Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Ulrich and Gulluscio Square Off in Debate

By Conor Greene

An overflow crowd jammed into Saint Barnabas Church in Howard Beach to hear directly from the two candidates for City Council in the 32nd District: Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich and Democratic challenger Frank Gulluscio.

Tuesday’s election comes at a time when the district is in need of strong leadership, said Patricia Adams, publisher of the Forum, which co-sponsored the debate with the Queens Chronicle. “I’ve never seen a greater need for good leadership,” said Adams, reminding the voters that they “have the last word in who we send to City Hall.”

Both candidates were given a chance to present an opening statement before answering questions from the panel. Gulluscio started by telling the crowd that he has lived in Howard Beach since “before it was famous” and “learned to give back at an early age.” A former business owner and school teacher, Gulluscio said his ability to “listen to what the people are saying” helps him “be a great leader.”

Ulrich, who has represented the district since winning a special election earlier this year to replace former councilman and current State Senator Joseph Addabbo, said the race is “about the future of our community, it’s about the future of our neighborhoods... Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but I make decisions based not on political considerations but based on the people I represent.”

The first question was posed in the form of a classified ad and questioned whether the candidates had the resume necessary to effectively represent the district. Ulrich called the responsibility “a very challenging job” that goes beyond nine-to-five. “Sometimes it’s a thankless job and the best thing you can do is put your right foot forward and try to do the best you can,” he said, adding that he has an “unwavering commitment to serving the needs of the constituents.”

Gulluscio maintained that he has “been doing the job of a city councilman for the past four years, every single day, in my role as district manager of Community Board 6” in Forest Hills. Other than make laws, a district manager deals with many of the same issues a councilman does, he said. Before that, he worked “for a short time” for Addabbo, where he gained budget experience. “The experiences I bring to the table are real whether they be civic, budget or legislatively,” he added.

Ulrich’s graffiti removal program, which he provided $30,000 in funding for, was the topic of another question to the candidates. The councilman was asked how he would build upon the program, while Gulluscio was questioned about a quote attributed to him in a local paper stating it is a waste of money. Gulluscio commended Ulrich on the project, but questioned whether there is a duplication of services. “I felt the money could have been used a little differently,” he said.

In response, Ulrich said that $30,000 “is not a lot of money to eradicate graffiti from the neighborhood” as it “takes a large chunk of change to attack a problem and address it head-on.” He added that it is also important to focus on projects such as street repairs and tree plantings “so people feel happy and proud that they live in this neighborhood so when you drive through it doesn’t look like a ghetto.”

In light of last week’s flooding of parts of Hamilton Beach, both candidates were asked what they did to assist affected residents. “I know about that flooding,” said Gulluscio, de- bunking rumors that he was marching in the Columbus Day parade while residents were fighting rising waters. “We have to get the city to be a lot more accountable.” Ulrich said the problem “is not unique to last weekend” and said it was “insulting and absurd” to suggest he ignored the plight of his constituents. He has been working with Davenport Court residents to push the city Department of Environmental Protection to move ahead with needed repair work in the area.

Both candidates agreed that the city needs to move ahead with repairs of Centerville streets, which has been planned for three decades. Gulluscio called it a “serious problem” and said “there are things that could have been done that haven’t been done” to lessen the impact on residents until the full project commences. “As a councilman, I will make sure we get more than lip service,” he vowed.

Ulrich called the situation a problem he “inherited” from former councilmembers and said “there is a need to get all the agency heads to sit down” and discuss the project. He touted his connections with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and said he “will hold their feet to the fire” if officials put in writing a new proposed start date for the work.

Another ongoing source for frustration for residents is parking, especially along busy shopping districts such as Cross Bay Boulevard and near schools, where parents double park while dropping off their children. Ulrich said there is “no quick fix” and that the “longterm solution to this problem” is improving mass transit. Until people have a reason to abandon their cars, they will continue to sit in traffic every day, he said. Gulluscio said he would “get rid of the mayor,” who he blamed for what many residents say has been a ticket blitz during the Bloomberg administration. “You shouldn’t get a ticket as fast as we’re getting them,” he said.

The redevelopment of Aqueduct race track is also an issue of concern for many, especially those living in Ozone Park. Gulluscio vowed the “community comes first no matter what” and said he has worked with the relevant agencies already as district manager. Said Ulrich: “It’s essential that they understand that if they want to make money in this community, they are going to have to respect the community.”

