Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Barbara Sheehan Speaks

By Patricia Adams

This week The Forum brings you an exclusive interview with Barbara Sheehan, who is charged in the shooting death of her husband, retired NYPD Sgt. Raymond Sheehan.

Sheehan and her attorney, Michael Dowd, speak candidly about his murder, and how a judge’s recent decision could destroy their defense strategy.

The mother of two has been free on $1 million bail since the February 2008 shooting at the family’s Howard Beach home and is expected to stand trial in early 2010.

For the first time the defense speaks about questionable behavior by attorneys for the prosecution and discusses how the judge’s disapproval of Dowd’s tactics may affect the case.

The murder sent shockwaves through the quiet community but has since faded from the headlines. However, a recent decision by the judge in the case has thrust the story back into the news.

“We’re in trouble.” That is how defense attorney Michael Dowd describes what he terms the devastating consequences of the decision handed down by Justice Arthur Cooperman which will prohibit the testimony of expert witnesses in establishing the post traumatic stress disorder and battered woman’s syndrome defense in the murder trial of his client, Barbara Sheehan.

In the decision handed down on November 10, Cooperman cited “defense counsel’s disregard of this Court’s orders,” and “transparent excuses for delay and for disrupting a July 28 interview.” But Dowd says those claims are absolutely not true. “We went a long way to try to get the information about this case and the history to the psychologist. I personally spoke to Barbara’s family and friends urging them to cooperate by speaking with the prosecution psychologist, Dr. Kathy Yates,” he said.

Dowd explained further that there was some hesitancy at first because prosecution attorney Debra Pomodore had stated to a neighbor that Barbara was a murderer and that her children were liars. “Despite word of the prosecution’s comments, all of the family, including Barbara’s parents and both of her kids still agreed to speak with Dr. Yates,” said Dowd.

That interview, scheduled for July 28, is now a hotbed of controversy because of a series of events that occurred during the course of the day, subsequently causing the collapse of the process and leading to the “emotional breakdown” of Sheehan. The judge attributed the disturbances to Michael Dowd’s actions on that day, but the attorney says he wasn’t even there until after twelve noon.

“That morning my associate, Niall Giollabhui was there with Barbara. I was to get there later. He was checking out the rooms where the interviews were going to take place. He saw Debra Pomodore sit down on the couch and start talking to Barbara. That violates the disciplinary rules — no attorney is supposed to engage another’s client in conversation, especially an adversary,” said Dowd.

When the attorney crossed the room to find out what was going on, Pomodore told him she was just asking Barbara what she wanted for lunch. Barbara Sheehan didn’t wait long to tell her attorney what had happened.

“I told Niall she [Pomodore] was lying. What she said to me on that couch was “I want you to do your best in there. I know you are a very religious woman and you’re going to tell the truth because you’re so religious. I know you’ll tell the truth and it will all come out,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan continued, “I knew what she was doing. She had never even said hello to me in the courtroom. She never even acknowledged me and now she was talking to me this way... She was using some interrogation techniques... To me she was saying that I had been lying all along and now was the time when I could tell the truth.”

Barbara Sheehan described the encounter with Pomodore and her assistant Donna Aldea as what upset her so deeply on that day. “They’re saying it’s Mr. Dowd’s fault. But he had nothing to do with it. If anything he calmed me down. What caused problems that day was the behavior of Debbie Pomodore and Aldea.”

Sheehan qualified her remarks, “She started to talk loudly walking up and down the hallway — listen, she was saying, this has to get done here today. The room wasn’t ready and the camera was not set up.”

According to Barbara Sheehan, prosecutor Debbie Pomodore was acting wildly. Sheehan went on to say that Pomodore’s rant set her on edge.

“By the time I finally got in with Dr. Yates, I was physically sickened. I broke down with the first question she asked me. I asked permission to go to the bathroom. Aldea, Debbie Pomodore’s assistant was there and followed me to the bathroom. I wanted to be alone in the bathroom; to wash my face and compose myself. But she came right up behind me. I sat there in the stall to be by myself but when I came out she was just standing there waiting for me.”

Prior to the interview there was an abundance of psychological testing conducted by experts hired by Sheehan’s defense team. A judge’s order forced them to share all notes from such interviews with the prosecution prior to trial. “I fought that order because that was in the best interest of my client, but in the end the judge ruled and we had to turn over all the notes. Of course we complied,” explained Dowd.

Now Dowd says he is faced with the monumental task of coming up with a defense that will offer his client what he says is everyone’s entitlement. A fair trial.

At the heart of the objections from the defense team is the fact that the prosecution has all the benefit of the expert testimony from the notes that were provided them however, the same experts will not have the opportunity to explain the complex and dark details of Battered Woman’s Syndrome to a jury of Sheehan’s peers.

“We are not going to get any abuse victims on the jury," Dowd predicted. "The average person could not possibly know the level of sickness that is associated with the abusers and those they batter. Because of this and because the criminal process does not allow for an appeal before a guilty verdict is rendered by a jury, Barbara could very well end up in jail while waiting for an appeal. She simply doesn’t belong there.”

In next week’s edition we will explore the circumstances leading up to the murder, including years of documented battering Sheehan endured, as well as the events of the February 2008 morning when she shot her husband.

Board Rejects Maspeth Antenna Plan

Proposal Moves to Boro Prez Before BSA Eventually Rules

As expected, Community Board 5 unanimously voted against a proposal to place six cellular antennas on top of a Maspeth apartment building. The proposal will move on to the borough president for review before the city ultimately rules on it.

