Friday, November 26, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Search Continues for Missing Howard Beach Man

By Patricia Adams

Rescuers continuing the extensive three-week search for Joseph Russo found a body in Howard Beach on Sunday night—but it wasn’t that of the missing 72-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

According to sources from the NYPD and the Medical Examiners Office, the skeleton found in the weeded area off 165th Avenue was completely decomposed and, according to the time frame, could not be that of Russo.

A forensic anthropologist will examine the skeleton to make a positive determination that the remains are human and then go on to estimate age at death, racial affiliation, sex, and stature of the deceased. The bones were found in a search of the deep brush that began on Saturday morning and continued throughout the evening on Sunday.

The weekend search was a cooperative effort between the NYPD and the Eagle Valley Dogs, a New York-based search and rescue team. The K-9 team searches for lost and missing persons and is based in the Catskills and Upper Delaware River Valley.

According to Vice President Kate Danzig, the team “develops resources and trains its members to complement--not duplicate--the ca- pabilities of law enforcement and fire-rescue agencies in an area.”

Danzig who split her 20 years in the NYPD between patrol and narcotics, says the team is also available to assist during disasters or other emergencies.

Russo’s daughter Maria Ingrassia says that a friend working on the search effort to find her father came across the team while doing re- search on the Internet. “We are so grateful to Eagle Valley for coming down here and giving us some peace, knowing my father is not lying dead in these weeds,” she told The Forum.

The search went on through the weekend using a team of volunteers from Eagle Valley and foot searchers, aviation and the K-9 Unit of the NYPD. “We are so appreciative of everything that everyone is doing,” said Ingrassia, who also stressed how important it is to let people know that the remains found were not her father.

“While the weather is still with us we have to keep looking,” pleaded Ingrassia, who says that the cocentric search must expand way out beyond the Howard Beach area— quickly. According to the family, they are beefing up efforts in re-establishing contact with hospitals, shelters and bus terminals.

Detective Frank Rodriguez of the Missing Persons Bureau has been assigned the Russo’s case. “As of right now we have done three hospital canvasses and are submitting the fourth.” According to Det. Rodriguez, there is still a good chance that Russo is alive. “Cases with Alzheimer’s patients can be very tricky. We’ve had people turn up all over the United States.” Rodriguez told The Forum one of the patients he was involved in finding turned up in Europe. “You just never know. These people go all the way back in their minds and go where they have something fa- miliar.” At some point he says they are usually encountered by law enforcement officers who perform a background check and start to put the pieces together.

In addition to the search of hospital records, homeless shelters and a complete computer sweep, Rodriguez says he will begin an exhaustive investigation of all the bus routes running through Howard Beach and sur- rounding communities. “We will be handing out more description flyers and talking directly with drivers and people along these routes. We’re going to keep looking,” said Rodriguez. “I just have a good feeling about this one.”

Quality of Life Concerns in Lindenwood

A rise in auto theft and vandalism are just two of many quality of life issues prompting the formation of the new Lindenwood Alliance.

Residents to Form Alliance with NYPD, Local Elected Officials

By Patricia Adams

Concern over the recent spike in thefts and vandalism throughout Lindenwood has prompted some residents to take steps to safeguard their community.

In an effort to organize a coordinated effort among NYPD, community residents and local elected officials to address quality of life and crime issues, organizers will hold their first meeting on December 13.

“Over the last year, things have gotten out of hand in Lindenwood,” explains Christina Gold, a Lindenwood resident who has serious concerns about the rash of crime within the community. Gold says there are large numbers of groups of preteens and teens from outside the area who have repeatedly travelled through Lindenwood causing havoc and leaving damage in their wake.

Gold says she has personally witnessed the destructive actions and the repeated vandalism attempts. “I have seen them go after the people who return their bottles to the supermarket on more than one occasion and I have witnessed them trying to set off house alarms by disrupting sprinkler systems.”

But she says what really set her off is the bottle that came crashing over her backyard fence at a birthday party. “It was a little after 9 p.m. We were having a family party. The shattered glass hit several guests at the party and the bottle landed just inches from where a sleeping child lay in her carriage. “It’s just ridiculous that we have to live in fear in our own backyard,” says Gold. “It’s time we all get together and do what we have to in order to stay safe.”

And the mother of three contends she and her husband are not alone in their concerns for their family, as is evidenced by the number of supporters lining up to join what is to be known as the Lindenwood Alliance.

Lindenwood residents and activists will join Gold in the formation of the Alliance, including lifelong Howard Beach resident Joann Ariola. “I believe the concept of forming an alliance within the community is something that will serve Lindenwood residents very well,” said Ariola. “It’s a novel approach to include the three key groups that will interact to address quality of life issues as opposed to forming a routine civic organization.” Ariola says she and many other residents are prepared to help in setting up the Alliance.

Gold says she has already been developing two key relationships, one with Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and with the new Commanding Officer at the 106th Precinct, Capt. Thomas Pascale. “I feel that both the councilman and the precinct are going to cooperate with our group and really try to help us get things done.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Alliance is urged to attend the first meeting which will be held at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center on December 13th at 7:30 P.M.

Middle VIllage Residents Ask Con Ed for Underground Power Lines

By Eric Yun

On the night of September 16, a tornado and microburst swept through the area leaving a trail of trees and power lines scattered across Middle Village streets. The destruction created hazardous and unsafe condition and left thousands without power. Now, Middle Village residents, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) are calling on Consolidated Edison to remove the dangerous overhead cables and place them underground.

On the night of the tornado, downed power lines sparked fires throughout Middle Village, and created a mess Con Ed and other utility companies had to untangle for weeks.

“The tornado and microburst highlighted the vulnerability in our power grid,” Crowley said. “It’s time to bring Middle Village into the 21st Century and remove the outdated overhead power lines.”

Crowley and concerned residents argue that they pay the same price for power from overhead lines as underground lines, but suffer from more outages and safety hazards. And while Crowley’s biggest concern was safety, she said removing the unsightly wires would help beautify the neighborhood and help local businesses.

Fallen wires possess serious risks, but thankfully, no one was injured or electrocuted following Sep- tember’s storms.

“We were very fortunate the day of those storms,” said Weiner. Now, he added, it’s time for Con Ed to modernize the community and ensure residents never again have to worry about live wires on the ground.

“When I see trees down I’m saddened,” said Middle Village resident John Debiase, “When I see lines down, I’m frightened.”

Crowley and Weiner both noted that unsafe, ugly power lines are not something residents of Manhattan’s Park Avenue have to deal with, and the same should be said of Middle Village.

Underground cabling is common in New York City and Queens. According to Con Ed, there are 24,795 miles of underground cables in the borough compared to 6,995 miles of overhead cables.
Weiner questioned why Con Ed has not already begun modernizing the area with un- derground power lines. “The simple answer is Con Ed is trying to do things on the cheap,” he said.

Con Ed does not intend to place Middle Village’s power lines underground, and money does play a factor.

According to Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert, the cost to move overhead lines underground is $6 million per mile, which would be passed onto all of their customers. Furthermore, residential customers would likely have to pay $7,500 more per year, and commercial customers would have to pay $20,000 more per year to pay for the upgrades. Olert also said underground lines are not without problems, as it takes three to four times longer to identify and fix problems with underground lines.

Illega Races a Drag for Maspeth Residents

By Eric Yun

“Stop your engines and get off our streets,” was the rallying cry from Maspeth residents who are fed up with drag races along Maurice Avenue. They are now calling on the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to step in and install speed bumps in the area.

“I can’t sleep,” said resident Armand Gapkowski, who has started a petition that has amassed more than 60 signatures asking the DOT to install a speed bump.

Residents explained that the racers go through painstaking measures to avoid capture from police and interference from other drivers. They frequently block side roads and intersections with their cars, which often leads to more noise as other drivers honk their horns attempting to get through.

