Thursday, January 22, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

New Management Coming to Atlas Park

By Conor Greene

The Hemmerdinger family’s involvement managing The Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale is coming to an abrupt end, according to a letter circulated to community leaders and business owners this week.

“I must regretfully inform you that, effective February 19, ATCO Properties & Management will no longer be involved with the management or leasing of The Shops at Atlas Park,” wrote Damon Hemmerdinger, whose family owns the property, in a January 21 letter.

The mall’s two French-based lenders, Calyon and Societe Generale, will be appointing a new management company to run the upscale outdoor shopping center, which opened at 80th Street and Cooper Avenue in April 2006. It has since been met with some backlash from local neighbors, especially when the MTA, which is run by Damon Hemmerdinger’s father, Dale, agreed to reroute the Q45 bus to serve the shopping center.

In the letter, Damon Hemmerdinger notes that “despite the sluggish economy, traffic on the property was up 30% in 2008, and even held during December, as more people discovered Atlas Park, liked it and returned.” He adds that 12 new stores opened last year, and “a number of new stores are forecasted to open in the next six months.”

He also indicates that ATCO Properties still plans on developing the remainder of the property it owns in Glendale around the mall. Some residents have expressed concern over the past year that the Hemmerdingers plan to build a hotel and office space there, but the family has declined to provide specific information on future development there.

“ATCO is a solid business, and will continue to operate its other assets, including Atlas Terminals, within the tradition of excellence that we have long upheld,” wrote Hemmerdinger. “ATCO will seek growth opportunities as the economy turns around. One of these opportunities will be the redevelopment of our remaining property in Glendale. While we have no firm plans for how and when we will proceed, our belief in the community remains strong, and when the time is right we will redevelop the balance of Atlas Terminals.”

Calls to Damon Hemmerdinger and Calyon were not immediately returned on Wednesday.

Two Area Hospitals in Danger of Closing

St. John’s, Mary Immaculate on Verge of Bankruptcy

By Conor Greene

Residents and elected officials are anxiously awaiting word on the future of two Queens hospitals that might be forced to close if their parent company declares bankruptcy.

The executive board of Caritas Health Care, which owns both St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, was set to meet on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the future of the struggling facilities, which each lose about $5 million annually. It is possible that Caritas will vote to declare bankruptcy at that meeting, according to people involved in the discussions.

While both hospitals have struggled financially for several years, news of their impending closure came during Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s annual State of the Borough Address two weeks ago. “I am extremely concerned today about the stability of St. John’s Queens and Mary Immaculate hospitals,” she told a stunned audience. “I am working with the state to sustain health care in these communities.”

Both hospitals are operated by Caritas Health Care, a corporation created by Brooklyn Queens Health Centers of New York when it purchased both facilities from St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers for $40 million in 2006. Brooklyn Queens Health Centers of New York also owns Wyckoff Hospital and created Caritas to continue running the two Catholic hospitals.

News of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate’s potential closure comes just months after another local facility, Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, was shut based on a recommendation by the state’s Berger Commission. The closures would fly in the face of findings made in a 2006 PricewaterhouseCoopers study of the future of healthcare in Queens, according to Dan Andrews, spokesman for Marshall.

In response to the news about Caritas, Marshall held an emergency meeting last Friday with other elected officials and community board representatives. “Indications were that the outlook is rather bleak for the two hospitals to remain financially viable,” said Andrews. “At the meeting, both the state health commissioner and Caritas officially agreed that the future of both hospitals is bleak.”

A major concern for Marshall and other officials is “how in the world other local hospitals would absorb the patient load that would be generated, with both doing about 50,000 visits each to the emergency room on an annual basis,” said Andrews. In addition, the closings would result in the loss of about 3,000 jobs, “the majority of which are held by Queens residents,” he added.

The two hospitals have a total of about 400 beds and combined are losing about $5 million each month.

Marshall has reached out to Governor David Paterson for assistance and expects to meet with him soon to discuss health care issues. “She will be asking him to delay any closures and will see if the state has formulated a closure plan, which it is required to do,” he said. “The great concern obviously is for the health care needs of the two communities, and the fact that Mary Immaculate has a trauma center, which is one of only a few in the entire borough.”