The role of Mayor Bloomberg – who is supporting Ulrich – in this race was also touched upon when the candidates were asked for examples of times they have stood up to the mayor. Ulrich reminded residents that he carried petitions in support of Bloomberg’s opponent during the 2005 election. “The mayor doesn’t pay my bills... or tell me what to vote for,” he said.

Gulluscio recalled his fight against the Bloomberg administration’s proposal to provide senior citizens with frozen meals and to close some senior centers. “I was one of the guys who stood up and said no... That’s somebody with a backbone, an advocate you need,” he said.

The candidates were then asked about a controversial issue during the campaign – Ulrich’s decision to eliminate funding for supplemental trash removal along Liberty Avenue, which was started during Addabbo’s tenure. Ulrich was asked to defend that decision, while Gulluscio was asked what he would have instead cut to allow the program to continue.

Gulluscio said he favors a “fair share of cutting” as “everyone should feel the pain” instead of one group shouldering the burden. “I think that since I didn’t have a knee jerk reaction, I would have done that differently,” he said. Ulrich argued that Addabbo “had an obligation to continue a program in his district” since he still represents the area on the state Senate. He called it a “tactical decision” that he knew would not be a popular one.

In closing, Gulluscio said he has been “involved in every kind of group you can think of” in the community. “Some people say I’m the past,” he said. “I’m the past, the present and the future for my grandchildren... We’re going to work across the board, across the aisle and work with all the people all the time,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always been about.”

Ulrich called his experience representing the district a “tremendous blessing and wonderful opportunity” that allows him to “see the impact and difference made every day throughout the district.” Pointing out that “most people have much longer to prove their worth and merits,” he asked the residents to “imagine what I could do for you in the next four years.”

Familiar Choices for Voters in 30th District

Crowley and Ognibene Vie for Council Seat

By Conor Greene

Voters in the 30th Council District have two well-known candidates to choose from when they go to the polls on Tuesday: Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley, who has represented the district for the past 10 months, and Republican Thomas Ognibene, who was the area’s councilman from 1991 to 2001.

Since taking office to serve the final year of disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s four-year term, Crowley has made healthcare, environment, education and public safety top priorities. “I’m not really getting too distracted by the campaign – my work as a councilmember does not stop and for one minute I can’t let that fall to the side,” she said.

Ognibene said he has run a traditional campaign that has focused on issues that are important to residents using mailings and visits to community groups. He questioned some of Crowley’s claims, including that she was instrumental in pushing through the long-stalled downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale after taking office. “I think people are beginning to understand that what she says and what she does are two different things.”

Along with the rezoning, Ognibene also questioned the amount of money Crowley brought back to the district. He accused her of inflating the cost of projects – for example, $325,000 was earmarked for upgrades to the bocce courts at Juniper Valley Park – to make it look like she brought back more money. “She made a tremendous amount of claims about bringing back tons of money but we all know it’s inflated,” he charged.

Crowley argued that she has effectively rep- resented the district this year, including bringing back a substantial amount of funding during tough economic times. “The promises I’ve made, I’ve kept and I am bringing back resources in a tough economic year. They trust that I will continue to work hard for them over the next four years,” she said. “I will continue to prioritize education, healthcare and public safety and I hope I have the opportunity to continue what I’ve started over the next four years.”

Ognibene also accused Crowley of focusing on publicity rather than improving the community. “It’s nice to run around and get your picture in the paper, but I call that fluff. If you want to see what Tom Ognibene did, you go out into the community and look,” he said, listing school additions and park projects among his achievements while in office. “These are tangible things I did. There is nothing she has done that is tangible.”

Republican leaders are eying this seat as one they can possibly regain, and Ognibene said the difference between him and Crowley “comes down basically to philosophy... People have to make value judgments about a candidate rather than rely on party affiliation.”

Throughout the campaign, Crowley has sought to portray Ognibene as being out of touch with the community. “The differences are that I know what’s relative today. My opponent has been gone, and I’m not sure he knew what was relevant when he was on council. I don’t see him out there – all I see are his billboards,” she added, referring to several large advertisements for Ognibene located throughout the district.

“She believes in form over substance, and I believe in delivering real services to thecommunity and not misleading the commu- nity,” countered Ognibene. “I want to get elected on what I’ve done while she wants to get elected on what she said... I’m not out of touch – I live in this community, help out on issues including on lawsuits I donated my time to, I’ve been to meetings, I talk to people, pay taxes, so how am I out of touch? It’s a question of who is the best advocate.”