And it’s not like the residents can politely go to the street and ask the drivers to stop. They fear the crowd is too big and too dan- gerous. Calls to 911, residents have found, are not answered quickly enough to disperse the large crowds on their street.

In addition to the serious safety hazards of drag races, residents of Maspeth are constantly bombarded with sound pollution from passing and idling trucks at night.    Nobody wants to add revving engines or squealing tires to the list of night-time annoyances.

“Never again. We cannot tolerate illegal drag racing on Maurice Avenue or anywhere in Maspeth,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

Van Bramer, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and concerned citizens joined together on the corner of Maurice and Tyler avenues on Monday and demanded action to stop the illegal races.

Drag racing in the area has been a problem for at least 20 years. However, with the recent repaving of Maurice Avenue, the problem has intensified.

“Maurice Avenue was not repaved for idiots to drive 100 miles per hour,” Van Bramer

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET), said the DOT must do something before someone is seriously injured. “The DOT has to take the bull by the horn and come up with a solution,” she said.

The simplest solution is to have a speed bump or rumble strips on the street to stop the races. A DOT spokesperson said the department is reviewing a request to install two speed bumps on Maurice Avenue along Tyler Avenue that do not interfere with the MTA bus route.

Maurice Avenue serves as a boundary line for the 104th and 108th police precincts, which make it difficult to ascertain who is responsible for patrolling the area and who should respond when    someone calls police about drag racing. Van Bramer and Crowley said that both precincts have been made aware of the problem and have promised to be more responsive to complaints to catch those racing illegally.

Deputy Inspector Keith Green of the 104th Precinct also spoke about increased cooperation with the 108th Precinct at last week’s COP 104 meeting.

The politicians promised they would work together to make drag racing a relic of the past.

“Drag racing is not welcome here in Maspeth, or anywhere in the city of New York,” said Crowley. “It must stop.”

To illustrate the dangers of drag racing, Van Bramer’s office has reposted a YouTube video showing a drag race on Maurice Avenue. The two cars line up side by side, and after a count, both cars take off in discordant sound. But moments later, one of the cars spins out of control and slams into some parked cars. After taking a moment to recover, the driver flees the scene.

“What if the car had spun out of control into the people foolish enough to watch the race?” Van Bramer asked.

It’s time to put an end to the races, Van Bramer said, before someone ends up in adjacent Mt. Zion Cemetery.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Albert Road Reconstruction Stirs Ozone Park Residents

City Begins Land Acquisition Process

By Patricia Adams

Ozone Park property owners turned out in full force on Tuesday evening for what was originally billed as an emergency meeting of the Ozone Park Civic Association. The meeting was called after a “boiler plate” letter was sent to more than 500 residents who live on streets within the confines of HW411B, the street and sewer reconstruction of the Albert Road area.

Inclusion of the term eminent domain the letter sent a wave of panic through many residents who feared they may lose their property. Thankfully, despite the initial stress caused by the letter, there are no cases where a home or any other significant land parcels are in danger of being lost.

Department of Design and Construction fell under criticism because it failed to send details advising individual homeowners about how their property would be affected, if at all. “They [the city] could have spared the community this hysteria had they done their due diligence,” explained Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

But despite his criticism of the agency’s dissemination of information to the public, Ulrich says he is confident that the project will now move ahead. “I believe that construction will start as early as 2012. The acquisition process has begun and the project is fully funded. It will move forward.”

Ozone Civic President, Howard Kamph said at the end of the meeting he was happy with his decision at the last minute to allow the crowd to interact directly with the agency personnel. Kamph expressed concern over some additional provisions of the project which he said would include bike lanes and the return of Cohancy Street to a two-way. “If this project ever gets done, it will be a miracle,” Kamph said. “I’ve been hearing about it since I got here in 1981 and I have the DOT letters to prove it.”

Complete lists detailing the project were made available to all residents in attendance on Tuesday evening. Representatives from DDC reviewed individual properties with residents and advised them of any changes intended at their location. All homeowners were especially relieved to be informed that no residences were in jeopardy and that only a handful of structures, namely garages or sheds, are involved. The major alterations will be comprised mainly of residents losing some footage at curbside and other instances such as small retaining walls installed by homeowners. In all instances where the city would be acquiring property not already owned by them, financial compensation will be offered.

The original estimate to begin construction is early in 2013 and is expected to continue for approximately one year.

Changing of the Guard at 106 Precinct: Capt. Thomas Pascale Takes Reins at Ozone Park Command

Joseph Courtesis, outgoing commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, welcomes Captain Thomas Pascale, who is taking command at the Ozone Park stationhouse.

By Patricia Adams

Following an emotional farewell delivered by Deputy Inspector Joe Courtesis at the 106 Precinct Community Council meeting last Wednesday, Captain Thomas Pascale, a 16-year veteran of the NYPD, assumed the role as the precincts new Commanding Officer. Courtesis was transferred to his new position as CO of the 105 precinct in Queens Village.

Capt. Pascale’s career as a police officer began in 1994 at the 110th Precinct in Elmhurst. Pascale was eventually promoted to sergeant and was stationed at the 106th Precinct from 2000 to 2004, meaning he is no stranger to the community. In 2005 he was transferred to the 115th in East Elmhurst where he remained until being elevated to Captain in 2007. Following the promotion, he went to work with the Narcotics Division where he served until now.

Asked about his new position the Captain was quick to say he feels as though he has come home. “One of the great things is that many of the same officers I worked with while I was here back in 2000 are now in key positions at the precinct.” And in addition to the comfort and familiarity of coming back to the Ozone Park based command, Pascale says he has stepped into a “very well oiled machine.” Speaking about his predecessor, the Captain praised the job done by exiting commander Inspector Courtesis.

Discussing his plans for running the 106, Pascale says that any changes made will be slow and subtle. “We are going to continue to focus on community policing and quality of life issues,” noting that his new command is not plagued with violent crime.

One of the greatest challenges facing his command as well as others throughout the city is the lack of officers. “Like all of the city’s precincts we have to do a lot more with a lot less. Our officers are doing a tremendous amount of work.” According to Pascale, many people don’t realize the added responsibility police have had to assume with the escalation of terrorist threats and the many resources that have to be devoted to counter terrorism.

Despite the routine problems common to all NYPD precincts, Pascale says he is confident that the 106th Precinct will continue on its successful path by continually encouraging the maintenance and formation of community partnerships.

“The most important thing I want the residents in this community to know is that they don’t have to wait for a Council meeting to bring their problems here. We want to know about problems as soon as they happen so that we can continue to address them effectively.”

With Unemployment Holding Steady, Thousands Flock to Job Fair

By Eric Yun

The hundreds of people at Aqueduct on Friday hoping to make a quick buck on horse races were juxtaposed by the thousands desperately searching for a steady buck through full-time employment. Unemployment in the city is at 9.3 percent, according to the state Department of Labor, and thousands of people are competing for increasingly scarce jobs. In response, Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) hosted his third career fair at Aqueduct last Friday in an attempt to match the unemployed with the few jobs available in the city.

Who are the unemployed? A look at those attending the career fair shows unemployment has affected everyone. Recent college graduates who spent thousands on tuition but have found that a bachelor’s degree is not a ticket to guaranteed employment. Moms and dads who lost their jobs and are desperate to provide for their families. There are those who picked the worst time possible to pursue a career change and those who are too young to retire but find- ing they’re too old to get steady work.

“I’ve been doing everything right for fifteen years,” said attendee Keith Charles of Queens Village. “Now I’m being told I need to get more training.”

Overall, attendees like Charles stressed the importance of persistence and the belief that the economy would eventually turn around. “Only thing you can do is keep looking,” he said.

