Thursday, March 3, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Fever Pitched: Idol Fever Hits Howard Beach

It’s spreading fast. We call it “Pia Fever,” and it’s beginning to take on a life of its own in Howard Beach and the surrounding communities. We’re betting that by the time you’re reading this, Pia Toscano will have been chosen as one of American Idol’s Top 12 contestants.

The Forum dropped by Pia’s former grammar school, P.S. 207 in Rockwood Park, Tuesday morning to check out the giant bulletin board the students created in her honor. Parent-teacher coordinator Nina DeBlasio recalled how a very shy Pia would have to be coaxed to take the stage. “She was so quiet and so very beautiful,” DeBlasio says. “And when she finally opened her mouth to sing you knew that someday everyone would get to hear her.”

And support for Pia is not just coming from those who knew her as a child in school. It comes from leaders in nationwide and local charities, local schools and organizations, local merchants, friends and family.

Angelo Gurino came to know Pia through the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation, while serving as the group’s treasurer.. “Pia never says no. She has given so much time to our community. She’s an amazing, talented young woman and she deserves our full support to win this thing.”

Local restaurant owner Joey DeCandia of Lenny’s Clam Bar has really taken the bull by the horns. DeCandia has printed signs to hang in several of his establishments on Cross Bay Boulevard encouraging the community to get behind Pia and vote. To that end, DeCandia and Forum Publisher Pat Adams got together and took the extra step. “Listen, when Howard Beach loves you, we name a food after you,” said a laughing DeCandia. “And this is quite a love affair.” After a coast to coast conversation between Pat Adams and Jane and Pat Toscano about Pia’s favorite foods, the menu was created.

As of next week, Lenny’s Clam Bar will be introducing Penne Alla Pia, a combination of Pia’s favorites: penne pasta in a traditional vodka sauce with grilled chicken and peas. And that’s just the beginning. Howard Beach resident Nick Agola, who owns Sophia Pizza in Ozone Park, wants to spread Pia Fever outside of Howard Beach. His pizzeria will feature the Pia Pie, a thin-crust pizza topped with mushrooms, black olives, spinach, broccoli and grilled chicken. Deli lovers should visit Ragtime Gourmet and Tuscany Deli to support Pia, as owner Angelo Gurino is serving up his own creation—the Pia Panini, stacked high with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, broccoli and roasted peppers. Ragtime will also be featuring a custom designed cupcake by Paddy Kakes of Howard Beach. The “Sweet Pia” cupcake was created with input from its namesake, who requested red velvet cake with pink cream cheese frosting. The confection will be topped with a handmade marzipan peapod in honor of Pia’s fan base, the “Sweet P’s”.

Starting this week, The Forum will be hosting “Vote Nights” for the duration of Pia’s Idol run. Friends and family will get together at the Forum office for concentrated phone and Facebook voting. And yes, you guessed it; the entire Pia menu will be served. Stay tuned for details on future events including upcoming “Pia Pep” rallies.

Abandoning The Lot

By David Harvey

*This article has been updated, see corrections below.

The Department of Buildings website shows that for the past 15 years, an abandoned house at 85-53 98th Street in Woodhaven has received complaints ranging from structural damage to the presence of squatters. On February 20, at 11 p.m., a fire on the property spread to a neighboring residence. While no one was injured in the fire, the damage to both homes was significant.

According to Ed Wendell of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA), the fire illuminated a citywide failure to address abandoned and neglected homes that could act as kindling to tragedy.

“Everybody failed,” he said. “But you can’t point your finger at one place.”

Wendell said that when he visited the house last week, he met a neighbor who had frequently complained that the house was dangerous—he had even called the WRBA.

“For years he worried about the house only to have his nightmare finally come true,” Wendell said.

Meanwhile, the WRBA has been working to drive attention toward other houses in the neighborhood that pose similar risks. A neglected, graffiti-speckled house at 88-32 80th Street has been the focus of 11 complaints to DOB since April 2000. Those concerned about trespassing children and homeless are nearly identical to complaints about the home on 98th Street. Just as with the house on 98th street, all but the most recent are marked “resolved.” Both often show that inspectors found no violation or failed to gain access.