However, given the state’s looming $15 billion budget gap, it is not clear now much financial assistance the state can provide to maintain the hospital’s operations. According to a source at St. John’s Hospital, staff there has already been instructed to put together a closure plan, which seemingly would pave the way for the hospital’s closure.

One possible outcome to the problem is a takeover of both facilities by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital, which would close both buildings and construct a new state-of-the art facility in central Queens. In November, LIJ entered into an agreement allowing it to negotiate exclusively with Caritas, according to spokesman Terry Lynam.

“We’ve been in discussions with them as well as with the state, toured the facilities, done our due diligence with regards to their books, and what we have proposed is actually building a new facility for the people of central Queens,” he said Wednesday. “The current sites are antiquated and the feeling is you could deliver much better quality care in a much more efficient manner with a new facility.”

However, Lynam noted that the plans face the possibility of being derailed by the current economic crisis surrounding the state and city. “The obvious issue is money,” he said. “Like all hospitals, particularly in this environment, we don’t have that capital, the hundreds of millions needed to build a 400-bed facility.”

The hospital would need “significant state funding” to complete the project, but “given the state’s financial situation, that’s kind of where it’s hung up right now,” said Lynam.

If that plan ever came to fruition, LIJ would likely cease operations at Forest Hills Hospital, which it also operates. He couldn’t say whether the new facility would be built at one of the sites currently used by St. John’s and Mary Immaculate, or elsewhere in central Queens.

High School Likely on Former Restaurant Depot Property

Residents Updated on Proposal at CB5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

The city is moving ahead with plans to build a high school in Maspeth, but is unwilling to meet the biggest request from local residents – that the facility be zoned specifically for local children.

Officials from the School Construction Authority presented updated plans for a 1,100-seat school at the former Restaurant Depot site on 74th Street at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. Based on concerns voiced at past meetings, the SCA has reduced the proposal from 1,650 seats and eliminated an intermediate school portion of the plan.

The proposal now calls for two 500-seat high schools under one roof, which is consistent with the city Department of Education’s push to create smaller schools. It will also include 100 seats reserved for District 75 special needs student as is required, according to Mary Leas, a project support manager for SCA. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.

“We had a lot of feedback and listened to a lot of criticism and complaints,” Leas told residents and local officials who crowded into the cafeteria at Christ the King High School last Wednesday. “I don’t know if it’s more palatable or not,” but the authority did try to address the “very valid concerns” raised at prior public hearings, she said.

While school safety officers provide security while school is in session, the SCA officials noted that the DOE doesn’t provide parking for teachers or students. It was later suggested that the DOE could ask the city Department of Education to allow parking along 57th Avenue near the site of the new Elmhurst Gas Tanks park. Board member Kathy Masi noted that zoning the school for local students would eliminate the parking concerns, since most of the children would then walk to school.

Robert Holden, who is a board member and president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, expressed concern that DOE officials will decide to convert an area on the property currently set aside for recreation into classroom space. “What’s to prevent the city from coming in and saying it needs more seats?” he asked. “You could say 1,100 now, but by the time it becomes reality, it’s 1,650.”

Holden also questioned why the school won’t be zoned for local children, since they currently are forced to leave the neighborhood to attend high school. “What are the guarantees that our kids will go to this school?” he asked. In response, Leas conceded that she couldn’t make any promises regarding zoning, and that “preference will be given to Queens residents.”

Regarding concerns that the proposed capacity would be raised by the time the school is built, Leas said that “it is not our preference” to eliminate green space in favor of more seats. “If we have an explosion of more kids, we will continue to look for more sites,” she said.

A board member asked if the SCA and DOE had considered instead purchasing the former St. Saviour’s property in West Maspeth instead of the Restaurant Depot site. Leas said it was investigated but is “not really a desirable location for a school” due to its industrial setting and heavy truck and train traffic. She called the Restaurant Depot property a “spectacular site that doesn’t come along very often.”

Leas said the next step is to bring the proposal before City Council’s Land Use Committee for approval. At that point, the city would move ahead with a purchase of the property and hopes to have the design work completed by late spring, allowing the project to go out for bid by June. If a contract is awarded in the summer demolition work would begin by fall.