All these job seekers were hoping to impress the more than one hundred vendors at the fair, and each company had positions to fill. Local companies like Ozone Park’s Liberty Tax Service and the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council joined major national brands like Geico, Lowe’s and Avon and governmental agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Vendors were selected based on industries Addabbo’s office felt there was growth. While governmental jobs are in jeopardy, there is some growth in areas like home health care and security industries.

Besides looking for employment, job hunters had the opportunity to learn new skills at four well-received workshops. Attendees received tips on personal branding and image, how to balance work life with personal life, job search strategies and how to network.

At the personal branding and imaging workshop, Shandeeyaky Shabazz from non-profit group Dress for Success spoke about the im- portance of projecting a positive image. “If you’re dressed in a track suit, I’m going to as- sume you’re running track. But if you’re dressed in a suit, business attire, I think you’re a successful person ready to work,” she said.

Shabazz also outlined the importance of an “elevator pitch”—a 60 to 90 second introduction that highlights your qualifications and skills.

There were some complaints about the structure of the job fair. One woman, who preferred to stay anonymous, said hardly any company was taking resumes. “They just said to go apply online. I came here to try to avoid that,” she said.

John Adams Football Team Protests Forfeited Games

By Eric Yun

In the eyes of the John Adams High School Spartans football players, their record is 8-2. According to the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), their record is 5- 5.

The Spartans were forced to forfeit their first four games because of an ineligible player. Junior Antoine Arnold transferred from Bayside High School and played football there during the 2009 season. The PSAL rules state that Arnold must sit out 12 months before being allowed to play.

The mistake, which school officials have called a “clerical error,” has cost the players an opportunity to play in the playoffs. The Spartans defeated division-leading Beach Channel High School two weeks ago. The players are devastated that this error won’t give them the chance to compete for the championship.

“It’s unfortunate,” John Adams’s Athletic Director Thomas Glass told the Daily News. “It was a couple of mistakes by adults, and the kids are the ones paying the penalty.”

Supporters of the team organized a protest outside of the high school Wednesday afternoon. Chants of “We deserve to play,” were shouted and signs showing the team’s “true” record were displayed.

“We deserve to be in the playoffs,” said team captain Devven Baker. “We put our heart, sweat and tears into the season, and the players came together as a family. We deserve to play.”

PSAL rules regarding ineligible players and penalties are publicly available. The rules state, “If an ineligible student is listed on the roster as active, and/or participates in any interscholastic contest, the team with the ineligible player shall forfeit the contest.” However, supporters of the team feel instead of holding the men responsible for the mistakes accountable, and the kids are forced to shoulder the entire punishment.

Paul Casale, a youth football coach who worked with many of the players in the past, believes the PSAL is sending the wrong message to kids. “The PSAL rules state the principal and athletic director are responsible for ensuring eligibility,” he said. “But instead of penalizing them, the kids are the only ones penalized.”

Casale also felt that the timing of the forfeits was suspect. By the time the team found out about ruling, it was too late to mount a legal challenge to reverse the decision and allow the team to play.

“They worked so hard and are such great kids,” said Patricia Howard, whose son plays for the Spartans. “They earned their spot.”

Truck Traffic, Road Repair and Drug Counseling, Major Topics at CB 5

By Eric Yun

Truck traffic, unpaved roads and the proposal to open a drug-counseling center in Ridgewood were major topics discussed at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

During the public session of the meeting, Maspeth resident Peter Seymour complained about trucks on Melvina Place. Trucks travel through the street as a shortcut to get back to- wards Grand and Flushing avenues, and the roads simply can’t accommodate them.

Trucks find it difficult to make the turn from Melvina Place to 56th Drive, causing bottlenecks and crushed sidewalk curbs. Residents are hoping that Melvina Place can be converted to a one-way street southbound to help solve the traffic problems.

The issue on Melvina Place is part of the much larger issue of how and where trucks should be allowed to operate in Maspeth. For almost ten years, community activists have been fighting for the Maspeth Bypass Plan to keep trucks away from the community’s residential areas. The neighborhood’s main strip, Grand Avenue, faces a daily barrage of truck traffic on a daily basis.

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of CB 5, reported that many streets were being repaved, particularly in Middle Village, but the process was taking longer than expected. The streets have been milled but remain unpaved. Arcuri theorized that Verizon could be laying fiber optic cables holding up the process.

Board member Lorraine Sciulli commented that cars were speeding down the unpaved
streets creating hazards by kicking up rocks and debris, and drivers who know about the status of the street who slow down are at risk of being rear-ended. She suggested the city Department of Transportation at least erect rough road warnings for drivers until the work is finished.

At last month’s CB 5 meeting, JNS Counseling Services gave a presentation for their proposal to open an outpatient counseling service on 752 Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood. There were concerns if the community would see an increase in crime. In response, the board’s Health Committee contacted Brooklyn’s Community Board 15 and was told that there was no increase in crime and JNS runs a good program.

The board, which acts as an advisory board, approved the proposal.

The community board also discussed making Glendale’s I.S. 119 a K-8 facility. Community Education Council 24 and the Department of Education Portfolio Planning department will meet with the residents at I.S. 119 on November 22 about the plan.

Members of Transportation Alternatives asked the board to support their quest to hold the MTA and state legislators accountable for mass transit funding. They also asked the board to endorse the groups Rider’s Bill of Rights. The board didn’t take any action yet on the requests.

Finally, re-elected Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) thanked residents for their support and promised to continue the hard work in Albany.

Blood Drive to Benefit 13-year-old Carly Nieves

By Eric Yun

Thirteen-year-old Carly Nieves from Maspeth is one of the 2,000 people in New York City who are waiting for a blood transfusion. Suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Carly needs periodic blood transfusions to recover from chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of blood and donors in the city.

Carly is attending I.S. 73 in Maspeth and will graduate in 2011.

“When you’re told there’s no blood for her [Carly], it’s devastating,” said Carly’s mom, Lisa Horner. “It’s not like you can just come back tomorrow.”

The New York Blood Center and Friends of Karen are holding a blood drive for Carly and everyone else in need of blood at Christ the King High School on Saturday, December 18 from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. New York Blood Center is the largest community-based non-profit blood center in the city. Friends of Karen is a non-profit organization that helps support critically ill children and their parents.

Inez Quentant of the New York Blood Center told the public at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting that the goal is to collect 200 pints of blood. “If you have one hour of your day to spare, roll up your sleeves and donate one pint of blood,” Quentant said. That pint of blood is enough to help save three lives.

Horner and Quentant intend to make the blood drive a fun event for the community. There will be face painting for kids and a raffle.

Donating one pint of blood or registering to be a bone marrow donor at the blood drive will not only help Carly, but the thousands suffering from blood-related cancers like Leukemia.

For more information or to make an appointment to donate blood, contact Lisa Horner at Christ the King High School is located on 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village at the intersection of 69th Street.

Maspeth Residents Won't Stand for any Study to Increase Truck Traffic

Laura Shabe gives presentation about the Port Authority's EIS
By Eric Yun

Truck traffic is a constant and serious concern in Maspeth where living adjacent to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Long Island Expressway creates a torrent of trucks travelling through the neighborhood. For the last decade, community activists have fought to relieve truck and traffic congestion in Maspeth, and they have serious reservations about the recently revived Cross Harbor Freight Program being considered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In 2004 the community fought and won a battle against a plan that called for a harbor tunnel connecting New Jersey and Brooklyn, which would have required a 143-acre intermodal station in Maspeth. The tunnel wasn’t necessary, the opponents of the plan said, and the intermodal station would inundate Maspeth with pollution from trains and in- creased truck traffic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg denounced the plan and it was eventually killed.

Now the Port Authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal High Administration (USDOT) is reopening ideas to improve the movement of goods around New York Harbor—specifically how goods move east of the Hudson River to the west and vice versa.

