Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Airport Runway Project Promises Fewer Delays, More Jobs

Officer Recovering After Ridgewood Shooting

City Nixes Contract for Elmhurst Homeless Shelter

Rumors Swirl About Future of Atlas Park

Kew Gardens Man is $54 Million Lottery Winner

Charter School Proposal Gets Tepid Reception

Adoption Event Provides Home Sweet Home

Problems at Cleveland Park, Prostitution Burglaries Continue

City Banks on Ozone Park Site for Future School

Precincts to Celebrate Night Out Against Crime

Officer Recovering After Ridgewood Shooting

Accidentally Shot During Investigation

By Conor Greene

The police officer who was accidentally shot while frisking a suspect during a domestic dispute investigation in Ridgewood is at home and recovering.

Officer Rodney Lewis of the 104th Precinct was released from New York Hospital on Tuesday and is expected to recover from a gunshot wound sustained early Sunday morning when a suspect’s gun discharged while officers were frisking him.

“He’s doing so well they discharged him today,” the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Keith Green, told residents at Tuesday night’s Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting. “That’s great news – luck normally doesn’t go that way for police officers,” especially when shot at close range.

The incident occurred at about 4:50 a.m. when Officer Lewis and his partner, Officer Mark Bublin were canvassing the area after receiving a report of a domestic dispute at 18-18 Menahan Street. The officers were looking for a Hispanic man who was involved in the incident and saw an individual matching that description walking down the block.

The officers ordered the man, identified as 33-year-old ex-convict Edwin Santana, to stop and placed him against a wall to pat him down, according to Deputy Inspector Green. As he was searching Santana, Officer Bublin felt a gun on the left side of Santana’s waistband. As the officer was removing the gun, Santana quickly turned around and faced him, causing Officer Bublin to drop the weapon. After hitting the ground, the gun discharged a single round which struck Officer Lewis on the left side of his chest. The bullet struck Officer Lewis just above his bullet proof vest and lodged under his skin but did not penetrate his chest.

Officer Bublin immediately turned Santana around and handcuffed him as Officer Lewis said he had been shot. Officers placed the injured cop in a squad car and rushed him to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. He was later transported to New York Hospital before he was released on Tuesday. Officer Lewis, 40, is a four-and-a-half year NYPD veteran and former city Corrections Officer who lives in Freeport, Long Island with his wife and three children.

Santana, who has no known address, was arraigned Monday on charges of assaulting a police officer and criminal possession of a weapon and faces up to 15 years if convicted. He was not charged with attempted murder because he did not shoot the officer on purpose, according to authorities. He was ordered held on $100,000 bail and is due back in court on August 18.

The problem began when a local transsexual who calls herself Hazel Campana got into an argument with her boyfriend Carlos Berrios. Campana, who was born a man, called Santana, who is her ex-boyfriend, and asked him to come to the house to help her. Officers then arrived on the scene to find Santana walking down the block away from the house. Berrios fled before officers arrived and wasn’t involved with the shooting but is wanted in connection with the initial domestic incident.

Deputy Inspector Green said he got the dreaded phone call less than an hour after Officer Lewis was shot. He said the incident was especially dangerous because of the weapon involved - a 32-caliber long revolver that authorities say is about 70 years old. “Miraculously, he’s okay – he was hit in a vital part of the body,” he said.

Shortly after the incident, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived at Wyckoff Hospital to check on the wounded officer. The mayor used the shooting to highlight the progress the city has made over the past seven years fighting domestic violence.

“Six or seven years ago, there were many so-called experts who felt that crime could not get any lower in New York City. Somedoubted we could even hold the line against crime. Few thought it could fall further – especially in some of the more stubborn elements facing our society like domestic violence,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “But instead of listening to naysayers, Commissioner Kelly… attacked the challenge of fighting domestic violence crimes that so often happen behind closed apartment doors.”

Domestic violence related murders have fallen by 32 percent over the past six years, and all domestic violence crime is down 25 percent in that time, according to the mayor.

“But one thing hasn’t changed – and that’s the men and women on patrol for the NYPD fighting the plague of domestic violence in our city,” added Mayor Bloomberg. “Our gains would be impossible without them. And thankfully today Officer Lewis did not fall in the line of that battle.”

Mayor Bloomberg also touched on the city’s battle against illegal handguns. “Illegal guns kill cops – plain and simple. There is no conceivable scenario in which he could have legally possessed a firearm, let alone concealed it on his person,” he said. “The best news that I have this morning is that the prognosis for Officer Lewis is that he will fully recover from his wounds and I think he’s just another example of a man or woman who puts their lives on the line every day to protect the rest of us.”

City Nixes Contract for Elmhurst Homeless Shelter

Residents Still Weary of 58th Ave Site’s Future

By Conor Greene

Plans for a homeless shelter in Elmhurst have been halted after the city terminated its agreement with the organization seeking to run the facility out of a 58th Avenue building, but residents’ relief might be short lived, as the future of the property is still unclear.

The city Human Resource Administration cancelled its Memorandum of Understanding with Queens Alliance “to protect the confidentiality of our clients,” according to department spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio. Queens Alliance had planned to open a homeless shelter for 29 individuals at 86-18 58th Avenue, despite huge uproar from neighbors who say that type of facility isn’t appropriate for the residential block.

While Brancaccio refused to say how the Queens Alliance breached their potential client’s confidentiality, literature distributed by the organization to the public stated that while the location wouldn’t serve as an HIV/AIDS treatment center, “only HIV/AIDS positive individuals who are asymptomatic may be referred to this facility.”

Brancaccio said the termination of the Memorandum of Understanding ends the city’s involvement in the 58th Avenue location for now. However, Queens Alliance – which has no track record running these types of facilities – is free to submit another application to the city to open a shelter on 58th Avenue, where they have a 10 year lease with the building owner.

Residents, who held a large rally in front of the building several weeks ago, said they are glad that the agreement with Queens Alliance has been terminated, but are still concerned over the future of the building. “That’s one of our biggest issues right now,” said Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, which helped organized the protest. “I told them [nearby residents] to celebrate the victory, we won the battle but we haven’t won the war. Until they come up with a permanent solution for this, the war won’t be won.”

Daraio said residents are submitting a petition to the HRA and the mayor’s office in hopes the city will help broker an acceptable compromise with the building owner over its future use. She noted that the block already has one group home, which the residents have not complained about. “I commend them for never complaining about the place across the street, even though it has caused some problems, but two would break the camel’s back.”

Representatives for Councilwoman Melinda Katz, who represents the area, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the situation, nor did Richard Italiano, district manager of Community Board 4.

Yolanda Martin-Garibaldi, vice-president of Queens Alliance, didn’t return an e-mail message, and the phone at the 58th Avenue building, which is listed on literature as the organization’s address, was not answered.

Resident Linda Lam, who also helped organize the residents, said the termination of the contract shows that Queens Alliance “is not qualified” and “doesn’t understand the most basic rights and confidentiality of clients.” She said the residents will be “absolutely up in arms” if another proposal is made for a shelter at that location.

“If another qualified agency is doing that, it is still the same end result for us so the comfort level is not going to be dramatically improved,” said Lam. “We know from the other shelters how it affects the neighborhood. The last thing we want to see is my neighbors selling their houses.” She reiterated that the objections are due to the location in the middle of a residential block. “The intention is good to house the homeless, we’re all for it, but the location is very poor. They should pick a commercial or industrial strip where you don’t have so many young children around.”

Editor's Note: This version has been corrected as the original article incorrectly attributed information to the HRA spokeswoman regarding Queens Alliance's future involvement in the site.

Rumors Swirl about Future of Atlas Park

Hemmerdingers Reportedly Eyeing Reacquisition after Foreclosure

By Conor Greene

With the future of the Shops at Atlas Park up in the air, rumors are circulating that the shopping center’s former owner will try to reacquire the property after losing it to foreclosure earlier this year.

Damon Hemmerdinger, whose family’s ATCO Properties developed the upscale Glendale shopping mall three years ago, is now listed as principal of ATCO Advisory Services, which some community leaders believe was formed recently with an eye on purchasing the property at a foreclosure sale likely to take place early next year.

