Thursday, July 29, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Medical Facility Opens At JFK Airport

General Manager of JFK Airport Gerry Spomponato cuts the ribbon at JFK Advanced Medical as Assemblyman William Scarborough (left) and Dr. Raymond Kayume and Dr. David Rosenthal (right) look on.

By Eric Yun

JFK Advanced Medical held a grand opening ceremony for a new 4,800 square-foot facility at John F. Kennedy Airport. The ribbon cutting celebrated the opening of the facility, which occurred several weeks ago, and commemorated JFK Advanced Medical’s new part- nership with the MediSys Health Network, which in- cludes Jamaica and Flushing Hospitals.

At the ceremony, Dr. David Rosenthal, Practice Manager of JFK Advanced Medical, thanked the community and airport staff for supporting the facility. He also thanked his employees for “making [the center] run like its been running for 15 years.”

Michael Hinck, associate director of Jamaica Hospital, said he is happy with the partnership. “We're very happy to support them, and we'll help provide what- ever services they can't.”

There aren't many things JFK Advanced Medical can’t handle. It comes equipped with an emergency room and seven examination rooms. The medical equipment includes digital X-ray machines, electrocardiogram (EKG) machines and other devices.

The two practice managers, Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Raymond Kayume, have years of medical experience at JFK Airport. Both worked with the previous medical center at JFK, which was affiliated with St. Vincent's and St. John's Hospital.

Located at the airport, the majority of the services offered will help the employees of JFK. Physicals and drug and alcohol testing is offered. The center also boasts physical therapy and rehabilitation services for injured workers.

Travelers will also find uses for JFK Advanced Medical. With JFK Airport being a major hub of international travel, a wide variety of travel immunization and medicine services are of- fered. Immigration physicals are also given at the facility.

With medical facilities closing because of the current economic climate, the doctors are thrilled they were able to open a center that can help a large amount of people each day.

“I'm happy we can help not only the airport but the surrounding community as well,” Dr. Kayume said. “We rightfully should be in the airport.”

City to Appeal 9/11 Memorial Ruling

By Patricia Adams

Captain James J. Corrigan served with the FDNY for 25 years before retiring in March 1994. Following his retirement, he accepted the position as Fire and Life Safety Coordinator at the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001, Corrigan led the excavation of children from a day care center at the Trade Center and then offered his help to the FDNY. He was last seen working alongside Battalion Chief Joseph Grezelek in the South Tower trying to establish communications and instruct FDNY units to evacuate when the tower collapsed.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Corrigan’s wife Marie and her two sons, Sean and Brendan, attempted to get her husband listed under FDNY in The National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation. The FDNY’s refusal to that request came as a great shock to the family.

The department argued that because Corrigan was not on active duty, he was not entitled to the same honors as active firefighters.

A legal battle ensued centering on a 2002 law allowing the families of retired firefighters who died at the World Trade Center to be given the same economic benefits as active duty firefighters. Also, the law states that retired firefighters like Corrigan were “as of Sep- tember 11, 2001 to have been fully reinstated to full active employment status, at their highest achieved rank and status.”

Marie Corrigan and her sons believe that since the legislation reinstated her husband as an active duty firefighter, he is entitled to the same merits and awards as other firefighters who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.

The FDNY contends retired firefighters who died in firerelated activity have never been honored in the same manner as active duty personnel. Furthermore, they believe the law is being misinterpreted: it was passed to provide economic benefits, not awards or merits—or memorials.

But on Monday afternoon, Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled that Corrigan’s name belongs on the memorial.

“While this court hesitates to become embroiled in the internal decisions of the FDNY regarding a matter of such a sensitive nature,” Agate wrote. “There is simply no rational basis for the FDNY’s position herein given the circumstances of Captain Corrigan’s death, the legislation enacted thereafter, and the FDNY’s own manner of honoring and acknowledging his sacrifice.”

Agate noted many instances where FDNY treated Corrigan as a firefighter who died under active duty. Corrigan is listed on the FDNY’s website’s 9/11 memorial page, and his name was included in the FDNY Memorial Service in Madison Square Garden on October 12, 2002.

And when Corrigan’s sons both left their private sector jobs to take the FDNY entrance exam after their father’s death, they were given a legacy credit on their exams, which is only given if a parent is killed during active duty.

Given the circumstances, Agate ruled the FDNY’s decision to not include Corrigan in their memorial was “arbitrary and capricious,” and ruled he should be listed under FDNY.

From her home in Bayside, Marie Corrigan told The Forum what the decision means to her and her family. “This decision allows us to move forward. I think Justice Agate got it right on.” She went on to say that the judges ruling addressed all the critical points of the issue especially in responding to the FDNY’s view on the matter.

But the Corrigan family’s temporary relief was halted on Tuesday afternoon when Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that he planned to appeal the judge’s decision.