Port Authority officials held a public meeting about the Cross Harbor Freight Program, hosted by Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) at Frank Kawalinski Post in Maspeth Tuesday night. With the bitter taste of the previous plan of a tunnel and intermodal station plus their present frustration with truck traffic, Maspeth residents came out to demand that under no circumstances should there be an increase in trucks.

“We don’t want any more trucks,” said Roe Daraio, president of COMET. That simple sentence was echoed by the residents who at- tended the meeting.
For the Port Authority officials, this is the type of input they expected and needed to hear. The freight program is currently undergoing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The NEPA study is part of a larger process all important decision-making must undergo, explained USDOT rep John Formosa.

The Tier 1 EIS aims to gather data and community input on the project to see how different alternatives could positively or negatively impact neighborhoods and if the alternatives make economic sense. The data from the Tier 1 study is later taken to a Tier 2 EIS where individual alternatives are more rigorously tested.

The possible alternatives for the program fall in three broad categories. The no action alternative examines what would happen if the Port Authority and USDOT did nothing. The management alternative attempts to see what would happen if changes were made in the operational structures of existing infrastructures. Finally, the build alternative looks to predict what would happen if expanded float and ferry system, rail tunnel and intermodal stations were implemented.

For the Port Authority the no action alternative is unacceptable. Maintaining the status quo would lead to almost a 33 percent increase in traffic and associated costs in New York City, according to Laura Shabe, Port Authority manager of the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

“Traffic is nearing catastrophic levels,” Shabe said. Traffic on the LIE is expected to worsen by 49 percent over the years if no action is taken.

Using the existing freight rail system, which is “underutilized and already built,” is one hard solution Shabe is studying to ease the traffic flow.

These alternatives, however, are unacceptable to Maspeth residents. The general consensus from letters sent to the Port Authority by civic groups and politicians as well as the residents at the COMET meeting was that while attempting to decrease truck traffic is an admirable goal, any plans that don’t seriously
investigate the impact it could have on communities would be unacceptable.

Mary Parisen and Laura Zimmer, co-chairs of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), wrote, “We urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersy and the Federal Highway Administration to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that this project serves the needs of the people living in the region and protects and improves our environment for future generation.”

Manny Caruana said at the meeting that instead of solving the truck problem communities would just see a flood of smaller trucks transporting goods from increased rail use.

“The trains have to drop off goods somewhere,” agreed Daraio, and the trucks would have to at some point take the goods on the road. And for residents who have long felt like a whipping boy in truck traffic, they understandably fear Maspeth would be the worst affected.

Trains aren’t free of problems either as existing rail use in the community is already a serious quality of life issue. Maspeth and the surrounding communities are currently fighting loud idling trains and the noxious stench emanating from freights that carry municipal solid waste through their neighborhoods.

If freights were to carry goods through Maspeth, the commodity transported is a concern. The neighborhood would not stand for more garbage trains.

Residents including Christina Wilkinson questioned why the focus was on rail traffic. The focus should be on studying and utilizing the existing marine barges to transport goods by water instead of any increase in land traffic. Members of CURES agreed and urged the Port Authority to include an in depth marine analysis similar to their study of rail and truck traffic.

Shabe understands the communities concerns, but she stressed that dismissively denouncing the EIS would not help. “The status quo is what’s causing the problem,” she told The Forum. There was even a possibility that the study could shed further light on existing problems like the Fresh Pond Rail Yard that could be fixed during the implementation of program.

Formosa said this was just the first of many meetings with concerned Maspeth residents as the EIS continues. “We need to be fully open-minded and make data-based decisions that’s best for the community,” he said.

The final draft of the Tier 1 EIS is expected in the summer of 2011.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Rotary Stocks Food Pantry Shelves in Howard Beach

By Patricia Adams

Chants of “Move That Bus” have become very familiar to audiences of the popular ABC television show, Extreme Home Makeover. This Saturday, shoppers at Waldbaum’s on Crossbay Boulevard were privy to a chant all their own as pleas to “Stuff That Bus” rang out in the parking lot of the supermarket.

The charity event hosted by the Southwest Queens Rotary was organized by the club President Frances Scarantino who wanted to help replenish dwindling supplies in the food pantry at the Our Lady of Grace Ministry of Care Services.

A colorfully decorated school bus, donated for the day by the Logan Bus Company, remained parked in the store’s lot from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. “The idea was to fill the bus with non-perishable items and stock the pantry shelves for the upcoming holiday season,” Scarantino told The Forum. The Rotary donates to the pantry on a monthly basis but wanted to do something special for this holiday season.

“Times are really hard for everyone,’ acknowledged Scarantino, “and the pantry is just getting so many more families that depend on them that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the demand.”

The Howard Beach community really turned out to help as shoppers continued to drop food off in a steady stream throughout the day. By the end of the event, $200 was raised in cash and dozens of boxes were continually loaded onto the successfully stuffed school bus.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the bus left to return to OLG where pantry coordinators Jeanie Ruvolo and Kathy Pascarella waited anxiously with volunteers to see the day’s haul. Smiles were plentiful when the bus rolled up and opened its doors, revealing hundreds of cans, boxes of cereal, pasta, sugar, flour, gravy and other non-perishable items to stock the bare shelves.

The pantry staff was worried that the drastically low food supply would stop them from feeding neighborhood families for Thanksgiving. “This last month we checked our figures over and over because we could not believe how many families had come for help this month,” said Ruvolo.

Organizers were in total shock when after reviewing records they saw that they had assisted more than 600 families in the last month, up from just over 400 in the prior month. “This response is just what we needed. It never fails to amaze you that just when you think people won’t be able to help, they show up in full force and give whatever they can. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.”

As the holiday season gets closer we urge our readers to participate in similar events throughout our readership area. Ongoing efforts include food drives sponsored by local elected officials. Contact the offices of Assemblyman Mike Miller at 718-805-0950 and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer at 718-383-9076 for more information on how you can help feed the hungry.

Vendors Nervous Over Fate of Aqueuct Flea Market

By Eric Yun

The long-term fate of the flea market currently based at Aqueduct Racetrack has become a hot topic, with vendors arguing the influx of jobs the Ozone Park community will receive does not mean others should be loosing their livelihood.

Genting New York is preparing to build a racino called Resorts World New York at Aqueduct Racetrack. The project is expected to create approximately 1,300 temporary construction jobs and 800 permanent casino jobs.

But the new development could put thousands of jobs at risk. The flea market at Aqueduct operates three times a week and hosts more than 1,000 vendors.

Genting officials have said that the flea market will continue through December, at which point they will evaluate all their options.

At last month’s Community Board 10 meeting, flea market vendors spoke about their tenuous hold on their jobs. The vendors asked CB 10 for some help. Darrel Sukhdeo, representing the Association of Vendors, asked if the board could help facilitate a meeting with Genting and New York Racing Association (NYRA) officials. The vendors want to find some coexistence and remain at Aqueduct.

Vendor Yvonne Kissoon has worked at the flea market for 24 years. “The neighborhood depends on us as much as we depend on them,” she told the crowd at the board meeting. The cheap products offered at the market are essential for lower income residents and a great deal for everybody, said Kissoon.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has said that she would attempt to help the flea market if they can’t stay at Aqueduct.

At the meeting, Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10, said the issue is a very complex situation involving leases with NYRA and Plain and Fancy, which operates the market. She said Genting and other local politicians are aware of the situation, and they will continue to work to find some solution.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: A View Inside Customer Service (or the lack of it)

By Patricia Adams

Can you imagine a day in which the best part was having a double root canal? This week, The Forum looks at how local business can break—or make your day.

It all began with my dentist making a referral to an edodontist for me to get an over the top, complex root canal. Setting aside my gripping aversion to dentistry in any form, I reluctantly made an appointment with Dr. Mitchell Greenberg.