The race was relatively quiet over the past few weeks until this past weekend, when Crowley sent a mailer to voters referencing allegations against Ognibene involving construction bribes while he was in office. Ognibene, who said the allegations against him were ultimately discredited, called the mailer “disturbing” and said that “most people realize that this type of negative campaigning is not effective.”

The decision to raise these allegations, which involved bribes including vacations allegedly provided by building-consultant Ron Lattanzio to Ognibene and Gallagher, who was his former chief of staff, in exchange for help obtaining permits, “deprives Crowley of her Shirley Temple veneer and shows she is in somewhat of a panic,” said Ognibene. “It was discredited a long time ago and proven to be false.”

Crowley defended the mailer, stating that “anything that was in a mailer that I sent out was true.” She accused Ognibene of using “his influence as a councilmember in the wrong way” and said that Lattanzio admitted to bribing Ognibene. “I think that people in the district need to know that,” she said. “While all this was happening, building ran amok in our neighborhood and I’ve spent the last year trying to reform what happened when he was in the City Council.”

The 30th District includes all or parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.

Politics Unusual: Mayoral Race, Showdowns in 30th and 32nd City Council Districts

By Patricia Adams

In the world of politics it seems that history never fails to repeat. The week before elections inevitably brings the mudslinging, chaotic frenzy known as a campaign. Candidates spar in debates; political mailings clog the mailboxes of registered voters; lawn signs and banners are dragged off and shredded by those on opposing sides, and the final plans are laid down for Election Day.

Endorsements are “displayed” like merit badges while the media searches for a special type of Halloween skeleton—those hanging in the closets of candidates. If you put aside all these campaign “tactics”—which leave a slew of nasty little droppings in their wake— you will see the issues clearly and make informed decisions.

In our readership area, three very important races will be decided on Tuesday night— the mayoral race between Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson, the City Council race in the 30th District between Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley and Republican Tom Ognibene and the 32nd Council race between incumbent Republican Eric Ulrich and Democrat Frank Gulluscio.

Let’s start by looking at the mayor’s race. I am tired of hearing about term limits and campaign spending. I’m even more tired of hearing people saying they won’t vote for him just on principles. To those people I say what kind of principle do you have if you are voting for an obviously lesser qualified candidate.

This city faces the most difficult and chal- lenging times we have ever faced. Mike Bloomberg, without doubt, has been facing challenges since he began serving this city after 9/11. There have been some rough spots along the way but at this juncture in the road New York City is doing far better than many other major cities in America. Unemployment is lower, foreclosure rates are lower, crime is lower, schools are better, vital services have been preserved. There have been no layoffs in the NYPD, FDNY or among teachers. These are indisputable statistics. They are based on fact.

We have not always agreed with the mayor and have been quick to point out where we thought he was headed in the wrong direction. But there is a far more important wrong direction to think about here--that one would be following behind Mr. Thompson.

Thompson does not have the experience or the tenacity to run the greatest city in the world in the best of times—the consequence of handing over the city to him in these times is a harrowing prospect. He did not do a great job at the Board of Ed and he’s at best a competent comptroller. He has spent his time on the campaign trail like a human ticker tape, counting Bloomberg’s expenditures and ranting about term limits, while failing to address any concrete plans for sustaining our city.

You don’t have to like Mike Bloomberg. But you do have to recognize what he has done to keep New York running efficiently while on an increasingly turbulent course. There is no one without flaw, political or otherwise. Michael Bloomberg is no exception. But so many things outweigh the negative side of Bloomberg. He is the only candidate in this race with the experience, skill and determination deserving of your vote.

Next up is the Council race in the 30th District which has Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley pitted against former Republican Councilmember Tom Ognibene. Since the challenger has held the seat in the past, this is one contest where a Republican candidate has a shot at regaining the seat.

Crowley’s focus since taking office has been healthcare, the environment, public safety, and education. Her campaign has focused on describing Ognibene as out of touch with the district. In response Ognibene has delivered responses punctuated with criticism for what he says is the lack of tangible progress during Crowley’s tenure.

This race could be fairly close however, we feel that Ognibene should return to his former seat. The district is in need of some conservative “nuts and bolts” policy and service delivery much more likely to be delivered by far more experienced and able Ognibene.

Finally in the 32nd District where Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich faces a challenge from Democrat Frank Gulluscio, we come to the race with our most interesting perspective. You may even recall that during the special election for this seat back in February, we unconventionally endorsed Frank Gulluscio despite the fact that he was eliminated from the ballot because of flaws within his petition process.