At its meeting last Wednesday in Christ the King High School, Land Use Chairman Walter Sanchez reported to the full board that the committee felt that a “saturated condition” already exists on the roof at 53- 00 65th Place. Companies generally don’t need special approval for cellular antennas, but a variance is needed in this case because the roof already contains antennas for Sprint, Verizon and the 911 system.

Sanchez noted that the new antenna would result in the building exceeding the amount of square footage allowed to be used for cell antennas and said the roof is already damaged from a 2008 fire. There are also concerns over light, noise and long term health impacts that the antennas would have on the residential neighborhood. Finally, the company made no effort to find space on a nearby commercially-zoned building, said Sanchez.

After hearing the Land Use Committee’s recommendation, the full board voted 33-0 to reject the application. A hearing is scheduled before Borough President Helen Marshall on December 3 before the matter is eventually referred to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which has final say in matters regarding zoning variances.

Residents Annoyed Over Parking Meter Installation

DOT Offers No Reasoning Behind Sudden Action on Eliot Avenue

By Conor Greene

A group of Middle Village residents living on streets off Eliot Avenue are frustrated over the city’s recent decision to install parking meters in an area they previously relied on as a safe, reliable option for parking.

According to residents of 75th Street, the city Department of Transportation suddenly installed the meters along Eliot Avenue between 74th Street and Lutheran Avenue about two weeks ago. Since there are no businesses along that stretch, the parking spaces now sit empty the majority of the time during the week. The spots are now virtually useless to 75th Street residents, who used to park there when their dead-end block was full.

Adding insult to the situation is the fact that the DOT installed the meters with no advance warning to the residents, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley or Community Board 5. Even worse, several residents who parked there before the meters were installed returned to their cars to find tickets on their windshields, according to residents.

The issue was raised at last week’s CB 5 meeting by Dmytro Fedkowskyj of the 75th Street Block Association, who said it is “appalling that members of the community are subjected to impacting and neighborhood change without notification from the city.” He adds that he can “only assume that the genius behind this project never surveyed the area before installing these useless meters,” which go unused from Sunday night to Saturday night “while the rest of Eliot Avenue looks like a parking lot.”

After residents contacted her office, Crowley wrote to the DOT asking who had requested that the meters be installed. She was told she had to submit a letter under the Freedom of Information Law to find out who made the request and is still awaiting a response. In her letter, she noted that the meters “are not needed in this residential area as they provide nothing positive for the community” since there are no stores nearby “where parking meters would be beneficial.”

The DOT press office was unable to provide information to The Forum by press time on Tuesday, including regarding who requested the meters. While the problem has impacted 75th Street residents who used to park there, it has also led to frustration along 74th Street as drivers have begun to head there in search of free parking.

A group of residents gathered along Eliot Avenue on Saturday, at which point the entire stretch of parking was predictably empty. Several drivers pulled up but then drove away when they realized that meters had been installed. “It’s one hundred percent uncalled for – it’s a residential area,” said 75th Street Block Association member Mike White.

“We don’t know why these meters are there,” added Dennis White, president of the block association. “It a burden on the residential areas.”

Miller Opens Woodhaven Assembly District Office

Democratic Assemblyman Mike Miller recently announced the opening of his new district office on Woodhaven Boulevard, replacing his old temporary location on Myrtle Avenue.

The new office address is 83-91 Woodhaven Boulevard, which is located in a newly-constructed building on the northbound side near Park Lane South. Since his election in September, the assemblyman had been operating out of the same building used by his predecessor, Anthony Seminerio.

Miller took office after winning a special election to replace Seminerio, who resigned after pleading guilty to influence peddling in connection. Seminerio was accused of forming a consulting company in order to shake down area hospitals in return for political favors.

Miller’s spokeswoman, Sierra Perez-Sparks, said that the assemblyman began using Seminerio’s old Myrtle Avenue office because it allowed him to immediately begin serving constituents of the 38th District, which includes Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. Now that his operations are up and running, his staff has made the move to their new office in Woodhaven, she said, which is more central to the entire district.

The new office can be reached by phone at (718) 805-0950 or fax at (718) 805-0953. It will be open seven days a week.

Juniper Dog Run Supporters Frustrated Over Lack of Progress

Funding, Location Issues Jeopardize Proposal

By Conor Greene

The controversial push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park reared its head once again, as supporters of the plan accused community board members of purposely stalling the ef- fort in hopes of preventing the proposal from becoming reality.

Last week’s Community Board 5 meeting began as many have over the past year – with members of the Juniper Valley Park Dog Owners Association requesting that a permanent enclosed dog run be created in the area currently used during off-leash hours. The proposal has been met with backlash from some residents who don’t want space in the park dedicated for a dog run, and a recent study by the city Parks Department estimated the project would cost $750,000.

The mood of last week’s meeting took a contentious turn when association member Kate Burns said she believes “some members of this [CB 5 subcommittee] may be working against the best interests of dog owners.” She said she was invited to join the subcommittee, which was recently formed to explore the idea, but was told “in no uncertain terms that we will never, never get a dog run” in Juniper Valley Park.

Burns added that the co-chair of the committee [Kathy Masi], told her that pushing the idea would result in a “ten year pissing match” with members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which opposes the plan.

