Thursday, February 24, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Beloved Howard Beach Religious Leader Passes

The Forum Newsgroup wishes to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Pastor Werner Kordon of the Howard Beach Assembly of God, on his passing. Pastor Kordon first came to Howard Beach in 1953 and began the Full Gospel Assembly on 99th Street and 158th Avenue. He and his wife Mabel, faithfully served the community for more than 50 years before retiring to Florida where he passed away on Monday. As The Forum goes to press arrangements for prayer services and burial have not yet been confirmed. Please call the Howard Beach Assembly of God for more information at 718.641.6785 or check The Forum online for updates at Please remember to pick up next week’s issue when we will feature an article about Pastor Kordon which will be written by his daughter Lois Griepp.

Stepping Up to the Plate for a Teammate in Need

By Eric Yun

On January 19, 12-year-old Jesse Iacovetta was home alone when his home in Bayside accidently caught fire. His hero that day was firefighter Antonio Velez of Engine 320, who heard the boy’s screams and rushed into the burning house to save him.

Jesse is slowly recovering, and his teammates from the Forest Hills Little League are making sure he gets all the support he needs. They’ve already taken steps to help where they could.

Step one: a brand new iPod Touch to replace the one burned in the fire. Step two: a check for $5,000 to help pay for medical bills.

After hearing about the accident, parents of teammates Yolanda Vega and Jamie Haberstumpf knew they had to help. “When I learned how deeply Jesse was burned, I broke down. This could happen to my son,” Vega said.

The two women started a campaign to raise funds for Jesse’s medical bills, teaming up with Larry Berkowitz, the executive director of the league, to create a fund for Jesse’s medical bills. Berkowitz said most kids start playing in the league when they’re four years old and continue until they are twelve. “We watch them grow up, and we become a family. When something like this happens, it hurts us all,” Berkowitz said.

A “Team Jesse” t-shirt was produced with proceeds going towards the fund. Other fundraising efforts such as bake sales were also coordinated. What started out as an effort between parents of Jesse’s teammates slowly involved the whole community. Vega said local schools, synagogues and churches all started to help once they found out about the fund.

Medical bills are astronomical, but money was not the only thing needed to help the family. Personal belongings that weren’t de- stroyed in the fire were stolen, including $5,000 worth of jewelery, while Jesse’s father stayed with his son at the hospital. In response, the community began donating fur- niture and other necessities—Jesse is now the proud owner of a queen sized bed.

There is a long road of rehabilitation ahead. For now Jesse has to wear special protective gloves and sleeves for most of the day. But on Monday, Jesse was reminded he has a great support system when his teammates visited for the first time and presented their gifts.

Jesse’s father, Billy Iacovetta, was touched by the support he received. “It was amazing. I never heard of a community coming together to help someone out like this,” he said. “The love and support we received was overwhelming. How do you show your gratitude after something like this?”

Billy Iacovetta is hopeful that Jesse’s drive, hard work in rehab and athletic ability, which includes a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo, will get him back to center field for the Bombers on opening day, April 9.

And that would be more than enough thanks for the community.

Haberstumpf stressed the fundraising efforts are not over, and more help is desperately needed. To purchase a “Team Jesse” t-shirt or for more information about helping Jesse, contact Jamie Haberstumpf at

Donations can be sent to the Forest Hills Little League, Attention: Jesse Iacovetta Fund, 66-01 Fleet Street, Forest Hills, NY 11375.

From Howard Beach to Hollywood: Chasing the Dream

By Patricia Adams

Over the last few months, more than 125,000 people brought their talents and dreams to American Idol auditions in seven cities across the country. They carried with them the same hope—to be chosen as a contestant for this year’s season of the hit Fox television show.

Within a few short weeks of nationwide auditions, the numbers were drastically reduced. Only 327 contestants were informed by the judges that they were “Going to Hollywood” to compete in the show’s famed Hollywood week.

The remaining hopefuls were dropped with successive elimination rounds in Hollywood. From 327, the number was reduced to 60, and then to 40. Now unofficial reports and blogs listing the final 24 contestants have been published, and the official results will be aired this week.

And so after Thursday night when the announcement is made and the fanfare is over, still standing on the stage—having been chosen over the 124,976 singers that went home—will be a 22-year-old wedding singer from Howard Beach: Pia Toscano.

Despite her young age, the quiet and unassuming singer has already been engaging audiences for the last 18 years. “We have video of Pia when she was four,” proud father Pat Toscano said. “She was singing Whitney Houston.”

Toscano admits that the fervor to support his daughter’s career is somewhat fueled by the musical aspirations he had at her age, which he was forced to set aside because of familial obligations. “I had to get a job that paid,” he laughs. “My father didn’t quite see the merit of my band.”

But Pia knows nothing about fighting for parental support in the quest for singing stardom; Toscano and wife Jane are arguably at the top of Pia’s support system, along with her sister Kim, a timpanist for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

“Her heart is more beautiful than anything,” Jane Toscano says of her daughter. “Pia loves people and has so much to offer as a role model for younger kids.” Such high praise from a mother is expected, but many others around Howard Beach, where Pia grew up, share similar sentiments.

Starting with fellow Howard Beach resident Phyllis Inserillo, who was Pia’s religion teacher at St. Helen’s when Pia was a teen, it seems her mother is right—everyone loves Pia.

“She owes me everything,” Inserillo joked. “She was 14 when I gave her a start singing at my wedding.” Inserillo went on to tell The Forum how she learned of Pia’s voice. “We [our class] had taken a trip to a local firehouse right after 9/11 to bring some home baked goods and cards for the fireman.” At the firehouse, one of Pia’s classmates suggested she sing. “After I got beyond the shock that such a huge voice was coming out of a tiny little body, I was an instant fan. I knew Pia was special,” recalled Inserillo. Everyone in the crowd, moved to tears by Pia’s stirring rendition of God Bless America, was in agreement with Inserillo.

For Pia, it was just the beginning of appearances throughout the community, always giving her time to charity events and helping whenever asked. Over the years it has not only been her voice that has attracted such loyalty, it’s also been the humble and warm personality that goes along with the tremendous talent. Sadly, her number one fan is not here to share the excitement. Grandpa Jay, whom Pia refers to as her hero, passed away a few years ago. “From the time Pia could talk, all she wanted to do was call her Nana to say she was coming over to be with Grandpa Jay,” her mother said. “Their birthdays were one day apart and they were inseparable. I’ve never seen a relationship like that before.”

In fact, Jane says when she was pregnant with Pia her father would accompany her to every doctor’s appointment. “He would look at the sonograms and say—‘I think she looks like me.’” And according to all who knew them it isn’t only looks Pia shared with Grandpa Jay—it’s a kind and loving nature.

Back in 2006 as an Idol contestant, when Jay’s health was failing, Pia was devastated because she didn’t make the cut after Hollywood week. “She wanted to give him his dream; he wanted to see her name in lights,” said Jane Toscano. “But my father was a patient man. He’s watching all of this right now and believe me, he couldn’t be happier.”

Grandpa Jay is now joined by the rest of America, especially Howard Beach, waiting to see how far the little girl with the big voice—and the bigger heart—will rise in the ranks of America’s most prominent talent competition.

The Forum will continue its coverage on this amazing journey every week with “Idol Watch— How’s Pia Doing?” Please join us and if you have something you’d like to tell us about Pia or just wish her well, contact us by e-mail at or fax at (718) 738-7645.

State Cuts Blamed for City's Budget Sorrows

By David J. Harvey

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has received the typical lashing from labor leaders, teachers, fire fighters and police since releasing his proposed 2012 budget. Bloomberg, in his defense, has lashed out at the Governor’s office for shortchanging the city.

The proposed $65.6 billion budget, released February 17, includes cutting fire and police departments, while putting thousands of teachers out of work.

In the budget, Bloomberg largely blamed the State’s fiscal irresponsibility for worsening financial conditions in the city.

“Our sound management will help avoid the worst impacts of State cuts, but we can’t compensate for the full loss in State funding,” Bloomberg said. “We’re ready to do our part to help the State, but we don’t deserve to be penalized for our responsible actions. If the State does not come through, layoffs and service cuts will be more severe.”

Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) said the cuts go too far, threatening public safety and forcing the FDNY to “roll the dice” on fire response.

"The State is being unfair in its distribution of funding to the City but it is the Mayor who decides what to cut and what to keep,” Crowley said. “At a time when the City has dumped billions of dollars into a failed 911-system upgrade—and will spend millions more to have NASA try to fix it—the Mayor is reducing FDNY staffing and proposing to close 20 fire companies. Simply put, it doesn’t matter how fancy our 911-system is if there’s no one at the firehouse to answer your emergency call.”

