Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Ognibene, Civics to City Over Maspeth School Proposal

By Conor Greene

Middle Village attorney Thomas Ognibene has joined up with two local civic groups to file a lawsuit against the School Construction Authority to prevent the city from immediately moving forward with its Maspeth high school project.

Thomas Ognibene, who is running for City Council in November, announced on Monday that he has joined up with civic groups Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together and the Juniper Park Civic Association to file the lawsuit. The civic group’s participation was necessary, he said, in order to give the lawsuit standing – something he expects the SCA to challenge instead of addressing the “substantive issues.”

“The primary goal is to ensure that kids don’t wind up going to school in a highly-toxic environment,” said Ognibene of the lawsuit’s intent. “Unfortunately, the City Council should have stopped this – that’s why we have a City Council.” He accused the DOE of providing the City Council with a “false and misleading report” and said the public was left with no alternative other than filing the lawsuit.

The City Council voted 38 to 10 in April to approve the Department of Education’s plan for a 1,100 seat high school on the former Restaurant Depot site at 74th Street and 57th Avenue. The vote came despite overwhelming opposition from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who voted against the plan, and local residents. The civic groups charge that it wasn’t until after that vote that the full extent of the site’s contamination was revealed to the public. Last month the city paid $16,250,000 for the site, which was recently listed for $15 million.

Ognibene called the DOE’s plan “a perfect issue for the City Council to have done a more thorough job” and said he would have would have demanded “at least a phase three” environmental impact statement. “I would have gone to my colleagues and been more forceful in ensuring the kids are protected,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m not the councilmember and have to rely on going to the courts.”

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, said that the SCA is acting “as a private company that is not accountable” to the public. “Mayor Bloomberg needs to understand that mayoral control of schools doesn't mean he has the authority to cut corners, ignore public input and endanger the lives of our children,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Hopefully this lawsuit will demonstrate… that our community will fight and not just rollover and be forced to take projects that are detrimental to the well-being of our neighborhood.

Last month, Ognibene (R-Middle Village) announced he would challenge Crowley this November to represent the 30th district, a seat he held from 1992 until 2001, when he was forced out of office due to term limits. Crowley spoke briefly at Monday’s COMET meeting and had left before Ognibene arrived to announce the lawsuit. On Tuesday, Crowley’s press secretary said the councilwoman doesn’t have a comment on the lawsuit.

During her remarks on Monday, Crowley said that the DOE had been working on the Maspeth school proposal for nearly two years before she took office. “It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Chancellor Joel Klein and the SCA that really felt they could do as they saw fit,” she said. “As frustrating as it was dealing with the DOE, at least we got some concessions… We’re lucky the school isn’t twice the size it was proposed to be and not for the entire city.”

Through her negotiations with the city, Crowley was able to get the DOE to agree to zone the school so that students in District 24, which stretches from Long Island City east to Corona and south to Ridgewood, first priority. Students from the adjacent districts would then get priority, followed by students from throughout the borough.

The lawsuit will seek to force the city to complete a more thorough environmental review, according to Ognibene. A judge would then determine whether the site is appropriate for a school and if additional remediation is needed. He noted that there are 19 city schools that required additional cleanup after they were constructed, which he said costs ten times more than it does to remediate fully after the fact.

“We don’t want that. We want a thorough vetting of the property and a thorough environmental search,” said Ognibene. “The EIS they did was a cursory one that is not sufficient to protect the children… They never should have been allowed to get away with it.”

At the meeting, COMET member Michael Fordunski of Maspeth spoke out against the idea of filing a lawsuit, which he called a “total waste of time” and tax dollars. “There’s no perfect location for a school… We need a high school in this area,” he said, adding that he believes the site will be satisfactorily cleaned up by the time the building opens.

In response, Ognibene argued that you can’t “put a price on the safety of a child” and that “doing it right the first time saves money… Nobody wants to send kids to a high school with high levels of toxicity.” He said that the lawsuit seeks a preliminary stop order to prevent the city from moving ahead with work at that site. It would then be up to the judge to determine if any further course of action is needed.

A DOE spokesman said he is unable to comment on pending litigation. However, last month the DOE accused “some community members who strongly oppose” the project of “purposefully exaggerating the soil’s toxicity in order to stoke public fears and derail the project.” The department added that “Parents in Maspeth and District 24 should know that the Maspeth High School will be completely safe for students and staff.”