Several other Dog Owners Association members spoke in favor of the proposal, including 18-year-old Tom Scotti, who spoke against board members who are “determined to make sure our dream of having a dog run in Juniper Valley Park will never happen.” He said he grew up near the park, plans to spend his adult life in Middle Village and vowed to continue the fight until the dog run is built.

Joe Pisano, president of the dog association, expressed frustration that after attending CB 5 meetings for 12 consecutive months, little progress has been made. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we are any closer than we were a year ago,” he lamented, adding that he was also told to “forget the idea” because there will never be a dog run in Juniper Valley Park.

“And you wonder why we get so frustrated over this,” continued Pisano. “I really feel this is ridiculous. We really feel like you care less and put us off until we go away. We’re not going away.” He added that board members should “check the personal feelings at the door” and act on the behalf of the community at large.

Finally, John Rowan, who is a former district manager of Community Board 4 and a 22-year Middle Village resident, questioned the process by which the board has handled the group’s request. “I’m concerned about where we’re heading with the park,” he said, questioning why the subcommittee has yet to meet on the issue and why the board’s budget request simply mentioned a dog run within CB 5’s confines. “We don’t want it in CB 5 anywhere, we want Juniper Park,” he said.

Later in the meeting, board District Manager Gary Giordano seemed to pour cold water on the association’s request. He called the group’s initial proposal “huge” and said it would have been as large as a football field. “I honestly was shocked at the magnitude of that,” he said, adding that in his view, there doesn’t seem to be “much interest” in the run outside of the association members.“Maybe something can be worked out, but I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think there is much of a constituency among members of this board for a permanent, all-day run” at that location.

Masi was not at this month’s CB 5 meeting, but later told The Forum that she has been actively working on this issue and denied telling association members in no uncertain terms that it will never happen. However, she suggested that their stance that the run must be located in Juniper Valley Park might lead to an impasse, and said she felt it was best to wait until after the November 3 election before formally moving forward on the issue.

Next month, Masi is scheduled to visit two properties outside Juniper Valley Park that Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office has identified as potential sites for a dog run. She said that association members need to think “a little more globally about this” and keep an open mind about the location.

“In a fiscal crisis, spending all that money is ludicrous and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would put up $750,000 for a dog run,” said Masi. “We want to get this done, but we don’t want to put a dog run in an area where the community won’t be happy about it. I don’t want to please fifty two and offend five thousand... I don’t see huge support from the community for a dog run anywhere.”

Masi noted that while funding for a dog run was included in the board’s capital budget requests, it ranked dead last after members prioritized each item. “If that doesn’t send a message... To dig their heels in the ground and say they only want it in Juniper, if that’s the message, my response is we’re all wast- ing their time. I don’t want to fight with these people, but they have to be a little more global.”

Push for Upgrades Along Rail Corridors Gains Steam

By Conor Greene

An effort to increase the quality of life for residents living along rail corridors is gaining momentum, as civic associations from throughout the area are banding together to address the issue.

Neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold recently devised a plan entitled Glendale Clean and Green, which aims to address issues relating to the railroad yards and corridors that cut through the area. After presenting their plan to Community Board 5, the women found that other nearby communities are suffering the same types of problems.

To address these issues, which range from emissions coming from idling locomotives, along to noise and safety concerns, a group called Civics United for Railroad Solutions (CURES) was recently formed. It includes various civic groups such as Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, Glendale Property Owners Association, Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, the Juniper Park Civic Association, Maspeth West End Block Association and Citizens for a Better Ridgewood.

After getting word of the effort out to the public, residents from Glendale and surrounding neighborhoods such as Middle Village began contacting the women to get involved, Parisen reported at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. “They’re facing the same problems we’re facing in Glendale,” she said, noting that a petition effort is underway to pressure elected officials to taking action.

Arnold said that while there are a host of problems related to rail operations, the main focus continues to be on lowering the harmful emissions that spew from the locomotives. “That’s what all of us are breathing when you have diesel engines idling outside your house,” she said, adding that federal grant money is currently available to pay for the conversion of diesel engines. “It’s hard times, but we’re all breathing this air and it’s a problem,” she said.

Middle Village resident Laura Zimmer, who also lives along the rail corridor, said the problem has gotten much worse in recent years. Locomotives now idle in her residential area for as much as two hours at a time, preventing residents from enjoying backyards or hanging laundry outside. “It’s really disturbing... We’re all suf- fering from this,” she said.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano later credited Parisen and Arnold for doing a “yeoman’s job to bring all this to the attention of the elected officials” and said support on the federal level “will be very important.” He is hopeful officials “can come up with an avenue for fund- ing very quickly” to help alleviate the problems.

With state federal funding in mind, CURES recently sent a letter to officials regarding the MTA’s 2010-2014 capital budget and the state Department of Transportation’s 2010-2015 capital budget. The letter asks the agencies “to effect planning, infrastructure, and equipment upgrades in Queens that will better protect the public health and safety and quality of life in communities that presently are bearing serious environmental burdens.”

The letter argues that the “contract between the LIRR’s gleaming double decker passenger rail cars that pass through our neighborhoods and the degraded condition of the LIRR rail corridor, the rail yards, and the freight transportation in our neighborhoods make it crystal clear that our neighborhoods have been neglected and dumped on for too long.” To remedy this, the group wants “state and federal oversight and money coming in here now to upgrade the freight transportation system and environment in Queens.”

