Monday, January 31, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Marshall Touts Progress in State of the Borough Address

By Eric Yun

Economic progress is still slow throughout Queens, but Borough President Helen Mar- shall said strides are being made to keep the borough thriving.

At her State of the Borough Address, Marshall focused on the work she’s accomplished over her last two terms and promised to keep progress moving forward.

“I look forward to completing projects and building new communities in my third term,” Marshall said.

Marshall focused on several key initiatives. She said she believes education is paramount to the borough’s success and praised the openings of several new schools. “PS 13 in Elmhurst opened a new annex,” Marshall said, “and PS 273 opened its doors with 379 seats in Richmond Hill.”

New schools in the area that opened this year includes the newly opened Metropolitan Avenue campus in Forest Hills, and the new Maspeth High School is currently under construction.

Marshall has also worked to improve the infrastructure in Queens. Last fall, the state Department of Transportation broke ground on repairs to the Kew Gardens Interchange— one of the most congested areas in the city where the Van Wyck Expressway, Jackie Robinson Parkway and Queens Boulevard all meet. Marshall has also pushed the city to fix sewers around Queens, specifically to alleviate flooding in areas like Broad Channel.

Through her tenure as Borough President, Marshall has allocated more than $354 million to libraries, parks, cultural institutions and historic houses. But Marshall blasted the way the city allocated money for libraries. “Last year, each and every branch in Queens received $77,000 less than Brooklyn branches,” she said.

At her address, Marshall asked Queens Council Members to draft legislation to fix the inequities in library funding. “This is not a borough against borough war,” Marshall said. “This is a matter of fairness.”

Ten senior centers have closed in Queens, and more cuts are on the way. Marshall promised to do everything she could to provide services for seniors. “Believe me, we will continue to fight these cuts.”

One way Marshall helped local seniors was providing funds for the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps to house resident seniors.

“We’re very grateful to Ms. Marshall, and our other elected officials, for coming together and crafting a plan that not only helps our seniors, but also benefits the volunteer ambulance corps at the same time,” said Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association. “It’s a win-win scenario for the residents of Woodhaven.”

Marshall has also been dedicated to funding parks. She has allocated more than $140
million for park projects. Her funding has helped renovate the bandshell in Forest Park and a new baseball field and cricket pitch was unveiled at Southern Fields in Ozone Park.

Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, was grateful for Marshall’s help. “We look forward to her continued support of park projects in our area,” Braton said.

Atlas Park Auction May Bring New Life to Shops

By David J. Harvey

The story of a mall plagued with financial woes and empty stores may soon have a new chapter. The Shops at Atlas Park, an open-air shopping center on Cooper Avenue in Glendale, is up for auction on January 28 after more than two years in foreclosure.

When developer Damon Hemmerdinger’s family-owned company, ATCO Properties and Management, opened the 400,000- square-foot, $200 million mall in April 2006, less than half the space was leased. Today, several storefronts remain empty.

Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank, the New York branch of French-owned financier Société Générale, foreclosed on Hemmerdinger’s property in January 2009. The bank is likely preparing to unload their investment at a significant loss.

According to the legal notice of auction, the foreclosure debt was over $119 million by June 2010. And when at least two real estate firms were considering purchasing the mall in September, speculation put the buying price of Atlas Park as low as $50 million. Société Générale spokesperson Jim Galvin declined to comment.

According to Vincent Arcuri Jr., chair of Community Board 5, one of those companies met with community representatives while in negotiations. The firm, Chicago-based McCaffery Interests Inc., specializes in underperforming urban real estate, but eventually decided against the investment.

"We thought there was an ability to fix it,” Daniel McCaffery, president of McCaffery Interests, said to Retail Traffic. “But negotiations broke down."

Arcuri said he hopes whichever company wins the auction on Friday will pay attention to the community when deciding how to revamp Atlas Park.

“Whoever takes it over should listen to the community and the tenants,” Arcuri said, echoing years of residents’ criticism. “They need to bring in shops that the community and the young people are asking for.”

Hemmerdinger’s original plan for Atlas Park called for an upscale center that would attract
the wealthier shoppers of Manhattan and nearby Forest Hills. With poor access to the highway and shops that weren’t geared toward the surrounding community, Atlas Park failed to draw targeted crowds and alienated nearby Glendale residents.

While bolstering mall patronage was unsuccessful, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Several buses were rerouted to connect with the property while Hemmerdinger’s father Dale was serving as MTA Chairman. But rather than attracting new patrons, the buses have been blamed for rising traffic congestion in the area.

Hemmerdinger even once ran a promotion at the Atlas Shops where he gave away $20,000 to mall shoppers. He handed out $1 bills and $1,000 prizes, calling himself a friend of the economy. The effort proved insufficient to promote an ongoing client base that would have prevented Atlas Park’s foreclosure.

After ATCO lost Atlas Park to foreclosure, a series of managers were brought in under the leadership of Societe General. The first replacement for the Hemmerdinger’s was the Mattone Group, and the most recent is CB Richard Ellis. None of the management groups have been
able to garner wide public support. “The management hasn’t been that good, because the bank has had complete control and has been calling the shots,” Arcuri said.

The community and politicians have floated several ideas about what should be done with Atlas Park, such as bringing in a supermarket like Target or Wal-Mart, or even opening space for City University of New York classes.

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (D, Middle Village) proposed the CUNY partnership, and Crowley’s office said recently that she was exploring options such as medical facilities and breast-imaging centers.

"Atlas Park has the opportunity to serve as a positive economic engine for Queens and our city’s small businesses—but its value is dependent on its management," said Crowley. "I look forward to working with the new owner of Atlas Park to make sure this shop- ping center works with the community and the residents I represent."

Parents Concerned About DOE Choices

By Eric Yun

Parents let city Department of Education (DOE) officials know they were not happy with the direction the city is taking regarding enrollment and rezoning at this month’s Community Education Council (CEC 24) meeting.

It was a full agenda, and the meeting started with Bonnie Gross and Xinpei Qu from Stu- dent Enrollment. Gross alerted parents that 8th graders who took the specialized high school exam to enter schools like Stuyvesant or LaGuardia will receive their results and placements around February 10. By March 25, everyone will begin to learn their high school matches, Gross said.
CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni asked the enrollment officers to do a better job of including Superintendent Madelene Taub-Chan in the decision making process. “You should check with the superintendent before enrollment decisions are made. She should not be alerted after the decision,” Comaianni said.

Qu told the board that the superintendent is an integral part of their decision process. Gross also said if there is a communications breakdown they will review and fix the problems.

Parents let Gross and Qu know that more seats needed to be added for the gifted and talented programs. Most elementary schools in Maspeth including PS 153 are kindergarten through sixth grade. Therefore, students who test and qualify into the “Beacon” program in 5th grade face a difficult decision: switch schools to enter the program from 6th through 8th grades or enter the program in 6th grade and hope there is a spot for 7th graders the following year.

Charlie Vavruska, president of the Beacon Parents Forum, said they were guaranteed spots for their kids in 7th grade, but now they are being told there are only a handful of seats available.

“My daughter is in 5th grade at PS 153,” Vavruska said. “I’d like her to stay and graduate with her class.”

Parent after parent pleaded with the DOE to add extra seats to the program.

Another controversy arose at the meeting when Alex Shub from the Division of Portfolio and New Leaders presented the proposed principal of Maspeth High School. Shub said Khurshid Abdul Mutakabir was the most qualified leader out of the 200 candidates the department interviewed.

“This is a community concerned about their children,” Mutakabir said. “I proposed a straight forward school with a language arts focus. The top goal is to send kids to top universities.”

However, the board and parents felt Mutakabir’s introduction to the community felt disingenuous. A similar introduction of proposed leaders for the Metropolitan Avenue high school saw the DOE bring several candidates for public meetings.

“It feels as if this guy was just hand picked and we have no say in the decision,” one parent said.

Finally, the board passed a resolution approving Portfolio’s “step zoning” proposal that was introduced last week. IS 119 was ex- panded to kindergarten through 8th grade, so
a new zone needed to be introduced. When creating the zone, Portfolio wanted to alter several other zones to alleviate overcrowding.

However, at last week’s meeting at IS 119, parents strongly opposed the move and asked the department and the board to reconsider the proposal.

Board member Brian Rafferty understood the objections to the project: “I don’t think it’s necessarily the best solution. But it is a solution,” he said, and voted for the proposal.

MTA Set to Renovate Shabby Stations

By Eric Yun

One of Ridgewood’s worst train stations, along with several other stations in Queens, will be repaired over the next three years, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

The Seneca Avenue stop on the M train was rated as the worst station in the city by MTA’s internal reports. In 2009, MTA engineers graded each station looking at the condition of interior and platform stairs, walls, floors and ceilings. These components were graded on a scale of 1-5 (five being the worst), and the Seneca Avenue stop scored a 3.5 in each category.

