and parks, parties, exercise and fitness, movie nights—not to mention the friendships forged and the company of peers. There is even some romance floating through the air between some of the seniors at Wakefield.

On Friday, about four dozen of the Wakefield seniors joined State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), outside the center on Lefferts Boulevard at a rally to halt the cuts. Also on hand with Addabbo were Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-South Ozone Park) and chair of Community Board 10, Betty Braton.

“Four million dollars will be saved, but in a budget of over $65 billion, surely he can find ways to save money without cutting senior centers,” the senator said. “Today, we are fighting for our seniors — seniors who saw no increase in their Social Security and who are so concerned about the future of their health care programs; seniors who are now facing locked doors on their local centers.”

According to Assemblywoman Titus, there is much more to the center than fun and games. She says considering some of the crucial “hidden” factors is essential. “These particular seniors are living in an area that has one of the highest foreclosure rates and predatory lending in the city,” said Titus.

“Wakefield, like so many other centers offers free programs and services that help the seniors understand the legal process and how they can be defrauded as victims of scams.” The centers “serve as a lifeline for thousands of seniors throughout the city and help them lead safe, successful and independent lives.”

Presently, there are more than 21,000 senior residents in the neighborhoods of South Ozone Park, Ozone Park and Howard Beach with only three centers available to them. It is estimated by Plan NYC 2030 that the senior population will grow by approximately 10,000 more within the next 20 years, in those communities alone.

Yet another key factor in maintaining the centers has been overlooked by the Bloomberg administration, according to CB 10 chair Betty Braton who notes, “The city’s criteria for judging the need for a center is the number of meals served.” According to Braton such criteria is faulty because most of the seniors, especially in Queens are not impoverished.

“While they may enjoy their meals here,” she says, “that is not what they are coming here for. These people are coming for the activities offered and to share times with their friends. That simply cannot be overlooked.”

And she is quick to point out that adding up all the seniors in the area clearly demonstrates an already severe shortage of centers without closing any. Although the city’s fiscal crisis and the uncertainty of the proposed cuts have been highly publicized, some seniors were still under the impression that a final decision had already been reached. Addabbo offered assurance that there was still time to make a difference.

“We are going to continue to fight for you and you can help by calling 311 and complaining about the cuts.”

“We have to speak up for our rights,” said 72-year-old Alexandra Kartsimabis, “good times are important for older people — if they get depressed they can get sick and have to spend more money on medicine and hospitals.”

In an effort to explore possible funding sources to keep the senior centers open, Addabbo is asking the Bloomberg administration to take a close look at city spending— especially on people who work for the city.

“Take for example city marshals who do the same work as the city sheriffs,” said Addabbo, “in 2008 they earned $43 million yet they only paid the city $2 million.”

The senator also brought up the fact that philanthropists should be allowed to sponsor the senior centers much like the agreement for charter schools. Ultimately he said, “The mayor and others can point fingers at the state, but that’s politics and right now our people are being victimized by politics.”

Should the Wakefield facility actually close, seniors from there would have to consider using the nearest open center in Howard Beach. But that is still miles away and for many, traveling there would require using public transportation.

“Even for seniors who don’t have a problem with their health the travel would cause disruption to their routines and bring on unnecessary stress,” said Betty Braton.

Albany lawmakers have also proposed cuts to funding for seniors and they are still trying to work out their final numbers, more than 10 weeks after the original budget was due.

If the cuts do go through, in addition to Wakefield, other Queens closures are the Woodhaven Senior Center, St. Mary’s Senior Center in Long Island City, Jackson Heights Senior Center, Astoria Senior Center, Whitestone Senior Center, Conlon in Jamaica, Foster Laurie Senior Center in St. Albans, Holliswood Senior Center, and South Jamaica Senior Center.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Census, Voting Machines and Budget the Focus at Addabbo Town Hall

By Tamara Best

The late state budget, 2010 census and the new electronic voting machines were among key issues discussed in a Ridgewood town hall meeting held by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D- Howard Beach) last week.