OLG Student Raises Funds for Juvenile Diabetes Research

Turns Entrepreneur For A Great Cause

By Patricia Adams

The 1st Annual South Queens Walk to benefit Juvenile Diabetes saw thousands of walkers take to the street on Saturday raising more than $100,000 toward research. But one very enterprising young Howard Beach man raked in a sizeable amount of cash on his own to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Cub Scout Robby Hegarty, a 3rd grade student at OLG and a Bear Cub Scout from Pack 139 put together his own lemonade stand to raise money for JDRF. At the end of the day, Robert had raised over $200–– with very little help from his parents. But the whole family was in on saying how impressed they were with the outpouring of support for Robby’s efforts.

Proud mom Annmarie Hegarty says two teenage girls walked up and gave her son whatever money they had, and commended Robby on his efforts. Less than an hour later, the same girls came back in a car driven by one of their moms. This time they brought along a bunch of their friends, all of who donated to the cause.

“One of girl's friend is currently in the hospital, having just been diagnosed,” Anne Marie explained, “and it meant a lot to help in any way they could.”

Still another man drove past, made a U-turn, and handed over $20––he had lost a sister to Juvenile Diabetes, and hoped he could help other families who are going through what his family did.

After a long day in the hot sun, Robby Hegarty had raised $227.68. But even more valuable were some of the lessons learned--that one person can make a difference, no matter how young they are, and that the people in his community always pitch in to help.

“We are so proud of him,” said Annmarie Hegarty. Robby is very compassionate child, and this cause has close and personal ties for him. It’s great he had the chance to do this.” Two of Robby’s cousins, Trisha and Mike and an uncle all have the disease. Robby also lost two uncles to juvenile diabetes––he never met either of them.

The Hegartys say they are thrilled that the walk was a great success, and are all looking forward to participating again next year.

Thompson Warns of Queens Healthcare Crisis

The closing of two borough hospitals earlier this year and the recent swine flu outbreak have resulted in a healthcare crisis in Queens, warns city Comptroller William Thompson.

In a report issued on June 1, Thompson charged that hospitals in Queens, especially in the central and eastern portions, are in a “state of crisis” as their emergency rooms struggle to cope with a “torrent of patients amid H1N1 virus worries and the closures of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals” in February.

Thompson was joined by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall in front of Jamaica Hospital Center to bring attention to the growing crisis. Jamaica Hospital is among those facing a spike in patients as flu concerns have grown in recent weeks. A study by Thompson found that “emergency rooms are being flooded with patients, many who must now await admission, ambulance turnaround times are rising, and medical professionals are facing extraordinary challenges in their ability to provide care.”

Marshall, who first warned of the imminent closures of the hospitals at her State of the Borough address in January, noted that the state Department of Health has closed four borough hospitals in recent years, including Mary Immaculate and St. John’s, which combined accounted for about 50,000 emergency room visits each year.

“Short term funding from the state was targeted for equipment and infrastructure expansions, but did not address the need for additional healthcare professionals, especially nurses,” said Marshall. “Comptroller Thompson is right when he says that emergency rooms in Queens are in crisis. I warned the Governor’s office that the hospital system in Queens would not be able to handle a major emergency.”

The findings of Thompson’s latest study on the impact of hospital closings and the swine flu outbreak included:

•The number of emergency room patients at the surrounding hospitals soared right after St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals closed earlier this year. For example, from mid-February to the end of March, there were 20 days when Jamaica Hospital’s emergency room exceeded 350 patients, versus only two such days during the same period in 2008.

•The number of patients brought to surrounding hospitals’ emergency rooms by ambulance soared. For example, comparing January to March 2009, the number of patients arriving by ambulance at Queens Hospital Center rose 51 percent, and at North Shore University Hospital-Forest Hills by 40 percent.

•Ambulance turnaround times – the amount of time from arrival at the emergency room until the ambulance is free to make the next call – increased significantly at Jamaica, Queens and North Shore University-Forest Hills hospitals.