The issues CURES seeks to remedy include “unnecessarily high levels of diesel emissions due to old equipment, idling, lack of traffic capacity and lack of ‘last mile’ access,” exposure of residential areas to waste that is being stored in and transported in open cars instead of sealed intermodal containers, open access for vandals to the LIRR rail corridor in an area that includes hazardous chemicals and the Buckeye Pipeline, and storage and transportation of petroleum gas and other hazardous chemicals, which has led to two emergency evacuations of homes in the past three years.

Regarding the problem described by Zimmer, Giordano said he has had a “much more difficult relationship” with New York and Atlantic Railroad than most of the other agencies he deals with. Trains had been parked outside Christ the King High School until the school sued in federal court. Giordano recently contacted the agency to see about having idling trains moved from the residential area near 69th Place, to no avail. “All I wanted them to do was move the switching operation maybe 200 yards south,” he said.

As long as these issues continue to detract from the health and safety of local residents, Parisen vowed that CURES would push for solutions. “You are going to be hearing a lot more about this organization,” she promised.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Woodhaven Man Nominated for CNN's Hero Award

Has Served 90,000 Free Meals to Hungry, Homeless

By Patricia Adams

The gathering starts to assemble around 8:45 pm. Five or six men stand in a cluster under the elevated train on Roosevelt Avenue at 73rd Street. By 9:00, there are ten more.

By 9:10 there are more than two dozen. They are waiting for the man who changed their lives. The man’s name is Jorge Munoz but many of those waiting simply call him Angel. The line continues to grow. By 9:40 there are more than 70 people waiting for the man they know will arrive to feed them shortly.

Many are clothed in the same way. They wear sweatshirts, their hoods up and drawn toward their faces. Some carry all of their possessions in a backpack. There are men and women. They range in age roughly from 17 to 70. They are predominately Hispanic, but a scan of the line offers evidence of an ample mix of other ethnicities. Some are homeless. They break up their time on the streets by stealing a few hours in the Emergency Room at Elmhurst Hospital or riding a loop on the train that takes about four hours. Some are day laborers who struggle to find work and must survive on the streets, others are victims of circumstance, left without food, proper clothing and in most cases, shelter.

There are those that sleep under the bridge off the BQE, still others shrink down in doorways, looking for any protection from the elements. Others in the crowd rent small rooms in the area or stay with friends and good Samaritans. As diverse as the group is, they have one thing in common—they are all hungry. Now they wait patiently, lined up along the street, two by two. And by the time the white pick up truck does arrive at the corner, there are more than 140 people to greet the man who has changed their lives.

They knew he would come. He has been doing so every day since the summer of 2004. Only once, in the winter of 2007, did he miss a day - a snow storm put his truck out of commission. He tried to get the food to his flock by public transportation, but it was suspended. That hardly matters - he is here now.

Jorge Munoz swings open the door of his Toyota pick-up truck and jumps out. He is an unassuming presence, just 5’2” tall. Before his feet hit the ground, you can hear it. “Jorge, buenas noches.” He quickly moves to the back of the truck where he uses the rear tire as a means to climb aboard. He immediately begins to untie the crates, boxes and coolers that store the night’s meal. Many on the line have not eaten since Jorge’s visit the night before.

There are four or five people there to help him serve the food. From the cab of the truck, supplies are brought out. Plastic forks and Styrofoam cups are passed to the servers. A huge cooler with two hundred cups of freshly brewed coffee rests on the extended tailgate. Bags of bread are opened and rest up against the side wall of the truck closest to the curb where the line of hungry mouths continue to wait patiently.

And so it begins. Jorge Munoz starts dishing out the evening’s fare. Roasted chicken with rice and beans. Those who have come to eat remain standing in an orderly fashion as they approach their turn in the line. First they choose their own bread from the open bags and move forward to accept their dinner directly from Jorge, then it’s off to the side of the line where another volunteer hands off the hot beverage of the evening, this time coffee, on other nights, hot chocolate.

“Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.” A passing cab driver shouts from his open window to Jorge who flashes a smile and waves. And there are others who pass by, honking their horns, offering words of praise for the simple man who means so much to so many.

It started back in May of 2004. Munoz, a school bus driver for Varsity Bus Company was on a field trip in Long Island. “I noticed some guys, walking toward a dumpster behind a restaurant,” he recalls. “They were throwing out perfectly good food so I got out of the bus to talk to them.” The conversation led Munoz to the owner of the restaurant who agreed to donate the food to Munoz instead of trashing it. “I knew what I was going to do. I was going to feed some guys that didn’t have nothing.”

His feelings for the immigrants that line the streets of Jackson Heights and other communities throughout Queens are rooted strongly in his own background. His father was killed in an accident outside the factory where he worked in Colombia. Jorge and his sister Luz were 9 and 10 at the time. “We didn’t have any money without my father. My grandparents brought food, but there was not enough.”

His mother, Blanca Zapata found it impossible to provide for her children so she left them with her parents and came to New York to make her way. She found a job as a live-in nanny for $120 a week in Bushwick, and in two years had saved enough money to bring her children to the US.

The son she brought to America has always had it in his soul to help. “He doesn’t want anyone to go hungry,” explains Blanca. She recalls a time back in Columbia when a man came to their house asking for food. “I told him I was sorry, that we didn’t have anything to give him.” There was barely enough for them, but Jorge took his dish, despite his mother’s protestations, and gave it to the man. “I told him that he needed to eat to be strong for school but he just looked at me and said, I’ll just eat bread.”