But in the seven months since that election, we have watched a very energetic and determined Ulrich take on the role of councilman. Gulluscio has made a focus throughout his campaign on the fact that Ulrich is young, even insinuating immaturity, but we feel that this youth is both refreshing and promising. It is not something voters should be afraid of. No, no, youth is not wasted on Ulrich.

Frank Gulluscio is undeniably a presence in the district he seeks to represent. He knows the area having lived here for more than 30 years and has strong community ties. He has experience as a civic activist, former aide to Joe Addabbo when he was the area councilmember, educator, businessman and most recently District Manager of CB 6. There’s no doubt that Frank is well in- formed and has been around way long enough to know what’s going on.

Ulrich has demonstrated the ability to get things done in this district in the very short time since he was elected. He shows an incredible ability to speak, both publically and on an individual basis to a very diverse community that he serves. Ulrich is informed, quick, always prepared and accommodating to his constituents.

An endorsement in this race was up in the air for quite some time, and the decision was a difficult one. The reason for that is that we are fortunate enough in this district to not have to choose a candidate that is the lesser of two evils. Both men have displayed an earnest interest in representing this district.

But one man has proven, through words and actions and ability, that he is the right choice. That candidate is Eric Ulrich.

Precinct Continues Battle Against Burglaries

Traffic Woes, Homeless Camp Among Issues Discussed

By Conor Greene

An effort to combat a rash of burglaries, on- going traffic issues, problems with a homeless encampment in Maspeth and unruly tow truck operations along Flushing Avenue were hot topics at this month’s COP 104 meeting.

Overall, major crime is down seven percent so far this year and down six percent over the past month, Captain Ray DeWitt told residents at the October 21 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. Among the seven index crimes, robbery is down 13 percent, assault down 11 percent and grand larceny auto 17 percent, he reported.

However, burglaries continue at a steady pace within the precinct’s confines, up eight percent so far this year. There were “some nice arrests” recently, as the precinct has been assisted by the borough’s command’s anti-burglary unit in hotspots. The 104 has “created a mini task force” to address burglaries, which the captain said are taking place “all over the precinct.”

The task force consists of plainclothes officers working with the neighboring 83rd Precinct, investigating leads through pawn shops and checking into whether known prior offenders are responsible for any active patterns. Captain Ray DeWitt reported that two individuals were arrested and linked to a dozen apartment break-ins. Some progress has been made against burglaries, which are down over 34 percent over the past 28 days, a total of 14 less break-ins. “We feel we’re headed in the right direction with burglaries and are focusing on that,” said DeWitt.

Coinciding with the recent progress against burglaries, all felony arrests are up 14 percent this year, and 54 percent over the past month. “A lot of that has to do with the burglary arrests,” said DeWitt. “Our arrest activity has been very high.” He noted that arresting officers are often plainclothes and hard to spot.

The precinct also scored a major graffiti arrest against a vandal with a known tag seen in precincts throughout the borough. The man was hit with 18 counts for incidents “all over the command,” said DeWitt, who noted that graffiti arrests in the precinct are up substantially this year and are near the top among precincts.

The captain was questioned about the precinct’s efforts to reign in reckless motorists and protect pedestrians by residents including civic leaders Robert Holden of the JuniperPark Civic Association and Roe Daraio of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together. DeWitt said traffic accidents are down 15 percent, with officers specifically targeting seat belt and cell phone violations. “We feel our summons activity, which is significant, has led to the decrease in accidents,” he said.

Still, Daraio complained about conditions along Grand Avenue, which she called a “circus” with cars turning into pedestrians trying to cross with the light. Holden said that speeding continues to be a “sore point” with “not enough [speeding tickets] issued... in this precinct.” After some pressing, DeWitt said the 104 has three officers trained to use the radar gun. “We’ve seen numbers [of speeding tickets issued] that are very low - like two,” said Holden. “That’s unacceptable and we need to start addressing that.”

Another resident requested enforcement along Juniper Boulevard North, especially during rush hour with residents cutting to Woodhaven Boulevard. “I’m not talking 40 [miles per hour] in a 30 - I’m talking about 50, 60,” he said, adding the area has a lot of pedestrians due to the park. DeWitt said he will look into devising a plan to cut back on speeding in that area of Middle Village.

Maspeth residents reported ongoing issues with homeless men setting up camp in Cowbird Triangle, a small greenspace alongside the Long Island Expressway at Hamilton Place. The public recently informed the precinct of the problem at prior meetings, and a beat officer made one arrest and issued a number of summonses since, according to Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell.