•A Queens Hospital Center emergency room doctor with more than two decades of experience told the Comptroller’s office that he now sees 35 patients per shift compared with 20 before the two closures, that the conditions at the hospital have become a “living nightmare,” and that “the state of emergency medicine in Queens is the worst I’ve seen in my career.” His observations echoed other physicians, some of whom spoke of an overwhelming added patient load.

Thompson faulted the state DOH and city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for “failing to acknowledge the deteriorating financial condition of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s hospitals in a timely fashion and failing to put in place a plan to address the impact of the closures.” After bailing out troubled healthcare provider Caritas, which owns the two closed hospitals, for the past several years, the state refused to provide any additional funding, leading to the closures in February.

“What we are seeing now is a crisis in the hospital and healthcare system in Queens, a version of which may very well spread to the other boroughs if H1N1 virus outbreaks appear in other neighborhoods,” said Thompson. “To be sure, while the timing of H1N1 virus itself was not foreseeable, the likelihood of some event of a similar nature causing a sudden surge in demand was both foreseeable and inevitable.”

Thompson offered a number of recommendations, including that individuals with flu symptoms should be triaged at ambulatory care facilities, the necessary resources to deal with emergencies should be activated, loans and working capital should be provided to cover expansion costs, data on emergency room utilization should be made public, hospitals should be staffed-up to meet increased demand, and gaps in service created by closures must be identified.

“The City and State need to pull key healthcare providers and other stakeholders together immediately to share information, identify patterns and develop solutions to address the current surge in demand stemming from the H1N1 virus,” said Thompson. “If the State Department of Health had begun planning in December 2006, as I suggested, it is likely that much of the current impacts in Queens could have been minimized or avoided entirely.”

Forest Hills Teen Sentenced in Fatal Wreck

Kew Gardens Couple Killed on GCP Service Road

By Conor Greene

A Forest Hills teenager has been sentenced to prison for causing a fatal accident after speeding through a red light while under the influence of painkillers last August on the Grand Central Parkway service road.

Jacob Chubalashvili, who was 17 years old at the time of the accident near 69th Road, will serve between two-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half years in prison under an agreement with the Queens District Attorney’s office.

Chubalashvili, of 62nd Drive, was driving about 60 miles per hour while heading east in a 30-mile-per-hour zone at about 5:30 that morning. Behind the wheel of a Mercedes he had taken without permission, the teenager sped through a steady red light and plowed into an Acura carrying Ki and Hyekyung Kim. The impact split the Acura in half and instantly killed the Kew Gardens couple.

After his arrest, Chubalashvili told police he took the car without permission from a family friend and smoked marijuana before driving. “I remember... jetting down the road and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital” he said, according to the DA’s office. The DA also said he later admitted to taking about a dozen pain pills and asked, “How is the Mercedes? That was supposed to be my car” after being told two people had died.

On Tuesday, Chubalashvili’s attorney, Leonard Ressler, said the plea was reached after tests showed that his client “wasn’t as bombed out as police initially said he was.” Ressler said the only drugs that showed up Chubalashvili’s system were the painkillers, which he took to ease pain from dental work.

“The reason he took the plea is because they weren’t prescribed... Nothing [else] showed up, none of the stuff they said at arraignment,” said Ressler. “In all likelihood he passed out,” which is one of the side affects of the pills Chubalashvili took, the attorney added. “Apparently when you get hit in the head, you think of things that don’t exist,” he said when asked about his client’s comments to investigators.

If convicted at trial, Chubalashvili would have faced up to 15 years in prison. According to his attorney, he is unlikely to be paroled until he has served at least two-thirds of the sentence, at which point he will be eligible for early release for good behavior. “Based on past history [in New York State], it doesn’t bode well unless there is a major change,” said Ressler, noting that the current parole board rarely paroles individuals convicted of violent crimes.

The DA’s spokeswoman pointed out that Chubalashvili pleaded guilty to the top charge against him. “If he would have went to trial and if he was convicted of the same [charge], the sentencing guideline is five to 15 years,” she said.

Hyekyung Kim was a supervisor at the city Administration for Children‘s Services and the couple was on their way to work at the time of the accident. Ressler said his client has “always been remorseful” since causing the accident. “It’s tragedy for everyone - his life’s screwed up and they’re dead. It’s a mess,” he said.

