Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Week's Forum South and West

Baldeo Walks Away from Senate Race, Clearing the Way for Addabbo

Residents Fighting 20-Story Apartment and Hotel Proposal

Feds Agree to Study Newtown Creek Spill

Willets Point Critic Agrees to Maspeth Relocation

Fulfilling Her Vision, Teacher Opens Drama School in Maspeth

Woman Robbed and Raped at Gunpoint in Richmond Hill

State Releases Annual List of "Persistently Dangerous" Schools

Forest Hills: A Causalty of the Falling Economy

Baldeo Walks Away from Senate Race, Clearing the Path for Addabbo

By Patricia Adams

Unity was the order of the day last Friday when State Senate candidate Joe Addabbo received the unexpected endorsement of Albert Baldeo, his would-be opponent in the September 9th Democratic Primary. According to Baldeo, he arrived at his unique decision in the name of party unity.

Standing in front of Baldeo’s law office on Liberty Avenue to receive the official endorsement, Addabbo was joined by Queens County Democratic Party Leader, Congressman Joe Crowley, NY State Senate Minority Leader Senator Malcolm Smith and Congressman Gregory Meeks.

Baldeo said, “I’m proud to be supporting Joe Addabbo for State Senate and plan to work with him here in the district, and hopefully in Albany, for the good of my community. Joe Addabbo has been an outstanding Councilman and I have full confidence that he will bring that same spirit of openness and leadership with him to Albany. Joe Addabbo is the best candidate to beat Maltese in November, I encourage all my supporters to vote for Joe.”

Addabbo graciously accepted Baldeo’s ringing endorsement saying, “I applaud his [Albert’s] wholehearted embrace of the democratic process. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, it’s a big tent with room for everyone, and we are stronger for his efforts. I look forward to working together as we head into November to bring real reform to Albany and accomplish our shared goals of increased funding for education, better jobs and benefits, increased access to government services, and improving the lives of middle class and hard working people. The voters of the 15th Senate District deserve nothing less.”

“The best way for us to achieve our goals is by working together," said Queens County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Crowley. “I look forward to a united Queens County Democratic party working to elect Councilman Joe Addabbo to the New York State Senate.”

Addabbo’s graciousness may have come as a surprise to many, given that in recent months Baldeo and some of his supporters have been blatant in their attempts to blacken Addabbo’s political and personal reputation. According to Democratic Party activist Betty Braton, “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Joe is able to find a way to work together with an adversary. Addabbo’s a consensus builder who knows that people don’t always agree, so common ground must be found to move forward. That is one of his biggest strengths.”

Although the endorsement by Baldeo was seen by some to be a surprise twist in this hotly contested race, many say that recent track of campaign activity was a key indicator that Baldeo was getting ready to step aside. Voters throughout the sprawling district have received no phone calls or mailers from Baldeo while Addabbo has been placed at events in all parts of the district. While Baldeo did make some appearances, they were confined to one small section of the area.

In recent weeks the Addabbo for Senate campaign “has been in high gear with phone banks running, two campaign offices operational, and Joe knocking on doors discussing issues with voters all throughout the district,” said Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio. “We welcome Baldeo’s participation in our effort to insure better representation for the district by defeating the incumbent in November.”

Both Gulluscio and Braton have been strong supporters of Addabbo since his first run for public office in 1997. Like Addabbo, both have been on the receiving end of vicious attack and trash talk by Baldeo or his supporters since 2006. When asked why they could join

Addabbo in accepting Baldeo’s support, both indicated that although some people think insults are an acceptable part of politics, their view is that, as Addabbo said, “the Democratic Party is the party of inclusion” and there is common ground in the desire of Democrats of differing views in both camps to win the 15th State Senate seat in November.

“People all across this country are tired of division and polarization,” Gulluscio said, and “are calling for an end to the bitterness between the parties, less focus on ideology, and more focus on working together where there is common ground to get the people’s business done.”

“Our party has been listening to that call,” Braton said. “Within our own party, by unifying with Baldeo and helping Joe Addabbo take this seat, we’re taking a step toward putting acrimony and division behind us. It would be insulting to our country’s democratic process to not work collectively to accomplish what both sides agree on – winning in November.”

Clearly the message sent by local Democrats at the press conference incorporated not only their desire to send Addabbo to Albany, but addressed the grander scheme – to recapture the Democratic State Senate majority which has eluded them for more than 40 years.

Although Baldeo’s name will remain on the ballot for next month’s primary, he indicates he will be working with Addabbo in the effort to oust Senator Maltese and is urging all 70,000 registered Democrats to vote for Addabbo, not him, on September 9th.

