Thursday, October 23, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Parks Eyes Upgrades at Juniper Valley, Grover Cleveland


By Conor Greene

Parents and children can look forward to revamped playgrounds and sports fields in Middle Village and Ridgewood, the Parks Department informed members of Community Board 5 at its meeting last week.

Officials from the city’s Parks Department and a landscape architect firm unveiled plans to reconstruct a portion of the south playground at Juniper Valley Park, at 74th Street and Juniper Valley Boulevard in Middle Village and to install a turf field in Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood.

The presentations were part of Community Board 5’s monthly meeting in Christ the King High School last Wednesday. Board members did not express any major concerns with the proposed projects.

Turf Field at Grover Cleveland

The work at Grover Cleveland Park will include the conversion of an existing asphalt court to a synthetic turf field, according to landscape architect Thomas Atela of the Manhattan-based firm Abel Bainnson Butz, LLP. When the $1.3 million renovation is complete, the park will feature a softball field, two soccer fields and two volleyball courts.

The project’s design will be completed this fall, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman. Construction will begin shortly after and is expected to take about six months to finish. The project is part of the mayor’s PlaNYC initiative, which among other things, aims to convert asphalt courts into turf fields at 25 city parks.

Grover Cleveland is among five sites that were included in the project’s first phase, according to Atela. In addition to the fields, the project also includes new fences and perimeter tree plantings and an upgraded water drainage system. “We’re trying to be as green and environmentally-friendly as possible,” he said.

New Playground at JVP

Next, the department’s landscape architect, Lee Ann Beauchamp and the design supervisor for Queens, Nancy Prince, presented plans for the new playground at Juniper Valley Park. The reconstruction, funded by a $750,000 City Council earmark, will provide new play equipment at the eastern portion of the playground along Juniper Boulevard South at 74th Street. Separate areas will be established for toddlers and for children ages two to five and will also accommodate handicapped children.

The new design will incorporate the neighborhood’s past history as swampland. In 1915, the Juniper Swamp was filled in, becoming Juniper Valley Park and allowing for development of the surrounding area, according to the Parks Department. The new playground will feature wetland plants and animals, along with a spray shower and lily pad design in the concrete pavement area.

The existing basketball court at the western end of the playground will not be affected by the renovation project. In addition, as a result of meetings with local parents, gates will be installed at each entrance.

Turf and Sand Concerns

While board members were generally supportive of the projects, two aspects did concern some board members: the use of artificial turf at Grover Cleveland and the inclusion of a sandbox at Juniper Valley.

Responding to questions from board members, Atela explained that the “in-fill style” turf is made from a thermal plastic material, instead of rubber pellets used previously in city parks. “It is a fairly new product that performs well,” said Atela, adding that several different types and makes of turf will be used among the 25 field conversion projects planned around the city.

The turf being used at Grover Cleveland comes with an eight year warranty and can be peeled up and replaced. It will be inspected yearly by the manufacturer and will be maintained on a regular basis by Parks Department employees.

The second concern came from Lorraine Sciulli and other board members, who questioned whether the Juniper Valley Park project should include a sandbox. Sciulli argued that it could lead to hygiene issues, and others noted it could be used by stray cats.

The Parks representatives explained that the sandboxes are included at the direction of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and said they are only installed in parks that include a field office. However, as a result of the board member’s concerns, the sandbox proposed for this project will be eliminated, according to the department.

These two parks efforts are part of the “largest expansion and improvement” of city parks since the 1930s, according to the department. “Thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for a greater, greener New York, the Parks Department has the funding to renovate numerous parks and to provide city residents with more opportunities for enjoying the outdoors all over the five boroughs,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

Photo:Landscape architect Thomas Atela shows plans for Grover Cleveland park at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting.

Board Discusses Grand Ave, Budget and Roads

Issuess discussed at this month's Community Board 5 meeting included traffic concerns on Grand Avenue, local roads projects and the board’s capital budget.

Grand Ave Traffic Concerns

Tony Nunziato, who is challenging Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) in next month’s elections, spoke out against the city’s plan to combine two traffic triangles in Maspeth into a single, larger green space.

While Nunziato said he supports the park project in general, he says it doesn’t make sense to essentially eliminate a lane of Grand Avenue without first implementing the Maspeth Truck Bypass plan, referring to the stalled effort to prevent trucks from cutting through the heart of the neighborhood’s shopping district on their way to the expressway.

According to Nunziato, DOT crews have been prepping the area where Maspeth, Grand and Flushing avenues meet, meaning the project will likely move forward in the coming weeks. “Here we are at holiday time, with the economy in the dumpster, we need all the parking we can get, and they’re doing this,” he said. “The idea of a park is wonderful, and will bring this back to a walking community, but only if you take the trucks off the avenue first.”

Under the DOT’s project, the two existing traffic islands at that intersection will be combined into one larger space. To do so, a lane of Maspeth Avenue between Grand and Flushing avenues must be eliminated.

Capital Project Budget Vote

Board members voted on the capital and expense budgets for fiscal year 2010. The proposed projects are ranked and submitted to the city to help determine which initiatives move forward and receive funding.

The following list was approved by the board, with three members voting against it:

• Redesign and reconstruct sewer system in portions of areas having worst flooding

• Study of sewer system in CB 5 and Queens considering flooding problems and anticipated future growth

• Reconstruct Cooper Avenue underpass and construct a new pedestrian crosswalk

• Provide new catch basins and reconstruct deteriorated catch basins

• Reconstruction of Grover Cleveland Park, phase two

• Renovate deteriorated schools and construct new school space where needed.

• Rehabilitate Glendale library branch

• Reconstruct ball fields, jogging path and add lights at Francis J. Principe Park

• Reconstruct south Middle Village streets

• Provide traffic improvements and rehabilitation at Fresh Pond Road

• Rehabilitate Ridgewood branch library, phase two

• Improve pedestrian and vehicle safety at Grand Avenue and 69th Street

• Reconstruct Dry Harbor playground, phase two.

• Provide new street tree plantings

• Establish a community/cultural/recreation center in Maspeth

• Flushing Avenue and Grand Avenue sewer projects

• Improve Myrtle Avenue commercial strip from Fresh Pond Road to 80th Street

• Rehabilitate Ridgewood Reservoir and portions of adjacent Highland Park

•Provide funding for historic restoration of St. Saviour’s church

•Reconstruct and widen sidewalk along the 80th Street bridge over the LIRR tracks

•Build a 104th Precinct parking facility

•Reconstruct 75th Street from Eliot Avenue to Juniper Boulevard North

•Provide lighting and restore curbing along Fred Haller’s Union Turnpike mall from Myrtle Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard

•Improve Myrtle/Wyckoff transit hub, including painting the M Train station

•Rehabilitate interior of 104th Precinct stationhouse

• Extend roadway widening along Metropolitan Avenue from Aubrey Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard

• Rehabilitate Evergreen Park playground

• Reconstruct streets that are along bus routes

• Reconstruct DeKalb Avenue, Halsey Street and Jefferson Street train stations

• Reconstruct Prokop Square at Fresh Pond Road and Cypress Hills Street

The board voted to approve the list with the exception of three members: Robert Holden, Lorraine Sciulli and Steve Fielder. Holden later said that he wanted the reconstruction of St. Saviour’s church to be included in the top ten.

“We [the Juniper Park Civic Association] fought so hard to save St. Saviour’s that all we ask is the board put it in the top ten so this can become a reality,” said Holden, who is also president of the JPCA. “The board did nothing to save the church and now they can’t even support the effort by putting it in the top ten.”

He also criticized the board’s practice of including items that have already been funded. “The board has a long history of including projects in their capital list that have already been funded,” said Holden. “Didn’t we listen to a design presentation for phase two reconstruction of Grover Cleveland Park that evening? In order for design to start, the project must be funded, yet the board has Grover Cleveland as number five.”

Road Projects Updates

Board District Manager Gary Giordano provided an update on local road improvement projects.

Maspeth Avenue has been completed from 61st Street to Maurice Avenue, which he called a “big get for use” since that project had been refused several times previously. Forest Avenue between Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues has been completed, but a portion needs to be redone due to a batch of bad asphalt, said Giordano. In addition, Myrtle Avenue from Fresh Pond Road to Woodhaven Boulevard is complete, as is Central Avenue.

Next year, the board will focus on roads in Middle Village, including Juniper Boulevard North and South. “They are tentatively on the list for next year,” said Giordano.

VFW Liquor License Application

Giordano reported that the Haspel Staab VFW post in Middle Village has now filed an application with the state Liquor Authority to expand the use of its liquor license to apply to the building’s side yard.