The station was included as part of the MTA’s 2010-2014 capital program for station renewal, MTA spokesperson Deirdre Parker con- firmed. According to Parker, the station renewal is in the design phase and construction is tentatively scheduled for October 2011.

According to the New York Daily News, other stations in line for repairs are Fresh Pond Road and Forest and Knickerbocker and Central Avenue on the M line. On the A line, the 80th, 88th, 104th, 111th, Rockaway and Lefferts boulevards stations will be renovated.

In all, the MTA’s station renewal project will repair 25 stations and cost $375 million dollars.

Arrest Made in Forest Hills Robbery Spree

By Eric Yun

Forest Hills and Kew Gardens residents were fearful when they learned a mugger was targeting women in the area, but police report an arrest has been made in the case.

Since the beginning of the year, police said a mugger targeted women and used physical force to steal their property. In all, ten rob- beries were reported—six cases occurred within the 112th Precinct.

A 48-year-old woman was robbed on January 9 at 64th Avenue and 102nd Street; a 52-year-old woman was robbed on January 10 around 64th Road and 99th Street; on the same night, a 31-year-old woman was robbed on the Grand Central Parkway service road; on January 12 a 22-year-old woman was robbed on 67th Avenue and Yellow- stone Boulevard; on January 13 a 28-year- old woman was robbed on 62nd Drive and 98th Street; and finally on January 15, a 62- year-old woman was robbed on Dieterle Cresent.

“I’m concerned,” Forest Hills resident Flor Angela Castro told the Daily News. “Now I’ll be more careful walking on Austin Street.”

Castro may be able to breathe a sigh of relief. On January 21, officers arrested Brian Rodriguez, 33, of Nassau County for the incident on 64th Avenue and 102nd Street and the incident on 62nd Drive and 98th Street. He has been charged with second-degree robbery in both cases. The investigation is ongoing, but residents hope this is a major break in the case.
Rodriguez was allegedly working with an accomplice during the crimes. Anyone with additional information in regards to these incidents is asked to call Crimestoppers at 1- 800-577-TIPS (8477). All calls are confidential.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Women Held Captive During Robberies

Police are seeking suspects in a series of armed robberies in Queens involving women in their late 50s and early 60s being held captive.

The most recent of three robberies linked to this group occurred near Marengo Street and McLaughlin Avenue in Jamaica Estates on January 14. At approximately 11:30 p.m. two men grabbed a 68-year-old woman and pushed her into her car. When she screamed, the two fled in a dark sedan.

The previous two robberies, occurring on April 14 and December 22, 2010, followed the same pattern, but the women, age 63 and 58 respectively, were held while two or three male suspects gathered their valuables and a female accomplice used their debit cards to withdraw cash at a nearby ATM.

The police said that while a firearm was either shown or threatened during each of the three incidences, no one has yet been injured.

The police released a sketch of one of the three male subjects and a video of their female accomplice as she entered a bank to withdraw money from the ATM as one victim was held in
her car. The other suspects were reportedly wearing masks.

The male suspect is described as a 5-foot 8-inch black man in his 20s, medium build, with a clear complexion. The female suspect, also in her 20s, is between 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 6 inches, 120 and 140 pounds, and has long curly black hair.

The police are requesting that anyone with information call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-8477, submit their tips on the Crime Stoppers' website at or text CRIMES
(274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

Teachers Dress in Black to Protest School Closings

By Jason Barczy

Teachers for P.S. 30 Ruby S. Couche Elementary School showed up to an educational town hall meeting on January 13 dressed in black to protest a New York City Department of Education (DOE) proposal phasing out the Jamaica school.

Teachers and parents, along with some students debated the proposal, sometimes angrily, and asked DOE Director of Public Affairs Lenny Speiller about the future of the school.

Third-grader Demir Rogers-Barker stood with her mother, Deshanna Barker, and said, “Everyday I walk out of this school, I feel like a new person.”

The DOE is proposing that Jamaica’s students and staff of P.S.30 andP.S.40 along with Richmond Hill High School and August Martin High School, be phased out. The Panel of Educational Policy will vote on the proposal during a public meeting at 6 p.m. on February 1.

In the case of P.S. 30, a new school would open in the building as early as September and begin enrolling kindergarten, first grade and second grade students.

“This school is amazing,” said 5th grade teacher at P.S. 30 Jamaal Williams. “We cannot close this school and at the end of the day the children and the staff have the ability to suc- ceed. This is a place of learning.”

According to the DOE, P.S. 30 has struggled for years. Last year, only 27 percent of students were on grade level in English and only 31 percent were on grade level in math. P.S. 30 earned an overall D grade last year on its Progress Report with an F grade for School Performance and C grades in both Student Progress and School Environment sub-sections.

“Those stats are pretty telling,” Speiller said to Jamaica resident Elaine Jackson when asked for specifics on why the closure was being considered. “The school has struggled for a while.”

It’s the same story for P.S. 40, which earned an overall D grade on its 2009-10 Progress Report and at Richmond Hill and August Martin high schools the graduation rates have remained below 50 percent for more than five years.

Richmond Hill saw modest improvement in the school’s graduation rate. It rose to 48 percent in 2009, but it remains well below the 63 percent citywide average. The New York State Education Department named Richmond Hill as one of the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” schools in the entire state.

At this point, the DOE has no specific plans for Richmond Hill but is developing an action plan that may include phasing the school out or simply replacing staff, changing leadership and introducing a new program.

“Closing schools should not be an alternative,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach). “These are tough fiscal times for both the city and state and we have to make cuts because we can’t afford certain services anymore but we need to collectively do a better job to minimize cuts to education."

The DOE has scheduled a joint public hearing at P.S. 30 at 6 p.m. on January 27 where it hopes to hear an action plan put together by teachers, parents and school administrators on how to move P.S. 30 from a D to an A grade on its Progress Report.

“At one time this was an excellent school,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). “We’re going to do everything we can to make this right.”

Putting the Brakes on Rogue Cyclists

Ulrich Proposes Bike Registration

By Eric Yun

New York City is undeniably going to great lengths to promote biking. The city Department of Transportation (DOT) said cycling has doubled since 2005. But, many, including Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), worry that cyclists may be too prone to abusing the rules of the road.
Ulrich believes a simple way to curtail reckless cyclists is bicycle registration. Under his tentative proposal, adult bicycle owners would be required to register their bicycles and display some form of identification.

“[The proposal] came as a result with several meetings with constituents—many who are senior citizens—concerned about public safety,” Ulrich said. “I want to protect the well-being of people who share the road.”

Ulrich said his constituents are concerned about their safety because they feel most cyclists don’t follow traffic laws. “Traffic laws are broken every day in the city, and the person keeps on pedaling,” Ulrich said. “Every day across the city, bikes are directly or indirectly involved in an accident, and there is no way to identify them.”

“The city bends over backwards to accommodate bicycle riders, but yet we don’t accommodate the needs of everyone else on the road,” Ulrich continued.

Since Ulrich unveiled his plans to the New York Post last Thursday, the criticism has been swift.

Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s biggest advocacy group for public transit and bicycles, is already gearing up for a fight.

In an e-mail sent to Transportation Alternatives members, Paul Steely White, executive director of the group, blasted the “draconian” plan and wrote: “This misguided proposal is a waste of city’s resources and does nothing to improve safety, cycling or the city.”

Transportation Alternatives started a campaign against the proposal and is urging concerned cyclists to let Ulrich know how they feel about bicycle registration.

“Practically speaking, bicycle registration would criminalize bicycling, waste valuable city resources and erect yet another obstacle for those seeking to ride a bike,” White wrote in the e-mail campaign. “It would do nothing to improve safety or enforcement. … There are sufficient traffic laws on the books, covering drivers, cyclists and commercial cyclists. What’s missing from the equation isn’t an ID tag, it’s the NYPD’s participation in enforcement.”

Transportation Alternatives also noted that the most dangerous vehicles are still cars.

“According to the DMV, in 2009 there were 75,539 automobile crashes in New York City, less than 4 percent of those crashes involved a bicycle,” White wrote.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, said requiring bicycle registration would actually decrease safety.

“Studies have shown as more cyclists ride bikes, it becomes safer to ride. We want to encourage people to ride bikes. Don’t create unnecessary red tape,” Samponaro said. “We feel strongly that the solution to [reckless riders] is NYPD enforcement. Cyclists already need to produce a proof of ID when they’re stopped and ticketed.”

If Ulrich really wanted to stop lawless bikers, he should be in contact with the local police precincts to step up enforcement, Samponaro said.

