Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Remembering Jolie Skye Annecco: MS 207 Cuts Ribbon on New Park

By Patricia Adams

Members of the Howard Beach community gathered in large numbers on Friday afternoon at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated playground at P.S. / M.S. 207.

The idea for redoing the playground over came on the heels of the tragic drowning death of 2-year-old, Jolie Skye Annecco in 2007. “I remember the first time we spoke about the idea,” remembers Nina DeBlasio, Parent Coordinator at the school. She said the thought of creating the new playground over came as a result of a discussion she was having with Jolie’s mother, Penny, a few months after the toddler’s accident. “We were just remembering how much she [Jolie] loved to run around the park and go on the swings,” said DeBlasio, “and that it would be wonderful if somehow she would always have a place in the park.”

So after the conversation, DeBlasio and the Anneco family decided to approach Joe Addabbo, the area’s city councilman at the time. “When my daughter passed away we wanted to do something special to mark her memory,” said Joe Anneco. “We went to see Joe and he thought it was a great idea right away.” Addabbo promised to do what he could to secure funding and get the project rolling.

Addabbo secured funding for the park, a hefty $1.7 million dollars, and a community committee was formed to work in conjunction with the city Parks Department. As a result, the project that started as a family’s dream was underway for the entire community’s benefit.

According to DeBlasio, the project was especially rewarding to work on because it was a total team effort. “The committee, and the Parks Department, especially Steve Whitesell, and everyone involved in this worked so closely together that it made the experience that much more wonderful.” DeBlasio credits Addabbo for starting the project and current Councilman Eric Ulrich for seeing it through.

Even students at the school had an actual hand in planning out the park’s design. And on Friday afternoon the smiles and nods of approval put the final seal on the long awaited opening.
Joe Annecco says the feeling about the new park is indescribable. “I can’t even tell you what it’s like. I remember how Jolie loved to come here to pick up her brother and sister. Now she has her own special spot in the place she loved so much.”

And now, the sister that Jolie never knew, 2-year-old Payton, will forever be reminded of her sister while at the park she has come to love the same way. “We always sit on this bench and eat lunch here,” recalls Annecco, standing in front of the memorial plaque and tree planted in memory of Jolie. “We picked this spot to sit in all the time and never knew this would be where they would put the plaque and the tree.”

Then Joe Annecco smiles, “I guess that’s a sign.”

The Last Word

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EDITORIAL: Peering Into The Crystal Ball

On Tuesday, November 2, our readers will again have an opportunity to elect officials they feel will be best suited to run their communities. But will they come out and vote and will they take the steps necessary to secure the best for their districts on a state, federal and city level? That remains to be seen; however, if history is any indicator, many will miss their chance at the polls.

This week, The Forum predicts what we feel the outcome of these races will be. Remember that the most important thing you can do for your community is to make your voice count. In other words, get out and vote. Speak up before you have something to complain about. In other words, get out and vote. That’s the way things get done around here and everywhere else. In other words, get out and vote.

Having said all that, we took out the Halloween crystal ball to look at each of the races and here’s what we saw:

In the race for the US Congressional seat in the 9th District between incumbent Democrat Anthony Weiner and Republican Bob Turner, the handwriting is on the wall. Mr. Weiner is going back to Washington, hopefully with a little more focus on his current constituency rather then his aspirations to be the man who would be mayor. First-time challenger Bob Turner has proven to be a nice guy with good intentions but having run without any demonstrated support from Republican party leaders, we don’t see Bob as having enough fuel for the ride down to D.C. Here we think will be one of the widest victory margins in local races with Weiner in a 15-20 point trouncing.

The seat in the 15th Senate district currently held by Democrat Joe Addabbo is being challenged by former Republican City Councilman Anthony Como and has shaped up to be one of the most heated in the local mix. There are so many things that have been thrown into this soup; it’s clearly the race we see as the most difficult to call. But when the smoke clears, freshman Sen. Addabbo will still be driving north on I-95 after Tuesday, having eeked out a dangerously close margin of victory over Como.

Our readership is looking at three State Assembly races beginning in the 32nd district where 23-year- incumbant Democratic Assembly member Audrey Pheffer is facing off against Republican opponent Harold Paez. This ball does not have to be crystal to see that Pheffer will return on the road to Albany—in fact that will probably be the case until she is eventually seated in her rightful place—on the throne at Queens Borough Hall. Pheffer clobbers Paez.

In the 38th A.D we have incumbent Mike Miller running against Republican challenger Donna Marie Caltabiano. While Miller could have fallen prey to the general “Democrat/Incumbent” discontent, we don’t think there is sufficient bubbling in the cauldron to disturb the status quo here. Miller by 15-20 points.

Finally in the 30th Assembly District, where 11-year-incumbant Democrat Marge Markey will face off for the second time against Republican challenger Anthony Nunziato we see a special opportunity for voters there. They have the chance to demonstrate that it is time to end the free-ride of Marge Markey and stamp out of their district they very personification of “throw the bums out.” We do not make this statement lightly. Marge Markey has repeatedly displayed that she is concerned with nothing more than satisfying the needs and orders of party officials. She is a master at grandstanding and attempting to misrepresent every critical situation that comes into play. She is a no-show of the highest order. Even if Nunziato just drives back and forth to Albany, the constituency will be way ahead of the game. We are abstaining from a prediction here. We’ll just say a prayer for the district that there is some divine intervention in this race. Heaven help Maspeth!

All in all, we once again encourage our readers to remember that you can use your power to vote on Tues- day and contribute to making an all important contribution to our community. With so much at stake, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to really take a hard look at the candidates. Educate yourselves and trust your instincts.

Alert Bus Driver Rescues Wandering Child

A wandering two-year-old child in Ridgewood was rescued from the street when an alert city bus driver picked him up. William Allen, an MTA bus driver for 12 years, was starting his morning shift near 60th Street and Putnam Avenue in Ridgewood Friday when he spotted the child in the street wearing only his underwear.

