Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Ulrich Joins Summer Service Students at MS 210

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) joined students from the Cross Island YMCA Beacon Center at M.S 210 for a day of fun to celebrate the culmination of the group’s summer service project to take a stand against violence in the community.

The Cross Island YMCA Beacon Center provides these students with an outlet to express their creativity and continue learning outside the classroom,” said Ulrich. “So many of our young people really want to make a difference but sometimes they just don’t know how. I am so glad to see that so many are taking advantage of this opportunity.”

This summer’s project ended with fun day activities and the painting of a community art mural on the school building on August 13. Over the prior five weeks, the teens explored and conducted workshops to educate other youth about the impact of bullying, cyber-bullying, teen dating violence and gang violence, as well as ways to combat these types of violence.

From design to completion, the project was led by the teens, their good work expected to continue throughout the school year at ongoing workshops at the Beacon Center’s After-School program and other local youth programs.

The project was part of the City’s Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer of Service initiative, in partnership with NYC Service and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. It was funded through a donation from the Neuberger Berman Foundation.

New Floor at Divine Mercy

INSTALL NYC Members volunteered their time to install 4,500 feet of vinyl composition tile flooring on Saturday, July 31, 2010 in five classrooms and two offices of the Divine Mercy Catholic Academy, Ozone Park, NY.

The project was initiated by Council Member Eric Ulrich and coordinated by Warren Hutchinson, Local 2287, who served as the foreman on the job. Twenty-one members of both Local 2287 Floorcovers Union and the New York City District Council of Carpenters helped to install the new flooring at the school.

“It worked out great,” Hutchinson said. “Everyone was glad to work on this charity project and we completed the installation very quickly as a team.”

“I am truly grateful for the helping hands the New York District Council of Carpenters and INSTALL extended to Divine Mercy Catholic Academy. These volunteers are the most dedicated and skilled floor coverers in the city. Thanks to them, students within the school will not only continue to reap the benefits of a quality education, but also enjoy learning in the newly renovated classrooms,” said Council Member Ulrich.

The Divine Mercy Catholic Academy is the combination of Nativity BVM and St. Stanislaus BM Schools for Kindergarten through Grade 8 classes.

Livery Cab Driver Arrested in Ozone Park Murder

Two men were arrested and charged for the murder and robbery of Ramarin Matadin, a Brooklyn man who was killed in Ozone Park last Tuesday.

Deevan Jagmarine, 21, a livery cab driver from Jamaica, and Alex Gobardham, 19, from Ozone Park were charged second-de- gree murder, first-degree robbery, second- degree robbery and fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. If convicted, they face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

According to police, the cab driver confessed that he picked up the victim and his brother at the Golden Arrow Bar on 101st Avenue in Ozone Park. The brother wanted to stop by his own house to get some clothes because he was spending the night at the victim’s house but when he got out of the car, the cab driver left with the victim.

The driver then allegedly called a friend to say he had an easy mark with a roll of cash in the car who was intoxicated. He then went to pick up the friend and they drove to a dead-end on Arion Road, where a struggle ensued.

According to reports, the defendants allegedly punched the victim in the face and robbed him of his cell phone, wallet and a gold bracelet. The cause of death has been determined to be cardiac arithmic and blunt trauma of the head.

Police reportedly found a gold bracelet in Jagnarine’s home and a cell phone in Gobardhan’s home.

“This is a disturbing case that ended with the death of an innocent man,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “These defendants now face lengthy prison terms if convicted of this senseless crime.”

Addabbo Hosts Voting Machine Demo

State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Chair of the Senate Elections Committee, is sponsoring a series of free town hall meetings for voting machine demonstrations around his district to help familiarize Queens voters with the introduction of the new optical scan voting machines in the primary elections next month. When voters show up at their polling place on September 14 Primary Day and the November 2 General Election, instead of the old mechanical lever machines, they’ll now mark their votes on a paper ballot that is run through a scanner to be recorded. Senator Addabbo arranged for the NYC Board of Elections to conduct open public demonstrations of the new system, using the scanner and ballot marking device, with the first in his series on Tuesday, August 31 at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters, 78-15 Jamaica Avenue, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Senator Addabbo and his Elections Committee have worked through many public hearings on the testing and performance of the new machines in a pilot program throughout the state. The change is a result of the federal Help America Vote Act, which mandated that voters in New York State must have new voting machines this year. The new system electronically records a vote from a paper ballot that a voter marks.

“As we prepare for this change, I want to assure all voters that their votes will be counted accurately and will work toward ensuring the reliability of the new voting machines,” said Addabbo.

For more information, please call Senator Addabbo’s Howard Beach district office, 718-738-1111 or his Middle Village satellite district office, 718-497-1630.

Low Compliance Rate Among City Supermarkets

Half of the city’s supermarkets are scamming customers. That was the finding of the New York City Department of Con- sumer Affairs (DCA), which inspected 700 supermarkets across all the five boroughs and found only 48 percent complied with DCA rules.

The DCA conducted 983 inspections throughout the course of this year and issued 516 violations. The non-compliant supermarkets could face fines more than $380,000.

There are several DCA guidelines supermarkets must follow. Scales, with a DCA seal, must be available within 30 feet of prepackaged food areas. Unit or item pricing must be visible, either on the item or as a tag on the shelf, but there are certain exceptions for items like snack foods and fresh produce.

The DCA found the majority of violations occurred when items did not have proper price tags. Supermarkets were also penalized for inaccurate prices at checkout scanners, taxation of non-taxable items and improper weighing and unavailability of scales for customers, according to the DCA press release.

DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz is adamant that these violations stop, and consumers receive the protection they deserve. “It is a supermarket’s responsibility to ensure that its products are accurately priced and its customers are correctly charged,” he said, “But with half the supermarkets in the City receiving violations, it is clear that they are failing their cus- tomers.”

Mintz promised to double the number of inspections in supermarkets next year.

DOT Truck Strikes Pedestrian

A Department of Transportation truck struck a pedestrian Tuesday morning on the corner of Grand Avenue and the eastbound Long Island Expressway service road in Maspeth.

According to reports, 83-year-old Giovanno Casale was in the crosswalk when the truck, which was making a left turn off Grand Avenue, hit him. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center with bumps and bruises.

The man was struck while walking in the crosswalk, but no charges or summones were filed against the driver.

A DOT official said the department will review the matter and offered no other comment.

Judge: Seminerio Remains Jailed

Former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio’s attempt to leave prison was rejected by Manhattan federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.

Seminerio, who represented the Assembly’s 38th District, which includes Woodhaven, Glendale, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, for more than 30 years, was sentenced in February to six years in prison. He pleaded guilty last year to theft of honest services for accepting money from companies through a consulting firm he operated from his home.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D- Woodhaven) replaced Seminerio after he resigned when allegations of the scandal arose.

Seminerio petitioned the courts to free him from jail as he appealed his corruption conviction. According to the New York Post, Judge Buchwald said Seminerio “was unlikely to win a reversal of his guilty plea.”

Vehicle Etching at Forest Park a Huge Success

Area residents drove more than 100 vehicles to Forest Park last Saturday to participate in an anti-auto theft Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Etching event sponsored by local elected officials.

The process is a technique which is used to deter car thieves by making a car less appealing to steal. It involves etching the VIN into the windows of the car, making the car easier to identify and making it harder to take the car apart and sell it for parts. In addition to deterring thieves, VIN etching can also aid in vehicle recovery.

State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D- Woodhaven) and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) co-sponsored the etching held at the Seuffert Bandshell and partnered with the 102 pct in order to offer the community a powerful tool in combating the continuing rise in auto theft throughout neighborhood precincts.

All vehicles got their VIN number etched on the glass of car windows, with those vehicles also receiving eligibility for auto insurance discounts as a result of their participation in the program.

“Perhaps as a result of the difficult recession, there has been a spike in auto thefts in our communities once again,” said Sen. Addabbo. “I urge residents to take advantage of opportunities like this because they offer a much better chance to recover your car if it is stolen.”

Recent NYPD statistics show that auto theft is up in several local precincts. The 102nd Precinct has reported 165 car thefts so far this year, a 19 percent increase from last year’s 138. The 104th Precinct has already had 239 car thefts, up 35 percent from last year’s 177. The news is slightly better in the 106th Precinct, where 175 vehicles have been stolen, up 3 percent from last year’s 169 thefts, and in the 112th Precinct, which has reported 61 thefts, up just one from last year.