Local community groups acknowledge there are problems with the city’s current bicycle rules and riders, but are mixed in their support of bike registration.

One possible local ally for bike registration is Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9. In the past, she has proposed regulations charging cyclists for parking on city bike racks. Carey could not comment specifically on Ulrich’s proposal because it hasn’t been presented to the board, but on a personal level, she said she agreed something should be done.

“[Cyclists] endanger people on the sidewalk, people on the street and drivers of automobiles. There needs to be some guidelines,” Carey said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said he hasn’t had many problems with bikers in Middle Village, but he has heard occasional complaints about people riding on sidewalks and riding through Juniper Valley Park harassing pedestrians. “Obviously the problem in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn is much worse,” he said. “In principal, something needs to be done as long as it doesn’t become a bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.”

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, feels bike riding is useful for the community. “Generally speaking, most of us think [biking] is a good activity health wise. If they’re riding bicycles, they’re not driving cars, reducing pollution and congestion,” Giordano said.

Giordano’s biggest problem with bicycles is that narrow streets such as Myrtle or Central avenues make it nearly impossible to install bike lanes, and passing cars must cross the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. “It’s not easy [to bike] here. We don’t want them on the sidewalk, but very often, that’s the only place they feel safe.”

Ulrich, however, said many of the criticisms are unfounded. No bill has been formally been introduced or drafted because his office is still trying to feedback and perspective from various groups including Transportation Alternatives, he said. A meeting has been planned between Ulrich and Transportation Alternatives, and Ulrich said he wants to hear every side before proposing legislation to the Council.

Bicycle registration won’t waste city resources either, Ulrich said. “When the bill is drafted, it’s not going to cost a dime. It will be a one-time, free registration.”

He envisions a proposal where the existing DOT bicycles unit handles the costs and riders can go to and download applications for free. “It’s not going to tax people for riding a bicycle,” Ulrich said.

Enforcement and responsible cycling would increase with registration, Ulrich said. By holding cyclists accountable, bikers would be more responsible and “think twice before blowing the stop sign or a red light,” he said.

Ulrich also argued that people hit by bicycles could actually identify the offending cyclist and file a complaint report with police.

“This is not a punitive measure, and I’m not against bicycles,” Ulrich said. “I applaud people who ride bicycles; it’s good exercise and good for the environment.”

But Ulrich believes bicycle registration is necessary to keep everyone safe and accountable. “This is the right thing to do. There is a totally unfair, double standard enforcing traffic laws. And nobody is above the law.”

Jewish Monument Planned on Chaplains Hill

By Jason Barczy

Last Thursday, at the Kew Forest Jewish War Veteran Post, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) announced legislation calls for the construction of a memorial honoring the 13 Jewish chaplains who gave their lives in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The memorial would be installed on Chaplains Hill in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which honors men and women who gave their lives in combat. Currently, Chaplains Hill has three monuments saluting the Christian religious men in the military, but none that recognize Jewish chaplains.

“These chaplains who served their country so honorably deserve this memorial, just like those of other faiths,” Weiner said. “I believe there will be strong support for this resolution in Con- gress, and I look forward to the day when I can stand with my colleagues and see this memorial unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Weiner was joined by representatives of various Jewish War Veterans groups from throughout Queens, including Seymour Weber, a member of Kew Forest Post 250 and a World War II veteran.

“I think it’s very, very important that we not be forgotten. It is so important we’re there as much as anybody else,” Weber said. “We served the best we could do for the United States of America.”

Jewish chaplains have served in the Armed Forces since 1862, and there are currently 32 rabbis on active duty. According to the U.S. Army, about 1,800 soldiers identified themselves as Jewish in 2009.

“The service of these chaplains goes beyond just providing religious service in the field,” said Jason Katz, a member of the Jewish Chaplains Queens County Council and a Vietnam War veteran. “They serve as a means for the troops to sit down and talk with people in uniform who understand their way of life and are very, very helpful.”

Weiner sent a letter to his colleagues last year to introduce the resolution and within two months, 23 members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors.

Weiner said that sometimes the recognition of creates controversy, “but in the case of the Jewish chaplains in the military, for literally generations, they have been providing service and in many cases dying in action and there has been no recognition as best as we can tell be- cause no one thought of it until relatively recently.”

The memorial to honor Jewish chaplains would join a 1926 monument honoring 23 World War I chaplains, a 1981 memorial dedicated to 134 Protestant chaplains and a 1989 memorial for 83 Catholic chaplains. All memorials erected in Arlington National Cemetery require a joint concurrent resolution by Congress, and the Jewish Chaplains Council said they have raised all the funds needed to construct the memorial.

Mayor Bloomberg Delivers State of the City Address

Announces Plan to Increase Taxi Service in Outer Boroughs

By Eric Yun

Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the annual State of the City address at St. George Theater on Staten Island on Wednesday.

Bloomberg outlined his agenda for 2011, and said the city needed to continue reviving the economy, balancing the budget and modernizing the government. The mayor pledged to not raise taxes, despite pressures on next year’s budget that will be greater than ever.

“We can look back, and continue funding a government operating system that was built for another era,” said Bloomberg. “Or we can look forward and continue rebounding, continue growing, continue forging ahead and leading the nation. But we cannot do both.”

Bloomberg wants to revitalize many areas in the city including Queens, as the city cannot survive if New Yorkers move. “In Queens, shovels will go into the ground at Hunters Point South, where we’ll begin to transform long vacant land into a new middle-class development fueled by $2 billion in private investments that will create 4,600 jobs,” he said.

Cultural centers like the Queens Museum of Art will also receive funding to build new facilities. Bloomberg said that although money is tight, it is important to invest in the city’s cultural infrastructure.

Attracting people to New York is also a big priority. Bloomberg said he is pushing for federal immigration reform that would allow the next generation of entrepreneurs into the city. He also intends to enhance the city’s academic institutions to attract leaders in education and medicine.

Bloomberg also announced a proposal to allow livery cab drivers to make on-street pick- ups outside of Manhattan.

“Why shouldn’t someone in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island be able to hail a legal cab on the street? Ninety-seven percent of yellow cab pick-ups happen in Manhattan or at the airports – even though 80 percent of New Yorkers live outside of Manhattan,” Bloomberg said.

A new category of livery cars would be created under Bloomberg’s proposal that would provide all city residents a safe, reliable and convenient way to hail cabs. “Because whether you’re standing on 42nd Street in Manhattan or 42nd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn or 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens, you ought to be able to hail a cab,” he said.

The city is facing tough times, Bloomberg conceded, but he is confident the city will bounce back as it has always done. He described the state of the city as “strong, united, determined and ready to meet any challenge. Today, tomorrow and forever.”

Railroad Eyesore Cleaned

By Eric Yun

The New York and Atlantic Railway tracks above Otto Street and Ridgewood along Joseph Mafera Park have blighted Glendale with years of litter and graffiti-covered rail trestles.

After numerous complaints, Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) teamed up with the Long Island Rail Road to clean the railway.

“People should not have to live with gang graffiti in their neighborhood and I am proud to announce that the graffiti along the rail trestles has been painted over,” Miller said.

Community groups like Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions have organized similar clean-ups in the neighborhood. At the most recent clean-up, Crowley commended the community for past efforts.

“Sometimes small changes make big differences and I am pleased that the LIRR, New York and Atlantic Railway and the [Department of Sanitation] are stepping up their efforts to join local residents in cleaning up our community,” she said.

According to Miller, Painting over the graffiti is just the first step.

“We are still working on fixing many more issues with sanitation to increase the frequency of trash pick up and vermin eradication under the trestles,” he said. “We have begun working with organizations for the homeless that have agreed to house any indigents who are living in the area.”

Anyone witnessing trash dumping, graffiti spraying or any crime related to the train trestles is asked to notify Miller’s office at 718-805-0950. If a crime is in progress, call 911.

Relief From Diesel Soot in Glendale

By Eric Yun

Local residents surrounded by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the Long Island Expressway and Fresh Pond Rail Yard breathe in toxic air emissions daily. The cocktail of fumes increase residents’ risk for cancer and respiratory problems including asthma and emphysema. The number of children hospi- talized for asthma in Queens is more than triple the national average, according to the city’s Health Department.

Now, at least one form of emissions—diesel soot—could be decreased significantly.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) submitted two grant applications to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would replace antiquated diesel engines on trains operated by CSX, New York and Atlantic Railway and the Long Island Railroad with more efficient models.

Glendale resident Mary Parisen has been fighting to improve rail traffic and emissions for several years. She and Laura Zimmer started Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES) to lobby for changes in how rail companies operate locally and have been in constant contact with EDC and rail companies. They were both thrilled about the progress the grants showed.