Allen put the child in his warm bus and called police.

“I mean, I just did what anybody else would do,” Allen told New York 1. “You see a small child on the street like that, anybody’ll jump and take charge of that, for sure.”

Police searched the area and found a house with its door open and a one-year-old child asleep in his crib. There was nobody else in the house.

Neighbors told CBS New York that this is not the first time the children have been left unattended.

Police said the father believed the children’s mother should have been at the house. The search is still continuing for the mother, and the children are in the care of children’s services.

Inspector General Slams Aqueduct Bidding Process

By Eric Yun

From the moment Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) was selected to run video lot- tery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct racetrack in January, there were suspicions of foul play - so much so that the Inspector General’s office open an investigation into the bidding process. The Inspector General’s 308-page report, released last Thursday, characterized the bidding process as a “political free-for-all” and ruled that AEG should have been disqualified from the start.

“This process was doomed from the start, and at each turn, our state leaders abdicated their public duty, failed to impose ethical restraints and focused on political gain at the cost of millions to New Yorkers,” said Inspector General Joseph Fisch. “Unfortunately, and shamefully, consideration of what was in the public’s best interest, rather than the political interest of the decision makers, was a matter of militant indifference to them.”

The bidding process for a vendor to rede-elop Aqueduct was established in 2008 by then Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Lobbying restrictions were removed, allowing campaign cash to flow to the decision makers. The Inspector General found that more than $100,000 in campaign donations was given to various legislators from lobbyists representing the six bidders.

The report showed ineptitude and possible corruption from state legislators and executives. Among the Inspector General’s findings were that Governor Paterson’s office ignored key advice warning against the selection of AEG; Senate leaders leaked bid analyses to AEG giving them an unfair advantage; Senator John Sampson pressured AEG to include a New York City contractor before he would select AEG as the winner; Senator Malcolm Smith recused himself from the process, but still advocated for AEG; Assembly Speaker Silver did not actively participate in the process even though he believed AEG was not the best choice.

The problems with AEG started at the very beginning. There were serious questions raised about leadership within the company. During the previous 2009 bidding process for Aqueduct, Capital Play, led by Karl O’Farrell, had serious licensing issues. The Division of the Lottery found that O’Farrell voluntarily surrendered his bookmaking license in Australia because of legal issues. Based on these facts, Capital Play removed O’Farrell as its chairman.

O’Farrell returned in 2010 as a consultant to AEG, although testimony showed he was much more involved in the bidding process. Another issue was AEG’s chairman Richard Mays, a former Arkansas judge with close ties to President Bill Clinton. The Inspector General found that the inclusion of Mays was “purely political.” There were also concerns about Reverend Floyd Flake’s close relationships with Governor Paterson and Senator Smith.

The Division of the Lottery warned state leaders that AEG might not be licensable because of O’Farrell’s involvement. In August 2009, Lottery officials told state leaders that of the six groups, AEG and Peebles would have licensing issues and should be avoided. These warnings were ignored.

While the harshest criticism was directed at the “three men in a room,” the Inspector General found fault with the political leaders in Aqueduct’s district: Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). The two elected officials were in constant contact with lobbyists for the companies, and appear to have ignored important information regarding the proposals.

Pheffer knew about the meetings where Lottery officials cautioned leaders about selecting AEG and Peebles. According to the report, “she deemed those evaluations within the purview of others and chose to focus, apparently exclusively, on the vendors’ relationship with the community.”

Pheffer said she ranked the companies based on how she felt they would interact with the community based on a “gut feeling.” These feelings led Pheffer to favor SL Green, but she was amiable to any company so long as they were willing to work with the community.

While the Inspector General found no fault with a locally elected official focusing on community relations, they criticized the process where a “gut feeling” could outweigh objective financial analyses.

Similarly to Pheffer, Addabbo focused primarily on community issues. Senate leaders asked Addabbo for his input because of Aqueduct was within his district. Addabbo testified that he was willing to work with any company and maintained his neutrality because it was vital that the project begin. When Addabbo met with Senate Leaders, he focused on his constituent’s frustration with the bidding process, and the need to get something started.

However, there were questions raised about Addabbo’s neutrality. Pheffer testified that he remained neutral throughout the process, but Senator Adams testified Addabbo gave him a ranking, which ranked Wynn first, followed by SL Green and AEG.

If Addabbo did express a ranking, the Inspector General found it was not based on objective analysis. Testifying just several months after AEG’s selection, Addabbo could not recall specific details about individual bids, and he testified that he merely “glanced” at information given to him regarding various executives’ analyses of the proposals.

Addabbo emphasized to The Forum that his responsibility to his constituents was to get the process started. “We always questioned the process that was created during the Pataki Administration,” Addabbo said. “I had to work with the process given to me. I spoke with all the bidders, and they were all people I could work with.” Confident that each company could work with the community and provide jobs, Addabbo said he focused less on other analyses and worked to get the process finished.

With the latest selection of Genting, which followed a more regimented request for proposals vetted by the Division of the Lottery, Addabbo said it was “time to move forward.” The new process worked, and Addabbo is “very happy to provide jobs and save the racetrack at Aqueduct.”

Another person criticized in the Inspector General’s report was CB 10 Chair Betty Braton. The Inspector General questioned Braton’s close relationship with AEG’s O’Farrell.

While CB 10 maintained neutrality on the bidders, Braton preferred AEG and frequently communicated with O’Farrell. The Inspector General found that the two shared sensitive documents, and Braton updated O’Farrell on meetings and her views on local newspaper articles about Aqueduct. At one point, O’Farrell e-mailed other AEG officials and wrote, “Betty and Donna [Gilmartin, a Community Board member] will work on Addabbo and Audrey [Pheffer] for us.”

The Inspector General concluded, that Braton’s actions were just another example of a flawed process decided “through private conversations rather than objective assessment."