Hemmerdinger, son of MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, did not return a message seeking comment on the family’s intentions regarding the property at 80th Street and Cooper Avenue. Anchored by a movie theater and several restaurants, the shopping center failed to take off as a result of the economy and what some say is a poor selection of stores given the local clientele.

However, several community leaders say they’ve heard rumors that the Hemmerdingers might be positioning themselves to regain the property, which they lost in February after defaulting on the $128 million loan ATCO had from two French banks. “I don’t know anything specific, but what I know about bankruptcy and real estate, this is not an unusual maneuver,” said Kathy Masi of the Glendale Civic Association, who was aware of the rumors prior to a recent published report on the Hemmerdinger’s plans.

Lydon Sleeper, chief of staff for Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said he also heard similar rumors but said the council member’s main concern is that the shopping center is beneficial for the surrounding community, no matter who is running it.

While there were clashes between ATCO and the community regarding issues including the MTA’s decision to reroute the Q45 bus to the mall, Masi said the day-to-day operations and conditions at the mall were better when Hemmerdinger was at the helm. “I haven’t had the same type of communication with Mattone,” she said, referring to the Mattone Group, which took over the mall’s management following the foreclosure. “It’s not like having the Hemmerdingers, who built it and had their heart and soul in it. It’s a little different now, about business and not personal pride.”

Masi questioned some of the retailers that the mall’s court-appointed receiver, Paul Millus, is pursuing for the property’s vacancies. “I don’t hear any rumbles of anything I would like to see go in the mall. A Western Beef, we certainly don’t want that. There are rumors the community is crying out for a supermarket, but I don’t hear that and I think I have a better [understanding of] the pulse then they do… Clearly, Mr. Millus made no bones about it, they’re here to turn a profit, and they’re trying.”

While she was “shocked” to hear rumors of a possible reacquisition by ATCO, Masi said she would have no objections if the Hemmerdingers regain control. “The Hemmerdingers clearly have more heart and soul invested in this than anyone else. You can walk into the mall now and see dead plants,” said Masi. “Damon would never have allowed that, he had too much pride in the building.”

Still, Masi made one thing clear – like many, she felt the MTA’s decision to reroute the Q45 bus was a “despicable” move that happened as a result of the senior Hemmerdinger’s clout as MTA chairman. “I think the community will deal with those issues in a much more aggressive way moving forward. We won’t allow anyone to say how it’s going to be,” she said, calling prior issues with the mall “a real learning experience.”

Millus said he will be in place as the court-appointed receiver until the foreclosure sale, which likely will take place at the end of the year or early 2010. In the meantime, he is working to attract “the proper mix” of retailers “that provide the adjacent community things they want to buy” such as electronics, clothing and more restaurants. “I think the primary focus should be on the beautiful idyllic setting where people come to shop for a variety of needs,” he said.

Millus is also working to find a tenant for the former location of Orange café, and is attempting to address the parking situation – a major source of criticisms from residents due to the cost - with the banks. A limited trial offering an hour of free parking is in place and employees have been given a discount on the parking garage rates in hopes of getting their cars off local streets. “I have certain suggestions and am working with the bank to address their revenue concerns. I hear the concerns of the community and hope to do more about it,” he said.

Airport Runway Project Promises Fewer Delays, More Jobs

By Patricia Adams

A $376.3 million runway reconstruction project for John F. Kennedy International Airport was announced on Tuesday when Gov. David Paterson was joined at JFK by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) Director Christopher Ward, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), local elected officials and members from the labor community.

The Bay Runway will undergo significant rehabilitation to reduce delays and improve airport operations, supporting an estimated 2,500 jobs. “Since it first opened in 1948, John F. Kennedy Airport, and very often the Bay Runway itself, has been New York’s gateway to the world, serving millions of passengers each year, providing tens of thousands of jobs and generating billions in economic activity,” Governor Paterson said.

“If Kennedy Airport is to remain a portal to and from this city and our country, we must continue to invest in it through necessary infrastructure upgrades. The runway expansion, addition of taxiways and other improvements will save passengers time, reduce delays and costs associated with congestion and provide considerable economic development to this region,” the governor added.

PANYNJ Executive Director Chris Ward said: “I want to thank Governor Paterson for supporting this major project at a time when infrastructure investment nationally is being cut back. This project will not only reduce delays and save money at JFK in the long run, but will create thousands of local jobs.”

JetBlue President and CEO Dave Barger stated that, "Improvements to runways and taxiways at JFK are essential to reducing flight delays and increasing the airport's capacity and efficiency. As the largest airline at JFK as determined by the number of customers served and an airline dedicated to providing quality customer service, we at JetBlue look forward to working closely with the port authority throughout the duration of these improvements, which will ultimately benefit all customers traveling through the gateway airport."

Construction on the Bay Runway or Runway 13-31, will begin immediately as part of the second phase of the JFK Delay Reduction Program. The project will widen the runway from 150 to 200 feet and will include a new drainage system, new electrical infrastructure, the addition of delay reduction taxiways and accommodations for future navigational aids. The project will support 1,000 direct and 1,500 ancillary jobs, including direct construction work, asphalt and concrete production, running of aeronautical lighting and food services.

The improvements are expected to reduce flight delays overall by an estimated 10,500 hours per year. Accommodations to taxiways – including high-speed exits for landing aircraft and holding pads where departing aircraft can literally pull off – will enable planes to bypass those held on the tarmac so that others may proceed.

The project is funded through two sources: PANYNJ will provide $292.4 million, and the FAA will provide $83.9 million. Of the FAA’s funds, $53 million will be used for work associated with the Delay Reduction Program and the remaining $15 million is allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Runways at major commercial airports typically require major maintenance work every 5to 10 years. This investment in the Bay Runway takes advantage of an opportunity to make longer-lasting improvements to the Bay Runway – foregoing old-model asphalt for an 18-inch concrete overlay instead. The lifespan of concrete nearly five times more than asphalt and will provide an estimated long-term savings of $500 million while reducing the need for ongoing maintenance.

Through extensive cooperation and coordination with the FAA and the airlines, the PANYNJ expects to minimize the impact on airport operations during the 120 days that the runway will be closed for construction in 2010. Airlines are adjusting schedules and operations to mitigate delays, and the airport’s three remaining runways will be utilized to their full capabilities during the Bay Runway’s closure.

The Forum Newsgroup/photo courtesy of GOVERNOR PATERSON’S OFFICE

Kew Gardens Man is $54 Million Lottery Winner

After weeks of speculation, the lucky winner of the $133 million Mega Millions came forward on Tuesday to claim his prize.

Despite initial reports that the person who bought the $2 ticket on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica was a woman, the city’s newest millionaire is 49-year old Aubrey Boyce, a Kew Gardens resident who immediately quit his job of eight years with the MTA, where he earned about $53,000 annually collecting cash from token booths and MetroCard machines.

“I couldn’t believe I was the winner,” he said at a press conference at Grand Central Terminal. “I kept checking my numbers to make sure… I will probably go on a dream vacation somewhere warm. Maybe the islands.”

By taking the jackpot in a lump sum, Boyce walks home with $54,648,351. “I used to play the lottery so I could win big - big enough to retire, have enough to live on. Now, I really don’t know what I’ll do beyond just taking care of my family,” he said.

Boyce said he typically spends $12 a week on lottery tickets, but laid out just $2 on the morning of July 7 for two sets of Quick Pick numbers from that evening’s Mega Millions drawing. “I went to a different store the next day to check the winning numbers,” he said. “I saw my numbers and got a little nervous. I went online to double check and there they were again… My wife and I haven’t reallyslept since.” By picking the numbers 25, 27, 35, 38, 39 and 28 for the Mega Ball, Boyce was the only person to strike the winning combination.

He described himself as the “quiet, laid back type” and said his neighbors shouldn’t expect to see him driving around his Kew Gardens neighborhood, where he lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife, in a fancy car. “I’m a laid-back guy, so you know, something not too flashy,” he said.

As a reward for selling the winning ticket, the owner of Shiv Convenience received a $10,000 bonus.

Charter School Proposal Gets Tepid Reception

Applicant Fails to Show Up for Public Hearing

By Conor Greene

A group is seeking permission to establish a charter school within District 24, but members of the local Community Educational Council and residents were not happy when representatives failed to show up for a scheduled hearing on the plan.

