Monday, August 16, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

From Woodhaven to the White House

By Patricia Adams

“I always remember one thought my mother taught me from my childhood. If you share, you’re OK with God.” For Jorge Munoz of Woodhaven, the words of his mother have led him on a journey of incredible sharing over the last six years. It was back then that Munoz, a school bus driver, was passing the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights. He noticed day laborers gathered at the street corners. They had no homes and they had nothing to eat.

As Munoz drove home, he carried with him the thoughts and the memory of those homeless and hungry faces. Shortly after that, Munoz, his mother and sister, Luz, started what they called a “little meal program for the guys.”

Munoz remembered the first week he returned to Jackson Heights to deliver meals—it was the summer of 2004 and there were eight people who came. “The next week we had about 24,” he recalled. Over the course of more than 2,000 days since he began, Jorge Munoz, his family and their volunteers have served more than 120,000 meals on the same street corner. Every night—without fail—in rain, snow, bone chilling cold or extreme heat, they are there to feed the masses that form an organized line alongside Munoz’ white pick-up truck.

The number of nights Munoz has personally missed since he started can be counted on one hand. The most recent came on August 4—instead of Roosevelt Avenue, he was spending the evening on Pennsylvania Avenue as a guest of the President of the United States at the White House.

Jorge was one of 13 recipients who travelled to Washington D.C. to be awarded the Citizen’s Medal, created 40 years ago to recognize Americans who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. The Medal is among the highest honors a civilian can receive.

President Obama welcomed the winners to a reception in their honor, at what he called "one of his favorite events." We are here to recognize the winners of the Citizen's Medal. It is one of the highest honors a President can bestow," declared the President. "These men and women have performed exemplary deeds of service. Their lives stand as shining examples of what it means to be an American. Today we have an opportunity to say thank you and offer them a small token of our appreciation."

Commenting on the great diversity among those receiving the award, the President pointed out that although they come from very different backgrounds and from every corner of the country, they are united by something very special. "These people didn't just shake their heads and keep on walking. They saw a wrong and tried to right it. They saw a need and tried to meet it; a problem and tried to solve it. They saw suffering and took it upon themselves to comfort others in need. The determination they share is what unites them and makes them so special." Laughter filled the audience when the President joked about the fact that the women recipients outnumbered the men—"I guess that shows us who really gets stuff done in the neighborhood."

"When Jorge Munoz saw homeless men gathered on a street corner with nothing to eat he could have rolled up his windows and driven away," said President Obama. "Instead he came home from his job as a school bus driver and started cooking hot meals for anyone who was hungry. These days, the Angel of Queens serve over 140 dinners every night."

In a conversation with Munoz at the ceremony, President Obama inquired about what Jorge does and what it means to him. "I see them smile at me. That is my payment. It's all I need," responded Munoz.

And so Munoz, now back from the White House, will continue to travel to the same street corner. On any given night you can stop by to watch the Angel of Queens in action. An unassuming presence at just 5’2”, , he is greeted by the line of patient, hungry people standing and waiting for his arrival. For most on the line, there has been no other meal since Jorge’s visit the night before.

“Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.” A passing cab driver shouts from his open window to Jorge who flashes a smile and waves. And there are others who pass by, honking their horns, offering words of praise for the simple man who means so much to so many.

To a first time observer there is so much that overwhelms about this scene. The enormity of what this man is doing, the fact that he has been doing it for six years without fail, with a full compliment of help from his immediate family and at his own expense is not immediately comprehendible. It forces the question—Why do you do it? He smiles and begins to answer. “Why? I don’t know. God I think. What I say is everybody in this world has a mission. This is mine. For those who believe in God,” says Munoz, “it’s up to you whether you say yes or not—if you take your mission or not. My mission is this one.”

Ulrich Helps Resolve Street Sign Saga

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) on Friday joined relieved residents of Hamilton Beach to unveil new street signs that reflect both the street’s number and ceremonial name. There had been much confusion since the city replaced the numbered signs with only named signs last year.

As a result, residents requested that the signs containing the street numbers be reinstalled at several intersections.

“This has been an ongoing saga that led to delays of everything from food deliveries to emergency response times,” said Ulrich. “ I am pleased that my office was able to finally resolve this after years of frustration for local residents.”

