Thursday, July 29, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Medical Facility Opens At JFK Airport

General Manager of JFK Airport Gerry Spomponato cuts the ribbon at JFK Advanced Medical as Assemblyman William Scarborough (left) and Dr. Raymond Kayume and Dr. David Rosenthal (right) look on.

By Eric Yun

JFK Advanced Medical held a grand opening ceremony for a new 4,800 square-foot facility at John F. Kennedy Airport. The ribbon cutting celebrated the opening of the facility, which occurred several weeks ago, and commemorated JFK Advanced Medical’s new part- nership with the MediSys Health Network, which in- cludes Jamaica and Flushing Hospitals.

At the ceremony, Dr. David Rosenthal, Practice Manager of JFK Advanced Medical, thanked the community and airport staff for supporting the facility. He also thanked his employees for “making [the center] run like its been running for 15 years.”

Michael Hinck, associate director of Jamaica Hospital, said he is happy with the partnership. “We're very happy to support them, and we'll help provide what- ever services they can't.”

There aren't many things JFK Advanced Medical can’t handle. It comes equipped with an emergency room and seven examination rooms. The medical equipment includes digital X-ray machines, electrocardiogram (EKG) machines and other devices.

The two practice managers, Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Raymond Kayume, have years of medical experience at JFK Airport. Both worked with the previous medical center at JFK, which was affiliated with St. Vincent's and St. John's Hospital.

Located at the airport, the majority of the services offered will help the employees of JFK. Physicals and drug and alcohol testing is offered. The center also boasts physical therapy and rehabilitation services for injured workers.

Travelers will also find uses for JFK Advanced Medical. With JFK Airport being a major hub of international travel, a wide variety of travel immunization and medicine services are of- fered. Immigration physicals are also given at the facility.

With medical facilities closing because of the current economic climate, the doctors are thrilled they were able to open a center that can help a large amount of people each day.

“I'm happy we can help not only the airport but the surrounding community as well,” Dr. Kayume said. “We rightfully should be in the airport.”

City to Appeal 9/11 Memorial Ruling

By Patricia Adams

Captain James J. Corrigan served with the FDNY for 25 years before retiring in March 1994. Following his retirement, he accepted the position as Fire and Life Safety Coordinator at the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001, Corrigan led the excavation of children from a day care center at the Trade Center and then offered his help to the FDNY. He was last seen working alongside Battalion Chief Joseph Grezelek in the South Tower trying to establish communications and instruct FDNY units to evacuate when the tower collapsed.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Corrigan’s wife Marie and her two sons, Sean and Brendan, attempted to get her husband listed under FDNY in The National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation. The FDNY’s refusal to that request came as a great shock to the family.

The department argued that because Corrigan was not on active duty, he was not entitled to the same honors as active firefighters.

A legal battle ensued centering on a 2002 law allowing the families of retired firefighters who died at the World Trade Center to be given the same economic benefits as active duty firefighters. Also, the law states that retired firefighters like Corrigan were “as of Sep- tember 11, 2001 to have been fully reinstated to full active employment status, at their highest achieved rank and status.”

Marie Corrigan and her sons believe that since the legislation reinstated her husband as an active duty firefighter, he is entitled to the same merits and awards as other firefighters who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.

The FDNY contends retired firefighters who died in firerelated activity have never been honored in the same manner as active duty personnel. Furthermore, they believe the law is being misinterpreted: it was passed to provide economic benefits, not awards or merits—or memorials.

But on Monday afternoon, Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled that Corrigan’s name belongs on the memorial.

“While this court hesitates to become embroiled in the internal decisions of the FDNY regarding a matter of such a sensitive nature,” Agate wrote. “There is simply no rational basis for the FDNY’s position herein given the circumstances of Captain Corrigan’s death, the legislation enacted thereafter, and the FDNY’s own manner of honoring and acknowledging his sacrifice.”

Agate noted many instances where FDNY treated Corrigan as a firefighter who died under active duty. Corrigan is listed on the FDNY’s website’s 9/11 memorial page, and his name was included in the FDNY Memorial Service in Madison Square Garden on October 12, 2002.

And when Corrigan’s sons both left their private sector jobs to take the FDNY entrance exam after their father’s death, they were given a legacy credit on their exams, which is only given if a parent is killed during active duty.

Given the circumstances, Agate ruled the FDNY’s decision to not include Corrigan in their memorial was “arbitrary and capricious,” and ruled he should be listed under FDNY.

From her home in Bayside, Marie Corrigan told The Forum what the decision means to her and her family. “This decision allows us to move forward. I think Justice Agate got it right on.” She went on to say that the judges ruling addressed all the critical points of the issue especially in responding to the FDNY’s view on the matter.

But the Corrigan family’s temporary relief was halted on Tuesday afternoon when Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that he planned to appeal the judge’s decision.

"We're not going to reopen this. We'll fight this in court," Bloomberg said. The decision made by Justice Agate could reverse years of negotiations on how to list victims’ names. Now, Bloomberg says the plans for a Ground Zero Memorial set to open on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011 could be delayed. "If you want to delay the memorial for a couple of years, you start opening it up and revisit everybody. You're never going to make everybody happy."

Speaking about the city’s decision to appeal Justice Agate’s decision, Marie Corrigan said, “Obviously I’m very disappointed. But we will continue to go forward and do whatever we have to.” Continuing on she said, “One of the most important things involved here is that my husband was returned to active duty status in 2002. The refusal to recognize that is a clear violation of an existing law.”

Marie Corrigan was quick to respond to the mayor’s remarks about the possible delay to the opening of the memorial,. “It’s the city’s choice to contest the decision that was made. We’ve already been to court. A 2002 law supports us. The judge has ruled in our favor. Any delay has nothing to do with the court’s decision-- it has to do with the city. The ball is in their court.”

R. James DeRose III, an attorney for Marie Corrigan, also spoke out about the mayor’s decision. "We urge Mayor Bloomberg and the heads of the FDNY to give Captain Corrigan the honor he is due as a hero who gave his life for the city, rather than insisting that they do not need to follow the law of New York state, the decision of the New York courts and what is morally correct,"

Former City Councilmember Tony Avella says he has worked with the family for years. “I'm flabbergasted he [Bloomberg] and the city continue to fight this. The city's continued refusal is baffling. Bloomberg fails to un- derstand, in my opinion, the basic needs of the average New Yorker. He has no compassion."

Officials at the FDNY say they are looking into the court’s decision but declined further comment.

Editorial: Acknowledging Heroes

A sense of relief and closure after a long-awaited court decision turned bittersweet this week for the family of a retired veteran firefighter who gave his life at the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001 Capt. James J. Corrigan was working as the Fire and Life Safety Coordinator of the entire Twin Towers complex. In that capacity he per- sonally led the evacuation from the onsite day care center, guiding some 20 children to safety.

When he finished with that, Capt. Corrigan reported for duty with the FDNY in the South tower. Along with brother firefighters, he tried to establish commu- nication lines to evacuate the FDNY from the towers.

The debate between the city and the Corrigan family lies in the petition to allow Corrigan’s name to appear on the FDNY portion of the Memorial to be built at Ground Zero. His family says Corrigan died as a firefighter FDNY says he was retired.

A law passed in 2002 reinstating Capt. Corrigan to full active employment status should have set any debate to rest but the FDNY has persisted with tiresome ne- gotiations that have resulted in planning to place Capt. Corrigan’s name apart from the Bravest on the Memorial.

This week, Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled in favor of the petition to include Capt. James J. Corrigan’s name to be etched with the names of his firefighter brothers. After reading the justice’s decision it becomes apparent that there is nothing that would even approach rationale in the denial of this request.

Yet on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg an- nounced his intentions to have the city appeal the court ruling. Even more absurd than the FDNY’s objections to the petition is the contesting of the current ruling by NYC.

Bloomberg says the reason the city will seek to overturn the decision is because the FDNY acted reasonably in this matter, continuing on to say that there was no way for everyone to be happy in this situation. We agree with you there Mr. Bloomberg. You can’t ever make everyone happy but you can always do the right thing.