Photo: A crowd of pleased onlookers, including Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio (left) and State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, applaud a handshake exchanged by Albert Baldeo and the man they hope to send to the New York State Senate, Councilman Joe Addabbo.

Residents Fighting 20-Story Apartment and Hotel Proposal

By Conor Greene

KEW GARDENS – Residents are fighting a proposal to build a 20-story hotel and apartment building near Queens Boulevard, but face an uphill battle since the so-called “monstrosity” is allowed under the current zoning.

Area residents and Councilman Tony Avella held a protest last Thursday at the construction site on 82nd Avenue to call attention to the negative impact they say the project will have on the area. The site is being developed by the owners of the Pasta Lovers Trattoria, and the building is slated to sit on land behind the business previously used for restaurant parking.

The residents, many of who live in the adjacent 134-unit Hampton House apartment building on 82nd Street, first learned of the project when a construction crew began digging a huge hole on the property on June 30, according to resident Natalie Dauphin. After they filed complaints with the city Department of Buildings, a stop work order and several violations were issued in July.

According to the DOB, the stop work order was issued on July 18 because the developer did not have a copy of the approved plans on site and due to inadequate guardrails next to the excavation. A permit was issued on June 27 for a mixed use residential and commercial building containing 20 stories and a cellar, according to the department.

The project will include 27 parking spaces and an office in the cellar, 17 parking spaces, retail and offices space on the ground level, a community facility and ambulatory care center on the second floor and hotel rooms and apartments in the remaining space, according to the residents.

Dauphin, who has helped organize the fight against the proposal, accused the developer of having a “lack of concern for our safety” and said residents “are afraid of having cranes in this neighborhood looming over these apartment buildings.” She is also “absolutely terrified” that the construction is damaging the foundation of the six-story Hampton House, which is 50 years old.

Avella (D-Bayside) said the area needs to be rezoned to prevent this type of out of character development. He the “neighborhood cannot handle the impact” of the project, including increased traffic and pollution. “We’re not going to give up until we get satisfaction with this project,” he said.

Janice Dillman, an 18-year resident of Hampton House, said that after the project’s plans were rejected three times, “all of a sudden it was approved” and digging began on the property, which was still being used as a parking lot for the restaurant. “They didn’t have fences up and still had people parking,” she said. “I just don’t think there is any concern for us.”

Several other community leaders were at last week’s rally, including a representative from Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn’s office and Mel Gagarin, a candidate to succeed Melinda Katz as the 29th District’s representative on City Council. Katz was in Denver this week and did not respond to a message left with her spokeswoman seeking comment on the proposal.

“We stand united today to draw a line in the sand, to let the owner of Pasta Lovers know, and to let developers across this city know, that our communities will not stand idly by while our neighborhoods are lost block by block,” said Gagarin.

“This will destroy what is supposed to be a great place to live,” said Dauphin.

Top: Councilman Tony Avella and residents Natalie Dauphin and Mel Gagarin speak at last week’s rally.
Right: Residents are concerned that the 20-story building will tower over their six-story building behind the construction site.

Feds Agree to Study Newtown Creek Spill

Could Lead to Superfund Designation

By Conor Greene

Two local lawmakers are one step closer to having the Newtown Creek included in the national cleanup program. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to conduct testing at several sites along the creek, which could lead to its inclusion in the Superfund program.

Representatives Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, both Democrats who represent parts of the area surrounding Newtown Creek, had called on the EPA to test the area to see if it warranted inclusion in the federal Superfund program. Doing so could lead to millions of dollars in funding for the cleanup and allow the federal government to hold the companies causing the contamination responsible.

The creek is a 3.5-mile waterway running between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Maspeth, Queens. It is known as the city’s most heavily polluted waterway and was the site of a huge oil spill in 1950.

This week, Weiner and Velazquez’s offices released a letter from Alan Steinberg, regional administrator at the EPA, informing them that agency will work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is conducting its own cleanup of the creek, to determine what chemicals are present there.

“To address your concerns regarding testing of the abovementioned properties (Phelps Dodge, BCF Oil, Quanta Resources and National Grid), and to define the nature and extent further of the hazardous substances that may be present… EPA will review existing information from ongoing and past environmental investigations,” he wrote.

Following the review of the investigations, the EPA will “develop a sampling plan” to fill in any gaps in data that may be needed to determine whether the Newtown Creek is accepted into the Superfund program. “We anticipate that this effort will take approximately six months to complete. Once the data are collected, EPA will evaluate what additional actions, if any, may be warranted in accordance with CERCLA,” wrote Steinberg. CERLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which was the 1980 law creating the Superfund program.