Funding for Ridgewood Reservoir Cut

By Conor Greene

With the city struggling to close a $1 billion budget gap, even one of the mayor’s pet projects – the renovation of eight large parks across the five boroughs – is facing a major setback due to proposed funding cuts.

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweeping PlaNYC, the Parks Department embarked two years ago on a $386 million plan to remake eight under-utilized facilities into destination parks. As part of the initiative, $50 million was earmarked for improvements to Ridgewood Reservoir, which is located within Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

However, with every city agency facing budget cuts, Parks has been forced to scale back its funding for five of the eight projects – including Ridgewood Reservoir - from a combined $206 million to $102.9 million. The $50 million set aside for the reservoir has been reduced to $19.8 million, according to a Parks spokesman.

“As part of New York City’s response to the fiscal crisis, the Parks Department has restructured its capital plan,” wrote spokesman Philip Abramson in a statement, adding that the “planned reductions are not final until the budget is adopted by the City Council.”

The reduction for Ridgewood Reservoir will be spread out over six years, and a new phasing strategy will be created if the funding is not restored, said Abramson. The first phase of the project recently began and includes new lighting, steps, benches and perimeter fences to improve safety and accessibility at the reservoir. Mark K. Morrison Associations of Manhattan was awarded the $7.7 million contract for that work, and is also in the process of creating three proposals for the future of the property’s three basins.

That $7.7 million has already been allocated and is not included in the $19.8 million remaining for Ridgewood Reservoir, according to Steve Fiedler, who is chairman of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee and opposes development of ballfields.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5 in Queens, stressed that it is “very important” that phase one proceed “As far as the cuts go, one problem is that the funding for [Ridgewood Reservoir] may have been cut more so than for other destination park projects, so that’s an issue,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, I still think we can probably get a lot done with the remaining funding, and I think that’s what we need to look at.”

At listening sessions held over the past few months, many participants pushed for a plan that involves preserving the basins instead of building ballfields there, according to attendees. Some residents have argued that the money should instead be used to renovate the existing baseball fields in Highland Park, which have fallen into disrepair. In his statement, Abramson noted that ballfields have been requested by community groups such as the East Brooklyn Congregations.

However, a study by the group Highland Park-Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, which is pushing for the three basins to be preserved, showed that permits were issued for the existing ballfields for just a fraction of the available time during the past two years. “These results are especially disturbing given that Mayor Bloomberg is willing to spend $40 million dollars on a project that nobody in the community wants, is unnecessary, but more important, is at a time when he is also discussing closing firehouses and cutting the budget for the NYPD,” the group wrote on its site,

In response, Parks argued that pickup games allowed there when the fields are not reserved are “unaccounted hours of ball field use.” Highland Park serves “some of the city’s areas with the least amount of green space,” said Abramson in a statement. “Frequent use of existing ballfields indicates a need and demand for field space, which also does not account for the hours of pickup games that are allowed when the fields are not [reserved].”

Still, Fiedler questioned the motives of the East Brooklyn Congregations and doubts their claims that they cannot secure time at Highland Park’s existing fields. “His organization is pushing for fields at the top of basin three on eight acres, for what reason God only knows,” he said. “I hate to say that someone is lying for political gains, but the proof is in the pudding,” he added regarding the field usage.

The funding cut could have a silver lining for preservationists, as it may restrict Park’s ability to develop ballfields there. As the Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance noted on its website, “Perhaps leadership within the parks department will make an astute observation and come to the conclusion that they could use the remaining funding to fix up Highland Park proper. Better yet, a project to maintain and upgrade the current fields so they could finally be used more frequently and by more people. Nah…”

Fiedler called the funding cut “a double edge sword” since it would also require “a lot of funding” should Parks agree to move forward with a plan to preserve the reservoir. “It could be good news, but it could be detrimental too because you need a lot of work to make that a nature conservancy… Maybe they will realize they can’t build ball fields.”

Giordano agreed that the funding cut “would diminish the opportunity to build ballfields within one of the basins.” He is pushing for “improvements to the existing ballfields at Highland Park sooner rather than later [to] give them better ballfields and diminish the need to build anything in the Ridgewood Reservoir.”

In its statement Parks said that the city “remains committed to historic levels of investment in the Parks system under PlaNYC, the mayor’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city.”