"We're not going to reopen this. We'll fight this in court," Bloomberg said. The decision made by Justice Agate could reverse years of negotiations on how to list victims’ names. Now, Bloomberg says the plans for a Ground Zero Memorial set to open on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011 could be delayed. "If you want to delay the memorial for a couple of years, you start opening it up and revisit everybody. You're never going to make everybody happy."

Speaking about the city’s decision to appeal Justice Agate’s decision, Marie Corrigan said, “Obviously I’m very disappointed. But we will continue to go forward and do whatever we have to.” Continuing on she said, “One of the most important things involved here is that my husband was returned to active duty status in 2002. The refusal to recognize that is a clear violation of an existing law.”

Marie Corrigan was quick to respond to the mayor’s remarks about the possible delay to the opening of the memorial,. “It’s the city’s choice to contest the decision that was made. We’ve already been to court. A 2002 law supports us. The judge has ruled in our favor. Any delay has nothing to do with the court’s decision-- it has to do with the city. The ball is in their court.”

R. James DeRose III, an attorney for Marie Corrigan, also spoke out about the mayor’s decision. "We urge Mayor Bloomberg and the heads of the FDNY to give Captain Corrigan the honor he is due as a hero who gave his life for the city, rather than insisting that they do not need to follow the law of New York state, the decision of the New York courts and what is morally correct,"

Former City Councilmember Tony Avella says he has worked with the family for years. “I'm flabbergasted he [Bloomberg] and the city continue to fight this. The city's continued refusal is baffling. Bloomberg fails to un- derstand, in my opinion, the basic needs of the average New Yorker. He has no compassion."

Officials at the FDNY say they are looking into the court’s decision but declined further comment.

Editorial: Acknowledging Heroes

A sense of relief and closure after a long-awaited court decision turned bittersweet this week for the family of a retired veteran firefighter who gave his life at the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001 Capt. James J. Corrigan was working as the Fire and Life Safety Coordinator of the entire Twin Towers complex. In that capacity he per- sonally led the evacuation from the onsite day care center, guiding some 20 children to safety.

When he finished with that, Capt. Corrigan reported for duty with the FDNY in the South tower. Along with brother firefighters, he tried to establish commu- nication lines to evacuate the FDNY from the towers.

The debate between the city and the Corrigan family lies in the petition to allow Corrigan’s name to appear on the FDNY portion of the Memorial to be built at Ground Zero. His family says Corrigan died as a firefighter FDNY says he was retired.

A law passed in 2002 reinstating Capt. Corrigan to full active employment status should have set any debate to rest but the FDNY has persisted with tiresome ne- gotiations that have resulted in planning to place Capt. Corrigan’s name apart from the Bravest on the Memorial.

This week, Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled in favor of the petition to include Capt. James J. Corrigan’s name to be etched with the names of his firefighter brothers. After reading the justice’s decision it becomes apparent that there is nothing that would even approach rationale in the denial of this request.

Yet on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg an- nounced his intentions to have the city appeal the court ruling. Even more absurd than the FDNY’s objections to the petition is the contesting of the current ruling by NYC.

Bloomberg says the reason the city will seek to overturn the decision is because the FDNY acted reasonably in this matter, continuing on to say that there was no way for everyone to be happy in this situation. We agree with you there Mr. Bloomberg. You can’t ever make everyone happy but you can always do the right thing.

To the mayor we say that the only people acting without reason in this situation are those who object to having Capt. Corrigan’s name where it belongs. With the other firefighters who lost their lives on that fateful day.

While Capt. James J. Corrigan may have retired from the department, obviously he did not retire his commitment to risk his life for others.

We hope to see his name where it belongs. On the wall of the Memorial yet to be built in the same place as all others who lived as firefighters and died as firefighters.

Iconic Stadium Faces Potential Sale

By Tamara Best

During its storied history, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium has played host to many historic events, including the inaugural U.S Open in 1968, when Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win a grand slam title.

The iconic stadium, which is part of the West Side Tennis Club, has been seldom used since the U. S. Open was moved to Flushing Meadows in the late 1970s and has deteriorated over the years. And now, it may disappear forever as the club weighs whether or not to sell it.

The club dates back to 1892 and includes 38 courts. The main stadium, which seats 15,000, opened in 1923. In addition to tennis, the stadium has hosted notable musicians including Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Diana Ross and The Who.

An informational meeting on the proposal to sell the club’s main stadium will be held on August 10, with members set to vote on August 19th. The club would retain ownership over the other facilities and courts on the 14- acre property, which is located near Austin Street.

Attempts to reach the clubs officers were unsuccessful, but members weighed in on the possibility of the stadium being sold.

Susanna Hof, a longtime member and co-founder of Terrace Sotheby's International Realty in Forest Hills, said she has concerns over the timing of the meeting and vote.

“The time of planning is short and in the summer, which means some of the members won’t be there,” she said. “This announcement was brought to the membership with two weeks notice. Long-term members feel like it’s a travesty.”

Hof said there has been discussion over the last decade about selling the stadium with proposals for a hotel, townhouses and a tennis hall of fame among other considerations. Building more residential developments would create added congestion to the area, which is already heavily populated, she said.

