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Thursday, March 10, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Vandals Strike Again at Bayside Cemetery; Restoration Efforts Continue

Photo courtesy Bayside Cemetery Litigation
By Patricia Adams

Three teens were arrested last week in connection with the latest act of desecration at Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park. Andre Chowtie, 16, Michael Chaitram, 17, and Nicholas Kalloo, 19, were arrested after Police Officer David Marconi of the 106th Precinct observed them inside the fenced-in property after hours.

Marconi alerted the precinct of the activity inside the cemetery, leading to the arrests. Community Affairs Officer Kenneth Zorn said, “The perpetrators were arrested before they caused substantial damage to the property.” According to Zorn, the vandals told police they broke in because they “wanted to hang out in a scary place.”

The incident is one of many in a long history of vandalism at the cemetery. In 1993, the cemetery was vandalized twice within ten days. Vandals used black felt-tip pens to deface mausoleums, and another break-in resulted in damage to 50 headstones. In an incident in 2003, which was highly publicized, vandals broke in and desecrated 32 mausoleums. Crypts were destroyed, remains were removed from caskets and strewn on the ground and anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on gravestones and throughout the cemetery.

The cemetery is operated by the Congregation Shaare Zedek on Manhattan’s upper West Side, which acquired the land on Pitkin Avenue in 1842. The congregation has fallen under criticism for failing to maintain and provide perpetual care for the 35,000 Jews buried there. John Lucker, whose grandparents are buried at the cemetery, is currently suing Congregation Shaare Zedek for failing to maintain the property—Lucker’s grandparents had paid for perpetual care packages.

Efforts to clean up and restore the cemetery have been aided most recently by the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries (CAJAC), an organization funded by the UJA-Federation of New York. “CAJAC’s goals are to serve as a watchdog for Jewish cemeteries in the New York metropolitan area,” said Andy Schultz, the group’s executive director. More than 250 volunteers have participated in the CAJAC’s cleanups so far this year—and more than half of those volunteering are between 15 and 18 years old.

Avrim Cohen, who lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was on his way last week to visit relatives buried at the cemetery. “It’s always worrisome for me to come here,” Cohen told The Forum. “You never know what you will find.” He remembers the many desecrations he has seen over the years. “I must say that things have gotten better since people are helping to clean it up. I just hope it continues.”

Budget Fight Jeopardizes Senior Center

Abe Rosen, an octogenarian with cloudy eyes and a stiff smile, has lived in Howard Beach for the past 50 years. Rosen said he has been through hard times, but for the last 10 years he’s found support at the Howard Beach Senior Center, where he eats nearly everyday.

Rosen joined nearly 200 seniors gathered at the center, at 156-45 84th Street, on Wednesday to rally with civic leaders and elected officials against a state budget proposal that would force 105 senior centers throughout the city to close. Additional rallies, including one in Woodhaven, will be held throughout this week and the next.

“It would be criminal to close one center,” Rosen said. “Not one senior should suffer.”
The Howard Beach Senior Center an- nounced the rally on Monday, giving seniors only two days notice, but Assistant Director Judy Ascherman—who crosses the line into seniority in a few months—wasn’t surprised by the nearly packed room. “We’re a viable center, we have a lot of people who are really active,” she said.

The center opened in 1976, a few years after the federal government established the Older Americans Act, which was meant to improve the lives of elderly citizens. “It’s not just a recreational thing, these were originally opened as a nutrition center because seniors weren’t eating healthy, and the same thing is happening now,” Ascherman said.

Director Ike Albala told the crowd that he remembered a time before the centers when senior weren’t getting the support they needed. “Seniors weren’t getting enough to eat and they would settle for whatever they could get,” he said. “Some would go so far as to settle for pet food.”

According to Community Board 10 Chairperson Elizabeth Braton, Community Board 10 has almost 23,000 people over the age of 60*. In Howard Beach alone, there are over 9,000 seniors, making it the “oldest” neighborhood in the borough, according to Monsignor Alfred LoPinto. After the closures, CB 10 will have one senior center in its jurisdiction. More than 40 percent of the city’s senior centers face closure, which will leave more than 8,000 seniors without these services.

“It’s not just mindboggling, it’s unconscionable,” she said.

This Friday, in Woodhaven, another rally will be taking place. The center, run by Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, has been closed for months of renovations. The rally was originally scheduled as a celebratory re-opening of the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center, at 78-15 Jamaica Avenue. Its grand reopening may now be short-lived. It’s on the Mayor’s list of centers that will be closed if funding is cut.