City Academy of Science Charter School has filed an application with the state and city to open a college preparatory-level school initially serving students in grades 7 to 9 before expanding to 12th grade. The group was supposed to present details about the plan at a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday night, but representatives skipped the scheduled meeting. That left council members and residents with outstanding questions, including where the school would be located.

The phone number listed on the application for the group’s contact, Furkan Kosar, has been disconnected. According to Superintendent Catherine Powis’ executive summary of the application, the group expects first-year expenses of about $2.8 million, against projected revenues of about $2.6 million. The shortfall is expected to be made up by private donations or loans of $200,000 from an “unspecified source.” It isn’t clear how much of the group’s revenues would come through public funding.

However, the executive summary contains few details about proposed locations, which council members said is unknown to them at this point. “The one question I did ask is where [it would be located],” said Powis. “I know that’s on the minds of everyone in the district.” The summary only says that the group is looking into properties in Maspeth, Glendale and Long Island City.

The idea of placing another school in Maspeth did not go over well with several residents who were among the sparse crowd at PS 58, especially since the city is moving ahead with a 1,100 seat high school just blocks from two existing schools. “The mere fact that Maspeth was even mentioned as a possible location for the school is absolutely ridiculous,” said Manny Caruana, predicting community backlash if that happens.

However, as the minutes ticked by, it became clear the applicants were not going to show up, which CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni called “a little arrogant.” He added: “They want to put a school in our community without any input. It’s just not something I’m for.”

Comaianni suggested the council pass a resolution stating that the project should not go forward because it is “not in the best interests of public students” in District 24 and because the group’s representatives didn’t show up. Eventually, the council agreed to table the resolution until its next meeting, when it could meet in an official capacity depending on what is decided in Albany.

However, the resolution might be moot by then. Once a group files an application with the DOE for a charter school, a thirty-day window begins in which a public hearing must be held. Since the deadline to file is June 30, it is likely the group’s allotted time to hold a hearing is about to expire. A group must provide seven days notice prior to a hearing, making it impossible for a new hearing to be scheduled within the 30 days. If you don’t meet this requirement, you have to wait 12months to continue the process.

The lack of public notice and input was a major focus of the council’s discussion, and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the borough’s representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, agrees that changes are needed in the state’s law governing charter approvals. He suggest moving the filing deadline to April 15 since many residents are away during summer months and requiring two public hearings within 45 days that are advertised in local newspapers. The groups should also be required to meet with the area’s local and state representatives, argues Fedkowskyj.

“I firmly believe that in order for the current charter school process to work, the suggested changes need to be implemented. We need a completely transparent process in place,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We know the mayor and [Chancellor Joel] Klein tout the successes of charter schools all the time and that they want to create more of them, but they shouldn’t do it at the expense of our overcrowded traditional public schools.”

Due to the situation in Albany, the council’s meeting was held on an informal basis so that residents continue to have an outlet to discuss issues within district schools, explained Comaianni. The public hearing regarding the charter school would have been run by Powis since the council doesn’t currently hold any actual powers.

Adoption Event Provides Home Sweet Home

By Patricia Adams

Four Paws Sake Rescue, together with the Mayors Alliance for NYC Animals, held its 1st Annual Adoption Event at Juniper Valley Park on Sunday morning. Hundreds of excited visitors spent time with the more than 60 dogs and cats available for adoption. Representatives and volunteers from a host of animal organizations were on hand to answer questions and offer access to resources for concerned animal owners and activists.

The host organization, Four Paws Sake, Inc. was established in March of this year as a non-profit 501(c) (3) rescue organization. Its founder, Phyllis Taiano, put Four Paws together because of her dedication to ending pet overpopulation. The organization has adopted a mission statement which describes their cause as rescuing animals from kill facilities, provide sanctuary and ultimately to re-home abandoned, stray and neglected dogs and cats.

Additionally, the organization seeks to generate awareness in the community about the prevention of animal abuse and neglect as well as spay/neuter programs and their important effect on the dog and cat overpopulation crisis in the city. Once a rescued animal is safely within the care of Four Paws, the dog or cat is treated by one of the organization’s veterinarians. Animals are vaccinated and spayed/neutered. Four Paws fosters all of their rescues until they are adopted. All applicants are screened thoroughly including onsite home visits.

“We are in constant communication with all of our new owners to help provide counseling or to reclaim the pet should compatibility or other issues arise,” says Taiano. “Our goal is to find a permanent home for all our dogs and cats that are in need of a loving family of their own.”

“Most animals the organization rescues have lives filled with neglect and abuse. Our promise is to those animals,” explains Taiano, “that their pain and suffering is over and for the rest of their lives they will have love and security.”

During Sunday’s event several adoptions were arranged, including Rosey from Four Paws. Rosey was pulled from a kill shelter in Manhattan on June 12, weighing only 22.4 lbs, having a broken tail, bitten ears and many sores on her body. She had to undergo surgery but made a great recovery and was rated to have behavior that was of “no concern.”

Rosey was nursed back to health by Phyllis and her boyfriend Steve and on Sunday was supporting a healthy weight and a shiny coat. Rosey looked so good she was snapped up by her new adoptive parents Middle Village residents John and Elsa Meyers. Taiano said the couple live three blocks away from her and each time she walked Rosey past their house the dog would stick her nose in between the steel slats enclosing their little flower patch and sniff a small cement statue of a rabbit. “It’s really ironic that the house Rosey loved so much is going to be her new home,” Taiano said beaming. “It’s moments like this and events like this adoption that make this work so rewarding and wonderful - for all of us and of course for the animals.”

If you would like to learn more about animal adoption and rescue through Four Paws, you visit them at their website at

Problems at Cleveland Park, Prostitution and Burglaries Continue

By Conor Greene

Problems at Cleveland Park that are preventing residents from enjoying the green space were the focus of this month’s Citizens for a Better Ridgewood (CBR) meeting. Other issues included a burglary pattern and the ongoing battle against prostitution along Starr Street, which the community has been dealing with for decades.

Crime Stats and Burglary Pattern

Through the first 30 weeks of the year, major crime is down 7.5 percent throughout the precinct, according to Deputy Inspector Keith Green. All of the seven major categories are down with the exception of burglaries, which are up in part due to several patterns in the Ridgewood area, including one open one. Otherwise, murder, rape, robbery, felony assaults, grand larceny and auto theft have all declined compared to the same time last year. In addition, arrests are up 20 percent for all crimes and 16 percent for major crimes.

The precinct was able to put a dent in the burglary numbers with the arrest of two individuals in May police say were responsible for a rash of residential break-ins in the area of Otto and Central avenues. However, there currently is an “open pattern” of burglaries in the southern section of Ridgewood, with at least seven apartments broken into recently. Deputy Inspector Green said the incidents occurred during the day, with the perp gaining entry through windows and some front doors.

“Burglaries tend to go that way, up and down with clusters,” he said. “We’ve made some good arrests recently, but we’re still working on that.” He urged residents to make sure windows are locked and noted that the suspects look for an easy target. “They find the easiest point of entry, so we try to stress [to residents] to make it harder. Even though it’s summer, you need to make your house secure.”

The suspects mostly took money, jewelry and small electronics during the break-ins, which included homes along Forest Avenue and near Fresh Pond Road.

Update on Trouble Bars

The ongoing problems at bars throughout the precinct, including loud noise and unruly patrons, were also discussed. Steps have been taken to address community concerns at Hush Café on Grand Avenue and at Moonlight Bar and Grill on Flushing Avenue after the 104th Precinct and elected officials received complaints about both establishments.

Deputy Inspector Green said the precinct constantly monitors the local nightlife scene for problem locations so they can take care of issues before they escalate. “Places we see that are going in the wrong direction… we bring them in and have meetings with the owners,” he said, adding that summonses were issue to the owners of both Hush and Moonlight. “As long as we have complaints we’ll be there, and they know it,” he added.

Cleveland Park Issues

A main source of frustration for many of the residents at the meeting is problems at Grover Cleveland Park, particularly with food vendors. Residents reported that the sidewalks around the park become unusable when the vendors set up shop, double-parked cares are causing unsafe crossing conditions and that illegal gambling is taking place inside the park.

