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.