“This is a significant step in the right direct,” said Parisen. “We have dreamed of and advocated for a US EPA grant application for new locomotives that will replace old, polluting 1978 LIRR equipment and reduce harmful diesel emissions in our neighborhood. Today we see this dream becoming reality.”

According to the submitted grant applications, repowering the locomotive fleet will reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 76 percent annually and particulate matter emissions by 62 percent annually.

All the major rail companies operating through Fresh Pond Rail Yard have come together to reduce emissions. CSX offered their support and matching funds of $750,000 to complete the project. Waste Management, which transports trash through the station, has pledged $1.4 million in support. New York and Atlantic also promised funding to help the project.

The grants also have strong political support. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman James Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee, and Councilman James Gennaro, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, sent a letter to the EPA support the grant.

“The repowered locomotives will leverage advanced and proven technologies to provide significant air quality improvements for the individuals who live and work in and around rail facilities in Kings, Queens and Bronx Counties,” the statement said.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler also wrote to support the program.

The unified approach displayed in this grant process was always a major goal of CURES. “In an era of scarcer resources, everyone has to work together on practical, focused planning and action that create a better life today and a sustainable future for the city, business and residents,” said Zimmer.

“CURES’ leaders have been advocating for public-private partnerships that pool their resources to make freight rail improvements and develop freight transportation alternatives,” Parisen said.

If the EPA approves the grant, the repowering would begin in May and take approximately two years to complete.

Community Angered by Rezoning Proposal

By Eric Yun

Angry parents joined together at IS 119 in Glendale to protest the city Department of Education (DOE) proposal to rezone the school, a move they say would force children to cross busy streets and destroy the character of local neighborhoods.

The DOE’s Division of Portfolio and Plan- ning intends to redraw the schools’ enrollment boundaries after changing the facility to a K-8 school. IS 119 will begin expanding next year, and a new zone for kindergarten stu- dents must be created.

While creating the zone, Portfolio said it wanted to rezone the southern portion of the district to alleviate overcrowding and balance enrollment across the district. This means the current zones, especially for PS 113, 91, 68, 88, 239, 71, 81 and 305, would shift slightly. Students already in the school are not affected, and students with an older sibling attending a rezoned school will be given preference to keep the family together.

But generally, the parents who attended the meeting voiced their displeasure with the proposal.

“Kids should not have to cross a busy block to go to school,” said Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association. “Don’t split up a community just because Portfolio says you have to.”

Under the proposal, many kids who could have walked a few blocks to nearby PS 88 would now have to walk over 10 blocks to PS 91. Along the way, they would have to cross busy streets like Central Avenue.

Patricia Crowley, a member of Community Board 5’s Education Committee, agreed rezoning would destroy close-knit communities. “It’s wrong to come into a neighborhood and split it.” Patricia Crowley also argued parents were not given proper notice about the changes.

Portfolio officials at the meeting said they were following proper protocol, and the public meeting was designed to get community input. However, Marge Kolb, president of the District 24 Presidents’ Council asked why only one meeting was being held. All schools affected by the rezoning should have a public community meeting, Kolb said in a statement read by Jo Ann Berger at the meeting.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) also joined parents protesting the proposal. “Far too many school zones are being affected. It’s hard for the community to really understand the impact of these changes,” she said.

Councilwoman Crowley and others pleaded for patience. Two additional schools, including one planned for the former Rite Aid site on Metropolitan Avenue, are scheduled to open within the next two years, and additional rezoning would have to occur.

“Why not zone PS/IS 119 as proposed and leave other schools’ zones intact for the next year to see what way things shake out?” said Kolb. “PS/IS 119 could also be used next year for overflow kindergarteners for a number of area schools while the impact of the Rite Aid school is worked out and demographic numbers are looked at more closely.”

Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24 (CEC 24), said reaching a compromise on rezoning might be better than rejecting the proposal outright. Comaianni said the DOE could simply cap kindergarten admission rates, and force stu- dents zoned for a school attend the school of the department’s choice.

CEC 24 will vote on the proposal at their next meeting on January 25 at 7 p.m. at IS 73, 70-02 54th Avenue, in Maspeth.

Scary Shooting After CTK Basketball Game

By Eric Yun

Instead of celebrating Christ the King High School men’s basketball victory over Bishop Loughlin Memorial on Friday night, head coach Joe Arbitello feared for his life as gunfire erupted outside the Brooklyn school as he was walking to the team bus after the game. Ultimately, five teens were shot.

“I was scared. I didn’t know where [the gunfire] was coming from,” Arbitello told the New York Daily News.

Christ the King defeated Bishop Loughlin 69-57 Friday night, but after the game an argument broke out near the school. Police said five teens, ranging from 17 to 19 years old were shot. None sustained life-threatening injuries and were transported to Kings County Hospital in stable condition.

According to the Daily News, the argument was sparked by a $250 Louis Vitton hat.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) said this was a random act and no Bishop Loughlin or Christ the King students were involved. She is concerned about safety at future sporting events.

“I would like to hold a meeting with the leaders and basketball teams of both schools to discuss methods for security and protecting the students, as well as protecting the community and all visitors during and after basketball game nights,” she said.

The police released surveillance footage from Bishop Loghlin of four suspects. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477) or on

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Police Arrest Suspect in Livery Cab Shooting

The suspect in the shooting of a livery cab driver in South Ozone Park was arrested Tuesday in Buffalo and charged with second-degree attempted murder of a 53- year-old livery cab driver in December.

Shawn Peace, 22, of 161-18 118th Avenue in Jamaica, al- legedly shot Trevor Bell multiple times on the night of December 3 after Peace hailed Bell’s livery cab at 117- 02 Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica.

Bell drove Peace to 117-60 122nd Street in South Ozone Park where a struggle ensued between the two men in the front seat of the cab. Peace allegedly shot Bell in his neck and limbs before fleeing.

“This shooting of a hardworking livery cab driver who is married and the father of six children will be vigorously prosecuted,” said Queen District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement. “The victim in this case is the sole breadwinner for his family and was trying to earn some extra cash for the holidays when he was shot during the course of an alleged robbery.”

Police responded to a 911 call on the corner of 122nd Street and Sutter Avenue and found Bell slumped over in the driver’s seat of the cab with four gunshot wounds — one to the right hand, one to the neck, one to the left leg and one to the right leg.

Bell was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he remains hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his neck.

“It has been more than six weeks since the incident and the victim remains hospitalized,” Brown said. “Once again we are sadly reminded of the dangers faced by taxi and liv- ery drivers in the course of their work and the senseless gun violence that surrounds us.”

Peace was arrested by members of the New York City Police Department’s Queens Violent Felony Squad and local Buffalo police at an apartment at 507 Niagara Street in Buffalo. Published reports said the NYPD traced his cell phone to his location in Buffalo.

Bell’s son, Trevor Bell Jr., 25, was interviewed in the New York Times saying his dad will be happy knowing Peace is behind bars.

“He’s going to be happier about going home,” Trevor Bell Jr. said. “I want to thank the person who gave him up. Thank God they found him.”

Peace will be arraigned in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and second-degree possession of a weapon and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

According to the New York Times, Peace was charged on Wednesday with six counts of first-degree robbery from last year where he targeted fast food restaurants throughout Queens.

On July 15, Peace allegedly robbed a McDonald’s on Union Turnpike in Floral Park, on August 8 he allegedly robbed a Wendy’s on Northern Boulevard in Bayside, on August 19 he allegedly held up a Popeye’s in Rosedale where he shot a manager in the right hand before escaping.

Three months later, police say Peace committed a crime similar to the attack on Bell. On November 18 he entered the Omega Car Service office on 232nd Street in Cambria Heights requesting a ride. Once he arrived at his destination he pulled out a gun and took cash and a cellphone from the driver and stole the car.

The next day, on November 19, Peace robbed a Burger King in Woodhaven and two days later on November 21 he held up another McDonald’s, this one in Brookville near John F. Kennedy International Airport, police said.

Sex Offender at School Sparks Outrage, Prompts Legislative Solutions

By Eric Yun

A volunteer instructor at St. Mel’s in Flushing was let go after he allegedly made inappropriate contact with students through Facebook. The parents’ shock intensified when the man, Joseph Denice, was revealed as a registered sex offender.

According to the District Attorney’s office, Denice, 24, was arrested on December 2, 2009. In the original criminal complaint, Denice was charged with entering a boy’s home and tricking the 12-year-old to submit to a “body scan.”

Denice told the victim that the scans were mandatory, and if he refused, the scans would occur at family court where the examiners would likely be incompetent. The boy agreed to the scans, and Denice inappropriately groped the boy. He pleaded guilty on June 1, 2010 and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. He is registered as a level one sex offender.