With firehouse closures on the horizon, Crowley sees a smoke signal for disaster.

“As we can see from the deadly fire in Brooklyn last Saturday, closing companies at a time when our fire services are responding to more emergencies than ever before will jeopardize the lives of New Yorkers," she said.

Police stations are also feeling the cut of budget reductions. The 104th Precinct requested consideration in the budget for additional patrol officers—the station is down to less than 130 patrol officers from their optimal 200. While the request is unlikely to be approved, the station did receive one of the city’s deeper financial cuts. Nearly $1.2 million was cut from the already svelte precinct.

Despite the “belt-tightening” Bloomberg has touted for years, several indicators of New York City’s prosperity were highlighted in the budget proposal, from the city’s solid housing market (compared to other major cities) to the record 48.7 million visitors last year. The report also shows that the city has a reserve surplus of $3.2 billion heading into 2012.

The city’s reserve surplus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week, could be used to stave off teacher layoffs. Bloomberg responded by saying, "The governor’s office is not an expert on the city.

“We have put an extra $2.1 billion this year into education, at the same time other levels of government are cutting back the amount of money they’re putting into education. I think we would have a little more credibility in speaking about what we can afford," Bloomberg added.

Under the proposed budget, the city’s revenue will increase 5.6 percent. However, expenses—including an increase of $1.86 billion to fund the Department of Educa- tion—were projected to increase 11.5 percent to $49.9 billion, leaving a deficit of $4.6 billion. Without significant cuts, this would pull the city out of surplus and into debt in 2012.

The budget calls for the $1.86 billion in DOE funding in response to state-level cuts of $1.4 billion to the city for education and the loss of $850 million in federal funding dedicated to teacher salaries.

Bloomberg’s budget proposal highlights the decade’s rise in education spending, from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $13.6 billion in 2012. In 2002, non-federal state and city spending on education were equal, according to the budget. In 2012, the report said, city spending will make up 62 percent of non-federal funding and state spending will only account for 38 percent of non-federal spending.

The 2012 budget calls more than 6,000 teachers will lose their jobs, nearly 1,500 through attrition and roughly 4,500 layoffs.

Bloomberg said that before layoffs start, the State needs to approve city changes to the “Last-In-First-Out” policy so qualified teach- ers can remain despite any lack of seniority.
Crowley said the mechanism for eliminating bad teachers and retaining talented ones already exists.

"State budgets cuts to the City do not justify any teacher lay offs—the Governor made this point clear,” Crowley said. "Rather than playing the blame game through the media, the Mayor needs to work with all parties involved."

Meanwhile, the teachers union has launched a $1 million ad campaign that harps on Bloomberg for cutting teachers while leaving a “millionaire tax” out of the budget.

New Laws Aim for Transparency and Clean Air

By David J. Harvey

The city’s air is about to be a little fresher. With a blot of ink and a flick of the wrist, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the extension of the smoking ban to city parks and beaches official. As of February 22, smokers had a little less city space for their butts.

"Frederic Law Olmstead hailed public parks as the 'lungs of the City'—a haven where one could escape the overcrowded, noisy, and polluted streets,” Bloomberg said. “We need to en- sure that our public spaces provide just that - a healthy place in which to relax and enjoy the surroundings.”

New York passed the city’s first Smoke Free Air Act in 1988, and amended it three times. In 2002, smoking was banned in indoor public areas. The city has also banned the sale of flavored tobacco and the Department of Health launched annual smoking cessation programs.

"Because of our combined efforts over the last nine years, there are 350,000 fewer people who smoke and New Yorkers are living nineteen months longer than they did in 2002,” Bloomberg said. “But there is still work to be done.”

There are still 950,000 adult smokers and 18,000 teenage smokers in New York City, according to Bloomberg. Additionally, cigarette-related litter accounts for 75 percent of all litter on beaches and 33 percent of all litter in parks, he said.

Not everyone in the city is praising the ban. When City Council approved the bill, the vote was 36-12. Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was among the dissenters.

“While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, it is nothing more than another example of government intruding into the private lives of New Yorkers,” Ulrich said in a statement after the vote. “Whether we like it or not smokers pay taxes and they have rights too. We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re infringing on the rights and freedoms of everyday residents who are not breaking the law.”

Along with possibly infringing on rights, the law seems difficult to enforce—it’s not a police matter. The smoking ban will be enforced by Parks Department Enforcement Police, which works well at the beach but becomes problematic in public squares and pedestrian places where the Parks Department doesn’t patrol.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg expressed optimism about the impact of this bill.

“If we can protect our children from the dangers of smoking, we can raise an entire generation of New Yorkers who are free from the dangers of nicotine addiction,” he said.

The mayor also signed three other bills into law, all aiming to increase road safety. Two bills require the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the police to post vehicle and bi- cycle accident information, while the fourth requires the DOT, upon request, to provide City Council and Community Boards with an explanation when a request for a traffic signal or multiway stop sign was denied.

The police will be required to publish information relating to traffic crashes, traffic-related fatalities and injuries and moving violations issued. The DOT will be required to update its pedestrian safety report every five years and publish bicycle related accidents.

The city only recently began keeping statistics on bicycle related traffic accidents; the first round of data will be published late this year. With mandatory traffic info published online by both the DOT and police, city officials are trying to increase transparency in the city’s transportation network.

MTA Looks to Maspeth for New Depot Site

By Eric Yun

A fight by residents in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to push the MTA out of the community could have a negative outcome for Maspeth.

The Brooklyn Paper reported last week that political rivals Councilman Steve Levin (D- Greenpoint) and Greenpoint district leader Lincoln Restler were both pressuring the MTA to abandon its Access-a-Ride depot at 65 Commercial Street. In 2005, the city agreed to build parkland at the site, but in the following six years, the MTA has yet to obtain a new property to store Access-a-Ride vehicles.

Now, the MTA is considering a site in Maspeth to relocate the Acess-a-Ride depot. According to MTA spokesman Aaron Dono- van, the proposed site is on the east side of 49th Street, between 56th Road and Galasso Place.

“We’re working with the Mayor’s Office, which has agreed to make the site ready for use as a depot,” Donovan said in an e-mail.

For a community that already feels overburdened by commercial traffic, the proposed site is worrisome.

“We have enough truck and vehicular traffic in our community now,” said Roe Daraio,
president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET). “COMET is looking to green our neighborhoods—not add more pollution.”

Maspeth, like Greenpoint, has been fighting for more public parkland. Residents have fought an ongoing battle to convert the former St. Saviour’s property into a park. The community also deals with constant traffic congestion.

The Cross Harbor Freight Program could create more truck traffic in that area if the proposal goes through, and the expansion of Waste Management’s Review Avenue site will bring more garbage trucks through the neighborhood. The MTA also already has an Access-a-Ride depot on Maurice Avenue.

“As far as I’m concerned, if Brooklyn wants to create a park at Access-a-Ride’s present location, then an alternate site should be found in Brooklyn,” Daraio said.

The MTA is also looking at an alternate site in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Burglars Hit Lindenwood: Two Apartment Buildings Targeted

Burglaries continue to plague Lindenwood residents, the two most recent incidents occurring late last week. Residents at the Southgate Apartments, located at 149-30 88th Street, say they observed a suspicious Hispanic male, approximately 5’8”, in his late 20’s around the building before leaving for work on Friday morning. Upon their return home, they discovered their apartment had been broken into. Police say that the burglar entered the premises from a fire escape. Among the missing items were a 32” flat screen TV, a computer system with a monitor and an X box game console.

An additional burglary was also reported last week at the Eastwood Apartments located at 89th Street and 155th Avenue. It is believed the suspects entered the apartment building using keys for the front door and then again at the apartment door because there were no signs of forced entry. An undisclosed amount of cash and jewelry was stolen from the apartment. Residents who spoke with The Forum and wished to remain anonymous said they believed the incident to be an “inside job.”

In total, police sources at the 106th Precinct confirmed that there were six separate burglaries in Lindenwood between January 15th and February 11th. Two of the incidents occurred at private homes and four were committed in apartment buildings in the area.

“We realize that the police are doing everything they can,” said Joann Ariola, co-founder of the newly formed Lindenwood Alliance, “but we have to do everything in our power to assist them with their investigation thorough observation and accurate reporting.”

Ariola said it is the intention of the Alliance to foster improved communications with the 106th Precinct and make residents more aware of things they can do to safeguard themselves and their property. To that end, the Alliance will have a host of guest speakers at their next meeting.

Expected to address Lindenwood residents are Claudia Filomena, Queens Director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit and Capt. Thomas Pascale, Commanding Officer of the 106th Precinct. Also on hand will be Agent James Capozzi, a representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who will speak with residents about InfraGuard, a national program dedicated to sharing information and intelligence in order to combat terrorism in the United States. The group is a non-profit organization that is a public-private partnership between U.S. businesses and the F.B.I. InfraGuard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants.