The request had received backlash from some residents, who objected to allowing the post members to drink outside, especially during parties the neighbors say are noisy. The issue was discussed at the board’s land use committee meeting earlier this month, but post Commander Michael Brown was unable to attend that session due to the death of his father.

While the application is now in the hands of the state, Giordano expressed hope that a compromise between the members and neighbors can be worked out, “more than just whether to use it or not use it,” he said. However, the board will inform the state that it received “some objections” to expansion of the license.

Crowley, Residents Push for DOT Action in Middle Village

By Conor Greene

City Council candidate Elizabeth Crowley and a group of Middle Village residents took to the street last week to call on the city to take steps to reduce the amount of drivers speeding through their neighborhood.

Crowley, a Glendale Democrat challenging incumbent Anthony Como for his spot on the City Council, gathered with about a dozen residents at the intersection of 73rd Place and 66th Drive, on Friday afternoon. According to the residents, drivers routinely speed through the intersection, which is a block north of Metropolitan Avenue, endangering the many young children who live nearby.

“It is a problem – lots of cars do speed down here,” said 71-year-old Tony Demeri, who has lived in the neighborhood for 41 years. “It is a hazard to everybody who lives here, especially children. It is not a healthy situation.”

The residents are asking that the city Department of Transportation conduct traffic studies at that location to determine whether a stop sign or other traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, can be installed. Crowley was joined at the event by the chief of staff for Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who is the chair of City Council’s Transportation Committee.

According to Crowley, officers from the 104th Precinct previously had a temporary speed trap setup on the block, with some cars clocked at more than 60 miles per hour. “We’re casting light on a situation that is very dangerous,” she said. “It is an accident wait- ing to happen and needs at least a stop sign.”

John Choe, who represented Councilman Liu at the event, vowed to push for DOT to conduct a “thorough study” of the intersection. “We will bring it to the attention of the DOT, which is a big agency that doesn’t always know what is going on in each community.”

However, neighbors have been reaching out to the DOT for help for at least two years, according to resident Jennifer Rup. She wrote to former Councilman Dennis Gallagher in 2006, who forwarded her concerns to Maura McCarthy, Queens Commissioner of the DOT. Rup said she received no response, and wrote a letter to current Councilman Anthony Como in July. He also wrote to McCarthy to alert her of the situation.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Rup, a mother of three-year-old twin girls, of the lack of response from DOT. “We’ve tried since 2006, and nobody has responded. They’re waiting for a fatality to happen.”

In addition, Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, wrote to the DOT’s Office of Signals and Intersection Control to request a stop sign at the intersection. “Seventy-third Place is too often used by speeding vehicles, who have little regard for the intersecting traffic going from Metropolitan Avenue north towards Juniper Valley Road,” he wrote in the letter, which was copied to McCarthy.

A message left with the DOT seeking a comment from McCarthy on the request was not returned as of press time.

“They know how many people are speeding,” said Crowley, referring to the DOT. “We’ve seen it ourselves in the past fifteen minutes, and this is not even the height of it.”

Update: A DOT spokesman said following press time that a previous study found a stop sign is not warranted at the location, but the department is still looking into whether speed bumps should be installed there.

Girl, 5, Recovering from Ridgewood Gang Shooting

Injured in Ridgewood While Walking Home

By Conor Greene

As a five-year-old girl shot earlier this week continues to recover in a Manhattan hospital, police continue the investigation, which has already resulted in three arrests.
hile the gunman in the incident on Himrod at about 9:30 p.m. on Monday remains at large, three reputed members of the Trinitarios gang have been arrested in connection with the shooting, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expects additional arrests.

The girl was shot while walking with her parents through their Ridgewood neighborhood on the way home from visiting nearby relatives, according to police sources. Her father noticed members of the Bloods gang following behind them. He then saw a man, later identified as a member of the Trinitarios, walking towards them holding a machete.

The family tried to flee along Himrod before realizing that the little girl had been struck by a bullet, said police. They took her on foot to nearby Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, where she was treated for a collapsed lung. She has since been moved to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell, where she is in critical but stable condition.

Doctors are still working to recover the bullet that pierced her lung, as family members keep a bedside vigil at the hospital. “It’s their only daughter, so they’re kind of distraught,” said a police source of the family.

Also injured in the shootout was 22-year-old Frances Dejesus of Stanhope Street. According to a police report, the victim was standing in front of 17-12 Himrod with a group of friends when five males approached from Seneca Avenue. A Hispanic male, about 22 to 25 years old and wearing a red bandana, pulled out a gun and shot Dejesus in the left leg.

Several minutes after responding to a report of a man shot, police were alerted that a child was also shot. A crime scene was established, but despite a search that included a helicopter flying overhead and officers on nearby rooftops, the shooter remains at large.

However, officers from the 104th Precinct used video footage from near the scene to identify a number of suspects who were interviewed. In addition, police identified other people of interest through summonses issued last week at a hooky party in a nearby apartment building.

So far, the only people arrested in the incident are Thomas Herro, 18, Antonio Rosario, 16, and Wilson Santana, 16, who police say are members of the Trinitarios.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Local Opposition to Governor's Aqueduct Choice

Pot Plants, Guns Seized During Maspeth House Raid

Addabbo, Maltese Address Voters in Forest Hills

St. John's Priest Accused of Sending Sex Video to "Teen"

One Family Fights Back Against Juvenile Diabetes

Off-Duty Officer Nabs Maspeth Bank Robber

Austin Street Rezoning on Board Agenda

Politics Unusual: Serf Serves up the Bacon, but HB Goes Hungry

Local Opposition to Governor's Aqueduct Choice

By Conor Greene

Swayed by the promise of a huge upfront cash payment to the state, Governor David Paterson and the Democratic-led Assembly have chosen a Buffalo-based company to operate a video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct racetrack.

Gov. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced late last week that Delaware North has been chosen to run the VLT over two other competing firms, Capital Play and SL Green. Delaware North’s plan includes a 330,000-square-foot racino featuring 4,500 video slot machines at the Ozone Park racetrack.

The state anticipates that Aqueduct will attract 20,000 visitors daily and will generate $1 million each day in tax revenue once the VLT casino is built. Construction on the racino is expected to take about one year after Delaware North obtains the necessary approvals.

However, the governor’s announcement has already been met with opposition from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who says that Delaware North’s plan is not the best option for the community in the long run.

“It appears that Governor Paterson is supporting a bid that only includes plans for a racino and does not include any proposal to generate needed economic development,” said Skelos in statement. “Unlike the other bids, Delaware North’s plan does not include an economic development proposal that would be a greater benefit in the long run.”

Skelos noted that “only recently” did Delaware North hire The Pebbles Corp to design plans for other amenities to be built at Aqueduct in the future, including a $15million hotel and conference center and a 3,000-seat boxing and concert hall. Skelos noted that Donahue Pebbles has “yet to provide a plan that could be reviewed and vetted by state and community organizations.”

In contrast, Capital Play, an Australian-based company, had partnered with Mohegan Sun on a plan that included restaurants, shopping, entertainment and a hotel and conference center. SL Green had teamed up with the Hard Rock brand to create a full entertainment destination featuring a hotel, restaurants, a spa, high-end retail and outlet shopping and an entertainment industry.

In announcing the decision, Governor Paterson cited Delaware North’s successful track record as a partner in upstate racing and gambling ventures and called the agreement “the best deal for all New Yorkers” in a statement released by spokeswoman Risa Heller.

“Of the bids put forth, Delaware North presents the strongest financial proposal with an up front payment of $370 million,” said Heller. “Combined with their successful track record… and with vast experience operating VLTs, Delaware North will build and operate a successful facility… which will provide additional vital resources for the Queens community, the upstate economy and education throughout the state.”

Skelos argued that Delaware North’s proposal will fail to make Aqueduct a “true destination venue [that] would create more jobs and generate more revenue for education in the long run” compared to the two other options. “It appears that in an effort to close the budget deficit, Governor Paterson has made a choice that may not be in the best long term interests of the state or for the communities that surround Aqueduct,” he said.

In response, the Governor’s office accused Skelos of attempting to “stall a significant economic development project” that would provide an important revenue stream. “In this time of a financial crisis, every day we delay hurts New York,” said Heller.

Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) said in a statement this week that Delaware North “has all along been nearly everyone’s third choice” and noted that residents living and working near the racetrack “are deeply concerned” about its future and should have a say in the process.

“Aqueduct has enormous potential to be a major tourist attraction and destination venue and we must not lose sight of that fact in making any decision,” said Maltese. “The surrounding communities have lived for years with problems caused by Aqueduct and now that such a major undertaking is finally coming close to fruition, those same communities… should be the ones to share in the benefit.”

Another bone of contention for local officials is that Delaware North has said they will build the VLT facility first and, depending on its performance, might build hotels, shopping and other economic development plans sometime in the future, while Capital Play and SL Green have both presented simultaneous economic development plans to the community several times.