Residents also described “unhealthy conditions” regarding the food preparation, with large open barrels of boiling oil creating a potential hazard. To add insult to injury, the park is left strewn with trash after events are held there, even though cleaning up is part of the requirements for obtaining event permits from the city. A resident said the situation has led to rodents and insects in nearby homes.

“If a police officer comes on one weekend, they will fill their quota for tickets,” said one resident. Added another: “We as residents on weekends don’t feel like we have any rights to go across the street to the park. This is not the first time we’re raising this issue.”

Deputy Inspector Green said officers will look into the complaints regarding the vendors and will conduct traffic enforcement in the area.

“We don’t have to tolerate anything that wouldn’t happen on Mayor Bloomberg’s block,” said Michael Hetzer, vice president of the CBR. “There are at least six, seven, eight different things going on that have to be dealt with by different agencies.”

Prostitution Woes Continue

Civic President Ann Maggio reported that prostitution in the area is once again “in full effect,” especially in the area of Starr Street. “This has been going on for twenty years. I know it’s the oldest profession and we’re not going to get rid of it, but not on Starr Street… If we were in Middle Village, it would be gone.”

Deputy Inspector Green said that prostitution is one of the tougher crimes to make arrests for but that officers are working on the situation. “You can drive by ten times during the night and not see them… It takes a bit of work to make an arrest.”

Hetzer again suggested that the problem is continuing despite years of complaints because of where it is taking place. “We just feel it’s not talked about that much because it’s in our corner” of the precinct.

The civic organization doesn’t meet again until September 28th at 7:30 p.m. in the basement of St. Aloysius Church, 382 Onderdonk Avenue.

School Construction Authority Banks on Site for Future School

City Acquired Ozone Park Property at NYRA Auction

By Patricia Adams

As part of the recent Aqueduct land sale of vacant lots in the Centreville area of Ozone Park, the School Construction Authority has purchased two lots which according to sources will be “banked for future use.” Residents began calling the office of Councilman Eric Ulrich last week when they noticed work crews around the parcels of land cleaning and fencing in the property.

“While I recognize the need for more school construction to alleviate overcrowding, I do not believe this site is an appropriate location for a school of any sort. I will, however, continue to monitor this very closely and work with CB 10, local civics and residents,” said Ulrich. “We will work with the city and SCA to ensure that what may be an eventuality will be subjected to intensive community review.”

The councilmember noted that no school construction at the location is included in the five year capital plan enacted with the passing of this year’s budget.

Chief Administrative Officer for NYRA, John Ryan, stated that NYRA sold the lots to the city, and a review of ACRIS property records show the deed transfer for both lots filed on July 1, 2009. The sale price for the property was listed at $4.2 million.

State Senator Joe Addabbo told The Forum he’s grateful that the SCA is cleaning and securing the property but that the land sale is of obvious concern to the surrounding community. “We may very well see a school here in a few years down the road. If it’s a middle school it would serve to alleviate crowding at MS 207 as well as MS 210,” said Addabbo. “If in fact it will be used as a high school then it would serve to take some of the burden off John Adams.”

Elected officials agree that one focal point of the project is to make sure the community can live with the design plan that will be used when the project comes to fruition. “While I understand that the community has expressed the sentiment in past discussions that they would not necessarily be supportive of a school in the area,” said Addabbo, “it is important to look at the other options that could have been assigned to the same parcels of land.”

Addabbo maintains that an alternative construction project such as residential or retail would have put an additional strain on services especially in an area where sewers are already a concern and traffic problems abound.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Education, Will Havemann, “The Aqueduct property was acquired on June 24, 2009. The Department of Education has not yet determined how the property will be used. As with all properties we acquire, we'll gauge the needs of the neighborhood and work with the community to make sure we put the property to its best use.”

The tract of land lies off the Conduit on Albert Road between Huron and Raleigh Streets.

Precincts to Celebrate Night Out Against Crime

Police precincts across the city, and the nation, will celebrate the annual Night Out Against Crime event on Tuesday. Free events for the entire family are planned for local parks, including within the 104th, 112th and 106th precincts.

The 112th Precinct, covering Forest Hills and Rego Park, is hosting a celebration at MacDonald Park from 6 to 9 p.m. The park is located across from the Forest Hills Post Office, but in the event of rain the event will be moved inside the Forest Hills Jewish Center, announced Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the precinct’s community council.

The event celebrates the partnership between the city’s police force and the community and is also “a great opportunity for our community to thank the NYPD for their efforts on our behalf in reducing crime,” said Chain. “Crime is down and our officers help us improve our quality of life.”

Events at MacDonald Park include a showcase of local talents, featuring local artists who will display their paintings, crafts, photos and other items. To participate, contact the precinct community council at There will also be entertainment provided by a DJ and demonstrations by a local karate school.

Officers from the 112th Precinct will provide the public with safety information and Transit District 20 officials will discuss subway safety. The FDNY and other city agencies are expected to also take part in the event, as will the Forest Hills – Rego Park CERT team. Businesses that are interested in participating can contact the community council or call the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit at (718) 520-9321.

The 104th Precinct, covering Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village, is hosting its event in Mafera Park, located at 65th Place and 68th Avenue from 5 to 9 p.m. Activities for the entire family, including children, will be provided. For details, contact the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit at (718) 386-2431.

The 106th Precinct, covering Howard Beach, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Lindenwood and South Richmond Hill, will hold its Night Out Against Crime at Tudor Park from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The park is located along 133rd Avenue off 80th Street in Tudor Village.

There will be entertainment and free giveaways for everyone and children’s events. Officer Paul Ciccarella will be on hand to do free automobile windshield VIN etching, as well as etching iPods, cell phones and bicycles. Anyone interested in having their valuables etched must call him at (718) 845-2223 with your vehicle registration information prior to the event so the officer can file the proper paperwork.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

City Often Unable to Access Illegally Converted Homes

Bloomberg Indicates Possible Support for Cross Harbor Tunnel Project

Development Firm Eyes St. John's Hospital Property

Residents Protest Trash Plan, Rally for Maspeth Parkland

Politics Unusual: Petition Challenge Fever; Dennis Resurfaces

City Studying Expanded Ferry Service in Queens

Councilmembers Ranked on Environmental Issues

Quality of Life Issues Dominate COP 104 Meeting

Too Little Too Late for Cord Meyer? Maybe Not

Rosanna Scotto Accepts Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Parade Invitation

Former Model Charged in String of Armed Robberies

"Hero" Cab Driver Admits to Attempted Rape

Supermarket Exec Nabbed in Internet Sex Sting

City Often Unable to Access Illegally Converted Homes

Thompson Calls for More Inspectors, Warrants

By Conor Greene

The city Building Department’s response to the issue of illegally converted residences is “inadequate,” according to Comptroller William Thompson, who argues that the inability of inspectors to gain access to homes is a major problem.

The audit’s findings, which the mayoral candidate released alongside Borough President Helen Marshall at a press conference last Wednesday, reaffirm what many residents, civic leaders and elected officials have long known - landlords are tempted to carve buildings up into smaller units due to lack of enforcement, putting a strain on city services and placing residents and firefighters in danger.

Inspectors from the DOB’s Queens Quality of Life Unit, created to respond to illegal conversions, were not able to gain access to almost 40 percent of the properties that had complaints filed against them in fiscal year 2008, according to the audit. Despite multiple visits to many properties, inspectors were unable to gain access in about two thirds of field inspections made that year. The DOB requested access warrants for less than one percent of the properties inspectors couldn’t access.

“This is simply disgraceful. Illegal conversions not only reduce the quality of life in a neighborhood by causing overcrowding and placing a strain on essential services, but pose serious safety risks by creating potentially unsafe living conditions and causing noncompliance with building and fire codes,” said Thompson.

Marshall, speaking with Thompson in front of Borough Hall, said this is a problem she has tried to address for years. “The problem that has been persistent has been access,” said Marshall. “Access has always been the problem... So many people are living in overcrowded situations.”

Thompson and Marshall called on the city to hire more inspectors. “Without the inspectors it doesn’t work,” said Marshall, noting that the problem puts a strain on a host of services including schools, sanitation and infrastructure, in addition to the safety concerns. She also mentioned a recent fatal fire in Brooklyn in an illegally converted rooming house.

