Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Rotary Stocks Food Pantry Shelves in Howard Beach

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vendors Nervous Over Fate of Aqueuct Flea Market

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Glendale Teacher Charged in White Powder Mailings

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Patricia Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: A Proud Veteran Speaks...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Harbor Plan Revived

By Eric Yun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maspeth Battles Burglaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Como and Padavan Concede Senate Bids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weiner Hails Increased Loans for Small Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

Klein Quits as School Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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