To the mayor we say that the only people acting without reason in this situation are those who object to having Capt. Corrigan’s name where it belongs. With the other firefighters who lost their lives on that fateful day.

While Capt. James J. Corrigan may have retired from the department, obviously he did not retire his commitment to risk his life for others.

We hope to see his name where it belongs. On the wall of the Memorial yet to be built in the same place as all others who lived as firefighters and died as firefighters.

Iconic Stadium Faces Potential Sale

By Tamara Best

During its storied history, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium has played host to many historic events, including the inaugural U.S Open in 1968, when Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win a grand slam title.

The iconic stadium, which is part of the West Side Tennis Club, has been seldom used since the U. S. Open was moved to Flushing Meadows in the late 1970s and has deteriorated over the years. And now, it may disappear forever as the club weighs whether or not to sell it.

The club dates back to 1892 and includes 38 courts. The main stadium, which seats 15,000, opened in 1923. In addition to tennis, the stadium has hosted notable musicians including Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Diana Ross and The Who.

An informational meeting on the proposal to sell the club’s main stadium will be held on August 10, with members set to vote on August 19th. The club would retain ownership over the other facilities and courts on the 14- acre property, which is located near Austin Street.

Attempts to reach the clubs officers were unsuccessful, but members weighed in on the possibility of the stadium being sold.

Susanna Hof, a longtime member and co-founder of Terrace Sotheby's International Realty in Forest Hills, said she has concerns over the timing of the meeting and vote.

“The time of planning is short and in the summer, which means some of the members won’t be there,” she said. “This announcement was brought to the membership with two weeks notice. Long-term members feel like it’s a travesty.”

Hof said there has been discussion over the last decade about selling the stadium with proposals for a hotel, townhouses and a tennis hall of fame among other considerations. Building more residential developments would create added congestion to the area, which is already heavily populated, she said.

A longtime member of the club, who asked not be named, said that discussion and voting centers on one offer— but members won’t know who is making the offer until the informational meeting. Two-thirds of members must vote to approve any sale of the stadium. In an e-mail sent to members this week, leadership clarified rules in the bylaws that decides who can vote, based on their level of membership, according to a longtime member who asked not to be named. Under the rules, some members of the club would not be eligible to vote.

Christine Schott, who has been a club member for years, said she hopes that voting on a potential sale will be placed on hold until the fall.

“I think the membership feels that one week’s time is not enough to make an important decision,” she said. “To just tear it down would make the West Side Tennis Club into just a tennis club, instead of a world renowned tennis club.”

Hof said that before any discussion of selling the stadium takes place, an independent structural report to be completed.
According to Joseph Gulino of Structural Engineering Systems PLLC in Bayside, which isn’t involved in this project, engineers examine deficiencies such as cracks, settlement problems, corrosion, rust and other issues when assessing a stadium.

“We do a visual and look for characteristics of structural deficiency,” he said. “From there, depending on what you see, you may do a detailed model in 3D to analyze the structure. Sometimes renovating a structure that size could prove not to be worth the investment,” he said, adding that correcting structural problems could costs millions for a structure the size of the stadium.

Despite the potential cost, Hof said these issues need to be explored.“ The structural integrity of the stadium is important,” she said. “From a place in American history, it is an important place. If you could find a use to the stadium that would still bring in money and preserve it that should be an option.”

Michael Perlman, of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, is calling for the stadium to be designated as a landmark.

“There isn’t anything else quite like it in the country,” he said. “It helped tennis to become the national sport that it is.”

Perlman added that the general public should not be “shut out” of the discussion because the stadium is part of the community, not just the club.

“People should write to the Landmark Preservation Committee so that future generations can cherish something that is truly remarkable. Queens is fortunate to have it— it’s an icon.”

In a feature piece this week, Ed McGrogan, assistant editor for, suggested that the stadium be renovated if possible and re-used.

“Many fans have clamored for more tennis on turf, as the current grass-court “season” is just five weeks long for the men and four weeks for the women,” he said. “But there’s no reason it has to end after Wimbledon. Another grass showcase in the U.S. in mid-July, right after fans have gotten into grass during Wimbledon, would attract viewers both at the club and on television.”

Despite not wanting to see the stadium disappear, Hof said the club must ultimately ex- plore its options to help generate revenue. “From a business perspective you have to look at all the options. You can’t have your head in the cloud.”

Warehouse Plans Unveiled for St. Savior's but Fight Continues for Parkland

By Tamara Best

A plan to build warehouses on the former St. Saviour’s property suffered a temporary setback this week when the city rejected site plans, leaving the future of the Maspeth site up in the air.

Property owner Maspeth Development LLC recently unveiled plans and applied to the city for permits needed to construct four one-story units on the 1.5-acre property at 57th Road and 58th Street.

According to city Department of Building records, a plan exam for the property was rejected on Monday. A department representative said a rejection of plans generally results in a series of meetings between the applicant and examiner’s office so that necessary changes can be made.

Area civic leaders and elected officials were hoping the land would be converted into much-needed greenspace for area residents.

“Maspeth has about 12 acres of parkland in total for about 40,000 residents and that is really not adequate,” said local activist Christina Wilkinson. “And the ones we do have are more geared toward active recreation, where the Maspeth site could be passive. I think this would be a good opportunity for the city to plan a park for the site. We don’t need anymore warehouses, we have plenty.”

Wilkinson said she hopes that the owner will consider “coming to the table” to talk with the city about selling the property.
“I'm willing to work with anyone, but we're moving forward,” property owner Scott Kushnick, recently told the New York Daily News. “The city cannot come up with the money, and I have my back against the wall.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) allocated $500,000 towards acquisition of the land, in addition to more than $1 million from Borough President Helen Marshall.

“Maspeth has been under served when it comes to park space and we need to seize on this opportunity to invest in open space for the residents of Maspeth,” said Crowley. “I hope the owners of the property see this commit- ment and begin negotiations to sell the prop- erty to the city as soon as possible.”

Dan Andrews, spokesman Marshall, said the borough president is committed to trying to acquire the land for park use.
“It’s an ongoing process, it’s been give and take,” he said on Wednesday in reference to attempts to acquire the land from the current developer.

It is unclear how much Kushnick would ask for the property and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful this week.

The Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) previously rallied to save the church from being demolished, securing funding from the offices of Marshall and Crowley. The church was dis- mantled and is currently in storage until it can be rebuilt, either at land in Middle Village donated by All-Faiths Cemetery, or back at its original home in Maspeth.

At a July 2009 civic meeting, JPCA President Bob Holden, told members, “St. Saviour’s was just minutes – literally minutes – from demolition... We were all out there preparing for the worst, and then the miracle happened.”

And civic leaders like Wilkinson said they are once again hopeful that another miracle occurs and the land will be saved.

Overcrowding, Budget Cuts Focus at CEC 24 Meeting

Representatives from the offices of Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) expressed that the legislature is hoping to avoid budget cuts to the education system.

Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, had a simple message for the elected officials as they return to Albany. “No bargain, no cuts to education,” he said.

Comaianni also asked that both Miller and Addabbo take time moving forward to talk to education councils and parents before voting on legislation concerning new charter schools. “They are private schools funded with public money. More oversight is needed,” he said.

Jeff Gottlieb from Senator Addabbo’s office said that in addition to avoiding cuts to education, there needs to be an examination of after school programs such as The Boys & Girls Club that are also suffering from overcrowding.

The problem of overcrowding continued to be a hot issue among parents.

“[PS] 153’s population is starting to grow and it’s rumored that Ferrara Lumber is moving,” said parent Joann Berger.” Development in the neighborhood [Maspeth] is something we need to keep an eye on.” She added that the community must take advantage of available property that could be used for a school.

Comaianni said that the CEC will continue to monitor the amount of students at schools, particularly PS 87, which is to receive an annex, to alleviate overcrowding. “We’re going to look at the numbers and if we have x amount of seats, we’ll rezone and bring more kids into 87,” he said.

