Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

PS 232 Gets Half Million from CM Ulrich

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) stopped by this month’s PTA meeting at PS 232 in Lindenwood, where he presented $500,000 in funding earmarked for a new science lab. Dozens of excited parents and children, along with school officials joined in the celebration when the school was presented with a check for the largest allocation this year to a school within the 32nd District.

“It is very important our children have all the resources and tools they need to succeed,” Ulrich said. “Education is a great equalizer in our society, and this money will go a long way towards opening doors of opportunity for our young people.”

Planting Memories

A tree planting ceremony was held on Sunday by the children and families of Reach for the STARS and their families, in honor of their teacher Miss Frances and in memory of her husband Robert A. Foerderer, who passed away in January.

Rob was an integral part of the STARS community and his sudden death shocked the community and the families of STARS.

A touching dedication offered by the organizers explains the symbolism of the tree that was planted in Charles Park:

Each leaf represents the lives you have touched--your family, your friends and the
children we love. May the branches of this tree offer you the strength and support to move forward with hope. And when it’s in bloom remember Rob with a smile and know, we thank you, we love you and you are not alone.

City Uses Craigslist to Spot Illegal Apartments

By Eric Yun

That great deal on the apartment that seems too good to be true probably is. That was the message given by the city Department of Buildings (DOB) after its undercover sting of several illegally converted apartments throughout the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri announced the results of their effort to crack down on the converted apartments. Earlier this summer, undercover investigators from DOB posed as potential tenants responding Craigslist postings. A total of 62 apartments were inspected, with 54 apartment owners receiving violations and 33 properties vacated. In Queens, eight properties were vacated out of the 23 apartments inspected. Mayor Bloomberg praised the “new, cre- ative way to stop some unsafe conditions.”

Community leaders have been asking the city to crack down on illegally converted apartments for years. Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association—sick of seeing illegal basements and single rooms rented in his neighborhood—had several conversations with Commissioner LiMandri about sending undercover agents to Craigslist listings in April.

“Agents have big problems getting access into buildings. On Craigslist you’re inviting them,” Holden said.

It’s extremely hard for inspectors to check a suspected illegal apartment. According to the DOB website, a property vacated in the undercover operations in Howard Beach, 156-25 76th Street, has received 11 complaints for an illegal basement dating back to 2001. Inspectors repeatedly failed to gain acess to the apartment, and the complaints were closed. An apartment at 64-15 60th Avenue in Maspeth has a similar story. It has received complaints dating back to 2006, but inspectors were denied access to the apartment.

Illegally converted apartments can result in deadly consequences. “Fires in illegal con- versions and occupancies have cost firefighters and tenants their lives," said Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano. "These conditions can make it nearly impossible for victims to escape a fire and can make it extremely challenging for firefighters to get to victims in a fire. The FDNY strongly supports efforts to crack down on a problem that puts the lives of so many in jeopardy.”

The most common reason a property was vacated was the lack of a second exit, which can pose serious risks in the case of a fire or other emergencies. Other violations included illegal gas, electric or plumbing and rooms without proper windows or ventila- tion. Fines for these violations range from $6,000 to $25,000.

There are many negative aspects illegally converted apartments bring to neighborhoods. “If a one family house becomes a two family house, that’s a 50 percent increase in the community,” Betty Braton, Chairperson of Community Board 10 said. This increase leads to extra garbage on the streets, more cars on the road and overcrowded schools.

Craigslist is just the “tip of the iceberg” if the city wants to truly crack down on illegal apartments, said Holden. There are other websites that allow classified ads, and some
real estate firms promote illegal apartments. Holden recalled that he and members of JPCA went undercover to an open house and the real estate agent offered renting the basement—which would have been illegal—as a benefit to buying the house.

Cracking down on the illegal apartments has been an ongoing problem for many years in Queens. The latest effort from Mayor Bloomberg and the DOB is welcomed by the community, “The question is, will it continue?” Braton wondered.

Turner Denies Young Dems Campaign Finance Allegations

By Eric Yun

There are plenty of esoteric rules and regulations governing political campaigns, and it can quickly get hectic for newcomers. Republican candidate for Congress Bob Turner is discovering this fact after allegations arose about improper finance reports to the Federal Election Committee (FEC).

Turner is challenging Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) in the 9th U.S. Congressional District, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

The Queens County of Young Democrats (QCYD) pounced on a request for additional information the FEC sent to Turner’s campaign and filed a formal complaint letter outlining alleged missing information from Turner’s campaign finance reports.

Among the complaints from the QCYD, Turner has not reported anything other than rent as campaign expenditures. They questioned why newspaper ads, staff salaries and other expenditures were not listed with the FEC.

“I am worried that Mr. Turner is not in compliance with clear, well-understood campaign finance rules. Knowingly and willfully violating these rules is a crime,” wrote Costa Constantinides, President of QCYD.

Turner’s campaign con- tends these allegations are simply not true, and, according to files from the FEC website, Turner’s campaign does have listed ex- penditures for more than just rent. “All our campaign expenditures have been filed with the FEC and any question by the FEC will be re- sponded to in a timely basis,” said Matt Turner, spokesman for the Turner campaign.

The initial request for additional information from the FEC, according to Turner’s campaign, involved missing addresses on personal checks donated to the campaign. The FEC has given a deadline of October 26 to respond, and Turner said the campaign would comply with that deadline.

“To suggest we’re ignoring the FEC is ridiculous,” said Matt Turner, adding that this is just a smear campaign run by Weiner and the QCYD to escape a debate on real issues.

Editorial: Traffic Control Needed

Some of you may remember that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) conducted a preliminary review of seven U.S. Congressmen back in May.

One of them was Congressman Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic County Chair who represented neighborhoods including Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst.

By August, the field was narrowed down to just three congressmen and a full review was recommended by the watch-dog agency— oh and yes, one was Joe Crowley.

While some Crowley supporters may be concerned with the results of the investigation—despite recent criticisms of the OCE as being “overly aggressive”—perhaps the same supporters need be equally concerned about remarks made at a press conference in Maspeth on Monday, when it became clear that Crowley might have lost his mind.

A seasoned politician who has held public office since 1987, Crowley offered up a quote to NY1 television that put him at the center of the circus taking place inside the office of Assembly member Marge Markey.

After an announcement by Markey that the Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking to change a traffic pattern in Maspeth and will take steps to stop trucks from taking shortcuts to Brooklyn along Grand and Flushing avenues, Joe Crowley responded to reporters questions with the following: “Things don’t happen overnight even if we want them to happen overnight and I can understand the frustration...”

You’re right Joe, things don’t happen overnight. But if you are going to come into a community where residents have been plagued with dangerous truck traffic and pedestrian deaths for more than ten years, then your definition of overnight best be somewhere less than the last 3,650 days.

And if as you say, you can understand the frustration, then you can imagine how frustrated the residents are about the fact Marge Markey has done nothing about the situation for the last ten years she has been in office. But we don’t need to say anything about Markey - she summed her position up nicely in a quote at the same press conference. Speaking about the DOT’s future plans for the Maspeth Bypass, Markey said, “I don’t know what they’re coming up with, it may be a series of one way streets. I don’t know...” Well Marge, this is one of those rare occasions
when you got it right-- you don’t know.

Another question is why would you call a press conference if the agency that supposedly is putting these meas- ures into effect isn’t even present? The answer to that is quite simple—the press conference was a political ploy to benefit Markey, staged by the party with the hopes of returning another out-of-touch incumbent to office in November’s election.

Marge Markey is just one more example giving more deserving incumbents a bad rap. We urge all of our readers to take a good look at the messages your elected officials are sending you. They are the only voting guide you’ll ever need.

People in Maspeth are rightfully worried about getting run over by trucks. Hopefully a plan proposed nearly a decade ago by two Maspeth residents and volunteers will finally save them. But who will save the rest of us, forever in danger of getting run over by political traffic?

Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade 2010

More than 15,000 spectators lined Crossbay Boulevard for the 6th Annual Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade. A sun-filled day served as the backdrop for professional parade floats, marching bands and a host of dignitaries, schools and organizations that made their way from 157th Avenue to a stage and red carpet area at the end of the parade route at 164th Avenue, where a two hour show entertained the crowd.

Parade honorees this year were female Grand Marshal Tracy Catapano-Fox, President of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association, male Grand Marshal Joseph Sciame, President/Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee NY, Inc. and Italian American Businessman of 2010, Joseph Evola, owner of Gino’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in Howard Beach.

The event also played host to a number of dignitaries including Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Eric Ulrich and Assembly member Audrey Pheffer.

Republican gubernatorial kicked off his downstate campaign by participating in the days festivities.

The parade is organized by the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation which is already in the process of planning next year’s event.

9/11 First Responders Bill Passes House Vote

Nine years after 9/11 terrorist attacks and with mounting evidence of the serious health risks first re- sponders suffered breathing in toxic fumes, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the James Zardoga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Wednesday by a vote of 268-160.

“After a nine year wait, the House of Representatives finally did the right thing. This is the day we repay our debts to the 9/11 heroes. This is truly a gratifying moment,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Kew Gardens) in a statement.

The bill will provide health care coverage to first responders and individuals directly impacted by the terrorist attacks. The next obstacle for the bill is to pass a full Senate vote.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a chief sponsor of the bill, issued a statement commending the House and promising she’d do whatever possible to pass the bill in the Senate.

“This should not be a partisan issue. We have an undeniable, moral obligation to pass this legislation and provide care to the thousands of heroes and survivors who are suffering, dying, and waiting for us to deliver the care they need,” said Gillibrand. “It’s time to seize every opportunity, pass this legislation, and keep our promise to the heroes of this country who came to our rescue on 9/11.”

In July, the bill did not receive enough votes to pass, which lead to the much-publicized outburst on the House floor from Weiner.

New Maspeth Truck Routes Unveiled

By Eric Yun

After ten years and numerous accidents and fatalities, it appears that there will be changes to truck routes in Maspeth. But is it too little too late?

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D- Maspeth) held a press conference Monday to announce the City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plans to change Grand and Flushing avenues from a through truck route to a local truck route. What Markey might not have expected, however, was a group of protestors who questioned why it took so long for anything to be done.

Trucks have been a nuisance to the community for a decade, and in March, elected officials asked the DOT if they could change the route designation for Grand and Flushing avenues. Under the current designations, trucks that are not making local deliveries and originating from other boroughs or Long Island can cut through Maspeth on Grand and Flushing avenues.

The amount of trucks passing through Maspeth has become a quality of life issue with serious consequences. Trucks have killed numerous pedestrians in the area, most recently, eleven-year-old Freddy Endres.

It appears the DOT has listened. In an e-mail sent by Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, the DOT plans to change Grand and Flushing avenues to Local Truck Routes. After a review from the city’s Law Department and public hearings, the rule will go into effect. The tentative time frame for this process is two and a half to three months.

“Please note that changing the truck route from ‘Through’ to ‘Local’ will continue to allow trucks to cross from Brooklyn into Queens (or Queens into Brooklyn) to make deliveries,” McCarthy wrote. “However, the local truck route designation will require that trucks traveling through Brooklyn and Queens to their final destinations would need to use the highway system.”

Markey hailed these new developments as a “great first step” in eliminating the truck traffic in Maspeth. “Everybody knows that big trucks don’t belong on local shopping streets. They kill retail business and they pollute the air,” Markey said in a press release. “They also create hazardous conditions for pedestrians, especially seniors and children.”

Changing Grand and Flushing avenues to local truck routes won’t solve all the problems Maspeth residents have with trucks. The DOT is also continuing to study the Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study.

The Maspeth Bypass Plan was conceived a decade ago by community activists Frank Principe and Tony Nunziato. Instead of allowing trucks to roam through residential and main commercial district of Maspeth, the plan calls for trucks to be diverted around the town’s industrial areas. The first phase of the DOT study has been completed, but the second phase is still ongoing.

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) hopes this announcement is the first step of fully im- plementing the Maspeth Bypass Plan, which would “improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Likewise, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) believes this will greatly improve the quality of life for residents. The plan makes sure that “Maspeth isn’t used as a doormat for other communities to make deliveries,” she added.

While this may be a victory for residents, there are many who feel their elected officials have acted too late. A group of about a dozen local residents attended Monday’s press conference to express their displeasure with the amount of time that has passed since the issue was first raised.

The slow implementation has left Markey with blood on her hands, said Lorraine Sciulli.

Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), said Markey was “dangling a carrot” for constituents prior to Election Day, when she faces a challenge from Nunziato. “We came up with this recommendation in 2003,” Holden said.

A 2003 document submitted to the JPCA and New York City Trust did indeed give alternative suggestions to ease truck traffic in Maspeth, and converting Grand and Flushing Avenues to local truck routes were discussed.

Noting that the DOT did not send any officials, Holden called this typical Queens polit- ical grandstanding. Many in the group held protest signs reading “Shame on You, Marge,” referring to Assemblywoman Markey.

“The last person in the world that should announce this is Markey. While in office over 11 years she’s collected millions in taxpayer money and did absolutely nothing while the Maspeth was overrun with deadly truck traffic,” said Holden. “This announcement is nothing more than a repackaged pre-election scam.”

“Nothing was done,” said Nunziato. “The politicians did nothing.”

Calm Our Traffic

Sick of cars and trucks speeding down 60th Street, members of the Maspeth West End Block Association (MWEBA) held a protest at the corner of 60th Street and 60th Road.

Members of the block association have been fighting to have something done for over two years. They hope to get a speed bump, all-way stop signs or a traffic light installed to slow drivers.

“It’s a very congested area,” said Kathy Hamilton, president of MWEBA. “A lot of cars speed down 60th street.”

Nearby children from PS 153 have to cross the street to get home, and without any traffic regulations, it can become a dangerous situation.

Hamilton said a traffic study was conducted in 2008 at the request of Community Board 5, but the study occurred in August. If they had waited until school was in session, Hamilton believes, the study would have recognized the concerns of the parents.

JPCA Grades City on Storm Response

By Eric Yun

A week after a macroburst left a pile of trees and cracked sidewalks throughout Middle Village, residents attended this month’s Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) Town Meeting to get answers to pressing questions: when is the neighborhood going to be cleaned up and who is going to pay for it?

With assistance from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), JPCA President Robert Holden, gathered local elected officials and city and state agencies to inform the community how the clean up was progressing and the steps homeowners should take. Representatives from City Parks Department, City Comptrollers Office, Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) and State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) were present.

One city agency that was not represented by top officials was the NYPD. Deputy Inspector Keith Green and Officer Tommy Bell were at the meeting to represent the 104th Precinct, but Holden wanted someone from One Penn Plaza to answer questions about the lack of police presence and the order to send home 18 police officers from Middle Village after the storm.

“We want answers why this happened,” Holden said. “NYPD is ducking us.” Holden believes a Level 3 or Level 4 emergency should have been called for Middle Village. A Level 3 emergency would have brought cops from neighboring precincts to the area. A Level 4 emergency would have brought cops from all over New York City.

Without those designations, Middle Village was left to handle the aftermath of the storm with little police presence. Many residents at the meeting noted they did not see any police officers that night.

The NYPD wasn’t the only department given a failing grade by the JPCA. In a vote held at the meeting, the city OEM and Mayor Bloomberg received an F grade for their storm response. Verizon and the Parks Department received a grade of D.

FDNY and Con Edison, however, were commended for their storm response and received top marks.

To address one of the most important issues for residents, Michael Aaronson, Bureau Chief of Law and Adjustment from the NYC Comptroller’s office told the community how to file claims with their office if residents chose to do so. The most important thing residents need to remember is to file the claim within 90 days. It is also recommended that any and all documentation, especially photographs, be retained.