The meeting will be held on March 14th at 7: 30 p.m. at the Rockwood Park Jewish center located at 156-45 84th Street with an entrance on 85th Street between 156th and 157th avenues. All residents are encouraged to attend.

New Strategy in Search for Carousel Operator

By David J. Harvey

The wheels are turning to get the shuttered Forest Park carousel open after more than two years without an operator. The Parks Department is drafting request for proposals that would link the historic carousel with another in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The request—expected to be released next month—will allow the new concessionaire running the carousel in Forest Park to run the traditionally more profitable carousel in Flushing Meadows near the Queens Zoo when the current vendor’s contract expires in 2012.

Two prior requests for a Forest Park carousel operator in January and March 2009 went unanswered until 2010, and even then Parks was unable to close the bid with their highest-rated applicant.

“We hope this offer will be more attractive to prospective bidders and result in a first-class operation for the public to enjoy,” Parks Department Spokesperson Patricia Bertuccio said.

Ed Wendell of the Woodhaven Resident’s Block Association (WRBA), who runs a Facebook page dedicated to the revival of the Forest Park carousel, welcomed the new proposal.

“People have been frustrated with [Parks] lack of creativity,” Wendell said. “I like this idea. From what I hear, they’re not real happy with the current vendor [at Flushing Meadows].”

New York One LLC, which operates the Flushing Meadows carousel, let its Forest Park contract lapse in 2008 and that carousel was closed.

A member of New York One LLC, and president of the Makkos Group, George Makkos, said he was unaware of the Parks Department plan to link the two carousels until he read a February 9 article in The Daily News. He said New York One LLC would make no decision on whether to bid on the offer until the request is released.

Meanwhile, the Forest Park carousel remains barbed and locked, sending “a depressing message,” said Wendell. “It’s been three consecutive years that it has been rotting and rusting.”

The park’s original carousel burnt down in 1966, and despite city assurances that it would be restored quickly, it wasn’t until 1972 that the carousel was installed, brought south from its home in Massachusetts. The carousel has elaborate wooden figures carved over 100 years ago by artist Daniel Carl Muller. The day it opened, the park was filled with police—crime in the park had become rampant. The park was slowly cleaned up and in 1989, after years of wear, the city contracted artist Marvin Sylvor to give the horses, unicorns and occasional tiger a makeover.

Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey said she doesn’t know much about the Parks Department’s anticipated proposal but is eager for a qualified vendor to take over the carousel—a priority for CB9 since the early 1980s.

Carey said that thoughtful management and advertising could make the Forest Park attraction more profitable than the one in Flushing Meadows, because unlike Flushing Meadows, Forest Park is full of lush greenery through spring and summer. Additionally, she said, the recent renovation of the Forest Park band shell will increase traffic in the park.

“Everybody wants to see it operating and see someone who can maintain it that has an imagination and some talent in drawing people in,” Carey said. “We need to do something unique.”
“Maybe somebody needs to talk to Donald Trump,” she added with a laugh.

State Reports Show Area Schools Still Struggling

By David J. Harvey

Several Queens schools failed to make the grade at the beginning of this year when the New York State Education Department (NYSED) recently conducted evaluations in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). The reports, released on February 11, show that many schools are still struggling to get ahead of their students’ educational needs—and some are falling further behind.

The NYSED/NYCDOE Joint Intervention Team Report and Recommendations focus on several variables, including curriculum, teaching, leadership, professional development and district support.
The evaluations are sometimes terse and biting. At the end of each report is a space for the evaluators to include specific information that could support a recommendation for action from the District.

In the report on John Adams High School in Ozone Park, the evaluator wrote simply, “The Principal has not demonstrated instructional leadership and has not provided teachers with appropriate feedback or [professional development]. The pervasive nature of this lack of leadership has led to systemic failure.”

The report had previously noted that although staff provided substantial data on the school, neither the Principal nor the staff could identify causes for persistent under-achievement or a plan to address the deficiency.

John Adams High School has also seen a rise in “subgroups” performing worse than “all students”—minorities are performing worse academically than previous years, while the school as a whole is performing better.

John Adams principal Grace Zwillenberg told The Forum she could not comment without approval from the NYCDOE. Its press office did not return an interview request by deadline.

Along with John Adams, Richmond Hill High School and Grover Cleveland High School also continued to be ranked among the city’s lowest-performers. Grover Cleveland, it was noted, has actually improved, just not enough.

Despite the continued failure of these schools to meet minimum state educational and structural requirements, the evaluators did not explicitly recommend closing or “reorganizing” the schools.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo released a statement expressing mixed feelings on Tuesday.

“While I am concerned about the conditions mentioned in the report regarding the area high schools, I am pleased that the [evaluators have] recommended to keep the schools open,” he said. “I intend to work with the DOE to ensure that the best education possible is provided for the young students and their families. It is time to move ahead and work together to help these students achieve success.”

While the problems of the three schools vary in stark degrees, there was one section of
each report that nearly mirrored the others— there is little evidence of district support for these schools.

Federal Funds Requested for Blizzard Cleanup

By Eric Yun

The December 26 blizzard was more than just a nuisance. It could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The State Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) surveyed the area and found close to $30 million in damage and cleanup costs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested federal assistance from FEMA due to the December storms, but President Barack Obama must approve the request before any federal funds reach the state.
New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are requesting that President Obama quickly approve the funds. In a letter written to the President and Craig Fugate of FEMA, the senators stated, “Federal assistance is absolutely critical to helping New York State recover, and I respectfully urge your expeditious approval of this request.”

Besides the record snow amount, Schumer and Gillibrand noted the intense winds, ranging from 30 to 50 miles per hour, downed trees and eroded beaches. The conditions also created massive disruptions to the state and city’s transportation services.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) also said funding was necessary for the area.
“New Yorkers suffered enough during the holiday storm that left the streets of Brooklyn and Queens looking more like Siberia—they shouldn’t be forced to suffer again by footing the bill for the cleanup and recovery,” Weiner said. “President Obama should approve Governor Cuomo’s disaster declaration request as soon as possible.”

Parents Weary of DOE Co-Location Plan

By David J. Harvey

Parents and politicians gathered in the auditorium of the Queens Metropolitan Expe- ditionary Learning School (MELS) on February 9 to offer public opinion on a city Department of Education (DOE) plan that many said was a “done deal.”

The DOE proposed “co-locating” the inaugural class of the new Maspeth high school in the MELS building for the 2011-2012 school year. The building, known as Metro Campus, also houses the Metropolitan High School and a special education school.

The Panel for Education Policy is expected to vote on the proposal on March 1. If approved, the freshman class of the Maspeth high school would begin a year early—the school’s own building at 54-40 74th Street won’t be complete until 2012—and students would be co-located at MELS.
The public hearing was mandated by law, and there was a sense in the room that the plan was moving forward despite opposition.

“We could have this auditorium filled, and everyone can say their piece and it’s still going to happen,” Community Education Council District 28 member Kathryn Thome said.

At the meeting, community representatives spoke briefly, often through prepared statement, before opening the floor to public comment. Some speakers, like CEC 28 Vice President Emily Ades, received roars of applause from the more than 100 attendees.

Ades read a statement on behalf of CEC 28, which said: “It is our belief that the long term goal of excellence in the three schools currently housed here at the Metro Campus will be compromised for the short term goal of opening Maspeth high school one year earlier. The incubation is not in the best interest of the children, families and community.”

The public comment period lasted more than two hours and speakers expressed concerns of bullying—delivered quietly by MELS students Kierra and Sasha, the meeting’s first public speakers—and concerns that the DOE had already made a decision.

While the town hall meeting was scheduled to record public opinion prior to a vote, some parents said that the Maspeth high school was included as a choice on the high school application in the MELS building was evidence that a decision was made.

But according to DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, schools that are still awaiting votes get included on the high school applications every year, because high school selections must be submitted this month—before the vote on Maspeth High School’s placement.

“It was included in the list because we need to give parents adequate time to choose a school,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said. “The vote is on placement, not whether the school will open.”

Several speakers were also concerned about student’s health and safety, complaining about the lack of operational cameras and missing doorknobs, understaffing of security guards and the fact that the school has only one nurse for nearly 700 current students. At capacity, the building will house almost 2,000 students.