“I have this fear with this house on 80th Street that there will be people who go down, get their picture taken and say ‘this is unacceptable’ but nothing will get done,” Wendell said.
According to the DOB’s annual report released earlier this year, there were 337 inspectors that conducted 335,449 inspections. On average, they would have conducted just fewer than four inspections each per workday—not excluding holidays. The 21 complaints at both properties in Woodhaven were reviewed by 18 different inspectors.

While the owners of the abandoned home on 80th street have been issued two violations from the 11 complaints, both were resolved. The home on 98th Street that caught fire on February 20 has five active violations, stretching from 1997 to 2000. All of those violations are marked as having no recorded compliance.

Gilbert pointed out that no complaints were made to the DOB about the property between 2004 and 2010. Last year’s sole complaint, in March, was found to have been resolved on a follow-up survey in June, she said.

In 2010, the DOB implemented a streamlined process for property owners that wish to resolve violations. By admitting to the violation they can pay the minimum fine up front. According to the DOB’s report, this process generated $100,000 for the city from more than 100 fines in 2010.
Last year, the DOB also expanded its living safely campaign against illegally converted apartments. The campaign was initiated in 2009 after a deadly fire in Woodside. On February 23, following a fatal Brooklyn fire, the DOB distributed flyers in Brooklyn. The Department has distributed more than 100,000 flyers about illegal conversions throughout the five boroughs since the program was launched.

Reports from the fire department show that there were 4,785 structural fires last year, and 389 in January of this year.

The most recent complaint regarding the house on 98th Street that caught fire was posted on the DOB website the day after the fire. Gilbert said an inspector visited the property on March 2.
“The department sent an inspector to the property and found repairs are underway and will continue to monitor the property,” she said.

The owner of the property—a Brooklyn firefighter with Engine 207—could not be reached for comment.

*An earlier version quoted Jen Gilbert as having said that all violations at 85-93 98th Street were resolved or that work had been completed. In fact, there was a miscommunication: violations marked as active are not resolved, and it is unclear whether required work was completed. There are five active violations, not four.

The DOB did not pass out 100,000 flyers on Feb. 23; they have distributed 100,000 flyers since implementing the “Living Safely” campaign in 2009.

The follow-up to a March 2010 complaint, in June 2010, was “survey” not an “inspection” as previously stated in the article, according to DOB spokesperson Jen Gilbert.

Crashing in Queens

By David Harvey

With their proximity and easy access to John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airport, Ozone Park and Kew Gardens have become home to several crash pads—apartments where commuting pilots and aviation personnel rest between flights. With the federal government debating the FAA Reauthorization Bill and the second anniversary of a Buffalo plane crash, these crash pads have garnered some heated attention.

While the Federal Administration of Aviation Reauthorization Bill was under debate in the Senate at the beginning or February, ABC News ran series of reports on pilot fatigue. The reports included footage of pilots sleeping in a JFK lounge, of an apartment filled with bunks and of one pilot who said he has fallen asleep in the cockpit.

The ABC reports aired on the days before and after the second anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407 in Buffalo, which killed all 49 people onboard and one person on the ground when it crashed on February 12, 2009.

Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot in another famous New York crash told ABC that he would have never been able to safely—and famously—land on the Hudson River if he had been under-rested.

The ABC report linked the necessity of crash pads to low wages and long hours for pilots stationed at airports far from their homes, but not everyone thinks crash pads are dangerous, or contribute to fatigue.

Flight attendant Denise Grant has slept in crash pads near JFK for the last 16 years and managed one in Kew Gardens for the past three. She said “hot beds”—shared bunks—are a way of life for many in the airline industry, and that most attendants and pilots have lived in bad crash pads—loud, crowded and dirty apartments.

The home Grant runs is clean and quiet and everyone has his or her own bed, she said. “When the owner decided they didn’t want to maintain the house anymore I knew that I didn’t want to give it up, so I offered to run it,” she said.

She said that crash pads—even those with up to 12 tenants—are important for pilots and flight attendants who commute—living in one state and stationed in another.