Capital Play's plan includes a $400 million casino along with an additional $70million economic development plan featuring hotels, retail and convention space totaling more than $1 billion in economic development for southwest Queens.

According to sources with knowledge of the process, SL Green and Capital Play are furious that Delaware North has been allowed to modify its proposal to add Peebles (who has not been vetted by the Lottery Commission - a requirement of the state for the other bidders) since their presentations to the Governor's panel in Albany in April.

As a result, legal challenges are expected since the state apparently did not adhere to its own rules by allowing Delaware North to add change its proposal and add Peebles after the three bidders submitted their final proposals. That could mean further delays in starting the VLT's at Aqueduct.

Some now question whether NYRA, which was recently bailed out of bankruptcy by the State at a cost of over $300 million, might not survive if the VLT's do not start producing revenue soon, perhaps requiring another bailout.

Senator Maltese and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) have both expressed concerns at local meetings in recent weeks that since the State is losing out on a million dollars a day in revenue due to the delay in getting the VLT operation at Aqueduct up and running, Delaware's upfront offer of more money might sway the Governor's decision.

Local leaders have also indicated disagreement with Governor Paterson's position. At the most recent meeting of Community Board 10 earlier this month its chairperson, Betty Braton, voiced the community view that both of the other proposals, from Capital Play and SL Green, offered more over the long-term to the State and that both groups had provided far more information regarding their plans than Delaware.

"We've had the opportunity to talk with them on a number of occasions, both entities, Capital Play and SL Green, have gotten involved with local community activities, both have been accessible and have provided information over the last year or so as this process has moved forward," Braton said. "Unfortunately that has not been the case with Delaware, which raises concerns for us at the local level as we are the people who will be most directly affected by what happens at Aqueduct."

On another front, Mitchell Ettess of Mohegan Sun, which has partnered with Capital Play, is on record as stating that their world class entertainment destination plan would generate $6.0 billion more for the State for education. He said he is perplexed as to why the state would seek more money up front at the expense of billions of dollars more offered under the Capital Play Plan. An SL Green spokesperson is also perplexed by the choice of Delaware North.

Others in the area have voiced concerns that Delaware North will build a “down market slots in a box” facility providing only “one shot” quick fix for the State budget, that they believe will lead to problems with gambling addiction and crime in southwest Queens.

Many locals are strongly urging the Governor and legislative leaders to reconsider the choice of Delaware North and put the people of Queens and the state of New York first and choose either Capital Play or SL Green.

Pot Plants, Guns Seized During House Raid

104th Pct Crime Report Includes Robbery, Burglary Arrest

By Conor Greene

An investigation by the 104th Precinct’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit led to the arrest of a married couple and their two children on charges they grew marijuana in their 72nd Place home.

The investigation into drug activity inside 53-30 72nd Place ended at about 6 a.m. Tuesday when officers from the precinct, armed with a search warrant, and members of the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit raided the home.

In addition to several pot plants, officers found two unlicensed guns, a stash of fireworks and an MTA police badge. As a result, the husband and wife who live there, Richard Stancati and his wife, Hope Stancati, both 53, were arrested along with two sons, Jason, 24 and Jessie, 19, according to police.

On Wednesday, the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said the four defendants were being held pending arraignment in criminal court on charges of first-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree possession of marijuana, unlawfully dealing with fireworks and growing cannabis.

The top counts are each punishable by up to seven years in prison, and the lesser charges are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison, according to Brown’s office.

Among the items recovered at the house were two pot plants from the backyard, six plants from a fish tank on the roof, one plant from a backyard table, one from an alleyway next to the house and two others from the roof.

Police also found a glass vial containing marijuana in a drawer in the son’s bedroom. In addition, police recovered a stash of fireworks from a backyard shed, according to the district attorney’s office.

According to sources, the family became known to precinct after Richard Stancati got into an altercation with employees at Maspeth Town Hall after a ball accidentally went over a wall and into his yard.

Hope Stancati was previously quoted in The Forum West regarding her efforts to fight against a cellular tower proposed for her neighborhood, which is near Maspeth Town Hall. She is among a group of residents who don’t think it is appropriate to place the cellular tower on top of a house in the residential area.
The arrests were made by Officer Alison Potokin of the precinct’s SNEU team.

Man Charged in Gym Burglary

A Middle Village man with an extensive criminal record has been charged with breaking into a Ridgewood fitness center, according to police.

John Maggi, 37, of 58-37 80th Street, was charged with third-degree burglary and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia after police caught him breaking into a Dolphin Gym branch on Myrtle Avenue.

According to the 104th Precinct, a witness called police to report that somebody had thrown a brick through a glass door at the rear of the building at about 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday. Officers found money allegedly taken from the gym in Maggi’s pocket after finding him at the scene, said police.

Man Mugged on Ridgewood Street

A man was accosted and robbed by three men while walking along a local street early Sunday morning, according to police. The suspects are still at large.

The victim was walking near Seneca Avenue and Himrod Street at about 4:45 a.m. Sunday morning when three unidentified men approached him from behind, according to the 104th Precinct.

One of the suspects identified himself as a “detective” and told the man not to move. The perpetrators then threw the victim against a wall and went through his pockets, removing cash. They fled in a grey sedan, but the victim was unable to provide police with a description of his attackers or their getaway car.

The NYPD is continuing to investigate the incident since one of the suspects identified himself as a police officer.

Addabbo, Maltese Address Voters in Forest Hills

By Conor Greene

Candidates in two local state senate races discussed issues including the economy and education with residents at Tuesday’s meeting of the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association.

Attending the event at the American Legion hall on Metropolitan Avenue were Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale)and his challenger in the 15th district, Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). Also on hand were the candidates in the 16th district, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) and challenger Peter Koo (R-Flushing).

The format for the event included questions posed by civic members that were answered by all four candidates in a rotating order. The questions mostly centered on the state of the economy, and education – particularly funding of city schools. Due to this newspaper’s readership area, only the comments by Addabbo and Maltese are reflected in this article.

Mayoral Control of Schools

The first question came from Kathryn Thome, a mother of two children and a member of the District 28 Community Education Council. She asked about the candidate’s views on mayoral control of schools, including whether it has helped schools within Forest Hills.

Maltese said that the decision several years ago to require this legislation to come back before the senate next year “was one of the best things we ever did” in Albany.

“The parents are unhappy, the teachers are unhappy, and the administrators are unhappy,” he said. “The problem is, some recommendations were made [regarding mayoral control] by people who were not familiar with the New York City school system.”

He added that while testing can place “an undue burden on the kids,” it is also “part of our lives” and “something we have to deal with.” He added that the system must allow for greater input from parents. “The parents have to have substantial input and the fact is, right now they don’t,” he said.

Addabbo said he visits the schools within his city council district on a regular basis, and would continue to do the same if elected to the senate. Each school receives a capital funding allocation every other year, he added.

“It is so important for the schools to get to know me and me to know them and their unique needs,” he said. “Education is that important… We need to keep families here so that kids can go to school close to their parents.”

He said that overall, the decision to bring control of city schools under the auspices of the Department of Education was a “major decision” that provides more “transparency and accountability” to the system. However, he argued, it is lacking “continuity” as the plan keeps on changing.

“If mayoral control is going to be done right, it needs continuity.” The major issue, said Addabbo, is lack of input from parents and teachers. “We need input…[and] to hear from the administrators, the parents,” he said.

State Funding for City School

The next question came from JR Nocerino, who asked what can be done about the imbalance in the amount sent to Albany in taxes and the amount received back for school funding.

Maltese boasted his record on school funding, which he said includes helping restore $646 million in the 2007 state budget for education after it was cut by former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Faced with the same situation this year, Maltese helped restore $616 million for schools.

“The fact is, over the last ten years, we have increased funding for city schools by ninety percent,” said Maltese. The city currently receives $8,530 per student, which is more than Nassau County. “We need to see that reflected in better schools,” he said. “I know they need smaller class sizes. If you don’t have a good school, you are going to move out.”

Addabbo recalled the days on city council following 9/11 when the city was facing a huge deficit. Even so, “our rally cry was education first,” he said, adding that the “primary reason” he decided to challenge Maltese was due to the funding formula, which he called “unconsciously unfair.”

He noted that it was a court ordered de-cision that led to changes in the way the state funds city schools. As a result of that decision, there is $300 million to be spent in city schools. “I can’t wait to get my hands on that $300 million, or at least part of it,” he said, adding that the formula has left schools in “jeopardy for too long.”

Maintaining Vital Services

Barbara Stuchinski, president of the FHCCA, asked the candidates how they would maintain programs that serve seniors, families and the unemployed during the current economic crisis.