MELS opened this year with grades six and seven, and will eventually serve grades six through 12. Next year, with the inclusion of the Maspeth high school, students would still occupy less than two-thirds of the building’s capacity. Despite the empty space, many parents were concerned that the new Maspeth high school’s own building would be incomplete next year, and they would find themselves overcrowded in the 2012-2013 year.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who serves as the Queens representative on the Panel on Education Policy, sat silently in the front of the auditorium for much of the meeting. Outside, away from still jeering parents, he said that in his three years on the panel, every proposed school building has opened as scheduled. He said he was concerned to hear about the Metro Center’s existing problems and he planned to report what parents had been saying about the buildings faults.

On the topic of co-location he said that “the school being imposed on is always going to take offence, they feel like they’re losing property and resources. But we ... have an enormous need for seats in Queens. This is an opportunity to serve 200 children.”

“I would not support this if it was for more than one year.” Fedkowskyj added. “We don’t want to impact other students. Based on the educational impact statement, based on the seat capacity in this building, there seems to be sufficient space.”

At the tail end of the public comment section, a supporter and founder of the Maspeth high school spoke on behalf of the students who would be residing in the Metro Center for the next year. She said that the students face overcrowding elsewhere, and that each parent would support the co-location if they were on the other side.

CEC 24 President Nick Comiani was one of few speakers other than the DOE repre- sentatives that expressed approval for the co-location, adding that CEC 24 had voted to support the proposal.
“I’m in favor of the school coming in if it’s done right,” he said. “This school is growing, they’re teaching a certain curriculum and it’s important not to let one school interfere with the other, but you have enough room for one year to give these kids one floor and a different administration.”

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D- Forest Hills), who attended the meeting, drafted a letter to Chancellor Cathleen Black asking for a written statement form the DOE that the co-location will last only one year. Council members Elizabeth Crowley, Andrew Havesi and Mike Miller co-signed the letter.

Community Board 5, which held a meeting the same night, agreed to draft a letter in favor of the co-location as their last order of business. Fedkowskyj, a Board member, voted in favor of the resolution.

MELS Co-Directors Pat Finley and Damon McCord said that while they are prepared for the new school to join them next year—and joked that they are prepared for everything—they insisted on not mak- ing any judgments on whether the co-location was positive or negative.

“Our opinion is less important than what was expressed tonight,” said McCord. “The leadership is just one tiny part, the people it really affects are parents, students and teachers.”

Forest Park Senior Center in Danger

By Eric Yun

Forest Park Senior Center, which has been a staple in Woodhaven for 31 years, is facing a budget shortfall that may lead to closing the center this July, said Executive Director Donna Marie Caltabiano.

“To survive a whole year without funding is not going to happen,” Caltabiano said. Forest Park Senior Center survives solely through discretionary funding, and as the state and city continue to cut services to bridge their budget deficits, senior centers like Caltabiano’s are in a perilous situation.

Last year, after a contentious state budget fight, Governor David Paterson vetoed the legislature’s member items last July. This left Caltabiano, who depends on funds from Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), with a significant amount of her funds missing for this year.

And the city funds are beginning to decrease as well. Caltabiano said the Borough President’s office has indicated they could not fund the center, and discretionary funds from City Council Members like Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) have decreased.
The center was originally founded by the late Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, and he made sure he got the necessary funds, Caltabiano said. Now, she feels the center has been neglected.

“We’ve been a viable organization for 31 years, but now we feel slighted. We’re being let down by our elected officials,” Caltabiano said.

The state legislators understand Forest Park Senior Center’s troubles and is doing what they can to help.

“We’re fighting for member items,” said Miller, who replaced Seminerio in 2009. “Seniors are important to me, and I don’t want any centers closing.”

Member items, sometimes derided as pork spending, are critical to the district, Miller said. “They fund our senior centers, our after school programs, our veterans and other community improvements,” he continued.

Miller is also fighting to have Title 20 money—discretionary funds given to New York City historically used for senior centers and initiatives—remain dedicated to seniors. Governor Andrew Cuomo has hinted that Title 20 money would not fund seniors this year, Miller said.

In the State Senate, Addabbo will be fighting alongside Miller for member items and Title 20 money.

“I share [Donna Marie Caltabiano’s] con- cern. If we’re not given the opportunity to get member items to centers that need it, not only Donna’s but other centers are in danger,” Addabbo said.

There are several ways Addabbo says can be used to fund senior centers, like the one at Forest Park, without raising taxes and fees for the middle class. First, Addabbo said the state finance department has done a poor job getting allocated funds sent to the center.

According to Caltabiano, the $65,000 the senior center was allocated in last year’s budget still hasn’t arrived.

Another proposal from Addabbo is to aggressively collect money owed to the state in the form of back taxes, liens and violations. Addabbo said there are “hundreds of millions, maybe billions” owed to the state, and at least aggressively collecting the principal could help the budget.

“Our seniors have seen centers closed, their meals cut and have not had their Social Security COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] raised. How much more can we hurt them?” Addabbo asked.

Over the next few weeks, Miller and Addabbo promised to fight to get the funding they needed to help resident seniors and other community groups.

Forest Park Senior Center has faced budget problems before, but Caltabiano fears her center is in serious trouble. “This year feels like this is it,” she said.

Maspeth Truck Routes Slowly Undergoing Changes

By Eric Yun

“This should have happened ten years ago,” Tony Nunziato, Maspeth resident and activist, said about trucks rumbling through residential areas and clogging streets as they cut through Maspeth to avoid the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the Long Island Expressway. The neighborhood’s residents, led by the late Frank Principe, have been clamoring for changes in truck traffic for years.

Changes are on the way. A public hearing on the city Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposal to convert Grand and Flushing avenues from “through” routes to “local” routes was held at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

The new route designation would force trucks without local deliveries in Queens and Brooklyn to use the highways. Under the current “through” route designation, trucks can avoid the congested highways and cut through Maspeth, even without a local delivery.

The new designations had unanimous support within the community.

“Everyone is aware of the problems the trucks cause in our community,” said Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth). Congested streets, noise pollution and noxious fumes plague the community.
“[The trucks] do not belong on our local shopping streets,” Markey continued.

Nunziato, who has been fierce critic of Markey—and former challenger to her Assembly seat—agreed getting trucks off the streets in critical for Maspeth. “If we can convert Times Square in three weeks to a pedestrian walkway and bicycle paths, then why can’t the people of Maspeth have their liveli- hood and health?” he asked. Reiterating that he and Frank Principe devised the Maspeth Bypass Plan—designed to route truck traffic away from residential areas of Maspeth to the
more commercial districts—a decade ago, Nunziato said the plan “should have been done a long time ago,” and it was time to “make sure we get what we deserve.”

Jim O’Kane, former president of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, complained about “that black smoke” trucks emit, polluting the neighborhood. He also noted that many of the senior citizens around the area are intimidated by large trucks thundering down their streets.

Also favoring the proposal was Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “I support this proposal by the DOT to prevent trucks from using Maspeth streets as through streets. For far too long, we have been burdened by these trucks that are destined for other boroughs, and they’re using our borough as a doormat,” Crowley said.

Markey stressed that this change is not a “panacea” for Maspeth’s truck problems. Many trucks would still be on the roads making local deliveries. However, she gave the community great news when she announced the DOT would release the results of “Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study” and propose different ways to implement the Maspeth Bypass Plan. In the meantime, the public hearing at Community Board 5 was the last step to change Grand and Flushing avenues from through to local truck routes, and it is seen as an “interim” step before the larger Maspeth Bypass Plan is completed.

The DOT’s open house on the matter will be held at Kowalinski VFW Post, at 61-57 Maspeth Avenue, on February 23 at 7:00 p.m.

Drug Counseling Center Looks for New Location

JNS wanted to purchase 752 Onderdonk Avenue (red arrow), but is now looking at 919 Wyckoff Avenue (A).

By Eric Yun

Last November, Community Board 5, despite some misgivings, approved a proposal from JNS Counseling Services to open a drug counseling and rehabilitation center at 752 Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood. However, JNS could not complete the purchase of the property, which forced them to look for a new site.

Ertuania Jorge, program director for JNS, presented the new proposed location, 919 Wyckoff Avenue, to board members at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

The new location is accessible from the L train and is the same size (2,500 square feet) as the previous location. “The good thing is the owners are willing to sell,” Jorge said.

JNS Counseling—an outpatient counseling serv- ice that does not give prescriptions—already operates a site in Brooklyn, and works closely with local doctors and police to counsel drug addiction and DWI infractions.

One board member, who voted against the plan in November, said the new location is more appropriate. She was worried that 752 Onderdonk Avenue was too residential for a counseling center, but the new location is a more commercial area with a pharmacy and car center nearby.

There were some concerns about the location’s proximity to P.S. 239. Jorge countered that their patients would not be loitering around the area and noted that a much more complex counseling center is already also nearby.

“Out of my experience, it’s going to hurt the community in any way,” Jorge said.