Parents once again raised concerns about the lack of seats in gifted and talented programs for children entering kindergarten and six grade who pass tests to be admitted.

Superintendent Madeline Chan reported that 84 percent of principals responded to a Principal Satisfaction survey saying that they are satisfied with the help that they are receiving from the Department of Education. This year’s standardized test scores are expected to be released the week of August 19th and round two of pre kindergarten applications are now open on the Department of Education website.

Parents will also have a chance to provide input about what and how their children are taught with the preliminary New York State Teaching Standards document now available on the DOE website. The deadline for public comment of the New York State Teaching Standards is August 16th.

Local Crime, State Budget and Parks Discussed at CBR Meet

By Tamara Best

At the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting Tuesday, the state budget, voting, crime in the 104th Precinct and issues at local parks were among key discussions.

State Senator Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) addressed the audience briefly to discuss the state budget, trains hauling garbage through the area and the upcoming election.

“I want to go back to Albany to finish off what we should have before July 4,” he said, adding that he continues to express frustration over this year’s process and hopes to restore money to areas where it has been lost due to budget cuts.

“As the budget gets cut, the District Attorney loses money for prosecutions,” he said in reference to repeat offenders and curbing crime.

Members of the audience also raised concerns about the MTA, the lack of the M train running on the weekend and the possibility of fares being raised. Addabbo said he is hopeful that an independent audit being done of their practices will be complete by the year’s end.

“I’m not convinced that they’re good at math or lose money,” he said, adding that the M line is “critical” to the area and hopes that the MTA will be able to “restore service to the levels we deserve.”

Addabbo also reassured residents that though efforts at trying to pass legislation on a hard covering for the railcars transporting waste was unsuccessful, he plans on pushing for stronger laws again during the next legislative session.

With elections this fall, he also took a minute to remind residents of the new electronic voting machines and urged them to have patience.

“This new year starts a new era in voting,” he said. “Be prepared for longer lines and to spend a little more time voting this year. We don’t want people to go home, if you can stand a little frustration it is worth your time.” When asked why he voted against gay marriage, he said that the majority of correspondence from constituents asked that he not vote in favor of it.

“I see 300,000 people jammed into my seat in the chamber,” he said of the way he votes on issues, adding that “accessibility and conversation is important to the progress we need to make.”

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell of the 104th Precinct provided an update on crime for the year. Crime is up so far, with 990 incidents so far this year as opposed to 928 at the same time last year. Felony assaults have spiked from 96 last year to 128 for the year to date. With auto theft plaguing the community, Bell said the precinct is remaining proactive and vigilant, employing the latest technology to help them combat this type of crime in the area.

Bell also encouraged residents to try and deter burglars from breaking into their home by securing air conditioning units, having a crime prevention officer visit the home to offer a free assessment and by closing their windows, even if they are only leaving their home briefly. Residents who need help removing graffiti can contact GCop, the 104’s Civilian Observation Patrol, at (718) 497-1500.

With recently renovated Grover Cleveland Park now open once again for area residents to enjoy, Steve Fiedler, chairman of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee, said there have been no major problems thus far. However, the lack of goalposts for the soccer fields, exits near gardens and double parking are issues that need to be addressed to improve the park’s condition.

Fiedler also spoke briefly about the state of the Ridgewood Reservoir, noting that the state Department of Environment Conservation is considering designating the area a wetland. The department’s decision would complicate the city’s current plan, prohibiting the beginning of phase one until a decision is made.

“We don’t want the Parks Department to build phase one the way they have it designed,” he said, adding that the planned removal of 160 trees is “unacceptable.”

Fiedler told the audience that several local high schools and colleges have expressed interest in using the potential wetland for educational purposes, furthering the need for it to be preserved. Fiedler said three contractors have entered their name to be considered for the project.

After 10 Years of Lobbying, PS 87 to Finally Receive Annex

By Tamara Best

After 10 years of waiting and pleading their case, parents and students of PS 87 have a reason to celebrate.

On Tuesday, City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced that the Middle Village school would receive a new annex, creating room for 120 seats and a gymnasium.

“I am happy to report that the feasibility study has been completed and it is the determination of the [Department of Education] and [Schools Construction Authority] to move forward with an annex at PS 87,” Klein said in a letter to Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24. The design will phase will begin in the coming weeks, followed by a timeline for the project’s completion.

Parents, educators and community leaders say the annex will provide much needed help to the school.

“I really want to thank everyone for pushing this extension through, it’s a miracle,” said Caryn Michaeli, principal of PS 87. “The parents are grateful and the children are eternally grateful—and it’s about the children.”

PS 87 has approximately 600 students in kindergarten through 8th grade in addition to special education. As one of the first schools in the district to be converted into a K-8 nearly a decade ago, it is the only that has not yet received an expansion.

Though new schools have been built in recent years, District 24 is considered to be the most over-crowded in the city.
In the past, officials have argued that the school did not warrant the upgrades because it was not overcrowded like others in the area.

“Especially given the city’s difficult economic circumstances, it is essential that we prioritize school construction for the neighborhoods that need it most,” a DOE spokesman told The Forum last year. Because the school is not overcrowded, the DOE had planned to address concerns “without the construction of a costly and unnecessary addition.”

But, parents and educators say the expansion is needed, and it appears that the DOE has changed its stance on the need for one, based on Klein’s letter.

“Originally when we were asked to go to [pre] K-8 we were promised an extension, but that never happened,” parent Bernadette Beninati told The Forum in August 2009. “It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s necessities for our kids... During the swine flu out- break children were lined up to get into the bathroom, it’s just crazy.”

Tuesday evening, when the announcement of the annex was made at the CEC meeting, Beninati clapped and cheered along with other parents.

“We’re thrilled, we’ve been fighting for this,” she said.

Despite not being as crowded as other schools, PS 87 still faces issues in need of attention.

The cafeteria can only hold 100 people at a time and occasionally doubles as a gym. Additionally, the second floor only has two toilets, something Michaeli called “completely inadequate for the amount of people” in a 2008-09 Building Condition Assessment of the school by the DOE.

Last year, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) led Klein on a tour of the school in effort to bring added attention to the conditions. She called the annex “a big victory for our community and, most importantly, for our students.”

At this time it unknown how long it will take to build the annex, where it will located and how much it will cost.

Still, Comianno praised the announcement. “This is very good news,” he said. “This is what happens when we work together.”

Auto Theft, Domestic Violence on the Rise in 104th Precinct

By Tamara Best

Crime is on the rise in the 104th Precinct, with the area ranked number one in the city for auto thefts. In addition, there has been a major spike in felony assaults, which are up 61 percent for the year.

Lt. James Lombardi and Detective Kevin Weber spoke to residents and members of several local civic groups at last Wednesday’s meeting, which was hosted by Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) in Maspeth Town Hall.

The Toyota Forerunner and Highlander, Dodge Caravan and Honda Pilot are among popular vehicle targets for thieves, according to police. Lombardi said the NYPD’s auto larceny unit is being sent to the area at nights in an effort to help curb auto thefts.

“We were doing very well and then we got hit a few weeks ago and it hasn’t stopped,” he said, adding that the crime is not clustered in a particular area but spread throughout the precinct.

Lombardi said the rise in assaults can be attributed to an increase in domestic violence in the area.

Area civic leaders and residents expressed frustration over repeat offenders being released let out of prison, only to commit more petty crimes.

“It’s a revolving door, the district attorney has got to protect us,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “We need to write a few letters, make a few phone calls.”

Former City Councilman and current State Senate candidate Anthony Como told the audience that while he understood their frustration with the District Attorney’s office, punishment and deterring criminals is not solely at the discretion of the DA.

“Part of the problem is judges not setting bail high enough,” he said, which allows individuals who commit petty crimes to return to the streets quickly.

Roe Daraio, president of COMET, encouraged the audience to get involved with court watch programs and protest if needed to make their voices heard by the courts.

Lombardi did offer residents some positive news. The precinct is up more than 200 percent in graffiti arrests for the year, an issue that last long plagued neighborhoods within the confines of the 104.