“No elected official has all the answers to the issues,” he told a group of approximately 40 residents who came out to IS 93 on Forest Avenue last week. “The ideas are out there among constituents and if we do our jobs right as elected officials we hear them,” he said.

***Budget wait- soon over?***

“I am more optimistic that there is a budget late this week or early next week,” Addabbo said Tuesday.

This week, the legislature was presented with Governor David Patterson’s proposed healthcare changes, which account for 40 percent of the state budget, in the form of an extender. An extender allows the legislature to vote either “yes” or “no” on an issue without the option of debate.

Though opposed to the proposal because of cuts to hospitals and healthcare providers, Addabbo said the legislature felt forced to vote, and voted in favor of the governor’s proposal to avoid more drastic outcomes.

“The reason we had to vote for it is because if we voted it down because we didn’t like it, state government would essentially be shut down,” Addabbo said, adding that voting it down could have resulted in massive layoffs and closures of public facilities. Local communities have already been dealt a major blow with the closures of three area hospitals.

Addabbo said Monday’s session has “tremendously” increased the incentive for the legislature to approve a budget, in an effort to avoid accepting more drastic cuts put forth, via extenders.

“We know we need to make cuts in every aspect of the state budget,” he said. “But it’s important to note that when we are able to do so financially, I’ll work on restoring as much of these cuts as possible.”

***2010 Census***

A pressing issue impacting the West is the lack of response to the 2010 census thus far.

Ridgewood, Glendale and Maspeth are all below 50 percent at mailed in responses, according to the Senator’s office.

“We’re down to 17 percent in some areas,” he said, adding that the low response is a combination of apathy and fear that responses will not be kept confidential.

Addabbo said an accurate count is important to enable the area to receive millions of dollars of government funds needed to function and make improvements. However, he added that filling out the census is also important to representation with district lines drawn based on population shifts.

Residents who have not filled out their census forms can still do so via phone until July 30th from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. with six different languages available. See for the corresponding number for each language.

Census takers are also going door-to-door through July to residences that have not yet completed the form.

***Concerns over the polls***

Addabbo, who is also chair of the state Senate Elections Committee, continues to express concern over the implementation of the new Electronic Ballot Marking System.

“If you want someone not to vote, frustrate them a little bit. Just a little bit and they will stay home,” he said.

Aside from concerns that cuts to the Board of Elections could eliminate training dollars for poll workers, residents also expressed concern about the potential lack of privacy when casting their ballot.

With the new system, if a ballot can’t be read by the machine, poll workers who will then assist voters may be able to see their vote.

Addabbo says he is opposed to implementing the system this year because of many concerns such as privacy and absentee voting.

He went on to express confidence in officials who will work to make September’s primary elections run smoothly. “If we have to use it [BMD] this year, somehow we’ll make it work.”

“We’re trying to make the process a little more feasible because I do foresee that people are going to be frustrated with the new machines and we don’t want to lose their vote,“ he said, adding that the “protecting the integrity” of the vote is a priority.

DOT Discusses Ways to Improve Busy Intersection

By Patricia Adams
The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) made a presentation to Community Board 10 last week regarding the intersection at Liberty Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard.

The project which is nearing the implementation phase is designed to address intersection safety and traffic improvements.

The original study for the problem area was launched after a child pedestrian fatality occurred at Crossbay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. The intersection was also identified by NYPD as a challenging location. A request for review by the Queens DOT Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy prompted the study which falls within the Woodhaven Boulevard Congested Corridors study area.

Representatives pointed out that the area has many existing conditions contributing to congestion and safety threats. Seven bus lines, the Rockaway Blvd. subway station and an elevated train which runs over Liberty Avenue all converge on the intersection.

Other major problems include a peak traffic volume of more than 2,000 vehicles an hour, complex physical geometry and very large pedestrian volume-- a large percentage of them children.

According to a scale of severity-weighted scale ranking Queens’ intersections, Rockaway & Woodhaven Boulevard ranks in the 99th percentile with nearby Rockaway Blvd. and 94th street close behind in the 89th percentile.

A total of 207 injuries were documented from 2004-2008 with two pedestrian fatalities included.