The proposal will go to the board’s Health and Human Services Committee. If the committee approves the proposal, it will be brought to the full board for a vote at the next meeting.

School Safety and Street Fairs Discussed at CB5

By Eric Yun

The week before Christmas, Lillian Sheridan’s husband and son were clipped by a car at the corner of 79th Street and Penelope Av- enue. Fed up with the dangerous intersection, Sheridan is pushing for an all-way stop sign there.

“The people treat [Penelope Avenue] like NASCAR,” said parent Beth McArdle.

Sheridan and McArdle brought their concerns to the Community Board 5 meeting last Wednesday. Sheridan has also started an online petition at which has already garnered 91 signatures.

Many of the comments on the petition noted that something must be done before a fatal tragedy occurs.

“Cars speed down that road to make the light on 80th Street, and they don’t have a care in the world when it comes to the children,” Sheridan said. According to Sheridan and McArdle, the problem has intensified since P.S. 49 has expanded to include grades six through eight two years ago.

McArdle noted that no new safety studies or implementa- tions were conducted after the expansion, and the problem would become worse as more students are admitted since the school is not yet at capacity.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has been a big supporter of improving safety at the inter- section. In September 2009, she sent a letter to the city Department of Transportation (DOT) after complaints from residents about safety on Penelope Avenue and 79th Street. On January 10, 2011, she sent another request to the DOT after learning about Sheridan’s incident.

She urged the DOT to study safety at the area, “especially during school arrival and dismissal times,” and implement a traffic light or stop sign in the area.

Queens DOT representative Nathan Gray reported that the department is looking into the request. Some problems, such as cars making illegal turns, can be mitigated by police enforcement, and he has reached out to the 104th Precinct, he said. It is up to the school to decide if there should be a crossing guard at that location, and the DOT is studying if other safety measures such as a stop sign or traffic light should be installed.

Ridgewood Street Fair Stirs Debate

Seven street fairs were approved by Community Board 5, but it wasn’t without debate. The board initially presented the seven street fairs as one vote, but after some dissent, amended the proposal and held a vote for each fair. At issue was a street fair run by the Federazione Italo-Americana di Brooklyn and Queens in Ridgewood. It is scheduled to shut down Fresh Pond Road between Woodbine Street and Menahan Street for four days from September 8 through September 11.

Several Ridgewood residents on the board, including Paul Kerzner, president of the Ridgewood Local Development Corp., said shutting down Fresh Pond Road for four days is an “imposition” on residents. The residents also noted that Fresh Pond Road is one of Ridgewood’s few roads running north and south aside from Forest Avenue.

Other board members, including Bob Holden, argued that the festival should not run on September 11. As the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, Holden said the 104th Precinct would be stretched thin at various commemorative events along with their normal duties. Holden argued the police would not have the time or the resources to watch over the fair.

Board Member Lucy Dolce, organizer of the fair, said, “Every penny goes back to the community.” She stressed the importance of the fair to help seniors and after school programs in the area.

Vincent Arcuri, chair of Community Board 5, also defended the fair and spoke about the Italian heritage it supports. He said the fair has been a staple in the community for 16 years.

The vote on that fair passed by slim margins, 19-16. The six other street fairs passed unanimously.

Community Board 5 will recommend allowing all seven street fairs; the city’s Community Affairs Unit will make a final decision in the coming weeks.

Final list of recommended street fairs within Community Board 5:
  • Sunday, April 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Wyckoff Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Ridge- wood Local Development Corporation
  • Sunday, May 22, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Metropolitan Avenue between 73rd Place and 79th Street sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glendale
  • Sunday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Grand Avenue between 65th Street and 72nd Street sponsored by the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Maspeth Lions Club and Maspeth Kiwanis Club
  • Sunday, August 7, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Forest Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glendale
  • Thursday, September 8 through Saturday, September 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday, September 11, from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fresh Pond Road between Woodbine Street and Menahan Street sponsored by the Federazione Italo-Americana di Brooklyn and Queens
  • Sunday, September 18, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Wyckoff Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Myr- tle Avenue Business Improvement District
  • Sunday, September 25, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Grand Avenue between 69th Street and 72nd Street sponsored by the Maspeth Lions Club and Boy Scouts of America

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

West Hamilton Beach Installs Officers

By Patricia Adams

Officers were sworn in last Thursday evening at the West Hamilton Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Corps' 83rd Annual Installation at Russo’s on the Bay. One of the evenings honorees was community resident Tina Palmiotto, who lost her 16-year-old son John in a car crash in November 2005.

Tina created a scholarship fund in her son’s memory at the Robert F. Wagner Junior Secondary School in Long Island City, where John was a student. Over the last three years the fund has awarded more than $15,000 to students who are deemed “most improved” from grades 9-12. Now, because of the suc- cess of the program, it will become available in other schools as well. “John would have been so happy to see this,” said Tina. “These kids are so thankful for the chance the scholarship gives them.

Councilman Eric Ulrich was sworn in as an honorary fire marshal at the event and was presented with a plaque and a West Hamilton Fire Department jacket.

No one would argue that one of the evening’s highlights came with the installation of Joseph M. Vasquezaldana as Chief of the Department. The sixyear member was sworn in by a former department chief, twenty-seven year member Joseph Vasquezaldana—his father. The very emotional moment represented the first time in department history that a father and son have both served as chief.

Speakers at the event relayed the immediate need to raise money for a new ambulance. Following the most recent ice storm on Tuesday night, February 2, the corps responded to a two-vehicle accident on the Belt Parkway. Upon arrival, two members of the corps got out of the ambulance to assist when they noticed a car bearing down on the ambulance.

Both members were struck by the front of the ambulance when the out-of-control vehicle slammed into the back of the unit.

The department has two ambulances, one from 1995 that is regularly used for night calls, and the newer one, which is a 2008. Unfortunately, the older unit was in the repair shop and the newer ambulance was left with serious damage. According to department officials, it will cost $125,000 for a new ambulance.

Rising to the occasion, long-time benefactor of the department, attorney D. Marjorie Centrone, punctuated her speech with the presentation of a personal check for $5,000 to start off the new ambulance fund.

Centrone not only wrote a personal check for $5,000, she vowed to help the department raise the rest of the funds. Within minutes after the announcement that the fund had officially begun, Pastor Baum of St. Barnabas Church in Howard Beach approached Marge and passed along a handwritten note promising yet another $5,000 from the church.

Please check for future updates in The Forum as to how you can help with the ambulance fund.

Kiwanis Honor Slain Son

Howard Beach Kiwanis members present Nick Beneduce with a check in memory of his son Jonathan Joseph Beneduce, who was killed in New Jersey in February 2010. At his father’s request, the check was made out to Jonathan’s favorite charity, Birthright Israel.

Nick has also received checks from other friends and family in memory of Jonathan and is asking anyone who would like to help keep his son’s memory alive to make a check out to Birthright Israel and mail to Nick Beneduce, P.O. Box 140082, Howard Beach, NY 11414.

Nick will be presenting checks on the one year anniversary of his son's death.

911 Dispatch System Under Fire

Every second counts for the FDNY when responding to fires such as the 2009 Woodhaven blaze that destroyed several homes.
By David J. Harvey

New York’s 911 system is under City Council scrutiny amid allegations from fire fighter unions that the city’s claims of lower response times are exaggerated while the Unified Call Taking system (UCT)—the city’s new cen- tralized emergency dispatch—has been blamed for sending firefighters to the wrong address during hundreds of cases.

During hearings in December 2009, City Council members investigated whether miscommunication was risking New Yorkers’ lives. More recently, a joint-committee hearing held on February 1 by three council members focused on dangerous mistakes and inaccurate response times.

According to Congresswoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, 911 dispatchers—who are police officers—have sent fire units to the wrong address at least 590 separate times since the launch of UCT. Two of the most notorious incidents left six dead: a father and two children at St. Marks Place in Brooklyn, and three more in Woodside.

“We cannot forget the back to back mistakes under the UCT where fire units were dispatched to the wrong addresses, sent in the wrong direction,” Crowley said at the hearing last week.

In the Woodside incident, in November 2009, dispatcher error was blamed on firefighters slow response. Responders were sent to 62nd Street rather than 65th Street. It wasn’t clear whether the residents of the illegally subdivided home could have been saved by the additional time, but at least one anonymous firefighter at the scene told the New York Times he thought at least one person would have been saved.

The mistake was used heavily in arguments that NYPD dispatchers were not as prepared to handle fire calls, and that FDNY should have a place in the UCT dispatch system. After a battle to get trained fire dispatchers back into fray, the city revamped UCT procedure—trained fire dispatchers joined fire-related reports via conference call as of November 24, 2009. Since then, the number of reported mistakes has decreased.