Still, with the uptick in crime, Lombardi encouraged residents to remain alert.

“If something doesn’t look right— call.”

New Book Chronicles Changing Queens

Fire fighters with Maspeth Steamer Engine No. 4. Despite bitter resistance, in 1898 once the boroughs were unified as part of New York City, fire department volunteers were replaced by professionals after insurance companies lobbied the governor. Seen here in 1908, this steam pumper is representative of the types of equipment available in the era to fight blazes across the city. As the internal combustion engine gained sway in the next decade, horses and steam would give way to motorized fire engines and equipment.

(Photo and Caption courtesy of Kevin O'Donoghue and Turner Publishing Company)

By Eric Yun

Kevin O’Donoghue is a journalist-turned-lawyer whose new book, Historic Photos of Queens, tracks changes in the borough from the 1880s to the 1970s.

O’Donoghue has a long history with Queens. He grew up in Bayside and remembers many days at Rockaway Beach as a child. “My family were lifeguards at Rockaway for over 60 years,” he said. He went to St. John’s University Law School, and his father teaches at John Adams High School.

O’Donoghue said working on the book was “a really great experience.” He enjoyed observing how his hometown changed through the years. “I love the tradition of Queens,” he said. “Ever since the incorporation of Queens into New York City it has continued to change. It’s fascinating.”

The most important catalysts of the change, according to O’Donoghue, were the bridges. “Queens always had a provincial feel, but the bridge connected us,” he said. For this reason, O’Donoghue considers the Queensboro Bridge “one of the most important engineering feats because it connected Queens to Manhattan.”

Besides the bridges, O’Donoghue appreciated the diverse photos of different neighborhoods such as the old Maspeth fire station or the swim club at Howard Beach. During his research, he also found great tidbits about the neighborhoods.

“Ozone Park was originally developed for middle to upper- middle class families, and it became more desirable when the elevated tracks were built,” O’Donoghue explained. “The name was supposed to evoke a futuristic idea of fresh air and beauty.”

The one regret for O’Donoghue is the underrepresentation of some neighborhoods such as Richmond Hill. “Richmond Hill is a neat neighborhood that had houses with ornate little gardens,” he said.

The latest picture in the book was from 1975, and O’Donoghue would like to do another book from 1975 to the present. There has been tremendous growth since then, especially in recent years. “A lot of change has occurred since just 1995,” he said.

Still, O’Donoghue’s book documents some major changes that have occurred. Whether it’s the amusement park that existed before LaGuardia Airport or the tent cities in Rockaway Beach, Queens is constantly changing.

“The most interesting thing about Queens is that Queens will always change, but it will always be the same,” O’Donoghue said.

Report Misrepresented Woodhaven Storefront Vacancies

By Eric Yun

Woodhaven residents were angered and confused by a recent report from Congressman Anthony Weiner’s office stating that the neighborhood had the highest rate of vacant storefronts in Queens, especially since the numbers were inaccurate.

Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) conducted a study on vacant storefronts as part of a larger initiative to stimulate Queens’ local small businesses. Unfortunately, due to confusion over where Woodhaven ends and where Richmond Hills begins, Woodhaven was branded as the worst neighborhood in the borough. However, only a small section of Woodhaven was counted—the rest of the stores were in Richmond Hill.

“When it came out we were really shocked,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (BID). She noted the Woodhaven BID generally has vacancies of 10 percent or lower. “We're really very pleased Weiner is looking after the prospects of small businesses on a federal level, Unfortunately, Woodhaven came out looking like a vacant lot.”

To dispute the numbers, members of the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association (WRBA) drove down Jamaica Avenue with a video camera and counted how many vacant storefronts were in their neighborhood. According to this survey, vacancies in Woodhaven were approximately 8 percent.

Edward Wendell, president of the WRBA, acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult to understand local boundaries. However, “there was no cooperation with locals who could have helped,” he said.

The mistake has Wendell questioning the numbers and methods used for Weiner's report. “I would love to see the raw data,” Wendell said.

Weiner’s office issued a correction this week. “While the streets surveyed where correct, the neighborhood designation for Jamaica Avenue was imprecise,” Weiner said. “Since Woodhaven begins west of 98th Street, and only about 22 percent of the street was in this area, it should have been labeled 'Richmond Hill/Woodhaven.'”

Library Jobs at Risk after Union Rejects Benefit Cuts

By Eric Yun

When the city budget was being formulated, it appeared that local libraries would face devastating cuts. After much debate, more than $61 million, including $17.6 million for Queens Library, was restored to the budget out of $77 million initially proposed to be cut.

The budget restoration prevented massive layoffs to library employees and allowed all library branches to operate on at least a five-day schedule. With the budget restoration and other cost saving methods, Queens Library was able to save 366 jobs, but 46 employees were still at risk. The Queens Library administration and the Queens Library Union, Local 1321, attempted to find ways to reduce costs and prevent layoffs.

The Queens Library administration proposed cuts to union benefits, which were already implemented to non-union staff: five furlough days a year and a permanent change so that there is no carryover on annual leave. The cuts would provide a one-
time savings of approximately $2.4 million.

Last Tuesday, Local 1321 voted 297-50 to reject the administration's proposal.

“It was way too onerous,” John Hyslop, president of Local 1321 said. “They were asking for permanent changes to our benefits for a temporary solution.”

Local 1321 members felt with possible mid-year budget cuts as well as uncertainty about next year's fiscal budget, without a guarantee of no layoffs, the administration was asking for too much.

“Losing anyone is regrettable,” Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante said, “This is a tough fiscal environment. The $17.6 mil- lion restoration preserved 366 jobs and five-day-a-week service and kept every library in Queens open....”

Hyslop said, “Our door is open,” if Queens Library administration has other proposals to save the 46 jobs. If not, the union will provide assistance to the members who lose their job.

Battling Cancer with Martial Arts

By Eric Yun

"Let's beat the crap out of cancer." That's the goal for Kew Gardens-based Martial Arts Therapy. Founded in 2005 by Rabbi Sensei Gary Moskowitz, the program was started to help heal kids with cancer and other terminal illnesses. By combining his passion to find a cure for cancer and his love of martial arts, Moskowitz has designed a program that helps his students deal with pain and fear management helps rehabilitation, and provides emotional and spiritual support.

Moskowitz, a former teacher at Far Rockaway High School and a retired New York City police officer, spends most of his days as a Rabbi at the Jewish Wellness Center synagogue in Kew Gardens or teaching martial arts professionally. His love for martial arts, which has lasted more than 40 years, began when he was a 13-year-old kid in the Bronx.

"I'm a natural coward," Moskowitz said, "I was so scared of everything." But martial arts gave him the knowledge that he could fight back. "It gave me hope and spirit." Moskowitz realized how adrenaline and natural endorphins released from physical exercise could bring both physical and emotional wellness. The confidence and self-esteem is what he tries to instill in each of his students at Martial Arts Therapy.

"It's not just a kick-punch program," Moskowitz explained, "True martial arts is about conditioning yourself, learning about your body, and living a long, healthy and sound life." The kids learn martial arts skills, but more importantly, they are also taught about proper nutrition, how their bodies work, and how to deal with the pain and fear their illnesses bring on a daily basis.

One way Moskowitz helps ease the suffering of his students is through a program called guidance imagery. "Guidance imagery means putting an image behind the pain and refocusing it," he said. He shows kids cartoons of a ninja cancer cell beating up healthy cells. The cancer cells are then beat back by samurai anti-bodies. Moskowitz believes that imagining the martial arts battle inside the body and fighting back helps refocus the pain and displace the fear the kids experience because of their illness.

Balance, in a literal sense, is also a major focus in the Martial Arts Therapy program. The vestibular system, which helps balance and spatial orientation, can be strengthened Moskowitz claimed: "We can work out the vestibular system just like we can lift weights to build muscles."

His work with Philip Califano is a good example of restoring balance. Califano was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor when he was six years old that impaired the coordination and balance in his legs. Moskowitz contacted Califano after learning about a fundraiser in Forest Hills raising money for medical bills.