Under DOB procedures, an inspector is required to conduct a follow up visit if access isn’t gained during the first attempt. If there is no access on the second attempt, the complaint is closed. The DOB can request access permits from the state Supreme Court in cases where access was denied and inspectors found visual evidence of an illegal conversion. However, warrants were requested in less than one percent of cases, according to the audit.

“Considering the potential risk to the public, the DOB must make a greater effort to obtain access warrants,” said Thompson, who charged that the current system is a waste of resources. “If necessary, the DOB should consult with the city’s [attorneys] and seek a change in legislation to allow it to impose fines on unresponsive property owners. Having the ability to enforce such penalties would be an incentive for property owners to allow access more readily, thereby discouraging illegal conversions.”

In response to that recommendation, DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri wrote that the department “agree[s] in part and disagree[s] in part.” The Queens Unit will work with the legal staff on obtaining warrants, but notes that the application must be supported by evidence an illegal conversion may exist, such as separate gas or electric meters, separate mailboxes, doorbells, intercoms and entry doors.

“We agree that in service of obtaining access, the [DOB] might consider legislative remedies for imposing incremental fines on property owners or occupants who fail entirely to respond to [inspection attempts],” wrote LiMandri. “However... we disagree that the Department has the authority to penalize a property owner or occupant for failing to provide access.”

In its written response to the audit, DOB “generally agreed with 12 of the 14 audit recommendations,” according to Thompson. In a statement, the DOB said the report’s authors “ignored the facts and recommended procedures that are already in place.” The department calls illegal conversions “a very serious matter” with more than 2,200violations issued last year in response. “We will continue to pursue a variety of enforcement actions to protect New Yorkers from illegal conversion hazards.”

Local civic leaders and elected officials say this problem is at the heart of many quality of life issues plaguing neighborhoods across the borough. Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said that group has been fighting against illegal conversions in the Maspeth and Middle Village area for years and has witnessed the strain overcrowded living conditions puts on a neighborhood.

“Illegal apartments are a tremendous burden to the community and put everyone at risk. More often than not illegal tenants are put in jeopardy living next to oil or gas burners with limited egress. Other tenants and neighbors living above or next to the illegal apartments must deal with the real dangers of fire,” said Holden. “The community is overburdened with more cars, noise and overcrowded schools and services. It definitely has a negative impact on the quality of life.”

Corey Bearak, president of Queens Civic Congress, said the audit brings “new attention to a significant quality of life problem long endured in Queens.” He echoed the call for legislation regarding inspector access, calling it a problem “City Hall can no longer afford to ignore.”

Aside from the safety and quality of life concerns, illegal subdivisions are costing the city money, both Thompson and Holden pointed out. According to the comptroller’s audit, the cost to the city of no-access inspections was more than $149,000. “If we were to factor in the administrative time spent by supervisors and other personnel, the cost to the city was even greater,” he noted. Said Holden: “Of course most illegal landlords don't claim the rent revenue on their taxes and we all lose again.”

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said much of the problem simply comes down to not having enough inspectors. “The larger problem is, there simply aren’t enough building inspectors to stay on top of all these complaints,” he said. “How do these inspectors stay on top of it when DOB doesn’t have the manpower it needs to enforce laws already on the books?”

In Ulrich’s south Queens district complaints about illegal conversions come from all neighborhoods covered by Community Board 10, according to Chairwoman Betty Braton. “We get complaints from every neighborhood in Community Board 10,” she said. “Most of our [non emergency] Building Department complaints involve such conversions, many involving alterations to homes that create dangerous living areas in cellars or attics.”

Bloomberg Indicates Possible Support for Cross Harbor Tunnel Project

By Conor Greene

Speaking at a press conference in Brooklyn this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated he might support for the Cross Harbor Tunnel project, which would bring thousands of trucks to Maspeth.

The comments, made Monday in Sunset Park alongside Rep. Jerrold Nadler, represent another change in Bloomberg’s view of the project, which would connect Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island with the national railroad freight network in New Jersey. The plan has come under considerable fire from the Juniper Park Civic Association and other local groups because of the impact the increased truck traffic would have locally.

At a JPCA meeting in 2005, Bloomberg said the project “really would destroy neighborhoods here in this area and we just can’t do that.” However, on Monday he called the tunnel “a good long-term solution” provided “we find a ways to make sure it is economically sustainable and that its damage, or its impact is a better word, on neighborhoods where you go in and out is something we manage without destroying those neighborhoods.”

Rep. Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, has spearheaded the cross harbor tunnel plan for years. He noted that the Port Authority is currently creating an Environmental Impact Statement to gauge the impact the project would have on local areas. “There is not going to be tremendous impact on any neighborhoods because they can design it in such a way with multiple terminals and so forth so no particular neighborhood has unmitigated consequences as were feared a number of years ago.”

Still, the mayor’s comments drew sharp rebuke from local civic and elected officials who have fought against the plan in the past. “It sounds like candidate Mike Bloomberg is trying to please everyone including Congressman Jerrold Nadler whose pastime seems to be wasting taxpayer money,” said JPCA President Robert Holden. “Nadler is beholden to construction unions and railroad interests who send him on lavish vacations and give him thousands of dollars in campaign contributions while he acts as their mouthpiece.”

Holden said the JPCA is prepared to hold Mayor Bloomberg to his prior statements regarding the plan. Aside from arguing at the 2005 JPCA meeting that the tunnel would “destroy neighborhoods,” Bloomberg told the civic group, “When you get done looking at all the pros and cons, the answer is we should not build this tunnel. We would destroy homes and we just can’t do that.” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she is against the current tunnel proposal and “any plan that would put a major truck depot in Maspeth.”

“While I understand that moving to rail is an important step to greening New York and reducing the total number of trucks on the street, the current plan calls for a truck depot to bare the full weight of influx of goods onto the Maspeth community,” continued Crowley. “If the mayor and Port Authority are going to take a serious look at this proposal they have to come up with a plan to share the burden with Brooklyn, Long Island and the other destinations for cross harbor freight. The current plan is bad for our community and only moves truck traffic from Manhattan to Queens and that is unacceptable.”

Bloomberg’s latest comments suggest the possibility that he is prepared to once again shift his position on the project, which he first supported before vowing his opposition to it at the JPCA meeting. Earlier this year, he noted that tunnels are problematic in terms of security and that the project would require “a lot of money” but added that “down the road, it’s not the world’s worst idea.”

Development Firm Eyes St. John's Hospital Property

Wants to Acquire Site for Medical, Retail, Educational Uses

By Conor Greene

Executives from a Manhattan-based development firm held an informal meeting last week with Community Board 4 members to present their vision for the future of the St. John’s Hospital property on Queens Boulevard, which is set to be sold at auction next month.

Dan Panitz and Justin Green of HaysVentures, LLC, a real estate firm specializing in commercial and retail real estate sales, investment, and development, met last Thursday in the CB 4 offices to unveil a plan for the property that features a combination of medical services, retail space and educational uses.

Panitz assured the board that the company is not interested in building residential units at that site. “We don’t need another shopping mall, another residential development,” he said. “We need to serve the needs.” Panitz, who grew up in the area and formerly served on the community board, stressed that he is “not just some suit, some developer, coming to the community” to develop the site “at the expense of the community.” He said the firm requested the meeting so it could receive feedback from residents as to what they would like to see at the site.

The building has sat vacant since St. John’s Hospital closed in March along with Mary Immaculate Hospital after its parent corporation went bankrupt. Panitz revealed that HaysVentures was behind a $43 million offer submitted by a private investment firm that sought to save the hospitals. “Our goal was to save the hospitals, not to shut them down,” adding that a deal fell apart at the eleventh hour. “It broke our hearts,” said Panitz, who recalled receiving stitches in the St. John’s emergency room as a child.

The company has since submitted an offer for the property, which will be sold at an auction in August, according to CB 4 Chairman Richard Italiano. In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Panitz and Green refused to provide details regarding the offer. However, at the meeting Green said the company will be at the auction if the offer isn’t accepted before then, and suggested that he expects HaysVentures to obtain the property. “We will acquire the asset,” he predicted.