Braton countered that she did nothing wrong, and merely talked with O’Farrell because he loved to gossip. She argued she did not distribute any confidential information, and she even testified that O’Farrell’s involvement with AEG had caused CB 10 members to prefer SL Green.

“Community Board 10 took no position in favor of any of the proposals,” Braton said. “We indicated from the start of the process to the end that we will work with whoever got selected.”

As for her personal preference for AEG, Braton would not comment on the decision. However, she noted that her personal preference played no role in AEG’s selection. “I had no conversations with any of the three people making the decision. There was no action on my part to influence their decisions,” Braton said.

The Inspector General’s report shined a light at backroom Albany dealings and possible corruption. It recommends that the “three men in a room” process never be used again for important state contracts. Criminal charges may be filed since it has been forwarded to the US Attorney General’s office, the New York County District Attorney and the New York State Commission on Public Integrity.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Searching for a Match: STARS Hosts Bone Marrow Drive

By Eric Yun

Philip Felice is depending on the kindness of strangers to save his life. In 2007, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and was successfully treated through a combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. Unfortunately, in February Philip’s lymphoma returned, and his only hope for survival might be a bone marrow transplant from a stranger.

Blood cancers like lymphoma affect over 100,000 people a year, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The society estimates that 54,020 people in the United States will die because of blood cancers.

A stem cell transplant is an important treatment for those suffering from blood cancers like Philip’s. The procedure helps restore the patient’s marrow, which can become damaged because of the disease and radiation treatment. Finding a tissue match for a bone marrow transplant is difficult; siblings only have a 25 percent chance of becoming a donor.

The largest bone marrow center in the world, DKMS, hopes to save thousands of lives by bringing awareness and registering people as bone marrow donors. To date, DKMS has recruited more than 2 million bone marrow donors.

With the help of DKMS, Frances Scarantino, director of Howard Beach’s Reach for the STARS, held a bone marrow drive to save Philip and others lives.

“I was contacted by the Borough President’s office [about the program], and I was more than happy to donate the space and volunteer,” Scarantino said.

Phillip’s wife Theresa has been working endlessly to get bone marrow donors. While she obviously would love to find a match for her husband, “It’s not just for Philip,” she said. The drive at Howard Beach was the sixth drive she’s attended. On Columbus Day, Theresa was on the streets of Manhattan during the parade and recruited more than 90 donors.

Theresa believes if people were more educated about the transplant process, they would be more willing to register as donors. “People are afraid of needles, but it’s a simple blood transfusion now,” she said. Instead of the old process of extracting cells from the pelvic bone, bone marrow can now be ex- tracted from a blood transfer. Patients take pills before the extraction to increase their blood cell count and blood is taken in a simple outpatient procedure.

Residents of Howard Beach were more then happy to help out. “If I can help someone I will,” Lance Oseff said.

William Montalvo has wanted to register as a donor for some time. “My wife’s coworker needed one [a bone marrow transplant] as well, and he was successful,” Montalvo said.

Philip and Theresa have been taken back by the kindness and compassion showed by strangers.
“If I don’t make it, I’ve made a whole lot of new friends,” Philip said.

To register as a bone marrow donor or to make a financial contribution to DKMS, visit

Addabbo Helps "Feed The Children"

By Eric Yun

Many families are going hungry because of the economic downturn. The unemployment rate in Queens is 8.6 percent, and according to 2008 statistics, 12 percent of Queens residents live in poverty. Children and senior citizens are the most affected; 16.7 percent of people under 18 live in poverty and 12.8 percent of people over 65 live in poverty.

Feed The Children is a non-profit organization that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to those in need due to famine, war, poverty or natural disaster.

As part of Feed The Children’s Americans Feeding Americans Caravan, families in need receive food and other essentials. Each family was given a 25-pound box of food, a 10- pound box of personal care items such as toothbrushes and soap and a box of Avon products.

Dawn Puricelli, Head of Product Line Control with Avon North America, said the Avon boxes were provided to help empower women and give them self-confidence.

For the New York City events, Feed The Children teamed up with Rep. Charles Rangel and distributed boxes for 2,800 families in Harlem. In Queens, Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) hosted the event to help 1,200 families at the George Seuffert Sr. Band Shell.

Addabbo worked closely with local food pantries and soup kitchens like the Ridgewood Older Adult Center and the Elohim Community Development Center in Richmond Hill to identify families in need and distribute the 1,200 vouchers needed to receive food from the event.

Tony Sellars, Director of Communications at Feed The Children, said it was essential that local agencies work as the “foot soldiers” to identify those in need. The local agencies have an intimate knowledge of the area, allowing them to eliminate the guesswork of who should receive support.

Sellars stressed that hunger is not confined to just one region or ethnicity. Hunger is a “border to border and coast to coast” problem. “It’s up to us as individuals and as a community to help,” said Sellars.

According to Addabbo, there has been a 106 percent increase in meals served since 2006, and there are more than 80,000 households unable to get food. Addabbo said he was glad to sponsor the event to “raise awareness of people in need,” and to “do what we can to help people.”

Raising awareness to the hunger problem is one of the major philosophies of Feed The Children. There is often shame associated with living in poverty, and Sellars and Addabbo want those in need to understand it is okay to ask for help.

There were volunteers from many local areas including students from P.S. 254 in Richmond Hill. The kids helped hand out boxes to the families in need.

“We were talking about giving back to the community,” said Naomi Drouillard, Principal of P.S. 254. “We wanted the children to experience giving back. It’s something they’ll never forget.”

Including the New York City event, Feed The Children has helped close to 160,000 families in need throughout the country. The goal by the end of the year is to feed 200,000 families.

Slater Reaches Deal in JetBlue Criminal Charges

Steven Slater, the flight attendant who gained widespread attention after quitting his job with JetBlue in dramatic fashion in August, has struck a deal with his former employer that will allow him to avoid jail time.

Slater, who exited JetBlue Flight 1052 through the plane’s emergency escape slide after it landed at JFK Airport, pleaded guilty this week to second-degree criminal mischief. He will also enroll for a minimum of twelve months in the mental health alternative sentencing program. He will also pay the airline $10,000 in restitution.