There was some concern over how quickly claims would be resolved. One resident complained that a prior claim took countless phone calls and more than two years before he was reimbursed.

Although the storm occurred over a week ago, there are still plenty of dangerous areas that need to be cleaned. “There are big limbs hanging by a bark,” Holden said. Phil Sparacio from the Parks Department discussed these issues and told residents the Parks Departments plans to clear Middle Village.

Sparacio said the department’s first priority on Thursday night and Friday was to clear the major metropolitan streets. On Saturday and Sunday they worked with Con Edison to clear debris that was affecting power. On Monday and Tuesday they worked to clear all streets of trees and brush piles. In the next couple of weeks, they hope to remove brush piles and trees that are still blocking sidewalks or on homes.

The Parks Department understand there is much more work to be done, and Sparacio “understands the frustration” of the neighborhood. He reiterated that the department is taking the situation very seriously. All emergency contractors were activated after the storm, and they have requested and received help from adjoining counties in Westchester and Nassau.

Cleaning up Middle Village is going to be a long, hard and expensive process. There might be some relief if the area is declared a disaster area. FEMA and State OEM officials have begun a preliminary assessment of the damage the storms caused, and if the designation is made, federal and state funds could be given to help.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Editorial: Forget The Text—Get This Message

On Sunday night around 11:30 19-year-old Nechama Rothberger was in her car, using her cell phone to send a text message while she was driving.

On Sunday night around 11:30 53-year-old Tian Sheng Lin, father of 3, sat on his scooter stopped at a red light. He was making a delivery for his family’s Chinese restaurant.

In the seconds before their paths crossed, neither of them had any reason to think anything could go wrong.

And then the woman behind the wheel struck the man on the scooter, sending him flying off the bike and through the air.

Her text message was still unsent and he suffered severe trauma to the head. She was arrested and charged with misdemeanor reckless driving and using a mobile phone while driving.

He was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead.

Her lawyer said his client "didn't hit him intentionally. It was merely an accident."

His daughter said, "My dad did everything for his family. He always took care of us."

A major nationwide effort has been launched to stop distracted driving, with April having been designated as Na- tional Distracted Drivers Awareness month. This accident is but one of a long list of crashes that was caused by text messaging behind the wheel. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has identified texting drivers as being 23 times more likely to crash or have near-misses as non-texters.

Yet another study, conducted by Car and Driver Magazine, provides a set of results describable as nothing less than frightening. Editors at the magazine had a car rigged with a red-light device that would alert drivers when to brake. Then they a driver, on a deserted air strip to see how long it would take them to brake under varying circumstances. The study determined that an unimpaired driver took approximately one-half of a second to brake, a legally drunk driver stopped the car four feet later than the unimpaired driver, while a driver who was reading a text stopped 36 feet later and another who was texting while driving came to a stop 70 feet further than an unimpaired, non-distracted

If you are one of those people who think this type of thing would never happen to you because you are a “careful” texter, I urge you to consider this.

About two weeks ago, driving down Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach, my Blackberry text alert went off and I immediately reached for the phone. Staring down at the message and totally distracted by the text, I suddenly remembered I was behind the wheel of the car. Looking back up at the road, I saw, less than 10 feet away, an elderly couple crossing the street at 158th Avenue. The overhead light was red and there was just about enough time to stop the car before plowing into them.

The elderly couple never even knew they were in danger of being mowed down by some reckless idiot on the phone.

I think how lucky we all were that day and will never pick up a cell phone while driving again. I urge you to make the same commitment. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t e-mail and drive. Don’t talk and drive. Just drive.

Ulrich Backs Turner in Challenge to Weiner

By Eric Yun

With the primaries over, political candidates are getting prepared for their November battles. Bob Turner, the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Anthony Weiner for the U.S. House of Representatives 9th Dis- trict, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, visited Howard Beach and was en- dorsed by Council Member Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park).

Standing outside of Tuscany Deli at Lindenwood Shopping Center on 153rd Avenue, Ulrich gave his full support towards Turner’s campaign. “Washington has really gone astray,” Ulrich said, “And the only way to change that is to send people like Bob Turner to Congress.”

“With the help and support of the people who put me in the 32nd Council District, we can send Bob to Congress,” Ulrich continued.

Turner thanked Ulrich for his support, and he stressed that he’s a businessman—not a politician. “There are so many things wrong with the direction this country is taking,” Turner said. He promised to use his business sense to eliminate waste and spending, and to “get us back on track.”

Graffiti Removal Program Comes to Liberty Ave

By Eric Yun

The owner of Empire Kitchen on 109th Street and Liberty Avenue watched in amazement as graffiti marking the side of her building was expertly painted. “It’s so good,” she said.

Thanks to the efforts of Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), other storeowners along Liberty Avenue from 75th Street to Lefferts Boulevard can experience the same joy in the coming months.

Last year, Ulrich provided $25,000 of discretionary funds to the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation specifically to clean graffiti along 101st Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard. The program also allows residents to report graffiti at any location within the district, to be cleaned within two weeks.

The program was an amazing success, resulting in the cleaning of more than 150 locations. Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation applauded Ulrich’s initiative, and has been extremely pleased with how the program worked last year.

Margaret Finnerty from the Richmond Hill South Civic Association joked that when she first heard about the program she pestered Ulrich to include Liberty Avenue. Ulrich heard her call, and he acquired $35,000 this year to expand the program to Liberty Avenue between 75th Street and Lefferts Boulevard. Also new this year, graffiti on the second floor of buildings will be removed.

“[Graffiti is] a constant battle, and we have to work together to win it,” Finnerty said. “The merchants and residents along Liberty Avenue truly appreciate what the Council Member is doing for the area.”

Ulrich was tired of seeing his district covered with eyesores. “We are well on our way towards eliminating graffiti vandalism in our community,” he said. Seeing clean streets help residents and business owners feel safer, Ulrich said.

That sentiment was echoed by Thomson. “It’s such a psychological lift,” she said. “The program is worth every penny, and more.”

The graffiti removal is handled by CitySolve, which has similar municipal contracts throughout New York City. After an initial cleanup of the designated streets, CitySolve then returns each month to remove any new graffiti along those routes, and to respond to individual complaints at other properties.

Bruce Pienkny, president of CitySolve, believes constant maintenance is key. “It’s the monthly maintenance that ultimately keeps the problem under control. We clean it up, and then maintain, maintain, maintain,” he said.

CitySolve proactively cleans commercial areas along 101st Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, Rockaway Boulevard and now Liberty Avenue. There is no need for storeowners to file a complaint. Residents can report other incidents of graffiti to Ulrich’s office at 718-738-1429. These are forwarded to CitySolve, and Pienkny promises the graffiti will be erased within a week.

This rapid response is the difference between Ulrich’s program and calling 311, where complaints can take up to six months to process, Ulrich said.

Storms Rock Brooklyn and Queens

By Eric Yun

Parts of Queens and Brooklyn were rocked by two tornados and a macroburst Thursday evening. The swift storm tore down trees and power lines, leaving thousands without power. Locally, Middle Village and Forest Hills were among the hardest hit areas.

The National Weather Service reported a tornado with estimated wind speeds of 80 miles per hour hit Park Slope, Brooklyn at 5:33 PM. The storm travelled northeast for two miles before lifting. Another tornado with estimated wind speeds of 100 miles per hour occurred two and a half miles south of Flushing and lifted one mile northeast of Bayside at 5:42 PM.

Furthermore, a macroburst with winds up to 125 miles per hour was reported from Middle Village to Forest Hills. A macroburst is a convective downdraft of at least two and a half miles wide and peak winds lasting between 5 and 20 minutes. It can produce strong straight-line winds— differentiating it from a tornado and hurricane’s rotational pattern.

The devastating storms claimed the life of Iline Levaskis of Pennsylvania. She and her husband Bill had pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway when a tree fell and crushed the car. Bill Levaskis escaped with minor injuries.

As residents attempted to deal with the mess and devastation the storm created, NYPD, FDNY and other city agencies did whatever they could to clear the roads and help the injured.