No stranger to the parking nightmares in Forest Hills, I was comforted by the fact that Sylvan Garage was directly across the street from Dr. Greenberg’s office. I entered on Austin Street and made my way to the “Pull Here and Stop” sign. I got out, got my ticket and headed for the elevator. Riding up to the lobby I tried to console myself—it wouldn’t be that bad. Even children go for a root canal all the time.

Once in the office I waited only for about five minutes before I was called in for x-rays. It was starting-- I could feel the dental fears mounting. Dr. Greenberg appeared right away and after looking at the x-ray he informed me of the good news...and the bad. Although my teeth could definitely be saved, I would have to undergo not one, but two root canals. Paralyzed by fear, I reluctantly agreed to proceed.

Three shots of Novocain later, I started to get a crazy idea that this wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Dr. Greenberg had a kind of calming effect on me and he seemed to be very relaxed and confident in what he was doing. Not only did he not have traditional dentist music piping over the sound system—he    was    singing along    with    Cindy    Lauper.

In about thirty minutes, the dental chair was being raised back into the upright position and I had reached the rinse stage. Hallelujah! I was still alive and going to keep two very important back teeth.    This was going to be a banner day. I scheduled the next two follow-up appointments and was on my way—in the cold and rain, to the very convenient parking garage right across the street. I was going home. And as for Dr. Greenberg, well he is a keeper.

I approached the desk to pay, and even smiled at the attendant as I held out the ticket. He returned a small, reluctant smile. “There is a problem with your car.” Pausing, he waited for me to say something—OK, I’ll bite.

“What seems to be the problem,” I asked non- chalantly—this root canal had apparently had a very calming effect on me. “Your car is not drivable; the front axle is broken.” He continued, “Now, you have a problem. You have to get your car out of here as soon as possible. You need to get a tow truck. And make sure you get a small tow truck because a big one will not fit down here.”

OK, let’s get this straight- - I leave my perfectly fine car in this parking garage for less than an hour and now it’s un-drivable. Trying to stay calm, it occurred to me that if I drove it in with no problem and now I can’t drive it out, it should not be my problem.

I took the elevator upstairs make my phone calls since there was no service in the underground garage. The first number I called was Sonny’s Collision and Towing. I explained what had happened and was advised to call both the police and my insurance company. A voice at the other end of the phone asked how I was and assured me he’d get the truck I needed there right away.

Next up on the call list was Geico. I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I turned around, my eyes met with those of the building’s security guard. “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building. We don’t allow loitering here.”

Loitering? I just came from the basement of your building where my car was destroyed. It’s cold. It’s raining. I just had two root canals.

Loitering? I thought it all but never said a word. The guard said, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m just”—I cut him off, “Yes, I know you’re just doing your job.” I headed for the door.

Once outside, I noticed a Duane Reade. I went inside and got coffee from a kiosk. I would finish the calls from here. I found a place to sit on a ledge outside the drugstore. I called the corporate office of Sylvan Garage and asked for the manager. He wasn’t in. Call back after 2:30. I explained why I was calling. “Oh,” said the receptionist, “you can call him back but we are not responsible for mechanical damage.” “No problem,” I answered, “this isn’t mechanical. It’s structural. And you are definitely responsible,” — another tap on the shoulder. I knew this time before turning around it was the security guard. These buildings were connected. I was loitering again.

Back outside, my phone rang. It was Pete, from Sonny’s. He had arrived and would meet me back downstairs. I started to feel better. We were getting out of here. There would be no more loitering.
I got downstairs within two minutes and stood waiting for my tow truck driver in shining armor. I saw the attendant approaching. “I just heard from my tow company,” I explained. “They will be right here.” I felt a slight pinch. The Novocain was starting to wear off.
“He is already upstairs,” the attendant informed me, “we are waiting to let him in.” “What the hell are you waiting for?” I demanded. The attendant replied, “We can’t release your car until you pay the $12 for parking.”

I reached into my pocket and handed over a ten and two singles. The attendant looked at me as though there were something else to come. Despite the days events, I decided to have a little fun with this guy. “Are you looking at me as though I should give you a tip? I asked. “Because I’ll give you a tip: five years ago I would have gone into the trunk of my car and found something to bludgeon you with after what you did to my car. But because of the benefit of years of therapy, I’m going to let you slide. This is your lucky day. Now how’s that for a tip.”

Ten minutes later after some expert maneuvering, my battered Infiniti was on the hook. Yes on a hook, not a flatbed—it really didn’t matter. The parking attendant had taken out the front bumper and both tires as he broke the axle.

We got to Sonny’s about 15 minutes later. Follow-up calls were made to my insurance company and arrangements for a rental car were made. My car was secure, the insurance company was on board, I was getting picked up by Enterprise, and the whole process took about 20 minutes. I started to think about the big difference great customer service can make. I was no longer feeling victimized or outraged. And Sonny’s—oh yes, another keeper. It’s now 2- 1 for local business good service over bad.

On the way to Enterprise I toyed with the idea of possibly encountering a trifecta of good service in local business. I decided not to factor in the hour I had to wait for the pick-up and I chalked the delay up to the bad weather.

But reality overcame my optimism, the Novocain had definitely worn off, and I knew what to expect—I had been forced into renting from Enterprise on several other occasions. My experiences were all bad. The only saving grace is that someone from Sonny’s always stepped in to handle their ineptness.

This time was no different. Despite the fact that I had rental coverage from Geico, I needed to leave a major credit card on file for a “just in case” deposit. No problem—I handed over a business credit card. “I’m sorry, we can’t use this card,” manager Chris said. “It doesn’t have your name on the front.” “That’s because it’s a business account,” I explained, “but see here’s my signature on the back.” I knew that any further pursuit of this discussion would be futile. I inquired about alternatives. I offered cash—not acceptable. “Well you can get a money order around the corner. We can take that.” The rain had stopped, I walked around the block to get the money order.

In less than 10 minutes I was back at the Enterprise office, money order in hand, thinking now I’ve got it. I’ll be out of here in a flash. “Ok,” manager Chris said. “Your car is all ready.” As we walked out to the lot things began to lose their luster as we approached a vehicle not at all fitting the description of what I agreed to rent.

“Oh,” said manager Chris, “didn’t I mention that with a money order deposit you can’t rent a vehicle valued over $30,000.” Actually no, you didn’t mention that. “Look Chris, I am nearing the end of my patience so here’s what we are going to do. I am going to take this vehicle back to my house to pick up a major credit card with my name on it. When I get back here you are going to have the car I chose ready and waiting for me to leave right?” I wondered how imposing I sounded as I drove home for the card.

The day had started with a 9 a.m. appointment. It was nearing 3 p.m. and no trace of the Novocain remained. My tooth was thumping, my head was pounding and I longed to be back in the dental chair. Back at Enterprise in 15 minutes, I smirked at manager Chris as I waived a major credit card bearing my name. “Take the deposit off this and give me back the money order so I can get out of here.” The absurd continues—“I can’t give you the money order back because I already stamped the back of it with Pay to the Order of Enterprise. You’ll have to post another deposit and get everything back in the end.”

That was it. I was defeated for the day and gave way to corporate customer abuse. I allowed the double deposit and climbed dejectedly into my “over $30,000” rental car. I finally got home at 4:15 p.m.
Fast forward to three weeks later, when I picked up my own car at Sonny’s a few days ago. It looks as though it just left the showroom-- an absolutely perfect job. Someone from the shop returned the rental for me. I couldn’t have faced another encounter of the Enterprise kind so soon. At the end of last
week, I made my second visit to Dr. Greenberg. The repeat performance proved equally as good as the last—look at me, I’m loving my root canals.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tale about my experience in running the gamut in the local-world of customer service. In this little tale about the difference in local business, the Oh So Ugly, Sylvan Garage, maintains as ridiculous as it may seem, that the car was already damaged when it was brought in. Geico is suing them for total responsibility.