The City Council is also investigating why the UCT system has failed to handle heavy traffic, since it was originally proposed because of the overloaded 911 system on September 11, 2001. During the heavy storms last September and December, the UCT system crashed.

But this isn’t a new development either. The system crashed during a heat wave this past summer and part of the system had also crashed inexplicably for several hours on November 17 and 18, 2009, preventing the NYPD dispatchers from communicating with firefighters.

“The City Council has listened to testimony from New Yorkers in every borough who waited too long for 911 to answer their call,” Crowley said. “My primary concern ... is that we are investing billions of taxpayer dollars on a new system that does not seem to be working and is supposed to replace a system that was never broken.”

Timely Response

Under the UCT system, emergency response times are at an all time low, but union leaders say the numbers are misleading.

Pre-UCT, a 911 dispatcher would immediately transfer the caller once the nature of the emergency was determined. In the case of fire, a trained fire dispatcher would take over and the response clock would start.

UCT dispatchers now handle all the information taking—meant to reduce redundan- cies in the old system as well as response times—then send an alert to the appropriate fire station. Reported response times under UCT are lower than the previous system.

An FDNY spokesperson said the procedure for recording response time has not changed, but Uniformed Firefighter Association President Stephen J. Cassidy said the lack of change is the problem.

Cassidy said in a statement posted last year on the UFA website that the time the original dispatcher—the period not included in the official response time—rose from an average of five seconds in the old system to an aver- age of one minute and 15 seconds with UCT.

“Response times under the UCT have gone up, not down, as the city contends,” he said. “The City's deliberately false statistics are part of an attempt to justify closing firehouses.”

Cassidy also said that fire dispatchers averaged 45 seconds—included in the response time—to glean the same information from a caller. He said the UCT dispatchers, which are police officers, do not have the proper training in dealing with fire emergencies.

The response times were also a heavy focus of the Council hearings.

“This 911-system upgrade has proven to be flawed, unreliable and dangerous—and New Yorkers are paying the price,” Crowley said. “The one thing the UCT system has succeeded in doing is spinning emergency response times to justify budget cuts to the FDNY.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s 2011 budget once again proposes cutting up to 60 fire stations throughout the city, but an additional $286 million toward emergency communications was requested in January.

Spending Spree Ended

The broader Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP)—which includes the UCT system—is budgeted as a $1.8 billion project and has been under development for nearly a decade. So far, the Mayor’s administration has spent roughly $650 million. Originally, the plan was to create two redundant sites for ECTP and UCT—the existing one in Brooklyn, and a second in the Bronx—at a cost of $360 million.

On January 3, City Comptroller John C. Liu denied a request from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) for an additional $286 million more to open the Bronx site. Along with denying the request for funding, Liu notified the DoITT on January 12 that he was opening a full audit into the ECTP.

“This contract would open the door to excessive spending,” said a City Comptroller spokesperson Mike Loughran.

In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Liu pressed for the Mayor to give attention to ECTP as his office reviews what went wrong with CityTime, which was the center of a massive fraud investigation last year.

“Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith is now undertaking a comprehensive review of the City's major technology projects, beginning with CityTime, to see why certain things were missed and to make sure that additional measures or safety nets are installed to prevent waste and fraud,” Liu wrote. “The ECTP project should rank high in priority for his review to head off even more severe problems.”

Learning from the Mistakes of the 2010 Blizzard

By David J. Harvey

Weather forecasts predict clear skies, snow has been largely removed from streets and trash collection has resumed, but the cleanup is far from over across the city.

Snow took a heavy toll on the city’s finances. The December storm alone cost the city more than $38 million.

On Monday, February 7, alternate side parking enforcement resumed, and the city issued 9,910 tickets—twice the daily average—expected to collect at least $500,000 in fines.

Additionally, the City Council is planning to introduce a package of snow related legislation. The new bills will include regulations that require the city to authorize a snow emergency when forecasters predict a blizzard, to open the emergency operations center before the first snowfall and to designate a “cleanup” official for each borough.

The City Council legislation would also require the city to publish a list that ranks streets as primary, secondary or tertiary, the designations that determine plowing priority.

But recouping expenses and legislating weather responses aren’t the only post-snow priorities.

Another of the bills would require increased use of 311 during storms. The Sanitation Department, which faced the brunt of complaints during the unprecedented snowfall, is looking to do more than return to business as normal.

According to the Division of Customer Service and Government Relations office, Sanitation is working to improve two-way communication through 311.

Director of Customer Relations Henry Ehrhardt said, “There is no middle man, 311 puts it right in our system and it goes right to the Sanitation garage to be taken care of.”

The city is also eager for residents to receive training on how to use the system. In a conversation with Ed Wendell, of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, about his effort to organize Block Captains throughout his neighborhood, Ehrhardt discussed feedback from the department to residents. The Block Captains were organized to pass information—such as lists of unplowed streets—up the chain of command to City Council representatives and their community board, both of which recommend residents call 311.

“When you give information to several different places it can be hard to track, and you’re duplicating efforts, sometimes it’s hard to get back to the source,” said Ehrhardt.

He added that he and Wendell had discussed using the Block Captain network to help train residents on how to report and find information more efficiently.

“We have been regularly posting information on our website on the status of snow removal and trash collection, there’s more information available,” he said. “The ultimate answer is to let the folks know the most effective way and how they can track the individual service requests that they make.”

Walmart Debate Rages On

By Eric Yun

Opposing rallies were held outside City Hall last Thursday as the City Council held hearings over the possibility of a New York City Walmart. A project the size of a typical Walmart store would require City Council approval, but Walmart is reportedly looking at smaller lots—notably the Gateway II plaza in East New York—which would not require zoning approvals.

Walmart representatives did not attend the meeting, leaving stones thrown by politicians unmatched.

“Walmart’s absence and refusal to attend only leads me to further skepticism about them as a company,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio echoed Quinn’s complaints and added, “Walmart’s record is clear: they have eliminated more jobs than they created by driving small businesses out of town and they are contributing to the decline of the middle class by instituting poverty level wages for familes. What’s good for Walmart isn’t good for New York City.”

Critics of Walmart claim the chain hurts small businesses. In 2009, the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola Uni- versity of Chicago studied the effects of a Walmart opening in Chicago. The researchers found the store cost the neighborhood 300 jobs and no economic benefits were found.

“These estimates support the contention that large-city Walmarts absorb retail sales from other city stores without significantly expanding the market,” the report stated.

Walmart sent a letter to the Council about their absence: “Since we have not announced a store for New York City, I respectfully suggest the committee first conduct a thoughtful examination of the existing impact of large grocers and retailers on small businesses in New York City before embarking on a hypothetical exercise.”

Walmart executives contend that the Council is holding them to a different standard from other big box retailers such as Target and Costco.

The company has started an extensive public relations campaign stating their case. A poll conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC showed that 71% of New Yorkers support a Walmart within the city. The company has also ramped up television and radio ads, and it launched a website,, to publicize the benefits of a store in the city.

Included on the site are endorsements from many political figures, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“You should let the marketplace decide,” Bloomberg said. “[Anytime anyone] has tried to manage the marketplace, it has not turned out very well. I think the Soviet Union is as good an example as you’d ever need of that.”

Another endorsement from Eduardo Giraldo, vice president of the Queens Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, states “You’ve got Duane Reade, Costco, Target, CVS, T.J. Maxx, Staples. ... If Walmart wants to move in, let it compete. This is America. It’s a free enterprise.”

Locally, Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) has said Walmart deserves to be in the city.
“Walmart wants to come here and provide union construction jobs and permanent positions that offer pay wages equal to or higher than many of their competitors, and allow people to save substantially on their grocery bills,” Ulrich said. “Why should my constituents—many of whom are on fixed incomes—pay more for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? It’s not the job of politicians or special interest groups, especially in today’s economy, to block economic development.”

Still, some believe economic development seems unlikely if a Walmart opened its doors in the city.

“Small businesses in my neighborhood would be in a lot of trouble if Walmart moved in,” said Nelson Eusabio, owner of Compare Supermarkets, which operates several stores in Queens including one on Liberty Avenue. “Walmart would lead to more shuttered stores and fewer job opportunities. That’s a price New Yorkers can’t afford.”

Council Extends Smoking Ban to Public Parks, Plazas and Beaches

By Eric Yun
In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the Smoke Free Air Act, which prohibited smoking in nearly all public indoor areas in the city. Last week, the City Council amended the legislation to include the city’s parks, beaches and other public places to the no-smoking list.

The bill passed the Council by a 36-12 vote and is expected to be signed into law by Bloomberg meaning it will go into law in 90 days. The bill’s supporters said this will pre-vent litter in parks and beaches and prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

Under the new legislation, smoking would be prohibited at parks, beaches, pools, recreation centers and all buildings and facilities operated by the Parks Department. It also extends to the city Department of Transportation’s pedestrian plazas.