According to Senator Tony Avella’s office, Denice worked with St. Mel’s before his arrest, and upon his release, he resumed his duties at the school. NY1 reported that on December 31, a parent contacted school officials about alleged messages through Facebook. He was released from the school on Monday, January 3.

The District Attorney’s office said they were alerted to Denice’s situation and will investigate the charges.

The Brooklyn Dioceses said Denice worked at three schools: St. Mel’s, St. Luke’s in Whitestone and St. Kevin’s in Flushing. They will alert parents whose children may have had contact with Denice within the next two weeks.

The news has spurred lawmakers into action. Avella (D-Bayside) has contacted St. Mel’s, the Brooklyn Dioceses and the Department of Education (DOE) about the incident. He wants to organize a public meeting to discuss what occurred and ways to prevent future incidents. Avella also asked Facebook to delete Denice’s account under New York State’s Electronic Security and Targeting Online Predators (e-STOP) act.

“Protecting our youth from dangerous predators should be paramount,” Avella said in a statement. “Our schools should be a haven where they can learn and grow under the trusted tutelage of their educators.”

Denice might never have worked at St. Mel’s if Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) had his way. In February 2010, he introduced a bill (A10010/S6998) that could have stopped Denice’s hire. The bill requires employers to ensure prospective employees who have “direct and unsupervised contact with children” are not registered sex offenders. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) sponsored the bill in the State Senate.

“This is a matter of common sense,” said Miller. “The situation in Flushing highlights the need to pass a comprehensive overhaul of how we deal with sex offenders. My bills in the Assembly seeking to prevent sex offenders from working with our children are my highest priority. I will do everything I can to get immediate action on these bills so we can begin protecting our children. My sympathy goes out to the child, his family, and the families of this school.”

The sex offender bill passed the Senate 61-0 in June, but the legislative session closed before a floor vote in the Assembly. Miller said party leaders have told him the bill is a priority for the current legislative session and feels confident it will pass when it is brought to the floor.

“The whole goal is to protect our children. I don’t see any obstacles and hurdles,” Miller said, noting the support he has received from both Democrats and Republicans.

There are 1,194 registered sex offenders in Queens, and Miller’s legislation would help strengthen New York’s regulations of convicted sex offenders. Under current law, anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense after January 1996 must register with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Sex offenders convicted in other states must also register if they move to New York. How long someone remains on the registry depends on the person’s classification and designation.

There are three classifications for sex offenders. Level 1 offenders pose a low risk for repeat offenses, level 2 offenders pose a moderate risk for repeat offenses and level 3 offenders pose a high risk for repeat offenses and a threat to public safety exists.

Designations are given to sex offenders based on the type of crime committed. Those convicted of violent sexual offenses are designated sexually violent offenders. Sexually violent offenders diagnosed with mental abnormalities or personality disorders that make it likely they will repeat sexual offenses are designated sexual predators. Predicate sex offenders are those convicted of a sex offense after having been previously convicted of a sex crime.

Anyone who receives a designation as a sexual predator, sexually violent offender or predicate sex offender must register as a sex offender for life. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are also registered for life. Level 1 offenders with no designation must register for 20 years.

The sex offender registry is available on the DCJS’s website. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are listed, but by law, level 1 offenders are not publicly available. Miller sponsors another bill (A11008/S7992) that would allow local law enforcement access to level 1 offenders.

Giving police access to level 1 offenders allows them the opportunity to pick up and spot deviant behaviors from registered sex offenders, Miller said. Currently, police have no way to determine if a person is a level 1 offender and must investigate each suspect on a case by case basis.

Concerned residents have several ways to stay informed about sex offenders in their neighborhood. All level 2 and 3 sex offenders are searchable on DCJS’s website ( Users can search by name, address or zip code.

Also, DCJS has partnered with NY-ALERTS to establish a “sex offender relocation alert.” New Yorkers can sign up for NY-ALERTS at and select up to three zip codes or counties. NY-ALERTS will notify users whenever a registered sex offender moves in or out of those communities.

Construction Casualty Adds to Infamous Developer's Shoddy Record

By David J. Harvey and Eric Yun

A building collapsed Monday at a construction site in Elmhurst left one worker dead and three others injured.

Department of Building officials said a wall at 84-16 Queens Boulevard, approximately 18 feet high, was being reinforced with concrete when it collapsed, trapping four workers. FDNY and EMS responded to the scene.

The four injured workers were rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where one man went into cardiac arrest and died, FDNY officials said. The other three men were reported to be in stable condition.

“It was absolutely terrible,” witness Jim Demetrio said to CBS. “The workers were trapped and other workers were trying to get them out.”

The New York Daily News reported that the victim was 27-year-old Humberto Sanchez, a father of three.

“He was a good man,” said brother Cornelius Sanchez to the Daily News. “He was a hard-working man.”

The Department of Buildings said it is still investigating the accident, and a stop work order has been issued, with additional violations expected.

However, the property owner is no stranger to DOB fines.

The department’s records show the family of notorious developer Tommy Huang owns the property. Tommy Huang and his son Henry have been cited numerous times throughout the years for improper development.

After he built his first five-family home in Flushing in 1979, Huang began a whirlwind rise to lead development in the area. In 1986, he spent $3.4 million on the RKO Keith’s Theater, announced plans for a shopping mall, hotel and movie house, then spent the next four years on a slow demolition. In 1990, the city revoked his permits when the theater’s landmark staircase was razed. Then a fire started in the locked building—an arson that was never solved.

Former State Senator Leonard P. Stavisky, who passed away in 1999, was an Assembly- man when he first locked his sight on Huang. Stavisky recalled a story about Huang to the New York Times in 1997. It was 1982, and Huang had showed up at his house with an architect to dispute Stavisky’s opposition to one of Huang’s construction projects.

According to the Times article, a Molotov cocktail burned down a restaurant and several other shops at Huang’s proposed site that same year. After the fire, Huang raised his offer and the bank sold him the property. Stavisky demanded response to an ''arson for profit'' ring, but no one was ever charged.

Huang was later charged for allowing 10,000 gallons of heating oil to leak into the building. He pled guilty in 1997, was fined $500,000, sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to clean the spill.

The State Attorney General sued Huang in 1999 for irregularities at a Flushing housing complex and Huang was forbidden to sell condos and co-ops in New York.

In 2002, he sold the RKO for $12.1 million at a nearly 400 percent profit, and his building projects continued.

Eleven houses Huang built at 34th Ave. and Union St. in Flushing were approved by the DOB as three-family homes the same year he sold the RKO, but Huang built them so close together, the Fire Department was unable to gain access. The Board of Standards and Appeals pulled the certificates of occupancy in 2005, and eight buyers sued.

Huang has since faced charges that structural problems at an abandoned project on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst twice caused the evacuation of the adjacent Ladder Co. 136 firehouse in 2005 and 2006, and that his project manager at the site, Thomas Cottone, ignored a stop-work order and was in possession of a forged instrument for altering a building permit.

On Mazeau Street, Huang demolished a garage without a permit—he simply applied after the fact and his demolition application was approved. The DOB also issued permits to subdivide the lot, for a construction fence and for a new three-story building. Completely disregarding the zoning code, Huang nearly completed construction of a four-story building.

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined concerned residents in December 2006 to protest Huang’s development on Mazeau Street, calling on the DOB to stop issuing permits to Huang. Avella cited numerous violations and Huang’s 1997 felony conviction.

In 2008, a stop work order on the Mazeau Street site was temporarily lifted so Huang could remove the building’s fourth floor.

After the latest incident, Avella is renewing his fight against the Huangs. “Mr. Huang’s unsafe construction practices date back almost twenty years,” Avella said, “and his projects continue to receive numerous violations ... which often have resulted in destruction of adjoining properties and danger to public safety. Yesterday, a young father of three paid the ultimate price for his dangerous practices.”

Another Dead Pit Bull Found in Ozone Park

By Jason Barczy

Concerns are rising among Ozone Park resident that a dog fighting ring is operating in the neighborhood. Three dead pit bulls have been found dumped in a garbage bag on the streets in the past six months.

Around 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 9 the third deceased dog was found near Acacia Cemetery by the intersection of 84th Street and 107th Avenue. The dog was wrapped in a trash bag and mostly frozen. Another was dumped at Pitkin Avenue and 84th Street a few weeks ago.

The woman who found the dog, who only wants to be identified as Tina R., said this was the third time since August a dead dog has been found within a five-block radius of that area of Ozone Park.

“This is what they do after a dog is done fighting or has lost a fight or was unwilling to fight,” said Tina R. “I was just driv- ing home and there [the dog] was and I was so sick after that.”