The Woodhaven Residents' Block Associa- tion has called on residents to gather at the
center this Friday at noon to show support for the area's seniors.

"The senior center is a home away from home for so many people," said WRBA Di- rector Roger Hennin, who is also a member of the senior center. "These cuts are terrible. When this center closes, it will really hurt a lot of people's quality of life."

The list of centers facing closure was released by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after Governor Anthony Cuomo proposed budget shifted a source of discretionary funding, called Title XX, that has been used to support senior centers for more than 20 years. His proposal, to siphon the funds toward other, federally mandated spending, is not new.

Governor David Paterson made the same proposal last year. Paterson proposed using
the Title XX funds to pay for senior services, rather than senior centers—which would have been forced to close. His efforts were unsuccessful.

The Title XX grant is roughly $102 million of Federal funding to the State. Adult protective serves receive $66 million of that, while $36 million is allotted locally, usually for discretionary spending. Under the new budget, that $36 million will be spent on child welfare services, which is federally man- dated but usually paid for with other funds.

The mandatory child welfare spending is normally split between the city and state, with Albany paying 62 percent, and the city covering 38 percent.

The $25 million in Title XX funds that NYC receives will now be spent on child welfare programs, but will be included in the State's 62 percent share of child welfare spending.

“The Governor's Title XX proposal achieves state savings while supporting a federal mandate to protect abused children and serve families in crisis,” State Department of Budget Spokesperson Jeffery Gordon said. “The City will continue to receive the same amount of Federal Title XX funding in total.”

While the $25 million will be spent in the city, it will essentially be taken from Bloomberg’s pocket to cut Cuomo’s spending.

Either Bloomberg will have to come up with an additional 25 million to save the senior centers, or Cuomo will have to find money to fund child welfare services. For now, Bloomberg has released a list of senior centers that will be closed. Some see this as a strong-arm tactic to increase the Mayor’s bargaining power.

“[The Mayor] is using the seniors while we are in the middle of negotiations,” said Jo Ann Shapiro, Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park).

Shapiro had arrived to the rally in Howard Beach to find two seniors who couldn’t find the door, she said. They told her they were there to join the center for the first time.

“This is not about closing senior centers that aren’t working,” she told the crowd. “This is a vibrant, thriving, growing center. The money will be restored.”

According to spokesperson Nick Roloson, Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) favors passing legislation that circumvents the shift in funds by making the senior center funding mandatory in Title XX funding, rather than discretionary.

“When money is cut from these programs, these services are put in serious jeopardy and are at risk.” Miller said. “Enough is enough. I am fully committed to ensuring that the discretionary Title XX money is used to care for our seniors as it has for so many years.”

Senator Joseph Addabbo has proposed methods for the city to increase its revenue, freeing up new funds for the senior centers.

Addabbo has proposed collecting outstanding debts and fines by waving late fees and penalties or utilizing city workers more efficiently, instead of “contracting.” He suggested that if the City used its sheriffs more than the outside marshals, it would save significant amounts of money.
“There is enough money to keep senior centers open in the city,” he said. “Our senior centers do not have to close, regard- less of the amount of money the city receives from the state budget.”
Nevertheless, Addabbo said he is committed to ensure Title XX funds are used for senior centers. “Why mess with tradition,” he said. After the rally, he rushed off to Albany, where his colleagues were preparing to debate the budget.

Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamacia), on her way into a budget hearing in Albany, said that she doesn’t believe the Gov- ernor would allow the senior centers to close. “I just don’t think he’ll let that happen,” she said. “We’re trying really hard to save the senior centers and day care and all the things that matter.”

As the rally ended in Howard Beach, the center welcomed the crowd, the politicians and the press to stay for lunch. Small groups of seniors helped each other fill out petitions as Abe Rosen sauntered back and forth among the crowd, making small talk with other members.

What You Can Do

Aside from writing or calling your local representative, Councilmember Eric Ulrich suggests dialing 311. “The Mayor loves 311,” he said. “So call. Say ‘I have a message for the Mayor. Stop using seniors as pawns and don’t close my senior center.’” If you don’t have email, Carol of the Howard Beach Senior Center will assist you in sending emails to your representatives on Thursday morning. Stop by the center to participate.

