Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

City Often Unable to Access Illegally Converted Homes

Bloomberg Indicates Possible Support for Cross Harbor Tunnel Project

Development Firm Eyes St. John's Hospital Property

Residents Protest Trash Plan, Rally for Maspeth Parkland

Politics Unusual: Petition Challenge Fever; Dennis Resurfaces

City Studying Expanded Ferry Service in Queens

Councilmembers Ranked on Environmental Issues

Quality of Life Issues Dominate COP 104 Meeting

Too Little Too Late for Cord Meyer? Maybe Not

Rosanna Scotto Accepts Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Parade Invitation

Former Model Charged in String of Armed Robberies

"Hero" Cab Driver Admits to Attempted Rape

Supermarket Exec Nabbed in Internet Sex Sting

City Often Unable to Access Illegally Converted Homes

Thompson Calls for More Inspectors, Warrants

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Indicates Possible Support for Cross Harbor Tunnel Project

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Development Firm Eyes St. John's Hospital Property

Wants to Acquire Site for Medical, Retail, Educational Uses

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Residents Protest Trash Plan, Rally for Maspeth Parkland

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics Unusual: Petition Challenge Fever; Dennis Gallager Resurfaces

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week...

City Studying Expanded Ferry Service in Queens

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Members Ranked on Environmental Issues

Crowley, Ulrich Dismiss Scorecard’s Poor Results

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of Life Issues Dominate COP 104 Meeting

By Conor Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Little to Late for Cord Meyer? Maybe Not

By Steve Tiszenkel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosanna Scotto Accepts Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Invitation

Will Serve as Female Grand Marshall for '09 Parade

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation has received word that Rosanna Scotto has accepted their invitation to act as the Female Grand Marshal for the 2009 Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade. A statement issued by FOX 5 News delivered the good news to the Foundation Board.

“I am so excited to serve as Grand Marshal of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade,” said Scotto. “I love celebrating being an Italian-American. The parade is a wonderful way to remember the accomplishments of so many people in our community and to make new friends.”

“Her accomplishments as a broadcast journalist/anchor speak clearly of her dedication to the public and her concern for community,” said Foundation President Mario Faulisi. “Rosanna is an Italian-American mother, wife and a successful broadcast journalist and businesswoman who represents a wonderful role model, especially for kids growing up in neighborhoods like the one in Brooklyn where she was raised. The Foundation is honored that she accepts our invitation.”

Rosanna Scotto has been a member of WNYW-FOX 5 News since 1986. She has presented with John Roland, Len Cannon, Lyn Brown and Ernie Anastos on the 5 and 10 p.m. News and current co-anchor Greg Kelly on the weekday morning editions of FOX 5 News.

Scotto began her career in television at WTBS, Ted Turner's UHF television station in Atlanta, where she was a reporter for two local programs and an associate producer of the station's evening newscast. She returned to her native New York in the early 1980s as a reporter for WABC's "Good Morning New York," which eventually became "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." After a year with "Good Morning New York" and "The Morning Show," Scotto joined WABC-TV's "Eyewitness News" as a reporter, where she remained until she joined FOX 5.

Having covered many major stories in the tristate area, her assignments have also taken her to Israel, Rome and across the United States. As a reporter, she won an endless string of coveted assignments including the first exclusive interview with Diana Bianchi, the other woman in the Christie Brinkley divorce case, the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow child custody battle, the notorious "Preppie Murder Trial" and the trials of Joel Steinberg and the "Swiss Nanny." Scotto also led FOX 5 news to the forefront in getting Marty Tankleff a new trial and was granted an exclusive interview with him in jail.

Scotto has won three Emmys for anchoring FOX 5 News at 10 p.m. and Good Day New York. She is the winner of the 1995 New York State Associated Press First Place Award for her report "New York Survival Guide” and also the winner of three other Associated Press First Place Awards, including two special Associated Press Award nominations.

Scotto has received a host of honors and awards for her community service work. She is a graduate of Catholic University and holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Scotto lives in the New York area with her husband and their two children.

Former Model Charged in String of Armed Robberies

By Conor Greene

Four men, including a 20-year-old former underwear model who made news last year when his 37-year-old girlfriend was fired from her teaching job due to the relationship, have been charged in 15 armed robberies over the past month.
Joshua Walter, whose relationship with a Howard Beach teacher made headlines last year, was charged in the crime spree along with Lamont Adams, 33, of Far Rockaway, Willie Winston, 30, of Astoria and James Young, 29, of Brooklyn. Each was charged with robbery and criminal possession of a firearm in connection with robberies, which stretched from Greenpoint thorough central Queens.