“From day one it has been a public safety issue,” said Jonah Cohen, chief of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Corps. “Police, firefighters and EMS didn’t know about the changes, and unfortunately there were a couple of occasions where it took a little longer to reach people.”

John Fazio, a life-long Hamilton Beach resident said having both signs in place ensures that Hamilton Beach addresses aren’t confused with similar addresses in adjacent neighborhoods.

“Emergency vehicles have gone to the wrong side due to the confusion. The biggest benefit is that the new signs clarify that it’s Hamilton Beach and not Howard Beach,” said Fazio, adding there was “lots of frustration” before the situation was rectified.

Marie Persans, Vice President of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, said residents in the past have been forced to stand in the street to await deliveries. “The fact was people couldn’t get ambulances, deliveries, things like that. It was very upsetting. It was an inconvenience, but was also dangerous. We appreciate the Council Member taking this issue on and getting it resolved.”

Not Just Another Pretty Face: Pageant to Name Miss Queens

Move over American Miss—Howard Beach is entering the world of the Beauty Pageant.

In an interview with The Forum, Howard Beach residents Frances Scarantino and Victoria Pellegrino unveiled their re- cently trademarked plans to introduce the Miss Howard Beach Pageant, as the official preliminary to the Miss Queens Pageant.

Both women are venturing out together to combine their experience in working with kids in another dimension. Scarantino is the founder of S.T.A.R.S Youth Group and Reach for the S.T.A.R.S. Day Care, both of Howard Beach, while Pellegrino brings her experience as a talent agent and casting coordinator for major motion pictures to the mix.

According to the business partners, although Miss Howard Beach is a beauty pageant, it is not set up to adhere strictly to the traditional framework of a pageant. “We are looking for overall beauty. The beauty within, not just physical beauty,” says Scarantino. “We are looking for a young lady who is well-rounded, poised and who can act as a role model in the community.”

The mission statement prepared for the application packet sums up the true vision of the project: We believe that pageants are founded on the principles that the future of our world is dependent upon the leadership qualities of today’s women. We further believe that in order to be a strong leader, a woman must be a well-rounded individual. She must challenge herself, she must be poised, and she must be comfortable with herself in respect to her learned and natural talents. She must possess a strong desire to effect a change in her world, and to set and example for others to do the same. In the spirit of competition, she must be gracious. With this in mind, we provide the forum for women to challenge themselves to be their best—and we reward them for their efforts.

As a past beauty pageant winner, Pellegrino brings much insight to the competition. “It isn’t all about the most beautiful girl who walks through the door. It’s about so much more than that. It’s about someone with carriage and confidence and the willingness to use her title to go out and make a difference. If you want to be Miss Howard Beach,” Pellegrino says, “you can check your glitz at the door.”

The Miss Howard Beach Pageant is tentatively scheduled for a date in November and will serve as a preliminary contest leading up to the Miss Queens Pageant, which is slated for the end of 2011.

The plan of organizers is to follow-up the Howard Beach contest with an entire series of pageants that will take place throughout the borough, all leading up to the Miss Queens Pageant.
For the Howard Beach contest, entrants must be between the ages of 14-21 years old, and live, work or attend school in Howard Beach. There are two competition categories, Miss Teen Howard Beach, ages 14-17 and Miss Howard Beach, ages 18-21. Several prizes will be awarded in various categories including Miss Personality, Most Photogenic, Audience Favorite and Spokes Model. The value of the prizes is over $3,500. Winners in each age category will be given the opportunity to compete in the Miss Queens Pageant

Final dates have not yet been established, however the application for contract deadline in October 15th. Anyone wishing to get more information can contact the Pageant Directors at 718.845.6956.

The ABC's of Dining Out: NYC Health Dept Introduces Restaurant Grading System

By Eric Yun

From now on your ABC’s will come in handy when dining out. As of July, the New York City Health Department, (DOH), launched a new initiative that requires restaurants to post DOH assigned letter grades for all their patrons to see.

The grading system was created by DOH to keep customers better informed about safety procedures restaurants are mandated to follow and to encourage better overall practices from restaurants.