Now, seven years old, Califano attends Martial Arts Training sessions where Moskowitz has him perform kicks and other moves. By taxing the vestibular system with martial arts, Califano emerges from his sessions more focused and with better coordination.

Domenica Califano, Philip's aunt, has seen first-hand how Moskowitz's program has helped her nephew. She's seen a marked improvement in Philip's condition. "Absolutely," Ms. Califano said when asked if the program works and if she would recommend it to others. "It's mind over matter."

As Moskowitz helps others, he encourages his students to do the same. "It takes their mind off their own problems," Moskowitz said. "I had a 12-year-old girl with cancer doing community service in the Bronx. She wanted to feel like she was doing something for others." Building a sense of community and serving others is a major focus for Moskowitz.

Moskowitz understands his students are often very sick, and he tries to accommodate them by making his program fun. There's dojo dancing where martial arts moves are incor- porated into a dance routine. Another popu- lar element of the program is virtual karate. Virtual karate is non-contact sparring session where two kids standing ten feet apart stage a fight. A panel of judges decides whether the blow would have landed in a real sparring situation. This allows kids who may be too weak for physical contact still feel like they belong.

If working free of charge to help kids with cancer wasn't enough, Moskowitz has expanded his Martial Arts Therapy program to include veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and victims of domestic abuse. He has found that he can transfer many of the same methods to help those groups.

Moskowitz sympathizes with victims of domestic abuse. Nobody deserves to be treated in that manner, but he also fears for the kids. "Many of these women are mothers. There is a tremendous amount of difficulty in raising kids when you live in fear," he said. "I'm not teaching them to poke their boyfriends in the eye or kick them in the groin. They just want to repel the attacks and get away and get help."

Evelyn Gonzalez volunteers for Moskowitz and helps bring victims of domestic abuse to his classes. She is a huge fan of the program. "They feel powerless and helpless," she said, "It helps empower women. It's a good opportunity for them."

Moskowitz and his team of over 50 volunteers work tirelessly to administer these free weekly Martial Arts Therapy classes. He hopes to one day have a full-time facility and staff in place to continue the program and offer help any day of the week.

To accomplish that goal, Moskowitz is working fervently to get some funding for his organization. "It's like going through an army to get help," he said about getting government funding and grants.

With or without funding, Moskowitz will continue to help those in need with Martial Arts Therapy, every Sunday at Anshe Shalom Chabad Jewish Center in Kew Gardens, and he will continue to campaign for more research to help find a cure for cancer.

To learn more about Martial Arts Therapy or how to help, contact Rabbi Sensei Gary Moskowitz at 917-916-4681 or visit

Forest Park Carousel Still Silent

The Forest Park Carousel stopped operating last year when the city could not find a vendor after the contract for New York One, LLC expired.

By Tamara Best

Despite the many amenities and recreational opportunities offered throughout Forest Park’s 500 acres, there is still one item visitors can’t enjoy—the historic Forest Park Carousel.

The carousel has remained closed since last summer, when the city failed to find a vendor to operate it after the contract with New York One LLC expired last May.

Parks Department spokeswoman Trish Bertuccio said Tuesday that the department is currently in negotiations with a company to have the carousel reopen but could not say whether it would open before the end of the summer.

The Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) has started a petition to gain more support from the community in an effort to have the carousel reopened.

“Our first step is to get it reopen and then the second get it landmarked,” said Edward Wendell, president of the WRBA, who called the carousel a work of art. “It’s not only wonderful for the children, but it’s also a selling point for homeowners. We’d hate to lose that.”

According to the Parks Department, the carousel dates back to the 1890s and is the only designed and produced carousel left and by master carver Daniel C. Muller. The carousel can be found near the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue. After it was restored, it began operating in 1966 until 1985, and then received another renovation in 1988.

Supporters have taken to Facebook to raise additional support through the group “Save the Forest Park Carousel.” More than 500 members have shared memories and suggested ideas on how funds can be raised to help the carousel reopen.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) has also shown support for the effort, arguing in a letter to Parks that the carousel needs to be preserved and restored to its “original magnificence.” Ulrich asserts that many of his constituents consider the carousel to be the “heart and soul of the Woodhaven community” that should be preserved so that “future generations may share in this one-of-a-kind experience.”

“This is the 100th year of the carousel and it should be a celebration—but it’s not,” Wendell said.

Officials Vow to Continue Fighting Cross Bay Toll

By Eric Yun

For the past twelve years, residents of Broad Channel and Rockaway were able to drive over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge for free thanks to the Resident Rebate Program. For the past week, they have lived with the reality that they also must pay the toll as a result of MTA cost-cutting measures.

The new plan, enacted by the MTA to help close its $800 million budget deficit, now charges $1.13 per trip for qualified residents who use EZ-Pass and $1.54 for drivers using a token. Normal fare for the bridge is $2.75. In a concession from the MTA, the first two trips across the bridge in a given day are charged, but subsequent trips will be free.

"The decision to modify the Rockaway Rebate program was made by the full MTA Board in April after public hearings were held," an MTA Bridges and Tunnels spokeswoman said. "This action was taken to help MTA close an $800 million budget deficit, and was part of a package that included difficult service cuts to public mass transit, as well."

Residents in Broad Channel often depend on the bridge for everyday tasks. As a small neighborhood, Broad Channel is heavily dependent on Rockaway. The closest hospital and police station are both located across the bridge.

“It's deeply disappointing,” said Jonathan Gaska, District Manager of Community Board 14, “It's going to have a negative ef- fect on economic development.” Gaska also said he believes it's “unconstitutional to charge a tax to travel within their own community.”

The MTA argued that inter-borough travel fares are not unusual. "Keep in mind that residents in any NYC borough traveling within that same borough pay subway and bus fares to go from one neighborhood to another," the MTA spokeswoman said.

Local politicians have been vocal in their opposition to the toll. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said, “I really believe the toll is unfair for everyone.”

Calling it another “expense in difficult times,” Pheffer feared the end of the rebate program would stunt economic development in the communities. Residents may be less willing to drive across the bridge and spend money on entertainment and other non-essential services, which are critical to the economy.

“The MTA is moving in the wrong direction,” said Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). He said the savings the MTA would receive is inconsequential compared to their massive deficit. “I've been advocating to make it a free bridge, at least in Queens,” he said.

Addabbo said he talked to concerned residents who are afraid to open up businesses in Rockaway. They fear people will not come to their store if they have to pay a toll just to get to the area.

“I am outraged by the MTA’s most recent attempt to balance their books on the backs of Broad Channel and Rockaway residents,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “The MTA must get serious about its own inefficiencies and poor accounting practices before they reach into the pockets of people just trying to travel around their own community.”

The elected officials all promised to continue to fight MTA's new provisions on the Cross Bay Bridge. “There are many ways we're looking to eliminate the toll. It's a fight we're going to keep on fighting,” Pheffer said.

Residents in the following zip codes are eligible for the $1.13 toll fare: 11691, 11692, 11693, 11694, 11695 and 11697. The modified rates went into effect last Friday, July 23. In 2009, 3.6 million trips were taken by residents participating in the rebate program, which only applies to passenger vehi- cles.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Self Check-in Kiosk Unveiled at Broad Channel Library

By Eric Yun

Representatives from Queens Library and local elected officials gathered at Broad Channel Library on Wednesday to unveil a new automated self-check-in kiosk. The machine allows library visitors to return books at any time and is one of the first to be installed in the borough.

The kiosk was the last part of a complete renovation of the Broad Channel branch. “We want every library in the borough to have one,” said Thomas Galante, Queens Library CEO. The new technology, he said, will help cut down lines for the staff.

Having a 24/7 check-in kiosk will also help those who try to return a book just after the library closes. “It will help cut down the fines and fees of the customers,” Broad Channel Librarian William Schulz said.

The project was funded by City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who set aside $190,000 in last year's budget.