What began in his native Colombia came with Jorge Munoz when he and his sister joined their mother in New York to start a new life in the 1980’s. Now almost thirty years later he spends all of his time outside of working at Varsity dedicated to the people on the streets who have little or nothing to eat.

The explanation of what he does is fairly simple. “I got my moms, my sister, my nephew, my friends-a lot of members of my family out here - but these people are alone. At least now they feel like they have some family taking care of them — like somebody cares.”

His day begins at 4:45 am when he gets up and takes his daily food inventory. He leaves for work by 5:15 and is finished by about 5 in the afternoon. “I get home about 5:20 and rest for ten minutes. Then I take a cup of coffee and start my second job,” he says with a smile.

It is the second job which is the one that requires tremendous energy and stamina. It begins only after daily runs to various grocers and stops at churches, food factories, restaurants and pantries to pick up donations. Then the cooking begins.

Until last year it was Blanca that did most of the preparation, but now severe arthritis limits her. “The New York Times did an article in 2007,” after that Munoz says, an anonymous donor came to the rescue. “A successful man from Manhattan came and asked what I needed. I told him I needed someone to cook, he told me to hire someone and he would pay.”

And so Oliva Cortez, a woman from Munoz’ church took the job as the cook and joined Jorge, Blanca, his sister Luz and nephew Justin in the families quest to feed hungry mouths.

“When I started it was just eight guys. Two weeks later it was 24.” By the second year, Munoz says the number began to increase little by little. “About two years ago we were up to 60-80, but in the last eight months it grew to 90.” Now Munoz says he serves upwards of 140 meals every night.

Since beginning more than 90,000 meals have been served. During the summer, on some weekends and any other time he is off, there are also trips down to Flushing, Jackson Heights and Astoria to serve up breakfast in addition to the nightly dinners. Pancakes, French toast, waffles, fruit, iced tea and bottled water are handed out all along the streets where so many illegal immigrants gather in search of a day’s work.

Although Munoz spends his day on the road, there are many phone calls back to the house to check on the menus and the cooking. Sixty to eighty pounds of chicken, twenty-two pounds of rice, and about twenty pounds of pasta to make pasta salad are typical amounts for a standard night’s fare. On other nights, more than fifteen pounds of lentils will fill the containers with rice and vegetables. Monday night menus include forty to fifty pounds of pork served with rice and fifty pounds of beans. Twenty pounds of chopped meat mixed with rice, vegetables and pasta for another night. Six pounds of coffee and five gallons of milk act as the beverage of choice on a cold night. Depending on donations, there are fresh fruits and baked goods.

To a first time observer there is so much that overwhelms about this scene. The enormity of what this man is doing, the fact that he has been doing it for 5 and ½ years without fail, with a full compliment of help from his immediate family and at his own expense is not immediately comprehendible. It forces the question –Why do you do it? He smiles and begins to answer. “Why? I don’t know. God I think. What I say is everybody in this world has a mission. This is mine. For those who believe in God,” says Munoz, “it’s up to you whether you say yes or not--if you take your mission or not. My mission is this one.”

Another pause and he is ready to finish. “When I came to this country my mom was waiting for me. I had food. I had a bed. I had other family members. They have nothing. I am here for them.”

For all of his efforts — an ordinary man having an extraordinary impact — Jorge Munoz has been nominated as one of CNN’s Heroes. The winner of the contest will be awarded a $100,000 prize. There are ten people across the United States nominated for the coveted award. Forty-seven year old Woodhaven resident Jorge Munoz is one of the top ten. He will travel to Los Angeles at the end of this week for the awards ceremony.

Having no choice but to ask the predictable question—how much do you really want to win this?—Jorge’s answer was perhaps just as predictable. “How much do I want to win? More than anything.” Looking out at the people who stand and sit along the sidewalk devouring their daily bread Munoz got to the heart of the issue. “For me my prize is the hundreds of smiles and thank yous I get every day. For them the hundred thousand dollars means they will eat for another four and a half to five years.”

One of the privileges of community journalism is the opportunity to meet ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Jorge Munoz is at once definable as such. We encourage our readers to go to CNN’s website at to learn how to vote for Jorge through Thursday, November 19.

Maspeth Cell Antenna Plan Gets Poor Reception

By Conor Greene

An application to place cellular antennas on top of a Maspeth apartment building has not been received warmly by tenants, neighbors and the local community board, but might still win approval from the city.

MetroPCS has applied for permission from the city Board of Standards and Appeals to install six wireless antennas on top of the apartment building at 53-00 65th Place. While cellular antenna proposals are not generally subject to local zoning restrictions, a variance is needed in this case due to existing wireless equipment already located on the roof.

A hearing on the plan was held at Community Board 5’s October meeting, and the board’s Land Use Committee subsequently voted at its meeting the following week to recommend rejecting the application. The full board was expected to vote against the plan at its meeting this past Wednesday night, according to District Manager Gary Giordano.

According to the company’s application, the antennas are needed to close coverage gaps in the area. MetroPCS already has antennas in the area, including on top of buildings on 51st Avenue and 67th Street. However, it is eying the 65th Place building because it is the tallest in the area and already houses antennas for Verizon, Sprint and the 911 system.

“If approved, the proposed facility will offer significant advantages and services to the community with virtually no negative impact on the community,” the company argued in its application to the BSA. “The proposed facility is of vital importance to MetroPCS’ efforts to provide reliable service to the area in question. Without the proposed facility, a significant gap in reliable coverage would exist in the area.”