The community board’s executive committee will review the current proposal and is seeking follow up answers on issues including zoning, parking and the drop-off area. Still, despite the changes, concerns such as parking and security have not been addressed, argued board member Manny Caruana.

“It’s not the building the community is so concerned about, it’s the impact it’s going to have on the community,” he said. “I don’t see any of these problems being addressed… It seems that this is a done deal no matter what the community says.”

Several Local Catholic Schools Might Close

Lay Personnel, Demographic Shifts and Rising Tuitions Cited as Factors

By Patricia Adams

A nationwide trend — most disturbing among the Catholic community’s faithful — remains the steady decrease of enrollment which continues to plague the Catholic school system.

In 1965 at the height of enrollment, Catholic schools topped out somewhere around 12,000. Over the past eight to ten years across the United States however, the Catholic community has borne painful witness to the closing of more than 2,000 of their parish schools.

In the thick of the closure crisis is the Brooklyn-Queens Archdiocese which announced 14 possible closings of Catholic Schools within that Diocese. Slated for closure in Queens is St. Anthony of Padua in South Ozone Park, St. Benedict Joseph Labre in Richmond Hill, St. Catherine of Sienna in St. Albans, St. Aloysius in Ridgewood, and Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights.

But what are the core issues responsible for the continued enrollment decrease that hangs over the parish schools formerly seen as a permanent fixture on the education horizon? What is it that could possibly jeopardize the institution of Catholic education and threaten its very existence?

The church has offered the fact that the steady drop in clergy has left them with a tab for replacement lay staff. It’s a big tab at that - including benefits - which has added significant financial burden to the schools formerly operated by nuns and priests at no cost.

Another key factor is the shift of middle and upper-middle class parishioners who have been replaced in the church by Latinos and other immigrant groups who are without the financial resources of affluent parishioners who have since migrated away from Catholic communities. This is especially prevalent in rural areas, where parochial schools attracted low-income families and minority students in an effort to keep them away from public schools justifiably labeled as troubled and potentially unsafe.

Consistent rises in tuition factor heavily in all discussions of why the system is failing. Frustrated parents and advocates for Catholic education point fingers to the damage caused by what is seen by some as the church’s inability to adapt to societal change quickly enough to make a difference. Add these factors to a group not generally noted for their business acumen, and it’s fairly easy to piece together what could bring about the demise of Catholic education as we have come to know it.

According to experts in the field of tracking the downfall of the parochial system and the failure to generate enrollment, it is a common belief that some of the largest inherent problems rest in the traditional governance structure.

For years, the administration of the parish finances and the schools has weighed on the shoulders of parish pastors and priests. Clearly, to wage effective war against the enrollment dilemma, the balance of power needs to be shifted to a body of professional lay volunteers and educators far more qualified to manage ever-changing financial structures and present day requirements for success.

In a five year plan unveiled earlier this week by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio, the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese has released plans for a two-tiered management structure which would shift the financial administration, marketing, recruiting and hiring of principals to a body of lay professionals who have backgrounds with diversified experience and who also demonstrate a strong commitment to the Catholic school model and its preservation. These “lay boards” would be comprised of volunteers and the duties of the pastor or parish priest would be confined to the enrichment of the spiritual community and other religious matters.

According to published statements released by the Bishop, the goal is to set sights on a blend of professionals and lay faculty that operates a successful collaboration with the religious community at large. In his own terms, Bishop DiMarzio called for a “communion of schools and dedicated people.”

In a statement the Bishop said, “When we determined that our schools are operating at only 85 percent of capacity, it became clear that we had to consider why this was happening and how we might reverse the trend.”

Despite all the steps taken to revamp the system, one blaring fact remains — although Diocesan officials are holding their ground that the situation with schools purported to be on the verge of closing will not be formally decided upon until February — the facts and the numbers point to the inevitable loss to be suffered by students and parents when their proposed closures become reality.

Officers Indicted in Bogus Drug Bust

By Conor Greene

Two NYPD officers were indicted Thursday for falsely accusing four men of selling cocaine at an Elmhurst bar last year. The men were exonerated after surveillance footage showed that the officers and men never made contact that evening.