She said the most recent dog did not appear to be a victim of a fight. There was no evidence of bite or scratch marks, but she did notice the dog appeared to be unhealthy and under- weight.
Phyllis Taiano, founder of Four Paws Sake, Inc, went to the scene where the dog was found to help out and try to inden- tify the dog using a microchip scanner.

After an unsuccessful attempt to identify the animal, Taiano said she called 911 and 311 and was rebuffed by both agencies. After one final call to an emergency clinic, Taiano took the dog to the Sanitation Department.

“This situation was an awakening for me to see what exactly one is up against here in NYC,” Ta- iano said. “Had (the dog) been mutilated, mauled, had missing limbs, a crushed head or multiple bite wounds I would have driven him to the ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] for investigation reasons.”

Taiano estimates the dog was between 3 to 5-years-old and could see patches of hair missing which she says might be from mange or alopecia, two skin diseases common in household pets that cause hair loss.

“I don’t know how in the world someone can toss their pet on the side of the road in a garbage bag,” Taiano said. “The bag was not even tied. What if a child had seen the dog in a street? People are getting away with this because they can and the system is failing.”

Taiano is offering a $500 reward for any information on dogs being dumped in the street and can be contacted at Concerned residents can also contact the ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement department at or (212) 876-7700, ext. 4450.

DA: Pimp Kidnapped, Raped Teen

A South Ozone Park man was recently indicted on charges of imprisoning, prostituting and raping a 15-year-old runaway.

According to the indictment, Michael Summerville, 32, befriended the then 14-year-old girl in January 2010. The two allegedly lived together in Brooklyn where they engaged in sexual activities. Eventually, Summerville began pimping the girl out, prosecutors said.

The girl ran away in October 2010, but she returned to the Brooklyn home to retrieve a cell phone and computer Summerville had taken, prosecutors said. Summerville then allegedly took the girl back to his South Ozone Park home where he continued to have sex with his victim. The girl is alleged to have begun prostituting daily and was forced to give all her earnings to Summerville.

Prosecutors also charged that Summerville gave the girl to another pimp in late October. The new pimp also had sex with her and forced her to engage in prostitution throughout Queens, prosecutors said.

The victim escaped and went to the police, which prompted the investigation.

Using information provided by the victim, undercover officers went to Summerville’s home on December 1. The officers were allegedly met by four females who offered to have sex for money. The police said they paid one girl $360 in pre-recorded buy money and was brought to a back room where they observed Summerville. Prosecutors said the $360 buy money was recovered from Summerville’s pants pockets.

“The defendant’s alleged behavior is despicable and he must be prosecuted for his actions to the fullest extent of the law,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Summerville was charged with kidnapping, sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, rape, criminal sexual acts and menacing and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years if convicted.

The state legislature strengthened penalties against human trafficking in June 2007. The law created the sex trafficking felony for those who profit from prostitution by engaging in sex trafficking. Convicted felons are required to register as sex offenders and provide social service assistance to the victims.

Council Blasts Mayor on Blizzard Response

By Jason Barczy

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration reversed course, admitting to and apologizing for a systematic failure of the city’s response to the blizzard two weeks ago.

The City Council held an oversight hearing on the city’s response on Monday, the first of seven, in which Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith called the city’s response unacceptable and said the city failed in declaring a snow emergency.

“We didn’t do the job you expected,” Goldsmith said. “We didn’t do the job that residents of New York City expected. There were a lot of mistakes made. We acknowledge those and we’re here to learn from those.”

Goldsmith, along with Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Joseph Bruno, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano gave testimony and answered questions from City Council members during the four-hour long hearing.

Goldsmith said neither he nor Bloomberg were consulted by the commissioners about calling a snow emergency that would have gotten cars off main roads and cleared snow routes for plows and emergency vehicles.

“There was a clear lack of communication between different city agencies and a clear lack of response to the state of emergency that we had on our hands,” said City Council member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Even though it was a holiday weekend and maybe the commissioners and deputy mayors may have been in a ‘holi-daze’, our city doesn’t sleep, it always moves and keeps moving.”

Several mistakes were admitted at the hearing: Half the city’s snowplows had no radios to call for help when they became stuck; the city never activated the Parks Department, which had workers and gear available to clear snow; no official reached out to owners of private tow trucks and other equipment to strengthen the city’s own fleet until after the storm was out of control; New Yorkers volunteering for temporary snow clearing jobs were discouraged because the city couldn’t pay them for six to 12 weeks; and officials waited too long to address scores of ambulances stuck in the snow.

City Council member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) asked Goldsmith how it was possible he was able to keep his job when Emergency Management Services Chief John Perrugia was demoted—the only one to be demoted, in fact.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn drilled into Bruno for not opening OEM headquarters until 4 p.m. on Dec. 26, an hour before the storm was set to hit the city.

Bruno responded that opening the offices earlier wouldn’t have made a significant difference but said, “The city’s response to the blizzard did not live up to the standards we set for ourselves and the standards the public expects and deserve.”

Queens saw between 16 and 20 inches of snowfall between December 26 and 27 and most streets weren’t plowed until Thursday, December 30. South Brooklyn and Staten Island were hit hardest, with some areas reporting up to 27 inches of snowfall.

Sanitation Department records show that by 4 a.m. Monday, December 27, all of Manhattan’s primary streets and 92 percent of its secondary streets were plowed. The same records show in western Queens all primary streets were plowed by 4 a.m. Tuesday, December 28, but just 47 percent of secondary streets were plowed.

“Our cleanup response was unacceptable,” Doherty said. “We recognize we did not perform up to the standard that met the publics (standards), which caused many hardships. We know the reputation as the best snow fighters has been called into question and we must work to prove we deserve this distinction.”

Allegations of a sanitation slowdown protesting lay-offs and budget cuts were not addressed. Quinn and Sanitation Committee Chairwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) did not permit the discussion because a criminal investigation is pending. However, that did not stop Crowley from bringing up the budget concerns.

“Did budgetary concerns impact the way the city responded to this storm?” she asked Goldsmith. Crowley said residents thought sanitation workers were left home because the city did not want to pay double time during the holiday weekend.

Goldsmith said budgetary concerns were not a factor in the city’s blizzard cleanup, and in prepared testimony presented a 15-point plan to the City Council for improving the city’s response that included changes to how the city declares a snow emergency.

The plan included having all sanitation trucks outfitted with GPS devices with buttons for instant communication and ambulances equipped with sled-gurneys so patients can be transported over snowy grounds.

A hearing in Queens is scheduled for 12 p.m. Friday, January 21 at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Red Light for New Parking Rates

By David Harvey

Queens residents were spared increased parking fees after the Mayor and City Council reached an agreement dropping raised meter rates from the Mayor’s proposed mid-year budget.

Parking meter rates throughout the five boroughs and above 86th Street in Manhattan would have risen from 75 cents to $1 per hour. The Department of Transportation (DOT) was scheduled to begin retiming meters in Queens last week. While those rate increases were stalled by the agreement, rates in lower Manhattan will still change to $3, from $2.50 per hour.

According to DOT spokesman Montgomery Dean, some meters were retimed in Manhattan but are in the area where higher rates will remain. He said he was unsure if any meters were retimed in Queens.

Opposition to new meter rates increased in mid-December, when Council Members Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) and James Vacca (D-Bronx) rallied against increased parking rates with business owners and residents on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. After the rally, Reyna and Vacca worked with Council colleagues and Speaker Christine Quinn, finally convincing the mayor to remove the rate hikes from the budget last week.

“The parking meter hike was a Band-Aid approach to the budget that would have emptied the pockets of consumers and merchants while the economy is still recovering,” Reyna said.

The rate increase, which the DOT estimated would add $2.4 million to city revenue, was cut from the budget as part of a package of revisions. While the city still faces a $585 million squeeze—including cuts to homeless services and library funding—nearly $35 million was restored, keeping fire stations open, some child services operating and the current parking rates intact.

“Outer-borough motorists can breathe a big sigh of relief,” Vacca said. “For once the budget will not be balanced on their backs.”

Victory may be short lived. The Mayor is expected to reintroduce the rate hikes in his preliminary fiscal year 2012 budget. Before the budget is released, Vacca and Reyna plan to introduce legislation that will prevent the city from raising meter rates more than 25 percent over any five-year period.

According to Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens), who serves on the transportation board with Vacca, increased parking fees have the potential to hurt small businesses and residents.

“While small increases in taxes and fees don’t seem like a big deal to some people at City Hall, they add up quickly for residents,” Ulrich said. “These types of fiscal gimmicks are short-sighted and do little to address the city’s budget woes in the long run.”

Theodore Renz of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District said the business community is concerned that raised rates, as well as more parking tickets, would drive customers away from the commercial district.