“I'm glad for the people in the community who depend on the library day in and day out,” Ulrich said. “This is taxpayer dollars well-invested right back to the community.”

Also present at the ceremony was Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). She reiterated her love for the libraries and promised she would provide funding in the future.

Genting Unveils Racino Plans

By Eric Yun

A casino at Aqueduct racetrack designed and built by Genting New York would be more than just “slots in a box.”

That was the message representatives from Genting gave to community leaders and members last Thursday as they presented their plans for the “racino” project at the Ozone Park racetrack.

The meeting, held by Community Board 10, was originally intended to include SL Green and Penn National Gaming, two companies that also submitted bids for the project. However, New York Lottery disqualified the bids, leaving Genting New York as the sole bidder.

SL Green and Penn National Gaming’s disqualification was just another setback in the seemingly never-ending search to find a vendor for the Aqueduct casino. This is the fourth time New York Lottery has attempted to find a bidder for the project, and many are hoping it is the last.

“I think the time has come for us to stop split- ting hairs and approve a vendor for a racino at Aqueduct,” Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) said in a statement before the presentation. “People have waited too long for this process to come to fruition.”

Complicating matters, however, is Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s (AEG) lawsuit against the state. AEG was awarded the rights to Aqueduct last year, but the state later rejected the group after a controversy arose about AEG’s finances and political favoritism. Last week, a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the Aqueduct process as AEG takes their motion to court.

Legal issues aside, Genting officials showed up to the meeting ready to show the community why they’re the best bet for the project. Genting had three set goals in their meeting: Inform the people who they were as a company, show off their plans for the casino, and listen to community questions.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad, the only casino company with an investment grade bond rating. They own and operate one of the world’s largest casinos in Malaysia and a Universals Studios resort in Singapore. JCJ Architecture, an award-winning firm for their work in casinos, which has previously designed the casino and raceway at Saratoga, created the designs. The building company is Tutor Perini, a company responsible for the recent $300 million JFK runway project and the Jamaica AirTrain station.

Genting’s proposal includes a state of the art facility with first-class amenities. The grand entrance will open up to a three-story atrium that features a digitized water show. Besides the 4,500 slot machines, they stressed that the project would have entertainment and dining for everyone. There will be a two-story food court, a 200-seat restaurant, and a high-end Chinese restaurant. There will also be lounges and bars throughout the casino.

“We want to create a great destination area,” Mike Speller, president of Genting New York, said. “We’ll be more than just slot machines.”

Jay Walker, spokesman for Genting, observed that there is gaming money available in New York City, but it escapes to casinos in Connecticut and Atlantic City. The company hopes to keep the money in the state by making the casino a tourist destination. The biggest hope is to create a working relation- ship with John F. Kennedy Airport to lure some of the 45 million people a year who travel there to make a stop at Aqueduct. Walker considers JFK their “biggest asset.”

“If we do it right, we’re just a subway ride away,” Walker said.

Genting also stressed the benefits the community would receive. Approximately 1,300 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs would be created from the project. Furthermore, they promised to spend money in the neighborhood: more than $30 million dollars will be spent locally to buy goods and services needed for operations, and one percent of net profits will be donated to the community.

Genting representatives promised if they are awarded the bid, they will work quickly and efficiently to finish the project. “We’ll build it fast; we’ll build it right,” Speller told the crowd.

How fast? The tentative time schedule has Genting opening the doors to Aqueduct six months after acquiring the bid. Final construction will be completed within 18 months.

Genting left residents and community leaders impressed with their presentation.

“I thought the presentation was excellent,” Elaine Holland, a community board member said, “I think they explained themselves real well.”

Community leaders present echoed the sentiment. “I was very encouraged,” Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said. Pheffer noted most questions were answered, but she had some public safety concerns.

Genting did mention security concerns during the meeting. “Security is the first thing we talk about,” Walker said. “If patrons don’t feel safe, they don’t come.” However, Pheffer said more work has to be done, specifically, the working relationship Genting might have with the NYPD.

Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) also had public safety concerns. “It is the obligation of the vendor to ensure the security of patrons and the surrounding community,” he said. Addabbo wants more information on the personnel that will be used so the casino can refrain from depending on the 106th Precinct. Addabbo noted that from the beginning of the process, he and other leaders “reiterated the concerns of the community, which were public safety, traffic and jobs. Genting did a fine job in their first step” to address these issues.

Another major issue was Genting’s reliance on the MTA. “In light of the recent MTA service cuts, it is unclear whether or not Genting will be able to rely on an already overburdened public transit infrastructure,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said, “The A Train is already bursting at the seams and bus service is wholly inadequate. I’m concerned the MTA won’t be able to provide the level of service the company is counting on.”

Pheffer also had concerns about the MTA. “We would need to work with the MTA to make the Aqueduct station operational,” she said, “A little more should be done with other forms of transportation like express bus services.”
While there are still many things to be worked out, most people seem set to move forward with the process. New York Lottery hopes to send a recommendation to the Governor and state legislature by August 3.

“It’s about time we determine a vendor,” Miller said.

Tough Times Lead to Vacant Storefronts

By Tamara Best

Since the economic downturn began, “for rent” and “for sale” signs have become more common as small business owners close their doors. Jamaica Avenue, one of the main streets for commerce throughout Queens, has been hit especially hard. According to a new study, one in five stores on the avenue—Woodhaven’s commercial hub—are vacant.

The study, conducted by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), looked at 10 of the busiest streets in different areas of the borough. On average, the borough had a vacancy rate of 12 percent. Areas from the survey included portions of Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park, Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Austin Street in Forest Hills and Myrtle Avenue in Glendale. The vacancy rates in Glendale and Forest Hills were among the lowest, at eight percent and seven percent respectively.

“Small businesses are the backbone of New York City’s economy, and they have borne the brunt of our nation’s recent downturn,” Weiner said.

According to the study, a total of 206 storefronts were closed of the 1,716 surveyed, with 73 stores vacant on Jamaica Avenue alone. (See sidebar for statistics on the other areas surveyed). Other neighborhoods surveyed included Rockaway, Astoria, Flushing, Bayside, Jamaica and Sunnyside.

Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Center, said that the lack of access to resources can hinder business on major commercial strips.

“With the economy, it affects all parts of business so people are hesitant to start businesses because they can’t get the capital,” he said. “Small businesses need improved access to capital in addition to counseling.”

However, he noted that despite the vacancies, the local economy remains solid.

“The overall economy in Queens is relatively stable,” he said. “There has been growth in immigrant communities and we believe that small business can compete with the proper access.”

Bornstein said that in tough economic times, landlords must also change the way they rent space to tenants.

“Some landlords hold out, thinking they will get top dollar,” he said. “A smart landlord doesn’t keep a space vacant for a year— it’s bad for everybody for when businesses come in and out.”

Bornstein said landlords need to be more realistic about what they can get for their property and focus on finding tenants with good credit and a solid plan to grow their business.

Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, said that business owners that can afford it should think beyond renting.

“There’s nothing like owning your own building because you don’t have to worry about the rent as much,” she said, adding that the current economic downturn could allow potential owners to buy property at a reduced value. “A lot of people in Woodhaven have sustained themselves that way.”

Thomson said it is also important for local business associations to promote their commercial strip as being vital to economic prosperity during and after the recession.

Weiner said that, “helping small business owners get back on their feet should be our number one priority.”

In an effort to help small businesses recover, Weiner is proposing a five point plan: tax breaks for small businesses that offer health insurance, tax breaks for new hires, greater access to capital small business loans, a five minute grace period for drivers with an expired parking meter and a mobile van to handle permit violations.

Thomson also said that residents purchasing goods in their neighborhood can help more businesses stay open.

“Stay local, the shopping is more personal,” she said. “That way your avenue and your community will flourish.”

Gov Signs Bill Reducing NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Database

By Eric Yun

Last Friday, Governor Paterson signed a bill that will reduce the number of people the NYPD can store in its “stop and frisk” database.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D- Brooklyn) and Senator Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), prevents the NYPD from storing the name and address of people stopped and questioned by the police, but not charged with a crime. Previously, anyone who was stopped and questioned by police could have had their name, address, gender and ethnicity stored in the database.