Additionally, Addabbo said that some precincts did not have updated equipment to perform the etchings and that he would be looking into measures to provide funding for all area precincts to be fitted with updated equipment used in the etching process.

More events will be scheduled for etching sessions in the future. All those interested in
upcoming dates can contact the office of Crowley at (718) 366 3900 or by visiting 64- 77 Dry Harbor Road in Middle Village.

Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal Opens to Riders

MTA NYC President Thomas Prendergast at the opening ceremony with elected officials.
By Eric Yun

A confusing mess of bus and subway transfers at the Myrtle/Wykoff subway stop, which serves the L and M lines, was improved last Friday. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officials and local politicians held a press conference introducing the new Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal.

Previously, the Q55, Q58, B13, B26, B52 and B54 busses all made stops in various locations near the station, which caused confusion among riders. Now all busses will stop at the new terminal, which is on Palmetto Street north of Myrtle Avenue, making transfers to the L/M subway lines and other busses simpler.

There were also cosmetic changes made to the area to make riders more comfortable. A canopy was erected under the elevated tracks to shield waiting customers from the elements and new benches and lighting were installed.

“This facility creates a much improved transfer point, making it easier for our customers to transfer between our bus and subway services,” said Thomas Prendergast, NYC Transit President.

Residents of Ridgewood have clamored for improved bus service for many years. Ted Renz, executive director of Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, has been working with the MTA and community activists to make transit options in Ridgewood better. “I’m glad it was finally completed. It will make transfers to bus and subways more convenient,” he said.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board 5, said the new benches, canopy and sidewalk repaired will make trips more comfortable for the community’s riders. He believes the MTA could make some more changes to make bus rides better. Giordano wants a system in place where bus dispatchers alert bus drivers to wait at the station because a train is coming. This will help riders from being stranded, especially at night, waiting for the next bus.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridge- wood) helped fund the terminal with $4 million dollars from the state’s capital reserve fund. Rep. Nydia Valázquez (D-Bushwich)also allocated $485,000 of federal funds.

Nolan said the new terminal will “benefit our Ridgewood community,” and she fought hard to secure funding because she believes “mass transit is the economic and environmental lifeblood of our city.”

Valázquez added, “Residents of Ridgewood deserve reliable and effective transportation.” She also believes the bus terminal will help bring more visitors to the neighborhood.

Renz hopes the new intermodal terminal will bring visitors and businesses. “We believe it will be a catalyst for private development,” he said. A simple and clean transportation hub in Ridgewood increases the possibility that business and residential development could occur around the new terminal.

Votes Still Needed for Trash Train Legislation

By Eric Yun

Trains hauling garbage through the neighborhood emit nauseating odors that have residents demanding action. In response, state Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) have introduced a number of bills targeting these noxious “stink trains.”

Residents have been complaining for the past year about idling trains and the smell from trains transporting trash through the neighborhood. Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES) have been pushing to curb idling trains, noise and security in Middle Village and Glendale. As a result of the community’s concerns, Addabbo and Hevesi have sponsored four bills aimed at eliminating the odor.

Bill S7153/A10176 creates new guidelines for waste trains at New York transfer stations. The bill would require waste trains to have hard lids or tarps to prevent odors and spills that might occur. The Environmental Conservation Committee voted 13-0 in favor of the bill, and the Rules Committee passed the bill 22-1.

Similarly, Bill S7591/A10819 would call for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to require trains hauling trash to install hard lids or tarps. The MTA leases their railways to companies to haul waste. Bill S7591/A10819 passed the Senate Rules committee 21-2.

Both bills are being held as Addabbo and Hevesi work to get the votes needed to pass a full vote.

One person who appears to be the biggest critic of the bills is Senior Assistant Majority Leader and Transportation Committee Chairperson Martin Malavé Dilan (D- Brooklyn). Dilan was the only nay vote on Bill S7153 and one of the two nay votes on S7591 committees.

A cursory look at Dilan’s campaign finance reports reveals he has received numerous donations from railroad companies in the last two years. CSX, one of the companies that transport waste through the area, donated $600 last year.

A spokesman for Senator Dilan’s legislative office explained to The Forum that the bills are a duplication of industry standards that are already in place. Companies generally use mesh netting for non-putrescible waste and hard caps for putrescible waste. He also explained adding hard tarping to non-putrescible waste can lead to breaking debris that destroys hard tarping.

Furthermore, Dilan’s office contends that waste haul through railroads is necessary. One railcar transporting trash replaces hundreds of garbage trucks travelling through the city. They added the legislation would be an unnecessary burden for rail companies, as it would add roughly $1.20 per ton of trash to install hard caps.

Two other bills dealing with waste trains have also been introduced. Bill S7595/A10820 provides provisions for railcar companies to reimburse neighborhoods in the event of a spill or disaster. Bill S7261/A10396 increases civil penalties for rail companies that do not follow current environmental laws.

Work Begins on Kew Gardens Interchange Upgrades

By Eric Yun

Drivers on the Kew Gardens Interchange can expect more delays, but eventually, the congestion and confu- sion on one of Queens’ busiest stretch of roads will be alleviated. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) held a ground breaking ceremony for their new $148 million re- construction project last Wednesday.

The interchange is a traffic and safety nightmare for drivers: the Van Wyck Expressway, Grand Central Parkway, Jackie Robinson Parkway, Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike all meet at the interchange.

“The Kew Gardens Interchange is one of the most tangled knots of congestion in all of New York City, impacting the economy of the city and affecting the quality of life of all Queens residents,” said NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee. “Under the leadership of Governor David Paterson, the New York State Department of Transportation has worked with elected officials and community members to develop a plan that will untangle the knots, providing a smooth, safe flow of commuters and commerce in Queens.”

The reconstruction, expected to last five years, involves adding auxiliary lanes to the Van Wyck Expressway to ease traffic between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue. Work will also be done on a quarter-mile stretch of Queens Boulevard over the Van Wyck Expressway. Aging bridges will also be replaced, and three pedestrian plazas will be built along Queens Boulevard and the entrance to the Briarwood/Van Wyck Boulevard subway station will be renovated.

Local politicians applauded the NYS- DOT for beginning work on the project.

“At long last, motorists will finally have easier access to the roadways that take you to the different parts of Queens,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “As I look out my of- fice window, everyday I see the entan- glement and backup that the interchange creates. The improvements to the interchange will be a welcome relief.”

Besides making roadways safer for drivers, the construction will provide jobs for the community.

NYSDOT has future plans to improve the Van Wyck Expressway north of Jewel Avenue, and sections of Grand Central Parkway and Jackie Robinson Parkway.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

City DOT Unveils Study on Pedestrian Fatalities

Officials Aim to Cut Number in Half

By Eric Yun

Walking across city streets can be a deadly experience. In 2009, there were 256 traffic fatalities in the five boroughs. In response, the Department of Transportation (DOT) this week unveiled the results of recently completed a landmark study examining pedestrian accidents.

Introducing the study, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan notes New York City is one of the safest cities in the world for pedestrians. “New York’s streets are far safer than any other big city in this country. Our traffic fatality rates are more on par with world class cities such as London, Paris or Berlin,” she said.

Mayor Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan held a press conference announcing the results of the study on Monday at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and 108th Street.

The DOT study, which examined data from 2005 to 2009, found that pedestrians account for 52% of traffic fatalities. The highest incidence of pedestrian crashes involve vehicles that fail to yield: the study found many instances of pedestrians who have a green light and are struck by vehicles making left turns.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board 5, has seen these problems firsthand. He believes one of the best ways to prevent crashes is “to give pedestrians the right of way.” Giordano is tired of seeing cars cut in front of pedestrians trying to cross streets.

Other highlights of the study include the fact that 80% of the crashes that kill or seriously injure a pedestrian involve male drivers, and driver inattention was the reason for 36% of crashes resulting in pedestrian death or serious injury.

In Queens, pedestrian safety has been a major issue for residents. Queens Boulevard has long been known as the Boulevard of Death, with fatal accidents continuing to occur along the busy stretch, despite safety improvement over the past decade.