The Bad, which could actually be known as the Worst, is Enterprise Rent-a-Car. They have earned this dubious distinction for consistently failing to make the customer experience even remotely tolerable.

The Good definitely describes my experience with Dr. Greenberg as well as Sonny’s Auto Body and Collision which could be deemed the Best in this saga.

It’s nice to know that there are still some businesses and professional practices where customers are treated with respect and where great service is a given. They deserve our business and a nod of approval for a job well done. As for the other end of the spectrum, the onus is on us to demand quality service and professional treatment.

As with all other stories, there is a moral to this one-- the next time you need root canal, take a cab to the dentist’s office.

Former Glendale Teacher Charged in White Powder Mailings

By Eric Yun

A disgruntled former PS 91 teacher decided to get her revenge for a poor performance review by mailing former colleagues a white powdery substance through the mail, according to federal authorities. The FBI charged Anna Catalanotto on October 28 for sending more than 20 powder-laced letters concluding a five-month investigation.

According to the criminal complaint, Catalanotto, who lives on Madison Street in Ridgewood, contacted the FBI in June to complain about several people she believed to be selling drugs in the neighborhood. At a follow-up interview, she also charged that the men were grave robbers who were responsible for the disappearance of her dead father’s body. During this interview, Catalanotto also implicated a Howard Beach woman for selling narcotics.

Shortly following this interview, the FBI noticed a connection between Catalanotto and mysterious packages with a powdery substance that was being mailed to residents in Queens and Long Island.
On September 17, a woman opened an envelope addressed to her husband. The letter contained a Jewish star and the words “Hungarian Connection” and contained a white powder, which upon testing revealed was not hazardous. The letter was purported to have been sent by one of the first men Catalanotto had implicated as a drug dealer to the FBI.

In October, a string of powdered-filled letters arrived in Queens. Letters were sent to various locations in Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village and Ridgewood. PS 91 in Glendale also reported a suspicious letter delivered on October 14. In all instances, given the potential hazards of a suspicious letter with an unidentified powder, law enforcement had to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the recipient, investigators and surrounding community.

A big break in the investigation occurred when an anonymous tip to NYPD Crime Stoppers alleged that Catalanotto was the culprit of the mailings. The tipster claimed Catalanotto, who had retired from PS 91 with an unsatisfactory rating, used the letters to get back at the principal and former colleagues responsible for her poor rating and for picking on her.

Furthermore, the FBI interviewed a recipient of the powdered letters in October. The victim, a teacher with Catalanotto at PS 87, accused Catalanotto of sending the packages, and he told the FBI that he had begun receiving threatening letters and phone calls since 2001, when Catalanotto accused him of sleeping with her mother. From June 2010, the victim claims he received four suspicious cards that threatened his friends and himself.

All told, the FBI investigated approximately 22 letters sent by U.S. mail that contained white powder since September. In the vast majority of these cases, the intended recipient was acquainted with Catalanotto through PS 91.

Finally, on October 25, FBI in- vestigators conducted surveillance on Catalanotto’s home. They observed a woman believed to be Catalanotto leave the apartment and deposit several envelopes at a nearby mailbox. Working with the US Postal Service, investigators seized and examined the contents of the mailbox and found 13 letters that contained either a powder or bore similar characteristics to previous letters Catalanotto allegedly sent.

Catalanotto is currently in federal custody and has been ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if she had the mental capacity to withstand trial.

Local Man Goes Missing: Family Asks for Help in Finding Missing Alzheimer Patient

By Patricia Adams

The family of Giuseppe Russo is continuing to lead an exhausting search for the Howard Beach resident who went missing from his home last week. Russo suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and emphysema and was last seen by a neighbor near his house on 89th Street and 160th Avenue around 4:30 p.m. last Thursday.
Maria Ingrassia and her brother Frank Russo

“My father loved to take walks,” Russo’s daughter, Maria Inglassia told The Forum and NY1 in an interview at her parents home on Tuesday. “He likes to get a sandwich at Sugar Bun.” But the walks had dwindled over the last seven months since his diagnosis and he rarely leaves the house now.

His wife, Maria Russo, said she last saw her husband around 12:30 in the afternoon before she left the house to go back to work. “He was going to have his lunch and coffee. Everything was fine.” Now she fears for her husband of 35 years, despite the fact that he was improving since he started on a medication program. “He was getting better because of the medicine. There was a big difference.” But Joseph left his house with no money, no phone, no wallet, no identification—and most importantly no medication. Now his family fears that he will likely be in an agitated state without his Alzheimer meds and could be unable to breathe without his inhaler.

The family has been searching, with the help of other family members, friends and volunteers since the disappearance on Thursday. Hospitals throughout the tri-state were contacted. More than 4,000 flyers with his description and picture have been posted in Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, and Belle Harbor. The search area was extended to parts of Brooklyn including Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay, East New York and Canarsie, where the Russo’s made their home before coming to Howard Beach a little more than 10 years ago.

“Our father loves the water and likes to fish,” explained youngest son, Frank Russo. “That is why we are concentrating on areas near the water and places he may feel comfortable.” One of Joseph’s favorite places is the fishing pier along the Belt Parkway in Canarsie.

A coordinated effort by detectives at the 106th Precinct included a K-9 search, aviation flyovers of the immediate area and a harbor unit water search. On Saturday afternoon, the United Federation of Black Cowboys responded to a request made by The Forum to join in a search on horseback along the shoreline and through difficult to reach areas in the weeds.

“This is a prime example of how this community comes together whenever the need rises,” said Pat McCabe speaking on behalf of state Sen. Joe Addabbo. “Our office reached out to The Forum and the supplementary search efforts began to come together quickly.”

Councilmember Eric Ulrich provided the family with help securing surveillance videos from local business and was instrumental in coordinating efforts to get the word out at all Sunday masses in local parishes.

Various tips have been phoned in, with the most recent that Russo was seen at Modell’s Sporting Goods store near the junction of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. However, after reviewing a section of the store’s video tape, no positive identification could be made.

“We are so grateful for everyone’s help in trying to find my father,” a tearful Maria Ingrassia said. “I’m begging you; if you see him just hold him until the police get there. Please we need your help. We’ve got to find him.” The family is offering a generous reward for anyone who helps with the safe return of Joseph Russo.

Ingrassia made a point to say that without having taken his meds, her father might have returned to a confused, agitated state that is common in Alzheimer patients. “He also might look unkempt because his beard will have grown in. I urge people not to be frightened and just to remember he’s ill. And he’s a father. He’s a great father. He’s my father.”

Editorial: A Proud Veteran Speaks...

Every day, from the time I open my eyes until I close them at night, I am constantly aware of one thing that fills me with pride—I am a veteran. Like so many others, I made a conscious choice to raise my hand and swear an oath to protect and defend the United States of America.

While I am always reminded of this, November 11th is the one day we set aside to, as a nation, thank all of those who served. What started as an observance of the end of "The Great War," Armistice Day soon became Veterans Day, where we collectively step back, and say thank you.

It has been said that wherever there has been evil in the world, there will always be those to fight against it. From the Hindenburg Line, to the forests of Bastogne, Incheon, and the Ia Drang Valley, men stood up and did what was asked of them. And now, nearly 100 years since the beginning of WWI, our nation's men and women have been fighting in the streets of Baghdad, and the mountains of Afghanistan. I was in Baghdad in 2006, and more recently in Afghanistan, returning just this past August. It seems like an entire lifetime since I first joined the Army, yet at the same time, it feels just like yesterday.