A flight attendant for JetBlue at the time of the incident, Slater claimed he argued with a passenger before deciding to dramatically exit the plane down the emergency slide. He was later found at his boyfriend’s house in Belle Harbor.

Authorities argue that Slater’s actions could have proved deadly. The emergency escape slide deploys at a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. If the slide had hit any of the workers below the plane, serious injury or death might have occurred.

The defendant conditionally pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree criminal mischief and attempted forth-degree criminal mischief. He was conditionally sentenced to one to three years of incarceration. However, as part of his plea agreement, Slater will enroll in the District Attorney’s mental health alternative sentencing program and reimburse the estimated cost of replacing or repairing the escape chute, among other expenses.

The Queens Mental Health Court (QMHC) is a special part of the Queens County Supreme Court. It provides a court-supervised program for those arrested in Queens who have mental health-related issues, who need treatment and other services and who choose to participate in the court program instead of having their cases proceed through the regular court process. The program lasts for at least one year after an individual enters a guilty plea in QMHC.

Each QMHC participant is assigned a case manager who prepares an individualized treatment plan and monitors that individual’s participation and progress for the court. The treatment plan may include such things as medication, regular appointments with a psychiatrist and participation in an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.

If the defendant successfully completes the treatment plan prepared for him, he will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to the felony charge and will be sentenced to one year’ probation on the misdemeanor charge.

“I believe that the defendant finally has recognized the seriousness of his actions and is willing to accept responsibility,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Under the circumstances, today’s disposition,.. fairly balances the seriousness of the charges against the need for the defendant’s rehabilitation.”

Slater’s guilty plea was not his only problem that day. While he was pleading guilty in court, his partner’s brother, Jonathan Rochelle, allegedly broke into Slater’s Belle Harbor home knowing he would not be home. If convicted, Rochelle faces up to 15 years in prison.

Residents Favor Fancier Options for New Kosciuszko Bridge

By Eric Yun

Queens and Brooklyn residents would prefer the new design of the Kosciuszko Bridge to look amazing and help define their neighborhoods. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working to replace the bridge, which carries traffic over Newtown Creek on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and in February held public hearings to discuss possible designs.

The DOT recently released the public feedback to the bridge designs, and the cable-stayed option received 53 of the 121 total votes. Coming in second was the through arch design with 37 votes.
The comments the DOT received about the cable-stayed bridge focused on creating an iconic image to New York City’s skyline. “We need a modern look in our city, plus it will be something you can seen from a distance,” one commenter wrote.

Another commenter wrote, “The design looks rich and complements the Newton Creek Water Pollution Control Plant digesters, which are also becoming an attraction.”

However, there are some concerns that the cable-stayed distinctive look does not outweigh potential increased costs. The DOT said all construction costs are similar and the difference is only plus or minus four percent. The cable-stayed design would require replacement cables.

The cost concerns led some residents to gravitate to the through arch design. The bridge is “elegant but a lot less expensive than cable-stayed bridge,” one commenter wrote.

Adam Levine, Director of Public Affairs for the state DOT, said no final decision has been made on the bridge’s design. The decision will likely be made later this year or early next year, and construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2014. The bridge should be finished in 2020.

City to Receive Federal Funds for Storm Cleanup

There are still dangerous hanging limbs, cracked sidewalks and trees to be replanted, but New York City won’t have to worry about restoring the damage from the September 16 tornadoes out of its own pockets. Governor David Paterson announced last Thursday that President Obama declared the city a federal disaster area.

Last month’s storms left thousands without power and knocked down hundreds of trees, especially in Middle Village and Forest Hills where straight-line winds of over 100 miles per hour tore through the neighborhoods. Tornados were also reported near Flushing, parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

After the storm, state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) officials conducted a detailed assessment of damages with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. The assessment led to Paterson declaring parts of the city as a disaster area, and now, the federal government agrees.
“[The assessments] demonstrated a strong need for federal assistance,” said Andrew Feeny, Director of State OEM. “Now, we will work closely with FEMA to ensure that the city and its citizens receive all eligible federal aid.”

The federal disaster designation makes the city eligible for funds from FEMA.
Overall, damage and cleanup estimates from state, federal and local officials totaled over $27 million. The federal disaster designation provides 75 percent reimbursement to the city for the costs of response, debris removal and repairs to public property.

“The storm that spawned two tornadoes wreaked a path of devastation the likes of which New York City hasn’t seen in 25 years,” said Governor Paterson. “I thank the President, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and our Congressional Delegation for ensuring New York receives the assistance it so desperately needs.”

Governor Paterson also requested funds from the Individual Assistance program, which would provide homeowners, renters and businesses relief for private property damage. FEMA has not made a designation on the Individual Assistance program, but additional designations may be made at a later date.

Even without Individual Assistance, FEMA’s help will certainly help the city with its ongo- ing cleanup efforts. Everyone understands that there is still plenty of work to do.

Speaking about the federal funds, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said, “Providing this much-needed assistance to the city was the right move. We still have more work to do before the mess is finally clean, but this will help.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

LynVet Jets Wear Pink in Support of Breast Cancer Research

By Eric Yun

Football isn’t just a game. For the LynVet Youth Football League, the sport teaches young men the values of teamwork and confidence. The league’s motto is “education through athletics,” and on Saturday afternoon, the athletes and coaches from the LynVet Jets came together to raise money for breast cancer research.

Emulating their NFL namesake, the Howard Beach-based LynVet Jets wore pink armbands and socks for Saturday’s game. The Jets didn’t dress up just for show. Pink t-shirts were sold, and a raffle was held for an autographed Joe Namath football.

Coach George Vega has been coaching the Jets for 11 years. He wanted to teach his athletes, ranging from 8 to 12 years old, about breast cancer awareness.