In Forest Hills, the Forest Hills Volun- teer Ambulance Corp was activated to provide mutual aid to FDNY. They helped rescue a man pinned under a tree and a 40-year-old woman in labor was transported to Flushing Hospital.

“The Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps is proud to have been able to provide our resources and service to the FDNY and our community during that time of need,” said Ron Cohen, safety officer and official spokesman of the FHVAC.

A week after the storm, the majority of streets and utilities has been restored, but there are still pockets of areas where trouble persists.

Howard Beach Woman Lucky to Survive Storm

By Patricia Adams

For most Howard Beach residents, Thursday’s storm was something to talk about. They watched the news in amazement as a tornado touched down in several neighboring communities and were thankful it didn’t stop in their neck of the woods.

But for one Howard Beach woman, there was no need for talking, TV news reports, Facebook, Twitter or You Tube storm videos--she was in the eye of the storm and lived to talk about it.

“I thought to myself, this is how I am going to die, I’m never going to see my family again,” said Christine Modafferi, recalling what ran through her mind when she was forced to pull over on the Grand Central Parkway late Thursday afternoon.

After starting her daily commute from work at TD Bank on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she became frustrated by a traffic buildup and changed her normal route home. “I always take the 59th Street Bridge but I decided to try the Grand Central Parkway instead.”

Modafferi said the rain was fairly light but grew much heavier as she got closer to the Queens Boulevard exit. Before the split at the Van Wyck Expressway and the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the sky grew totally black and there was no visibility. “I could barely see the lights of the car ahead of me, but he pulled over and I pulled in behind him.”

Describing fierce wind and deafening noise she remembered debris flying around and bouncing off the car. “There was hail--I couldn’t see it but I knew what it was—it sounded like it was the size of a watermelon,” recalled Modafferi. “I just waited for the car to blow away.”
There was so much noise she said she still doesn’t know how she heard the crack of the massive tree standing on the side of the parkway. “I heard this sound and from the corner of my eye, I saw it coming. I ducked and crouched down into the wheel.”

When the tree crashed through the double moon roof of her brand new Cadillac, Christine Modafferi chipped three teeth as she bit down in a panic trying to avoid being crushed.
“The next thing I knew, there was a man screaming outside my car. I realized I didn’t die.” But the relief of being alive was cut short with the realization she was trapped in the car. Unable to open her doors she screamed back to the man outside the car. “You can’t leave me. You’ve got to get me out of here.” Her hands and head were bleeding and she was covered in glass.

A few minutes later, Modafferi was helped out through the back of the vehicle. “I stepped away from the car and got a sick sense of what could have happened.” Some feet away another car had pulled over behind her.

“I was sick to know there was a young woman trapped in the car behind me.” Modafferi explained that police at the scene kept coming over to her to remind her how lucky she was to be alive. “They [police] kept telling me that the woman in the car was turning blue—they couldn’t get to her.”

She climbed into a car that had pulled over to help. “This couple pulled over and they helped me call my husband. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t even use the phone.” Meanwhile, Christine’s husband Bob, a retired firefighter, was making his way from Howard Beach to the accident scene.

One of the most horrible parts of her ordeal was watching the husband of the woman who was still trapped as he paced along the parkway, crying and unable to help his wife. “I couldn’t even see her car. The car was completely covered in trees. Civilians kept trying to get her out.”

And so, while nearby Middle Village and Forest Hills residents continue to try and get back to normal, Christine Modafferi is spending a lot of time offering thanks. “I feel more than lucky. I am thankful to God for saving my life.”

Beyond that she says one thing is for sure—“I will never, ever, ever sweat the little things. I am just so grateful to be alive.”

104th Staffing Levels Questioned in Aftermath of Storm

By Eric Yun

A storm with winds reaching 125 miles per hour blasted through Middle Village, leaving the area with a sea of downed trees and debris strewn around the streets. As residents attempted to deal with the aftermath of the storm, there were complaints that the 104th Precinct did not have enough officers necessary to handle the prob- lems in the neighborhood.

According to a report from the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), 18 police officers were sent home at 6:15 PM after the storm. Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, noted that on a normal day the 104th Precinct is busy and understaffed. On Thursday night, sending home the 18 officers left Middle Village and the 104th Precinct without the necessary manpower to handle the hundreds of calls from frantic residents.

With streets blocked by downed trees, a traffic nightmare ensued on Queens and Woodhaven boulevards as drivers attempted to go home. With little to no help from police to direct traffic, drivers were forced to fend for themselves as they navigated through the neigh- borhood, encountering downed trees and wires at many turns.

Reinforcements arrived six hours later at midnight, but according to one source, “the officers [from Brooklyn] sat in the precinct for about an hour then were left to make their way through confusing and unfamiliar local streets that challenge even veteran officers of the precinct.” The officers were later reassigned to the 112th Precinct, which once again, left Middle Village without sufficient police presence.

Holden criticized the NYPD response after the storm. “We understand that other areas were hit by the storm, but there should be someone in the NYPD that could evaluate the situation and imme- diately deploy the necessary officers to the hardest hit areas,” he said.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said there was no wrongdoing in how the 104th Precinct handled the night. Personnel were held from dayshifts, and most officers worked double and sometimes even triple shifts. Traffic units were deployed, and the precinct worked with other city agencies to inform them of the various complaints. The precinct had to make some tough choices on which jobs were prioritized. This left only one car to handle what the precinct felt was minor incidents.
As of press time, the NYPD did not confirm or give a reason for 18 officers leaving the 104th Precinct Thursday night.

Storm Cleanup Addressed at Town Hall in Forest Hills

By Eric Yun

Residents with damaged houses and cars from Thursday night’s storm ex- pecting federal or state aid may be disappointed.

“There’s no substitute for insurance,” Lynn Canton, Regional Director of FEMA Region 2, told residents on Tuesday night.

However, if Queens is designated as a disaster area, there may be some funds provided to residents. While most of the funds would be used to rehabilitate public areas such as MacDonald Park in Forest Hills—where the majority of trees were destroyed in the storm—FEMA funds could help cover some costs to uninsured homeowners or costs insurance companies will not cover.

These concerns, and more, were addressed at a town hall meeting held by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens) in Forest Hills.

There are a number of complicated requirements to gain federal assistance. Most importantly, approximately $25 million in damages needs to be documented.

This is why Weiner urged residents to continue calling 311 and taking pictures to document all the damage. Teams from the Office of Emergency Management were due to survey the area this past Wednesday to see if Queens will qualify.

The biggest concern in the community, however, was the ongoing cleanup efforts. Bob Holden from the Juniper Park Civic Association asked when hanging limbs were going to be removed. With the streets cleared, the limbs still present a clear danger of falling.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Park’s Commissioner, said the department is going to begin clearing dangerous limbs. The first priority was to clear major roadways so the trucks had the space to move closer.

There were also many complaints about utilities being restored. While Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Con Edison have made significant progress restoring services, there are still many homes left without telephones or cable service.

Weiner stressed that the city was doing a good job, but he sympathized with residents who felt the city was not moving fast enough.

Crowley, Addabbo Answer Critics over Storm Response

By Eric Yun

After Thursday night’s storm in Middle Village, some residents feel abandoned by their politicians. The home- owners of 84th Street in Middle Village signed a petition giving Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) a vote of “No Confidence.”

The petition states, “We were there for you on Election Day. Where were you when we got hit?”

Dave Shapiro, who lives on 84th Street, believes his area was left in the dark by the politicians the neighborhood elected. “The night of the storm Councilwoman Crowley never bothered to show up. Senator Addabbo never bothered to show up,” Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, Shapiro said photographers flocked to the street to take photos of what he called “the hardest hit area in Queens.” The devastation was so great that 84th Street made the cover of the New York Daily News on September 17. Meanwhile, “Our elected officials never knocked on our doors to see if we were ok,” Shapiro said.