After 9/11 I did my best to volunteer and help out in any way I could. To hear the names of those we lost and see the look on the faces of my family seemed almost unbearable. At that time I had no idea where my life would take me. My father told me the Army Rangers and Green Berets were going to get all the ones responsible for the attack. I started to settle back into normal life when our nation first went into Iraq. I remember at the time thinking, how are we going to fight on two fronts without more soldiers? I remember sitting on my couch at home, watching the bombs fall on Baghdad as if it were some movie; news correspondents giving initial reports next to the soldiers going street by street. I couldn't stomach the thought of sitting in the comfort of my house, watching other young men bear this incredible weight. It was then that I made the decision that would set me on a new path in life. I was going to sign up and do what my country needed to be done. If others are out there on the front lines sacrificing so much to protect all this country has given us, then why can't I?

Without telling my family, I went into Manhattan to the Times Square recruiting station, walked right up to the Army booth, and told the Sergeant "sign me up and send me over". I did so in secret because if my family had found out, they would have tied me up, or shackled me to a pipe—anything just to keep me safe. I understood how anxious they were; I'm the father of a two-year- old daughter, and the thought of her growing up and saying she wanted to go to war would prompt me to drive her to Canada or take her to live with my cousin in Ireland. But it all comes down to one thing—the same as so many others in years past—I did what needed to be done.

I spent months in some of the most rigorous training the military has to offer. I went through the intense process of shaping my mind and body from that of a civilian into a soldier. I learned how to tactically maneuver against enemy positions, collect intelligence and take the fight to those who brought war home to New York City. I have operated in two of the most dangerous environments ever, and I’ve put myself in harms way to protect my family, my city, and my country.

Through all the danger and uncertainty I always relied upon the one skill that has always made the difference in combat—the ability to adapt and overcome. In World War II members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion were tested with Point Du Hoc in Normandy, they climbed it. When groups of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Division got scattered throughout France the night leading up to D-Day, they banded together and took out key Nazi defenses by memorizing every inch of the drop zone in the weeks before. Even though they were separated from main units, they were never lost, and through their resolve and determination began turning the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Many of these offensive tactics that were at the time done “on the fly” became standard procedure and are taught to today in military courses around the country.

Every step I took while I was overseas these men were with me. Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, when I meet these men, I don’t see a man in his 80’s, a part of the “Greatest Generation”. I see the 19-year-old kid who flew bombing missions over Germany. I see the young Marine who island-hopped through Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and so many others in the Pacific. These men are living testaments to the dedication and resolve of the American spirit. Even for my fellow brothers and sisters who never entered a combat zone also deserve the respect and admiration of the citizens they faithfully served.

To commit yourself to the service of the country, not only in a time of war, but also in peacetime takes an extraordinary amount of courage and fortitude. In between, during all the conflicts of the past century we have always had our men and women ready to go at a moments notice to defend our way of life. If anything else, all you need do is look around to see all the reasons why we stand strong.
Our country and our city serve as a beacon of light to the rest of the world. We are a diverse group from every corner of the globe, longing for freedom. A freedom maintained by generations of those willing to put themselves in harms way for the greater good.

I sincerely thank all of my fellow veterans who inspired me, guided me, and gave me the opportunity to take a stand in our country’s time of need. God Bless New York City, and God Bless the United States of America. Happy Veterans Day.

SGT Sean McCabe, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Sean McCabe is a lifelong resident of Ozone Park. He recently completed his final tour in Afghanistan. Sean is married to Melanie Castellano of Whitestone. The couple has one daughter, 2-year-old Kiera. Sean is preparing to take exams for the NYPD and the FDNY.

Newtown Creek Settlement Could Fund Park at St. Saviour's

By Eric Yun

Years of rampant pollution and mismanagement at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant will soon pay off for the surrounding community, and possibly provide funds for the local projects such as a public park at the former St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth.

In 2008, the city and state reached a landmark agreement to bring the plant, the city’s largest treatment facility, to federal environmental compliance. As part of that agreement, $10 million was allocated for environmental benefit projects, and the City Parks Foundation was chosen to establish a process to determine what the community wants before the state Department of Environmental Conservation makes a selection.

After careful deliberation, planning and public hearings, the City Parks Foundation has narrowed the proposed list of projects to 26 possibilities. While the majority of the projects center around Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where the plant is located, there are several projects focused in Queens.

Chief among the Queens project is creating a park at the former church site, an idea that has been discussed for years. As recently as this September’s Community Board 5 meeting, Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, made a case for the city to buy the land and create a public park. Other plans for the site, which activists including Wilkinson and the Juniper Park Civic Association fought against, called for residential houses or warehouses to be built on the land.

The proposal to use the Newtown Creek funds to create a park at the site was given a “B” grade at the City Parks Foundation’s October 28 public hearing. The project is possible, but faces challenges because the government does not own the site.

“We could secure all the funding and the owner could say I don’t really want to sell it,” said David Ravel, City Parks Foundation spokesman. “It’s contingent on something else.” Other projects call for updates to existing parkland, which the foundation knows they can immediately begin work on.

Ravel said building a park at St. Saviour’s is difficult but possible. He has had discussions with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office, and the cost of the land has been estimated at $7 million to $8 million. Crowley (D-Middle Village), Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and others have secured approximately $3.5 million for the project.

With these funds, after the purchase of the land, “we would have about $3 million to develop the land,” Ravel said. They would attempt to attract additional funding, but Ravel said that would occur with almost all projects.

The City Parks Foundation will open outreach centers in Brooklyn and Queens to take community input on the projects.

Cross Harbor Plan Revived

By Eric Yun

The controversial Cross Harbor Freight Program is once again picking up steam. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been contemplating several solutions to improve traffic and delivery of goods across New York Harbor.

Local residents will get the chance to listen to the new developments and give their input at next week’s Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst (COMET) meeting.

The Port Authority had developed a plan to build a tunnel beneath New York Harbor to connect New Jersey, New York City and Long Island. Included in the plan was creating an intermodal station in Maspeth.

The station would have allowed freight trains from other states to delivering goods to Queens, and then transferred to trucks at the Maspeth rail yard to various areas in the city and Long Island. This would have created immense traffic issues in Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Sunnyside and Hunters Point.

Community residents heavily criticized the plans arguing, their neighborhoods could not handle any more rail or truck traffic. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed the plan and the program was put aside.

Now, the Port Authority is arguing that something must be done and have reopened public hearings and environmental studies to get something accomplished.

Given the previous idea for the Cross Harbor Freight Program, local residents are afraid that any implementation of the program will lead to increased traffic and pollution.

Port Authority officials will give a public presentation at the next Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) on Tuesday, November 16 at 61-57 Maspeth Avenue at 7:00 P.M. Residents are encouraged to attend to listen to the presentation and give feedback.

Maspeth Battles Burglaries

A string of home burglaries in Maspeth has residents worried about their safety. There have been eight burglaries in that neighborhood last month, and in Woodside there have been three burglaries in the past few weeks.

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET), says residents have to be vigilant and alert to help police catch the burglars. She added that it’s important for residents to look out for suspicious activity or individuals on the block.

“It’s up to the residents to keep an eye out,” Daraio said. “The neighbors know who live in the neighborhood.”

COMET has alerted “block captains,” who work to alert their surrounding neighbors
about the string of burglaries.

“If I was a robber, if I was successful on one block, I’d try again because the neighborhood doesn’t care,” Daraio said. By keeping the neighborhood on alert, she’s optimistic that the culprits will be caught.

Daraio understands that if there were eight burglaries in Maspeth, it likely means there are even more occurring in Ridgewood, Middle Village and surrounding areas. However, she feels her neighborhood is just as important.

“The [104] Precinct doesn’t have the manpower to handle it. It’s just a fact of life,” Daraio said. That’s why she believes it’s up to the residents to watch who is leaving and entering the area and call 911 with any sign of suspicious activity.

Como and Padavan Concede Senate Bids

Two Republican state Senate hopefuls who initially vowed to challenge election results ended their bids. Anthony Como was defeated by Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) in the Senate’s 15th District while longtime Senator Frank Padavan (R- Bellerose) was defeated by former City Councilman Tony Avella in the Senate’s 11th District.