The plan outlined by Panitz centers on a “credible, cash strong” medical facility that would help fill the void left by the hospital closing. While he couldn’t specifically name the group he is in discussions with, he promised it would be a “high-level” ambulatory or in-patient facility the residents “would be very impressed and very happy with.” He said it would not be a substance abuse recovery center or serve as chiropractic or other similar type offices.

Panitz also touted a supermarket or other retail that will “serve the needs” of local residents. It was noted that many Elmhurst residents don’t have easy access to large supermarkets and are forced to pay high prices at local bodegas for staples such as milk and bread. Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, pointed out that an American-based chain is needed since there already are numerous ethnic supermarkets in the area.

Finally, Panitz discussed the possibility of an educational facility in part of the building. While some board members including Nick Pennachio argued that the area is already oversaturated with schools, it was noted that District 24 is the city’s most crowded. Panitz said the community must face the “brutal reality” and consider that it is much cheaper to convert an existing building than build from the ground up. He said the facility wouldn’t necessarily be a city-run public school, listing private or technical schools as possibilities.

“We have to face this reality that we have to put educational facilities in District 24,” said Panitz. The company’s research showed that space for children in kindergarten through grade six is especially needed. “It would almost be like three buildings, four buildings in one,” he added of the final product his company envisions.

Pennachio suggested developing office space that would be used during business hours to avoid bringing huge amounts of traffic to the area on nights and weekends. However, Panitz said that would be a “good way for me to go out of business” and explained that office space vacancies are currently sky high around the city. “It would be suicide for a guy like me to do that,” he added.

Other suggestions included a multi-purpose center that could serve residents of all ages, or a restaurant such as an IHOP.

Throughout the meeting, Panitz stressed that he was there to hear what the community needs. “Instead of having some guy with a briefcase buy this and put in residential, we can solve a lot of problems here,” he said. “It’s expensive doing this stuff [so] I need to know we’re all on the same page.”

Residents Protest Trash Plan, Rally for Maspeth Parkland

By Conor Greene

Several dozen Maspeth residents and community leaders gathered at the Clinton Diner on Rust Street to protest the city’s plan to have garbage trucked through local streets, and to call on the city to buy the former St. Saviour’s property for parkland.

Saturday’s rally, which was organized by Christina Wilkinson, attracted officials including Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), several state assembly candidates, civic leaders and representatives for other elected officials. It focused both on the city’s solid waste plan and the need for green space in the area.

Under a proposal aimed at removing long-distance truck trips, local residential trash will be brought to Waste Management’s transfer facility on Review Avenue, which will be expanded. From there, it will be placed on trucks and driven one-and-a-half miles to the rail yard at Rust Street and Maspeth Avenue. It is that aspect of the plan that has angered locals, as it will result more than 100 local truck trips per day.

Instead, residents, officials and Community Board 5 members want Waste Management to construct a rail spur directly on its property or to utilize the adjacent Newtown Creek to eliminate the need for more trucks on Maspeth streets.

The rally was also called in response to a related issue – the push for the city to acquire the former St. Saviour’s property as the site for a new park, which is needed in that area. Last year, the Juniper Park Civic Association removed a historic church building from the property, which is across the street from the rail yard. While the church will likely be rebuilt on land in Middle Village, the property remains vacant and is being offered for sale for $8 million.

Wilkinson noted that the current projection of more than 100 local truck trips per day “is just a starting point” and likely would be much higher in future years as the city’s population continues to grow. “There are more than enough trucks already in Maspeth residential streets where they don’t belong,” she said. “This is really ridiculous – stop dumping on Maspeth.”

State Senators Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who was represented at the rally by aide Jeff Gottleib, and George Onorato (D-Astoria), who issued a statement, both support the efforts. Gottleib suggested that Waste Management instead pursue the former Phelps Dodge property and build a rail spur connecting to the LIRR Montauk line. “There is something they’re not explaining to us,” he said.

“Like others here today, I think there must be a better way to deal with our garbage disposal issues in Queens,” said Onorato. “This plan by Waste Management will have a negative effect on our residential neighborhoods, our general daily quality of life, and the public health. The heavy truck traffic will only add to the air pollution that already plagues our community and results in higher instances of asthma and other health problems.”

The senator instead suggested that Waste Management look into using rail spurs or the Newtown Creek to move the trash. That sentiment was echoed in a letter to the company by Crowley. “I believe I speak on behalf of my constituents when I say the current proposal must be adjusted before the community can embrace this plan,” she wrote to Jim Van Woert, senior district manager.

Crowley notes that community leaders and groups including Community Board 5, which voted against the current plan, have suggested alternate proposals. She suggests either building a rail spur at Review Avenue or acquiring the Phelps Dodge site.

“Maspeth has been dumped on for years [and] across the street we have the opportunity to build a park,” Crowley told the residents at the rally. She called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to allocate funding needed to provide the area with its “fair share of green space.”

Several of the candidates running for the vacant 38th District Assembly seat suggested legal action might be needed. Farouk Samaroo argued that, unlike many other instances in the city, this might be an appropriate use of the city’s powers of eminent domain. Since it would be for a true public use, it would be a more appropriate use of eminent domain than turning private land over to developers with political ties, he argued.

“As a citizen and an aspiring public official, I fully support using the right of eminent domain to make this park a reality,” he said. “I challenge anyone to tell me why a public park is not a permissible public use.”

One of his opponents, Albert Baldeo, said that the residents could file a lawsuit against the plan, especially if changes suggested by CB 5 aren’t taken into consideration. “If that is not done, we are all aggrieved citizens here,” he said, adding that a lawsuit focusing on the environmental impacts might be appropriate.

Waste Management officials previously said in a statement that the project is in accordance with the solid waste plan approved in 2006 by the City Council. Crowley, who wasn’t in office at the time, said she doesn’t think council members “knew the nitty gritty details” at the time of the vote. “For them [Waste Management] to pass it off to the City Council or Sanitation Department is ridiculous,” she added.

Avella, who is also a mayoral candidate, said his philosophy as an elected official is that “nobody knows their block better than the people who live there” and wondered aloud why the city isn’t listening. “We have to change the very way we do things.” He called for “community-based planning” where the residents have real input into the planning process.

“We have to take care of the people who live in the neighborhood,” said Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato. “This is a case of waste not managed.” He stressed that this isn’t a case of residents fighting against a proposal in their backyards. “This is not NIMBY – this is a case of put it in the right location,” he said.

Wilkinson said the St. Saviour’s property has been used to store Dumpsters since 2005and reported that the city Buildings Department issued a full stop work order for the site on July 17th. She urged nearby residents to continue reporting any illegal activities on the property, including storage of Dumpsters that contain trash.

In his statement, Senator Onorato supported the effort for parkland in West Maspeth. “Speaking of our environment, I am also pleased to lend my support to the effort to bring a new park to western Maspeth at the former St. Saviour’s church site,” he wrote. “This site is now being used as a garbage dump, and there is no question that the area could be put to much better use as green space that could be enjoyed by all members of our community.”

In an interview Tuesday, Crowley said that the battle to force Waste Management to revise its plan “is not over.” She said this is another situation that began years ago that she has been forced to try to rectify since taking office. “I don’t know what Dennis Gallagher was thinking at the time,” she said referring to the area’s councilmember when the solid waste plan was approved. She said it “would have been fair” for the council to demand that Waste Management construct a rail spur as part of the project.

Crowley also said there is a possibility of winning the battle for a park at the St. Saviour’s property. “I don’t think it’s just a pipe dream,” she said. “I think that rally was a step towards pressuring the mayor to put city dollars for what he speaks in favor of – more parks, especially in neighborhoods that have not seen their fair share. That part of Maspeth does not have enough green space… But that’s the type of money that takes a mayoral initiative.”

Politics Unusual: Petition Challenge Fever; Dennis Gallager Resurfaces

By Patricia Adams

Let the games begin. Yes it’s that time of year where the frenzy that marks petition challenging season is once again upon us. Before we go further we’d like to offer kudos to Councilman Eric Ulrich and his opponent Frank Gulluscio who are no where to be found on the challenge list. Apparently these two candidates for the council seat in the 32nd District have decided that they will let the people vote for their own choice. Now please don’t get us wrong, we enjoy a good challenge as much as anyone else but we feel the process should be used only in times of impropriety.