The string of robberies began on June 14 at a fruit and vegetable market on 45th Avenue in Astoria and continued through July 12, when the group held up a Dunkin’ Donuts on Horace Harding Expressway. In between, the group is charged with hitting 7-11 stores, including locations on Northern Boulevard, Metropolitan Avenue and Queens Boulevard, convenience stores such as Super Deli on Woodhaven Boulevard and bodegas in areas including Rego Park, Forest Hills and Jamaica.

The spree, which netted between $800 and $1,000 during each heist for a total of $12,000 to $15,000, came to an end at about 1:30 a.m. on July 16, when police with the Queens North auto larceny task force spotted a red Chevy Astro van matching the getaway vehicle’s description on 30th Avenue in Astoria.

After they were taken into custody, the suspects were placed in lineups and admitted their roles. Nobody was seriously injured in the robberies, during which the men displayed handguns while emptying the cash register and stealing cigarettes and lottery tickets. One suspect was captured on camera wearing a red USC sweatshirt during every heist, and police say Walter struck a customer with a .380 handgun during the final holdup.

Walter, a former Hugo Boss model, gained some unwanted attention last year when his girlfriend, Gina Salamino, 37, was fired from her city teaching job due to the couple’s relationship, which began when he was 17.

"Hero" Cab Driver Admits to Attempted Rape

An Elmhurst cab driver who was involved last year in a plot to abandon a baby has pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of a 23-year-old passenger in March.

Klever Sailema, 46, of 41st Avenue was arrested in March after the woman told police he tried to rape her in the backseat of his cab on March 2 near the area of 28th Avenue and 37th Street in Astoria. The victim hailed the cab at about 1 a.m. and fell asleep before awaking to find Sailema on top of her with her pants and underwear pulled down. She began screaming and punching Sailema, before grabbing his hack registration and a photo of him and fleeing the vehicle.

The victim was taken to a local hospital where she was treated for injuries sustained during the attempted rape. Sailema was arrested and held in jail on $50,000bail for the past four months before pleading guilty last week to attempted first-degree rape. Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grosso indicated he would sentence Sailema to five-and-a-half years in state prison and seven years post-release supervision in August.

As a convicted sex offender, Sailema will have to register with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which will place his name in the Sex Offender Registry database.

“The offense to which the defendant has admitted is a crime of violence that poses a serious threat to public safety and, as such, warrants punishment by a prison term,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Sailema made headlines in February 2008, when he was called a hero after dropping off a six-month-old baby at a Corona firehouse. He told authorities that a passenger had left the girl in the backseat of his cab, but later admitted to being involved in the plot to abandon the baby. Charges against Sailema in that case were eventually dismissed.

Supermarket Exec Nabbed in Internet Sex Sting

The treasurer of city-based supermarket chain Gristede’s has been charged with arranging a sexual rendezvous with a person he met online who he believed to be a 14-year-old girl.

Michael Seltzer, 59, of Pomona, Rockland County, was arraigned last week on charges of second and third-degree attempted rape and attempted criminal sexual act, first-degree attempted dissemination of indecent material to minors and attempted endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.

According to the charges, an NYPD vice detective was operating in his undercover persona as a 14-year-old girl from Queens between July 22, 2008 and July 14, 2009, during which time he received numerous sexually-charged instant messages from the defendant, who was using the screen name LOVE775419.

Seltzer, a top executive with the Gristede’s Sloan’s Inc. supermarket chain, was arrested last Tuesday when he showed up at a pre-arranged location in Douglaston for what he believed would be a sexual encounter with the 14-year-old he had been instant messaging. He was arrested after approaching a female undercover police officer waiting there and allegedly identifying himself as the person with whom she had been conversing online. Two search warrants were executed that night – one at Seltzer’s residence, where three computers were seized, and one at his place of business, Gristede’s Foods, Inc., on 11th Avenue in Manhattan, where his office computer was seized.

“The case underscores the crucial importance of Internet surveillance initiatives by law enforcement to protect children from sexual predators and should serve as a warning to parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet access and activities,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

This isn’t Seltzer’s first brush with the law. In 1999, he was accused of bribing a city investigator to avoid $200,000 in back taxes Gristedes owed. He was caught on tape offering the inspector $20,000 and pleaded not guilty to two felony bribery charges. The outcome of that case was not immediately available.