“It’s a good lesson for the kids,” Vega said. “It gets the kids asking why is everyone wearing pink?” The reason NFL teams, and now the LynVet Jets, wear pink is because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately one in eight women get breast cancer during their lives, and it is the second biggest killer for women with cancer.

There’s a personal link to breast cancer on the team as well. Coach Mike Palmacio’s cousin Josephine Tumminello was diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years ago. The money raised by the team will be donated for Tumminello to Breast Cancer Fund, and she was invited to the field for a ceremonial coin toss.

Palmacio is more than happy to show his support for his cousin, but also all women who are at risk for breast cancer. This was the first time the team decided to wear pink, and the decision looks to have caught on. “Other teams want to get involved,” Palmacio said. He mentioned that all teams in the youth league might wear pink on the last weekend of October.

As for Tumminello, she was happy about the support she received from the team. She lost the coin toss, but Saturday afternoon was a big win for breast cancer awareness.

Aqueduct Development and Liberty Ave Highlight CB 10 Meeting

By Eric Yun

With all the bureaucratic and political hurdles cleared, the community is looking forward to Genting New York operating video lottery terminals at Aqueduct racetrack. At this month’s Community Board 10 meeting, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Patrick Jenkins, community liaison for Genting, talked about the project’s progress and what the community can expect in the coming months.

Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) informed the community that they are not cut off from Aqueduct decisions. There were some fears that since major Aqueduct negotiations were finished, residents would no longer have any say in the final product.

“The community is not out of the loop,” Pheffer said. She urged community members to stay involved and assured them that Betty Braton, Chair of CB 10, and the rest of the community board will have opportunities to discuss Genting’s upcoming plans. One of the first opportunities will be a meeting with State Lottery and New York Racing Association officials to determine the future of the establishment, according to Pheffer.

Jenkins, who was recently hired by Genting for community relations, reminded the community the number of jobs that will be created from the project: approximately 1,300 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs.

“Genting is committed to operating a full-fledged community business,” Jenkins said. The company is already reviewing some contracts from local businesses for goods and services, and Jenkins said when Genting’s new website launches, there will be an opportunity for business owners to easily offer their services.

Genting paid New York its promised $380 million upfront payment two weeks ago. Jenkins said they paid quickly as a gesture of goodwill to the community. “We’re here to stay. We’re here to be good neighbors. We’re here to do good business,” Jenkins said.

Aqueduct wasn’t the only thing on the com- munity’s mind. There were doubts about New York City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plans for the Liberty Avenue/Rockaway Boulevard/Cross Bay Boulevard corridor.

The DOT is planning massive renovations to the street to improve pedestrian and vehicle safety, but many board members have concerns about the changes, which include installing a concrete barrier on Cross Bay Boulevard to prevent traffic from entering the street from Liberty Avenue, and converting Liberty Avenue on 93rd Street to one-way travelling eastbound.

There are fears that despite the board’s trepidation, the DOT will no longer listen. Braton warned community members that the DOT public walkthrough might be the last chance for the community to express its frustrations. The walkthrough, scheduled for October 18, will begin at the southwest corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue at 3 p.m.

FH Civic Discusses Storm Aftermath and Rise in Robberies

By Eric Yun

There was plenty to discuss at the October meeting of the Forest Hills Civic Association. In the past month, neighborhood residents voted in the primaries, and of course, braved the tornados that brought down hundreds of trees and wrecked havoc across central Queens.

Barbara Stuchinski, President of Forest Hills Civic, praised the NYPD and FDNY for their work after the September 16 storm.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) updated the community on the status of receiving federal emergency relief money. Hevesi and other legislators urged the Governor David Paterson to declare an emergency, which he did last Friday. Now, the city and state must wait to see if Federal Emergency Management Assistance agrees with that designation.

Hevesi is hopeful that the city receives public assistance—money that will help restore public properties like downed trees and city sidewalks. There’s a possibility that the federal government could provide individual assistance, but Hevesi cautioned the residents
about being too optimistic about receiving individual assistance.

No matter what happens, Hevesi promised he and other legislators like Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) will keep working to bring whatever aid is possible.

Officer Gigi Redzematovic of the 112th Precinct Community Affairs Unit updated the community on crime. Robberies are up, but the majority of those incidents involve children taking iPhones and other electronic devices from their peers. Redzematovic said the police offered etching services to kids to help prevent theft at local schools.

Another popular crime topic was the rise in scammers. “This is the time of the year the scammers come out,” Stuchinski said. With the holidays approaching, people will be looking to steal whatever they can. Stuchinski and Redzematovic urged residents to never give personal information over the phone, and to keep doors and windows firmly closed and locked.

Finally, with the election just weeks away, City Board of Elections representatives gave
residents a final chance to learn the new optical scanning machines. New York switched to the new machines under a federal mandate to have verifiable ballots. The new paper ballot system gives the state an easily verifiable backlog of ballots that can be checked in the case of recounts or fraud.

The biggest concerns with the new voting process from the primaries—small print and lack of privacy—were addressed. All voting centers will have nearsighted and farsighted magnifying glasses to enlarge print and more privacy booths will be provided.

West Side Tennis Club Rejects Condo Proposal

Photo courtesy Michael Perlman and the Rego-Forest Preservation Council
By Eric Yun

Forest Hills’ historic West Side Tennis Stadium is safe for now. Club members voted down an offer to sell the historic stadium to neighborhood real estate company Cord Meyer Friday night.

The stadium is owned and operated by the West Side Tennis Club, which operates 38 tennis courts adjacent to the stadium. Facing financial struggles - the Wall Street Journal reported that club membership dues covered less than 50 percent of the club’s operating expenses - the club’s board decided to listen to offers for selling the stadium.

Cord Meyer’s proposal called for renovating the exterior façade of the stadium and building condominiums inside of the walls. The sale of the property would have given the financially struggling West Side Tennis Club reportedly $9 million.