The inspection process hasn’t changed—the more points you get, the worse your score is. Grades are determined by the number of sanitary violations the restaurant gets and how many points they accrue: “A” Grade restaurants having an inspection score of 0-13 violations; “B” Grade restaurants 14-27, and “C” Grade restaurants scored 28 or more.

The announcement by DOH to implement the program caused quite the stir among anxious restaurant owners. They voiced concerns that a B or C rating might drive away customers without them having a chance to improve their scores. As a compromise, establishments receiving a B or C grade are re- inspected soon after the initial inspection, and restaurant owners have the option to challenge the grade to the Health Department’s Administrative Tribunal before a final grade must be posted.

DOH estimates it will take a little over a year to complete all inspections and assign grades.
“New York City is justly famous for its restaurants,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New
York City Health Commissioner, “and many of them have excellent food-preparation practices. Too many, though, are not operating as safely as they should.” Farley went on to explain that letter grading help diners make more informed choices about where they eat. More importantly he concluded, “By making the inspection system more transparent, it gives restaurant operators an added incentive to meet the highest standards in food safety.”

Spark’s Deli in Long Island City made news last week when they became the first restaurant to receive an “A” Grade under the new system.

To learn more about the new grading system or search for the inspection results of a restaurant, visit

Fatal Accident Highlights Truck Issue

By Eric Yun

The anger level of Maspeth residents has reached an all-time high after a large tanker truck struck and killed 12-year-old Frederick Endres at the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue, which is not a truck route.

“We’re battling this for almost ten years,” said longtime Maspeth civic activist Anthony Nun- ziato, referring to the neighborhood’s battle to get trucks rerouted and away from its residential areas.

According to Nunziato, local elected officials and other civic leaders, all pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).

The heart of Maspeth, which is adjacent to the Long Island Expressway (LIE), receives an inordinate amount of traffic. And because of current DOT routes, trucks are able to exit the LIE and use Grand and Flushing avenues as a through route to Brooklyn, or travel from Brooklyn to access the LIE without making local deliveries.

Frustrated local leaders gathered for a press conference last March to address the issue. “For far too long the DOT has ignored the traffic problems in Maspeth... and has allowed trucks to use [the neighborhood] as a dumping ground,” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), said at the time. The DOT has yet to take action on that request.

In 2001, Nunziato and members of Community Board 5 came up with the Maspeth Bypass Plan, which is still awaiting approval from the DOT. The plan calls for changes in route designations so trucks go around Maspeth to get to the LIE or stay on the expressway to enter Brooklyn.

But Flushing and Grand avenues are not the only problems Maspeth residents face with trucks. Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET), complains that trucks frequently use local routes to cut through traffic when they are not making local deliveries—a prohibited action. Daraio says of particular concern is 69th Street and Maspeth Avenue, which runs near schools.

Another problem, according to Daraio, is the lack of enforcement. “Unfortunately there are far more trucks than police officers and most officers are not familiar with the various sum- monses that can be issued to truckers other than off-route summonses.” In addition to beefed up enforcement, Daraio says that clear signage on the roads for truck drivers would be helpful.

Fresh Pond Road is a local truck route that represents a major concern, because trucks can use it to reach Grand Avenue and other main arteries not designated as truck routes.

Nunziato maintains that he is sick of waiting for city officials to move on the project. “The Mayor has made Manhattan a mecca for bikes and pedestrians overnight,” he said. “What’s
the difference in Queens? Studies upon studies upon studies, and they never did anything.”
“This community is devastated by the loss of an innocent child, riding his bicycle a block from his home,” said Nunziato. “If anyone thinks we don’t have something to scream about let’s consider the fact that Times Square, one of the busiest streets in the world was transformed into a “pedestrian lounge” in what seemed like 10 minutes. Here in Maspeth we’re waiting for more than 10 years and we can’t get it done. How sickening.”

And now, more than a week after the tragic accident that killed Freddy Endres, Maspeth residents continue to flock to the corner where the accident occurred to leave bouquets and messages.

Among them are mothers who fear for their children’s safety. “We have all these politicians that are supposed to protect us. Where are they?” asked Lena, who lives around the block from the accident. “I read that [State Assemblywoman]Marge Markey was trying to fix the problem by November. “Of course she says that. It’s election time. Where has she been all this time? What the hell has she done?”

Repeated requests made to the DOT for comment were ignored.