“It’s a good idea to have some bylaw that if something is going to be increased, they hear from the people it’s going to impact,” he said.

Vacca and Reyna are drafting the legislation, and plan to introduce it as early as February.

No Tolerance for Graffiti Vandals

By Eric Yun

Two prolific vandals, responsible for much of the graffiti around neighborhoods in the 104th Precinct, were arrested last week. Matthew Young, 23, and Thomas Rank, 19, both from Glendale, have defaced their neighborhoods for years, police said.

The 104th Precinct has prioritized catching vandals, and in 2010, ranked second in the city with 174 graffiti-related arrests and charges. Only the 122nd Precinct of Staten Island had more with 215 arrests and charges.

Officers aren’t slowing down in the new year; there have already been 74 charges brought for graffiti in the 104th Precinct, which includes Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.

Lt. James Lombardi said the precinct officers have taken a strong initiative against the criminals that vandalized its neighborhoods. Of the 174 arrests in 2010, officers from the 104th made 162. The NYPD Anti-Graffiti Task force made the other arrests.

Lombardi explained how the precinct has taken charge of the graffiti problem. “We build cases, find the people responsible and charge them with every tag we’ve documented,” he said. This allows the police to send stronger cases to the District Attorney’s office, which leads to higher fines and possible prison time.

“We want to make sure they do some time,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi praised the work of officers Alison Potokin and Justin Dambinskas, who have worked diligently to find and arrest the vandals. They said the best way to help them do their job is to call 911 for graffiti acts in process and 311 to report graffiti sightings.

But catching the criminals is only one aspect of solving the graffiti problem. Cleaning up graffiti is also important. In the 104th Precinct, there were 800 police sponsored clean up events. The precinct works with local community groups to clean their neighborhoods. “Everyone joins together to help clean up,” Lombardi said.

This year the precinct is working with civic groups including Maspeth Town Hall and the Juniper Park Civic Association as well as local schools like I.S. 93 to clean the streets. The officers also urge residents and business owners to be proactive cleaning graffiti. Graffiti vandals won’t waste time retagging areas if they know it will be wiped clean, officers said.

Potokin said graffiti is not a harmless or victimless crime. Many of the vandals are associated with gang-like “crews” and fall into other criminal mischief. For example, Young had been previously arrested for public lewdness in Forest Park, and Rank was once arrested for domestic violence. The vandalism by Young and Rank have also cost the city thousands of dollars in damages including graffiti tagged on a police van by Young.

Officers will not slow down in 2011. Potokin said they will continue to build cases against vandals. The precinct is also working with the DA to push for harsher sentences against graffiti vandals. One way the community can keep vandals in prison is to write and call the DA and ask for strict punishments.

Matthew Young is currently being held on $10,000 bail, and Thomas Rank is being held on $9,000 bail.

Former Assemblyman Seminerio Dies in Prison

Former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, 75, passed away Thursday morning at a federal prison hospital in North Carolina.

Seminerio, who was convicted of fraud in February 2010, was serving a six-year sentence on corruption charges. He operated an illegal consulting firm where he received $1 million from individuals and companies doing business with the state.

Seminerio’s attorneys had asked for a home confinement sentence, and in August, he asked to be released from jail while his appeal was heard. Both requests were denied.

The politician represented the state’s 38th Assembly District for 30 years. He resigned in 2009 and was replaced by Mike Miller following a special election.

Following Seminerio’s death, Miller (D-Woodhaven) said Seminerio represented his district with “passion and dedication.”

“We should remember all of the good things that he has done for the community. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife and children,” Miller said.

Mixed News on 2010 Crime Stats in 104th Precinct

By Eric Yun

The crime rate increased in 104th Precinct in 2010, but police said they’ve made major strides in keeping neighborhoods safe.

The precinct’s Commanding Officer, Inspector Keith Green, and Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell held the year’s first COP 104 meeting to update Middle Village residents on crime statistics and prevention. The meeting was held at St. Margaret’s Church on Monday in conjunction with the Middle Village Property Owners.

Green reported preliminary statistics show there were 1,749 major crimes in 2010 compared to 1,725 in 2009, a 1.4 percent increase. Felony assaults (a 23 percent increase) and grand larceny autos (a 20.9 percent increase) were the biggest culprits for the rise in crime, and a concentrated effort to curtail robberies and burglaries by the 104th Precinct led to decreases in the area, Green said.

Green said preventing car thefts is a priority for the precinct, and they’ve worked hard with detectives and Queens North have helped reduced numbers. Thieves have caught up to newer model key designs and found ways to clone keys. With these methods, thieves can walk up to a car and start it like they own it, which makes it difficult to catch, he said.

Green warned residents that many robberies occur when valuables are left inside a car. The simplest solution is to take everything of value out of the car. Green recommended GPS users not use suction cups to secure their devices because the suction cup can leave a visible mark on the window that alerts thieves a GPS may be in the vehicle.

Another priority for the 104th Precinct was graffiti—they ranked second in the city in graffiti related arrests—and Green was happy to report they are already ranked first in the city in 2011.

Strong Showing for St. Saviour's Project

By Eric Yun

Hope still remains for additional funding for a public park at St. Saviour’s in Maspeth.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has agreed to fund at least one community project along the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The DEC selected the City Parks Foundation to hold public hearings and a vote to determine which projects the community favors.

Almost 700 people expressed their preferences in a vote on December 1 and 2. Among the 22 projects considered was a public park at St. Saviour’s on Rust Street and 58th Street.

Maspeth residents came out in force to vote for the park. Funding the park at the former church site came in fourth, behind improving the Dutch Kills Basin Acquisition in Brooklyn, wetlands rehabilitation that surround Newtown Creek and creating a Greenpoint Boathouse and Environmental Education Center.

The City Parks Foundation said the DEC has the final say as to which projects will get funding, and the department will not automatically pick the top vote getter. While the St. Saviour’s project was not number one, money could still be allocated to build a park.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Borough President Helen Marshall have been strong supporters of building a park at the site, and together have allocated $2 million for the project.

“The high turnout from Maspeth … proves how desperate this community is for more green space,” said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. “I am confident that the DEC will take into consideration the fact that our section of Newtown Creek is inaccessible for a number of reasons and will allocate a portion of the settlement money toward the St. Saviour’s project. But no matter what they decide, we remain motivated and will continue to work toward creation of a park at the site until it finally happens.”

City Slow to Plug Leak

By Eric Yun

Water continues to leak onto the street with a garbage pail situated over it, and business owners are frustrated that the water main break has been left unfixed for over a week.

The water main broke on Grand Avenue near Remsen Place on Thursday when work was being performed on a main on Perry Avenue.

Lou Bekios whose store Grand Florists is next to the leak said he was informed on Wednesday that the water would be shut off for construction work. The independent contractors were unable to shut off the water, and in the process, broke the water valve, Bekios said.

“By Monday morning I figured the work would be done,” he said. “I have tons of gallons falling on my curb. It’s a major inconvenience.”

Bekios has been calling 311 since Friday, but he has yet to get a solid response.

According to a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, water mains around Grand Avenue are being repaired as part of a capital project. They are aware of the leaking valve, and it is scheduled to be fixed by the end of the week or early next week.

“This is a disaster,” said community activist Tony Nunziato. “Queens is forgotten again.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

A full version of The Forum South is now posted online at

Meltdown! City Slow to Pick Up Trash Weeks After Storm

By Jason Barczy

Residents and politicians in Queens, and throughout the outer boroughs feel the city and Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed in its response to the Christmas Blizzard of 2010.

From a slow response time plowing city streets, delays on MTA buses and subways, and the evergrowing piles of trash in front of businesses and homes, the effects of the storm can still be seen nearly two weeks later.

“[Department of Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty] is telling us his men did a great job and would give them an A,” said Glendale resident Chris Maxham, whose street wasn’t cleared until the Thursday after the storm. “But most New Yorkers would probably give them an F.”

Councilman Dan Halloran (D-Whitestone) alleged in a New York Post report that Sanitation workers neglected streets in the outer boroughs to protest layoffs and staff reductions, and residents are now demanding answers.

District attorneys in Queens and Brooklyn and federal prosecutors are opening preliminary investigations into the allegations. Also, the City Council has called an oversight meeting on Monday, January 10, to question offi- cials, particularly Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and members of the Bloomberg administration, about the city’s response.

“I hope the deputy mayor will be in town to answer some pretty tough questions about why the city wasn’t prepared,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “This was his first real test and lives were lost and property was damaged.”

Response Time

The City Council announced it will hold a series of meetings, with next Monday’s meeting focusing on the response time. Critics questioned why certain measures weren’t taken prior to the storm and why a snow emergency was not declared by the mayor’s office.