Update: We incorrectly said 23,000 people over the age of 60 live in Queens. There are 23,000 people over the age of 60 within Community Board 10 while approximately 400,000 seniors reside in Queens. Also, it was Monsignor Alfred LoPinto who claimed Howard Beach is the oldest neighborhood in the borough.

Pia Feva Continues

Proposed School, Rezoning at Board 9 Meeting

By David Harvey

Many of the area’s elected officials were conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s Community Board 9 meeting on Tuesday, but it was politely excused—nearly all were in Albany pushing back against the Governor’s budget proposal that would force the closure of senior centers throughout the city.

Though he said he understood, the absence made it difficult for CB 9 Chairman Ivan Mrakovic to gauge politicians’ sentiments on U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s proposal—announced during a press conference on March 4—to sell the iconic Civic Virtue statue now standing outside Queens Borough Hall.

“Few things are more important than senior centers and building schools,” Mrakovic said. “But this is an irksome issue.” Each elected officials’ representative promised to bring a statement on Weiner’s proposal to next month’s meeting.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer’s representative announced the delay of the renovated Aqueduct Race Track’s casino opening, from spring to summer, and Nick Roloson said his boss, Assemblyman Mike Miller, is working with the attorney general to combat the recent string of deception robberies involving a fraudulent gas company.

NYPD officer John McCoy from the 102nd Precinct said several graffiti vandals have been arrested over the last month—including one who was over the age of 40 and driving a Jaguar. Board members asked McCoy about regulations for the motorized bicycles that have become popular among deliverymen and he plans to have firm answers next month.

Director of the Queens Office of City Planning John Young gave a presentation on the proposed rezoning of several blocks in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, which consists of “surgical” changes to match the code with current development. “We want to make the zoning simple,” he said. City planners will present their proposal to the board again after conducting an environmental assessment.

School Construction Authority officials gave a presentation on a new school they plan to open at the site of a former parochial school at the corner of 101st Avenue and 90th Street in Ozone Park. Father Paul, who is connected to the former school built in 1923, said important relics would be collected and enshrined at the nearby church. “We can’t maintain the school,” he said, adding that it was great to see another educational facility take its place.

According to SCA representative Chris Persheff, the Department of Education does not yet own the property—the department needs City Council approval for the purchase—but that the school will be K-5 with roughly 400 students, and the site will include a sizable school yard. Details as to the type of school and whether it is locally zoned will be decided later.

While voting on support for liquor license renewals—the State Liquor Authority makes the final decision—the board voted against renewing a license for The Link, a bar at 110-12 Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill, which has a reputation among residents for hosting unruly patrons and “has not been a good neighbor.”

Nick Comaianni, President of Community Education Council for District 24, brought a letter opposing the DOE’s plan to take the “rainy day funds” from principals who spent less than they were budgeted. The DOE had originally proposed taking 50 percent of the funds back from individual schools, but has since proposed taking back only 30 percent. “We are unequivocally opposed to roll-over budget cuts,” he said.

Comaianni said he would bring a similar statement to the board addressing teacher layoffs next month.

The board also had it’s annual vote for executive postitions, and chairman Mrakovic said he would not run again, as he was joining the Richmond Hills Historic Society. Andrea Crawford was named the new chair. Her nomination went uncontested.

Near the close of the meeting Mrakovic mocked Weiner’s press conference, in which Weiner suggested selling the Civic Virtue statue on “Isn’t that an adult service site?” he joked. “I don’t think any of our politicians should be talking about selling city property online.”

Parents, Crowley Trash DOE Plan to Take Money From Schools

By Eric Yun

As budget cuts continue to endanger schools, the city Department of Education (DOE) has found a way to make some extra cash—take it from individual schools’ reserve accounts.

Since 2007, principals have been allowed to save money and roll it into the following year’s budget. The DOE now wants to take 50 percent of those funds away under the “Deferred Program Planning Initiative” (DPPI).

“The funds would help offset system wide cuts,” Barbara Morgan, DOE spokesperson, said. But the possibility of schools losing more money outraged some parents.

“The principal is smart and saved for a rainy day, and now they are being punished,” Matthew Tymus, a parent of two children at P.S. 128 in Middle Village, said.

Tymus grew up in Middle Village, and said he stayed in the neighborhood because of the quality of P.S. 128 and its teachers. He’s worried that good teachers will have to be fired and the school will suffer.