Following the conclusion of the study the DOT has made several recommendations to
address concerns. At Crossbay and Woodhaven Boulevards, two streets will be converted to plaza space, expansion in the north bound left turn lanes and added capacity at
Rockaway Boulevard.

At Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue proposed solutions
include constructing a pedestrian refuge island,while expanding an existing one and installing a traffic signal at 96th street and a more direct crosswalk.

Among the overall benefits, according to the DOT, is the reduction of conflict between pedestrians, vehicle and bus traffic. All intersections will be more crosser-friendly at a rate of 3.5 feet/sec and more easily navigable for both drivers and pedestrians. The plan also offers reduced crossing distances, more public space and simpler, safer left turns.

Later in the week DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy and other representatives from DOT made an additional presentation for community members and media to kick off a study to look at congestion along Liberty Avenue from Woodhaven Boulevard to the Van Wyck Expressway.

District Attorneys Testify Against Proposed Budget Cuts

The Forum Newsgroup

The city’s five district attorneys recently urged the City Council to restore cuts proposed in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget during testimony at City Hall.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was joined by Charles Hynes of Brooklyn, Robert Johnson of the Bronx, Daniel Donovan of Staten Island and Cyrus Vance, Jr., of Manhattan at a hearing held last week by the City Council’s Finance and Public Safety committees. They were joined by Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan.

District Attorney Brown noted that in the nearly nine years since 9/11, the budgets of the city’s prosecutors have sustained cumulative reductions from the city totaling about twenty percent, which he called “deep cuts that have greatly impacted on our ability to provide the level of prosecutorial service to which the people of this city are entitled to expect and which will keep them safe and secure.”

He said the reduction in city funding “is magnified by significantly reduced funding on the federal and state levels – both in terms of direct funding and with respect to the reduction or elimination of various grant opportunities.”

In addition, the number of NYPD detectives assigned to his office has been reduced, forcing the district attorneys to hire additional personnel.

Since 1993, arrests are up in Queens by more than eighty percent – from about 42,500 to almost 75,000 last year. The proposed funding reduction from the city “would have a profound impact on our operations and on the level of essential services that we will be able to provide to the residents of Queens County,” added Brown.

“While I recognize the serious financial difficulties that face the city in the years ahead and continue to be willing to do our fair share, it makes little sense to attempt to remedy the situation by cutting public safety dollars to the point where our ability to maintain the gains of the last decade is in jeopardy,” concluded Brown.

Forest Hills 10-year-old Advances to Scripps Semifinals

By Tamara Best

Arvind Mahankali may not have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee title
but the 10-year-old has received recognition that most people never see in a lifetime— a day named in his honor.

The fifth grader, who made it into the semifinals of the Bee, said he was “really
surprised” and “excited” by the honor.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D – ForestHills), who welcomed Arvind and his
family home to the neighborhood on Sunday, declared June 6 “Arvind Mahankali Day” in Queens.

“Not only is he my pick to win next year’s spelling bee, but he’s an incredibly
nice kid,” said Rep. Weiner. “His family deserves a lot of credit for being
such wonderful ambassadors for Forest Hills and our City.”

The journey to become a spelling whiz began long before he could pronounce
the words he now spells so easily in competitions.

***From the living room to the stage***

At four years old Arvind used to sit in front of the family television mesmerized
by spelling bee competitions.

Arvind’s cousin, Sanjay Kottapalli, participated in the Bee in 2008 and 2009.

"When I was a little kid I watched Scripps and I got inspired. It's the
spelling olympics," he said with a smile.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee began in 1925 with nine contestants,gaining national notoriety when it began live broadcasting in 1946. This year, a record 273 students from all over the world participated after winning competitions at the classroom,grade, school and next levels determined by the local spelling bee sponsors.

Arvind was the only speller from within the New York City area to make
it to the semifinals. Studying the Merriam-Webster dictionary four hours every day, he uses a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to track words he has difficulty spelling.

"And even when I'm not studying,sometimes my parents quiz me on words I don't know."
Srinivas Mahankali, Arvind’s father,said they also occasionally hold informal
family spelling bees at home.