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly both opposed Governor Paterson's decision. “This was an effective investigative tool we've been forced to surrender for no good reason,” Police Commissioner Kelly said to the Wall Street Journal. “Without [the database], there will be, inevitably, killers and other criminals who won't be captured as quickly, or perhaps ever,” Kelly said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Critics of the bill say the legislation will ham- per the NYPD's ability to solve crimes. Kelly estimated that over 170 crimes were solved because of the database.

Stu Loeser, spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, told The New York Times, “We're disappointed that police officers will be denied an important tool they have been using to solve crimes and prevent others.”

Proponents of the bill claim the database infringed on the civil liberties and privacy of innocent civilians.

“In a democracy there are times when safety and liberty find themselves in conflict,” Governor Paterson said in a statement, “From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the interment camps during WWII to the Patriot Act, we have experienced moments where liberty took a back seat. And each time, hindsight made our errors clear.”

New York City Comptroller John Liu applauded the legislation in a press release. “In our free society, there is simply no justification for the police to keep such a massive database of millions of individuals who haven't done anything wrong. The shame of it is that 90 percent of the innocent people in this database are people of color,” he said.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach) voted in favor of the bill. “I supported everybody's rights,” he said, “Our justice system is innocent until proven guilty.”

Addabbo does not foresee an increase in crime because of the bill. He would, however, support its repeal if crime does increase. “If I find it increases crime, I'll be one of the first senators to introduce a bill to repeal it,” he said.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) supported the bill. “I felt it was a duplication of process. Police already keep a written form with the information,” he said.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) released a statement criticizing the bill. “As categories of crime continue to rise throughout the City, the NYPD needs every available tool at its disposal to keep our streets safe,” he said. “With the stroke of his pen, the governor has effectively taken away an invaluable resource that has undoubtedly helped make New York the safest big city in America.”

Assembly Members Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Margaret Markey (D- Maspeth) did not immediately respond by press time to a request for comment. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) declined to comment on the legislation, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Missing Teen

Iris Villanueva,19, was last seen on July 11th at a store on 92nd Street on Woodhaven Boulevard. Villanueva is 5’3, 180 pounds with brown eyes and red, curly hair.

Anyone with information should contact Detective Harrington at (718) 805-23200 of the 102nd Precinct.

Health Department Reports High West Nile Levels

With high levels of the West Nile virus detected across the city, the Health Department is conducting mosquito control spraying in some neighbor- hoods to stop the spread of the virus.

“Warm standing water is the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, so with the three heat waves that we’ve already had this summer, it is vitally important to make sure standing water is reduced to help prevent mosquito breeding,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner.

According to the city Health Department, unusually high levels of the virus were found in mosquitoes in Staten Island, Queens Brooklyn and the Bronx. At this time no human cases have been detected.

Locally, spraying was conducted this past Tuesday in parts of South Jamaica, Rochdale Village and Springfield Gardens. The area sprayed was bordered by Merrick and Farmers boulevards to the east, Linden Boulevard to the north, 140th Street to the West and North Conduit Avenue to the south.

The commissioner recommends that residents 50 and older take special precaution and encourages everyone to wear repellent at night.

Control efforts will continue for the rest of the summer and residents can find out when their neighbor- hood is being sprayed by registering with Notify NYC at or by calling 311.

Ways to reduce the risk of West Nile in your area:
  • Use an approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (not for children under three), or products that contain the active ingredient IR3535.
  • Make sure windows have screens, and repair or re- place screens that have tears or holes.
  • Eliminate any standing water from your property
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
Source: NYC Health Department

Religious Groups, Non-Profits to Receive Security Grants

By Tamara Best

Eighty non-profit and religious groups in the city considered to be high-risk potential targets will receive more than $5.8 million in security grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

"Over the years, these grants have proved to be vital resources in protecting our religious and cultural institutions," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) who is a member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. "Worshipers, museum goers, and hospital visitors expect and deserve a safe environment, and this funding will go a long way towards ensuring their security."

The grants are being made available through the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Nonprofit Security Grant Program, with the city receiving a 40 percent increase from last year. In Queens, nine Jewish institutions received nearly $700,000 this year. Since the program began in 2005, approximately 300 New York City area non-profits have received nearly $23 million in funding.

Local politicians and community leaders said that the funding provides much needed re- sources to help keep their communities safe. "The terrorist threat against schools, places of worship, and other 'soft targets' is very real and we have an obligation to protect them," said Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan). "Last year’s attempted bombing of two synagogues in the Bronx is a clear example that we must do more to protect high risk institutions.”

Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said that the funding is particularly helpful to the Jewish community.

"For Jewish institutions in my district and throughout the country, the terrorist threat is real, ever-present and an enormous financial burden in these difficult times," he said adding that the funds will help make synagogues, yeshivas and community centers more secure.

Associate Rabbi Elie Weinstock of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan said the funding is important for maintaining security. "The Kehilath Jeshurun/Ramaz community is grateful for all of Congressman Weiner's efforts in helping keep our children and families—together with all New Yorkers—safe."

New York City will receive approximately 31 percent of the national funding, with the state receiving a little more than $6 million.

Organizations that qualified for the current grant program were eligible to receive up to $75,000 funds that can be used to train security personnel and install security measures such as surveillance cameras, barriers and controlled entry systems. On average, grant winners are awarded $73,000 and the funds should be received within the next three months.

The UASI program was created after Weiner pushed legislation in the Judiciary Committee in 2004. The Department of Homeland Security does not release the specific list of grant recipients due to security reasons.

Senate Passes Bill Aimed at Sex Offenders

New legislation unanimously passed by the state Senate is aimed to prevent employers from hiring registered sex of- fenders.

“Our primary objective must be to keep our children safe from dangerous predators,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “This legislation reduces the risk of exposing new victims to sexual abuse by keeping known offenders from spending extended time alone around children, like at martial arts or dance and music schools, in addition to our local schools, daycare facilities and camps.”

Under the legislation, those listed on the New York State Sex Offender Registry or the Statewide Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment are prevented from holding jobs that require a significant time spent around children.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) introduced the bill in the Assembly after learning that a registered sex offender was working at a karate school in Glendale. “Extending the background check requirement to other child-oriented fields benefits the whole community,” he said. “It gives parents the peace of mind of knowing their child is safe, it guards sex offenders and abusers from potentially committing another violation, and it reduces the risk of creating new victims of sexual abuse by prohibiting known offenders from interacting with children.”

A vote on the bill is pending in the Assembly. “This is great news for parents and children across New York,” Miller said. “Getting this through the Assembly and signed into law is my first priority.”

Security, Stink Trains, Budget Reform at CB5

By Tamara Best

The July meeting of the Community Board 5 focused on concerns over keeping the city safe, garbage trains continue to emit foulodors and the budget crisis in Albany.

Securing NYC

Special Agent James Capozzi, of the FBI spoke about a program aimed at strengthening national security through intelligence sharing and training.

Since 1996, the FBI has implemented Infra-Guard, a program whose sole goal is to protect the nation from another terrorist attack like 9/11.

“It was god awful and it can’t happen again,” Capozzi said. “We don’t know where they’re going to next,” he said. “Maybe New York, maybe not, but we’re a high priority target.”

Capozzi said the thorough information sharing and help from the public is crucial to protecting critical infrastructure such as food, banking, finance and transportation systems among others. “In essence things that can ruin the economy or government,” he said.

“We need to make these partnerships ahead of time,” he said. “We can’t protect what we don’t own.”

The program currently has 37,000 members across the country with free membership and weekly web broadcast in addition to local training events. “You help us connect the dots, you never know what you’re going to tell us,” he said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, raised concerns that law enforcement does not respond fast enough when called about suspicious behavior.

“[Calling] 911 isn’t working,” he said, adding that the program should consider implementing a hotline or make a suggestion that they city establish one.