Echoing Tymus’s concerns were Council Members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who held a press conference outside P.S. 128 with more than 40 parents last Thursday.

Crowley said she was outraged over the proposal. “It’s bad education policy, it’s bad management policy, and it’s bad budget policy,” she said.

Critics of the program said fiscally responsible principals are being punished. Smart principals saved money because they understood hard budget cuts would be needed, Dromm said.

“We’ve known for two years this fiscal crisis was coming. Why is [Schools Chancellor Cathie Black] punishing the people who did the right thing?” Dromm said.

Another point of contention was the manner in which the plan was presented to principals. The DPPI was mentioned to principals in Chancellor Cathie Black’s weekly e-mail to principals on February 16—with a March 4 deadline.

“Why was this slid under the radar, prior to our spring break, when nobody could react to this?” said Caroline Lee, a parent and PTA member.

At the press conference, Crowley announced the deadline has been pushed back to March 18 and promised to continue fighting until the program is abandoned.

A school like P.S. 128—currently expanding to eighth grade—would be especially harmed by DPPI. Taking away any money from the school would cripple P.S. 128 during the expansion, parents said. On top of that, P.S. 128 does not receive any federal Title I money, so its budget is tighter than most schools. Crowley said this forced P.S. 128 and similar schools throughout the city to save, and that the money should stay in the schools.

“The DPPI has allowed our schools to be fiscally responsible and ensures that money meant for our local schools, stays in our local schools. For the DOE to tap into schools’ budget funds and blame budget deficits is disingenuous,” Crowley said.

Under DPPI, principals are faced with spending all their reserves—even if it isn’t needed—or surrender half of their money to the DOE.

One principal told GothamSchools, an independent non-profit news organization covering city schools, that with a mid-April deadline to make most purchases, the DOE is inviting a shopping spree. “The likely result is that approximately $80 to 100 million that could have been used by schools to preserve teaching positions, extracurricular activities, and supplementary academic programs next year will instead be spent on laptop carts and copy paper,” the principal said.

The backlash prompted the DOE on Monday to revise its plans to take only 30 percent of school funds rather than 50 percent. In a statement, Black said, “I heard thoughtful feedback from principals across the five boroughs about how we can help them continue making prudent, long-term budget decisions, and we’ve crafted a solution to let them do that.”

However, Crowley was not impressed. “This is not a compromise; this is about doing what is right for our schools and what is right for our students. To take back funding that is already given is nothing more than robbery,” Crowley said.

Community Gives Proposed MTA Depot Site Emphatic No

By Eric Yun

Residents of Maspeth, led by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), gathered at the corner of 49th Street and Galasso Place in west Maspeth on Friday afternoon to tell the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the city to stay away.

Two weeks ago The Forum reported the MTA was looking at the Maspeth site to relocate its Access-a-Ride facility from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Last week, Van Bramer told The Forum he would battle the plan.

On March 1, Van Bramer and a coalition of local elected officials sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and at the press conference, Van Bramer said his actions “shook up the Mayor’s office.”

“I am outraged. Absolutely outraged and livid that the city of New York would attempt to sneak a depot into Maspeth,” Van Bramer said.

Maspeth residents have been fighting to get commercial traffic off the streets— complaints that were emphasized as truck traffic barreling down 49th Street frequently drowned out speakers at the press conference.

“We’ve all worked together to alleviate the amount of trucks that are currently in Maspeth,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Enough is enough. Maspeth is not a doormat.”

The MTA already operates two depots in Maspeth—a bus depot and maintenance facility on Grand Avenue and an Access-a-Ride depot on Maurice Avenue. Concerned residents said they don’t need more MTA vehicles in their community.

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” said Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth). “We already have two depots in our community. We’ve had our fair share.”

Gary Giordano, chair of Community Board 5, noted the Grand Avenue facility is within walking distance of the proposed site. Calling it an “unwise” decision, Giordano said Maspeth already feels too much pressure from commercial traffic.

Residents and Van Bramer stressed they understood Greenpoint residents’ fight for a park. “But I wish the city of New York and the Parks Department paid as much attention to adding green space in Queens,” Van Bramer said.

The fight against the new depot comes as local officials and community groups have been pushing for the city to purchase the former St. Saviour’s church site at 57th Road and 58th Street.
“We’re trying to get a park, but the city doesn’t have money for that. Yet in the meantime, they can find money to mitigate this site,” said Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET).