Addabbo said that his experience on city council working on the 2002 budget has provided him the background needed to work through these tough times. “We cut government – that’s the first step,” he said. Once you get to the point when you are cutting essential services, you begin to look at the revenue side.

While the council was forced to raise property taxes, it has since reduced the city property tax rate. “There’s a lot of waste out there,” he said, citing $5 billion a year in

Medicaid fraud along with insurance fraud as two areas that need attention. He also said that the state should stop providing funding to large corporations, since as much as 75% have said they don’t need the money. “If they don’t need it, let’s save it,” he said.

Maltese expressed concern with “what is going on in senior centers,” including the plan to deliver frozen meals to homebound residents once a week instead of a daily hot meal. He said that the Ridgewood Multi-service Center just had $60,000 cut from its budget without warning, but due to his seniority on the senate, he was able to restore that funding.

He was also able to restore $75,000 out of $130,000 cut from the Forest Park Senior Center. In addition, he is able to fund 230 groups each year because of his position on the senate.“This isn’t just those centers,” said Maltese. “It is because I have been there as a full-time senator.”

Economy is Main Issue

The final prepared question of the evening came from Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council.

She asked the candidates what they think is the biggest issue facing the community, and what they can do to help. Not surprisingly, all four agreed that the economy is the most important issue right now.

“It affects us as property owners, tenants, seniors and our children,” said Addabbo. “We have to be very careful in the path we go right now.” He cited foreclosures as one specific consequence of the situation and called for the senate to pass a bill placing a moratorium on foreclosure proceedings. He said that foreclosures “generally affect the entire community,” leading to a decrease in property values and a rise in crime.

Addabbo added that in these times, agencies such as the MTA should not be raising bus and train fares. “You don’t balance you budget on the backs of your riders,” he said, adding that he has launched a campaign to prevent the MTA from again raising fares without first looking at ways to reduce spending.

“We’re already hit at home. We don’t need to be hit again at the train station,” he said. “I’m not confident right now that our state government has a plan for the budget.”

Maltese said his main issue is the economy “and the creation of jobs” in the community. He touted legislation he helped pass that provided tax credits and breaks, small business loans and technology grants.

He called layoffs “a failure of government” and said that legislators need to work across party lines to get the economy back on track. He also called for more taxing of cigarette and gasoline sales by Native Americans as a way to increase the revenue stream.

Closing Remarks

The candidates were given a chance to discuss specifically what they would do to help the Forest Hills area during their closing statements.

Addabbo noted that he had a law practice on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills for ten years before he was elected to office. As a result, he is aware of traffic issues in the area, and vowed to not turn his back on local issues if elected to the senate.

“Even if I’m a state senator, I can’t avoid the city issues,” he said. “I see all the small businesses, and I want to protect them. Forest Hills has a wonderful shopping district… Traffic, small businesses, local schools – that’s why people stay in the community.”

He said he would continue to run his 24-hour hotline, which allows residents to get in touch with a live operator to report any emergencies. “Problems don’t happen on Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he said. “That’s how you serve the community... I do think we have a problem in the state senate.”

Maltese said he maintains offices in Glendale and Howard Beach to better serve his constituents, and has staff available on weekends by appointment.

He has been working recently with Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) on Department of Transportation issues, and has recently hosted several town hall meetings. He noted that he has been endorsed by the National Small Business Federation.

“A problem that may be small on the state level is big when it’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “The fact is I know what it’s like to be in the senate and deliver for my constituents.”

St. John's Priest Accused of Sending Sex Video to "Teen"

Caught in Colorado Sheriff’s Office Online Sting

By Conor Greene

A St. John’s University chaplain has been arrested on charges that he sent a homemade masturbation video over the Internet to an undercover officer in Colorado who was posing as a 13-year-old boy.

Rev. Charles Plock, 63, was arrested last Friday at his apartment in Murray Hall on the St. John’s campus after allegedly sending his webcam video to an undercover detective with the Adams County, Colorado Sheriff’s Office who was posing as a 13-year-old boy.

Plock was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court that evening and is scheduled to make his next appearance on November 10. He faces up to four years in prison on the top charge of attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor, a felony.

Judge Robert Raciti agreed last week to release Plock on $150,000 bail under the condition that he reports to St. John Vianney Center, a residential psychiatric facility in Downingtown, Pa. The 10% cash needed to secure Plock’s release from custody was reportedly collected by fellow priests at St. John’s, and the school announced this week that it has suspended Plock.

About a dozen people waited outside Queens Criminal Court for Plock and greeted him with shouts of “Shame on you” and “pedophile” as he walked by, according to the Daily News. Citing police sources, the paper reported there is no indication that Plock has abused any St. John’s students.

The criminal complaint against Plock accuses him of attempting to disseminate indecent material to a child beginning on September 2 of this year. Plock unwittingly was drawn into the Adams County Sheriff’s Office sting operation when he initiated a conversation with an undercover officer.

Using a Yahoo screen name, Plock told the “teenager” that he was a 47-year-old catholic priest who taught and counseled college students at a New York City university. When the officer responded that he was 13 years old, Plock allegedly asked if he was gay and provided him with his phone number.

The next day, the officer was using the same undercover persona when Plock again contacted him and invited him to view his webcam. The officer observed “a white male from the chest down exposing his genitals.” The officer responded, “I am 13 and have never gotten to see that.” During this time, Plock’s webcam was turned on and clearly displayed his face to the officer, according to the criminal complaint.

The incident was referred to the NYPD, which subpoenaed Yahoo records for the screen name allegedly used by Plock which show that the IP addresses used to access the account are assigned to St. John’s University’s computer network. The addresses where eventually traced to Hollis Hall, which is where Plock’s office is, and Murray Hall, where he lives. Investigators believe that Plock made the videos in his on campus bathroom.

Students reacted in shock to the charges on The Flashlight, an online publication providing news about St. Johns. “I knew Fr. Charlie from back when I was a student a St. Johns,” wrote user Kathleen. “It is shocking news that is hard to grapple with. He has done so much good in his life for disadvantaged, very poor people. Clearly he needs help. There are many good priests out there and I pray for anyone affected.”

Other students told the Daily News that Plock was known as a cool priest who was willing to sit and talk and share his Marlboro Light cigarettes. “Father Charlie? No Way! He was a pretty all right guy,” freshman Kevin Winters told the paper.

Instead of awaiting his next court appearance in a jail cell, Plock has been ordered to check into St. John Vianney Center. Its Website describes it as a “community of faith that provides a pathway for religious and clergy to take towards healing and hope” by extending “professional treatment and support services as well as education programs which are spiritually based, holistic and sensitive to individual needs.”

The center, which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is located in a quiet suburban area near several country clubs. It has been treating members of the clergy since 1946.

One Family Fights Back Against Juvenile Diabetes

By Patricia Adams

“As parents we’re always looking to protect our children, but there is no preparing for the day you see your child on the verge of collapse and find out he has this life threatening illness.”

The last thing Linda Gurino ever expected to have to face was a health crisis with one of her children. But when it happened, Gurino says her family’s world and life as they knew it was turned upside down.

There were really no signs or symptoms that would ever have prepared the Gurino family for what they were about to encounter. Anthony and Linda Gurino’s oldest son, 10-year-old Vincent, seemed to be perfectly healthy. But on a family vacation to Shelter Island, the tables turned and they were dragged into what seemed like an inescapable nightmare.

It began when the family was getting off the ferry. Vincent became extremely agitated, repeatedly screaming to his mother that he was thirsty. “His reaction was alarming,” Linda Gurino said, “totally unlike my son’s normal behavior.” The boy spotted a supermarket and went running inside. His mother ran after him and upon entering found him pouring a jug of apple juice down his throat.

According to the Gurinos, Vincent had displayed an unusual thirst for the three weeks before this incident, however he had a bout with the summertime Coxsackie virus, which is known to cause extreme thirst on occasion, and his family physician attributed his thirst to that.

Luckily however, Vincent’s parents decided not to take any chances and rushed their son to a hospital in Greenport near Jamesport on the North Fork of Long Island. It was there that doctors leveled the Gurino family with the news that Vincent’s blood sugar was at a level of 1,000, well above the normal range of between 70 and 120. Doctors at the hospital remained baffled as to how the boy had not lapsed into a coma.

It was there at Greenport that Vincent was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, otherwise known as Juvenile Diabetes. From Greenport they transferred Vincent to Schneider’s Children’s Hospital where the family stayed for three nights. Linda Gurino says that despite the panic that had swept over her family in the past twenty-four hours, she began to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

That light came in the form of her brother-in-law, Angelo Gurino and two family friends he brought with him. “Joe and Maritza Mure are my life savers,” said Linda Gurino.