In a study released earlier this month, the New York Daily News found crossing times were too short for slower walkers such as senior citizens or parents crossing with children. The report found the crossing time at Queens Boulevard and 51st Avenue was 43 seconds, but approximately 96 seconds are needed. Similarly, Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue has a crossing time of 35 seconds, but 53 seconds are needed to safety cross.

One way the city is attempting to make crossing streets safer is the installation of 1,500 countdown clocks at busy intersections. Areas where these countdown clocks will appear include along Queens Boulevard at both 71st Avenue and 108th Street, Woodhaven Boulevard from Queens Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue from 157th Street to 168 Place.

Increasing pedestrian safety has been a major issue for local communities, and the news of countdown clocks were met with enthusiasm. “I could go back 15 years and pull letters asking for something to be done,” said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9. She believes installing these clocks is an “excellent idea.”

“Anything to make conditions safer for pedestrians, I’m all for,” Giordano said about the countdown clocks. However, he feels much more should be done. “Pedestrians are less safe than ever,” he said. One of the biggest issues, according to Giordano is people do not realize the city speed limit is 30 miles per hour. Educating city drivers on the speed limit was discussed in the DOT study.

Another major way the city plans to curb pedestrian deaths include safety modifications along 60 miles of streets per year. These modifications will include installing pedestrian refuge islands, lane reconfigurations and signal timing modifications.

Pols Push for Banking Reforms to Stem Foreclosures

By Eric Yun

With foreclosures still on the rise—-the Associated Press reported last week that 1 in 400 homes are in foreclosure nationwide—New York City Comptroller John Liu and other city politicians are urging banks to reform the loan modification process.

In July, Liu and leaders of city unions sent a letter to Bank of America, Citibank, HSBC Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo urging the financial institutions to take better care of their customers. “When the interests of lenders and borrowers are not properly aligned, there is a lack of incentives to take action, leading to a climate of inferior customer service,” they wrote.

Now, other local elected officials are making sure the banks received the message. Last
week a letter signed by 24 Council Members, 33 Assembly Members and 12 State Senators was sent to the banks demanding change.

Foreclosures are up 16.3% in New York City from last year, and the city’s elected officials believe banks are not doing all they can to bring those numbers down.

“Unfortunately, many New Yorkers can’t get the help they need. A number of them have voiced their frustration and disillusionment with your current modification process,” they wrote. “They have complained about unreturned phone calls, lost paper work and seemingly endless bureaucratic runarounds. Such practices are unfair and unacceptable.”

Liu believes this is an important issue that can help thousands of New Yorkers at risk
for foreclosures. “Reforming the loan modification process means that more families may be able to stay in their homes,” said Liu. “It is in everyone’s best interest to stem the tide of foreclosures. That’s why we have called on the City’s largest banks to report back to my office by September 1 with specific details about what they are doing to combat the high foreclosure rate in New York City.”

The letter sent to the bank included many local elected officials. Some of the local politicians who signed the letter include As- semblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Wood- haven), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and State Sena- tor Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

Addabbo noted that there are many foreclosure victims in his district, and he is doing everything he can to help. “I intend to do whatever I can to assist and protect my constituents from falling prey to this unfortu- nate financial situation,” he said.

“It is vital that the loan modification process to avoid foreclosures is accessible to New Yorkers,” Pheffer said in a statement. “It should be the first priority for all those involved, including the banking industry, to help people keep their homes.”

Koslowitz offered similar comments: “Often times, at no fault of their own, homeowners have been hurt by the policies of financial institutions that only care about their own bottom line. I firmly believe that we in government must do all that we can to support struggling homeowners as we slowly emerge from these hard times.”

Man Found Dead in Ozone Park

By Patricia Adams

A homicide investigation is underway into the death of 58-year-old Brooklyn man whose lifeless body was found in front of 89-12 Arion Road in Ozone Park early Tuesday morning.

The last time Ramnarin Matadin, a naturalized citizen from Guyana, was seen alive was when he left the Golden Arrow Sports Bar at 107-14 101st Avenue after a bartender called a livery cab for him late Monday evening.

Police from the 106th Precinct say the victim was found unconscious after 1 a.m. following a 911 call reporting a man lying on the ground. Emergency Medical Services took him to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He had been bludgeoned about the head and face and had multiple lacerations on his hands and arms.

Matadin’s daughter and other family members paid a visit to the scene where three candles had been placed on the bloody pavement where he was found. They spoke of him as a good man with no enemies. Most voiced their opinions that he had been robbed.

Neighbors who gathered outside their homes say that although this is a quiet, good neighborhood they all have concerns with the shadowy and dark dead end at Arion Road. Joe L. has lived on the block for the last 24 years. “Many people call the cops about the kids hanging out on the street. It’s so dark there anything could happen,” he said, “look what’s happened now.”

Another neighbor, Carmela Strika, echoed the same concerns. “This is very scary. I was in my house with the A/C on so you can’t hear anything. The other problem is that it is so dark there -- very, very dark.”

Police are unsure yet as to whether Matadin was killed at the scene or if his body was dumped there. They are hoping to get more definitive information from videotape surveillance from neighbor’s cameras. One motive being considered is robbery--his family says the dead man’s jewelry and wallet were stolen.

On Wednesday a police source confirmed that two men have been charged in the murder. A published report identified the suspects as 21-year-old Deevan Jagnarine and 19-year-old Alex Gobardhan.

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stopper Hotline at 1.800.577.TIPS or visit nypd-

Korean War Memorial and Flagpole Unveiled

Dozens of Howard Beach residents attended a dedication ceremony at Frank Charles Memorial Park on Saturday evening to unveil the new Korean War Memorial honoring those lost from Howard Beach and the long-awaited Community Flag Pole.

The ceremony was conducted by the American Legion Post 1404, the Friends of Charles Park Committee and the National Park Service.

Community activists and residents have anticipated the installation of the both the flagpole and the memorial. In addition to residents on hand, both Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer were on hand to present proclamations to the families of those honored at the memorial and to organizers of the project.

The occasion was punctuated by the return from Afghanistan of Sgt. Sean McCabe of the United States Army, from his second tour.

All are encouraged to visit the new memorial at the park located at 165th Avenue and 98th Street.

Push to Landmark Tennis Stadium as Vote on Sale Nears

By Eric Yun

As West Side Tennis Club officials move forward with a proposed plan to sell the historic West Side Tennis Stadium, local politicians, residents and club members are fighting to preserve the iconic venue.

The West Side Tennis Stadium hosted the U.S. Open from 1923 to 1977. The 15,000-seat stadium was deemed too small to continue hosting the event, which was moved to Flushing Meadow. The stadium also hosted several famous concerts including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and The Who.

The stadium is owned by the West Side Tennis Club, which also operates 38 tennis adjacent courts. In an effort to revitalize the area, club officials entered an agreement with Cord Meyer Corporation to build approximately 70 condominium units on the site. The sale of the property would reportedly give the West Side Tennis Club between $9 and $10 million. Club members are expected to vote on the proposal on September 23.

Cord Meyer’s tentative plans include renovating the exterior walls of the tennis stadium and building the apartment complex within the walls. This type of development is not unprecedented: old coliseums in Rome were used in this way, according to Anthony Colletti, Chief Operating Officer of Cord Meyer. Furthermore, the chief architect of the project stud- ied in Rome and understands how to build these types of structures.

Some club members are not thrilled with the proposed project, which was depicted in renderings issued by Cord Meyer. “It’s quite modern,” said Christine Schott. “It’s not in keeping with traditional Forest Hills Garden guidelines.” Schott added that the proposed condo development looks more like something in Fort Lauderdale than Forest Hills.

The Forest Hills Garden Association, which has jurisdiction over some of the land the stadium covers, has strict guidelines on what can be done on its property. Schott explained that even repainting a house can be cumbersome because the exact same color must be used.
Colletti contends Cord Meyer met with the Forest Hills Garden Association, and they accepted their tentative plans.

Members were also displeased with how this entire situation arose. One club member questioned the decision to enter an agreement to sell the stadium to Cord Meyer before asking members if they wanted to sell. There were also concerns over how the Tennis Club board negotiated their agreement with Cord Meyer.

Colletti understands if club members may have felt “kept in the dark” during their negotiations with the West Side Tennis Club, but he points out that everything is still in the tentative stages. “There’s nothing to even talk about without approval,” he said. “We didn’t want to waste [anyone’s] time.”