However, the plan isn’t sitting well with building residents and other community members who are worried about the increasing number of cellular antennas in their neighborhood. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Maspeth resident Manny Caruana. “It’s another intrusion into residential areas with these cell antennas. There are already antennas on top of that roof, so it is going to intensify the RF frequencies generated.”

One problem, said Caruana, is that private companies like MetroPCS are given the same latitude afforded to public utilities in these types of applications since they provide a service to the public. “There are no regulations on these people,” he said. “They allude that they are a public utility… but they’re not regulated. I think at some point we’re going to find out we’re being over radiated by these antennas.”

The building owner, Jangla Realty of Great Neck, will be paid by MetroPCS in exchange for providing space on the roof and in the basement for related equipment. Residents accused the company of failing to properly maintain the building, and said that firefighters’ efforts to extinguish a 2008 blaze at the property were hampered by the presence of the antennas and equipment. “This guy just wants to take the money and run,” said Caruana.

A Jangla Realty official reached by phone at the company’s Great Neck office would only say that “they comply with the law” and said the building is maintained, but is still being repaired from the fire. He ended the conversation without discussing the opposition from tenants and the community to the plan.

According to Giordano, the board’s recommendations will be forwarded to Borough President Helen Marshall, who has the opportunity to weigh in on variance applications,before a BSA hearing is held in Manhattan. “It’s certainly a concern for me personally and I think for a lot of people,” he said of the increase in cellular antennas in residential areas. “I think part of the problem is that more and more people have cell phones and are using them as their main phone, even doing away with their landlines. So if you have demand for more service, and service where you can use your cell phone inside your home, there’s no magic, and I think that’s a big part of the issue.”

At the board’s hearing last month, building resident Candida Baez submitted a petition signed by 31 residents from the 60-unit apartment building in opposition to the plan.

Renewed Hope for Parkland at St. Saviour's Site

By Conor Greene

Maspeth residents and activists are hopeful that years of lobbying for parkland at the former St. Saviour’s will eventually pay off, now that several local officials have thrown their support behind the effort.

Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley are pursing the possibility of securing funding thorough the state Environmental Protection Fund to help pay for an acquisition of the lot near the corner of Rust Street and 57th Road. The property is currently empty, but is being prepared for future development should the owner, Maspeth Development, LLC, find an interested buyer.

The land was formerly home to historic 1847 St. Saviour’s church, which was designed by noted architect Richard Upjohn. In 2005, a Korean Methodist congre-gation sold the property to Maspeth Development for $4 million. The community fought the plan for residential development, and the owner allowed the Juniper Park Civic Association and other volunteers to dismantle the church building so that it can eventually be rebuilt on land donated by All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village.

In the meantime, residents and activists including Christina Wilkinson of the Newtown Historical Society, haven’t given up the battle to have the land preserved for much-needed greenspace in that portion of West Maspeth. Wilkinson informed Marshall and Crowley of the Environmental Protection Fund opportunity, and the officials are responding with a letter the state Department of Parks and Recreation urging support for the endeavor.

“We’re looking to see if we qualify to get money from that state fund to acquire the land as parkland,” confirmed the borough president’s spokesman, Dan Andrews. In addition, Marshall has requested that the city Parks Department - which recently expressed a willingness to take title of the land if funds are secured to buy it - have a formal appraisal of the land conducted. While the city Parks Department is willing to take the land over, officials made it clear that funding for a purchase will have to come from other sources. “There is no city money to do it right now, but there is support for acquiring it as parkland, so obviously it is a question of money,” said Andrews.

The property is currently being listed by Manhattan-based Berko & Associates for $8.5million. This week, Joe Berko said the property owner would be willing to discuss a sale to the city at the right price. “Obviously, I don’t think anyone is looking to build right now, that is a well known fact,” said Berko. The owner acquired the land with the intention of developing the site, but “that is not happening right now,” said Berko.

Berko said there has been “some interest” in the site, including from firms seeking to lease the land to store equipment. “I think we have had communication with some members of the community, and if there is interest in the land, then absolutely” the owner would be willing to listen to offers.

Wilkinson said that while word that the Parks Department would take title of the land was encouraging, it set off an uphill battle to secure the funds. She first tried to arrange a land swap using land owned by the city elsewhere, but says the Bloomberg administration immediately ruled out that plan. She then came across the Environmental Protection Fund, through which money is provided to purchase space in neighborhoods that are underserved by parks, such as Maspeth.

“It sounded like a promising avenue to explore, and I contacted Councilmember Crowley and the borough president and they took it from there,” said Wilkinson. “A new park for Maspeth is something that the community has been looking forward to for a long time without much hope that it would happen because our elected officials in the past were not on board with the proposal,” she said. “It took the recent infusion of new political blood over the past year to give it some momentum.”

In her letter to the state, Crowley said the site “represents centuries of local history” dating back to when it was part of a Native American settlement along the Newtown Creek. It was part of the first European settlement in Queens when Maspeth was founded in 1642 by the Dutch and English. Then, 162 years ago, local congressman James Maurice founded St. Saviour’s Protestant Episcopal Church and donated the 1.5 acre property for the churchyard. Until last year, the site was home to 185 trees that helped buffer the residential blocks from the nearby industrial properties.

