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...