A longtime member of the club, who asked not be named, said that discussion and voting centers on one offer— but members won’t know who is making the offer until the informational meeting. Two-thirds of members must vote to approve any sale of the stadium. In an e-mail sent to members this week, leadership clarified rules in the bylaws that decides who can vote, based on their level of membership, according to a longtime member who asked not to be named. Under the rules, some members of the club would not be eligible to vote.

Christine Schott, who has been a club member for years, said she hopes that voting on a potential sale will be placed on hold until the fall.

“I think the membership feels that one week’s time is not enough to make an important decision,” she said. “To just tear it down would make the West Side Tennis Club into just a tennis club, instead of a world renowned tennis club.”

Hof said that before any discussion of selling the stadium takes place, an independent structural report to be completed.
According to Joseph Gulino of Structural Engineering Systems PLLC in Bayside, which isn’t involved in this project, engineers examine deficiencies such as cracks, settlement problems, corrosion, rust and other issues when assessing a stadium.

“We do a visual and look for characteristics of structural deficiency,” he said. “From there, depending on what you see, you may do a detailed model in 3D to analyze the structure. Sometimes renovating a structure that size could prove not to be worth the investment,” he said, adding that correcting structural problems could costs millions for a structure the size of the stadium.

Despite the potential cost, Hof said these issues need to be explored.“ The structural integrity of the stadium is important,” she said. “From a place in American history, it is an important place. If you could find a use to the stadium that would still bring in money and preserve it that should be an option.”

Michael Perlman, of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, is calling for the stadium to be designated as a landmark.

“There isn’t anything else quite like it in the country,” he said. “It helped tennis to become the national sport that it is.”

Perlman added that the general public should not be “shut out” of the discussion because the stadium is part of the community, not just the club.

“People should write to the Landmark Preservation Committee so that future generations can cherish something that is truly remarkable. Queens is fortunate to have it— it’s an icon.”

In a feature piece this week, Ed McGrogan, assistant editor for, suggested that the stadium be renovated if possible and re-used.

“Many fans have clamored for more tennis on turf, as the current grass-court “season” is just five weeks long for the men and four weeks for the women,” he said. “But there’s no reason it has to end after Wimbledon. Another grass showcase in the U.S. in mid-July, right after fans have gotten into grass during Wimbledon, would attract viewers both at the club and on television.”

Despite not wanting to see the stadium disappear, Hof said the club must ultimately ex- plore its options to help generate revenue. “From a business perspective you have to look at all the options. You can’t have your head in the cloud.”

Warehouse Plans Unveiled for St. Savior's but Fight Continues for Parkland

By Tamara Best

A plan to build warehouses on the former St. Saviour’s property suffered a temporary setback this week when the city rejected site plans, leaving the future of the Maspeth site up in the air.

Property owner Maspeth Development LLC recently unveiled plans and applied to the city for permits needed to construct four one-story units on the 1.5-acre property at 57th Road and 58th Street.

According to city Department of Building records, a plan exam for the property was rejected on Monday. A department representative said a rejection of plans generally results in a series of meetings between the applicant and examiner’s office so that necessary changes can be made.

Area civic leaders and elected officials were hoping the land would be converted into much-needed greenspace for area residents.

“Maspeth has about 12 acres of parkland in total for about 40,000 residents and that is really not adequate,” said local activist Christina Wilkinson. “And the ones we do have are more geared toward active recreation, where the Maspeth site could be passive. I think this would be a good opportunity for the city to plan a park for the site. We don’t need anymore warehouses, we have plenty.”

Wilkinson said she hopes that the owner will consider “coming to the table” to talk with the city about selling the property.
“I'm willing to work with anyone, but we're moving forward,” property owner Scott Kushnick, recently told the New York Daily News. “The city cannot come up with the money, and I have my back against the wall.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) allocated $500,000 towards acquisition of the land, in addition to more than $1 million from Borough President Helen Marshall.

“Maspeth has been under served when it comes to park space and we need to seize on this opportunity to invest in open space for the residents of Maspeth,” said Crowley. “I hope the owners of the property see this commit- ment and begin negotiations to sell the prop- erty to the city as soon as possible.”

Dan Andrews, spokesman Marshall, said the borough president is committed to trying to acquire the land for park use.
“It’s an ongoing process, it’s been give and take,” he said on Wednesday in reference to attempts to acquire the land from the current developer.

It is unclear how much Kushnick would ask for the property and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful this week.

The Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) previously rallied to save the church from being demolished, securing funding from the offices of Marshall and Crowley. The church was dis- mantled and is currently in storage until it can be rebuilt, either at land in Middle Village donated by All-Faiths Cemetery, or back at its original home in Maspeth.

At a July 2009 civic meeting, JPCA President Bob Holden, told members, “St. Saviour’s was just minutes – literally minutes – from demolition... We were all out there preparing for the worst, and then the miracle happened.”