"I won once," the proud father said with a laugh.

The 5th grader also receives support from students and teachers at Forest Hills Montessori School, saying that his classmates quiz him during the first part of recess.

"The night before the race I usually study for an extra hour. I always get

And after each successful round, he celebrates.

“I got new video games,” claiming that Pokémon is his favorite. “Occasionally,
I take a day off.”
A dream, turned reality

For Arvind, the best part of his participation in Scripps was not the actual competition but making new friends.

Still he said the trip was “mostly business” and before speaking a letter into the microphone he had a set routine.

“I just focus on the word and think I should ask all the questions and fit it together like a puzzle.”

He did just that and reached the semifinals by spelling manciple (officer of a monastery or college), pergelisol (permafrost), effleurage (a delicate stroking motion in a massage) and metarteriole (a short vessel that links arterioles and capillaries)correctly.

"When he got the word “metarteriole”right I was so proud, I didn't remember much after that,” his father explained.

And as for the word he missed, Arvind now spells it without hesitation.

"P-R-E-S-A. Presa," he said, which is defined as a cannon or round used in music.

During the competition, he spelled it “P-R-A-S-A” and was the last contestant eliminated before the finals, which were televised live on ABC.

Arvind’s elimination was deemed controversial by some because other contestants were
allowed to advance, despite not having to spell a third word prior to moving on as a finalist.

“I was a little disappointed but now I just think I should study a little better,” he said of being eliminated.

***Moving forward***

In addition to Rep. Weiner’s proclamation,his school also threw a surprise party to celebrate his accomplishment.

Yet, rather than bask in his achievement,Arvind said he resumes training this week.
When asked if he plans on entering next year he replied without hesitation.

"Of course. I want to win."

However, Arvind said if he wins next year, he would move onto other challenges. When
asked what those may be, he said, “Like superhero training."

As for what his superhero power would be, Arvind says, "I would control gravity."

Como to Challenge Addabbo for State Senate This Fall

By Conor Greene

This fall’s showdown for the state Senate in the 15th District appears set following former Republican City Councilman Anthony Como’s announcement that he will challenge incumbent Democrat Senator Joseph Addabbo for his seat in Albany.

A report published over the weekend indicated that Como would continue to pursue a job as the new executive director at the Board of Elections instead of challenging Addabbo, who is serving his first term in Albany.

However, Como says he has since been bombarded with phone calls and messages from residents, colleagues, party leaders and elected officials urging him to reconsider and launch a campaign against Addabbo.

“What happened was, they [party leaders] have been asking me to run for quite sometime, and we have been discussing it for quite some time,” said Como on Wednesday. “I made a decision with my wife that it’s best for now, based on my experience with the Board of Elections, to not run and take the position at BOE.”

According to Como, all that changed when word spread that he wasn’t running for Senate.

“All of a sudden, I didn’t expect it, but it started snowballing and my phone was ringing non-stop. I actually got calls from constituents saying they had read the article that I wasn’t running... It was really just overwhelming,” said Como.

Como noted that polls have shown him to be either close to or leading Addabbo at this early point in the race. “I’m the only challenger in the state that is leading the incumbent, and I’m very proud of that. It’s a testament to the hard work I’ve done,” he said.

Como hasn’t run a campaign since Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) defeated him in November 2008, five months after he had won the 30th Council District seat in a special election. His focus over the past few days has been getting his campaign operations up and running again.

“We’re already getting pretty much organized with non-stop meetings and phone calls,” he said. “At this point my law practice is on hold, since this is going to be a full- time campaign.”

He hopes to open a campaign office in Glendale within the next week or so, and plans on eventually opening a second campaign office elsewhere in the district.

“This is not something we’re going to do lackadaisically. This is something that a lot of people have a very important interest in,” he said. “Besides politics, a lot of people want to see change and stop what’s going on in Albany, and they know this is how you do it.”

After serving two terms on the City Council, Addabbo defeated longtime Republican Senator Serf Maltese, who is Como’s political mentor, in 2008. He said Wednesday that he was expecting a challenge all along, whether it be in the primary or general elections.