Steinberg notes in the letter, dated August 15, that the state DEC “has investigated a number of sites in this area… that are potentially contributing to the contamination in Newtown Creek… As you know, a major impact on Newtown Creek is associated with oil releases that are being addressed through state enforcement and oversight of cleanup efforts conducted by private parties.”

The state cleanup effort involves an agreement reached with ExxonMobil forcing the company to clean up about 17 million gallons of oil that leaked into the ground and water when a tank exploded in 1950. The spill was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978, and to date about half of the spill has been cleaned up.

Basil Seggos, chief investigator for Riverkeeper, said the announcement means “a restored Newtown Creek is within reach.” The EPA’s resources “will prove indispensable in protecting the creek and its surrounding communities from a legacy of toxic dumping,” he said.

Weiner called the EPA’s commitment to test the sites “a big win” for residents living near the creek. “These tests will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill’s health and environmental risks, giving this environmental disaster the national attention it deserves.”

In other news related to Newtown Creek, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced recently that an Appellate Court judge has ruled that a case against a cement company accused of illegal dumping can move forward.

In 2005, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes charged Constantine Quadrozzi and his company, Quality Concrete of Metropolitan Avenue with violating multiple provisions of the state Environmental Conservation Law and with dumping hazardous materials into the creek.

A Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice later dismissed the entire indictment after ruling that Hynes lacked the authority to prosecute cases under the Environmental Conservation Law without the involvement of the state DEC and that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.

Following an appeal filed by Hynes’ office, the Appellate Division rejected those conclusions and reinstated all of the charges contained within the appeal, the district attorney announced on August 21.

Willets Point Critic Agrees to Maspeth Relocation

Crown Container Inks Deal with City EDC

By Conor Greene

One of the most vocal opponents to the city’s plan to redevelop Willets Point has reportedly agreed to make way for the project and relocate to a Maspeth site.

Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, has agreed to sell his 23,000-square-foot property to the city, according to several published reports. Under the agreement, the waste transfer company started by his father in 1959 would move from 34th Avenue to a location in Maspeth.

The city’s Economic Development Corp, which is overseeing the city’s ambitious plan to redevelop the industrial area near Shea Stadium into housing, retail and office space, has yet to formally announce the agreement with Crown Container, which was first reported last week.

Antonacci was on vacation this week and unavailable to comment on the reported deal. However, he told Crain’s New York Business, “All I can say is it’s a very good deal… The last couple of weeks we put a lot of time in, and we got it done.”

The deal with Crown Container would mark the fifth agreement the EDC has signed with the approximately 250 businesses based in Willets Point. Many owners have publicly expressed concern that the city will use eminent domain to seize their land if they don’t enter into an agreement.

While the exact location in Maspeth hasn’t been announced, it will likely be in an industrial area near Grand Avenue and 48th Street near the Newtown Creek, currently home to a number of businesses.

Sources are speculating that the city will wait until after Labor Day to announce several deals at once, according to a recent report in Crain’s.

Up to this point, Antonacci had been one of the most outspoken members of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, which is a group of landowners opposed to the city’s redevelopment plan. He has withdrawn from that group now that he has reached a deal with the city, but said he is still concerned about the threat of eminent domain.

“I don’t want to see eminent domain used on anybody,” he said. “I hope the city treats everyone else as good as they treated me. If they do, maybe you won’t see so much fight,” he told Crain’s.

Fulfilling Her Vision, Teacher Opens Children's Drama School in Maspeth

By Nicole Turso

Sitting at a table at the Sly Fox Inn in Fresh Meadows years ago, Rose Terranova was read her fortune—the teller spread cards out on the table, studied, paused and exclaimed, “You were supposed to be famous, what happened?” Terranova took those words to heart, and later put them into practice.

Terranova, of Maspeth, is no stranger to brushes with fame, having been a self-proclaimed “starving artist” as a singer, even making demo records for large companies including Columbia Records and working as a television personality for the Prayer Channel.

Her latest venture, perhaps closest to her heart and reminiscent of her two greatest passions—performance art and teaching—is an after school drama program for children opening next month. Over coffee at the Georgia Diner in Elmhurst, the fiery redhead recently chronicled her journey to the present and her non-profit business, including her many various, and sometimes eccentric, careers.

“I did a lot of praying because I didn’t have a clue as to what it was that I wanted to do with my life,” said Terranova, “I like to say I was a late bloomer.”

