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.