Gulluscio has filed over 5,500 signatures—more than six times the legal requirement while Ulrich submitted 2,500 signatures. “I think the lack of challenge here sends a very clear message,” said Ulrich. “Frank and I are serious candidates who are willing to face the voters on the basis of our own merits.”

In races around our readership area the petition challenge list is overflowing with the names of candidates seeking office for themselves and a boot off the ballot for their opponents. Albert Baldeo, Mike Miller, Nick Comanianni, Donna Marie Catalbiano all vying for the seat evacuated by disgraced Assemblyman Tony Seminerio.

Pardon us while we depart from the petition process for just a minute. Seminerio is engaged in sort of a signature campaign of his own — a solicitation from his lawyer for character reference letters to be used at his sentencing. We could hardly keep from gasping upon the reading of the letter released by Seminerio’s attorneys, Michael Ross and Perry Krinsky. As it appears in the letter, here is the request made on Tony’s behalf:

“A very important part of the sentencing process is the information provided to Judge Buchwald through letters from people who now Mr. Seminerio well, including detailed personal accounts from friends, family members, constituents and colleagues, which describe, among other things Mr. Seminerio’s character and the type of person he is…” OK let’s hold it right there—these guy’s who are presumably being paid a hefty fee for his defense are asking people to write letters about his character and the type of person he is? Let’s see now…if one were to look at the details of the indictment perhaps they could sketch out a letter as to what kind of character Tony Seminerio has and perhaps even get a clear picture of what kind of person he is. I’ll bet one letter the lawyers wouldn’t appreciate is one off the tip of this pen.

OK, back to the real world of the petitions. The list is littered with the name of virtually every candidate falling on most occasions in two columns, that of the challenged and under the guise of objectors as the challengers. But underneath the rubble there is even something of even more concern than some candidates who seek to defame their opponents.

Lurking at the bottom of the barrel is a “dirty little rumor” that some candidates have reportedly signed on some questionable “help” for their campaigns. Word reached us, from most reliable inside sources that the former councilman and forever sex offender, Dennis Gallagher is back on the political scene in a consulting/advisory capacity. Also rumored is the fact that he was paired with former Como and Ricatto staffer James McClelland.

When we reached McClelland to ask about the supposed affiliation, it took all of two seconds before he was offering complete assurance that there was absolutely “NO PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP” between him and Dennis Gallagher. McClelland did confirm that he is the sole owner and employee of the firm he started in March, J. Mac & Associates Inc. His clients include Peter Koo and possibly Jay Golub, whom he confirmed has in fact enlisted the professional help of Gallagher.

We’re glad that James has averted professional/political suicide by having the good sense to avoid a plague worse than many of biblical proportion. But how about Jay Golub? In fact how about anyone who seeks public office and knowingly takes on someone who disgraced his elected position, broke the law and was banished from his seat for it.

From where we sit that type of poor judgment is a clear and present indicator of who not to elect. We wonder how any candidate could endorse the behavior of a criminal by accepting his professional service or advice. We promise to keep you informed as more information becomes available. We also promise to keep printing extra copies for any that should mysteriously disappear…and yes we’re talking to you.

Until next week...

City Studying Expanded Ferry Service in Queens

By Conor Greene

Ferry service could be expanded to locations around the borough under the city’s efforts to utilize the “blue highway” and provide residents with better commuting options to Manhattan.

The city Economic Development Corp and Department of Transportation are in the midst of a six-month Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study to “support future decisions concerning waterborne passenger transportation.” The study is the final phase of a plan presented in May 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to better take advantage of the city’s waterways.

Service was established between Rockaway and Wall Street under phase one last year. The second phase focused on expanding East River service, while phase three centers on analyzing potential additional landing locations. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall held a meeting on Tuesday with representatives from community boards around the borough to discuss these proposed sites, which include JFK Airport, Citi Field, Astoria and LaGuardia Airport.

“Now that we have it, we need to expand it,” said Marshall of the current service levels, which include just two trips each day from the Rockaways. A consulting firm working with the city is gathering input, with the study expected to take about six months to complete. It will be presented to community board and elected officials for review.

Much of the discussion centered on the Rockaways, where there is only one ferry stop along the entire peninsula. Representatives from that area said there is a need for faster boats and additional run times. “We have the technology and the ability to make it better… the potential is definitely there,” said Joanne Shapiro, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway). “This really is a no-brainer.”

Michael O’Toole, secretary of the Rockaway Park Homeowners Association called the current service “basic” and echoed the need for more boats. He called the fishing vessel used now inappropriate and too slow for this type of travel. “We need fast boats, efficient boats and subsidized boats,” he said.

Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan suggested that Bus Rapid Transit service be used to get commuters to ferry landings. Instead of having one run each day into the city, he argued that several runs a day could be made to the waterfront.
Hartigan questioned where $15 million allotted several years ago by Rep. Anthony Weiner to purchase proper ferry boats is. A Weiner representative at the meeting said he wasn’t there to answer questions. Hartigan later said that the city EDC is holding onto the money. “It’s going to be gone and the mayor refuses to use it,” he said. While the boat currently used takes a full hour to reach Wall Street, proper vessels could make the trip in half that time, he noted.

There was also discussion about the JFK Airport location, which is one of the suggested sites. Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, questioned whether the site was proposed in order to serve tourists arriving at the airport or to provide a better commute to Manhattan for local residents. “That is the purpose for which the AirTrain was constructed and is impacting on the community,” she said. “In terms of the community that surrounds JKF – unless it can be demonstrated that it is serving local residents, it would not have support from the local community.”

The consultant responded that both groups were considered but was unable to elaborate.

Braton later said in an interview that “the concept of expanding ferry service in Queens has merit” but questioned whether it would be more appropriate at this time “to spend our limited transportation dollars on projects that better move the greatest amount of people to the locations where they actually work.” She suggested improving service in the Rockaways before creating new ferry routes “in an area where improvements to bus and subway service are more needed.”

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) called the study “a good start,” adding that “at the end of the day, people in my district would benefit greatly from that.”

Donna Gilmartin of the Locust Grove Civic Association expressed concerns about parking, which is already in her South Ozone Park neighborhood due to airport employees. “Our area cannot be impacted by this,” she said. “This is going to be a drastic change and I’m very, very concerned about it.”

While his district is completely landlocked, Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6 requested that all boards be advised of the study’s findings. “We all know that transportation is a horror. We’ll accept any transportation alternatives,” he said.

It was noted several times during the meeting that Staten Island receives about $100 million in subsidies that helps cover the cost of running the ferry there. “We certainly need that in Queens too,” said Marshall. “Our people are working class people. We have neglected the waterfront for too long… Absolutely I would like to see it for free.”

Council Members Ranked on Environmental Issues

Crowley, Ulrich Dismiss Scorecard’s Poor Results

By Conor Greene

The League of Conservation Votes has released its scorecard grading each city council member based on how they voted on 13 bills related to the environment.

Two borough council members, Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) and Thomas White, Jr. (D-South Ozone), obtained perfect scores. Others, including Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) – who has made environmental initiatives a major focus of her first year in office – scored poorly due to certain votes.

Crowley, who has taken steps regarding the environment including holding a public session on “going green” in the home, received a 22 percent score. She said the scorecard “is flawed without a doubt” because of its narrow scope. “It wasn’t because I voted against something, it was that I didn’t put my name on the legislation yet,” she said, adding that some of the bills they were graded on haven’t even come up for a full vote yet.

She argued that she is actually one of the more environmentally-conscious council members and pointed out that she has been driving a hybrid vehicle for almost three years – “before it was popular” to do so. “I think I am probably one of the greenest members of the city council. That’s why I think the scorecard is flawed. It’s not just how I live my life, but my leadership on the city council and in the community.”

Other green initiatives Crowley has led or participated in include starting the Glendale Green Civic Organization, sponsoring the “go green” event in Maspeth Town Hall and heading “It’s My Park Day” in Juniper Valley Park.