“I think the city hesitated to do three important things,” Crowley said. “First, call a snow emergency. Second, get the sanitation workers into work and get the process started. Third, put the resources together to fight the storm. They should’ve started planning Christmas night.”

Questions linger as to who was in charge because Bloomberg refuses to say where he was over the Christmas weekend, while Goldsmith, who oversees sanitation and other emergency services, was in Washington D.C. Another deputy mayor, Howard Wolfson, was vacationing in London.

“You can focus on who was here, whether this was here,” Wolfson told NY1. “The bottom line is, we didn’t do the job... Had we done that, nobody would be asking questions about where the mayor was.”

In 2008, Bloomberg issued an executive order handing over power in his absence to his first deputy, which is currently Patricia Harris. Harris, and many others in City Hall, remains quiet about who was in charge as the storm approached.

“New Yorkers have serious questions about the City’s snow emergency policy and response,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “The collective storm response was not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to. This hearing acknowledges the reality that many New Yorkers are experiencing, that something went wrong.”

Monday’s meeting will be held at the Emigrants Savings Bank at 49-51 Chambers Street in Manhattan at 11 a.m. and will be the first of five held throughout the city.

“Nobody is going to get off easy,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “There’s going to be a lot of tough questions asked and a lot of information revealed. It didn’t just go wrong one day but a lot of mistakes were made before and after that day.”

Sanitation woes

The New York Post first reported that Department of Sanitation (DOS) workers deliberately slowed down the snow removal and neglected to plow streets in the outer boroughs in an effort to protest a 6 percent staff reduction in the past two years along with demotions for 100 supervisors.

The allegations include:

  • Sanitation supervisors in Brooklyn bought beer during the storm instead of working.
  • Streets in the outer boroughs were neg- lected by plow trucks to protest downsizing and wage cuts in the department.
  • Between 660 and 720 sanitation workers called in sick because of the blizzard, more than double the normal rate.
  • Sanitation bosses issued directives to plow the streets of certain city officials.
  • Plow trucks passed over streets with the plows raised, only clearing off a top portion of the snow.

The Department of Investigation (DOI) has said it is looking into the allegations. Meanwhile Halloran says three plow drivers claim they were told to leave many roads unplowed and skip streets that were not on their routes.

“This is what happens when Bloomberg has his minions do for him and not everybody else,” said Middle Village resident who identified herself as Jennifer C. “This is New York and we’re supposed to have access to everything so why wasn’t it done? I don’t blame Sanitation, if the city would’ve done what it was supposed to it wouldn’t have been what it is.”

She said her street wasn’t cleared until the Thursday after the storm and her car’s transmission now needs to be fixed after attempting to drive it in the snow, which, according to her, will cost upwards of $1,000.

Residents are also upset knowing Manhattan was given preference in the plowing process while Queens and the outer boroughs suffered.

“Manhattan and probably the fancier areas of Queens were definitely plowed first,” said South Ozone Park resident Albert Pfisper. He added that his street, Linden Boulevard, wasn’t plowed until Thursday, December 30.

According to the New York Daily News, Sanitation Department records show that by 4 a.m. Monday, December 27, all of Manhat- tan's primary streets and 92 percent of its secondary streets had been plowed at least once. The same records show in western Queens, all primary streets were plowed by 4 a.m. Tuesday, December 28, but just 47 percent of secondary streets had been plowed.

“Throughout the district I represent snow removal was not done efficiently,” Crowley said. “The situation was not unique to any one neighborhood, it was everywhere outside of Manhattan.”

Ulrich said New Yorkers want someone to blame and shouldn’t be pointing the finger at sanitation workers.

“The city is looking for a bad guy,” Ulrich said. “I do not believe for a second that the city was effectively shutdown because angry supervisors were laid off. It did not happen across the board. It wasn’t a citywide slowdown that brought the city to a screeching halt. I am not prepared to let [the Bloomberg administration] off the hook for their decisions.”

Garbage piling up

Trash has not been collected in many areas throughout Queens for nearly two weeks since before the storm and can be seen piling up on city streets.

The DOS resumed garbage collection on Monday and Mayor Bloomberg said he expects all the trash to be picked up within three to four days; however, recyclables will not be collected until further notice.

“They should have started picking up garbage on Saturday (January 1),” Crowley said. “All the major streets were plowed by then. It’s uncomfortable and smelly and it’s becoming a public health concern.”

While trash is being cleared from streets such as Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard and Crossbay Boulevard, there are still many where garbage is piling up such as Metropolitan Avenue, Myrtle Avenue and Liberty Avenue.

Mountains of trash and recyclables are rising above cars at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard near the A Train stop.

“It’s in the way and I’m running out of space in my garbage can,” Pfisper said. “They’re not picking up Tuesday and there’s two weeks of recyclables we have, which will probably not be picked up until next Tuesday.

Mayor Bloomberg did back off of statements he made that the storm wasn’t the end of the world and acknowledges the city should have been better prepared.

“We did not do as good a job as we wanted to or as the city had the right to expect,”
Bloomberg said from a hardware store in Hunts Point, Bronx on December 29. “And there is no question we are an administration built on accountability. When something works, we take credit for it. When it doesn’t, we stand up and say, ‘Okay, we did it, and we will try to find out what went wrong and then make that information public.’ I cannot tell you for sure why it was a lot worse this time than the other times.”

Feds Begin Probe of Disastrous CityTime Project

By Eric Yun

CityTime was already in hot water as the $63 million project ballooned to more than $700 million, and that was before federal prosecutors charged four men working on the project with stealing $80 million from the city.

The Office of Payroll Administration (OPA) began CityTime in 1998 to develop an automated timekeeping system. City officials said the new system would ensure employees would get paid more accurately, efficiently and securely.

As early as 2004, the expected completion year, there were concerns about the rising cost of the program. In 2008, Councilman, Joe Addabbo, now a state Senator, held hearings on the project. Also, Daily News’ reporter Juan Gonzalez revealed that a whistleblower sent a letter describing possible fraud to the city Department of Investigation (DOI), but the whistleblower claimed the letter was ignored.

In 2010, investigators from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office and DOI found evidence of foul play. Working from a position of authority, prosecutors said Mark Mazer, hired as a consultant to conduct quality assurance on the CityTime project in 2001, approved contracts for consulting firms run by Dmitry Aronshtein, who prosecutors believe is related to Mazer, and Victor Natanzon.

The two firms were paid over $75 million, and prosecutors say at least $24.5 million was kicked back to shell companies linked to Mazer.

He also allegedly developed a scheme to hide his illicit dealings, including routing funds to shell companies and corporations controlled by family members, submitting false vendex forms to the city and telling others in the project that he discovered the firms run by Aronshtein and Natanzon through casual conversations.

Prosecutors also said the three men and a fourth conspirator, Scott Berger, generated and approved fraudulent timesheets for consultants at the suspect firms. The falsified timesheets are estimated to have cost the city over $200,000.

The four men were charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Mazer, Aronshtein and Natanzon were also charged with conspiring to launder the proceeds of the fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the laundered funds. Mazer’s wife, Svetlana Mazer, and his mother, Larisa Medzon, also face the second charge.

“Mark Mazer and his cohorts allegedly used the city as their own personal cash cow,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “In an ironic twist, funding for CityTime, a project intended to prevent payroll waste, fraud and abuse, was itself al- legedly bilked in part by fraudulent timekeeping.”

Since the allegations surfaced on December 15, the fallout has been swift. Joel Bondy, OPA’s Executive Director, resigned on December 23 after Mayor Michael Bloomberg suspended him without pay.

Federal prosecutors also subpoenaed the records of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the lead contractor on the project, which subcontracted the fraudulent consulting firms. Federal prosecutors have not charged SAIC with wrongdoing but want to investigate if large sums of money could be stolen without notice, according to the New York Daily News.

Bloomberg, who supported the CityTime project as expenses continued to rise, finally admitted the program was a “disaster” in March. In response to the criminal allegations, he said, “Any vi- olation of the public’s trust is categorically unacceptable and we are implementing a series of changes to reform oversight of the CityTime project.”

Reforms include appointing Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and Comptroller John Liu to direct oversight of the project. The Mayor also promised he would work with federal investigators to conduct a thorough audit to recoup the taxpayer dollars that were stolen.

Still, CityTime comes as a blow for Bloomberg, who for years campaigned as a strong fiscal and business leader. On his weekly radio show he said that the $80 million simply “slipped through the cracks.”

Politicians were not pleased that Bloomberg was asleep at the wheel.

“I wonder what we could have done with the millions of dollars wasted if the Mayor’s administration had only realized it back in 2005, when we first raised the issue about CityTime, and possibly could have prevented hurting employees, making education cuts and closing firehouses,” said Addabbo.