Police Officer Henry Tavarez, 27, and Detective Stephen Anderson, 33, surrendered to authorities on Thursday morning and were arraigned in Queens County Supreme Court on a 42-count indictment. If convicted, the men face up to nine years on charges including unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy and official misconduct.

The two officers were part of an NYPD narcotics unit conducting buy and bust operations at Delicias De Mi Tierra on 91st Place in Elmhurst beginning on the night of January 4, 2008 and continuing into the next morning. A total of six individuals were arrested for their alleged involvement in two separate drug transactions.

According to the charges, Detective Anderson bought three bags of cocaine for $60 from Gabriel Lira and Julian Martinez, but later claimed in court documents that he had only bought one $40 bag from the men. The officers then arrested Jose Colon, his brother, Maximo Colon, Raul Duchimasa and Luis Rodriguez and allegedly used two of the bags purchased earlier that night as evidence against the Colon brothers and their friends.

In reality, the officer “never bought drugs from them and the two bags of cocaine vouchered into evidence were allegedly the ones Detective Anderson had purchased from Lira and Martinez, according to a statement issued by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Based on the officer’s word, the six men were arrested and charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, punishable by nine years in prison.

“Such egregious conduct not only taints the reputation of their fellow officers but erodes public confidence and trust in the department. Such conduct cannot – and will not – be tolerated,” said Brown at a news conference in his Kew Gardens office.

Five of the men were released on their own recognizance the same day as their arrest, but Maximo Colon spent three days in jail until he was able to post $2,500 bail.

Upon his release from jail, Jose Colon went back to the bar and obtained a copy of security footage showing that the officers and four men never made contact that evening. As a result, the charges against the four men were dismissed. Lira and Martinez have pled guilty to drug sales charges and are awaiting sentencing, according to Brown. Anderson, of Long Island, has since resigned from the police force and Officer Tavarez, of New York City, has been placed on modified duty.

“In joining the NYPD, the defendants took an oath to uphold the law and to protect the innocent,” said Brown. “Instead, they are accused of knowingly engaging in criminal activity that could have resulted in lengthy prison terms for four innocent men.”

After the bar provided Jose Colon with a copy of the surveillance tape, bar owner Eduardo Espinoza, 36, told the Daily News that officers from the 110th Precinct were harassing him and citing him with dozens of violations. “Every two to three weeks, there’s cops in here, searching the bar,” he told the paper. “If there’s no violation, they’ll make it up. I lost all my clients – everyone’s scared to come in my place right now.”

Espinoza said that he suspected police retaliation because of a phone call he received following the buy-and-bust operation. He said that a man who identified himself as the arresting officer asked if there was a camera in the bar. “I said I already gave it to the defendants,” said Espinoza. “He said, ‘Oh s--t.’ He hung up.”

An NYPD spokesman said at the time that the department was looking into the allegations of harassment, but a source told the newspaper that the frequent police visits were the result of numerous community complaints against the bar.

All arrests made by the two officers are being reviewed, according to the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors in Brooklyn dismissed more than 150 cases in 200 after four officers in the Brooklyn South Narcotics Bureau were arrested on charges they traded drugs for information.

An attorney for Detective Anderson did not return a phone call seeking comment on the charges against his client.

Lawrence Fredella, who is representing Officer Tavarez, said that was the first buy-and-bust operation his client had participated in.Officer Tavarez was not present inside the bar when the undercover cops - Detective Anderson and another officer who has not been charged - made the purported buy from the four men, said his lawyer.

After uniformed officers went inside the club and arrested the men, the narcotics officers told Officer Tavarez that they would credit him with the bust, according to Fredella. “He thought those guys really sold drugs to Detective Anderson. He was just following two senior officers and was out there to observe. It’s a little shocking that he was indicted and arrested on this… They are compounding a wrong situation by indicting a rookie officer.”

Fredella noted that his client was charged with about half of the 42 counts contained within the indictment and said Officer Tavarez has been cooperating with investigators. Detective Anderson was on the NYPD for eight years before resigning and Officer Tavarez is a four-year member of the force. According to the district attorney’s office that evening was the first time the two officers worked together.

