Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

LynVet Jets Wear Pink in Support of Breast Cancer Research

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aqueduct Development and Liberty Ave Highlight CB 10 Meeting

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FH Civic Discusses Storm Aftermath and Rise in Robberies

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Side Tennis Club Rejects Condo Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addabbo and Como Showdown Garners Statewide Attention

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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