“We’re here maybe six or seven days a month, sometimes the house is almost empty,” Grant said. “If we had to pay for a hotel—you can’t get a hotel near the airport for less than $250 a night in New York, and even then they’re probably all full.”

Her apartment is listed on a website hosting crash pads listings: It’s a three bedroom with six or more roommates; there is cable, Internet and a full kitchen. According to the listing, all a flight crewmember would need is twin sheets and a towel. The monthly rent is $240.

When asked about the possibility of new regulations restricting the use of crash pads near JFK, Grant hesitated before saying, “I’m not sure I understand; why would anyone want to do that?”
The legislation passed by Congress this month calls on the FAA to issue new regulations dealing with pilot fatigue. While the bill calls on measures that limit flight and duty time, the recent ABC News reports reflect similar stories in the past, which have led city officials to shut down crash pads.

In 2007, a Chicago Tribune reporter followed an anonymous tip from a resident and broke the story of several crash pads near Midway Airport. In response, city officials inspected more than 40 apartments, and issued 31 fines—some as high as $1,000 a day. The online response from pilots and flight attendants was indignant, rather than relieved.

According to a New York City Building Department spokesperson, any residential building must have 80-square feet of space per person and is allowed to house three non-related residents and an owner.

City Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) spokesperson Eric Bederman said he was not aware of any complaints about crash pads, but added that the complaint would likely have to come from a tenant to reach the HPD.

According to a report released on February 23 by the International Air Transport Association, 2010 was the safest year on record for aviation. The rate of airline accidents is at an all time low.

Meanwhile, data released by the FAA showed an 81 percent increase in air-traffic control errors reported in 2010 than in 2007—up to 1,887, from 1,040. The data included an increase in errors most likely to cause an accident, though only 43 of those incidents were reported.

According to the FAA, which has been creating a more efficient error-reporting system over the last three years, the high rates don’t mean more errors, but rather better accountability. The high percentage of reported errors reflects a higher degree of safety awareness, said an FAA spokesperson.

The reauthorization bill passed 87-8 in the Senate, and is awaiting a full vote in the House of Representatives. The Senate bill would provide $34.5 billion to the FAA over the next two years, including funding for a new air-traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport.

The Senate and the FAA had disagreed on provisions of the FAA Reauthorization Bill that called for drastically extending the hours pilots are required to fly on training flights. A lack of training was blamed for the crash of Flight 3407. The bill also hopes to tackle work hours, increasing the minimum hours of required rest between flights from eight to nine hours. But the attention on crash pads has been called counterproductive.

“Bringing [crash pads] to the attention of the flying public will not make the airlines pay higher salaries,” said one pilot who asked to remain anonymous. “Crash pads are a result of many pilots’ choice to commute. I'm really not concerned as much about people bunking two deep, my concern is people coming to work unfit to fly, and then blaming airlines for ‘making’ them commute because of low pay. Fact is, many would commute regardless of pay.”

While the FAA Reauthorization Bill covered safety improvements, accountability and consumer rights, there were also several quality-of-life additions.

United States Senator Charles Schumer’s amendment to the bill called on new regulations to measure helicopter noise in New York State, particularly over residential areas where, presumably, people might be trying to rest.

Labor Battle Continues As Mayor Releases Teacher Layoffs List

By Eric Yun

The city released its doomsday scenario to balance the city school’s budget on Sunday: layoffs for more than 4,000 teachers.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, released last month, cut state aid to city schools by $1.4 billion, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned extensive cuts would have to be made—especially if the teachers’ unions “last in, first out” (LIFO) policy is in place.

Under current labor agreements, teachers are laid off based on seniority. The practice is being attacked, however, by legislators who claim that layoffs should be based on a teacher’s merits.
State Senator John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) has introduced a bill that would repeal LIFO for city schools. Under the legislation, nine categories, including receiving unsatisfactory ratings, being convicted of a crime that did not lead to termination or ranking in the bottom 30 percent, would determine which teachers get fired.

Flanagan said the bill would not get rid of seniority; just ensure seniority is not the only factor in teacher terminations.

Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Education Committee, said he supports overhauling the current process, but could not support Flanagan’s bill.

“We cannot discard the flawed LIFO process if the replacement process is just as flawed and creates legal issues. We must have a process that evaluates the teachers fairly and logically,” Addabbo said.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers union, is predictably fighting heavily against the repeal of LIFO.

“People who were accused—but never found guilty—of misconduct would find themselves on the chopping block [under Flanagan’s bill],” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Meanwhile, principals who have targeted certain teachers without even seeing their work—as recently portrayed in a report by the DOE on the actions of principal Iris Blige—would have a new way to force out employees they just don’t like.”

The city recently disciplined Fordham High School principal Iris Blige for ordering assistant principals to give teachers she wanted to fire “unsatisfactory” ratings—without even observing the teachers in the classroom.

The bill was heard at the Senate’s Education Committee on Tuesday, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg travelled to Albany to lobby for the bill. It passed the Education Committee and was sent to the state Senate Tuesday night where it passed.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, threw a wrench into Bloomberg’s small victory Tuesday night by introducing a new bill. Cuomo’s bill would implement a statewide standard for teacher evaluations, which is backed by the unions. However, Bloomberg claims this new bill will do nothing to avoid his proposed layoffs.

The New York Times reports Cuomo’s bill is likely to get support in both the Senate and the Assembly; Flanagan’s bill was unlikely to pass the Assembly.

As the debate rages on over LIFO, the UFT is categorizing the city’s release of proposed layoffs as a “scare tactic” and political maneuvering.

In District 24—covering Corona, Lefrak City, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood and south of Woodside—8 percent of teachers would be cut. In District 27—covering Far Rockaway, Seaside, Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, South Ozone Park, Rochdale, Springfield Gardens, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Ozone Park—6 percent of teachers would be cut. And in District 28—covering South Jamaica, Rochdale, Kew Gardens, Rego Park, Forest Hills and Jamaica—5 percent of teachers would be cut.

Looking at the impact on individual schools paints an even bleaker picture. P.S. 58 in Maspeth would lose 17 teachers. P.S. 290 in Maspeth would lose 3 teachers, half of their current total. Newly opened Queens Metropolitan High School would have to lay off nine teachers.

Queens Metropolitan High School principal Marci Levy Maguire told the New York Post that she supported the Mayor’s fight against LIFO. “Our new teachers are fantastic. They’re innovative. I would have hired differently had I known I would lose them,” she said.

Mulgrew said the city should stop focusing on layoffs and focus on the children.

“We’ve already lost nearly 5,000 teachers to attrition in the last two years, and class sizes are skyrocketing across the city. It’s time the Mayor joined us in fighting for the children of our city by supporting the extension of the state millionaire’s tax, rather than continuing to focus … on a bogus strategy to lay teachers off,” he said.

DOT Presents Maspeth Bypass Proposal

By Eric Yun

The city Department of Transportation finally responded to years of protests and requests to address truck traffic in Maspeth and released its proposal of the “Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization” study last Wednesday.

Concerned residents gathered at the Kowalinski VFW Post on Maspeth Avenue as DOT officials answered questions and presented the department’s plan to get trucks away from Maspeth’s residential streets and commercial areas to improve the safety and quality of life for the community.

The DOT’s first order of business is to make Grand and Flushing avenues as local truck routes beginning March 25. For years, truckers could skip traffic on the highways and take Grand or Flushing avenues—a through truck route—on the way to make local deliveries in Brooklyn.

The DOT has also proposed directing trucks travelling through Queens to take the Queens-Midtown Expressway/Long Island Expressway to exit 18 at Borden Avenue. Trucks would then make a left on 58th Street south towards Rust Street, make a right on Grand Avenue and continue on Grand Street to Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn. Currently truckers tend to get off earlier exits and travel solely down Grand Avenue or Flushing Avenue, which encompasses the more residential and commercial centers of Maspeth.