And it’s no wonder that the Gurino’s would be extremely thankful for their help. Joe Mure is the President of the Brooklyn-Queens Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and his wife Maritza is one of the leading champions of the cause to cure the disease that they are painfully familiar with. The Mure’s 9-year-old son, Michael also has the disease. The Mures stayed for hours teaching the family how to give shots and counseling them on different situations that would arise and how to deal with them.

After a three day stay at Schneider’s, Vincent was ready to go home, with a new regimen that included a high carb diet that was basically undoable for him. “My son had to eat just under 200 grams of carbohydrates a day to feed his insulin,” said Linda Gurino. “He just couldn’t handle it and was vomiting and getting really sick from the food.”

It was then that Maritza Mure took Linda by the hand with Vincent and brought them to the Naomi Berrie Center for Diabetes at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. There, Linda Gurino says, a new world was opened up for Vincent and her whole family. At the Berrie Center there is an entirely different regimen which allows Vincent to take shots whenever he eats, and allows him to eat almost anything he wants to. The center is a pioneer of new technology in the field and is fast gaining world-wide recognition for their developments.

Now that a few months have passed, the Gurino family is starting to settle in to their new routine which includes a new diet for their household. “Before, I never allowed my kids to eat too much meat, especially beef. And drinking diet soda was out of the question,” but now Gurino says they are staples in the family diet, especially in Vincent’s. “The most important thing we can do for our son is to make our house normal under difficult circumstances,” Anthony Gurino explained. “We are all on a low carb diet now that Vincent has to eat that way.”

But looking for a silver lining can sometimes be difficult especially when it comes to scheduling. Linda Gurino gets up every night at 1 am and again at 4 am to check Vincent’s levels. “If they’re high, he needs to get a correction (insulin shot) and if his sugar is low, he needs to get juice and raisins to bring his sugar back up.” The difficult part of that routine is that pumping anyone full of sugar makes it hard to get back to sleep and before you realize it, the 4 am check-up is upon you.”

Despite a curve ball of this proportion being thrown at them, Vincent Gurino and his family have pushed on. They are getting used to the new words in their vocabulary--- blood test strips, glucose meters for home and school, the glucogon gun, sugar tablets, syringes and lancets. And because of a program at the Berrie Center, Vincent will be getting an insulin pump now that will cut down his every day shots to once every three days.

“We still have to log in everything Vincent does in terms of his shots, his food and carbohydrate consumption and his blood sugar readings,” Linda says. “And of course there’s the school participation that is so vital.” She describes what has happened over the course of the last months as an emotional roller coaster unlike any other. “I am basically ashamed about my ignorance of this disease before it hit my family. We all need to be aware of how devastating this is and how much we need help when it hits home.”

That is one thing that Linda says she will be ever grateful for. “I can’t express how I feel about the people that have supported us through this. You kind of expect it from your family, but you never expect it from the people who don’t know you at all.” They are the ones she says that have helped carry herself and her husband and kids through this ordeal.

The Gurino family is so thankful to all of those who helped them they are now actively raising funds for JDRF. Vincent’s uncle, Angelo Gurino launched a drive to sell paper sneakers at his Ragtime Gourmet Deli in Howard Beach to raise money for the race to cure Juvenile Diabetes.

And since his nephew was diagnosed Gurino has introduced many more sugar free, low carb products to the store. The Gurino Family Trust will present JDRF with a check for $5,000 at the upcoming JDRF Walk for a Cure on October 26 at Flushing Corona Park. In fact the Ragtime walkers for the day already number close to 100.

“When it first happens, the level of anxiety is overwhelming. You never think you’ll get over it,” said Linda Gurino. “But when you realize, after calming down and getting your head that the help you need is there. Whether it comes from medical professionals, total strangers, family or friends, you can learn, you can get through it and thank God, you can save your child.”

Off-Duty Officer Nabs Maspeth Bank Robber

By Conor Greene

A man who attempted to rob a local bank was arrested by an off-duty police officer following a struggled that left the cop injured.

Robert Jabonowski, 36, with no known address walked into the HSBC bank at 65-63 Grand Avenue at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday and pulled out a silver gun before passing a note to a teller demanding money, according to police.

Officer Patrick Plunkett, a member of the NYPD stationed to a Manhattan housing project was inside the bank at the time of the attempted robbery. He identified himself as a police officer and approached Jabonowski from behind. As Plunkett grabbed him, the suspect began to fight back, punching the officer several times in the face.

The 104th Precinct initially received a call of a dispute in the bank and arrived to find the officer and suspect wrestling inside the bank. Officer Juan Gomez arrested Jabonowski, who was charged with first-degree robbery, possession of weapon and stolen property and assaulting a police officer.

Officer Plunkett was slightly injured in the fracas, during which one of his teeth was knocked out, said police.

Austin Street Rezoning on Board Agenda

City Planning Presentation on Wednesday

By Conor Greene

Residents are urged to attend the upcoming meeting of Community Board 6 to learn more about the proposed rezoning of Austin Street and Queens Boulevard.

The Department of City Planning is scheduled to present its plan for a new Forest Hills District to the board at its meeting next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Kew Gardens Community Center.

Under the plan buildings on the south side of Austin Street would be limited to three stories, or about 40 feet. On the north side, which is closer to Queens Boulevard, building height would be limited to six stories, or about 70 feet.

The changes are aimed at protecting the western end of Austin Street, near Yellowstone Boulevard, from out of character development. The plan - devised over the past two years by the city and local officials - would also limit buildings along Queens Boulevard to 150 feet in height.

The rezoning area is generally bounded by Queens Boulevard to the north, the Long Island Railroad tracks to the south, Ascan Avenue to the east and Yellowstone Boulevard to the west.

The current zoning has been in place since 1961. According to the Department of City Planning, the area was dominated by auto-related uses at the time that have since been replaced with successful retail businesses and restaurants.

“This has transformed the area from a secondary shopping area to a vibrant commercial hub serving both local residents of Forest Hills and neighboring communities, which much of the activity concentrated along 71st Avenue and Austin Street,” the DCP wrote on a project description available online.

In a statement released by the DCP, its commissioner, Amanda Burden, said that Councilwoman Melinda Katz has worked with her agency on “this fine-grained rezoning proposal” over the past few years.

“The proposed zoning will provide much needed controls on new building form and scale to protect and strengthen the Austin Street retail corridor and more appropriately frame and reinforce development patterns on Queens Boulevard," said Burden in a statement.

Overall, the rezoning seeks to “provide predictable streetwalls and heights that reinforce established contexts, provide a transition in scale and density from south (Austin Street) to north (Queens Boulevard) [and] promote a ground floor commercial/retail development along Austin Street and Queens Boulevard.”

Serf Serves up the Bacon, but Howard Beach Goes Hungry

Louis Brandeis, a wise Supreme Court Justice, wrote “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants." Over the past few weeks, we’ve shed some of those rays on some information regarding the mail and excessive spending of our tax monies by Senator Maltese on the rentals and staffing of his district offices. This week we’ll spread a little more sunshine your way so that the light will shine down on yet more of his spending habits.

It’s clear that pork-barrel spending has been on his mind, judging by the mail he sent out trying to smear Joe Addabbo with Christine Quinn’s council slush fund shenanigans. Curiously Serf, no group Joe funded was among any we read about in the daily papers earlier this year.

And just so our big spender, affectionately dubbed Serfplus, thinks we have nothing positive to say about him, we don’t think he’s spent any of his pork on groups not worthy of funding, either. But, and it’s a big BUT –he has NOT distributed his pork grants equitably among groups in the many neighborhoods he represents. Nor has he been fair with distribution in distribution with the actual neighborhoods in his district. The senator clearly has favorites and we think you should know whether or not your community or group is on the “Hit Parade”. The See Through NY website, as does Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s Project Sunlight website, shed some light on the subject of where that money goes and for what purpose.

A glaring example of inequity was evident in Howard Beach last week. Maltese was on hand last week at St. Helen’s school to award $20,000 for a worthy project. Kudos to Serf. But before those of you who were on hand singing the senator’s praises get too excited, perhaps you should look at the bigger picture. Because once you’re armed with all the information surrounding the smiling photo-op at St. Helen’s you’ll be saying, “It’s about time,” instead of “Thank you so much.”

According to data on See Through and Sunlight, Maltese doled out $2,002,000in member items – AKA pork - to groups in and out of his district for State fiscal year 2007-08. In that year only $23,000 went to Howard Beach groups. In State fiscal year 2008-09, he’s doled out $2,440,500 in pork, and again less than $30,000 to groups in Howard Beach. If you’re up to a little perspective on this issue, how about this---total spending in Howard Beach for the last two years—less than 2% of Serfplus’ available funds.