Sidewalks immediately ad- joining parks, squares and public places, pedestrian routes that are adjacent to vehicular traffic and parking lots are exempted from the ban. “Recent studies, and studies over the years, have shown that secondhand smoke can have a harmful impact,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Public smoking is not just a risk people take on themselves, it is a risk that impacts everyone around them. This new law will make sure that smoking is prohibited in public parks and beaches, areas where our youngest New Yorkers gather.”

Critics, however, said the bill was too intrusive and impinged on civil liberties. “While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, it is nothing more than another example of gov- ernment intruding into the private lives of New Yorkers,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Whether we like it or not smokers pay taxes and they have rights too. We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re infringing on the rights and freedoms of everyday residents who are not breaking the law.”

The Parks Department is responsible for enforcement and can issue fines of $50.

Babysitter Convicted for Drowning Death of Baby

On June 15, 2009, neighbors were shocked as rescue workers carried a lifeless baby boy out of Krystal Khan’s Ozone Park home, which doubled as a daycare center. On Tuesday, Khan, 30, was convicted of reckless assault of a child by a child daycare provider and endangering the welfare of a child.

Before the incident most neighbors felt she did a good job taking care of children.

“This is all very upsetting. I checked this place out for my own child about two years ago,” neighbor Billy Caires told The Forum in June 2009. Caires said the house seemed to be clean and in order.

According to trial testimony, on the morning of June 15, 2009, Khan took Nyquil before being entrusted with the care of 11-month-old James Farrior—even though she knew Nyquil causes drowsiness. It was further alleged that Khan kept a bucket with around six inches of water unattended in the kitchen.

Khan then fell asleep, leaving Farrior and her own three and four-year-old sons alone. Later in the morning, her four-year-old child woke her up, and Khan discovered the baby drowned in the bucket of water.

“As a caregiver with sole responsibility for the life and safety of a young child, the defendant had an obligation to provide a safe environment, to be vigilant and to stay with that child at all times,” said Brown. “The defendant must now live the rest of her life knowing that by failing to act responsibly her actions resulted in the death of a child and robbed that child’s parents of seeing their baby grow up.”

Khan faces up to four years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for March 28.

Ridgewood Home to Some of City's Worst Buildings

By Eric Yun

Landlords can make a tenant’s life miserable. Violations that are ignored, such as mold and vermin can transform a nice apartment into a potentially dangerous living situation. The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is using a 2008 program to put pressure on landlords and owners to fix their buildings.

The Alternate Enforcement Program (AEP) was signed into law in 2007, and since 2008, the HPD targets the city’s 200 worst multifamily buildings. This year, the program was amended to include more buildings with more than 20 units.

The HPD released their list of the 200 worst buildings of 2011 last Thursday. Seven properties in Queens were included—four are in Ridgewood:

  • 18-21 Cornelia Street
  • 555 Fairview Avenue
  • 17-36 Greene Avenue
  • 10-48 Wyckoff Avenue

“We call these the ‘worst’ buildings for a reason,” said HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero. “For the families who call these ‘Terrible 200’ buildings home, the conditions pose a real threat to health and safety—not only to the tenants, but to the neighborhood as a whole.”

At 18-21 Cornelia Street, a three-story building with six units, there are 127 open violations. These include the proper termination of bed bugs and roaches on the third floor, obstruction of fire escapes, missing or broken carbon monoxide detectors and lead paint violations.

The building at 555 Fairview Avenue, a two-story building with four units, has 79 open violations. A sample of these violations include a water leak on the ceiling of a first floor bathroom, lead paint, no hot water for the first floor and a foul odor emanating from the cellar.

There are five violations open at 17-36 Greene Avenue, a two-story building with four units, mostly from lead-based paint concerns.

And at 10-48 Wyckoff Avenue, a three-story building with three units, there are 35 open violations. There is an uncapped radiator on the first floor and a disconnected radiator on the second floor. It has also been cited for a defective wood floor and missing smoke detectors.

Buildings with more than 20 units are eligible to be entered in the AEP if they have three or more open hazardous or immediately hazardous violations per unit and owed the city $5,000 or more from the HPD’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP). The ERP allows the city to correct hazardous conditions in build- ings and charge the owners for the work.

Buildings of between three and 20 units must possess five or more hazardous violations per unit and ERP charges of $2,500 or more.

According to the HPD, the 200 buildings combined owe the city $2.9 million in ERP charges.
For a building to be removed from the list, owners must, within four months, fix their violations and pay the city for any repairs under the ERP. If the building is not in compliance within four months, the HPD can fix the buildings at its discretion.

 The four buildings are within Community Board 5, and District Manager Gary Giordano questioned if the city has enough power to force building owners to comply.

“Four months is a long time for necessary repairs, especially if it’s a plumbing, roof or electrical repair,” Giordano said.

Giordano said the vast majority of landlords want to keep their property in good standing,
but the board has received its fair share of problematic landlords. “In certain situations, the landlord seems to be milking the building for rent money. But some don’t have the financial wherewithal to fix the situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, tenants of the four Ridgewood buildings will have to wait and hope that their owners take the AEP designation seriously.

Ty Calderwood, who works for Harry Horrowitz, the property manager of 18-21 Cor- nelia Street, said the company is working to correct the issues. He noted that the property is in foreclosure and that they inherited many problems slowing the repair process.

“Ninety percent of repairs are done,” Calderwood said.

CTK Math Team Ranks #1

Christ the King Regional High School is ranked number one among religious high schools and 15 out of more than 200 competing public and private institutions in the New York State Mathematics League. Senior Christina Marino is one of 26 students with a perfect score. The team moderator Mr. Richard Hartman noted, “I show them original ways of looking at problems, so I try to make it fun.” Mr. Hartman also holds an annual contest to see who can recite Pi to 1,000 places.

(l-r) Christ the King Math Club Moderator Richard Hartman, far left, and Principal Peter Mannarino stands proudly with Math team members Makita Ellis, left, Pulkit Arora, Christina Marino, Juliana Daxland, Peter Ciavarella and Nikolina Dabovic.

Fund Allocates Millions for Green Projects: Shows Model for Future Initiatives

By Eric Yun

In the summer of 2006, blackouts in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside persisted for weeks and left more than 100,000 residents without power. As a result of the subsequent outrage, Con Edison reached an $8 million settlement with community groups to fund green initiatives.

North Star Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports grassroots campaigns, teamed up with the Western Queens Power for the People campaign, which formed as a result of the power outages, to distribute the funds.

Fifteen groups were selected to receive grant money, and the affected neighborhoods can expect to see more trees, environmental programs and green jobs.

Hugh Hogan, North Star Fund’s Executive Director, said it is important to fund these green initiatives, especially in Western Queens. “Currently, Western Queens has among the lowest amounts of green space of any neighborhood in New York City—only 2 percent compared to a citywide av- erage of 14 percent,” he said.

After several meetings with community groups, Hogan gained an understanding of the residents’ vision for greening their neighborhoods. As an added bonus, there was a significant amount of money to turn the vision into a reality.

“Sometimes you have a great vision, but the resources aren’t always there. It’s exciting to have the funds for the vision and create a greener place to live,” Hogan said.

Among the grant recipients is the City Parks Foundation, which will work with community groups to plant up to 850 trees in the area. The Sunnyside Gardens Community Association was also selected to plant trees outside of Sunnyside Gardens park.

But Hogan said the Greening Western Queens initiative was more than planting trees; Teaching young residents about the importance of living a more environmentally friendly life is just as important. The Recycle-A-Bicycle program will create a center to teach kids about bike repair and promote the importance of bike riding. Solar One will partner with the city’s Education Department to create a Green Design Lab in eight public schools. These labs will teach children about sustainable energy and provide them with the op- portunity to make their own schools more energy efficient.

These programs and community activism are a great model for similar projects in other neighborhoods, Hogan said. He hopes the work Western Queens Power for the People and the North Star Fund inspires other communities to action.

“We’re trying to create a model for how communities can transform themselves,” Hogan said. He added that the work with other departments like the City Parks Foundation could be replicated throughout the city.

Aviators Hockey Heats Up

As New York City was being buried by snow throughout January, the New York Aviators of the Federal Hockey League (FHL) buried 10 consecutive opponents with a barrage of goals, stellar goaltending and physical play. In fact, beginning with the A’s December 30 victory over Danbury, they are riding a 14-game winning streak and a 18-2 home record at the Aviator Sports & Event Center on Flatbush Ave., in Brooklyn.