To go with the bypass, the DOT plans to improve the five-leg intersection where Maspeth Avenue meets 57th Place, 58th Street, Maurice Avenue, and 56th Terrace. The improvements include providing a left turn lane on Maspeth Avenue to Rust Street, converting 57th Place one-way northbound, converting Maspeth Avenue one-way eastbound between Maurice Avenue and 59th Street, eliminating the left turn from 58th Street to 56th Terrace, converting 58th Street one-way southbound and converting Maurice Avenue one-way northbound.

These changes would necessitate a slight route change for the Q39 bus. DOT officials at the meeting indicated the MTA has said changing the bus route would not be an issue.

The proposal was met with mixed reviews from the community. While residents at the meeting were pleased the DOT was moving the project forward, they felt the DOT’s actions needed improvement. “It’s a start,” said Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5. Giordano said he was worried that the one-way conversions, especially the conversion of Maspeth Avenue, could wreak havoc on Maspeth residents’ daily commutes.

Mary Anna Zero, of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, said the plan seemed good, as long as it was enforced. Trucks in the area block pedestrian traffic and buildings get covered in diesel, which makes it difficult for businesses in the area. It was time something was done, she said.

Tony Nunziato, a civic activist who was among the first to fight for a Maspeth bypass—he and Frank Principe presented a similar version of a bypass to Community Board 5 more than 10 years ago—said the plan had major flaws.

“A bypass means it bypasses all residential homes,” Nunziato said. “It is not a successful plan until all residential areas are bypassed.”

Many trucks travel from Brooklyn on Flushing Avenue to reach the Long Island Expressway, and the DOT did not present a bypass for that route, Nunziato said. He stressed a majority of the area’s truck traffic stems from this route, and without addressing it, the community’s problems would not be alleviated. Nunziato’s original plan called for trucks to make a left on 55th Street to Grand Avenue up to Rust Street.

Giordano expressed concerns that a route from Brooklyn into Queens was not presented as well. Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, also questioned why the trucks from Brooklyn were not addressed.

“They didn’t include the other direction at all,” Holden said.

Awareness was a big issue for the DOT; what’s the purpose of changing all the routes if truckers don’t know about them? The department intends to erect multiple signs alerting truckers about local and through truck routes on Maspeth’s streets, as well as signs indicating the proper way to the highways. On the Long Island Expressway, signs will be posted that inform truck drivers that exit 18 is the proper way to enter Maspeth.

“Just putting the signs up will change the activity [of the truckers],” said Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy.

DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said many of the residents’ concerns about Brooklyn routes could be solved with signage guiding trucks to the proper routes. He also said the DOT will continue to work with the community to make further improvements.

These changes can’t come soon enough for a community that has waited years for a solution to its problems. McCarthy said the next step was to analyze the community input they received at this meeting and a formal presentation to Community Board 5, which she hopes will be by May. Tentatively, the redesign of the five-leg intersection will begin this summer.

Doors Unlocked for Ridgewood Y

(c) Manhattan 2009 by Stuart Rinzler
By Eric Yun

The renovations are complete, and the Ridgewood YMCA is “here for good” to serve the community. Formerly the Catalpa Center YMCA, a satellite program of the Long Island City YMCA, the site escaped possible closure and underwent three years of construction that cost more than $8 million. The result is a new state of the art facility.

The building officially opened its doors to the public in January, but last Friday YMCA held its official ribbon cutting ceremony for the center. President and CEO of YMCA of Greater New York Jack Lund was joined by many of the politicians who helped fund the project: Congressman Anthony Weiner, Senator Joe Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Councilwoman Diana Reyna.

Lund thanked the community for supporting the project and promised the Ridgewood Y would become a lasting social center for the community. “This is about all of us working together with a common goal to strengthen the foundations of the Ridgewood and Glendale communities to build healthy, confident and connected kids, adults and families,” he said.

“The YMCA is here for them, and we’re here for good,” Lund continued.

Lund gave Marshall a ceremonial key to the Ridgewood YMCA in honor of her work in ensuring the renovations were completed. The Ridgewood YMCA also named its new daycare facility, the Helen M. Marshall Early Childhood Education Center, in recognition for her support.

There were serious concerns the YMCA would close. The building, originally built in 1930 as a courthouse, was deteriorating and rising operational costs made continued funding difficult. Lund said he and Marshall came together to keep the Y open.