Despite the reduction, the department’s “historic $2 billion capital plan is an all-time high,” noted Abramson. “Even as we restructured to respond to the fiscal crisis, we are still building more parks than at any time since the 1930s, with 844 projects currently underway citywide. To ensure that all New Yorkers have access to high-quality parks, we made strategic choices so that no area was disproportionally impacted.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) called this week on the Mayor and Parks Department “to do the right thing for Western Queens and not cut the $50 million allocated to restore our city’s lost reservoir.” She added that, “despite these tough budget times, we have an opportunity to invest in the Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park to create a place where we can learn about preservation and conservation for future generations.”

Parks held three listening sessions over the past few months to gain feedback as to how the reservoir should be developed. However, a meeting scheduled for last week to unveil the results was postponed after the funding cut was announced. No new date has been announced, and Parks has not said how the funding cut will impact the input collected from the public.

Crime Update at COMET Civic Meeting

“Sharp Decline” in Maspeth Over Last Month

By Conor Greene

This month’s meeting of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together - the civic group’s final session before the summer hiatus - included an update on crime within the three police precincts that patrol the neighborhoods.

Cop of the Month

Honored at the meeting inside Bethzatha Church of God in Elmhurst was Police Officer Wayne Lowery, the 108th Precinct’s summonses officer. He won COMET’s acclaim through his efforts to cut down on illegal commuter vans operating in the area. “They’re very hard to catch and it’s a very time consuming job,” said the group’s chairwoman, Roe Daraio, who added that the vans often block intersections and cause traffic problems, aside from other safety concerns.

Officer Lowery said that he checks to see if the driver is meeting requirements such as keeping an accurate travel log and has the necessary safety equipment including fire extinguishers. “I try to enforce as many [laws] as I can,” he said, adding that he grew up in the area and is “more than willing to help” with traffic issues.

“So often people go unrecognized as they make the community better,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who also honored Officer Lowery.

One resident expressed frustration that even a ticket blitz doesn’t seem to deter the vans from operation or parking in the neighborhood. “What really bothers me is that your ticket really doesn’t mean anything to these people because they come back,” he said.

104th Precinct Update

Within the 104th Precinct’s portion of Maspeth, there were six major crimes in the past 28 days, according to Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell, who called that a “sharp decline from last month.” Overall, major crime is down across the 104th Precinct by about nine percent over the past month, he said.

The lone assault was a domestic assault on 69th Street near 54th Avenue. There were two grand larcenies: a boyfriend-girlfriend dispute on 65th Place and a wallet stolen from an unattended vehicle parked near 53-30 72nd Place. “I don’t know why people continue to leave valuables in their vehicles,” said Officer Bell. The three auto thefts occurred on 63rd Street at 53rd Drive, 62nd Street at 53rd Avenue and on 77th Place.

A resident asked about cracking down on prostitution along Flushing Avenue. Officer Bell said operations were recently conducted along Starr Street to combat a problem there. However, the resident said there is also a problem further east towards Grand Avenue near the Moonlight Bar and Grill at 60-58 Flushing Avenue. He said a house across the street being used for prostitution, which Officer Bell said the precinct would investigate.

Fatal Maspeth Wreck

Three men died last Thursday night when their car slammed into a concrete barrier on Laurel Hill Boulevard after skidding across the road. Police say the driver lost control of his 1992 Volvo while trying to pass another car at a high rate of speed.

A bottle of vodka and small amount of cocaine were later found inside the obliterated car, according to Deputy Inspector Thomas Kavanagh, commanding officer of the 108th Precinct. There was a witness to the crash, which happened at about 10:30 p.m. near 58th Street, where the boulevard runs beneath the expressway and through the cemetery.

The driver, 26-year-old Pedro Sanchez of Brooklyn, and his two passengers, Thomas Owens and Eric Sanguenette, both 27 of Woodside, were pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital.

Officer Lowery said he routinely catches people speeding when he patrols that stretch of road. He said the DOT changed the timing of the traffic light at the cemetery entrance to always turn red every few minutes, instead of only when cars exit the cemetery. While this wasn’t a case of drag racing, he said arrests have been made there in the past during crackdowns.

Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato noted that speeding and drag racing has historically been a problem there. “They’ve been racing there since I was a kid... It’s a shame that the DOT can’t come up with something.” However, Deputy Inspector Kavanagh said that traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps are highly unlikely. “They’re not going to do anything there. There is too much traffic,” he said.

110th Precinct

Over the 28 days ending May 31, there were 14 major crimes within the two sectors of the 110th Precinct covering parts of Maspeth and Elmhurst. Among these incidents were three felony assaults, four grand larcenies, three burglaries and one robbery, according to Sergeant Thomas Passolo.

The grand larcenies included another case of a purse stolen from an unattended car at a local gas station, this time the Hess at Albion Avenue and Queens Boulevard. The officers noted that this is part of an ongoing pattern that seems to be targeting Asian drivers. The precinct’s Technical Assistance Response Unit has set up surveillance cameras in the area which might have captured an image of the suspect and getaway vehicle.

Another grand larceny occurred at Bally’s Total Fitness on Queens Boulevard near Jacobus Place. The victim left $300 inside their locker and discovered it was missing after working out. In a similar incident, a resident left his wallet containing credit cards inside his unlocked car overnight. The sergeant called these “crimes of opportunity” and stressed the need to lock up all valuables. The fourth grand larceny was a case of identity theft and involved the victim’s checking account.

The three assaults all took place in the early morning hours after clubs along Queens Boulevard close. They involved “Hispanic men... fighting with bottles and belts” between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. “As the clubs empty out... fights do tend to break out,” said Sgt. Passolo, adding there were arrests in all three incidents.

The lone robbery reported within the Maspeth and Elmhurst portions of the 110th Precinct happened in the Grand Avenue subway station after school. A teenager stole another student’s cell phone but was arrested by transit police soon after. “There are problems with kids coming along Queens Boulevard to the subway station,” he said. It was also noted that there are problems along Grand Avenue after IS 73 students are dismissed.

While there were three burglaries reported, the sergeant doesn’t think there is a pattern in the area. One incident involved a suspect entering a home near 83rd Street and 54th Avenue through an unlocked basement window before fleeing with cash and electronics. The second was a front-door break-in near 84th Street and 57th Road with cash and a television taken. Finally, a perpetrator entered a Queens Boulevard pizza restaurant through the roof. Both residential burglaries occurred on weekday afternoons and the commercial break-in happened after closing last Friday night.

Crowley Discusses Budget

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who has now represented the 30th District for five months, dropped in to provide an update on the city budget negotiations and to introduce herself to the COMET members.

Crowley noted that proposed FDNY funding cuts would result in the closure of several ladder and engine companies – including Co. 271, which serves Ridgewood. “Right now it looks very positive” she said of the effort to avoid any major cuts that would jeopardize public safety. While about $1 billion still needs to be cut from the approximately $59 billion spending plan, Crowley said negotiations haven’t been “as stressful as I thought they would be.”

So far, the City Council has strongly opposed the mayor’s proposal for a five-cent fee on plastic bags and a sales tax on all clothing purchases. Instead, the mayor and City Council have agreed to increase the city’s sales tax by half a percentage point, to 8.875 percent, and begin charging tax on clothing above $110. Still, Crowley said the situation could be worse. “We’re not in the same type of position that the state is in.”

One resident asked about the state legislation’s decision in 1999 to eliminate the commuter tax – and noted that Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) was among those who voted to end it. “They live cheaply [in surrounding states] and then come here and use our jobs,” the resident said. Crowley said she “agrees one hundred percent” but said there isn’t enough support throughout the state to reinstate it. “It never should have been taken away,” she said, adding that eliminating it has cost the city about $4 billion.

Politics Unusual: Bishop Bullies Legislators; Boundless Blogger is Out of Line

By Patricia Adams

The separation of church and state is one that we have long heard bantered about. But a recent New York Post article that highlighted what some feel were rather irreverent comments by the head of the Brooklyn Diocese, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, may add dimension to a new brand of separation.

Last October, the Bishop held a legislative breakfast for New York state assembly members, senators, city council members and their staff at the Bishop’s residence. The group was divided into two rooms and the morning meal was punctuated by a lengthy lecture about the fiscal state of the Catholic Church.