Catholic Academy to Open at OLG Site in September


By Patricia Adams

In the midst of 14 catholic school closings announced by the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese last week, supporters of Catholic education in one Howard Beach School can rest easier. Although the parish school of Our Lady of Grace (OLG) will close at the end of the school year, a Catholic academy at the same site will open in September 2009.

OLG Principal Barbara Kavanagh says the main difference is the structure of governance at the school. “The Academy will be run by the principal and a Board of five Lay Directors,” says Kavanagh, “with each with lay professional having expertise in diversified fields.”

In a release by the Diocese of Brooklyn set forth by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio in a “diocesan wide strategic planning process” a Diocesan Reconfiguration Committee (DRC) has returned a list of 29 regional proposals to “ensure the long term vitality and strength of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, the role of the pastor and parish priest will take on a whole new meaning under the intense project to revamp the way Catholic Schools are administered to and operate.

According to Rev. Kieran Harrington, “This is a process. Every school in the diocese will be moving in the same direction over the next five years. In reviewing the schools,” Rev. Harrington said, “everyone is in a different place in the queue.”

Father Harrington confirmed Kavanagh’s understanding concerning the primary difference between the traditional parish school and an academy-- it lays within the structure of governance and administration that is essentially is being re-imagined. Under the newly proposed governance system, the pastor will be responsible for the spiritual welfare of the school and his parish.

The principal’s responsibilities will rest with education and the professional development of teachers. “Spiritual welfare is the competence of priests and education is the competence of principals,” Rev. Harrington said, “neither of these people should be concerned with finances or duties outside their competence.”

The administration of finances, governing salaries, marketing and other administrative functions will now fall on a Board of Lay Directors, comprised of five professional individuals within the community who will volunteer their time in administering the needs of the school which fall outside the realm of religion and education.

“Our sense is that in Howard Beach, many people have been very successful in building business,” said Rev. Harrington. “These are professional people who have demonstrated though personal venture that they have the tools to succeed.”

“Not everyone has all the components,” Rev. Harrington further explained. “Empowering professional lay people from the community, allowing principals and teachers to focus on education and priests on spirituality, are all part of the plan to create long-term viability for Catholic education.”

Preparing for Academy Status

OLG was one of five area schools invited to participate in a pilot program to attain academy status. One prerequisite of the program was to complete a Catholic Identity Assessment designed by the Diocese to evaluate the visible signs that make OLG uniquely Catholic.

Although the assessment had a survey design, the intent behind the project was to establish cross-section views of parents, faculty and staff as to the factors present that contribute to an overall description of the Catholic character at OLG.

As an academy the school would still follow the guidelines of New York State and of course, the rigor of religious education would not be diminished. “The reason we were chosen for this program is because our school and parish community has a very strong Catholic identity,” said Barbara Kavanagh.

The new academy, for which a name has not yet been chosen, will still face the challenges unique to them which include a declining enrollment and a projected financial deficit for the coming year. “We have every confidence that we will be able to make the new governance work for us,” Kavanagh maintains.

But in addition to what remains the obvious goal - to maintain the strong Catholic character - Kavanagh stresses the need to also feature other educational components entitled to children in public school. “The value of Catholic education as a component of the Catholic faith is undeniable,” she said, “but there are other things which need to be stressed. The public needs to be aware that the differences in Catholic education are not focused solely on the Catholic religion.”

In support of the obvious desire to point out equally important educational differences Kavanagh has much to say on the inclusion of support services in Catholic schools. “Support services available to Catholic school students are exceedingly limited. We need language programs from K-8. Help with homework after school, tutoring and a place for play and organized sports programs. Children with special needs should have the option of a Catholic education.” Kavanagh also want to be far more inclusive of arts programs within the curriculum.

The explanation of other key differences rests in several factors, one of which is the overall average cost to educate a Catholic school student as opposed to a public school student. According to Kavanagh, the cost per child for a Catholic school is roughly $4,000 per student.