The new Ridgewood YMCA features new and modernized youth program spaces, fitness equipment, weight training and gym. It will serve as a pilot program for the YMCA’s national revitalization and will test new strategies to better serve the community.

The facility is located at 69-04 64th Street. For information about joining YMCA visit or call 212-912-2180.

Issues at Grover Cleveland Playground Addressed at Citizens for a Better Ridgewood Meeting

By Eric Yun

Local resident John Perricone and Citizens for a Better Ridgewood for months to rid Grover Cleveland Playground of unruly athletes and illegal food vendors.

At this month’s Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting on Monday night, city Parks Department officials and the 104th Precinct discussed ways to clean up the park.

Perricone claims the park’s visitors are a nuisance to the community, often double-parking or stopping in front of bus stops, fire hydrants and driveways—there are even accounts of people urinating on private property.

Grover Cleveland Playground’s Park Manager Helaine Soressi said the Parks Department is looking for better ways to involve the community in park activities. These efforts include giving more permits to community youth organizations and softball leagues rather than just letting any group use the fields. She said the department was looking to have more non-permitted time on weekend mornings so residents can use the park without dealing with the athletic leagues. Another option discussed was to give athletic permits on a rotating schedule so all the leagues don’t crowd the park on the same day.

The Parks Department is also looking to inform the community about the process for issuing permits to vendors.

“They’re going to meet with an advisory group to understand their community impact and so the community knows if the vendor is breaking the rules of the permit,” Soressi said.

Michael Hetzer, Citizens for a Better Ridgewood President, said the community’s efforts have nothing to do with who is using the park or for what purposes.

“I’m thrilled activities are going on, but they need to be good neighbors,” Hetzer said.
Regarding police presence at the park, the 104th Precinct’s Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell stressed the importance of calling 311 if you see any violations at the park. “As much as we can, we will try to be there as fast as possible,” he said.

Inspector Keith Green, commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, attended the meeting to update the community on the area’s crime news. Most major crimes are down in the precinct, but auto thefts are still on the rise. Arrests are also increasing. There has been a 25 percent increase in major arrests, and a 14 percent overall increase in arrests in the precinct so far this year, Green said. Officers are also issuing more quality of life summonses.

Green reiterated the hard work the precinct has been doing to catch and charge graffiti vandals. “We’re getting jail time on these people now,” he said. The 104th Precinct is number one in graffiti related arrests in the city, and contrary to The Daily News report last week that said the 104th Precinct had 800 complaints, the precinct actually conducted 800 cleanups.

Another cause of concern for residents is deception burglaries. Green reported on a recent incident involved an 87-year-old woman who was approached by someone claiming to be her next-door neighbor. The man claimed his basement flooded and needed to check the victim’s basement. While the two inspected the basement, an accomplice upstairs stole property from the woman’s home. A variation of this crime includes people posing as utility company workers, he said.
The best way to prevent these crimes is to deny entry to anyone not specifically called for work or inspections, Green said. He stressed that residents should call 911 if they see suspicious activity.

“These people are trained and very convincing,” he warned.

Local Politicians Fight Against MTA Depot Proposal

By Eric Yun

The city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are still looking to open another Access-a-Ride depot in Maspeth, but local politicians are unifying in opposition.

The MTA is relocating a Greenpoint, Brooklyn depot set for conversion into a public park and one possible solution is a vacant, city-owned property in Maspeth, on 49th Street between 56th Road and Galasso place in the western, industrial section of Maspeth.

The new depot would be used for parking for MTA’s Access-a-Ride vehicles, but residents said it would only add to the area’s traffic congestion. At capacity, the Greenpoint depot houses approximately 120 vehicles. It is unclear how many vehicles would move to the possible Maspeth site.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “The city is clearly pushing this through because they made a deal in Brooklyn.”

Van Bramer wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday against the move. “The MTA has two existing depots in Maspeth that add to the pollution and traffic problem. Moreover, the community is overwhelmed with illegal truck traffic and conventional truck traffic because of a large industrial zone adjacent to the area. Another MTA depot would only exacerbate the current health and traffic problem this community already faces,” he said.