Ulrich, who received a 17 percent score, had harsher words for the scorecard, which he called “legislative extortion” since council members must support certain bills to receive a high score. “They claim that because I did not sign as a cosponsor that I am in opposition to ecofriendly bills they support,” he said. “The fact is I have not voiced any opposition or support. I haven’t done anything yet because the bills have not come to the floor. I don’t co-sponsor or vote on bills I haven’t read yet.”

He added: “No other group holds legislators accountable for that which they have not voted or assumed the opportunity to take a position. If you want to judge me, how do you justify a score that is based on what I have not done?”

Among other Queens council members, Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) had the biggest jump in score, going from an 11 percent in 2006 to an 83 percent this year. Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who chairs the council’s Environmental Protection Committee, received an 83 percent score. The sole vote separating him from a perfect score was the controversial congestion pricing bill, which the scorecard weighted heavily.

Dan Hendrick, communications director for the LCV, said that emphasis was placed on whether members sponsored bills because it “really signals that they are behind the bill. They can say they will support it when it comes up, but it’s another thing to put your name on it, which creates more momentum.”

Overall, Queens council members ranked second behind Manhattan. “I think for us that really hammers home that the environment is become a more mainstream political issue,” said Hendrick. “The political dynamic behind environmental issues has changed a lot… A lot of people have taken [the environmental movement on the federal level] to heart and see it as part of their own political playbook as well.”

Recognizing that the scorecard focused on 13 specific pieces of legislation, Hendrick said the ranking “isn’t the be-all-end-all, but it’s certainly a useful tool.”

Quality of Life Issues Dominate COP 104 Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s COP 104 meeting, held last Wednesday in Maspeth Town Hall, was a quick session because the officers who usually attend were called to an emergency in Glendale.

With Deputy Inspector Keith Green and Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell called to Glendale to help coordinate the search for a missing 86-year-old man, Lt. Jeffrey Wellbrock took over the meeting duties. Filling in at the last minute, the lieutenant didn’t have details on recent crimes in the area, but provided residents with a chance to air complaints about quality of life issues.

Over the past 28 days, Lt. Wellbrock reported that major crime is up 2.9 percent, but down eight percent so far this year. The only category with a major increase was burglaries, up 25 percent over the past month. Officer Bell later said there is no current break-in pattern within the precinct but noted that Ridgewood remains the hardest hit area.

A resident kicked off the public comment portion of the meeting with a complaint about the pedestrian overpass at the Long Island Expressway near Mazeau Street. She reported drug dealing and drinking at night on the Middle Village side. “Every night he sees it,” she said referring to her husband who routinely walks the dog there. “I wouldn’t even walk over it during the day” due to garbage and debris, she added.

The lieutenant said the precinct would send officers over there to check on the situation.

Next up was Bob Doocey, who related a complaint from a friend who lives on 68th Avenue near 79th Street regarding excessive noise from motorized scooters. “All he hears all night are scooters - he’s being tormented,” said Doocey, adding that the family has a three-year-old baby that is also kept up by the noise.

Dominick Dale from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office said a resident called their office with the same complaint. “Obviously there are several issues... This is a serious quality of life issue” that threatens public safety, he said, suggesting tougher legislation regarding seizing scooters might be needed.

In response, Robert Holden of the Juniper Park Civic Association pointed out that the police already can seize vehicles - if they can catch them. “There are not enough cops. The legislation is there,” he said. “However, they’re tough to catch because they buzz around and we don’t have enough cops.”

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together told Dale she would like legislation that allows cops to ticket commuter vans illegally operating in local neighborhoods. “If they can ticket trucks for off-route, they should be able to ticket vans.” She said issues with commuter vans include safety concerns, lack of accurate route sheets and instances of access being denied based on race.

The problem of auto repair shops using the sidewalk and street to repair and store vehicles, especially along Flushing Avenue near 61st Street, has again gotten worse, reported Tony Nunziato. “The vehicles are everywhere. You cannot walk down the sidewalk,” he said. “I keep getting calls about it, justifiably... They’re using it as a parking lot.”

Dale said that Crowley’s office tackled the problem several weeks ago, resulting in tickets issued by several agencies and the towing of vehicles. He promised to push agencies including the Sanitation Department to again visit the location. “We will keep doing it until they realize it’s a problem area that needs to be heavily monitored,” he said.

Officer Bell reported this week that the missing man returned to his Glendale home Thursday morning following an exhaustive search.

Too Little to Late for Cord Meyer? Maybe Not

By Steve Tiszenkel

It’s old news by now, but after years of panic by old-school locals, the charming Cord Meyer section of Forest Hills may have caught a major break. The story is familiar to any regular reader of Queens media. For decades Cord Meyer, a sizable chunk of the neighborhood starting north of Queens Boulevard and chopped off unceremoniously by the Grand Central Parkway, has been a bastion of middle-class serenity in a part of the borough often dominated by six-story brick apartment blocks, attached houses on tiny concrete lots and exhaust-choked thoroughfares.

It doesn’t look like Queens, and yet it looks exactly like Queens, a testament to the impressive variety of urban and suburban landscapes easily encountered in New York’s most diverse borough. Cord Meyer doesn’t look poor, but it doesn’t look rich, either. In the shadow of posh Forest Hills Gardens, which has the air of an exclusive Westchester or Connecticut town, it feels a little like a Nassau County suburb—one of the old inner-ring ones, maybe founded by Brooklyn émigrés in 1921 and home to generations of kids who left to become commodities traders and punk rockers. That’s sort of what Cord Meyer is, only with the subway at its feet and the feverish immigrant energy of a place like Corona just a couple of miles down the road.

When the mid-century woodframe houses — gorgeous in their simplicity and situated at the back of lawns that would make Daniel Stern as an adult Kevin Arnold wax nostalgic—started to come down, it was understandable that the people who had grown up in Cord Meyer panicked. The culprits were mostly Bukharians, immigrant Jews from Uzbekistan who had targeted Forest Hills and adjoining Rego Park as their refuge in a country, a state, a city, a borough, a neighborhood where countless of their coreligionists had come before. When they got there, like tens of millions of starry-eyed immigrants before them, they found that maybe the children and grandchildren of their forerunners weren’t quite as hospitable as they’d hoped. The sticking point was a cultural propensity that perhaps they hadn’t even realized they had back in their impoverished post-Soviet homeland: the desire to build huge, gaudy houses on modest lots, all gleaming metal gates and vulgar stonework, those Wonder Years lawns paved over in favor of gargantuan brick-and-cement driveways.

The Bukharians had the momentum, but the old-timers still had the power. Somehow, some way, they had to stop the teardowns. Some made noise of a historic district, but let’s be honest—it was a stretch to call Cord Meyer “historic,” no matter how many people made it a repository for their hopes and dreams. Finally the politicians came up with an idea so simple, it must have taken years to conjure up: They rezoned the area to favor homes smaller in footprint and height, with an actual yard, grass and all, required by law. It was a big, bold step that no Cord Meyer lifer could fail to admire. But was it too late?

Conventional wisdom said yes — the area was too far gone, the towering McMansions, now grandfathered into a city-mandated low-key neighborhood, forever scarring what was once a valuable slice of Americana, Queens-style. “Cord Meyer Area is a Lost Cause,” blared one representative subject line on my Queens Central forum. And when those zoning regulations got passed, I found it hard to get excited. Too little, too late, I thought — the city might as well have left the neighborhood to the bulldozers and paint-by-numbers architects, with their budgets so large and ideas so small.

But I took a long walk around Cord Meyer recently. You know what? It’s still beautiful. It’s still charming. And maybe, just maybe, now that their era is past, the big, ugly palaces add a layer to the neighborhood that make it more interesting and unique. Now that the McMansions are no longer Cord Meyer’s future, they’ve become more a part of its past and present. They remind us of the neighborhood’s history and the heated battles they inspired. What I found on my walk was that I love the area as much as ever—and if I don’t love the new construction, at least I don’t hate it anymore. Somehow, it fits.

Cord Meyer, the old Cord Meyer, was never going to be a historic district. Neither was the Cord Meyer of the newcomers’ dreams, the Cord Meyer that never was. But what we accidentally got, this fascinating blend of old and new, the awkward collision of two generations aspiring to find their American dream? One day, we might see that as history.

The writer is the host of the Website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and Central Queens.