The proposal was met with resistance from the start. Michael Perlman from the Rego-Forest Preservation Council made a strong push to get the stadium landmarked. Others simply did not like Cord Meyer’s design. Club member Christine Schott described the proposed complex as more “Ft. Lauderdale than Forest Hills.”

Also, some members believed Cord Meyer was not offering proper market value for the stadium. Cushman & Wakefield independently appraised the site in September at $9.7 million. Cord Meyer’s proposal was $9 million plus an additional $750,000 for repairs to the club’s enclosure and other renovations. However, a club member and appraiser David Kra released a report questioning the methods used by Cushman & Wakefield and appraised the property at $15.5 million.

A two-thirds majority was needed to approve the project, and the final vote was deadlocked at 123-123. According to Schott’s Forest Hills Garden Blog, the official tally counts members who did not vote were counted as a no vote, which means 56 percent of members voted against the sale.

Rep. Anthony Weiner has been a strong supporter for the stadium’s preservation. Following the vote, he praised club members for voting against the sale. “My neighbors and I are gratified by the decision of the members of the West Side Tennis Club to reject the proposal to sell development rights to the historic stadium,” said Weiner (D-Forest Hills). “This will give us a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and explore the best way forward to preserve this iconic site while respecting the rights of the club members.”

Now that the sale is off the table, club members must decide what to do with the stadium. It is still in need of major repairs—some estimates call for $12 million.

Cord Meyer Chief Operating Officer Anthony Colletti said the company is “very disappointed” about the vote. He felt there was strong support for the stadium—the board unanimously supported the sale, according to Colletti, and 123 members did vote yes. However, they were 42 votes short to attain the two-thirds super majority.

There were many issues Cord Meyer had to contend with to complete the sale. The most immediate threat was the ongoing effort to landmark the stadium. For Colletti, it seemed that “a vote against the deal was a vote for landmarking.”

Perlman wants the city to move forward and landmark the property. He believes that landmark status along with new creative uses for the stadium can help preserve the Forest Hills community and become economically viable.

A landmark designation would add prestige to the location and open the doors for grant money to help renovate the site, Perlman explained. Outside companies might also be interested in running programs in a historic site.

“Disney-esque condos would have torn the heart out of Forest Hills,” Perlman said in a release. “Mixed-use creative revitalization would yield a greater economic return in the long-run, and may feature tennis matches, concerts, weddings, exhibits, school trips, charity events, music and art festivals.”

The simplest way to inject life into the stadium is to restore its tennis tradition, argued Perlman, who would like to see a tennis academy to be built at the stadium. In August, Weiner proposed returning the US Open to the West Side Tennis Club for one match. “It is time for the United States Tennis Association to give back to Forest Hills,” Weiner wrote to USTA Chair and President Lucy Garvin.

Other proposals include reintroducing concerts at the stadium. There have been discussions with the New York Philharmonic to hold its summer concert series at the venue. No matter what the stadium is used for, Perlman wants it to become a “twenty- first century family destination.”

Whatever happens with the stadium, Cord Meyer probably will not be involved. Colletti noted that the project was not a purely profitable endeavor, but felt the company could regain losses through building good will and publicity through the project.

But never say never. “If we got a phone call we’d be interested,” Colletti said. However, he would ask the board to have club members vote first to see if they are even interested in selling the stadium. Colletti, however, doesn’t foresee members ever being interested in selling the stadium.

Addabbo and Como Showdown Garners Statewide Attention

By Eric Yun

Two years ago, Democrats took over then New York State Senate, Assembly and Governorship. Now, with general displeasure at the state of government in Washington D.C. and Albany, state Republicans see a golden opportunity to at least retake the Senate.

One key race in the quest to retake the Senate is in the 15th District between incumbent Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Republican challenger Anthony Como.

The 15th District encompasses Forest Hills Gardens, Glendale, Hamilton Beach, Maspeth, Middle Village, Old Howard Beach, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, and parts of Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.

Latest demographic information from the state Board of Elections shows Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 50,000 among registered voters. However, the district is not afraid to vote against party lines. A portion of the district elected Republican Eric Ulrich to the City Council in 2008, and Republican Serf Maltese held the 15th Senate seat for 19 years until Addabbo defeated him in 2008.

While party leaders have seen the importance of the race—the New York State Republican Senate Campaign has donated more $100,000 to Como’s campaign—both candidates downplayed the role the race will play in terms of determining which party is in power.

“I’m not looking at it as a Republican or Democrat thing,” Como said. “Incumbents are not doing the jobs they were elected to do.”

Calling the issue “politics going before people,” Addabbo said, “You vote out a person. Don’t vote out a party.”

The anger voters have felt towards Albany has stemmed mostly from the economy. Unemployment is at a record high, and residents are struggling.

Those at fault for the economy, according to Como, are the current legislators in Albany. “They passed the highest spending state budget in history,” he said.

If he gets elected, Como would work immediately to cut taxes and restore services such as School Tax Relief program (STAR). He criticized Albany for their excessive spending, which put them in a position to cut vital programs. There are millions of dollars that could have been saved with Medicaid reform, and he criticized the government’s willingness to spend millions of dollars to give ex-convicts assistance.

“It’s time to bring government back to the people,” Como said.

Addabbo countered that the government had to make difficult choices to balance the budget. “I share their [the voter’s] frustrations,” he said. “Nobody gets elected to raise taxes.” He has worked hard to protect essential services, and he promised as state performs better fiscally, cut programs would be restored.

Addabbo also questioned the notion that electing Republicans would solve New York’s economic woes. He said the Republicans during the previous four years spent recklessly and kept trying to fund programs it did not have money for.

Another issue both candidates felt strongly about was transparency and reform in Albany. Touting his endorsement from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and support from for- mer Mayor Ed Koch’s New York Uprising, Como believes there is “a lot of work to be done in transparency and reform.”

The Aqueduct negotiations were a prime example of backroom dealings decided by “three men in a room,” said Como. He would fight for term limits in the Senate so voters have an opportunity for change in legislators to bring different voices and ideas. Como would also be at the forefront to bring transparency to the upcoming redistricting process.