Colletti feels there has been a lot of “misinformation” about the sale of the stadium and Cord Meyer’s plans for the apartment complex. “We feel if people know all the facts, the vast majority of people will favor it.”

Still, with such a historic stadium facing extinction, there are many who are looking for ways to preserve it. One possible way to save the stadium is to have it landmarked. Last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Kew Gardens), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D- Forest Hills) and Senator Toby Ann Stravinsky (D- Flushing) urged the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to study whether the stadium should receive landmark status.

“The West Side Tennis Stadium has been a longtime fixture in the Forest Hills community,” said Koslowitz. “We need to make sure that we explore all possible avenues in relation to landmarking, as we owe it the residents of the community.”

Weiner questioned why club members are the only people who have a say in what happens to the stadium. “The future of this historic stadium should be decided by the whole community,” Weiner said. “That is why we’re making sure that all possible options are explored.”

Colletti questioned whether the Landmarks Commission would grant landmark status to an old deteriorating building. He doesn’t believe the stadium could support many other options, arguing that it is too small to hold large-scale events and too big to operate as a small-scale venue.

Cord Meyer officials say they understand the stadium is an iconic structure in Queens, and wants to preserve as much of the stadium’s history as possible. A museum within the apartment complex to celebrate the tennis and concerts that were held at the stadium was proposed.

West Side Tennis Club members would also receive many benefits from the new complex. Cord Meyer intends to build a state of the art spa, health club and indoor pool that will be available for use to members.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Colletti said.

Aqueduct Could Feature Video Table Games

Aqueduct Race Track is creeping closer to receiving video lottery terminals, and perhaps, electronic table games. The state Senate and Assembly both agreed last week to approve Genting New York’s proposal to revitalize the Ozone Park venue.

The proposal, which included an upfront $380 million payment to the state, was well received by local leaders and community members. Genting’s original plans include more than 4,500 slot machines, but it now appears that electronic table games may enter the mix.

“The Lottery believes the inclusion of elec- tronic table games will allow our casinos to be more competitive with other casinos in Pennsylvania, Atlantic City and Connecticut,” said Jennifer Givner, spokeswoman for New York Lottery. Electronic versions of table games such as roulette and baccarat are expected to be installed at Saratoga Springs. If successful there, the games will be installed in other New York racinos including Aqueduct.

The New York Constitution prohibits casino table games, but New York Lottery contends electronic versions of some games constitute games of chance, which are legal.

Last year, New York Lottery unveiled its plans to include electronic table games without the approval from the state. At that time, Senator Frank Padavan, a fierce critic of gambling, wrote to Gordon Medenica, Director of New York Lottery, “It is clear to me not only would such a decision be ill conceived and certainly unconstitutional but evidence of a total disregard of prior court decisions.”

Medenica replied that New York Courts specify that electronic table games are legal as long as the game is predominantly decided by chance. In Dalton v. Pataki in 2005, the courts ruled a versions of casino games can be a video lottery if it obeyed five rules: “(1) a player must give a consideration to enter the game; (2) winning outcomes must be determined by chance; (3) a prize must be awarded for winning plays; (4) tickets must be used to represent the players’ wages; and (5) the game must be designed for multiple players.”

With this decision, Medenica believes New York Lottery can install table games without approval from the state, and it would be perfectly legal. Medenica asserted that an electronic version of roulette would be no different than lotto: “All bets are based on guesses of where a ball tumbling over a wheel will land, no different than balls tumbling in a drum in a Lotto game drawing.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

From Woodhaven to the White House

By Patricia Adams

“I always remember one thought my mother taught me from my childhood. If you share, you’re OK with God.” For Jorge Munoz of Woodhaven, the words of his mother have led him on a journey of incredible sharing over the last six years. It was back then that Munoz, a school bus driver, was passing the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights. He noticed day laborers gathered at the street corners. They had no homes and they had nothing to eat.

As Munoz drove home, he carried with him the thoughts and the memory of those homeless and hungry faces. Shortly after that, Munoz, his mother and sister, Luz, started what they called a “little meal program for the guys.”

Munoz remembered the first week he returned to Jackson Heights to deliver meals—it was the summer of 2004 and there were eight people who came. “The next week we had about 24,” he recalled. Over the course of more than 2,000 days since he began, Jorge Munoz, his family and their volunteers have served more than 120,000 meals on the same street corner. Every night—without fail—in rain, snow, bone chilling cold or extreme heat, they are there to feed the masses that form an organized line alongside Munoz’ white pick-up truck.

The number of nights Munoz has personally missed since he started can be counted on one hand. The most recent came on August 4—instead of Roosevelt Avenue, he was spending the evening on Pennsylvania Avenue as a guest of the President of the United States at the White House.

Jorge was one of 13 recipients who travelled to Washington D.C. to be awarded the Citizen’s Medal, created 40 years ago to recognize Americans who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. The Medal is among the highest honors a civilian can receive.

President Obama welcomed the winners to a reception in their honor, at what he called "one of his favorite events." We are here to recognize the winners of the Citizen's Medal. It is one of the highest honors a President can bestow," declared the President. "These men and women have performed exemplary deeds of service. Their lives stand as shining examples of what it means to be an American. Today we have an opportunity to say thank you and offer them a small token of our appreciation."

Commenting on the great diversity among those receiving the award, the President pointed out that although they come from very different backgrounds and from every corner of the country, they are united by something very special. "These people didn't just shake their heads and keep on walking. They saw a wrong and tried to right it. They saw a need and tried to meet it; a problem and tried to solve it. They saw suffering and took it upon themselves to comfort others in need. The determination they share is what unites them and makes them so special." Laughter filled the audience when the President joked about the fact that the women recipients outnumbered the men—"I guess that shows us who really gets stuff done in the neighborhood."

"When Jorge Munoz saw homeless men gathered on a street corner with nothing to eat he could have rolled up his windows and driven away," said President Obama. "Instead he came home from his job as a school bus driver and started cooking hot meals for anyone who was hungry. These days, the Angel of Queens serve over 140 dinners every night."

In a conversation with Munoz at the ceremony, President Obama inquired about what Jorge does and what it means to him. "I see them smile at me. That is my payment. It's all I need," responded Munoz.

And so Munoz, now back from the White House, will continue to travel to the same street corner. On any given night you can stop by to watch the Angel of Queens in action. An unassuming presence at just 5’2”, , he is greeted by the line of patient, hungry people standing and waiting for his arrival. For most on the line, there has been no other meal since Jorge’s visit the night before.

“Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.” A passing cab driver shouts from his open window to Jorge who flashes a smile and waves. And there are others who pass by, honking their horns, offering words of praise for the simple man who means so much to so many.

To a first time observer there is so much that overwhelms about this scene. The enormity of what this man is doing, the fact that he has been doing it for six years without fail, with a full compliment of help from his immediate family and at his own expense is not immediately comprehendible. It forces the question—Why do you do it? He smiles and begins to answer. “Why? I don’t know. God I think. What I say is everybody in this world has a mission. This is mine. For those who believe in God,” says Munoz, “it’s up to you whether you say yes or not—if you take your mission or not. My mission is this one.”

Ulrich Helps Resolve Street Sign Saga

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) on Friday joined relieved residents of Hamilton Beach to unveil new street signs that reflect both the street’s number and ceremonial name. There had been much confusion since the city replaced the numbered signs with only named signs last year.

As a result, residents requested that the signs containing the street numbers be reinstalled at several intersections.

“This has been an ongoing saga that led to delays of everything from food deliveries to emergency response times,” said Ulrich. “ I am pleased that my office was able to finally resolve this after years of frustration for local residents.”

“From day one it has been a public safety issue,” said Jonah Cohen, chief of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Corps. “Police, firefighters and EMS didn’t know about the changes, and unfortunately there were a couple of occasions where it took a little longer to reach people.”

John Fazio, a life-long Hamilton Beach resident said having both signs in place ensures that Hamilton Beach addresses aren’t confused with similar addresses in adjacent neighborhoods.

“Emergency vehicles have gone to the wrong side due to the confusion. The biggest benefit is that the new signs clarify that it’s Hamilton Beach and not Howard Beach,” said Fazio, adding there was “lots of frustration” before the situation was rectified.