Van Bramer said the proposed depot site is polluted and would cost millions to be remediated.
City officials said they are working with the MTA to relocate the Greenpoint depot, and the Maspeth site is being explored. But nothing is final, officials said.

Van Bramer said the Mayor’s office told him, “Don’t worry, this is like the bottom of the first inning in the process.”

“But there are some ideas and some proposals that are so bad they shouldn’t even take the mound,” Van Bramer responded. “This should have never reached the bottom of the first.”

Forest Hills Resident Receives Highest Civil Service Award

Forest Hills resident Susan Dalmas received the Sloan Public Service Award for her 25 years of service as the Director of Queens Library Adult Literacy Programs.
The award, given by the Fund for the City of New York is one of the highest honors for public service employees.

“The Sloan Public Service Award winners are representative of the thousands of truly remarkable men and women who make up the backbone of our city,” said Mary McCormick, president of the Fund for the City of New York.

As the head of the Adult Literacy Program at Queens Library, Dalmas oversees the largest library-based literacy program in the nation, which served more than 6,000 participants a year.
“Susan has worked tirelessly to develop new and innovative programs for adult learners that are recognized and imitated by libraries throughout the US,” Diana Chapin, executive director of the Queens Library Foundation, said.

Dalmas began as a teacher in the Philippines and then the U.S. She joined Queens Library in 1989.

Two other Queens residents also received the award. Emmanuel Thingue of East Elmhurst was honored for his work as the senior designer for Parks and Recreation. Gabriel Taussig of Queens Village was honored for his work as the chief of the Administrative Law Division for New York City.

Winners receive a cash price of $7,500. A ceremony to honor the winners was held on Thursday.

Maspeth HS Will Open At Queens Metro Campus

By David Harvey

As predicted by concerned parents at a public meeting last month: The co-location of the first class of the new Maspeth High School at the Queens Metropolitan Campus in Forest Hills is a done deal.

The Department of Education (DOE) proposal to incubate a Maspeth High School within the campus next year was approved last week by the NYC Panel For Education Policy (PEP) in a unanimous vote.

The Queens Metropolitan Campus houses the Queens Metropolitan High School and the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, which will serve grades six through eight next year, before eventually expanding to grade 12.

The new school will have approximately 175 to 225 ninth graders next year, and the Queens Metropolitan Campus—with the Maspeth students—will be operating at only 72 percent capacity, according to the DOE. The Maspeth high school’s own building—being built at 54-40 74th Street—is scheduled to open in 2012.

The PEP vote took place as scheduled on March 1 and was preceded by several community meetings conducted by the DOE to garner public opinion—discussions that were often very contentious.
At a meeting on February 9 at the Queens Metropolitan Campus in Forest Hills, parents, community groups and City Council representatives largely expressed contempt for the proposal during a public comment period that stretched over two hours.

“Discussion has subsided since the vote,” said Queens PEP representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj. “A recent open house by the proposed Maspeth school leader was highly attended by many parents from within District 24 and parents are excited about the new high school option.”

Several concerns were raised throughout the public comment period, from possible bullying to structural problems with the current building such as missing cameras and doorknobs. The most contentious was whether the Maspeth High School students would have a building to move into after next year.

“I am extremely disappointed and dismayed that the concerns of the community and elected officials have been shut out by the Department of Education,” Councilwoman Karen Kozlowitz (D-Forest Hills) said. “The process of planning for the incubation into the Metropolitan Avenue Campus was never designed to be responsive to the community.”

After the meeting on February 9, Kozlowitz wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black—cosigned by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, and Assembley members Andrew Hevesi and Mike Miller—that asked for a written statement from the DOE that the Maspeth high school students would be co-located for only one year.

Black’s response reiterated that the Department is committed to moving Maspeth High School to its long-term location by September 2012. “Based on all the information available to us, we have no reason to believe these plans will be derailed or delayed in any way,” she said.

According to DOE spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, the school is on track to open as scheduled.
“At the end of the day, the big issue is the worry that [the Maspeth high school students] won’t move out,” he said. “The fact is, we have a close to perfect, if not perfect, track record on getting new schools open on time.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s budget proposal and recommended teacher layoffs will affect 35 percent of the teachers at the Queens Metropolitan Campus. Zarin-Rosenfeld said that with the budgets under revision, there is no way to determine how many teachers the new school will have, and how many will remain at the campus.

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…

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.