She worked as a bank teller, a bookstore clerk, even tried her hand at writing a musical comedy, but it was a dream one sleepy night that lead Terranova to a career which would span 25 years.

In the dream, Terranova remembered, a former employer who had passed away appeared across a large plaza filled with people. He led her into a building, which she recognized as her old elementary school and said, “This is where you’re supposed to be.”

“I woke up as if someone had hit me over the head with something,” she explained, “I could not shake this idea of teaching out of my brain.”

Terranova minored in secondary education in college eventually landing a position as a teacher at St. Adalbert’s School in Elmhurst. She spent 17 years educating middle school children and flexing her performing arts muscles as the director of the school’s theater group, Black Friars.

“It was the first job I ever had where I looked forward to waking up in the morning—to see those kids,” Terranova said, a gleam in her eye. “I was fortunate.”

Her love for teaching eventually lead Terranova to a position teaching sixth grade religion on television at The Prayer Channel in 1999. Throughout her eight years at the station, she co-produced four interactive series for children, never straying too far from the classroom—taking her shows to various schools to interview and teach children. “I always say teaching is like being on a stage,” she said, laughing.

Terranova left The Prayer Channel hoping to return to the classroom, but found that she would need to re-apply for certification. Crushed that she couldn’t resume her career immediately, Terranova began entertaining the idea of starting her own business. “I can do all of this, but why should I continue doing it for other people,” she said. “Let me start doing it for myself.”

It was May and Terranova had come to a crossroads. Facing unemployment, she was forced to decide whether to move out of New York City for a more favorable economic situation, or to take a chance.

She decided to stay in the city, and soon found that the risk would be worth the reward. With the support of the surrounding community, Terranova acquired space in one of vacant buildings on the Holy Cross Catholic School campus on 61st Street - which closed in 2005 along with a number of other Queens parochial schools - and applied to become a non-profit organization.

“Ms. Rose’s 2B Named Drama School” as it is being called in the interim, was certified as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization with the goal of involving children in all aspects of performance art, including behind the scenes work and on-stage, to develop leadership, cooperation and teamwork skills.

The after school program for students ages 7 to 17 consists of 10-week trimesters, with weekly classes and courses including character development, the importance of costume and make-up, set design, lighting and sound, and the role of stage manager. Students will also have the chance to show off what they’ve learned to family and friends at two performances - one holiday show and one at the end of the year.

For Terranova it is a dream realized. “My mother always used to say I would be a success in life if I left the world a little bit better for having passed this way, “ Terranova said, “Hopefully in this way, I will.” As for fame, Terranova has to disagree with her psychic connection. “Fame is an illusion—just a state of mind,” she concluded.

Ms. Rose’s 2B Named Drama School is at 56-01 61st Street in Maspeth. For details, call (718) 326-2467 or log on to Registration for fall courses ends the first week of September.

Woman Robbed and Raped at Gunpoint

Attacked Early Monday in Richmond Hill

By Conor Greene

An 18-year-old woman was raped and robbed at gunpoint while walking home from a local convenience store in Richmond Hill early Monday morning, heightening fears in an area already on high alert due to a string of sexual assaults.

The woman was walking back to her house at about 1:45 a.m. Monday after using the ATM at a nearby corner store when the attacker pulled out a silver gun and dragged her from 103rd Avenue to a driveway of a private home near 123rd Street, according to police.

The man raped the woman and stole $20 and her ATM card before fleeing the area. A resident told Channel 7 that he tried to chase the man down, but the attacker was able to get away.

The Daily News quoted the victim’s boyfriend as saying that his girlfriend ran home after the attack and pointed out the assailant to him and his friends. They chased the man, who jumped into the passenger side of a waiting car and was driven away, according to the newspaper.

Police said this attack doesn’t fit the description of motives used by either of the two men already wanted for a string of sexual assaults in the area. In those attacks, the suspects either threatened the women verbally or flashed a knife.

However, Channel 7 reported that Monday's attack matches a recent unsolved gunpoint robbery in the area. Nevertheless, the incident has left many area residents shaken, especially since there could be as many as three attackers preying on women walking along at night.

“If I find out who did it before the police find out, it’s not going to be a happy case,” the victim’s boyfriend told the DailyNews.

The victim was treated at Queens Hospital Center. Police are continuing their investigation of the recent attacks.

State Releases Annual List of "Persistently Dangerous" Schools

PS9 in Maspeth Included, Jamaica High Removed

By Conor Greene

Sixteen city schools, including one in Maspeth, have been named “persistently dangerous” in an annual reported released by the state.