We can’t help but wonder if he looked across the street while he was at St. Helen’s. If he did, he might have noticed the senior center located there on the other side of “God’s Alley.” It’s been right there in his district for years serving seniors. In 2007-08 part of that $2 million was allocated by him to senior groups. Senator Serfplus doled out $481,000 to senior programs in that year. Grand total to senior programs in zip code 11414 shown in the data for that year? Zip, zero, zilch.

How about fiscal year 2008-09? Well, out of that $2.4 million it seems he allocated $547,500 to 22 senior programs. Ten of the programs received amounts ranging between $20,000 and $100,000. Eleven groups received amounts between $5,000 and $18,000. One group, the one located across the street from St. Helen’s, which serves Howard Beach with its growing aging population, got $3,000. That’s $3,000 out of $1,030,500 over two years. Something’s wrong in the equity department. That’s about 0.3% out of two years worth of Serf-plus’s tax money allocated for senior programs. It seems that the biggest contribution Serfplus makes to Howard Beach is his rent payment.

As they say, follow the money. The Senator is a big spender. That shows clearly in his campaign spending. In case you were wondering, his most recent required filing of campaign expenditures shows those TV commercials we were treated to cost at least $483,260, but thankfully those aren’t our tax dollars, they’re the dollars of his supporters. Also of note in that filing was $370,000 in contributions from the NYS Republican Senate Campaign Committee. Guess that’s what paid for the nasty mail we got.

And speaking of nasty, that’s just about the best way to describe some phone calls The Forum received last week from readers who were irate over the Celebrity Look-Alike column which featured Gov. Sarah Palin. I guess you guys like Sarah more than Serf because I haven’t been getting any complaints about bashing the senator. In fact, news on that front has been very supportive.

But getting back to the look-alikes, we can understand why some would find the material offensive but we must insist that it was in no way meant to insult any of our readers or their political views. Maybe those of you who were so upset last week can take a look at the roasting of Democratic VP hopeful Sen. Joe Biden this week. Try to remember it’s only a column designed to aim for a little political or general satire, but never meant to offend.

We’re truly sorry about any upset we caused our loyal readers but remain very grateful that they continue to call and express themselves about their likes and dislikes in The Forum.

Please stay tuned as we come down the home election stretch because we’ve been storing up plenty of little bombs to drop on the local as well as the national scene. And if you’re waiting to see who we think should take their seats at the head of the class in November, your wait is almost over. Next week we’ll pick those we see and some of whom we hope will be known as our future elected officials.

Until next week...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Week's Forum South and West

Bloomberg Pushing Term Limits Amendment

Hearings Scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17, Vote Expected on Oct. 23

By Conor Greene

A one-page bill introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday calls for permanently allowing elected officials to serve three consecutive four-year terms instead of two. The bill is being pushed through quickly and will likely be the subject of public hearings before the end of the month.

At the same time, Councilman David Weprin (R-Hollis) introduced a bill that would require that any change to term limits be done by a referendum, since residents voted twice to establish term limits. The bill is also sponsored by Councilmembers Bill de Blasio, Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) and John Liu (D-Flushing).

In addition, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) sponsored a resolution that would force the state legislature “to give the authority to provide in its Charter than any change in its term limits must be submitted to voter referendum.”

“If this Council votes to amend the Term Limits Law without seeking a public referendum, it will go down in history as one of the most blatantly self-serving and autocratic acts of any legislative body in this city’s history,” said Avella, who is running for mayor next year.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has refused to comment publicly on the bill, telling reporters at City Hall on Tuesday that, “I do not have an announcement to make for you today regarding term limits.” After announcing his intentions to amend the term limits law last week, Bloomberg was in Europe this week meeting with foreign leaders.

The attempt by Bloomberg to overturn the current term limits comes as 13 of 14 City Councilmembers from Queens will be forced out of office due to term limits in 2009. Many have already announced their intentions to run for higher office, including Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who plans to run for comptroller. William Thompson, who currently holds that seat, has indicated that he still plans to move ahead with his mayoral bid, even if term limits are amended.

Katz has not said whether she will abandon her comptroller run and again seek her City Council seat if term limits are extended. However, due to the stricter campaign finance limits for City Council candidates, she would have to return about $400,000 that she has raised for her comptroller bid if she does so.

While Katz has not publicly endorsed a candidate to replace her on the City Council, her spokeswoman told the Daily News that she is friends with “both” candidates, referring to former Assemblyman Michael Cohen and Queens Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz, who represented the 29th District on City Council from 1991 to 2001.

Other candidates for that seat include Heidi Chain Harrison, Lynn Schulman, Bob DeLay and Mel Gagarin.

Other term-limited Councilmembers include Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who is gunning for the state Senate seat currently held by Serf Maltese (R-Glendale), Eric Gioia, who is planning a bid for public advocate, Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who is eyeing the borough president’s seat and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who is challenging Frank Padavan (R-Queens).

At a civic meeting on Tuesday, Addabbo said that he fundamentally doesn’t agree with the concept of term limits, but said that “what has been created by the people should be changed by the people.” He added that for the City Council to make that decision would be “self-serving and wrong” and is something he won’t support.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg, who doesn’t have a job lined up after his mayoral term ends next year, is working hard to push his bill through the City Council. Public hearings have reportedly already been scheduled for October 16 and 17, and a vote is expected on October 23.

Possibly complicating matters, Assemblyman Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) was expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday afternoon announcing his plans to introduce a bill that would prevent Bloomberg from extending term limits without first holding a public referendum.

Candidates Speak at Our Neighbors Civic Meeting in Ozone Park

Addabbo, Maltese, Pheffer,Sullivan and Weiner Attended

By Conor Greene

Residents heard from several local candidates at Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park on Tuesday night, including the candidates for state Senate and Assembly.

The town hall style meeting at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church included Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) and his challenger, Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), along with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) and challenger Gerald Sullivan (R-Breezy Point). Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens), who is unchallenged in his reelection bid, also spoke at the event.

The format provided each candidate with about seven minutes to address the crowd, followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

Congressman Anthony Weiner

First up was Rep. Weiner, who is running unopposed for reelection this year, but plans on running for mayor in 2009. His focus was on the current state of the economy and the Iraq war. He said it is a time for residents to “come together and think not only about our own needs, but about the greater needs of the community.”

Weiner is calling for a “disengagement from Iraq” so that the nation has the resources to deal with pressing matters back home. “We’ve reached the point where our troops have shown that when given an assignment, they can do just about anything,” he said, noting the successful overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

However, the country has reached the point of a “low-grade civil war,” leaving our future intentions there “unclear.” As a result, there are other interests that “we are less able to deal with because we are there.” He argued that the war has contributed to our current economic woes.

“We need an organized, staged, smart partial withdrawal of our troops,” he said. We should leave enough to maintain security, especially along the Iranian border which would “essentially seal the school yard.” He noted that the Iraq government currently has a $90 million surplus, and argued that 18-year-old Iraqi men “are not standing up for their country because we are.”

Weiner placed blame for the currently financial crisis across the board, including with both lenders who issued shaky mortgage deals, and the consumers who took them on. “Someone should have said no,” he said. “Banks were pushing products that were much too risky.”

He said he doesn’t support a freeze on mortgage foreclosures, and added that some of the blame must lie with the consumers who took the loans on. “I don’t like the idea that personal responsibility has been taken off the table here,” he said.

Weiner predicted that “we are going to be digging out for quite some time,” adding that in hindsight, it is fortunate that the government didn’t privatize social security several years ago, given the recent losses in the stock market.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Pheffer has served on the state Assembly for 21 years total, and has represented the Ozone Park area since the district lines were redrawn several years ago. She recalled, “The concern was, how was Audrey Pheffer gong to serve us,” since she wasn’t from the neighborhood.Years later, “You didn’t even realize I didn’t live in this neighborhood,” she said, because of the numerous community events she attends.

During her time on the Assembly, Pheffer has served on committees for aging, higher education, government employees, veterans and consumer affairs, which she chairs. She noted that she has seniority within the majority party in the Assembly, which gives her extra pull during budget negotiations.

As chairwoman of the consumer affairs committee, Pheffer said she has been instrumental in enacting important legislation, including bills that made identity theft a crime when the problem first arose years ago, the Do Not Call registry and providing residents with free credit reports. “If I went to each person, there would be something in my committee that has affected your life,” she told the audience.

Other areas of progress during her Assembly career include improving funding for schools, both on the capital and operational sides, ensuring that hospitals and nursing homes don’t close, and making sure that “doctors make the medical decisions, not the insurance companies.”

“I believe we are safer because of the strong laws enacted in Albany,” she said. “It has been a wonderful, wonderful run, and there are many more things that have to be done. It’s going to be a very difficult year.” She vowed to “make those necessary budget cuts” in hopes of not affecting resident’s quality of life.