Businesses interested in getting involved have to complete a membership application which includes a records check by the FBI. For more information contact to get involved Infra- Guard at

Stink Train Battle Wages On

During the open forum, Mary Parisen, co-chair of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, and several elected officials expressed frustration over recent legislation regarding garbage trains being derailed.

“Our elected officials have stood with us to remediate the problems our community has had,” Parisen said, adding that the organization is receiving help on the city and state level from legislators to combat the issue. “We ask everyone to support us on this.”

During a Senate session at the end of June, Addabbo spoke on behalf of citizens living with the impacts of the trains. The legislation would create a set of standards for how solid waste containers have to be covered.

Some senators opposed the legislation, arguing that the trains already have sufficient covering. However, Addabbo, who attended the meeting, said that he will work with other elected officials until some legislation is passed.

“I’d love to get some of the senators who voted no come down here and smell that,” he said.

Haley Myers from the office of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said her boss is committed to helping the residents impacted by the trains. “We now know exactly what we’re dealing with now and will push the legislation,” she said.

Budget reform

In addition to the garbage trains, Addabbo expressed frustration over the budget, saying that this year’s process highlights the need for reform.

Under his plan for budget reform, the governor would not be able to pass the budget through extenders, which are sections of the budget presented for a vote one at a time. With extenders, the Senate is given the option to vote either yes or no, with no room for discussion on desired changes.

“We’re basically passing the governor’s budget,” Addabbo said of the current budget deadlock in Albany.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Wash for Autism a Success

The parking lot of Queens County Savings Bank in Lindenwood was transformed into a car wash on Sunday as more than 130 volunteers--sponges and buckets in hand--turned out for the 5th Annual Charity Car Wash for Autism.

The sun shone brightly as 152 cars lined up for a good scrubbing. Andrew Bauman, President and CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC), was quick to credit the community for their outpouring of support once again. “Every year it just gets better. The weather was on our side and the cars just kept coming.” Bauman said only 87 cars were washed last year.

Nearly $7,000 in proceeds raised for the day will go to help create a learning library room with games and computers at NYFAC’s new home. A deal to secure the new headquarters for the organization in Howard Beach and has been approved by the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The location will not be disclosed until arrangements are final.

Members of the Explorers from the 106th Precinct and School Safety, families and kids from NYFAC, police officers, firemen and NYFAC friends and family members were among volunteers who stayed all day and washed cars.

As part of the event, the American Classic Car Club hosted a car show across the street in the parking lot of the Howard Plaza Shopping Center with 55 classic, sports and luxury cars on display. At the conclusion of the show, awards were presented for the best cars in each of three categories.

Bauman offered thanks to the event sponsors whom he said really make the event possible. Tuscany Deli, LaVilla Restaurant, Queens County Savings Bank and Nick the Balloonatic were among those credited for making the event a success.

NYFAC is a not- for-profit community based organization started 12 years ago by a group of parents with children affected by a little-known neurological disorder known as Autism. Now, some 12 years later, autism affects 1 in 110 children. The agency began as a support group for each other and has now been transformed into full service group serving not only children and
young adults with autism, but with any developmental disability.


Sunday's meatballs, Friday's poker games,
music and dancing with Joe,
everyday's smile and infectious laughter;
for these things and so many more,
you will always be remembered.

For all the other things,
you will always be loved.

Frances Gulino
November 27, 1920 - July 8, 2010

MTA Takes Its Toll on Broad Channel, Rockaway

Starting Friday, July 23, residents living in Broad Channel and the remaining zip codes encompassing Rockaway will have to pay when they travel across the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Because of a modification to the Rockaway Toll Rebate program, residents in the zip codes 11691, 11692, 11693, 11694, 11695 and 11697 will pay $1.13 per trip, compared to $2.75 for cash customers and $1.71 for non-resident EZ Pass customers.

Rockaway residents also have the option of purchasing tokens, which cost $1.54 per trip.

Residents will pay the reduced rates for each of the first two trips across the bridge however, subsequent trips taken in the same day on the same E-Z Pass tag will continue to be rebated to the account under the Cross Bay Resident Rebate program.

Council member Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) says his constituents, already struggling in a difficult economic climate, are being unfairly taxed. “I am outraged by the MTA’s most recent attempt to balance their books on the backs of Broad Channel and Rockaway residents,” declared Ulrich. “The MTA must get serious about its own inefficiencies and poor accounting practices before they reach into the pockets of people just trying to travel around their own community.”

The rebate plan only applies to passenger vehicles and not to commercial trucks, motorcycles, taxis, buses or limousines. The change in service was approved by the MTA Board in March and is intended to help the beleaguered agency close a nearly $800 million budget deficit.

In 2009, 3.6 million trips were taken by residents participating in the Cross Bay Resident Rebate program.

Ulrich Tours FDNY Training Center

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R- Queens) recently toured the New York City Fire Academy at Randall’s Island to get a firsthand look at the training exercises that prepare firefighters for a wide range of emergencies across the five boroughs.

The academy is situated on 27 acres on Randall’s Island near the RFK Bridge. Informally known as “The Rock,” the site includes training space for simulations of incidents such as high-rise, house and store-front fires, subway accidents, automobile wrecks and fires, construction accidents and confined-space rescues.

In addition, the training facility features classrooms, physical fitness facilities and a heavy-duty storm draining system to accommodate water runoff from fire simulations. During the tour, Ulrich also took time to pay tribute to the 343 fallen 9/11 heroes at the memorial dedicated to FDNY members who died as a result of the terrorist attacks. The tour was arranged by Rockaway resident and FDNY Battalion Chief William Mundy.

Ulrich said, “This was truly an eye-opening experience that confirms what I’ve always believed - that a well trained and well funded fire department is crucial to the safety of all New Yorkers. I applaud the Bureau of Training and the three FDNY units which operate at the academy for their exemplary work in training the many men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our great city.”

Battalion Chief Thomas Robson, Executive Officer of the Bureau of Training said, “What we try to do with training is look at where we have lost firefighters and mimic the kinds of things you find in different types of fires and emergencies. We have a training school that I truly believe is unmatched anywhere in the country.”

Senate Passes Legislation to Help Homeowners and Veterans

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) announced the passage of two new pieces of legislation - one aimed at helping veterans who are budding entrepreneurs and another for homeowners struggling due to the recession.

Addabbo, who is a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, said the first legislation will aid veterans who desire to own businesses in their community.

“This new law will increase meaningful participation of veterans in starting and maintaining a business in New York State.” he said. “Due to medical advances and technology, many veterans with injuries have been able to play active roles in their communities.”

Under the legislation, the Division of Veterans Affairs would be required to provide veterans with resources to aid in entrepreneurship in conjunction with the NYS Small Business Development Center.

The second legislation gives homeowners facing foreclosure the right to take action against lenders who fail to “meet the obligation of entering into a good faith agreements during settlement negotiations.”

“No community is immune from being a victim of foreclosures,” Addabbo said. “I am hopeful that this bill will provide the much needed, common sense protection many people seek from unfortunate, and sometimes unintended, financial situations.”

According to a study conducted by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, of the nearly 800 settlement conferences they studied in 2009 in New York City courts, only three percent resulted in any kind of settlement.

Under the legislation, during a settlement conference, lenders would be required to appear with authority to execute a settlement with the homeowner, negotiate in good faith and meet any deadline for the production of documents or evidence.
The new legislation also outlines penalties for lenders who fail to meet the requirements. After the second time a lender fails, a homeowner automatically makes a motion for an order to dismiss the foreclosure action, unless they waive their right in writing. After the third time, the court grants the defendant’s motion unless the lender can show good cause.

Queens has been hit particularly hard with foreclosures since the recession began. According to the senator’s office, within his district, Woodhaven had one of the highest foreclosure rates.

“Lowering the alarming rate of foreclosures and helping families in Queens to save their homes and even their communities remain priorities for me in order to build the foundation for a lasting, sustainable economic recovery,” said Addabbo.

Legislation regarding veterans has been sent to the Governor for approval and the bill geared towards homeowners has been sent to the Assembly for approval.