The letter was cosigned by Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens), State Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assembly Members Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven), and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Gianaris wrote a separate letter to MTA Chairman Jay Walder about the move. “This is a completely unacceptable situation that indicates the MTA is favoring one New York City neighborhood, located in Brooklyn, over another in Queens,” the letter said. Gianaris applauded the Greenpoint community for fighting for green space, but reiterated that the MTA should not comply at the expense of Maspeth residents.

Van Bramer and Gianaris in their respective letters blasted the MTA and the city for not involving them in the process.

“The disturbing aspect of it is there has been no community input, no notification, no planning,” Van Bramer said. “It appears the administration wants to do this, but we’re going to fight real hard.”

Van Bramer’s office has scheduled a rally at the proposed site on 49th Street and Galasso Place on Friday, March 4, at 2:30 p.m.

Politics Unusual: Reagan Republicans Must Look For a New Home—And President

Visiting the Republican political scene in south Queens is always an amusing romp, however, this week, local political junkies really have something (and someone) to sink their teeth into down in Howard Beach. The feast begins by putting the microscope over the Old Mill Yacht Club for a meeting of the Ronald Reagan Republican Club.

But wait a minute, on an important side note, after this month, members and interested parties will not be attending any meetings at the Old Mill Yacht Club. The Reagan Republicans were officially tossed out of the Old Mill after a verbal altercation that was the latest in a string of almost “zany events” involving the club’s president, Rosemary Ciulla-Frisone. According to club insiders, there is a strong faction hoping to see Ciulla-Frisone escorted out the door—for an ever-increasing list of reasons.

But wait just another minute. Let’s not pin this info just on club insiders. Anyone in the room for the meeting on Tuesday night could bear witness to what amounted to no less than a presidential unraveling. Adding insult to injury, all this took place while cake was being served in celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.

Now back to inside information. Where it does begin to play a part in this tale is expressed distaste from members who say that Ciulla-Frisone has been running the club as though it were a civic organization. Concerns include her disregard of member’s objections to the Democratic guest speakers she invites to address the Republican membership and her strong personal agenda. Last month, first vice-president of the club Mary Ann Carey, conspicuously absent at this month’s meeting, approached Ciulla-Frisone privately to address the issue, at which point Ciulla-Frisone erupted and began screaming in front of dozens of attendees. (Carey, a seasoned veteran in community politics and civic affiliations will most likely not return while Ciulla-Frisone remains as president.) Ciulla-Frisone’s response to Carey was heard by all in the room, “This is my club. I do what I want.”

Which brings us to the next bone of Republican contention—members have made repeated requests to form a nominating committee and hold those elections mandated by the club’s by-laws, which have been repeatedly disregarded. Outrage over her bizarre behavior is coming from members, bystanders and anyone else within earshot of her inappropriate escapades. Calls for an election were coming from every corner and were amplified on Tuesday evening when more than twenty people in the room witnessed a meltdown which included vigorous arm flailing, shouting and slurs against fellow Republicans. “I don’t get paid for this,” Ciulla-Frisone repeatedly reminded those in attendance, “and I’ve really had enough.”

Finally, an agreement is close at hand. Frisone has had enough of the club and the club has certainly had enough of her. It would be unfortunate if the Reagan Republicans would suffer in the face of this dissention, however signs of hope were certainly present. Experienced and savvy members were there in full force with District Leader Jane Deacy and Joann Ariola on hand to offer guidance and suggestions on how to effectively proceed with the impending election.

In the meantime, a little advice for future Republican club president hopefuls:

The only Democrats you should welcome to the club should be carrying forms to change their registration.

The purpose of a Republican club is to promote Republican candidates.

A political club has no room for personal agenda.

You shouldn’t call someone a “crook” in December and ask them to be your guest speaker in February.

Try not to insult your district leader while she and some of her loyal supporters are in the room.

Other than these few things, you can basically do whatever you want.

Bottom line: It is a far better thing to step aside then to be tossed out.

Until next time…