Marie Persans, Vice President of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, said residents in the past have been forced to stand in the street to await deliveries. “The fact was people couldn’t get ambulances, deliveries, things like that. It was very upsetting. It was an inconvenience, but was also dangerous. We appreciate the Council Member taking this issue on and getting it resolved.”

Not Just Another Pretty Face: Pageant to Name Miss Queens

Move over American Miss—Howard Beach is entering the world of the Beauty Pageant.

In an interview with The Forum, Howard Beach residents Frances Scarantino and Victoria Pellegrino unveiled their re- cently trademarked plans to introduce the Miss Howard Beach Pageant, as the official preliminary to the Miss Queens Pageant.

Both women are venturing out together to combine their experience in working with kids in another dimension. Scarantino is the founder of S.T.A.R.S Youth Group and Reach for the S.T.A.R.S. Day Care, both of Howard Beach, while Pellegrino brings her experience as a talent agent and casting coordinator for major motion pictures to the mix.

According to the business partners, although Miss Howard Beach is a beauty pageant, it is not set up to adhere strictly to the traditional framework of a pageant. “We are looking for overall beauty. The beauty within, not just physical beauty,” says Scarantino. “We are looking for a young lady who is well-rounded, poised and who can act as a role model in the community.”

The mission statement prepared for the application packet sums up the true vision of the project: We believe that pageants are founded on the principles that the future of our world is dependent upon the leadership qualities of today’s women. We further believe that in order to be a strong leader, a woman must be a well-rounded individual. She must challenge herself, she must be poised, and she must be comfortable with herself in respect to her learned and natural talents. She must possess a strong desire to effect a change in her world, and to set and example for others to do the same. In the spirit of competition, she must be gracious. With this in mind, we provide the forum for women to challenge themselves to be their best—and we reward them for their efforts.

As a past beauty pageant winner, Pellegrino brings much insight to the competition. “It isn’t all about the most beautiful girl who walks through the door. It’s about so much more than that. It’s about someone with carriage and confidence and the willingness to use her title to go out and make a difference. If you want to be Miss Howard Beach,” Pellegrino says, “you can check your glitz at the door.”

The Miss Howard Beach Pageant is tentatively scheduled for a date in November and will serve as a preliminary contest leading up to the Miss Queens Pageant, which is slated for the end of 2011.

The plan of organizers is to follow-up the Howard Beach contest with an entire series of pageants that will take place throughout the borough, all leading up to the Miss Queens Pageant.
For the Howard Beach contest, entrants must be between the ages of 14-21 years old, and live, work or attend school in Howard Beach. There are two competition categories, Miss Teen Howard Beach, ages 14-17 and Miss Howard Beach, ages 18-21. Several prizes will be awarded in various categories including Miss Personality, Most Photogenic, Audience Favorite and Spokes Model. The value of the prizes is over $3,500. Winners in each age category will be given the opportunity to compete in the Miss Queens Pageant

Final dates have not yet been established, however the application for contract deadline in October 15th. Anyone wishing to get more information can contact the Pageant Directors at 718.845.6956.

The ABC's of Dining Out: NYC Health Dept Introduces Restaurant Grading System

By Eric Yun

From now on your ABC’s will come in handy when dining out. As of July, the New York City Health Department, (DOH), launched a new initiative that requires restaurants to post DOH assigned letter grades for all their patrons to see.

The grading system was created by DOH to keep customers better informed about safety procedures restaurants are mandated to follow and to encourage better overall practices from restaurants.

The inspection process hasn’t changed—the more points you get, the worse your score is. Grades are determined by the number of sanitary violations the restaurant gets and how many points they accrue: “A” Grade restaurants having an inspection score of 0-13 violations; “B” Grade restaurants 14-27, and “C” Grade restaurants scored 28 or more.

The announcement by DOH to implement the program caused quite the stir among anxious restaurant owners. They voiced concerns that a B or C rating might drive away customers without them having a chance to improve their scores. As a compromise, establishments receiving a B or C grade are re- inspected soon after the initial inspection, and restaurant owners have the option to challenge the grade to the Health Department’s Administrative Tribunal before a final grade must be posted.

DOH estimates it will take a little over a year to complete all inspections and assign grades.
“New York City is justly famous for its restaurants,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New
York City Health Commissioner, “and many of them have excellent food-preparation practices. Too many, though, are not operating as safely as they should.” Farley went on to explain that letter grading help diners make more informed choices about where they eat. More importantly he concluded, “By making the inspection system more transparent, it gives restaurant operators an added incentive to meet the highest standards in food safety.”

Spark’s Deli in Long Island City made news last week when they became the first restaurant to receive an “A” Grade under the new system.

To learn more about the new grading system or search for the inspection results of a restaurant, visit

Fatal Accident Highlights Truck Issue

By Eric Yun

The anger level of Maspeth residents has reached an all-time high after a large tanker truck struck and killed 12-year-old Frederick Endres at the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue, which is not a truck route.

“We’re battling this for almost ten years,” said longtime Maspeth civic activist Anthony Nun- ziato, referring to the neighborhood’s battle to get trucks rerouted and away from its residential areas.

According to Nunziato, local elected officials and other civic leaders, all pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).

The heart of Maspeth, which is adjacent to the Long Island Expressway (LIE), receives an inordinate amount of traffic. And because of current DOT routes, trucks are able to exit the LIE and use Grand and Flushing avenues as a through route to Brooklyn, or travel from Brooklyn to access the LIE without making local deliveries.

Frustrated local leaders gathered for a press conference last March to address the issue. “For far too long the DOT has ignored the traffic problems in Maspeth... and has allowed trucks to use [the neighborhood] as a dumping ground,” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), said at the time. The DOT has yet to take action on that request.

In 2001, Nunziato and members of Community Board 5 came up with the Maspeth Bypass Plan, which is still awaiting approval from the DOT. The plan calls for changes in route designations so trucks go around Maspeth to get to the LIE or stay on the expressway to enter Brooklyn.

But Flushing and Grand avenues are not the only problems Maspeth residents face with trucks. Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET), complains that trucks frequently use local routes to cut through traffic when they are not making local deliveries—a prohibited action. Daraio says of particular concern is 69th Street and Maspeth Avenue, which runs near schools.

Another problem, according to Daraio, is the lack of enforcement. “Unfortunately there are far more trucks than police officers and most officers are not familiar with the various sum- monses that can be issued to truckers other than off-route summonses.” In addition to beefed up enforcement, Daraio says that clear signage on the roads for truck drivers would be helpful.

Fresh Pond Road is a local truck route that represents a major concern, because trucks can use it to reach Grand Avenue and other main arteries not designated as truck routes.

Nunziato maintains that he is sick of waiting for city officials to move on the project. “The Mayor has made Manhattan a mecca for bikes and pedestrians overnight,” he said. “What’s
the difference in Queens? Studies upon studies upon studies, and they never did anything.”
“This community is devastated by the loss of an innocent child, riding his bicycle a block from his home,” said Nunziato. “If anyone thinks we don’t have something to scream about let’s consider the fact that Times Square, one of the busiest streets in the world was transformed into a “pedestrian lounge” in what seemed like 10 minutes. Here in Maspeth we’re waiting for more than 10 years and we can’t get it done. How sickening.”

And now, more than a week after the tragic accident that killed Freddy Endres, Maspeth residents continue to flock to the corner where the accident occurred to leave bouquets and messages.

Among them are mothers who fear for their children’s safety. “We have all these politicians that are supposed to protect us. Where are they?” asked Lena, who lives around the block from the accident. “I read that [State Assemblywoman]Marge Markey was trying to fix the problem by November. “Of course she says that. It’s election time. Where has she been all this time? What the hell has she done?”

Repeated requests made to the DOT for comment were ignored.

Senate Passes Moratorium on Upstate Hydrofracking

Addabbo Concerned Over Impact of Drilling Process

Largely as a result of public outcry, the State Senate has passed legislation that would put a hold on permits issued for the natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking. The legislation, which places a moratorium on the practice until May 2011, now goes to the Assembly for a vote.