Crowley notes that while the mayor’s plan calls for every New Yorker to live within a ten minute walk of a park, Maspeth only has 12 acres of greenspace for more than 36,000 residents. The city calculates the ideal amount of open space to be 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents, meaning the neighborhood is vastly underserved, according to Crowley, who hopes to have other local officials sign on in support of the letter.

“The community very much would like to see this space opened back up to them,” she wrote. “Community members and groups already secured donations of trees, flowers and clean fill, but this working class neighborhood needs money in order to acquire the property.” She adds that there likely isn’t enough time for officials to raise the needed funds before the real estate market improves and the land is developed. “Should we miss this chance to create public parkland, another opportunity such as this will not likely present itself in our lifetime,” she added.

Wild Crime Spree in Ozone Park

Robbery Followed by Two Carjackings

By Conor Greene

A wild scene unfolded along several blocks of 103rd Avenue in Ozone Park on Monday when three men were involved in a robbery and two car jackings. The men twice crashed the stolen vehicles while being pursued by a witness, and in the end, police arrested two of the suspects but were unable to locate the third despite a search of backyards.

According to police sources, 26-year-old Phillip Chase of Brooklyn and 18-year-old Chevon Johnson of South Jamaica ripped a gold chain off the neck of an individual near 103rd Avenue shortly before noon. The men fled the scene on foot while the third suspect followed in a grey van with Texas license plates.

The robbery was witnessed by a local couple, Yvette Remsaroop and Lewie Tuitt, who were driving home from the grocery store. They told the victim to get in the back of their car and began following the suspects. At that point, the two men jumped into the van, but only made it three blocks before it crashed into a pole. The three men jumped from the vehicle and immediately carjacked another van proceeding westbound on 103rd Avenue.

The men only made it a few blocks down 103rd Avenue before crashing into a parked car and fleeing on foot. Officers from the 106th Precinct arrested Chase and Johnson after locating them hiding next to a house near 130th Street. The driver wasn’t found and is still at large, according to police sources, and the gun used in the carjacking wasn’t recovered. Police did find the stolen chain, several cell phones and discarded clothing left in the van by the suspects.

Officials from the 106th Precinct credited the public with helping officers apprehend the two men, who both have extensive prior arrest records and are currently being held in Rikers Island on charges including second-degree robbery and possession of stolen property.

Remsaroop, who has lived in the area for four years, said she told her husband to start following the men after witnessing the initial robbery. She said they only later realized that the men were armed, and said that nothing is surprising, especially these days. “At least we got them off the streets. That’s the best thing that could have happened,” she said.

Mayor Signs Robert Ogle Bill into Law

Spurred by Tragedies in Middle Village and Chinatown

The penalty for leaving a vehicle running and unattended has been increased now that a bill sponsored by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in the wake of several tragedies earlier this year has been signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Crowley introduced the bill after 16-year-old Middle Village resident Robert Ogle and his friend, Alex Paul, 20, of Cypress Hills, were struck and killed by a drunk driver who had just stolen a running vehicle left unattended outside a local deli. A month prior, an unoccupied van was left in reverse and mounted a sidewalk in Chinatown, ramming into a group of preschool students, killing two and injuring at least 11 others.

“Leaving your car running and unattended seems like a minor, careless mistake but all New Yorkers must understand that it is irresponsible, dangerous and potentially deadly,” said Crowley, who noted that the current fine for leaving your car ignition on and unattended is just five dollars. Under the new law, the fine has been raised to $250 “to deter anyone from being careless with their vehicles,” she added.

The bill was introduced at the March 24 City Council meeting and was the subject of testimony at a transportation committee hearing last month. Robert’s parents, Brendan and Mei Ogle, testified at each hearing in favor of the new law. “I know too well that an unattended and running car can become a deadly weapon,” said Brendan Ogle. “It is necessary to increase the awareness and penalties for people who are careless with their personal property because money talks.”

In partnership with the new law, Crowley and the Ogle family, along with Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) are launching a public awareness campaign to prevent people from leaving their cars running while unattended.

Editorial: The Angel of Queens

In recent weeks, this newspaper and most others encouraged our readers to vote. Unexpectedly, we call on them to do so again this week. But this election is not the same as those for mayor, council or state office.

This election will not see voters forced between the lesser of two evils nor will there be any conflict from party affiliation. This is an election from within a totally opposed spectrum. This is an election where voters cannot make a wrong choice. One in which whomever they choose is thrilling for everyone.

In recent weeks, voters, roughly two-and-a-half million of them as of press time, have been flocking to the CNN website and logging on to read about the network’s upcoming All-Star Heroes tribute which honors ordinary people that have an extraordinary impact in the world. The awards ceremony will be televised on Thanksgiving night and the 2009 Hero will be announced. The hero with the most votes will be awarded a $100,000 prize.

This week The Forum traveled to the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd street to witness the impact that one of the nominees is having by feeding the hungry, homeless and indigent population of day laborers and illegal immigrants that congregate there, in the shadows of an elevated train station. Their struggle has been greatly lessened over the past five and a half years by 47-year-old Woodhaven resident, Jorge Munoz.

By next week he will know whether he got the most votes and the prize money, which he has already spent in his mind. That amount of money will feed his “street family” for the next five years. When Munoz tells you of his plans for the money you know you are witnessing somewhat of a phenomenon. Before you stands a man, who is telling you, at the most troubled financial time this country has faced in the last 90 years, about how he hopes to come into a giant windfall and use it solely for the benefit of other people.