“No matter who was going to announce against me, I was going to take that person
seriously, and I’m obviously taking this campaign very seriously,” said Addabbo. “I have the opportunity to go into the district and talk about my accomplishments over the last two years with my constituents. I’m proud of the work my staff and I have done, and there is so much more to do, so I’m looking forward to talking about that.”

Addabbo counts among his accomplishments over the past two years the 13 laws he spearheaded that were signed into law, including ones protecting seniors and veterans.

“Many people tell me that is somewhat unheard of for a freshman senator,” he said.

In addition, he says he has fulfilled two major campaign promises by providing a 24- hour, operator staffed hotline so that constituents can “avail themselves of the services of the senate office” around the clock, and by opening two district offices.

“What’s important to me is the local issues that I’ve attended to,” said Addabbo.

Even still, Como will argue throughout the campaign that Addabbo is part of the problem as a member of the Democrat party now in complete control in Albany. He notes that the budget is several months late and says the state is starting to have trouble paying its bills.

“We have Democratic leaders threatening to shut everything down, and that is ridiculous,” he charged, adding that hospitals, senior centers and fire companies have all either closed or are on the chopping block as a result of the political dysfunction.

“It’s gotten to the point where we need to stop it before God forbid it gets to the breaking point, and this is the way to do it. Voters are sending a clear message that enough is enough.”

In response, Addabbo argues that voters need to evaluate incumbents on a “case by case basis.”

He says he has “certainly tried to separate [himself] from the problems that have existed in Albany for decades,” long before he was elected.

“We are going forward as much as we could with ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” added Addabbo. “We have a lot more to do, so as chair of the Elections Committee, I want to clean up elections and the Senate in general, in a more transparent and efficient manner. I see myself as part of the solution, but you can only do so much in two years.”

While both candidates sought to keep the focus on themselves in interviews this week, they did make it clear that they consider themselves the best for the job.

“I make it a principal not to talk about my opponent, but I’ll tell you this: in difficult times, the people deserve a full time Senator who is going to focus full time on the Senate,” said Addabbo. “I gave up my law practice, love this job and think it’s a privilege representing the people in Albany.”

In response to Como’s decision to run after abandoning his push for the BOE job, Addabbo said: “I read all the articles about him going for that position, and whatever his personal decision is for running, he doesn’t have to explain it. I just know what my focus is.”

Said Como: “He’s a good guy, but I just know I can do a better job, and that people believe in me. His campaign came out and started attacking me about backroom politics.

When you have nothing good to say about your candidate, you attack. It’s time to stand up to serious issues and fight for residents again, not only in the 15th District, but to return this state to where it once was.”

There were also rumors that Maspeth businessman Tony Nunziato would challenge Addabbo. However, Nunziato said Wednesday that he is still in discussions with party leaders to determine what is best for everyone.

“Right now, we’re looking at the options of what I’m going to be doing,” he said.

If Como does move forward with the Senate bid, Nunziato will instead once again challenge Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D- Maspeth) in a rematch of the 2008 election. In that case, Nunziato said he would support Como’s campaign against Addabbo.

“I’ll be running for something, that’s safe to say,” said Nunziato. “I work as a team as far as the party, and I’m looking to see what’s best as far as the party.”

Aqueduct Again

Six Bidders Attend Opening Conference

By Patricia Adams

Billed as the “most expensive ticket in town” by New York Lottery Director Gordon Medenica, six bidders have shelled out the $1 million entry fee to compete in the newest bidding war to operate Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) at Aqueduct.

At a mandatory bidders conference held at the racetrack on Tuesday, Medenica explained the details of the new process including the extraction of any political involvement in the process. Further provisions of the revamped process propose transparency, objectivity focused on making money for education and speed.

"The facility, when it reaches maturity, is probably going to be making an estimated $250 million a year for the state. And again, all those funds go to education," said Medenica.

Several bidders have returned to the process which has met with delay and been the source of frustration for both supporters and opponents. For S.L. Green Realty
Group and Delaware North, it will be their third trip to capture the “brass ring”, and the second try for Penn National.