Hydrofacking is the process of breaking apart the rock under the earth, in which some natural resources including gas are trapped. This process is done by forcing millions of galls of water mixed with chemicals into the ground. These chemicals can then work their way into the regular water supply. Hydrofracking has become a major issue as a result of the Marcellus Shale, which exists thousands of feet below the ground across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

In order to allow the gas to escape through the shale’s pore space, drillers create artificial fractures in the shale by injecting a mixture of water, sand and gel at an extremely high pressure to crack and prop open the shale. The side effects can be extraordinarily costly and personally devastating, as families across Pennsylvania and other states have learned only after the drilling had occurred. On top of the economic and health concerns, there are considerable safety hazards within the untested drilling process, including several deadly explosions at wells.

“I co-sponsored this moratorium bill to provide the state a much-needed opportunity to fully review the potential negative side effects to this kind of drilling,” said Addabbo, who recently wrote an op-ed piece in local newspapers in support of the moratorium and announced the legislation at a press conference at City Hall this past Tuesday.

“I believe this bill provides a rational, prudent approach to the practice of hydrofracking,” continued Addabbo. “This drilling process has possible short and long term health and safety implications and is the subject of a pending Department of Environmental Conservation report, which needs to be reviewed and evaluated.” The Senator thanked his constituents for bringing this issue to his attention last year, and the hundreds of state residents who signed petitions, wrote letters and attended rallies to show Albany that hydrofracking legislation was desired by the public.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who owns a home in Hudson Valley and has become an outspoken advocate on this issue, also spoke at Tuesday’s rally. “As a resident of Sullivan County, I am relieved the State Senate stepped up to the plate to institute sound, common sense policy on the issue of hydrofracking,” he said. “Protecting my family and neighbors and friends is why I have dedicated my time to raising awareness on this issue of critical importance.”

The Senate adopted the legislation by a vote of 48 to 9 on August 3. The bill provides for the suspension until May 15, 2011, of the issuance of new permits for the drilling of a well which utilizes the practice of hydraulic fracturing. This will provide an extended time period to study this new technology and will ensure that environmental experts and the public have time to review any proposed regulations and offer ways to make them stronger. It will also provide the legislature with time to review the DEC’s conclusions on the environmental impact of the gas drilling.

Van Bramer Launches Anti-Graffiti Campaign

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and CitySolve teamed up to battle graffiti throughout the community by launching a local Anti-Graffiti Campaign for District 26. To kickoff the campaign Van Bramer led a graffiti removal demonstration at the 99 Cent Store on 58th Street and Woodside Avenue.

Van Bramer has secured $30,000 for his district to fund this initiative in conjunction with the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and CitySolve. This program will provide constituents with a designated hotline and an email address to report graffiti and request FREE clean-up services. As complaints are received, teams of graffiti removal experts will be dispatched throughout the district to quickly remove graffiti vandalism.

“Graffiti vandalism cannot and will not be tolerated in our communities,” said Council Member Van Bramer. “Today we take a collective stance against such crimes and as a community we will come together in active campaign to remove the eyesores that destroy the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods. If you see something, please say something by calling our hotline or emailing us.”

The program contains three elements. The first element will consist of a comprehensive clean-up of four of the district’s most problematic areas—(1) Woodside Avenue between 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, (2) 47th Avenue between 38th Street and 51st Street, (3) Broadway between 38th to 58th street, and (4) 21st Street between Queens Blvd and 34th Avenue. The second element will include a monthly maintenance program to keep these problem areas graffiti-free.

The third and final element will employ a district-wide graffiti complaint hotline that will allow residents of Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Hunters Point, Dutch Kills, Blissville, Astoria and Maspeth in District 26 to call 718-383-9566 ext. 3 or email to report graffiti conditions. These complaints will be routed to the local clean-up crew to remove the graffiti and are guaranteed a response time of seven days or less. The program will begin tomorrow, and will last until June 2011.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Arrest Made in Fatal Stabbing at Woodhaven Subway Station

A memorial set up at the 85th Street train station where the stabbing took place is marked with flowers, candles, and messages from loved ones.

By Patricia Adams

Five days after the fatal stabbing death of 27-year-old Woodhaven resident Dario Paiva, another Queens man, Benjamin Moreira, 19, of Elmhurst is in custody charged with his murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

The deadly attack occurred on Friday night when the victim’s mother asked Dario Paiva to go to the aid of his younger brother Khristian. Norma Paiva had been on the phone with her younger son who had called her after returning some films to a neighborhood video store. During the conversation it became apparent that Khristian was in trouble. He told his mother someone had hit him. "I was like, 'Oh my God, Dario. They're hitting Khristian,” said the 60- year-old mother. “So he run, he run like he never did."

When he came upon his brother at Jamaica Avenue near 85th Street, the attackers had headed for the elevated train at 85th Street and Forest Parkway. Paiva followed them up the stairs. Police officials say there could have been as many as four men and two women.

The band of thugs allegedly turned to Paiva and flashed yellow and black beads—a sign they were members of the Latin Kings gang—before they rushed him with knives. Benjamin Moreira is believed to be the attacker who delivered the fatal stab wound to his neck.

"My brother was trying to keep them away from me, and when we got to the top of the stairs, they stabbed him," a tearful Khristian Paiva told reporters. “I tried my best to save him. I did everything I could.” Dario Paiva was taken to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The victim was working in construction and had plans to transfer from a community college to attend Queens College—the same school as his brother. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer according to a friend who stopped at the flower memorial erected at the foot of the train station entrance. “I know him for almost six years. He was all about his family. He was a good brother, a good son—a good man.”

Friends of the family say it will be very hard for Dante and Norma Paiva to overcome this tragic loss, especially since another sibling was killed in a car accident in recent years.

A funeral mass will be held at the church of Holy Child Jesus in Ozone Park at 9:45 a.m. on Friday.

Cracking Down on Commuter Vans: Law Aims to Better Regulate Growing Industry

By Eric Yun

Many residents searching for transportation options in areas underserved by the MTA have found commuter vans ready to fill the void. Most of the vans, however, are run illegally.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) introduced legislation at last Thursday’s City Council meeting in an at- tempt to curb the illegal vans. The bill requires the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to train the NYPD on the laws about commuter vans and how to properly identify illegal vans. It will also create a “digest of laws” so police understand the licenses, signage, and other materials a licensed and legal commuter van must have.

With MTA service being cut throughout the city, commuter vans are becoming an important part of transportation services.

Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a pilot program that would allow commuter vans to operate on some of the bus routes that were discontinued by the MTA.

But in an overly entrepreneurial spirit, illegal van operators have overtaken the routes of licensed vans. There are approximately 300 legal vans that operate throughout the city. It is unknown how many hundreds operate illegally.

Crowley was joined by Council Members Karen Koslowitz and Dan Halloran at a press conference last Thursday to announce the news to the community. The event was held in Maspeth, which is one neighborhood that has been hit particularly hard by this issue.

“This is first and foremost a public safety issue,” said Crowley. “Illegal and unlicensed commuter vans are operating off the radar of the TLC and the NYPD; they’re not being inspected for safety and they’re not being held accountable. If illegal commuter vans want to continue to operate in this city, they have to abide by the law or else face the consequences. This new bill will strengthen the laws against illegal commuter vans and enforce licensed, regulated, accountable and safer van services.”

“Requiring the Taxi and Limousine Com- mission to train the NYPD to identify the difference between legal and illegal commuter vans is a common sense safety measure that I strongly support,” said Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), “Commuter vans provide a needed service and we in the council need to make sure that they are safe, legal, and reliable.”

There appears to be bipartisan support for Crowley’s legislation. Halloran (R-Whitestone) was at the press conference pledging his support. “We encourage competition but the competition has to be on a level playing field,” Halloran said.

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET), said the legislation is a “good start” to curb the problem. She noted illegal vans were picking up passengers even as Crowley was holding the press conference. The civic group has long called for better enforcement of commuter vans, which are also a major problem in Elmhurst.

Daraio questioned the need for commuter vans at all in her neighborhood. “We don’t need them here,” she said. One of the biggest concerns for COMET members is reducing traffic in their already congested neighborhoods. “On Grand Avenue alone, there are 500 trucks,” Daraio said. “Getting rid of illegal vans will help alleviate some of the traffic problems.”