In a report issued by the Department of Education on school based expenditure reports the cost of a public school education per student can range anywhere from $12,535 for a General Education student to $42,975 for Special Education students. While some may quip that this is an “apples to orange comparison” the merit of recognizing the difference is imperative to Catholic school survival, according to Kavanagh.

“We have consistently proven that the level of education at our schools, as measured by mandated state testing, carries a higher ranking in NYS ELA and math test results.” Kavanagh’s point is that in some cases, for what amounts to a fraction of the cost, students with Catholic school educations are still outperforming their public school counterparts.

“The bottom line is that we have to move ahead, with Diocesan support, to preserve the Catholic school education for the generations to come," said Kavanagh. "No child should be denied a Catholic education, whether their needs be defined by enrichment or remediation. Howard Beach and the community of Our Lady of Grace are fortunate to have been offered the chance to act as a beacon in this crucial process.”

Civic Group Concerned about Bar Opening

Update Also Provided on Stalled Downzoning at CB 5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

Progress on the long-stalled downzoning of Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth, and concerns over a new bar opening in Ridgewood, highlighted the remainder of last week’s Community Board 5 meeting.

Downzoning Moving Forward

Tom Smith of the Department of City Planning and Walter Sanchez, chair of the board’s Land Use Committee, briefly discussed the stalled downzoning, which is intended to protect about 350 blocks from out of character development.

The effort has wallowed in the DCP since volunteers began the effort three years ago by surveying thousands of properties within the study area. Residents and civic groups whose members have put countless hours into the project have since waited for the DCP to certify the plan, which is needed before it goes to the City Council for approval.

Smith told the board that he is “confident” that the process is in the “final stages” of its DCP review. He said several changes were made as a result of input provided to the department several months ago when the plan was first presented to the Land Use Committee.

Among those minor changes were retaining commercial overlays in some residential areas, such as where corner stores already exist. “We don’t want to lose those small commercial stores,” said Smith. Examples of these types of overlays include portions of Metropolitan and Cypress avenues, he said. In addition, the department is taking another look at the area around Atlas Park in Glendale, which includes properties used for industrial purposes.

Concerns Over New Bar

During the meeting’s public comment period, board member Ann Maggio, also president of the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, read a letter expressing concerns about a new bar and restaurant opening at 205 Cypress Avenue.

The location “has had a bad history in our neighborhood,” said Maggio, most recently due to La Nueva Tinaja, “which was finally closed down after many neighborhood protests.” A new application for a liquor license for that premises was recently filed under the name La Planeta Azul, which would be open from noon until 4 a.m. Monday thorough Friday, with weekend hours not specified, according to Maggio.

“We would like to meet with the new owners before a liquor license is approved to find out what their plans are,” she said. With several other “troubling establishments” already operating in the neighborhood, “this is not what we want in our area and we want to make sure that 205 Cypress is not the same type of establishment,” said Maggio.

“Citizens for a Better Ridgewood had to work for several years to get rid of La Nueva Tinaja, Equinoxio and the Belly Dancing Café. We don’t want to have to work to get rid of another problem; we’d rather stop before it begins.”

Councilwoman Diana Reyna, whose district covers a portion of Ridgewood, later vowed to look into the issue on behalf of the civic association.

Bloomberg Looks to Past and Future During State of City Address


By Conor Greene

In his annual State of the City address last Thursday in Brooklyn, Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused on the economy, job creation and crime while presenting a nine-point plan he says will result in as many as 400,000 jobs over the next six years.

At a time when the nation is enduring what is widely considered the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, Mayor Bloomberg made references to historical figures and events such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, 9/11 and the 1930s during his hour-long speech.

The speech, presented at Whitman Hall in Brooklyn College, was quickly overshadowed when just hours later a commercial airliner was forced to land in the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese upon takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. News organizations dedicated the majority of that day’s coverage to the near disaster, meaning the mayor’s speech did not receive the attention it normally would.

And, with Mayor Bloomberg poised to run for a third term this fall after convincing City Council to amend the city’s term limits law, the speech served in many ways as a campaign speech. When not looking ahead to the road of recovery the city and nation currently faces, the mayor pointed to gains New York has made since he first took office.