Three other bidders, Empire City Casino Yonkers Raceway, Genting New York and the Toronto-based Clairvest Group will make their first try for Aqueduct. Clairvest was partnered with Aqueduct Entertainment Group who won the last bid but was
later disqualified.

The Lottery’s responses to open questions from the bidders revealed that entering into the final rounds of bidding could be very risky business-- the winning bidder could lose their upfront $300 million if they can’t finalize their plan and sign a contract.

Additionally, the Lottery has said they will not guarantee Con Edison’s pledge that it can bring sufficient power to the area. Further questions by the bidders must be submitted to the Lottery by Tuesday, June 15 which then has seven days to issue their responses. Proposals from the bidders are due two weeks later on June 29. An evaluation committee comprised of executives from the NYS Lottery Commission will score and recommend a winner on August 3.

Gov. Patterson is reportedly committed to endorsing the Lottery’s selection. The Lottery estimates that the opening date for the facility will be 12 to 18 months
from the date of award.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Scenes from Memorial Day Parades

A View from the Inside on Memorial Day

There seems to be a lot of complaining going on in the US these days; perhaps even more pronounced than the complaints are the criticisms.

Our healthcare system is in turmoil, we don’t provide enough service to our senior population, education funding is lacking, the economy continues to ravage—the list seems endless. But Americans could never be criticized for continuing to show their respect and gratitude on Memorial Day, for every man and woman who gave their lives serving in the armed forces.

When considering the heroes we have lost and of those who continue to risk their lives, it remains evident that their importance could never be exaggerated—in fact the real danger is in not be able to ever express enough thanks and honor. While Memorial Day is the day when we remember those whose lives were lost, it also should serve, as does Veteran’s Day, as a day when we honor those who returned home from war and those who continue to serve today.

This week The Forum invites you to read what Memorial Day means to someone with an “inside view.” The rest of this editorial space is given to Sgt. Sean McCabe of Ozone Park who is currently serving on his second tour in Afghanistan. He sent along the following letter that was read by Sen. Joe Addabbo at a ceremony at the end of the Howard Beach Parade on Monday.

To everyone in attendance, my friends, family, my wife Melanie, and my daughter Kiera,

I send to you all the love in my heart. I'm writing to you on the rare occasion; as opposed to hunting Al Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan, I am sitting behind a desk. (My mother has a giant smile on her face, doesn't she???)

It's hard to find words that truly express what Memorial Day means to me. Mainly because ever since I got to Baghdad in '05, every day has been Memorial Day. I've stood next to men who have laid down their lives in defense of their country. I've fought alongside heroes who have sacrificed themselves to save me, and my fellow soldiers. When I was younger, I just thought this weekend meant a day off from school, a barbeque, a baseball game - I even failed to fully appreciate Memorial Day as I got older. It wasn't until I came home after my first tour that it all dawned on me. An entire neighborhood lining the streets, the colors flying above Coleman Square - Pat Connolly's voice reading the names of our fallen brothers.

This is the day we remember those who gave everything to ensure our freedom. Men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion on foreign soil.

Today is a day we set aside, to honor what their courage and sacrifice has given us.

It is a gift. A gift I will never throw away for as long as I live.

I love you all, I'll be home soon.

SGT Sean McCabe

U.S. Army Special Operations Command

Above: Sgt. Sean McCabe uses binoculars to scout out enemy patrol on his assignment to overwatch patrol. In modern warfare, an overwatch unit is responsible for providing cover and unobstructed lines of fire for advancing friendly units.

Council Approves Business Owners' Bill of Rights

The City Council has approved the Business Owners’ Bill of Rights, which aims to fully inform business owners of all their rights during agency inspections. It was sponsored by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee.

The Business Owners’ Bill of Rights came as a result of the findings of the city’s Regulatory Review Panel, which surveyed and listened to the business community in every borough to see how the city could help businesses succeed in a difficult economy.