But it was the aftermath of the financial briefing that has sent shock waves through many. Between the two rooms of legislators and lawmakers stood Bishop DiMarzio. He addressed a bill sent before the state legislature by Assemblywoman Marge Markey that would extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving the rape or molesting of children.

Joe Addabbo, who was a city Councilman at the time, was in the room. “The bishop stood there and made a very clear statement,” said Addabbo. “With regards to Markey’s bill he said ‘If you’re on it, I want you off it. If it passes and you vote for it, I’ll close a church in your district.”

Addabbo says the threats of the bishop were surprising, but none the less, the bill and the bishop’s comments have now become the center of a storm that pegs Markey’s proposed legislation as the potential bankrupter of the Catholic Church.

Insiders from the church say that they now feel that the Bishop’s remarks have swayed people in the opposite direction they would have hoped for. “If the Bishop had not tried to bully his way through this, the Markey bill would have gained no sympathy,” said one source who insisted on anonymity.

Addabbo says that the state senate that has about three more weeks to its session is not even talking about the bill. But he says there has been a surge of victims who have come forward to tell their harrowing stories of abuse since the news first broke.

Now a State Senator, Addabbo says lawmakers need to seriously consider the Markey bill that according to Addabbo “is severely restrictive and focuses on private institutions, namely the Catholic Church. We need to consider another bill by Assemblyman Vito Lopez that involves a broader range of inclusion and also focuses on criminal penalties.” Addabbo says that he hopes legislators can come to terms with this important issue and develop a bill that results in the best resolution for the victims.

Meanwhile, opponents to the Markey bill are still lining up to cry foul over the assemblywoman’s proposal. Community activist Tony Nunziato, who ran for Markey’s seat in the last election, says the bill should not be a consideration. “It’s directed only towards the Catholic Church or groups like Boy Scouts. If there is sexual misconduct in a public school, you have 90 days. If you don’t do it in 90 days, it’s done.”

According to Nunziato, Markey is targeting Catholics. “A similar law was passed in California, and it wiped out the Catholic Church. She’s not only playing with constitutional law; they’re targeting one major entity — the Catholic Church. They’re being slammed, and not rightfully.”

And so now the wait begins. We have on more than one occasion come down on the opposite side of Bishop DiMarzio. His comments and lobbying tactics in this case are at best shameful. We hope the bishop was just having a really, really bad day. But the fact that count’s most here is the limiting and restrictive nature of Markey’s bill is a disaster not only for the church, but for the victims as well. Compromise must be set in place to derail the lunacy that has come spurting from Marge Markey.

Lastly this week, we came upon a rather sad and deranged blog entry we feel obligated to share. The blog has long been the suspected poison pen outlet of a certain former city councilman who decided that a privilege of his office was to sexually impose himself on a female victim back in the summer of ’07.

Now it appears he’s back blogging against another innocent bystander, Councilmember Eric Ulrich. Seems that the blogger found another Eric Ulrich, living in Garvin County Oklahoma who is accused of nine counts of lewd acts or proposals to minors. This limp attack was intended to poke fun at the freshman councilman but what about readers who may be foolish enough to take the confusion seriously. We have respect for many bloggers out there who do an earnest job of trying to bring news and opinion to local and national markets in a timely and interesting fashion. But then we run into a vehicle like this that does nothing more than attempt to discredit the reputable, mock volunteers and a host of other violations. We find the comparison of Oklahoma’s Eric Ulrich the molester and New York’s Eric Ulrich disgusting.

But if we had to add a little humor to the equation, how do you think Alabama’s Dennis Gallagher, who is a Space Plasma Physicist for NASA would feel about sharing his name with New York’s Dennis Gallagher, the convicted sexual offender. Bottom line, make sure the face goes with the name before you believe what you shouldn’t even be reading in the first place.

Until next week...

NYRA Set to Auction 64 Ozone Park Lots

By Patricia Adams

Wednesday, June 10th will see 64 tax lots in the Centerville area, currently owned by the New York Racing Association, on the auction block. David R. Maltz & Co., Inc., Auctioneers/Real Estate Brokers will conduct the auction of the lots all of which are residentially zoned. The auction is scheduled to begin at 1:00 pm and will take place at Aqueduct Racetrack. Registration for the auction begins at 11:00 am.