Here are a few of the highlights of the A’s undefeated (10-0) January: scored 44 goals and allowed 14 goals; registered 364 shots on goal; 10 game winning goals from seven dif- ferent players including three from Jesse Fel- ten; Matt Punutreri led club with 21 pts and 13 assists; Felten lead the team with with 9 goals for the month; five different A's tallied double-digits points; goalie Kevin Druce went 8-0 1.85 GAA, 1 SO, .938 SV%.

The performance was especially impressive as two of the A’s top players, defenseman David Inman and forward Mike Thompson, were called-up to Elmira and Wheeling of the ECHL during January.

The streak has moved the A’s have into third place, seven points ahead of Danbury, just five points behind 1000 Island and 10 points behind Akwesasne. The top four teams qualify for the FHL playoffs.

The Aviators have three games this week: Feb 11 at 7:05 pm vs Cape Cod at Aviator and then a pair of games on Feb 12 and Feb 13 at Danbury. Tickets are still available by visiting or by calling 718-758-7580.

Tax Preparer Convicted

As people rush to file their taxes, they should keep in mind that not all accountants and tax services are legitimate. Jean Tout-Puissant, 51, of Queens Village was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for his involvement in an identity fraud scheme.

According to District Attorney Richard Brown, Tout-Puissant, a tax preparer, used personal information from his client Louis Beaujuin to fraudulently open several business accounts in 2007. These accounts were used for Tout-Puissant’s bar, El Millenium Pub in Queens Village.
Tout-Puissant applied for credit cards under Beaujuin’s name and withdrew $200,000 in cash advances to make purchases at restaurants and shops, such as Victoria’s Secret, Brown said.
Beaujuin became suspicious when he received bills that did not correspond to any accounts he was aware of. Beaujuin was retired and living off small Social Security benefits at the time.

Brown warned residents that these crimes are easy to fall prey too, especially during this time of year.

“As we enter tax season, all consumers should be very careful as to whom they entrust their most intimate financial details—such as names, date of births and social security numbers,” Brown said. “Such information is worth more than money to an individual intent on committing fraud and could cause a consumer financial headache for years to come.”

Immigrants who implicitly trust members of their own communities are at an increased risk, Brown added. Beajuin and Tout-Puissant were both Haitian.

Tout-Puissant was convicted of multiple counts of grand larceny, first-degree identity theft and first-degree falsifying business records.

Undercover Sting Busts Credit, Gift Card Scheme

Criminals beware. It’s usually not a good idea to try fraudulent schemes in the same building as the Queens District Attorney’s office. Two Brooklyn men were charged with attempting to use stolen credit cards to purchase thousands of dollars worth of Duane Reade gift cards in Kew Gardens, which shares a building with the DA.

“The defendants could not have made it any easier for the investigators involved in the undercover operation to effectuate their arrest,” Brown said, noting how the arrests occurred right outside of his office.

According to District Attorney Richard Brown, two Duane Reade employees were contacted via Facebook to assist them in using stolen credit cards for gift card purchases. “Do U wanna make 300 a week while @ work,” the messages read. “I want [you] 2 ring me up as I buy gift cards on credit gwap [a street term for illegal credit cards].”

The employees alerted their manager who contacted the DA. At the direction of the State Police, the employee told the suspect—identified on Facebook as Carlos Escobar Bigante but later identified as Carl Dupiton, 21—that he knew a friend who could help him.

The friend, an undercover investigator, allegedly had multiple phone conversations with the man where he allegedly said they would spend as much as $3,000 a day on gift cards.

The undercover investigator allegedly set up a meeting on February 1, 2011, at the Kew Gardens store where a man matching Carlos Escobar Bigante’s Facebook picture arrived. Bigante allegedly left the store and a second suspect, Garry Rey, 22, allegedly approached the undercover investigator and stated he was part of the plot.

Rey proceeded to use more than 10 different credit cards to purchase Ebay and Paypal gift cards, but only the first transaction for $404 was accepted, Brown said.

Rey left the store where he was arrested along with Dupiton. Police allegedly recovered 18 gift cards with a value of $3,350, as well as the credit and debit cards he had purportedly used in the store.

Rey was ordered held without bail, and bail for Dupiton was set at $150,000. Both men face charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny, commercial bribing, petit larceny and scheme to defraud. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico praised the Duane Reade employees who helped them with their undercover operation. “The early reporting by Duane Reade Pharmacy’s employees of the scheme ... was key to this arrest operation,” D’Amico said. “This shows the importance of the public’s role in assisting law enforcement in efforts to prevent this and other types of fraud.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Water Main Break Leaves Residents Without Water

By Patricia Adams

A water main broke on Saturday at the corner of 99th Street and 160th Avenue in Howard Beach and went unrepaired into Sunday morning leaving some area residents without water for about nine hours.

The break was reported to DEP through 311 by residents. “The water was shut off with no notice,” one resident told The Forum. Lisa, who lives with her family across the street from Charles Park said water service went down after 3:30 p.m Sunday and was restored around midnight.

According to officials, no notice was given to the residents about the shut off because it was an emergency situation. “The DEP’s priority was to get the water off and prevent dangerous icing conditions in the freezing temperatures,” said Betty Braton, chair of Community Board 10.

Water service was shut off to the area surrounding the break and crews worked from early Sunday morning to remove mounds of snow and ice in order to locate turnoff valves.

The break was repaired and service to approximately 100 homes affected was restored by the end of Sunday night.

From Austria to Forest Hills: Woman Celebrates 101 Eventful Years

By Patricia Adams

For most of us, living to celebrate our 101st birthday would be extraordinary enough. But for Forest Hills resident Regina Schilling Mittler, the number of years she has lived is just a fractional part of how extraordinary her life has truly been.

Born in Lemberg (then part of the Austrian Empire) on February 2, 1910, her mother was a concert violinist and her father a conductor. Much of her early childhood was spent in Czernowitz, where her aunt lived, while her par- ents were off on busy concert schedules.

Regina’s life would go on to be punctuated and shaped not only by the arts and culture, but also by one of the most tumultuous times in world history. It included hardship and struggle as early as her fourth birthday few of us ever encounter. It was 1914, World War I was underway, and Regina’s mother -- away on tour when all railroad connections to the Austrian Empire were severed -- had no way back to her beloved child.

Regina remained in Czernowitz under the care of a nanny for more than four years until 1918, when she was finally reunited with her mother. They travelled together to Vienna, and despite the fact that Regina was mal- nourished, she managed to escape the influenza epidemic that was spreading though the world.

In keeping with the family’s love of music, Regina was provided with piano lessons with a local teacher and within five years, she earned a full scholarship to the Vienna Conservatory. She was just 13 years old.

She continued on at the Conservatory, graduating with honors before passing the Austrian Music Teachers Exam. During her time at the school, Regina sang with the famed Arbeiter Chorus and attended the Vienna debuts of noted musicians Vladamir Horowitz, Bela Bartok and Marion Anderson. Following her graduation, Regina continued on at the conservatory as a staff accompanist and taught privately.

Regina was working as a piano teacher in Austria at the end of WWI, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was 1938 and demands for the union of Austria and Germany increased after Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany.

The German army occupied Austria on March 13th, and one day later, while she was giving a piano lesson, Regina got a phone call from her mother after the Gestapo had come looking for her. She had been a counselor in a summer youth camp run by the Social Democratic Party and now the Nazis were arresting anyone with a known association to the party.

When Regina hung up the phone she knew that her life—if she weren’t killed—had changed forever. She left the home of her stu- dent and immediately began her life in hiding. She moved from friend to friend for more than a year—hiding in basements and any other safe location available, sneaking around the streets when necessary. She waited for help from people with access to the American Embassy as they searched for her immigration number needed to secure her travel visa.

One day while walking past the American Embassy, Regina and her friends were approached by an official who asked them if they wanted to immigrate to America. Regina submitted an application, which was approved on her birthday in 1939. Her cousin Laura’s employer provided her with an affidavit and funds to buy a ticket to New York. She arrived in New York in March. She had escaped the Nazi’s and was safe.

In New York Regina visited Steinway Hall to receive a piano from a refugee relief agency, and there she ran into the composer and pianist Franz Mittler, a fellow refugee, with whom she had studied in the early 1930s. They grew increasingly close and got married in December of 1939.

In September 1943 the couple moved to Kew Gardens where Regina lived for 45 years until moving to her present apartment in Forest Hills in 1989. They had one child, Diana, who is still caring for her mother today.

Regina was interviewed and appeared in the film documentary “Last Stop, Kew Gardens” which was broadcast on PBS Channel 21 in 2008. After her retirement Regina devoted much time to reading and travel. Since 2008 she lives at home assisted by her 24-hour home attendants Rina Soldevilla and Virginia Martinez.