The biggest complaint from the homeowners of 84th Street was a lack of communication. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing,” Shapiro said. “We don’t know what recourse to take.” He wondered why a circular was never distributed to assist residents with insurance claims and other issues.

In response, Crowley sent a letter to the 84th Street petitioners detailing the work she has done for the com- munity. “Shortly after the storm passed on Thursday evening, I walked from the 69th Street area of Middle Village east to Woodhaven Boulevard, assisting with the coordination of the City’s emergency response,” she wrote.

The accusation that Crowley did not visit 84th Street is not true, according to Crowley. “I was on 84th Street on September 16th, the night of the storm, and revisited the block on the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st,” Crowley wrote.

Crowley applauded the help of residents, private cotractors and city agencies to clear most of the major roads by Friday evening. “Moving forward, I am focusing on the efforts by the Parks Department to quickly and thoroughly address trees with limbs caught in braches, trees that were severely damaged by the storm and destroyed sidewalks,” Crowley continued.

Addabbo said that he was doing everything in his power to help the residents of Middle Village. “I don’t run away from a situation,” he said. The Middle Village office was open late so people could charge cell phones, make an important call or use the bathroom. He also drove around Middle Village the night of the storm to help residents.

“Just because they don’t see me doesn’t mean I’m not working for them,” Addabbo said. He reiterated this point in a letter sent to the homeowners on 84th Street. In the letter, Addabbo sympathizes with residents who were disappointed they did not see the senator in person, but outlined the numerous ways he attempted to help the community.

According to the letter, Addabbo was in communication with NYC Parks Department, Con Edison, and other agencies to direct them to areas of need. “I am not about the photo op,” Addabbo wrote, “but working to get results for my residents.” He urged concerned constituents to call his office at any time if there were issues that needed to be resolved.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Voters Put New Voting Machines to Test in Primary Election

Assemblyman Mike Miller casts his ballot at P.S. 91 in Glendale
By Eric Yun

Voters had to deal with new machines, but it didn’t stop them from heading out and voting on primary day.

Many voters experienced problems with the new machines, and Mayor Bloomberg publicly criticized the city Board of Elections for the mishaps. The BOE said they would look into the problems and attempt to fix the problems before November’s general elections. In addition, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said hearings on the issues will be held in the coming weeks.

State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) who is the chair of the elections committee released a statement addressing the issues. “I intend to discuss with the Board of Elections the issues and concerns expressed to me by voters and poll workers regarding the new voting machines used on Primary Day,” he said. “Now we must find practical solutions so that our voters have an efficient and reliable General Election in November."

In our local races, Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) faced a primary battle against Community Education Council 24 President Nick Comaianni in District 38, which includes portions of Woodhaven, Glendale, Ozone Park Ridgewood, Maspeth and Middle Village. Miller received 76 percent of the vote on his way to victory. Miller will now face Republican Donna Marie Caltabiano in November’s general election.

In central Queens, lawyer Joe Fox challenged incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi in District 28, which encompasses Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale. Hevesi received 60 percent of the vote in his victory. Republican Alex Powietrzynski will now challenge Hevesi in November’s general election.

“I am humbled by the outcome of last night’s primary elections, and I thank the voters of my district for once again honoring me with their support,” said Hevesi. “ In advance of November’s General Election, I will, as always, be talking to the residents of the 28th Assembly District about how we can work together to address the issues that impact the lives of our families and our community.”

For the Senate’s 10th District, Democrat Lynn Nunes challenged Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). Nunes’ campaign picked up strong endorsements from the New York Daily News and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), but it wasn’t enough to defeat the incumbent Huntley, who received 73 percent of the votes.

"I am grateful for all my supporters who came out and voted to re-elect me to continue the work I began in the Senate,” Huntley said. “We have proven that there is strength in numbers, and our strength was solidified by a grassroots campaign rooted in integrity, backed by concrete work experience and driven by results.”

In Senate District 16, which covers Flushing, Bay Terrace, Forest Hills and Rego Park, in- cumbent Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flush- ing) defeated two primary challengers—Isaac Sasson, who received 34 percent of the votes and John Messer, received 20 percent of the vote. Neither tallie were enough to unseat Stavisky, who received 45 percent of the vote.

In the state’s major primaries, Republican Carl Paladino defeated Rick Lazio to become the Republican candidate for governor. Paladino will now face former Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in November’s general election.

Democrats lined up to run for Cuomo’s former position. A five-way battle ensued with State Senator Eric Schneiderman and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice taking the lead. Sean Coffey, Richard Brodsky and Eric Dinallo also vied for the spot.

Schneiderman received 34 percent of the vote to narrowly defeated Rice’s 31 percent. Schneiderman will face Republican Daniel Donovan of Staten Island in November’s general election.

Nationally, Democrat U.S Senator Kirsten Gillibrand defeated Gail Goode and will face Joseph DioGuardi who defeated David Malpass and Bruce Blakeman. In the other U.S Senate race, Republican Jay Townsend defeated Gary Berntsen to face incumbent Democrat Senator Charles Schumer.

Genting Gets Green Light for Aqueduct Redevelopment

By Eric Yun

Finally. After more twists and turns than a daytime soap opera, Aqueduct racetrack finally has a vendor to develop and operate video lottery terminals (VLT) at the facility. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli approved Genting New York’s proposal on Monday, paving the way for construction to begin at the Ozone Park facility.

“This is one of the most important vendor contracts New York has ever signed,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The VLT contract involves hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a 30-year license that carries the future of New York’s racing industry on its back.”

The contract will do much more than help the New York Racing Association (NYRA). Genting New York’s proposal calls for the creation of approximately 1,300 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs. Furthermore, in a meeting with Community Board 10 in July, the company promised to spend over $30 million in local goods and services, and they plan to donate one percent of net profits to community groups.

Jobs were definitely on the community’s mind as the proposal was being discussed. “We look forward to working with Genting to bring much needed jobs to our community and ensuring the casino project is a successful one that enhances the whole com- munity” said Betty Braton, Chair of CB 10.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Berhad, one of the world’s largest resort and casino companies. They currently operate Asia’s largest casino in Malaysia. This will be Genting’s first foray in America, but their management and construction team has years of experience with Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut and the casino at Saratoga Springs.

Genting’s plans include approximately 4,500 slot machines, a 200-seat restaurant, a high-
end Chinese restaurant and other entertainment amenities. The proposal also included a $380 million upfront payment to the state. Once construction begins, Genting hopes to be able to open within six months and completely finish construction in 18 months.

New Law Aims to Reduce Bullying in Schools

By Eric Yun

It won’t take affect for two years, but students in New York will have safeguards to protect them from bullying and harassment. Governor Paterson recently signed the Dignity for All Students Act, which allows the “commissioner of education to establish policies and procedures affording all students in public schools an environment free of harassment and discrimination,” according to the bill’s legislative summary.

The bill, which was introduced by Senator Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), had almost universal support. It passed the Senate in a 58-3 vote and the Assembly in a 138-4 vote.

The Dignity for All Students Act would prohibit harassment or discrimination against students on school property or grounds. Harassment is defined as the creation of a hostile environment by conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has or would unreasonably interfere with educational performance.

“This law exemplifies our commitment to providing all students with a safe learning environment,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a prime supporter of the new law. “I am proud to support this legislation. Incidents of harassment and intimidation should not be tolerated in our schools.”

According to a 2008 survey cited in the bill, 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. student population is a victim of bullying. In a 2005 study cited by Addabbo, 39 percent of New York students reported bullying and harassment is a serious problem and 66 percent of students claimed they were harassed because of their looks.

The law also provides provision for the state Department of Education to provide training to school staff to foster a safe environment and dictates that incidents of harassment are reported at least once a year.

Howard Beach to Celebrate Columbus Day

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation will host its 6th Annual Columbus Day Parade on September 26th starting at noon. The parade route will begin at 157th Avenue and proceed south on Crossbay Boulevard to 164th Avenue.