Two Guilty in Plot to Destroy JFK Airport

By Eric Yun

The two men accused of plotting to destroy John F. Kennedy International Airport were convicted on numerous charges Monday in a Brooklyn Federal Court. They now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.

Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir planned a crippling attack on the airport that they boasted “even the Twin Towers can’t touch,” according to court documents. The target of the attack was the Buckeye Pipeline, an underground system that transports fuel and other petroleum products to JFK Airport.

Defreitas is a Guyanese immigrant and a former cargo worker at JFK Airport. Kadir is a Guyanese national who was once a member of the Guyanese parliament. They were arrested in June 2007 while they were still formulating their plot.

Abdul Nur, a third defendant, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and faces up to 15 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors claimed that, with the help of a FBI informant, they caught Defreitas plotting to destroy JFK Airport and attempting to recruit members of militant Muslim groups.

Defreitas was caught conducting video surveillance on the airport and boasting about the destruction his attack would cause.

Lawyers for the defendants argued that without the informant, there would have been no case. Defreitas was characterized as all talk but no action. It was only through the help of the informant, they argued, that Defreitas started moving forward with the plan. The informant purchased and taught Defreitas how to use a camera to conduct surveillance on the airport.

“I think [Defreitas] is a guy who likes to talk to make himself seem important,” said Mildred Whalen, Defreitas’s lawer, according to a report from the New York Daily News.

On the other hand, Kadir might have had the resources and connections necessary to pull off the attack. Federal prosecutors accused Kadir of being an Iranian spy.

Kadir’s lawyer, Kafahni Nkrumah, claimed his client was faced with an impossible task of fighting “the atmosphere of fear in the country” about Muslims and terrorism, according to a report in the New York Times.

Both men plan to appeal.

State Lottery Approves Genting's Aqueduct Proposal

Project Now Awaiting OK from Governor and Senate

By Eric Yun

After ten years, it appears that Aqueduct racetrack will finally receive a vendor to operate 4,500 video lottery terminals (VLTs). New York Lottery strongly recommended approval of lone remaining bidder Genting New York to Governor David Paterson on Tuesday.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Malyasia Berhad, which owns and operates some of Asia’s largest casinos and resorts. They just finished building a $4.4 billion Universal Studios resort and casino in Singapore.

“It is with genuine enthusiasm that the Committee unanimously recommends Genting New York as the winning vendor,” wrote Lottery Director Gordon Medenica to Governor Paterson. “Our strong recommendation, based on the merits of the proposal, was vastly reinforced by Genting’s financial offer of $380 million as an upfront licensing fee.”

In a statement, Genting New York said, “We hope the lottery’s recommendation will be endorsed by the Legislature so we can immediately get to work creating jobs, preventing layoffs and delivering more than $15 billion in economic benefits to New York over the next 30 years.”

New York Lottery was able to move forward with their recommendation when State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer dismissed the lawsuit from Aqueduct Entertainment Company (AEC) last Thursday.

AEC (formerly Aqueduct Entertainment Group) sued the state’s lottery division in June to reclaim the “racino” project at Aqueduct racetrack. The company was awarded the bid in January, but the state disqualified them after questions about the group and the bidding procedure. A temporary restraining order was placed, which prevented the state to award the bid to another company.

Representatives from Aqueduct Entertainment Company had unsuccessfully claimed the state changed rules midway through the process, and disqualified their company in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. The judge saw things differently. Justice Kramer said the January selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Company was not legally binding because the company was still in the vetting process at the time.

With the Lottery’s recommendation, it is now up to Governor Paterson and the State Assembly and Senate to approve the bid.

There is strong support from local elected officials to move forward and approve Genting New York. Genting officials impressed many when they unveiled their plans to the community at a public hearing last month.

“I am very pleased that NY Lottery has unanimously selected a winning vendor for Aqueduct,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “This has been a long and drawn out process for the community, but I am happy that it is finally going to reach the finish line.”

Local State Assembly Members and Senators are urging their fellow members to move quickly to approve Genting’s proposal.
“I have already spoken with Speaker Silver and now strongly urge Governor Paterson and Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sampson to move quickly to approve Genting’s proposal,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park). “Be assured, I will demand that community concerns and input continue to be included in all future planning. We must work diligently to bring the jobs, employment opportunities and economic stimulus that Aqueduct will provide to our local community and economy,” she added.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) is excited about the possibility of additional jobs for his constituents. “Selecting a bidder for Aqueduct is an important step towards alleviating our high unemployment rate and our shortfall in state revenue,” Miller said. “I feel that Genting will prove to be a good choice because they are responsive to community concerns. They will make efforts to hire locally, and will cover their own security.”

If Genting is approved, it would provide more than 1,300 jobs to the community through the long-awaited revitalization of the Ozone Park racetrack. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is happy not only about the installation of VLTs, but the fact New York Racing Association will be able to continue horse races at the track.
“I look forward to working with Genting and the community as we move forward with building Queens’ newest tourist at- traction that will provide 1,300 construction and post-construction jobs, financial benefits to the state, and long-term benefits to my constituents,” Addabbo said. “I will also continue to stress those issues that need to be addressed by Genting, particu- larly traffic patterns and public safety.”

For many in the community, New York Lottery’s recommendation of Genting was met with optimism. But after the problems in previous rounds of bidding, including the disqualification of Aqueduct Entertainment Company and the previous failure of Delaware North to generate the promised upfront funds, the enthusiasm is tempered.

“Only when the ink is dry, I’ll believe it,” said Betty Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10. She looks forward to future interactions with Genting, and disseminating information to the community as she receives it. “It’s time to get this done,” she said.

Local Man Arrested for Graffiti Spree

L-R: Responsible for the investigation and the arrest are Sgt. Brian Goldberg, PO Frank Calafiore, Capt. Craig Adelman, PO Joseph Osolin and PO Frank Reina. Not pictured is PO Michael Baio.

By Patricia Adams

Kevin Harold’s car remains at the 106 Pct.
impound lot after it was positively confirmed
 to have been used in several of the incidents.
A tireless effort by the 106th Precinct to capture the graffiti vandal plaguing business owners and residents in Howard Beach for months came to an end with the arrest of a local man early last Friday morning.

Kevin Harold, a 28-year-old NYC Sanitation worker, was arrested at his Lindenwood home and charged with 14 separate counts including Making Graffiti and Criminal Mischief with Intent to Damage Property.

An aggressive investigation into Harold’s graffiti spree through Howard Beach and nearby communities has been ongoing since June, when the tagging started.

Captain Craig Adelman, Executive Officer of the 106, is in charge of traffic and graffiti within the confines of the precinct and has spearheaded efforts in the investigation. Following the arrest, the Capt. Adelman praised the efforts of his officers and the community throughout the investigation.

“This was a great job by everyone involved. Our cops really put every effort into this investigation, but we would not have able to bring this case to an end without the help of the community,” said Capt. Adelman.

Police Officer Frank Reina, who has long been responsible for investigating the area’s graffiti, viewed more than 50 surveillance videos in connection with the crime. He was joined on this case by the precinct’s Nighttime Conditions Unit, which is responsible for community policing and quality of life issues.

Sgt. Brian Goldberg, who heads up the Conditions Unit, says his guys were on it morning, noon and night. “We had some good leads and cooperation from the community and we had the dedication of the officers on the case.”

Leads had started to accumulate as anger built in the community with tags cropping up in prominent locations in Howard Beach, including Ragtime Gourmet and Blockbuster in addition to the side walls along avenues and underpasses. But the level of community outrage and frustration reached its peak when Harold allegedly left his mark along a wall of the former Bernard Fineson Center on 156th Avenue, tagging the word “retard”.

“That [Fineson Center tag] took this thing to a whole new level,” said Police Officer Frank Calafiore of the Conditions Unit. “The community was really outraged and so were we.” Fellow officers Joseph Osolin and Michael Baio worked with PO Calafiore, Sgt. Goldberg and PO Reina to bring the situation to a close.

Officer Reina explained how the team nailed Harold. “We had a general physical I.D. from some videos but we didn’t know who he was.” Reina said that the Conditions Unit received information from a man they questioned near the hospital site. The man gave police a license plate number of the individual he said was responsible for the tag.

In addition to Harold’s admitting to the crimes, the most damaging piece of video evidence came from the surveillance equipment at My Mothers Italian Ices on Rockaway Boulevard and Centreville Street. Those cameras showed Harold tagging the underside of the serving counter with a marker as he was ordering an Italian ice.