Since he started in 2004, Jorge Munoz has served more than 90,000 meals. It has been almost two thousand days since he began feeding anyone who wants to eat—he missed serving meals only once when a snowstorm shut down the city.

Jorge is among nine others in the Heroes Award competition. We urge you to visit the CNN website and take the opportunity to vote - for him. Each of those nominated are strong, selfless human beings. They are motivated by compassion and understanding; driven by an unrelenting desire to help, to nurture and to offer goodness where there is none. They all have amazing stories, but having spent just two and a half hours on the street with Jorge Munoz, there is no doubt that he is deserving of a vote.

There is something so large about this gentle man of small stature. It is his connection with the people that he feeds every day. It is the way he remembers every face on the line - no one gets seconds until everyone gets firsts. It is the way he reveres and credits his God, yet still understands those who have lost their faith. It is the way he cherishes family; how he wants no one to be alone. It is the way he recalls stories of those who have gotten jobs and returned to volunteer or make a donation. Actually it is everything about Jorge Munoz.

So if you would make the time to vote for Jorge, we think you’d be doing a little part of helping in his very big work. But if you don’t get around to voting, maybe you could make the time to stop down to Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd around 9:45. To see what happens on that street corner is a blessing. Oh and by the way, it doesn’t matter what night you pick. The hungry will be there and so will Jorge Munoz.

Please visit the following Web site:

Middle VIllage Man Guilty in Murder Over Drug Deal Gone Bad

By Conor Greene

A Middle Village man and his high school friend have been convicted in Suffolk County in the murder and dismemberment of two Long Island men after a drug deal gone bad.

Darren Lynch, 29, of 68th Avenue, was found guilty of first-degree murder and James Wall, 28, of Coram, was convicted of second-degree murder charges after a jury deliberated for 90 minutes last Friday, according to the Suffolk County district attorney. Both men were also found guilty of first-and-second-degree kidnapping.

During the trial, Lynch testified that he shot and killed Joseph Odierno, 35, of Miller Place, and Jairo Santos, 22, of Washington Heights, because he was “infuriated” that the two men had sold him $30,000 worth of fake cocaine. He admitted on the stand that he shot the men, dismembered their bodies in his Middle Village apartment and buried the body parts behind his parent’s house in Coram.

A third defendant in the case, Lynch’s 24-year-old live-in girlfriend, Leah Reynolds, pleaded guilty in May to weapons possession and hindering prosecution charges and will be sentenced at a later date. However, the couple also faces charges of criminal possession of a weapon and drug possession in Queens as a result of items found in the 68th Avenue apartment following the murders, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

Reynolds was arraigned on the ten-count indictment on October 19 and is due back in court in December, while a warrant has been issued for Lynch’s arrest on those charges.

In Suffolk County, Lynch faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole and Wall faces up to 25 years in prison. District Attorney Thomas Spota said the people will recommend maximum sentences for each at their formal sentencing on December 11.

Authorities say the trouble began when Lynch asked Odierno, Santos and a third man, later identified as Ricardo McKoy, to sell him a kilo of cocaine. After paying th dealers $30,000, he realized the bag contained sugar and baking powder, at which point he pulled a gun on Odierno, Santos and McKoy and forced them to drive him to Washington Heights to find the sellers who ripped him off.

McKoy was able to get away after Lynch instructed him to go inside the apartment to find the dealers. Lynch then brought Odierno and Santos to his Middle Village apartment, where he tied them up and shot them several times. He then placed the bodies in the bathtub and cut them up before transporting them to Long Island. Police accused Reynolds of helping Lynch transport the bodies and hiding three handguns at her parent’s Long Island home.

The investigation moved forward when Odierno’s wife activated the OnStar tracking system on her husband’s Cadillac several days after his disappearance and tracked the vehicle to Middle Village. The break in the case came when police located McKoy, who told them that Lynch had kidnapped Odierno and Santos.

Parks Dept Breaks Ground on Restoration of 1939 World's Fair Relic

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Council Member James Gennaro broke ground on renovations to the Boathouse on Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Representatives of the Boathouse’s users, TASCA, Hong Dragon Boat, Row NY and community members, also attended.

“The Boathouse at Flushing Meadows Corona Park has provided visitors with a connection to the water and the park’s history (it is one of many 1939 World’s Fair relics). Meadow Lake has hosted numerous cultural events including the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat race, and has provided the community with opportunities to learn sailing and rowing,” said Commissioner Benepe. “Thanks to a generous allocation by Queens Borough President Marshall, the Boathouse will feature a new dock built with sustainable plastic lumber, a full interior and exterior restoration, along with a new public restroom.”

Thanks to $5.6 million from Queens Borough President Marshall and $441,000 from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the 1939 World’s Fair Boathouse and dock at Flushing Meadows Corona Park will undergo a full exterior and interior restoration. Along with a renewal of the boathouse’s roof, windows and fa├žade, the old wooden dock will be replaced with a wood alternative: plastic lumber. Half of the interior space will be winterized to allow for meeting spaces for groups to use during winter. Public restrooms will be added to the Boathouse’s southernmost wing.

Additionally, areas surrounding the Boathouse will be paved to provide disabled access to the building. Under a separate $1.7 million contract funded by $1 million from Council Member Gennaro, $625,000 from a multi-modal grant from the State and $115,000 provided by Mayor Bloomberg, surrounding pathways and relocated portions of the lake edge will be reconfigured to address drainage problems.