“Until recently, the New Deal and the 1930s seemed like a distant memory – and something we read about in history books,” said Bloomberg. “But last year, when the sub-prime mortgage write-down became a global financial meltdown, the bank panics returned and today, more people are worried about losing their jobs, their savings and their homes than at any time since that Great Depression.”

However, he harkened back to 9/11, “when the experts were predicting it would take decades for our city to recover.” In that time, the city has made great strides in areas including crime (“down 30 percent, thanks to our Finest”), fire deaths (“the lowest seven-year total in history, thanks to our Bravest”), high school graduation rates (“up 22 percent, thanks to our Smartest”), tourism (“up more than 30 percent”), welfare rolls (“down to a 45-year low”), ambulance response times (“the fastest on record”), the city’s population (“at an all-time high”) and average life expectancy (“longer than ever and longer than the country’s for the first time since World War Two”).

“Those achievements have touched New Yorkers in all five boroughs and made our city a national leader in nearly every area of public policy,” continued Bloomberg, a former Democrat and Republican turned independent. “But now, I think we all know, we are being tested again. We don’t know how bad the recession will be, but we know it will be bad enough. Plenty bad. There’s no question that the temporary State of our City is shaken. But I’m here today to tell you it’s not broken!”

While many New Yorkers are enduring tough times economically, Mayor Bloomberg noted that it could have been much worse had the city not prepared ahead of time. “We knew that – as sure as night follows day – the market would eventually turn downward,” he recalled. “And we prepared for it.”

Since 2007, the city has cut planned spending by more than $2 billion, according to the mayor. Debt costs have been cut by $3.2 billion, and $2.5 billion has been set aside for retirees’ benefits. “If we hadn’t taken those steps, instead of confronting a crisis today we’d be caught in a cataclysm.” Still, despite the foresight, the city still faces a “fiscal reckoning that will involve some very painful budget choices,” which he will describe in his preliminary budget presentation on January 30.

However, the brunt of Mayor Bloomberg’s time was spent laying out the nine-point plan he says will “allow us to retain and create as many jobs as possible now and 400,000 jobs over the next six years, in all five boroughs.”

Aspects of the plan include investing in new infrastructure, which Mayor Bloomberg said would continue a trend set this year when the city funded a record $10 billion-plus in capital projects including the 7 Train extension to Hudson Yards, breaking ground on a new Police Academy in College Point, building two libraries in Queens and a major renovation of the Queens Museum of Art.

“For the past year, we’ve been pushing Washington to focus the Federal stimulus on ‘ready to build’ infrastructure,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “In all fairness, they’ve finally come around – and thanks to all the work we’ve done over the past several years, we’re ready to build. We look forward to working with Congress and President-elect Obama – not just on the stimulus package, but on rethinking the entire way we fund infrastructure projects in this country.”

Another major element of Mayor Bloomberg’s job creation plan is to “continue diversifying our economy and continue reducing our dependence in Wall Street.” In Queens, that includes projects such as the redevelopment of the industrial Willets Point neighborhood near Citi Field and development of Hunters Point South in Long Island City.

As the economy struggles, Mayor Bloomberg noted that it is especially important to make sure that crime and quality of life issues don’t impact the city’s neighborhoods. “In fact, the best thing we can do for Wall Street – and for every corner store in the city – is the second leg of our economic recovery strategy: continue to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said. “And make no mistake – we will.”

Calling public safety “the bedrock of society that makes economic growth possible,” Mayor Bloomberg cited FBI statistics showing New York as the “safest big city in the country.” Crime is at a “more than 40-year low,” nearly 30 percent lower then seven years ago. “It means if crime levels from 2001 had remained constant, there would have been more than 78,000 individuals, families and businesses robbed or burglarized,” he said. “None of it happened, thank God – thanks to the brave men and women of the NYPD.”

One initiative Mayor Bloomberg introduced as part of his focus on quality of life issues is a plan to identify the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 worst repeat quality-of-life offenders in each borough. “So let me make this promise now: we won’t cede an inch to the squeegee men, turnstile jumpers and graffiti vandals who breed a sense of disorder and lawlessness. Not on our watch,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg closed his speech by telling the story of Yan Fei and Chen Fei, who moved to Sunset Park five years ago from a small town in China. Chen is studying to become an accountant, and Yan recently became an American citizen. “These New Yorkers – together – are why I am so confident about our future... That resilience, that perseverance, that stubborn optimism, is something everyone in this room recognizes.