Addabbo has also signed on to Koch’s New York Uprising. He believes he and other legislators have already worked to bring more transparency and reform to Albany in two years than the previous Republican senate did in four years. “Republicans the last four years didn’t come close to the reform we have,” Addabbo said. Key reforms included campaign finance reforms and more transparency in legislation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Major Changes Planned for Liberty Avenue Corridor

By Eric Yun

Traversing down Liberty Avenue is going to be safer for pedestrians and drivers, but it will take some time for the drivers to get used to the changes the City Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin implementing in the coming weeks.

The stretch of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue between 94th and 96th streets includes some of the most dangerous intersections in the borough. A study by the DOT showed an average of 41.4 injuries per year at those streets, which put it in the 99th percentile among Queens intersections.

The DOT has been meeting with the community over the last year, most recently in June, to discuss safety improvements to the area. The multifaceted plan calls for major changes to the confusing stretch of roads and intersections.

These changes include installing a concrete barrier on Cross Bay Boulevard that will prevent traffic from Liberty Avenue to enter the intersection. Liberty Avenue will be converted to a one-way street traveling eastbound between 93rd Street and Cross Bay Boulevard. The northbound left turn lane on Cross Bay Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard will be extended and signal timing will be improved. Also, several medians and crosswalks will be installed or extended to help improve pedestrian safety, and transit-loading zones will be installed between 93rd and 94th Streets, east of 96th Street, and on the north and south sides of Liberty Avenue.

The DOT believes these changes will drasti- cally improve safety conditions at the confusing intersections, but will drivers be able to adapt?

Betty Braton, Chair of CB10, is not sure the DOT’s changes are the best for the area. “Following DOT’s presentation of these proposed changes to us back in June, we prepared and submitted our comments and viewpoint to DOT,” Braton said. While the DOT listened to community, Braton said the DOT is mov- ing forward with many of the same proposed changes offered in June.

“Although we appreciate DOT’s effort to address this very dangerous and problematic area to make it safer, the Board still has reservations from our lay-person perspective,” Braton said. “We will continue to offer suggestions to DOT as these changes move forward if problems arise.”

The DOT is planning a public walkthrough of the changes on October 18th between 3 and 6 p.m. The tour will begin at the south-west corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue and traverse through the 2-mile stretch up to the Van Wyck Expressway. Participants are welcome to join and leave the tour at any time to listen to the planned changes from DOT officials.

Turner Tours Queens in Bid to Unseat Weiner

By Eric Yun

Congressional candidate Bob Turner toured various areas of Queens and Brooklyn on Tuesday to drum up support for the campaign. Turner is running against Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) for the US Congressional 9th District seat.

Organized by the New York GOP, Turner and other Republican candidates stopped at various locations in Queens to talk to concerned residents.

At a stop in Middle Village, Turner spoke about the need for change in Washington. Rallying against cuts and extraneous spending, Turner fought back against Weiner’s remarks that he is out of touch.

Weiner recently challenged many of Turner’s policies. According to Weiner, Turner is in support of privatizing social security, weakening public schools, giving tax breaks to companies that outsource American jobs and against the right for women to choose.

“Bob Turner is completely out of touch with the district,” Weiner’s campaign said in a statement. “Anthony Weiner has spent his career fighting for the middle class people of Brooklyn and Queens on issues that matter, issues that Bob Turner is on the wrong side of.”

Turner fought back against the attack. Citing issues such as Weiner’s refusal to debate and ignoring projects in the district, Turner said Weiner is the one out of touch with con- stituents. “Someone is out of touch, and I don’t think it’s me,” Turner said.

Also at the event were Republican State Assembly candidates Anthony Nunziato and Alex Powietrzynski.

Powietrzynski, who is challenging Democrat incumbent Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, said incumbent New York politicians are taking their positions for granted. “Politicians are treating their jobs as a business and not as a public service,” he said. “You’re here to serve us, and we deserve better.”

Nunziato, who is challenging Marge Markey, gave his full support to Turner. Politics is about “real people who look out for their constituents,” Nunziato said. “The Republican
Party is the party of the American people.”

Recent Incidents Create Push for Cyberbullying Legislation

By Eric Yun

Despite the popular saying, words can cause significant amount of pain. While most people can shrug off an insult shouted on the street, can they shrug off thousands of messages from anonymous people on the Internet?

Ryan Halligan couldn’t. The 13-year-old boy was teased at school about his learning disorder and accusations about being gay. To make matters worse, Halligan was bombarded with messages online, and eventually, he took his own life.

The Internet allows people to do amazing things, but it can be misused to disrupt the privacy and peace of innocent victims. Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old student starting his first year at Rutgers University. After his roommate and a friend broadcast Clementi’s private sexual life over the Internet, he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Clementi’s tragic death has New York State and City officials examining cyberbullying and possible legislation to prevent it. At a memorial service held at Washington Square Park, Governor David Paterson pledged he would enact legislation against cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying, as the name suggests, is bullying done through the Internet. There are no shortage of ways to harass someone online: instant messages, chat rooms and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are all used. In a study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, which was founded by Dr. Sameer Hinduja from Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Justin Patchin from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, 20 percent of kids aged 11 to 18 had experienced some form of cyberbullying.

Currently, more than 40 states—including New York—has legislation to address bully- ing. Of those, about 30 states include a mention of bullying done electronically. New York recently passed the Dignity for All Students Act, which prohibits harassment or discrimination against students on school grounds on the basis of race, gender, reli- gion or sexuality. There was no electronic component to the bill.

Senator Thomas Duane (D- Manhattan), the chief sponsor of the Dignity for All Students bill, has reportedly considered adding an amendment to address cyberbullying.

It would be a welcome addition for Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “We certainly have to be aware of the increased nature of cyberbullying,” he said. Addabbo said he hopes that parents begin to realize the dangers of cyberbullying, and he hopes young students “understand
the severity of cyberbullying.”