Foundation president, Mario Faulisi, says the parade is something the community is really looking forward to, especially with two longtime Howard Beach residents among this year’s honorees. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of all our honorees. Each of them has done much to preserve the Italian culture.”

Tracy Catapano-Fox
This year’s female grand marshal is lifelong Howard Beach resident Tracy Catapano-Fox. Ms. Catapano-Fox is the president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association and currently works as the Chief Law Clerk to the Administrative Supreme Court Justice Jeremy Weinstein. She shares her Howard Beach home with husband Charles Fox and their sons, Benjamin and Ethan.

Joseph Sciame
Joseph Sciame, this year’s male grand marshal, is the vice-president for community relations at St. John’s University and President/Chair of the Board of Directors of the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee, Inc. of New York. Mr. Sciame he also has been recognized by the Holy Father as a papal Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre with the Grand Cross.

Joseph Evola, owner of Gino’s Ristorante and Pizzeria, is being honored as the Italian
American Businessman of 2010. Mr. Evola immigrated to the United States in 1967, at age
seventeen from Palermo, Sicily. Seven years later he became a part owner in a small pizza shop and has worked tirelessly to achieve the American dream. He and his wife of 35 years, Fara, have two children, Jack and Margaret.

The HBCDF was founded in 2005 to foster and promote the preservation of the Italian language and culture. Its annual Columbus Day Parade has quickly grown to be the second largest of its kind in New York State.

Three years ago, the Foundation developed the Italian Language Study Program. The program offers free instruction of the Italian language to local residents and students and has already seen more than 200 community residents complete their course of study.

All are welcome to attend the parade and watch the floats arrive at the traditional red carpet show featuring CBSFM’s Joe Causi along with DJ’s Jack of Satisfaction Guaranteed and Nicky Guida of 2 PLUS 2 Entertainment with special appearances by surprise guests. A mini-feast with food and novelty vendors will be set up at the end of the parade route.

The Foundation has continued to raise funds for many charitable causes including the American Cancer Society and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In addition, it has developed scholarship award programs for local students of Italian-American descent who excel in the arts, academics and athletics.

To request further information contact the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation at 718.641.3469

City Launches Van Sharing Program

Photo courtesy NYCTLC
The city Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) began its Group Ride pilot program on Monday, which allows privately run commuter vans to operate on some of the bus routes that were eliminated or reduced by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) during the last round of service cuts.

Service between the Kew Gardens Union Turnpike subway station and Queens College began on Monday to compensate for the cut Q74 bus route. Other vans serving the former B71 route, the former B39 route, the former B23 route and the former Q79 route, which served Little Neck, Glen Oaks, Bellerose and Floral Park, are expected to begin on September 20.

The vans cost $2 and MetroCards are not accepted. Proper vans will be clearly marked with “Group Ride Vehicle” on the exterior and will have identifying decals inside the van. Pick-up and drop-off locations will be clearly marked by Department of Transportation signage. Passengers may also request to be dropped off along the route if the drivers agree.

“The purpose of this program is to provide safe and reliable service in areas that have been impacted by the MTA’s service disruptions, some of which were already challenged by limited transportation options,” said TLC Commissioner David Yassky. “This is an exciting opportunity for the TLC to help introduce and test an entirely new kind of service that never before existed—one that we believe will help thousands of people get where they need to go in a safe and convenient way.”

Based on the results of the pilot program, additional vans might be put into service in other parts of Queens.

Buon Appetito: Vetro Offers Cooking Classes

Executive Chef Michael DeGeorgio
is getting the attention of many
local foodies with his 22-year
expertise and culinary methodology—
not to mention he's feeding them!
By Patricia Adams

These days, men and women have all but stopped wrestling with each other to gain control of the TV remote—that’s because they’re all tuning in to watch whatever’s on the Food Network. As for print media trends, current magazine subscriptions show an incredible boost to publications catering to readers interested in food, wine, menus, recipes, table settings and desserts.

Many of today’s celebrity chefs delight in presenting their creations and showing us just how to mimic their offerings to thrill our own dinner guests. And although Executive Chef Michael DeGeorgio may be a just a few steps away from celebrity status, he is certainly developing a devoted following of food groupies at his newly introduced cooking demonstrations held at Vetro Restaurant and Lounge in Howard Beach.

The first in the series of what has been billed as “intimate cooking classes” debuted at the restaurant back in July, when DeGeorgio prepared a menu of summer appetizers featuring three cold appetizers: homemade mozzarella roulades, filet mignon "carpaccio" and shrimp salad "Murano," followed by a trio of hot appetizers: stuffed chili peppers, chicken meatballs with fresh fava beans and Chilean sea bass skewers.

A second class at the end of August was dedicated to summer entrees: blue claw crab sauce with linguine, pollo alla barese, pistachio crusted Florida grouper and medallions of filet mignon with fresh corn sauce. DeGeorgio really made points with a sold out class of eager students when he wrapped up the presentation with cold zabaglione with fresh fruit.

Fresh Maryland crabs sauteed with garlic, shallots, olive
oil, white wine, parsley and tomatoes were over a bed
of linguine.
One of the unique components of the Vetro Cooking Series is that DeGeorgio tries to pass on to his students a certain confidence in the kitchen—stressing repeatedly that no one should be married to a cookbook. “I want you to understand the methods,” he tells his students. “That is what’s important. A cook should always be able to add themselves to the whole experience. As long as you know the method you are free to create wonderful dishes.”

And those wonderful dishes created by the graduate of the Culinary Institute of America are not only brought to his students with recipes and demonstrations—they are beautifully plated and served during the class. Also included, a wine tasting that offers cooks appropriate pairings for each dish prepared in class. Among the upcoming class schedule will be the classic Italian Sunday table.

Vetro, is a new contemporary Italian restaurant & lounge overlooking Jamaica Bay on Crossbay Boulevard.

To reserve a seat for the cooking class call Vetro Restaurant & Lounge at 718-843-8387.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Residents and Officials Rally to Move the Mosque

By Eric Yun

Bob Turner, the Republican challenger to Anthony Weiner in the 9th Congressional District, held a “Move the Mosque” Rally Tuesday night at the Forest Park Band Shell. The event drew over a hundred people who were opposed to the location of the planned Park 51 Muslim Community Center and Mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Center and a block from WTC Building 7, which also collapsed during the attacks.

Through sporadic chants of “move the mosque,” several speakers spoke about their opposition to the mosque site. They stressed this was not a freedom of religion issue. “Muslims are free to worship as they please,” said lifelong local resident Jay Burke, who lost his son Matthew in the 9/11 attacks. However, he felt the location of the mosque was “a symbolic insult to the victims and families.”

Turner, who organized the event, wanted citizens a chance to “demand a solution to the dilemma.” He felt the mosque debate was a “no-win situation.” If we accept the mosque site, he said, “radicals can boast of a victory tower,” but if we reject the mosque, “radicals can say we are against the Muslim faith.”

Those who oppose the mosque are sometimes described as Islamophobic and against Muslims in general. Turner and other speakers disagreed. “Americans are a tolerant people, not defined by race, religion or ethnicity,” Turner said. He urged everyone to join together, respect the victims of 9/11 and move the mosque.

Also speaking at the event were City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), and Anthony Como, who is challenging State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) for the Senate’s 15th District.

Halloran noted that unequivocally the developers have a right to build the mosque. He didn’t see the project as an olive branch, but rather, it “will be hailed on the streets as a conquest for Islam.”

Both Halloran and Como questioned why it has been so hard to get St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed during the September 11 attacks, rebuilt. “We need to get our sights in focus. Make sure the mosque is not built and churches are rebuilt,” Como said.

Joe Appelbaum who attended the event from Brooklyn, liked the idea of the rally, but he felt they were fighting a losing battle. “It seems like the will of a majority of people are being ignored,” he said.

Miller and Comaianni Face Off in Assembly Primary

By Eric Yun

Nick Comaianni is mounting a strong challenge to incumbent Mike Miller for the New York State’s 38th Assembly District seat in the upcoming September primary election. Miller won the seat last year in a special election after longtime Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio resigned following his indictment for fraud.