And civic leaders like Wilkinson said they are once again hopeful that another miracle occurs and the land will be saved.

Overcrowding, Budget Cuts Focus at CEC 24 Meeting

Representatives from the offices of Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) expressed that the legislature is hoping to avoid budget cuts to the education system.

Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, had a simple message for the elected officials as they return to Albany. “No bargain, no cuts to education,” he said.

Comaianni also asked that both Miller and Addabbo take time moving forward to talk to education councils and parents before voting on legislation concerning new charter schools. “They are private schools funded with public money. More oversight is needed,” he said.

Jeff Gottlieb from Senator Addabbo’s office said that in addition to avoiding cuts to education, there needs to be an examination of after school programs such as The Boys & Girls Club that are also suffering from overcrowding.

The problem of overcrowding continued to be a hot issue among parents.

“[PS] 153’s population is starting to grow and it’s rumored that Ferrara Lumber is moving,” said parent Joann Berger.” Development in the neighborhood [Maspeth] is something we need to keep an eye on.” She added that the community must take advantage of available property that could be used for a school.

Comaianni said that the CEC will continue to monitor the amount of students at schools, particularly PS 87, which is to receive an annex, to alleviate overcrowding. “We’re going to look at the numbers and if we have x amount of seats, we’ll rezone and bring more kids into 87,” he said.

Parents once again raised concerns about the lack of seats in gifted and talented programs for children entering kindergarten and six grade who pass tests to be admitted.

Superintendent Madeline Chan reported that 84 percent of principals responded to a Principal Satisfaction survey saying that they are satisfied with the help that they are receiving from the Department of Education. This year’s standardized test scores are expected to be released the week of August 19th and round two of pre kindergarten applications are now open on the Department of Education website.

Parents will also have a chance to provide input about what and how their children are taught with the preliminary New York State Teaching Standards document now available on the DOE website. The deadline for public comment of the New York State Teaching Standards is August 16th.

Local Crime, State Budget and Parks Discussed at CBR Meet

By Tamara Best

At the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting Tuesday, the state budget, voting, crime in the 104th Precinct and issues at local parks were among key discussions.

State Senator Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) addressed the audience briefly to discuss the state budget, trains hauling garbage through the area and the upcoming election.

“I want to go back to Albany to finish off what we should have before July 4,” he said, adding that he continues to express frustration over this year’s process and hopes to restore money to areas where it has been lost due to budget cuts.

“As the budget gets cut, the District Attorney loses money for prosecutions,” he said in reference to repeat offenders and curbing crime.

Members of the audience also raised concerns about the MTA, the lack of the M train running on the weekend and the possibility of fares being raised. Addabbo said he is hopeful that an independent audit being done of their practices will be complete by the year’s end.

“I’m not convinced that they’re good at math or lose money,” he said, adding that the M line is “critical” to the area and hopes that the MTA will be able to “restore service to the levels we deserve.”

Addabbo also reassured residents that though efforts at trying to pass legislation on a hard covering for the railcars transporting waste was unsuccessful, he plans on pushing for stronger laws again during the next legislative session.

With elections this fall, he also took a minute to remind residents of the new electronic voting machines and urged them to have patience.

“This new year starts a new era in voting,” he said. “Be prepared for longer lines and to spend a little more time voting this year. We don’t want people to go home, if you can stand a little frustration it is worth your time.” When asked why he voted against gay marriage, he said that the majority of correspondence from constituents asked that he not vote in favor of it.

“I see 300,000 people jammed into my seat in the chamber,” he said of the way he votes on issues, adding that “accessibility and conversation is important to the progress we need to make.”

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell of the 104th Precinct provided an update on crime for the year. Crime is up so far, with 990 incidents so far this year as opposed to 928 at the same time last year. Felony assaults have spiked from 96 last year to 128 for the year to date. With auto theft plaguing the community, Bell said the precinct is remaining proactive and vigilant, employing the latest technology to help them combat this type of crime in the area.

Bell also encouraged residents to try and deter burglars from breaking into their home by securing air conditioning units, having a crime prevention officer visit the home to offer a free assessment and by closing their windows, even if they are only leaving their home briefly. Residents who need help removing graffiti can contact GCop, the 104’s Civilian Observation Patrol, at (718) 497-1500.

With recently renovated Grover Cleveland Park now open once again for area residents to enjoy, Steve Fiedler, chairman of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee, said there have been no major problems thus far. However, the lack of goalposts for the soccer fields, exits near gardens and double parking are issues that need to be addressed to improve the park’s condition.

Fiedler also spoke briefly about the state of the Ridgewood Reservoir, noting that the state Department of Environment Conservation is considering designating the area a wetland. The department’s decision would complicate the city’s current plan, prohibiting the beginning of phase one until a decision is made.

“We don’t want the Parks Department to build phase one the way they have it designed,” he said, adding that the planned removal of 160 trees is “unacceptable.”