“We are New Yorkers – together. We have rallied from every setback – together. We have always emerged even stronger than before – together. And now as one city, with one common destiny, we’ll do it again,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “By never fearing. Never quitting. Newer accepting failure. And always believing that our best days, and the best days for this city, are still to come. Thank you. God bless you all and God bless New York City.”

Ridgewood Man Convicted of '06 Murder


By Conor Greene

A Ridgewood man has been convicted of murder and attempted murder in the 2006 shooting of two men outside a Woodside nightclub, announced Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Victor Gavalo, 26, of 1816 Stephens Street was convicted last Thursday of murder, attempted murder, assault and criminal possession of a weapon by a jury of six men and six women. The panel deliberated for less than five hours over two days following a weeklong trial before Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman.

Gavalo, who is unemployed, faces up to 50 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in Queens Criminal Court on February 6.

“The defendant stands convicted of callously standing in front of a parked car and shooting at its two passengers, who had no place to run or hide,” said Brown. “I hope that the victims’ families find some closure in knowing that the person responsible for shooting their loved ones has now been held accountable for his actions and will probably spend the rest of his natural life in prison.”

According to trial testimony, Gavalo exited a minivan at about 4 a.m. on October 1, 2006 and walked in front of a Honda parked outside of Club Phenomenon at 62-43 30th Avenue in Woodside. He began shooting into the front windshield and passenger side window, striking the front passenger, 22-year-old Ernesto Salgado of Sunnyside at least once in the chest, killing him. Gavalo also shot and critically wounded driver Tony Morales, 24, of Woodhaven, before fleeing in the minivan. He was arrested and charged in the shootings about three months later.

The incident occurred after the victims had left the Fantasia nightclub, which is located in the same 30th Avenue building as Club Phenomenon. Salgado was the third person to be fatally shot outside the club in a three-year period, and the eighth shooting victim overall.

In December 2006, Club Phenomenon and Fantasia were shut in accordance with the city’s nuisance abatement law following a five-month investigation by the District Attorney’s office. Over the course of a year, undercover officers made nearly three dozen arrests there for offenses including gun possession, drug sales and prostitution. That year, the club’s owner paid $15,000 in fines stemming from nearly two dozen citations for infractions such as noise complaints and disorderly conduct.

“Far from being the ‘gentlemen’s club’ it presumes to be, the club has long been a hotbed for drugs, prostitution and gunplay and the subject of numerous complaints – both to my office and the NYPD – from area residents and local officials,” said Brown after the building was padlocked. “Businesses that allow prostitution or other illegal activity to occur on their premises are at risk of being shut down.”

However, the club is preparing to re-open for business this week, according to the district attorney’s office. A billboard on top of the building visible from the nearby expressway advertises the January 16 grand opening of Perfection Upscale Gentlemen’s Club.

Assistant District Attorney Karen Ross of the DA’s Homicide Trials Bureau prosecuted the state’s case against Gavalo.

Rego Park Library Closed for Renovations

Queens Library at Rego Park, 91-41 63rd Drive, will be closed as of January 24, 2009 for renovations. Limited service will be provided from a temporary mobile library in front of the building every Monday and Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm.

The newly renovated library will re-open in late spring, 2009. Improvements will include new heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment; fast RFID self service check-out, a new young adult area, a new customer information center, more computer workstations; laptop work counters and a bright new décor. Funding for the improvements has been provided by New York City Councilmember Melinda Katz and the Queens Delegation to the New York State Assembly.

Library customers are invited to use the temporarily mobile library, or visit any of Queens Library's other locations. The closest to Rego Park are Queens Library at Forest Hills at 108-19 71st Avenue, a half-block north of Queens Boulevard; Lefrak City at 98-30 57th Avenue between 99th Street and 99th Place; Elmhurst at 86-01 Broadway at 51st Avenue.

Many library services, including the renewal of library materials, can be accessed at