The bill requires that the Mayor’s Office of Operations distributes to business owners, during or following each inspection, a document listing their rights to: consistent enforcement of agency rules, complain about or compliment an inspector’s work, contest a violation before the appropriate tribunal, an inspector who behaves in a professional manner, an inspector who can answer questions or promptly make a referral and an inspector who is knowledgeable of rules, regulations and laws.

The bill marks the first sponsored by Koslowitz to be signed into law since she returned to the City Council this year. She called small businesses “the lifeline of the economy” and noted that the city has the most small businesses of any municipality in the nation, with more than one million. That means nearly half of all the small businesses in the entire state are within the five boroughs.

“Keeping small businesses informed of government policies and regulations will empower owners with their rights,” said Koslowitz. “The bill of rights will guarantee consistent enforcement of agency rules, fair inspectors, and the ability to contest a violation… This is just the beginning of a movement, by Speaker [Christine] Quinn and my council colleagues, aimed at improving the business environment for our small merchants.”

Quinn (D-Manhattan) said the new bill is a signal that the city intends to work with its merchants, and not against them. “We are moving away from an enforcement-driven inspection process to one that is much more customer-service orientated,” she said. “I am confident that we will make the city a more welcoming place for entrepreneurs to thrive and prosper. Making life easier for our business owners is the key to building a diverse and thriving economy.”

Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick), who is chair of the Small Business Committee, said the bill “sends a clear message to the small business community that the City Council is working to ease the regulatory burdens that have too often delayed the transformation of great ideas into successful businesses.”

Mercury Spill at MS 202

Emergency vehicles were dispatched to Middle School 202 located at 138-30 Lafayette
Street in Ozone Park on Tuesday morning after a barometer broke in the school’s science lab spilling mercury out into the room.

Students were quickly removed from the lab and the room was closed and cordoned off.

According to Department of Education (DoE) spokeswoman Marge Feinberg, air testing and cleaning of the room was conducted overnight and as of the start of class day on Wednesday, the room remained closed with further testing was scheduled.

There were no injuries reported and no students were treated as a result of the spill.

Cooper Ave Underpass Project Expected to Begin in 2011

DOT Might Reverse 74th Street Traffic Flow

By Conor Greene

The Cooper Avenue underpass reconstruction project is expected to move forward early next year and will likely include reversing the traffic flow along part of 74th Street, according to the local community board.

Gary Giordano, district manager at Community Board 5, said recently that construction of the Cooper Avenue underpass has been pushed back from its expected start in September, likely to early 2011. Despite the delay, he expects the project to move forward eventually.

“We have every indication to believe the funding is secure,” said Giordano, adding that the project is expected to cost about $6 million. The project includes replacing the deteriorating panels above the retaining wall, which will also be shored up, according to Giordano. New sidewalks and curbing will be installed along Cooper Avenue from the vicinity of 74th Street to 79th Street.

However, nothing is planned regarding the two stairways, one of which has been closed off to pedestrians, added Giordano. He wasn’t sure if the city Department of Transportation is planning to install guardrails along the north side of Cooper Avenue, as the board requested “to better protect pedestrians, especially the school children, since its downhill and traffic moves much too quick there,” said Giordano.

“We’re the ones who originated the request for this project, and have been advocating for this project,” said Giordano. The city DOT didn’t respond to a message seeking additional information on the planned work.

As part of the project, the DOT is considering reversing the flow of traffic along 74th Street, which is currently one-way south, according to Giordano. “The DOT looked at various traffic situations there, and in doing that, they determined they would like 74th Street to become a one-way north, at least between 78th Avenue and Edsall Avenue,” he said. “I think their reasoning is that people are making left turns from Cooper Avenue onto 74th Street southbound, and they thought it would be safer to prohibit that.”

The change in traffic flow will impact parents and school buses dropping children at IS 119, noted Giordano. He said school officials weren’t “necessarily opposed to the idea of changing the direction of 74th Street.”

The DOT is also planning to add a bike lane in each direction and possibly widen the sidewalks, reducing the width of the traffic lanes, said Giordano. “That is not an easy mix [to accommodate] because our streets are pretty narrow,” he said.