Fiedler told the audience that several local high schools and colleges have expressed interest in using the potential wetland for educational purposes, furthering the need for it to be preserved. Fiedler said three contractors have entered their name to be considered for the project.

After 10 Years of Lobbying, PS 87 to Finally Receive Annex

By Tamara Best

After 10 years of waiting and pleading their case, parents and students of PS 87 have a reason to celebrate.

On Tuesday, City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced that the Middle Village school would receive a new annex, creating room for 120 seats and a gymnasium.

“I am happy to report that the feasibility study has been completed and it is the determination of the [Department of Education] and [Schools Construction Authority] to move forward with an annex at PS 87,” Klein said in a letter to Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24. The design will phase will begin in the coming weeks, followed by a timeline for the project’s completion.

Parents, educators and community leaders say the annex will provide much needed help to the school.

“I really want to thank everyone for pushing this extension through, it’s a miracle,” said Caryn Michaeli, principal of PS 87. “The parents are grateful and the children are eternally grateful—and it’s about the children.”

PS 87 has approximately 600 students in kindergarten through 8th grade in addition to special education. As one of the first schools in the district to be converted into a K-8 nearly a decade ago, it is the only that has not yet received an expansion.

Though new schools have been built in recent years, District 24 is considered to be the most over-crowded in the city.
In the past, officials have argued that the school did not warrant the upgrades because it was not overcrowded like others in the area.

“Especially given the city’s difficult economic circumstances, it is essential that we prioritize school construction for the neighborhoods that need it most,” a DOE spokesman told The Forum last year. Because the school is not overcrowded, the DOE had planned to address concerns “without the construction of a costly and unnecessary addition.”

But, parents and educators say the expansion is needed, and it appears that the DOE has changed its stance on the need for one, based on Klein’s letter.

“Originally when we were asked to go to [pre] K-8 we were promised an extension, but that never happened,” parent Bernadette Beninati told The Forum in August 2009. “It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s necessities for our kids... During the swine flu out- break children were lined up to get into the bathroom, it’s just crazy.”

Tuesday evening, when the announcement of the annex was made at the CEC meeting, Beninati clapped and cheered along with other parents.

“We’re thrilled, we’ve been fighting for this,” she said.

Despite not being as crowded as other schools, PS 87 still faces issues in need of attention.

The cafeteria can only hold 100 people at a time and occasionally doubles as a gym. Additionally, the second floor only has two toilets, something Michaeli called “completely inadequate for the amount of people” in a 2008-09 Building Condition Assessment of the school by the DOE.

Last year, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) led Klein on a tour of the school in effort to bring added attention to the conditions. She called the annex “a big victory for our community and, most importantly, for our students.”

At this time it unknown how long it will take to build the annex, where it will located and how much it will cost.

Still, Comianno praised the announcement. “This is very good news,” he said. “This is what happens when we work together.”

Auto Theft, Domestic Violence on the Rise in 104th Precinct

By Tamara Best

Crime is on the rise in the 104th Precinct, with the area ranked number one in the city for auto thefts. In addition, there has been a major spike in felony assaults, which are up 61 percent for the year.

Lt. James Lombardi and Detective Kevin Weber spoke to residents and members of several local civic groups at last Wednesday’s meeting, which was hosted by Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) in Maspeth Town Hall.

The Toyota Forerunner and Highlander, Dodge Caravan and Honda Pilot are among popular vehicle targets for thieves, according to police. Lombardi said the NYPD’s auto larceny unit is being sent to the area at nights in an effort to help curb auto thefts.

“We were doing very well and then we got hit a few weeks ago and it hasn’t stopped,” he said, adding that the crime is not clustered in a particular area but spread throughout the precinct.

Lombardi said the rise in assaults can be attributed to an increase in domestic violence in the area.

Area civic leaders and residents expressed frustration over repeat offenders being released let out of prison, only to commit more petty crimes.

“It’s a revolving door, the district attorney has got to protect us,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “We need to write a few letters, make a few phone calls.”

Former City Councilman and current State Senate candidate Anthony Como told the audience that while he understood their frustration with the District Attorney’s office, punishment and deterring criminals is not solely at the discretion of the DA.

“Part of the problem is judges not setting bail high enough,” he said, which allows individuals who commit petty crimes to return to the streets quickly.

Roe Daraio, president of COMET, encouraged the audience to get involved with court watch programs and protest if needed to make their voices heard by the courts.

Lombardi did offer residents some positive news. The precinct is up more than 200 percent in graffiti arrests for the year, an issue that last long plagued neighborhoods within the confines of the 104.

Still, with the uptick in crime, Lombardi encouraged residents to remain alert.

“If something doesn’t look right— call.”

New Book Chronicles Changing Queens

Fire fighters with Maspeth Steamer Engine No. 4. Despite bitter resistance, in 1898 once the boroughs were unified as part of New York City, fire department volunteers were replaced by professionals after insurance companies lobbied the governor. Seen here in 1908, this steam pumper is representative of the types of equipment available in the era to fight blazes across the city. As the internal combustion engine gained sway in the next decade, horses and steam would give way to motorized fire engines and equipment.