A total of 19 schools around the state - down from 27 last year - have been identified in the report, which is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Within the city, 15 schools reported a large enough decrease in violent incidents to warrant being removed from the list, including Jamaica High School.

The state uses a formula involving the number of violent incidents and a school’s enrollment to determine which should be considered “persistently dangerous.” Schools that have approximately six violent incidents per 100 students are included. Violent incidents include homicide, sexual offenses, robbery, assault, arson, and possession of a weapon. Students are given the option of transferring out of dangerous schools provided there is room at an alternate venue.

The state’s list is based on reports provided by the schools, leading to some concern that administrators underreport the number of incidents to avoid being placed labeled as dangerous. In contract, the city designates what it calls “impact schools” using date gathered from police reports.

There were no Queens schools added to the list this year, while Jamaica High School was removed after reporting a decrease in crime. In Maspeth, PS 9 Walter Reed School is on the list for the second consecutive year.

“School leaders have responded and as their schools become safer for children they come off the list,” said state education commissioner Richard Mills. He said the department will conduct audits of safety reports submitted by schools and vowed, “If we find underreporting, the list will get longer. Children must have safe schools.”

All schools designated as “persistently dangerous” are required to provide school choice to students if transfer options are available. Each school also receives financial support and technical assistance from the state to improve safety.

According to information provided by the state education department, there were three reported sexual offenses at PS 9 during the 2006-07 school year, the latest for which statistics are available. In addition, there was one assault resulting in serious injury, one assault with a weapon, 20 assaults without weapons and 14 minor altercations involving weapons. The school’s enrollment that year was 430 students.

Like the majority of city schools included in the list, PS 9 is part of the city’s District 75, which serves 23,000 students with moderate to severe special needs challenges in 350 schools citywide.

For details about the report, check

Forest Hills: A Casualty of the Falling Economy

By Steve Tiszenkel

There’s a store across the street from my apartment building on Queens Boulevard—or, more accurately, there used to be a store across the street. It was a RadioShack, certainly not my favorite chain electronics store—I prefer not to be pressured into signing up for a pricey cell-phone plan when I buy a pack of AA batteries—but a respectable business nonetheless. I’ve long since lost track of how long RadioShack has been gone, but it’s definitely been more than a year, possibly approaching two. The empty storefront casts a foreboding metaphorical shadow over my building, somehow even uglier than most empty store-fronts, for-rent signs posted haphazardly in the windows and hanging limply over the door, mocking the idea espoused by some that the economy is doing better than advertised.

The former RadioShack used to be the only empty storefront in my neighborhood, if you define “neighborhood” as “area I can see out my window.” But in the past couple of months, a real-estate agency went under, too. Just a little farther down the road, there's a guitar store that's been closed even longer than RadioShack. And on the other side of the street, a coffee shop that served the area for decades sits vacant, a desperate-looking plea for renters in the window, its awning roughly ripped off, not looking like it's likely to be replaced anytime soon. And then there's the old Ethan Allen, its last piece of luxurious oak furniture sold months ago, its distinctive architecture making it clear that this building is unlikely ever to be anything but another Ethan Allen.

This is Forest Hills in 2008. Of course, it's not a local problem. In case you didn't get the memo, the economy has seen better days. We're mired in what most economists consider a recession. Times are tough for individuals, and they're tough for small businesses. But even so, Forest Hills seems particularly badly plagued by empty storefronts. And worse yet, our empty store- fronts—especially the ones a little off the beaten path—never seem to fill up again.

Why is the problem so acute here? Maybe, say, Queens Boulevard and 77th Road just isn't a terribly sexy place to open a new business. Maybe the few entrepreneurs left would rather try something less risky. And maybe our local officials just aren't doing so good of a job as they could in spurring local investment. But I think the plague of for-rent signs boils down to one of the primary causes of a recession: a lack of confidence.

I have faith in Queens, and I don't doubt that a little boutique or a nice coffee shop would do great on the barren north side of the Queens Boulevard. But then, it's easy for me to say that when I'm not pouring my heart, soul and life savings into a business. No, in this economy, maybe I wouldn't take a gamble on occupying one of those storefronts, either. But aren't economic downturns supposed to be the times that make millionaires? Moving into the RadioShack space might not buy any enterprising businessman— or even an executive vice president at some soulless chain—a condo in Miami Beach. It might, however, be a surprising success. And seeing success like that would foster a little confidence that all of us could use right about now.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.