Community Affairs Officer Kenny Zorn says that there are other factors that should be taken into consideration with this arrest. “People tend to think of graffiti as more of a nuisance but few realize the broader implications of crime like this.” Zorn noted that the exhaustive amount of police resources that went into this investigation diverted attention away from other serious concerns within the precinct. “In his own way, this guy put a lot of people in jeopardy by tying up police personnel and diminishing other services. It’s just another big reason to continue to eradicate graffiti.”

Harold was released on his own recognizance following his initial appearance in a Queens County Court, has no prior arrests and will appear before a judge on September 23.

Maspeth Boy Killed by Gas Truck

The remains of 12-year-old Frederick Endres’ bicycle near the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue after it was struck by a tanker truck.

12-year-old struck at Eliot Ave and Fresh Pond Road

By Patricia Adams

Frederick Endres would have celebrated his 13th birthday on Thursday. Instead, his family will spend the day grieving with friends and loved ones after the boy was struck and killed on Monday afternoon.

Police at the 104th Precinct said the 12-year-old was trying to cross the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue on his bicycle when he was hit by a large tanker truck about 1:30 p.m.

The 18-wheel truck was making a wide right turn from Eliot Avenue onto Fresh Pond Road and ran over the boy with its rear wheels.

Witnesses at the busy Maspeth intersection were horrified by the events and say the driver did not see the boy crossing.

An employee at the Citgo gas station at the intersection ran to help. “He wasn’t moving,” a visibly shaken Ron Digi told reporters at the scene. “He wasn’t speaking. He looked gone the moment I got over there.”

According to Digi and other witnesses, the driver pulled over and got out of the truck to see what had happened and proceeded to make several phone calls. Police say the accident investigation is still ongoing. The driver was issued three summonses at the scene—one for driving off a truck route and two for equipment violations.

Frederick Endres was immediately rushed to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead on arrival.

He had been biking to meet his best friend, Joseph Larosa, in front of nearby Pet Palace on Fresh Pond Road when he was hit. The boys, known throughout the neighborhood as Freddy and Joey, were inseparable. They knew each other since kindergarten and their moms also share a close friendship. Having met at the store nearly every day to ride together around the neighborhood and Juniper Valley Park, Joey Larosa is heartbroken over the loss of his best friend. “We did everything together. We hung out almost every day.”

Freddy’s mother, Frances Endres told reporters her son had just started to be allowed away from their home on his own. The devastated mother said, “He was my baby. My soul is gone without him. My heart is broken.”

A memorial of flowers, candles and birthday balloons now marks the scene of the tragic accident, just a short distance from his home. People arriving at the makeshift memorial stopped to read the messages left there by friends and loved ones. “Freddy was different,” said one woman gathered, “He made you laugh all the time. He was a great kid.”

A handwritten card affixed to a bouquet of tulips left a tender message from a family who knew Freddy well: “May God bless you and your family. You are in our prayers. You were a beautiful young boy and you will be missed so much. Sabrina will miss you dearly. We all will baby. Rest in peace sweetheart. With all our love.”

Glenridge Center Shuts Doors Due to Funding Woes

By Eric Yun

It appears that the jubilation over last month’s successful effort to keep the Glen- ridge Senior Center open is short-lived. After Councilwoman Diana Reyna allocated funds to keep the center open, its operations were suspended on July 30 because it failed to receive an advance loan from the city Department for the Aging (DFTA).

The saga began when the DFTA was forced to end contracts with multiple senior centers throughout the city, including Glenridge, due to the city’s current economic woes. Five days before Glenridge, which serves about 100 local seniors, was set to close, it received an operational grant from Reyna (D-Ridgewood). Getting the money to the center, however, is a long bureaucratic process.

“There’s nothing that can be done to expedite the discretionary funding process,” said Bennett Baruch, Reyna’s chief of staff. He stressed, however, the Council- woman’s office has been in frequent communications with Glenridge Senior Center, and they are doing everything they can to help.

In order to keep the center operational while they waited for the grant money to arrive, they asked the DFTA for an advance on the funds they were set to receive. This request was denied.

Chris Miller of the DFTA explained the reasoning: “Glenridge is one of 46 senior centers that no longer have a contract with the city, and it is our policy not to give advanced loans to centers without contracts,” he said. The DFTA is still the dispersal agent for the Council money, but without a contract, it cannot advance the loan to Glenridge Senior Center.

Albert Juszczak, director of the Glenridge Senior Center, was sad the center had to suspend operations. However, there was little he could do without incurring additional financial costs the center could not afford. There is a possibility the center could receive a bridge loan to open its doors before the arrival of the grant money. If that doesn’t happen, the center must wait for Reyna’s funding to come through in order to reopen its doors.

For now, the seniors at the center are forced to live without the center’s comforts. Juszczak and his team made sure to help them with this transition. “The seniors were well aware we might have to shut down,” he said, “And they were advised where to go for additional services.”

The Peter Cardella Senior Citizen center is one of the local centers handling some of the displaced seniors from Glenridge Senior Center. Cardella already had a working relationship with Glenridge Senior Center transporting seniors.

“I’m on good terms with Albert [Juszczak],” said Cardella Senior Citizen center director Barbara Toscano. “It’s always a pleasure to take on seniors.”

First Jabs Thrown in State Senate Showdown

By Eric Yun

The first jabs have been thrown in the race between Republican challenger Anthony Como and incumbent State Senator Joseph Addabbo as the battle for the 15th Senate District seat begins.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) fined Como $500 and determined he must return $12,484 of unspent camaign funds. The infractions were from Como’s unsuccessful campaign against City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) in the 2008 general election.

The CFB released its aduit on July 22nd. According to the report, Como and campaign treasure Laura Schreiner must repay the board by August 25th or risk civil action.

The $500 penalty was the result of two infractions. Como’s campaign purchased a $100 advertisement from the Holy Child Jesus Teen Drama Club in September, and then spent more than $6,000 in impermissible post-election expenditures for office equipment and phone and Internet services.

Como’s campaign contends the spending, which occurred at the tail end of the campaign, was necessary because both companies only offered long-term contracts. However, the CFB determined that portions of these contracts were impermissible.

Como’s Campaign Attorney Grant Lally reiterated to The Forum that the contracts were only available a year at a time and downplayed the issue. “At the end of the day, it’s just $500 in fines,” he said, adding that Como was very cooperative furnishing reports, and the unspent funds and fines will be paid.

This didn’t stop New York Democrats from jumping at the opportunity to take shots at Como.

“The recent Campaign Finance Board decision fining Anthony Como $12,484 for violating campaign finance law is yet another example of this career politician’s utter disregard for the law and New York’s overburdened taxpayers,” said Eric Blankenbaker, spokesman for the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Como fired a shot at Addabbo’s campaign as well this week. He Filed a challenge against signatures Addabbo’s campaign collected to land him on the Working Families Party (WFP) ballot line.

The WFP is a progressive party that fights for middle and working class families. They support universal health care, affordable transportation, good jobs and fair taxes. Under a request from Como’s campaign, the Board of Elections’ clerks examined Addabbo’s signatures for the WFP line.

Addabbo received 30 signatures, but under a review from the clerks, seven signatures were invalidated. A total of 24 signatures are needed to be listed on the party line, which left Addabbo one signature short.

The clerks’ report was examined by a non-partisan group to ensure its accuracy before being sent to the Board of Elections commissioners for a vote. According to Como’s campaign, this process was conducted twice because of complaints from Democrat Commissioners, but ther clerks’ report was still eventually sent for a vote.

The Board of Elections Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of accepting the report, but a total of six votes were needed. Five Republicans voted in favor, and four Democrats voted against. As a result, Addabbo is allowed to remain on the WFP ballot line in November.

“I have been practicing Election Law for many years and never witnessed a refusal to accept the clerk’s report,” Lally said. “This decision is politically motivated and ignores Board of Elections protocol. I look foroward to having our argument heard in a court of law.”

Addabbo contends he had enough signatures, and this is just a common election game from Como to shift focus away from real issues. “I didn’t challenge any of his signatures,” Addabbo said. “I’m focusing on the quality of life issues that serve my communities.”