(Photo and Caption courtesy of Kevin O'Donoghue and Turner Publishing Company)

By Eric Yun

Kevin O’Donoghue is a journalist-turned-lawyer whose new book, Historic Photos of Queens, tracks changes in the borough from the 1880s to the 1970s.

O’Donoghue has a long history with Queens. He grew up in Bayside and remembers many days at Rockaway Beach as a child. “My family were lifeguards at Rockaway for over 60 years,” he said. He went to St. John’s University Law School, and his father teaches at John Adams High School.

O’Donoghue said working on the book was “a really great experience.” He enjoyed observing how his hometown changed through the years. “I love the tradition of Queens,” he said. “Ever since the incorporation of Queens into New York City it has continued to change. It’s fascinating.”

The most important catalysts of the change, according to O’Donoghue, were the bridges. “Queens always had a provincial feel, but the bridge connected us,” he said. For this reason, O’Donoghue considers the Queensboro Bridge “one of the most important engineering feats because it connected Queens to Manhattan.”

Besides the bridges, O’Donoghue appreciated the diverse photos of different neighborhoods such as the old Maspeth fire station or the swim club at Howard Beach. During his research, he also found great tidbits about the neighborhoods.

“Ozone Park was originally developed for middle to upper- middle class families, and it became more desirable when the elevated tracks were built,” O’Donoghue explained. “The name was supposed to evoke a futuristic idea of fresh air and beauty.”

The one regret for O’Donoghue is the underrepresentation of some neighborhoods such as Richmond Hill. “Richmond Hill is a neat neighborhood that had houses with ornate little gardens,” he said.

The latest picture in the book was from 1975, and O’Donoghue would like to do another book from 1975 to the present. There has been tremendous growth since then, especially in recent years. “A lot of change has occurred since just 1995,” he said.

Still, O’Donoghue’s book documents some major changes that have occurred. Whether it’s the amusement park that existed before LaGuardia Airport or the tent cities in Rockaway Beach, Queens is constantly changing.

“The most interesting thing about Queens is that Queens will always change, but it will always be the same,” O’Donoghue said.

Report Misrepresented Woodhaven Storefront Vacancies

By Eric Yun

Woodhaven residents were angered and confused by a recent report from Congressman Anthony Weiner’s office stating that the neighborhood had the highest rate of vacant storefronts in Queens, especially since the numbers were inaccurate.

Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) conducted a study on vacant storefronts as part of a larger initiative to stimulate Queens’ local small businesses. Unfortunately, due to confusion over where Woodhaven ends and where Richmond Hills begins, Woodhaven was branded as the worst neighborhood in the borough. However, only a small section of Woodhaven was counted—the rest of the stores were in Richmond Hill.

“When it came out we were really shocked,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (BID). She noted the Woodhaven BID generally has vacancies of 10 percent or lower. “We're really very pleased Weiner is looking after the prospects of small businesses on a federal level, Unfortunately, Woodhaven came out looking like a vacant lot.”

To dispute the numbers, members of the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association (WRBA) drove down Jamaica Avenue with a video camera and counted how many vacant storefronts were in their neighborhood. According to this survey, vacancies in Woodhaven were approximately 8 percent.

Edward Wendell, president of the WRBA, acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult to understand local boundaries. However, “there was no cooperation with locals who could have helped,” he said.

The mistake has Wendell questioning the numbers and methods used for Weiner's report. “I would love to see the raw data,” Wendell said.

Weiner’s office issued a correction this week. “While the streets surveyed where correct, the neighborhood designation for Jamaica Avenue was imprecise,” Weiner said. “Since Woodhaven begins west of 98th Street, and only about 22 percent of the street was in this area, it should have been labeled 'Richmond Hill/Woodhaven.'”

Library Jobs at Risk after Union Rejects Benefit Cuts

By Eric Yun

When the city budget was being formulated, it appeared that local libraries would face devastating cuts. After much debate, more than $61 million, including $17.6 million for Queens Library, was restored to the budget out of $77 million initially proposed to be cut.

The budget restoration prevented massive layoffs to library employees and allowed all library branches to operate on at least a five-day schedule. With the budget restoration and other cost saving methods, Queens Library was able to save 366 jobs, but 46 employees were still at risk. The Queens Library administration and the Queens Library Union, Local 1321, attempted to find ways to reduce costs and prevent layoffs.

The Queens Library administration proposed cuts to union benefits, which were already implemented to non-union staff: five furlough days a year and a permanent change so that there is no carryover on annual leave. The cuts would provide a one-
time savings of approximately $2.4 million.

Last Tuesday, Local 1321 voted 297-50 to reject the administration's proposal.

“It was way too onerous,” John Hyslop, president of Local 1321 said. “They were asking for permanent changes to our benefits for a temporary solution.”

Local 1321 members felt with possible mid-year budget cuts as well as uncertainty about next year's fiscal budget, without a guarantee of no layoffs, the administration was asking for too much.