Republican Challenger Gerald Sullivan

Gerald Sullivan of Breezy Point declared that not only is the nation in a financial crisis, “we are also in a crisis in New York State.”

He noted that Governor David Paterson called the Assembly back into session to cut 5%from the budget. “They weren’t even able to cut one percent,” he said. “We are going to have to cut back ourselves – all we’re asking is for government to do the same.” He said the final assembly cut amounted to just .3%.

Admitting that his mindset might upset some voters, Sullivan declared that “nothing should be safe when it comes to tax cuts over the next few months.” He argued that the toll to Rockaway is an unfair tax on people traveling within the borough. “They should have enacted legislation to eliminate that toll years ago, but they didn’t,” he said.

He said the “most important thing” is to support the middle class, “the people who get up everyday and go to work.” He also called for more choice as to what school parents send their children to and said a larger tax break should be given to families sending their children to private schools.

When asked how he expects to push through legislation as a minority member of the Assembly, Sullivan pointed out that Pheffer voted with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver 98.6% of the time. “When you talk about majority, you’re talking about one man,’ he said. “There would be a voice for the people who disagree with Sheldon Silver. Right now there isn’t.”

Sullivan touted his experience running two small businesses as the background needed to deal with the current economic situation. He said the key was “using sound economics to run a business.”

State Senator Serf Maltese

Maltese, who has served on the state Senate for nearly 20 years, used the majority of his allotted time to discuss his personal background.

He said he comes from a “working family” which instilled in him “the value of hard work.” He told the crowd that he was educated in the area before serving two years in the Army, a year of which he fought in Korea.

He also discussed a series of jobs he held before his election to the Senate, including time in the District Attorney’s office, and his role in forming the Conservative Party of New York State in 1962. “We felt the conservatives didn’t have a choice and a vote,” he said.

Since his election in 1989, Maltese has taken on law cases on a pro bono basis, but has not accepted “a nickel” for any law work.

He called education “certainly one of my main priorities,” adding that he tries to visit all 47 schools within the district every two years. He said he is proud of$460,000 member item he secured to provide at least one Smart Board to each school. “I feel that the organizations closest to the people should have input where your tax dollars go.”

Recognizing that the 15th Senate district is overwhelmingly Democratic, Maltese said that the best candidate should be elected. “I encourage [Democrats] to speak up and express their concerns to me,” he said.

Councilman Joseph Addabbo

The evening’s final speaker was Councilman Addabbo, who started out by expressing his love for Ozone Park. He told the audience that his father had moved five times within a one-mile radius, staying within the neighborhood. “If it is good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me,” he said.

A centerpiece of Addabbo’s campaign has been ensuring that families can stay in the neighborhood, which depends greatly on maintaining the quality of the schools and keeping property values strong. “I want families to stay here. I want extended families to stay here,” he said. To do that, you have to “pay attention to local issues,” he argued. “It’s the local issues [including graffiti and street maintenance] that keep people here.”

Addabbo said that his experience working on one of the toughest budgets in the city’s history following 9/11 has given him the knowledge to tackle the current financial mess. “We have to make some serious, tough decisions,” he said. “We had to cut good programs because we couldn’t afford them.”

Six years later, the City Council has been able to reduce the tax rate, he noted. “That is the experience I think we need right now in Albany.” He also blasted the state Senate for increasing spending when they “had no money to pay for it… More than ever, now you need fiscal responsibility in Albany,” he told the audience.He said his plan includes going after insurance and Medicaid fraud, the latter of which costs the state $5 billion a year.

Addabbo said he is in favor of a freeze on foreclosures, given the impact they have had on the Ozone Park area. By doing so, homeowners would have one year to work out a payment plan with their lenders “so a person doesn’t wake up in jeopardy of losing their home.”

He argued that surrounding property owners are affected by foreclosures in their neighborhood. “Your area property values go down and crime goes up,” he said. That could lead to a “flight problem out of Ozone Park, and we don’t want that.”

In one of the few jabs Addabbo took at Maltese, he vowed to be present in the district as much as possible. “The days of only being present during an election year are over,” he declared.

He later ducked a question about his position on same sex marriage, telling a resident that he doesn’t have a “definitive stance” on it without being able to study any proposed legislation.

When asked about recent reports revealing how much various Senators, including Maltese, have spent on office and staffing costs, Addabbo said he would have two offices within the district, but vowed to employ an appropriate amount of staff. “It starts with me too – I have to watch my spending," he said.

Addabbo Calls for State to Support Small Businesses

Takes Issue with Tax Breaks to Large Corporations

By Conor Greene

With the economy clearly the main issue for voters, Councilman Joseph Addabbo is making funding for small businesses a major issue in his race for the State Senate.

The main target of Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is a state program providing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to companies, including major corporations, which he says needs to be reformed. The tax breaks, provided under a program called ICIP, don’t come with requirements that the company create quality jobs that pay decent wages and provide benefits.

Addabbo, who is challenging longtime Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale), held press conferences recently in Ridgewood and Maspeth to focus on issues he has with the program. To highlight the program’s inequities, he recently joined business owner Howard Mishler of Ay-Host Paper Company outside a Hess gas station which receives$13,761 in ICIP subsidies.

“My business is suffering because of outsourcing and a bad economy, but a big international corporation like Hess gets close to $14,000 to stay in the neighborhood,” said Mishler. “I have been here for thirty-eight years, employ local people and give back to my community. Gas is nearly $5 at the pump and the oil companies are busy lining their pockets at my expense. Our tax dollars and representatives should be working for us, and they’re not.”

Addabbo noted that a recent report by the Center for Urban Future found that while the 15th senate district is home to almost half of the Queens businesses receiving ICIP money, the area still includes three of the lowest performing zip codes for economic growth: Ridgewood, Middle Village and Woodhaven.

In contrast, neighborhoods in south Queens, including areas Addabbo represents as a councilman, have seen employment increases of 80%.

According to the Center for an Urban Future report, Middle Village has seen an 8% decline in employment, while Ridgewood has been hit twice as hard, with a 16% decline in employment. While some areas in the northern portion of the district have seen strong economic growth, such as 15% in Maspeth, it still pales in comparison to the southern portion of the council district represented by Addabbo, which includes Ozone Park (80%), South Richmond Hill (49%) and Howard Beach (20%).

“I’m proud that my council district has seen record growth, but I’m concerned about our neighbors to the north,” said Addabbo. “It’s appalling that the state continues to offer incentives to corporate entities while family owned businesses close their doors. We need to end corporate tax breaks for companies which outsource jobs and detract from our tax base. In these tough financial times we cannot afford to lose millions of dollars in revenue.”

While the state legislature approved a bill reforming the ICIP program in June at the urging of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it failed to address the underlying problems of ICIP by continuing to permit corporations to receive subsidies, the Addabbo campaign argues. The candidate cited a report by the Manhattan Borough President that found that 75% of companies receiving ICIP funding would have proceeded with their projects regardless of the subsidization.

Addabbo continued with the economic theme last Friday at a press conference outside the Comfort Inn on Maurice Avenue in Maspeth. Joined by members of several union groups, he bashed the program for providing funding to numerous hotels that employ nonunion workers. The Comfort Inn receives $237,644 in ICIP tax breaks according to Addabbo, who noted that 92% of Queens hotels enrolled in the program are non-union.

“Currently, there is no oversight of the ICIP program to ensure job creation, nor des the legislation require that companies pay employees a living wage or provide benefits,” said Addabbo. “We need to both grow the economy and lower the cost of living by providing good jobs that offer health benefits, fair pay and pensions. Albany is essentially bankrolling these projects, many of which are of questionable value, on the backs of working families.”

Addabbo argued that the hotel industry exemplifies many of the problems with the ICIP program, including its lack of discretion and lack of job quality requirements. “Because ICIP is an as-of-right program, with no discretion for local elected officials, there is now no opportunity to decide if a given project is worth subsidizing,” the Addabbo campaign noted.

Maspeth resident Laura Tapia, who is a RWDSU organizer, said that Addabbo is needed in Albany to support workers with living wages. “When elected officials like Serf Maltese vote against raising the minimum wage [in 2004], he hurts all workers,” she said. “And when elected officials like Serf Maltese don’t mandate that businesses receiving subsidies from programs like ICIP pay living wages and benefits, it hurts all workers.”

The ICIP program cost the city $512 million in taxes it otherwise would have collected in 2008 alone, according to the Addabbo campaign. That is more than double the $190 million that the program provided in tax breaks in 2002.

The Maltese campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment on the Senator’s views on ICIP and small business.