On Election Day, Como, citing serious discrepancies in the numbers, did not concede to Addabbo. Padavan went a step further and filed a complaint in Queens Civil Courthouse to impound the voting machines.

Como, who by unofficial results was down more than 5,000 votes, released a statement on Monday announcing the end of his candidacy.

“It was important to me that every vote be properly counted and although there are remaining discrepancies with some of the machines, it is in the best interest of the community that we move forward and put politics aside,” Como said.

Como congratulated Addabbo and hoped that the issues he campaigned for is not forgotten.

Unofficial tallies showed Padavan down by more than 3,000 votes, and a report on Capital Tonight suggests that voting discrepancies pushed the total to 5,000 in favor of Avella. Padavan decided to drop his complaint and concede.

“It has been a deep honor to serve my country and city and a privilege to serve as a New York State Senator for nearly four decades,” Padavan said in a statement. “Earlier today, I officially ended my pursuit for another term in the State Senate. The voters of the 11th Senate District have spoken and now our community heads in a new direction.”

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

The 11th Senate District includes Queens Village, Flushing, Bayside, Whitestone, Douglaston, Little Neck, College Point, Bellerose, Hollace, Jamaica Estates, Floral Park and Glenn Oaks.

Weiner Hails Increased Loans for Small Businesses

The past year’s economic climate has not been kind to small business owners. But struggling owners have found that it is now simpler to get a federal loan in New York City.

A study released by Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) showed federal small business loans in the city were up 45 percent compared with the prior year. In Queens, the loans were up almost $20 million, a 41 percent increase.

With the exception of Staten Island, every borough saw significant gains in small business lending. Leading the pack was the Bronx, which saw a whopping 62 percent increase in the amount of money received by small businesses, or $9,980,500 in additional funds in 2010. Manhattan businesses experienced the biggest bump in the number of loans received, from 239 loans in 2009 to 376 loans in 2010 –
a 57 percent increase.

Weiner has fought for Queens’ small businesses for years. In the past two years, Weiner has supported the 2009 Recovery Act, which made it easier for banks to offer SBA loans to small business owners, the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act, which strengthened the Recovery Act and provided $12 billion in new tax cuts for small businesses, and the 2010 Small Business Job Act, which provides tax credits for businesses that hires unemployed workers and retains the employees for a full year.

“Small businesses are the backbone of New York City’s economy, and they have borne the brunt of our nation’s recent downturn,” Weiner said. “The increase in loans to small businesses is extremely encouraging, because access to credit is vital to helping these businesses get back on their feet and putting Americans back to work.”

Klein Quits as School Chief

After eight years, which marks the longest tenure ever, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein has stepped down from his position. Under Klein’s leadership, graduation rates increased, crime in school decreased and the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts was narrowed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Cathleen Black, a savvy business leader who was the former president of Hearst Magazine and widely credited with building USA Today into an unprecedented success. She will become the first female Schools Chancellor.

“I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg for giving me the best job of my life and for being there every step of the way in the effort to improve education for our students,” said Klein. “Public schools in New York City changed my own life and it has been a rare privilege to serve the kids and families of this city during the past eight years. I am thrilled that the Mayor has selected Cathie Black, a distinguished leader, to move this work forward.”

“Joel Klein’s extraordinary service to the 1.1 million children and young adults who attend our public schools has secured him a place as a landmark, transformational civic leader in our City’s long history – but for some time now, I’ve known that he was ready to move on,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

“Cathie Black is a superstar manager who has succeeded spectacularly in the private sector. She is brilliant, she is innovative, she is driven – and there is virtually nobody who knows more about the needs of the 21st century workforce for which we need to prepare our kids,” he continued.

Black is thrilled to be appointed and is ready to continue Klein’s legacy.

“Our schools are vastly better than they were just eight years ago when the Mayor took office and Chancellor Klein joined his Administration,” said Black. “Their passion for improving the educational opportunities of our students has lifted the bar higher than anyone could ever have imagined, and my main goal will be to build on the work that has been accomplished during the Bloomberg Administration, and Chancellor Klein’s tenure.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Howard Beach Affordable Housing Project Moving Forward: Details of Plan for Former Fineson Center Unveiled

By Eric Yun

Affordable senior housing is on its way to becoming a reality at the old Bernard Fineson Developmental Center on Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach. Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens was awarded the contract in June 2009 to renovate and rebuild the center for senior apartments.

John Tynan, Director of Housing for Catholic Charities, gave a presentation to the Howard Beach community about the status of the building Wednesday night at St. Helens.

The new complex will feature 96 housing units. Twelve of the apartments will be set aside for the developmentally disabled, and there will be a live in super. This leaves 83 units for seniors, which are broken down into 27 studio apartments and 56 one-bedroom apartments.

The facility is designed for independent living. “It is not a nursing home or assisted living facility,” Tynan said. However, Tynan understands that “once in a while seniors will need some help” because of sicknesses or injuries. He is confident that in these circumstances the integrated services at Catholic Charities will help provide the necessary assistance.

Seniors who wish to get a unit at the new center must follow the application process, which was explained in detail. Six months before the completion of construction, Catholic Charities will advertise that the applications will be accepted. Applicants must write a letter requesting an application, and finished applications will be reviewed to ensure the senior meets the age, disability and income eligibility. Finally, there is an interview session to determine if the prospective candidate is the best fit for the apartment.

Seniors living in the Community Board 10 district will get priority. “For the lifetime of this project Board 10 will have a 50 percent preference,” Tynan said. That means at least 42 of the 83 units will be filled with seniors from the district.

Catholic Charities is hoping to get development underway by June. However, there is still a budget deficit to overcome. The expected cost is $29.415 million, and Catholic Charities has received $18.855 million from tax credits and city and state officials such as Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Queens Borough Hall President Helen Marshall.

Another $7.31 million is anticipated through grants, private loans and state subsidies. This still leaves a budget gap of $3.25 million, but Tynan is confident that it can be overcome and no further delays are necessary.

As the process continues to move forward, Tynan and CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton assured the audience that they would know everything that is happening. “We will continue to disseminate information like we have been in the past,” Braton said.

The community seems ready to turn an unused site into a worthwhile building for seniors. “I feel very good about this. I want to get an apartment,” one member of the audience said.

Election Result Roundup

By Eric Yun

The national Republican Party had a great day Tuesday, as they are projected to gain more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, but Democrats did most of the celebrating in New York State, where the anti-incumbency fervor didn’t seem to have a large impact.

Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo received 62 percent of the vote easily defeating Republican challenger Carl Paladino in the race for governor. State Senator Eric Schneiderman (D- Manhattan) defeated Republican Dan Donovan, Staten Island’s District Attorney, for Cuomo’s vacated Attorney General position, by a margin of 55 to 44 percent. In the closest of the statewide races, Democrat Thomas DiNapoli held on to his Comptroller seat defeating Harry Wilson 50 to 47 percent. DiNapoli had been appointed to that position when former Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned in scandal.

Nationally, Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand cruised to expected victories. Schumer defeated Jay Townsend by a 66 to 33 percent margin, and Gillibrand defeated Joseph DioGuardi 61 to 36 percent.

Republicans did pick up several seats in the House. Michael Grimm defeated Michael McMahon 51 to 48 percent in Congressional District 13, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Other Democratic incumbents that fell were Rep. John Hall who was defeated by Nan Hayworth, Rep. Scott Murphy who was defeated by Christopher Gibson and Rep. Michael Arcuri, who was defeated by Richard Hanna.

Republicans still have an outside shot to take over the State Senate. Control of the Senate will be crucial as the legislature redistricts the state for Congressional and state legislative seats. Two freshman Democratic Senators were defeated in Suffolk County and upstate New York, but longtime Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) was upset by former City Councilman Tony Avella. There are still three upstate races that remain too close to call, but it appears the Senate could be split 31-31.