“Losing anyone is regrettable,” Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante said, “This is a tough fiscal environment. The $17.6 mil- lion restoration preserved 366 jobs and five-day-a-week service and kept every library in Queens open....”

Hyslop said, “Our door is open,” if Queens Library administration has other proposals to save the 46 jobs. If not, the union will provide assistance to the members who lose their job.

Battling Cancer with Martial Arts

By Eric Yun

"Let's beat the crap out of cancer." That's the goal for Kew Gardens-based Martial Arts Therapy. Founded in 2005 by Rabbi Sensei Gary Moskowitz, the program was started to help heal kids with cancer and other terminal illnesses. By combining his passion to find a cure for cancer and his love of martial arts, Moskowitz has designed a program that helps his students deal with pain and fear management helps rehabilitation, and provides emotional and spiritual support.

Moskowitz, a former teacher at Far Rockaway High School and a retired New York City police officer, spends most of his days as a Rabbi at the Jewish Wellness Center synagogue in Kew Gardens or teaching martial arts professionally. His love for martial arts, which has lasted more than 40 years, began when he was a 13-year-old kid in the Bronx.

"I'm a natural coward," Moskowitz said, "I was so scared of everything." But martial arts gave him the knowledge that he could fight back. "It gave me hope and spirit." Moskowitz realized how adrenaline and natural endorphins released from physical exercise could bring both physical and emotional wellness. The confidence and self-esteem is what he tries to instill in each of his students at Martial Arts Therapy.

"It's not just a kick-punch program," Moskowitz explained, "True martial arts is about conditioning yourself, learning about your body, and living a long, healthy and sound life." The kids learn martial arts skills, but more importantly, they are also taught about proper nutrition, how their bodies work, and how to deal with the pain and fear their illnesses bring on a daily basis.

One way Moskowitz helps ease the suffering of his students is through a program called guidance imagery. "Guidance imagery means putting an image behind the pain and refocusing it," he said. He shows kids cartoons of a ninja cancer cell beating up healthy cells. The cancer cells are then beat back by samurai anti-bodies. Moskowitz believes that imagining the martial arts battle inside the body and fighting back helps refocus the pain and displace the fear the kids experience because of their illness.

Balance, in a literal sense, is also a major focus in the Martial Arts Therapy program. The vestibular system, which helps balance and spatial orientation, can be strengthened Moskowitz claimed: "We can work out the vestibular system just like we can lift weights to build muscles."

His work with Philip Califano is a good example of restoring balance. Califano was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor when he was six years old that impaired the coordination and balance in his legs. Moskowitz contacted Califano after learning about a fundraiser in Forest Hills raising money for medical bills.

Now, seven years old, Califano attends Martial Arts Training sessions where Moskowitz has him perform kicks and other moves. By taxing the vestibular system with martial arts, Califano emerges from his sessions more focused and with better coordination.

Domenica Califano, Philip's aunt, has seen first-hand how Moskowitz's program has helped her nephew. She's seen a marked improvement in Philip's condition. "Absolutely," Ms. Califano said when asked if the program works and if she would recommend it to others. "It's mind over matter."

As Moskowitz helps others, he encourages his students to do the same. "It takes their mind off their own problems," Moskowitz said. "I had a 12-year-old girl with cancer doing community service in the Bronx. She wanted to feel like she was doing something for others." Building a sense of community and serving others is a major focus for Moskowitz.

Moskowitz understands his students are often very sick, and he tries to accommodate them by making his program fun. There's dojo dancing where martial arts moves are incor- porated into a dance routine. Another popu- lar element of the program is virtual karate. Virtual karate is non-contact sparring session where two kids standing ten feet apart stage a fight. A panel of judges decides whether the blow would have landed in a real sparring situation. This allows kids who may be too weak for physical contact still feel like they belong.

If working free of charge to help kids with cancer wasn't enough, Moskowitz has expanded his Martial Arts Therapy program to include veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and victims of domestic abuse. He has found that he can transfer many of the same methods to help those groups.

Moskowitz sympathizes with victims of domestic abuse. Nobody deserves to be treated in that manner, but he also fears for the kids. "Many of these women are mothers. There is a tremendous amount of difficulty in raising kids when you live in fear," he said. "I'm not teaching them to poke their boyfriends in the eye or kick them in the groin. They just want to repel the attacks and get away and get help."

Evelyn Gonzalez volunteers for Moskowitz and helps bring victims of domestic abuse to his classes. She is a huge fan of the program. "They feel powerless and helpless," she said, "It helps empower women. It's a good opportunity for them."

Moskowitz and his team of over 50 volunteers work tirelessly to administer these free weekly Martial Arts Therapy classes. He hopes to one day have a full-time facility and staff in place to continue the program and offer help any day of the week.

To accomplish that goal, Moskowitz is working fervently to get some funding for his organization. "It's like going through an army to get help," he said about getting government funding and grants.