In the State Assembly, bill A05544 was introduced that would require the commissioner of education to enforce rules that prohibit harassment and bullying of students, including harassment carried out electronically.

“I support all proposals or measures that would increase the awareness and prevention of cyberbullying and other forms of harassment,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) who sponsors the bill.

On the federal level, HR1966, the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Act, was proposed to make cyberbullying a crime, but it has stalled over fears that it would impinge on people’s First Amendment rights.

Meier, a 13-year-old from Missouri, was one of the first major cases that brought cyberbullying into the nation’s consciousness. Her neighbor and former friend’s mother Lori Drew created a fake MySpace account to befriend and later torment Meier. She hung herself weeks before her 14th birthday.

Meier’s death prompted the state of Missouri to reactively enact some of the toughest laws against cyberbullying in the nation. Now, after Clementi’s death, New York politicians are looking to prevent a similar tragedy in New York schools.

Queens Awaits Federal Disaster Assistance

Life is returning to normal for Queens residents after tornados knocked down thousands of trees in Middle Village, Forest Hills, Flushing and Bayside. The majority of debris is cleared, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

On Friday, Governor David Paterson asked President Obama for federal disaster assistance to help offset the costs of cleaning up the city. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) have been touring the city to assess the damage.

“The September 16 storm struck New York City with a vengeance, cutting off electric power in thousands of homes and businesses, disrupting travel for thousands, and causing extensive property damage and, tragically, the loss of one life,” Paterson said. “New Yorkers need help from Washington in recovering from this storm.”

A federal disaster designation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would give the city money in the Public Assistance plan. The money from Public Assistance would help offset the costs for initial response, debris removal and repairs to public property.

Paterson would also like to have the Individual Assistance program implemented. Individual Assistance allows for residents to apply for Small Business Administration low-interest loans and provides assistance for items such as clothing and household items.

For some, the fact that Queens is a disaster area is evident. “Anyone who has seen the damage firsthand knows that we experienced a disaster – now we just need FEMA to make it official so we can get the federal funding we desperately need to repair our neighborhoods, roads and parks,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Timeline for Opening Maspeth HS Discussed, Push Continues for Local Zone

By Eric Yun

A community meeting to discuss the opening of the new 1,000-seat high school currently under construction at the former Restaurant Depot site in Maspeth turned testy as parents and civic groups demanded the school be locally zoned.

Held at P.S. 58 by the City Department of Education’s Office of Portfolio and Planning, the meeting included a discussion of the timeline of the school opening and the type of school parents wanted for their children.

Earlier this year, a survey was conducted to determine what type of school parents wanted to see at the new site. The overwhelming response was for a regular high school without any special pilot programs. The school should have strong college and job prep courses and state of the art technology. One parent spoke about the need for a “normal” high school. This school would be competitive academically and feature various sports and clubs.

Alex Shub from Portfolio said he understand parents want a competitive school that sets kids up for future success, and he “guarantees we can build a school that can do just that.”

There is a complicated timeline for the opening of the new school. Currently, proposals from prospective principals are being evaluated to see if there are any that match the community needs. If a leader is found before mid-December, the school can be fast-tracked to open in 2011. Under this scenario the school would be incubated at the recently opened Metro High School, meaning extra space there would be used until the Maspeth site opens in 2012.

If a suitable principal is not found by mid-December, the city will not rush to open the school. Instead, it will wait to select a principal’s proposal until the spring or fall and open the school in 2012.

The issue most parents wanted to discuss, however, was the idea of zoning the school locally. The DOE generally likes to provide all city students a choice when it comes to attending a high school. After months of debate and community input, the city has decided to give School District 24 priority. This means that any student from District 24 that puts the new high school first in their application will have the first priority of entering the school. Afterwards, the school would be filled with anybody throughout the city.

The biggest fear from parents is their children who live just blocks away will lose a chance to attend the new school because another District 24 student from areas such as Ridgewood or Corona are admitted. In the unlikely event all Dis- trict 24 eighth graders apply for the new school a random lottery will be held to see who is admitted.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Mid- dle Village) stressed the importance of being calm. “We have to work together to make the most out of this new school,” she said. It is important to understand the admission process, and Crowley believes kids who truly want to go to this school will be able to be admitted.

There were some who believed settling for a District 24 school instead of a locally zoned school is despicable. Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, bickered with Crowley over the decision. “We want our kids to walk to school. We demand a locally zoned school,” Holden said. Holden believes Crowley, who voted against the project in the City Council, has now completely given up the fight to have the school locally zoned.

Republican candidate for the State Senate Anthony Como also promised to fight for a locally zoned school. “The fight is never over until we win,” he said. “Until we win for a locally zoned school, the fight never ends.”

Homeless Man Charged with Forest Hills Stabbing

The peace and quiet Forest Hills residents have come to expect was interrupted this week when a knife wielding homeless man went on a stabbing spree, according to police.

Steven Jackson, a 48-year-old homeless man, was charged with assault after he allegedly attacked Siew Khuen Luh with a knife at the 71st Street and Continental Avenue subway station Saturday night.

According to an eyewitness, Jackson approached the victim from behind and put his hands on the victim’s shoulder. After Jackson walked away, the eyewitness noticed the victim was bleeding from the neck. Luh was taken to the hospital and received 15 to 20 stitches in the neck.

Police suspect Jackson might also be responsible for two other stabbings that occurred near the area Saturday night. A man was stabbed at Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike and another man on Austin Street and 72nd Road. Both men were treated and released at local hospitals.

Police officers apprehended Jackson and allegedly recovered a blood stained knife. He has been charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

“The defendant in this case is alleged to have set upon an innocent victim who was merely waiting for a subway train,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The victim was struck from behind, without warning or provocation, and never had a chance to defend himself. He is fortunate, indeed, that he was not more severely injured.”

If convicted, Jackson faces up to 25 years in prison. According to a published report, Jackson was previously charged for stabbing a man sleeping inside the Grand Avenue subway stop.