The Local Businessman

Comaianni has been involved in local politics for years. He serves as the president of the Community Education Council 24 and is active in Community Board 9. “I know how things get done,” Comaianni said regarding politics.

When not serving on a volunteer elected board, Comaianni is a businessman in the construction and manufacturing field.

Comaianni decided to run after the insistence of friends and family. “Albany is out of touch with the common people,” he said. If elected, he would bring the sensibilities of the average person to the Assembly, he said.

Comaianni had collected signatures to be placed on the ballot for last year’s election to replace Seminerio, but was unable to continue his candidacy after Governor Paterson called for a special election. The decision to hold a special election meant the local Democratic Party was allowed to hand pick its candidate and decided to back Miller over Comaianni and several other candidates.

Frustrated with taxes being raised while services are being cut, Comaianni has several big plans to help schools, seniors and the economy.

One plan to help education involves allocating already existing tax money as a dedicated education fund. This way, funds meant to go towards education cannot be used as a last resort to fill a budget gap for another city service.

Seeing his parents struggle through life, Comaianni has a strong sense of responsibility to care for the community’s seniors. “We should never advance the economy on the backs of senior citizens,” he said. He doesn’t believe senior services should be cut after everything the seniors have already given to their community and country.

For the economy, Comaianni wants to stimulate the local economy by creating construction projects. However, “You have to make sure those projects go to the local community,” he said. He would create penalties and incentives to ensure general contractors don’t hire out of state workers.

Comaianni believes he can restore cut programs without raising taxes. “Tax increases should be a last resort,” he said. How does he intend to restore services without raising taxes? “We have a large enough budget to serve everyone if we cut failing programs and projects,” he said.

The 24/7 Assemblyman

Miller understands there’s plenty of mistrust in Albany, and notes that it is especially hard replacing a corrupt politician. “It’s a tough time following someone who broke the law,” he said. For this reason, Miller has been working hard to restore voter’s faith in the Assembly seat and the democratic process.

Miller, since taking office, has made it a point to fight for quality of life issues his constituents care about. After a string of car robberies, “The next morning I was on the phone [with the NYPD] demanding they step up patrols,” Miller said. He has developed a system to track 311 noise complaints so his office can track how well they are handled by the police. He hopes to expand the program to include other complaints in the future. He also included senior centers in his member item funding, and helped open a new senior center in Woodhaven.

The economy is a major issue, and Miller has spearheaded several efforts to help small businesses and bring jobs to the community. He strongly supports the Aqueduct project. “I made it clear [to Genting] that people of my district need to have a priority in getting jobs,” Miller said. Furthermore, he supported and worked with Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) to improve vacant storefronts and help small businesses throughout the neighborhood.

Education is also a major issue for Miller. Miller said he helped preserve education funding when more than two-thirds of the Assembly wanted to cut it from the budget. He also worked with other legislatures to ensure the state qualified for Race to the Top federal funding.

“Having spent the last year in Albany, I am the most experi- enced candidate,” Miller said. He understands how to maneuver bills through the Assembly and get things moving to help the community.

CEC 24 Tackles PS 87 Extension and Metro Avenue HS

By Eric Yun

With schools about to head back to session for another year, officials and residents had plenty to discuss at the monthly Community Education Council (CEC) 24 last week in Glendale. Major topics included the much-anticipated PS 87 extension, the new Queens Metropolitan High School and the updated proficiency testing standards.

PS 87 Gets An Extension

For years, CEC 24 and community members lobbied hard for an extension at PS 87. It was the first school in District 24 to be converted to K to 8 a decade ago, yet is the last building to get the proper facilities, said CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni.

After a long, contentious battle with the education council, which included a tour of the building so the city Department of Education (DOE) could see the inadequate facilities first- hand, the DOE finally agreed to an extension last July.

According to Comaianni, the tentative schedule has the project going to a bidder in June and the project being completed in approximately three years.

New Queens Metropolitan High School Set To Open

This year’s opening of Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hill was met with enthusiasm, but there remain some outstanding issues parents and CEC members felt weren’t addressed properly. While the new school will alleviate overcrowding and is welcomed by most residents, there were questions over who was allowed to attend the school.

One parent complained her son was not allowed to enroll there, even though he listed the school as his first choice, and was instead sent to Martin Van Buren on Hillside Avenue. “He has no idea where Martin Van Buren is,” said the parent.

As a locally zoned school, the DOE admitted any student from the local zone who wished to attend Queens Metropolitan High School. The high school contains 25 percent of students from the local zone and 50 percent overall from District 24.

However, Comaianni said there was bad management when the admittance procedure was being implemented. “The proximity of the school should have been taken into consideration,” he said. This would have prevented situations where parents and students just blocks from the zone were turned away. Another point of contention for Comaianni involved how quickly the high school was filled. He believed if there was more time given to inform parents and students that a new school was opening, it could have been filled with much more than 25 percent of locally zoned students.

New Testing Standards for Kids

Educators and parents lauded the new core standards for English and Math proficiency tests as a step in the right direction. District 24 Superintendent Madelene Taub-Chan understood what parents were going through. Her child went from a four to a two. However, Taub-Chan said, “I would rather have an authentic score.” This will allow her to really understand how well her child is doing.

Comaianni applauded the new standards. “A lot of kids who would graduate eighth grade with threes and fours would fail high school,” he said. The new standards would get students better prepared for high school and become true indicators for how well students and teachers are performing.

Illegal Trash Dumping Plagues Glenridge Mews

By Eric Yun

Residents of Glenridge Mews are exasperated with trash constantly being dumped on the road adjacent to the development. The majority of the problem occurs under the elevated tracks on Cypress Hills Street and along nearby blocks of 64th Street and Otto Road.

Ken Daniels, President of the Board of the Glenridge Mews Condos, says at times, the trash dumped on the street is the “most disgusting thing you ever saw.” The trash is rarely cleaned, Daniels complained, and is impacting the quality of life of residents in the development, which is on 71st Avenue near Fresh Pond Road.

Daniels makes sure that private property within the development remains clean and clear, and is frustrated that the city isn’t doing its part to maintaining public areas. “I have people sweeping every day,” he said. But once his property ends, it’s common practice to see trash bags strewn across the street.

Daniels has seen everything from kitchen sinks to severed chicken heads and thinks many people are contributing to the growing problem.

Businesses that do not want to go through proper trash regulations, residents who might have missed their scheduled pick up day or are living in illegally divided homes and homeless people scouring bags of trash were all reasons Daniels guessed the problem exists.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board 5, called the practice “disrespectful” and showed a “lack of respect” for the city and community.

“Dumping is certainly a problem,” Giordano said, adding they have informed the city Sanitation Department about popular dumping locations. Giordano also noted the Sanitation Department will usually clean up areas if they are notified. He hopes that Sanitation Enforcement officers can perform more undercover stakeouts in the future to catch those that are illegally dumping.

Still, Daniels wishes more could be done. His residents complain constantly about the issue, and he no longer walks his dog along 64th Street because of the smell and fear of homeless people.

The Sanitation Department has a strict illegal dumping policy. Vehicles used to illegally dump trash are impounded and fines can range from $1,500 to $20,000. They also reward tips for information related to illegal dumping that leads to a fine. More information about these programs can be found on Concerned citizens can also call 311 to report illegal dumping.

Democratic Primaries for Local Assembly and Senate Seats

Fox Challenging Hevesi; Nunes Challenging Huntley

By Eric Yun

Two interesting Democratic Party primaries on September 14 involve the 28th Assembly District and the 10th Senate District. In the 28th Assembly District, lawyer Joe Fox is challenging incumbent Andrew Hevesi, and in the 10th Senate District, Lynn Nunes is challenging incumbent Shirley Huntley.

Fox is counting on the “general voter dissatisfaction with the state of government,” and the current “dysfunction and embarrassments” in the political system. He believes Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) is part of the problem and has shown to be the “least inactive and the least influential legislature” in Albany.