With or without funding, Moskowitz will continue to help those in need with Martial Arts Therapy, every Sunday at Anshe Shalom Chabad Jewish Center in Kew Gardens, and he will continue to campaign for more research to help find a cure for cancer.

To learn more about Martial Arts Therapy or how to help, contact Rabbi Sensei Gary Moskowitz at 917-916-4681 or visit

Forest Park Carousel Still Silent

The Forest Park Carousel stopped operating last year when the city could not find a vendor after the contract for New York One, LLC expired.

By Tamara Best

Despite the many amenities and recreational opportunities offered throughout Forest Park’s 500 acres, there is still one item visitors can’t enjoy—the historic Forest Park Carousel.

The carousel has remained closed since last summer, when the city failed to find a vendor to operate it after the contract with New York One LLC expired last May.

Parks Department spokeswoman Trish Bertuccio said Tuesday that the department is currently in negotiations with a company to have the carousel reopen but could not say whether it would open before the end of the summer.

The Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) has started a petition to gain more support from the community in an effort to have the carousel reopened.

“Our first step is to get it reopen and then the second get it landmarked,” said Edward Wendell, president of the WRBA, who called the carousel a work of art. “It’s not only wonderful for the children, but it’s also a selling point for homeowners. We’d hate to lose that.”

According to the Parks Department, the carousel dates back to the 1890s and is the only designed and produced carousel left and by master carver Daniel C. Muller. The carousel can be found near the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue. After it was restored, it began operating in 1966 until 1985, and then received another renovation in 1988.

Supporters have taken to Facebook to raise additional support through the group “Save the Forest Park Carousel.” More than 500 members have shared memories and suggested ideas on how funds can be raised to help the carousel reopen.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) has also shown support for the effort, arguing in a letter to Parks that the carousel needs to be preserved and restored to its “original magnificence.” Ulrich asserts that many of his constituents consider the carousel to be the “heart and soul of the Woodhaven community” that should be preserved so that “future generations may share in this one-of-a-kind experience.”

“This is the 100th year of the carousel and it should be a celebration—but it’s not,” Wendell said.

Officials Vow to Continue Fighting Cross Bay Toll

By Eric Yun

For the past twelve years, residents of Broad Channel and Rockaway were able to drive over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge for free thanks to the Resident Rebate Program. For the past week, they have lived with the reality that they also must pay the toll as a result of MTA cost-cutting measures.

The new plan, enacted by the MTA to help close its $800 million budget deficit, now charges $1.13 per trip for qualified residents who use EZ-Pass and $1.54 for drivers using a token. Normal fare for the bridge is $2.75. In a concession from the MTA, the first two trips across the bridge in a given day are charged, but subsequent trips will be free.

"The decision to modify the Rockaway Rebate program was made by the full MTA Board in April after public hearings were held," an MTA Bridges and Tunnels spokeswoman said. "This action was taken to help MTA close an $800 million budget deficit, and was part of a package that included difficult service cuts to public mass transit, as well."

Residents in Broad Channel often depend on the bridge for everyday tasks. As a small neighborhood, Broad Channel is heavily dependent on Rockaway. The closest hospital and police station are both located across the bridge.

“It's deeply disappointing,” said Jonathan Gaska, District Manager of Community Board 14, “It's going to have a negative ef- fect on economic development.” Gaska also said he believes it's “unconstitutional to charge a tax to travel within their own community.”

The MTA argued that inter-borough travel fares are not unusual. "Keep in mind that residents in any NYC borough traveling within that same borough pay subway and bus fares to go from one neighborhood to another," the MTA spokeswoman said.

Local politicians have been vocal in their opposition to the toll. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said, “I really believe the toll is unfair for everyone.”

Calling it another “expense in difficult times,” Pheffer feared the end of the rebate program would stunt economic development in the communities. Residents may be less willing to drive across the bridge and spend money on entertainment and other non-essential services, which are critical to the economy.

“The MTA is moving in the wrong direction,” said Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). He said the savings the MTA would receive is inconsequential compared to their massive deficit. “I've been advocating to make it a free bridge, at least in Queens,” he said.

Addabbo said he talked to concerned residents who are afraid to open up businesses in Rockaway. They fear people will not come to their store if they have to pay a toll just to get to the area.

“I am outraged by the MTA’s most recent attempt to balance their books on the backs of Broad Channel and Rockaway residents,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “The MTA must get serious about its own inefficiencies and poor accounting practices before they reach into the pockets of people just trying to travel around their own community.”

The elected officials all promised to continue to fight MTA's new provisions on the Cross Bay Bridge. “There are many ways we're looking to eliminate the toll. It's a fight we're going to keep on fighting,” Pheffer said.

Residents in the following zip codes are eligible for the $1.13 toll fare: 11691, 11692, 11693, 11694, 11695 and 11697. The modified rates went into effect last Friday, July 23. In 2009, 3.6 million trips were taken by residents participating in the rebate program, which only applies to passenger vehi- cles.