Senate Passes Moratorium on Upstate Hydrofracking

Addabbo Concerned Over Impact of Drilling Process

Largely as a result of public outcry, the State Senate has passed legislation that would put a hold on permits issued for the natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking. The legislation, which places a moratorium on the practice until May 2011, now goes to the Assembly for a vote.

Hydrofacking is the process of breaking apart the rock under the earth, in which some natural resources including gas are trapped. This process is done by forcing millions of galls of water mixed with chemicals into the ground. These chemicals can then work their way into the regular water supply. Hydrofracking has become a major issue as a result of the Marcellus Shale, which exists thousands of feet below the ground across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

In order to allow the gas to escape through the shale’s pore space, drillers create artificial fractures in the shale by injecting a mixture of water, sand and gel at an extremely high pressure to crack and prop open the shale. The side effects can be extraordinarily costly and personally devastating, as families across Pennsylvania and other states have learned only after the drilling had occurred. On top of the economic and health concerns, there are considerable safety hazards within the untested drilling process, including several deadly explosions at wells.

“I co-sponsored this moratorium bill to provide the state a much-needed opportunity to fully review the potential negative side effects to this kind of drilling,” said Addabbo, who recently wrote an op-ed piece in local newspapers in support of the moratorium and announced the legislation at a press conference at City Hall this past Tuesday.

“I believe this bill provides a rational, prudent approach to the practice of hydrofracking,” continued Addabbo. “This drilling process has possible short and long term health and safety implications and is the subject of a pending Department of Environmental Conservation report, which needs to be reviewed and evaluated.” The Senator thanked his constituents for bringing this issue to his attention last year, and the hundreds of state residents who signed petitions, wrote letters and attended rallies to show Albany that hydrofracking legislation was desired by the public.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who owns a home in Hudson Valley and has become an outspoken advocate on this issue, also spoke at Tuesday’s rally. “As a resident of Sullivan County, I am relieved the State Senate stepped up to the plate to institute sound, common sense policy on the issue of hydrofracking,” he said. “Protecting my family and neighbors and friends is why I have dedicated my time to raising awareness on this issue of critical importance.”

The Senate adopted the legislation by a vote of 48 to 9 on August 3. The bill provides for the suspension until May 15, 2011, of the issuance of new permits for the drilling of a well which utilizes the practice of hydraulic fracturing. This will provide an extended time period to study this new technology and will ensure that environmental experts and the public have time to review any proposed regulations and offer ways to make them stronger. It will also provide the legislature with time to review the DEC’s conclusions on the environmental impact of the gas drilling.

Van Bramer Launches Anti-Graffiti Campaign

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and CitySolve teamed up to battle graffiti throughout the community by launching a local Anti-Graffiti Campaign for District 26. To kickoff the campaign Van Bramer led a graffiti removal demonstration at the 99 Cent Store on 58th Street and Woodside Avenue.

Van Bramer has secured $30,000 for his district to fund this initiative in conjunction with the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and CitySolve. This program will provide constituents with a designated hotline and an email address to report graffiti and request FREE clean-up services. As complaints are received, teams of graffiti removal experts will be dispatched throughout the district to quickly remove graffiti vandalism.

“Graffiti vandalism cannot and will not be tolerated in our communities,” said Council Member Van Bramer. “Today we take a collective stance against such crimes and as a community we will come together in active campaign to remove the eyesores that destroy the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods. If you see something, please say something by calling our hotline or emailing us.”

The program contains three elements. The first element will consist of a comprehensive clean-up of four of the district’s most problematic areas—(1) Woodside Avenue between 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, (2) 47th Avenue between 38th Street and 51st Street, (3) Broadway between 38th to 58th street, and (4) 21st Street between Queens Blvd and 34th Avenue. The second element will include a monthly maintenance program to keep these problem areas graffiti-free.

The third and final element will employ a district-wide graffiti complaint hotline that will allow residents of Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Hunters Point, Dutch Kills, Blissville, Astoria and Maspeth in District 26 to call 718-383-9566 ext. 3 or email to report graffiti conditions. These complaints will be routed to the local clean-up crew to remove the graffiti and are guaranteed a response time of seven days or less. The program will begin tomorrow, and will last until June 2011.