Kew Gardens Man Killed in Afghanistan

Leaves Behind Wife, Three Children

By Conor Greene

A Kew Gardens man serving in Afghanistan with the New York Army National Guard was killed when his vehicle rolled over last week.

Specialist Jason von Zerneck died on October 2 in Qara Bagh Karze while taking part in a logistical convoy, according to the Department of Defense.The 33-year-old leaves behind a wife and three children and is also survived by his parents.

Von Zerneck was assigned to B Troop, 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry based in Jamestown. The unit was responsible for training the Afghan National Army in eastern Afghanistan.

“All members of the of the New York National Guard will morn the loss of this solider who died defending his country and seeking to help the people of Afghanistan,” said Major General Joseph Taluto. Von Zerneck was promoted to Specialist posthumously.

His father told NY1 news that his son died doing what he felt was the right thing. “He came to love his brothers, his comrades, the fighting 69th,” said Richard von Zerneck. “He spoke with such glowing terms of them. The e-mails we got from him in Afghanistan, he sounded happy. He sounded that he felt he was doing the right thing.”

His mother, Barbara, told the Daily News that she fell to the floor when she saw Army officers come to her door on Monday. “I knew what it was,” she said. “He loved his family… He was hopeful that he would be coming home in January.”

The die-hard Yankees and Rangers fan was a graduate of Bronx Science High School and served with the New York National Guard since 2006. He was a compliance officer with Bank of America. Before his unit shipped out in January,Von Zerneck told the New York Times that the hardest part of the deployment was leaving behind his family.

“My wife is going to be a single mother for a whole year,” he said, adding that many New Yorkers don’t realize how many city residents are serving overseas. “Some of the soldiers in this unit come from the poorest neighborhoods. These are the people who are putting their lives on the line for the city and the country and sometimes that is forgotten.”

The family has requested a private funeral.

“We mourn this loss with his family and we will do everything possible to help them through this tragedy,” said Major General Taluto. “We are united, though, in our admiration for Specialist von Zerneck’s dedication to his mission, to his brothers and sisters in arms, and to the people of New York and the United States of America.”

Von Zerneck is the seventh member of the New York Army National Guard to die in Afghanistan since the 27th Brigade Combat Team deployed there in April. He is also the third member of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry to die in Afghanistan. There are currently 1,500 members of the New York Army National Guard serving in Afghanistan and about 500 in Iraq.

Sergeant Andrew Seabrooks of South Ozone Park was killed on June 21 when his Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device near Kandahar. First Lt. Daniel Farkas, a police officer assigned to the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, died on July 4 at Camp Phoenix in a non-hostile incident that is still under investigation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Juniper Civic Pushes for Rezoning

Candidates Speak at Monthly Meeting

By Conor Greene

The need to move forward with an effort to downzone parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, along with the upcoming City Council and State Senate elections highlighted this month’s meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

Civic President Robert Holden began the meeting last Thursday in Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village by urging residents to choose carefully during the upcoming elections in November. Citing the Elmhurst gas tanks property as an example, he argued that residents should elect officials who will be proactive in working with the community.

“We had two to three months left before that was going to be a Home Depot,” he said of the Grand Avenue property, which the city is converting into a park. “In three months, we were able to stop the Home Depot and convince Keyspan to give it to the city for one dollar, and now we’re going to have a park,” said Holden. “We expect our elected officials to stand with us and be proactive.

Holden reminded the audience that the civic began the effort of having the area downzoned in October 2005, when 75 members went door-to-door surveying the existing types of development. “We were promised that by 2006 it was going to become law,” said Holden. “It’s now going to be October 2008, and we’re still waiting. Where are our elected officials?”

He questioned whether Councilman Anthony Como, who was not in attendance, has met with Department of City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden regarding the stalled down-zoning.

“The only thing we are waiting for is Amanda Burden to get in her city car and come over here and give [the rezoning] her blessing. Instead, we can’t get her out here, and the [construction] fences are going up, destroying the character of the neighborhood… I want to see a photo of Como with Amanda Burden, not of him giving out another award,” said Holden.

According to Como’s office, the councilman has met with officials from the mayor’s office regarding the down-zoning. During a recent meeting with reporters, he expressed confidence it would move forward.

The Department of City Planning said on Tuesday it is continuing to “gather information from the community on development trends to complete our analysis and refine our preliminary draft rezoning recommendations.

According to spokeswoman Jennifer Torres, the department “is committed to completing the draft recommendations and will be meeting with elected officials in the coming weeks.” She noted that “the study process for this area did not formally begin until September 2006.”

Councilman Joe Addabbo: Senate Candidate

Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who is challenging Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) for his position on the State Senate, discussed issues including overdevelopment and property taxes with the crowd.

Addabbo said he personally attempted to contact Burden about the stalled down-zoning, even though he doesn’t currently represent the area. He said he has received numerous questions about this from residents as he has campaigned in the area, and contacted DCP in hopes of gaining some answers.

“I hear a lot about overdevelopment,” he said. “It’s often that there’s no answers flowing back to the community, and that’s no good.” Despite his attempts to reach out to City Planning, “we have no information… at this point” regarding the status of the down-zoning, said Addabbo. “We need to make it known that we have very concerned residents here.”

A resident then asked Addabbo about the threat that the city’s property tax rate will increase by seven percent next year, and suggested that the city instead eliminate the $400 rebate and keep the property tax flat.

“Before we even talk of tax increases on any level – either the city or the state – we need to cut government first,” said Addabbo. “We haven’t done it… We can’t raise property taxes at this point in my opinion.” He added that certain cuts can be made to the city and state budgets that won’t affect the quality of services residents receive. “We can make cuts that won’t affect your lives, but at the same time we can’t be freezing senior’s meals to save a few pennies,” said Addabbo.

Council Candidate Elizabeth Crowley

Elizabeth Crowley, a Democrat from Glendale who is challenging Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) this fall, was invited to address the crowd. She vowed to “fight against any tax increase” and touted overdevelopment as one of the area’s biggest issues.

“I’ve seen the changes – I grew up here,” said Crowley, who holds a Master’s degree in city planning. “We don’t have the infrastructure in place. I know how important it is to put in place this downzoning.” She accused Burden of “avoiding this area” and said the neighborhood “is in danger.”

“I guarantee you that as the City Council representative from the area, I will get the commissioner to come out here and get the downzoning passed,” promised Crowley. She also vowed to continue to fight against the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, which would have brought 16,000 trucks a day into Maspeth.

Crowley urged residents to support her in the upcoming election, noting that she lost out to Como by less than a half a percentage point, with less than ten percent of registered voters going to the polls. “It really gives no indication as to what’s going to happen in November,” she said of the special election, which was held in June to replace former Councilman Dennis Gallagher.

Tony Nunziato for State Assembly

Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato, who is a JPCA member, discussed his candidacy to replace Democrat Marge Markey of Maspeth on the State Assembly.

“I want to put my name on the most dysfunctional government in the country,” he told the audience. “I want to make it better.”

Nunziato, who owns a florist business on Grand Avenue, touted previous accomplishments as a community activist including fighting for the Elmhurst gas tanks park, opposing the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, working for the preservation of St. Saviour’s church and helping to secure additional funding for the Phelps Dodge property cleanup near the Newtown Creek.

“It was all for the good of the neighborhood,” said Nunziato.

Holden said later that the civic associationhas not yet formerly endorsed any candidates in the November election. He said that Crowley and Addabbo were invited to speak since they attended the meeting. “Once again, Maltese and Como elected not to [attend the meeting], which more than demonstrates their lack of support for the JPCA and our membership,” he said.

Other Items Discussed

Other items discussed at the civic meeting included trains carrying garbage that cause a horrible stench, reduced parking because of the Q45 bus extension to Atlas Park mall and the civic’s victory over an illegal development project in Maspeth.

Holden informed the residents that the civic is collecting signatures for a petition in regard to trains carrying garbage sitting for hours in the middle of the neighborhood. The problem came to a head over the summer when a train sat idling in Middle Village for several hours. The car carrying stinking garbage was uncovered, causing the odor to linger in the air until the train left the area.

He also said the civic has received complaints from several business owners regarding parking near the intersection of 80th Street and Eliot Avenue. According to Holden, a line of metered parking spaces along 80th Street was removed after the MTA decided to reroute the Q45 bus to Atlas Park shopping center in Glendale.

Civic member Manny Caruana reported that the city has forced notorious developer Tommy Huang to remove portions of a house illegally built on Mazeau Street, including the fourth floor. New plans submitted to the city now call for a reduced project featuring a two-family house, instead of a four-family unit originally proposed.

In addition, the contractor building a second house at the site promised to limit work hours to between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, with no weekend work. “This is a major victory” that came as a result of the pressure applied on the developer and city by the civic members.