The lots being offered by NYRA through the Maltz firm’s auction range in size and are being offered in assemblages from from 2,000 square feet to more than 75,000 square feet. Landlocked properties will not be offered individually.

According to the auctioneers, three scenarios will be utilized in the auction process. “In order to provide all investors, large or small, with the opportunity to buy property, the lots will be offered for sale in bulk, 22 assemblages and individually. The properties will be sold under whichever scenario realizes the highest or best offer.”

Some local residents whose properties abut NYRA-owned properties included in the auction have expressed interest in buying lots adjacent to theirs but are concerned that the offering of lots in assemblages may see them losing out on purchasing individual lots. Many local residents in the Centerville area had hoped that NYRA would engage in negotiated sales by offering lots first to adjacent property owners.

David R. Maltz & Co., Inc., is a full service auction company specializing in the timely sale of real estate with a reputation for doing so in a professional manner. The firm has conducted thousands of auctions on behalf of clients that, like NYRA, have been involved in actions before the United States Bankruptcy Courts. Substantial amounts of the funds to be generated by Wednesday’s auction will go towards paying down NYRA’s tax debt.

All properties will be sold free & clear of all monetary liens with closing required to occur within 45 days of the auction. A $7,500/lot deposit will be required in order to register to bid. For example, if there are 4 lots in an offering, a posting of a $30,000 deposit will be required. A $350,000 deposit will be required in order to bid on all 64 lots in bulk.

Within 48 hours following the auction the successful bidder must remit a total of 16%of the high bid at auction, a 10% deposit plus a 6% buyer's premium. All deposits are required to be in certified funds and made payable to "Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman LLP as Escrow Agent". All of the properties included in this auction will be sold on an “as is, where is” basis.

Queensboro Bridge Turns 100

By Patricia Adams

Among revelers at the 100th birthday bash for the Queensboro Bridge on Sunday, was Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who crossed over the structure in a 1919 Dodge to mark the birthday of the East River’s longest span, already immortalized in book and song. A Grucci fireworks show Sunday evening on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island brought the celebration to a brilliant close.

A week of festivities that includes exhibits, lectures, walking will continue through this weekend. (A complete list of events can be found by going to

Joing the Queens borough president were Ms. Francesca Lindenthal Gebhardt, daughter of the bridge’s engineer, Gustav Lindenthal, and her grandson, Allen Renz. Their 8 a.m. crossing commemorated the official opening of the cantilevered bridge on June 12, 1909. Despite years needed to complete construction of the 7,449-foot crossing, the total cost was approximately $17 million.

The trip across the bridge was marked with a midway point meeting of Helen marshal and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. There were remarks about the history and modern-day role of the bridge followed by a red, white and blue water salute from the FDNY Fireboat Kevin Kane.

“This bridge not only helped to transform our agrarian economy into a modern metropolis,”” said Marshall, “but also has aged well and looks as good today as it did a century ago – and it continues to make people feel ‘groovy.’ ”

The bridge is also credited with starting a home building boom that brought the first apartment building to Astoria and doubled the community’s population in just a few years. Today, the East River crossing is traversed daily by more than 183,000 vehicles, 800 bicycles and numerous pedestrians.

In his book, ”Queens A Pictorial History,” historian Vincent Seyfreid notes that the Queensboro Bridge “was the first (bridge) to end the isolation of Queens by connecting Long Island City with 59th Street, Manhattan.

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who helped to immortalize the bridge in “The Great Gatsby,” and singers/songwriters Simon and Garfunkel who sang about in the “59th Street Bridge” song in a 1966 album that looked at the fun in “feelin’ groovy.” Marshall noted that, “Even though we love the song, the plaque on the bridge says Queensboro Bridge.” The bridge has also made appearances in movies including “Annie Hall” and “Spiderman.”

Marshall thanked the members of the NYC Bridge Centennial Commission for organizing Sunday’s event and especially Sam Schwartz for his “dedicated efforts to bring us together today in recognition of this historic event.”

The NYC Bridge Centennial Commission, Celebrating a Century of Great Bridges, is working in partnership with the Office of the Mayor, the Offices of the Borough Presidents of Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, the City Departments of Transportation and Parks and Recreation and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Forum Newsgroup/photo courtesy of DOMINICK TOTINO