“We know they’re over there, but they have to be doing something” illegal to be removed from the area, he explained. “Everyone has civic liberties so if they’re not breaking the law our hands are tied.” He added that the men often refuse city services they are rou- tinely offered and can’t be forced off the streets until the weather turns dangerously cold. While a resident complained that the officers just issue tickets, Bell said that is helpful in the long run because they can be arrested on warrants if they don’t pay the fine.

Daraio said people are making the situation worse by giving the men money along Grand Avenue. “They’re better off convincing them to go to a shelter instead of giving them money so they can go get drunk in the park. That’s not solving anything,” she said.

There are also problems along Grand Avenue, including homeless men hanging out at the Hamilton Avenue bus stop, which is used by local children. Daraio informed the officers of a situation involving men sleeping in a boat in the backyard of a nearby home and suggested that the city Department of Buildings investigate. “The boat issue is something we have to look into and research a little more... to see who we need to work with” to deal with the problem, said DeWitt.

The JPCA recently highlighted a problem with tow truck businesses along Flushing Avenue leaving sidewalks impassable because of cars parked everywhere. The problem was the topic of an NY1 television report last month, but has continued, said residents. Holden said that in addition to cars parked on sidewalks, tow trucks are doubled parked without license plates.

“This guy saw himself on NY1 and doesn’t care,” said Holden, adding that efforts to turn to Mayor Bloomberg for assistance have been unsuccessful. “These guys are using city streets, which is illegal. This area needs to be cleaned up - it’s not fair to the residents and it shouldn’t go on for another month.”

Another resident said similar problems are taking place along parts of Grand Avenue. Officer Bell said the precinct has conducted operations in the past to target tow operations and auto body shops that are operating illegally. “We spoke to everyone along Grand Avenue and they all say it is not their car,” he said.

Onderdonk House Event ‘Raises the Roof’ in Ridgewood

Funds Will Pay for Emergency Roof Repairs at Historic House

By Conor Greene

The historic Vander Ende-Onderdonk House in Ridgewood has received a new lease on life thanks to a fundraiser that will fund emergency roof repairs at the 1709 Dutch Colonial stone house, which is hidden amid a row of factories along Flushing Avenue.

The house, located at 18-20 Flushing Avenue, was one of a row of similar homes until the 1920s, when “one by one they succumbed to demolition for new factories,” according to Steve Monti of the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society. By the 1950s, the Onderdonk House was the only one left standing, and the society was formed in 1975 to save it after it was slated for demolition.

The building opened to the public in 1981 and has been placed on the national and state registers of historic properties and the city landmarks register. While it has served the community ever since, including through open hours for the public on Saturdays and events with local schools, the building is badly in need of a new roof, said Monte. It was rebuilt back in the late 1970s out of cedar shingles after a fire damaged the house, but has since developed a number of leaks that has left the attic space unusable for events.

In response, local companies including Waste Management stepped up and organized a “Raise the Roof” fundraiser held last Friday on the two-acre property. Attended by a host of officials including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hugo Gajus Scheltema, the Netherlands Consulate General for New York, the event exceeded the goal of $200,000 needed to move ahead with the emergency repairs.

“We just had a good time, with a jazz band under the tent and the house lit in candlelight,” said Monte. “I think it was a very successful event and raised enough money to at least, from what I understand, do major emergency repairs that will get us through a few years. Then, over the next couple of years we will raise money to pay for a new roof.”

Honored at the event were Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Ridgewood civic leader Paul Kerzner for their efforts to support the preservation of the Onderdonk House. “We’re delighted that Mayor Bloomberg and many distinguished guests attended this special event to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House,” said Linda Monte, president of the historical society.

The event was hosted by Waste Management, which has a facility near the Queens-Brooklyn border and is currently seeking permission to construct a waste transfer station in Maspeth, despite community opposition. “Waste Management is committed to sustainability and to preserving the environment,” said company community relations specialist and event co-chair Rachel Amar. “That commitment extends to maintaining New York’s cultural landmarks such as the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House.”

For the Montes and other historical society members, the event also provided yet another chance to show the hidden property off to the public. “People come by and say they didn’t know this was here,” said Steve Monte. “Just like the Waste Management people, who are interested in history and had no idea that less than a mile from their office we have this place in an area surrounded by warehouses.”

For more information on the Onderdonk House, contact the historical society at (718) 456-1776 or visit