He would work to enact real ethical reform into Albany and help solve the quality of life issues the plague his neighborhood. “I will actually solicit and encourage meetings with constituent groups,” Fox said,and help the communities that are being “underserved by the incumbent.”

Hevesi meanwhile believes he has done a good job helping the community. He has introduced legislation to try to fight the “garbage train” issue and has helped schools, parks and libraries, according to spokesman Doug Forand.

Hevesi also realizes that there is a strong anti-incumbent feeling in New York. However, Citizens Union, a non-partisan organization that publishes Gotham Gazette, named Hevesi as one of only three “preferred” incumbent Assembly Members facing a primary battle.

In the 10th Senate District, newcomer Lynn Nunes is mounting a strong challenge to Huntley (D-Jamaica), Nunes is no stranger to “long-shot” campaigns after coming within just four votes of unseating the late Thomas White for the City Council’s 28th District last year.

Many of Nunes’s biggest backers support his stance on gay marriage. Huntley was one of several Democrats who voted against the same-sex marriage bill last December. Huntley’s “no” vote and Nunes’s support of same sex marriage has earned him endorsements from gay rights groups across the city and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D- Manhattan).

Huntley countered that she voted against same-sex marriage because her constituents said they did not support it, according to the Gotham Gazette.

Republican Stumping Ground

Councilman Eric Ulrich draws a round of applause from fellow Republicans who welcomed an afternoon of stumping with Rudy Giuliani.
(L-R), Rudy Giuliani, Tony Nunziato, Eric Ulrich, Anthony Como and Bob Turner.
Rudy Giuliani was in Howard Beach on Tuesday afternoon at the Cross Bay Diner to endorse the local Queens Republican slate. Giuliani sang the praises of Bob Turner, who is running against Anthony Weiner for the seat in the 9th Congressional District, Anthony Como, who will face-off against incumbent Sen. Joe Addabbo for the 15th State Senate District seat and Tony Nunziato, who is challenging Assemblywoman Marge Markey for her seat in the 30th Assembly District.

Invitations for the gathering were extended by the Turner campaign to small business owners for a discussion of the current economic situation and how policies of the president’s administration will impact small business throughout local Queens communities.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

JHS 226 Again Labeled Persistently Dangerous

For the second straight year, JHS 226 in South Ozone Park has been labeled “persistently dangerous” by the State Department of Education (DOE) in an annual review conducted under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools are listed as “persistently dangerous” if they have two successive years of “serious incidents.” These incidents could include homicide, forcible or other sexual offenses, robbery, assault resulting in physical injury, arson, kidnapping, reckless endangerment and possession, use or threatened use of a weapon, according to the State DOE.

City DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg said city schools are making progress. “Under old rules, [the schools] would no longer be on this list,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Forum, “But the safety of our students is of the highest priority.”

Schools that are deemed persistently dangerous will receive additional support, Feinberg said. This includes “professional development in positive behavior interventions, peer mediation and conflict resolution.”

Parents have the option of transferring students from persistently dangerous schools to another school in their district.

JHS 226, also known as Virgil I. Grissom School, is located at 121-10 Rockaway Boulevard. It was the only school in Queens named to this year’s list of dangerous schools.

Get Savvy at Your Supermarket

After a recent study by the Department of Con- sumer Affairs (DCA) showed more than half the supermarkets throughout the city were “abusing” their customers, The Forum decided to take a look at several supermarkets in our readership area.

Violations were issued to more than 700 supermarkets during the DCA investigation for a number of infractions including inaccurate or unavailable scales for customer weighing, the col- lection of tax on non taxable items, the lack of in- dividual price tags on specified items and insufficient data on date freshness labels.

Shoppers would be well advised to scrutinize their supermarket receipts to see that they have not been overcharged for individual items or paid tax on exempt products.

Here are some tips we have come up with in order to keep you from getting ripped off, save you money at the supermarket and also to protect your rights while shopping:

•If you are buying sale items make sure the price is in agreement with the advertised or circular prices. Remember that if you want to purchase a sale item that is out of stock, you are entitled to a rain check for the maximum amount of the item advertised. For example if the limit is 4, then you should get a rain check for that amount of product.
•In smaller stores watch for adjustment of prices sometime in the middle of the sale run. Many smaller grocery stores have been sited for false ad- vertising for not honoring the complete sale pe- riod. This does not usually happen with the chain markets.
•Always check your receipt to make sure you were not charged tax for non-taxable items. One commonly repeated violation of this type is in charging tax for bottle deposits in addition to the beverage itself.
•You should also check your receipt against individual prices in the store to see that you were not charged more than the labeled price.
•Use the unit-price label under each product to compare prices of different brands. This can be a very useful tool in saving money at the consumer level. This pricing tag must be listed on the shelf below most products.
•Supermarkets must have a scale within 30 feet of their prepackaged food section. Check for short weight and tare weight deduction—the deduction taken for the weight of the empty container from the gross weight. The scale must have a DCA seal on it, start at zero, and come to rest before weight or price is quoted. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs requires that an accurate computing scale of adequate capacity, which displays weight and price/lb, must be available within 30 feet of the prepackaged display counter.
•Item Pricing - All market commodities sold or of- fered for sale in New York City must have a stamp, tag or label giving the item’s cost, except:
- milk - eggs - fresh produce - some frozen foods - baby food in jars - vending machine products - snack foods - food sold for on-premise consumption - tobacco - bulk-food sales - display items at the end of the aisle - items on sale for seven days or less
• “Open” or “Freshness” Dates - These dates show the last recommended sale or use date, and must be marked on perishable food product packages, such as egg cartons, dairy products, meat and baked goods.

City to Reopen Kew Gardens Jail

By Eric Yun

Not in my backyard. Kew Gardens’ residents are weary of a comprehensive overhaul of the New York City Department of Corrections fa- cilities, which includes reopening the 467-bed Queens Houses of Detention near Queens Boulevard Kew Gardens.

The city Department of Corrections (DOC) revealed the plans to reopen the detention facility, located at 126-01 82nd Street, on August 11. DOC officials claim the overhaul repre- sents the most cost effective way to upgrade and maintain their facilities while ensuring they have enough space for prisoners. The department hopes to have the Kew Gardens facility reopened within a year.

The plans call for 50 deteriorating housing buildings at Rikers Island to be torn down and replaced with a new 1,500-bed jail that will be completed in 2017. DOC Deputy Commissioner Sharman Stein explained the 50 houses were originally intended to be temporary solutions when the city needed extra beds during the crack epidemic in the late 1980s. Overall, as a result of the project, the capacity of Rikers Island will decrease by approximately 3,000.

To compensate for the lost beds, the DOC will reopen a 759-bed Brooklyn jail along with
the 467-bed Kew Gardens jail. This plan replaced an earlier idea to build a new facility at Hunts Point in the Bronx and doubling the capacity of Brooklyn facility. The total cost of that proposal was $1.1 billion. The new plan, however, is expected to cost approximately $660 million—a taxpayers’ saving of approximately $415 million, according to the DOC.

The Kew Gardens jail was closed in 2002 due to budget concerns. There is now concern among residents regarding safety as a result of the plan to move inmates back to the neighborhood. Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) pledged to diligently work to ensure necessary precautions are met.

“I will be working closely with community leaders, residents and elected officials in the area to ensure that the number one concern—safety—is at all times met,” said Koslowitz. “Our community has always been vigilant, and I have expressed this sentiment to [DOC] Commissioner Schriro. The commissioner has assured me of her commitment to the safety of the community.”

Community leaders are concerned about the type of inmates who are held at the jail. “The Kew Gardens Civic Association and myself need to have more information on the type of clientele that will be held there,” said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9. The community does not want murderers, rapists, or other hardened criminals living next door."

Carey said the Community Board was not co tacted about the DOC’s plans until after they made inquires about the project.

DOC Deputy Commissioner Stein said the agency have been in contact with, and will continue to work with, the community about their concerns.