Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

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

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Word

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EDITORIAL: Peering Into The Crystal Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alert Bus Driver Rescues Wandering Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspector General Slams Aqueduct Bidding Process

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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