Thursday, December 31, 2009

Addabbo Applauds State Election Board’s Certification Of Optical Scan Voting Machines by John Toscano | Queens Gazette

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The recent decision by the New York state Board of Elections to certify new optical scan voting machines is a “momentous occasion that begins a new era of voting” in our state, state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. declared.

Addabbo, chairman of the senate Elections Committee, said the state board had engaged in a long and meticulous process over a period of about three years during which they examined every aspect of the programming and operation of these machines.

This included, he said, “reviewing millions of lines of code to make sure that they are trustworthy and accurate”. These machines, Addabbo continued, “have been tested harder and were subjected to more requirements than any system in the nation, and the voters of the state of New York should feel confident that they will produce accurate and reliable results.”

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) stated, “The testimony and the reports we have received, and the audits of results produced by the machines, revealed that they accurately recorded and reported the ballot selections made by the voters.”

The lawmaker noted further, “The optical scan technology also preserves voters’ ballots, commonly referred to as a ‘paper trail’, ensuring the ability to conduct an accurate recount as necessary.”

A Board of Elections (BOE) spokesman confirmed that Addabbo’s information about the board study of the optical scan voting machines, which complied with the help America Vote Act, was correct.

The BOE spokesman said the machines had been tested by a national federal laboratory in Denver, Colorado, “and then we did our own testing in several cities in the state”.

The spokesman said the BOE recommended certification at its December Board meeting. Certification indicates the machines comply with federal requirements and are considered capable of meeting the demands presented by an actual election.

The two machines certified were manufactured by the Dominion Company based in Canada and the firm E.S.&S of Omaha, Nebraska.

The BOE spokesman said that the New York City Board of Elections had not yet purchased any of the machines, but most cities north of Westchester County had acquired them. The state Office of General Services negotiated the purchases with Dominion.

The BOE spokesman did not know the total number of machines purchased thus far, the total cost or individual unit costs.

Addabbo said that the senate Elections Committee, in the exercise of its oversight powers, had held hearings and taken testimony from elections commissioners, the machine manufacturers and interested members of the public regarding the machines and their performance in a pilot program in 47 of the state’s 62 counties.

“While some concerns have been expressed regarding privacy because of the layout of the poll sites, as well as difficulties some poll workers have had in operating these machines, these are easily curable election management issues that have nothing to do with the reliability of these machines,” Addabbo said.

Addabbo stated that he was confident that the pertinent issues he and his committee had addressed during the oversight hearings will be considered and that the optical scan voting machines “will ensure that every vote is counted on Election Day, and counted accurately”.

Crime Down 10% in 106 Precinct by Howard Koplowitz-

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During a candlelit vigil in October for Gerardo “Jerry” Antoniello, dozens of people gather at Romeo’s Pizzeria in Ozone Park. Antoniello’s brother Carmine (l.) was among mourners asking for any information to help find the killers.

Buoyed by sharp decreases in murders, rapes and robberies, major crime decreased more than 10 percent in the 106th Precinct in southern Queens between 2008 and 2009, according to city Police Department statistics.

Murders in the precinct declined 62.5 percent between 2008 and 2009, the largest percentage decrease in the precinct between the seven major crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and stolen cars.

There were three murders in the precinct as of Dec. 27, the latest date for which the statistics were recorded, compared to eight as of the same date last year.

Rapes in the 106th, which covers Howard Beach, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park, dropped 44.4 percent for the precinct’s second-largest decrease. There were 10 rapes within the precinct’s boundaries in 2009 compared to 18 in 2008.

Robberies in the precinct also fell by nearly one-third from 2008-09, according to the statistics. There were 239 robberies in the 106th in 2009, compared to 346 in 2008 — a 30.9 percent decline.

The precinct also saw drops in the number of stolen cars and grand larcenies. There were 273 reports of stolen cars in the 106th in 2009, compared to 311 in 2008 — a 12.2 percent decrease. Grand larcenies fell nearly 7 percent from 407 in 2008 to 379 in 2009, according to the statistics.

Overall, crime in the seven major categories dropped 10.46 percent from 2008 to 2009. There were 1,378 crimes classified in the seven categories in 2009 compared to 1,539 in 2008.

The precinct showed increases in felony assaults and burglaries. There were 164 felony assaults in the precinct in 2009 and 147 in 2008 — an 11.6 percent increase. Burglaries in the precinct rose slightly, from 302 in 2008 to 210 in 2009 — a 2.6 percent increase.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NY State Senator Joe Addabbo Responds to Constituents About MTA Proposed Service Cuts

In response to the MTA board’s mid-December vote approving a budget that calls for massive cuts to mass transit riders, students, and disabled users of Access-a-Ride, NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., today wished to reassure his constituents. “Nothing is going to happen right away; the legislature is continuing to work on MTA budget issues and when the legislative session resumes in January, we will work diligently to minimize the pain of such proposed MTA service cuts.” The Senator stated that the MTA will hold public hearings on their budget proposals and there are other procedural steps to be taken before such cuts in service would become a reality. Constituents have been telling Addabbo that they are especially afraid to lose free MetroCards for student-commuters, the Q56 bus service along Jamaica Avenue, the Z train running between Jamaica and downtown Manhattan, as well as the convenience of pickups and drop-offs that Access-a-Ride provides the disabled and seniors in the district. “I intend to address all of these issues with the MTA,” Addabbo responded.

The MTA board has proposed the following service cuts to alleviate their budget shortfall: eliminating the Z and W trains (Q extended to Astoria, J makes local stops); cutting the G off at Court Square station at all times instead of 71st Avenue/Forest Hills; cutting the M off at Broad Street station at all times; increasing wait times on “letter” subways on weekends to 10 minutes; increasing wait times on overnight trains to 30 minutes; cramming about 18 more passengers into every subway car; charging half price for currently free student MetroCards in 2010 and full price in 2011; eliminating a toll rebate for Rockaway residents who use the Cross Bay Bridge; ending door-to-door Access-A-Ride service for disabled and elderly riders, bringing them to the nearest accessible stop instead; service reductions on Metro-North Railroad and LIRR (Babylon, Port Washington and West Hempstead branches); cramming more passengers on Metro-North trains; cutting managers’ pay by 10 percent; cutting service on several Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bronx buses in addition to X25, X27, X28 and X32 express buses. In Queens, the MTA proposes eliminating the Q26, Q56, Q74, Q75, Q84 buses; eliminating weekend service on the Q14, Q31, Q76, Q79 buses, and shortening hours on the Q30, Q42, Q48, and Q79 bus routes.

“I will coordinate with other elected officials throughout the district over the coming months to gather information for our constituents that comes out of the public hearings. I believe that before the MTA fixes its budget problems by cutting services and hurting our people, they should do the internal administrative cuts within the MTA to become more efficient and minimize the pain for its ridership,” Addabbo concluded.

Assemblywoman Pheffer Announces Increased Tax Exemptions for Cold War Veterans

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer (D-Queens) is please to announce a new law (Ch. 235 of 2009), effective Jan. 2, 2010, which provides an opportunity for municipalities to choose to offer increased property tax exemptions for veterans pursuant to section 458-b of the real property tax law and to also allow such veterans who reside in cooperative apartments to benefit from property tax exemptions when they are tenant-stockholders of cooperative apartment corporations.

“This past November marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with its passing came a reminder of the dedication and service of Cold War veterans. That is why it was vital that my colleagues and I in the New York State Assembly led the way on a law to increase tax exemptions for Cold War veterans,” said Pheffer.

New York State has a host of benefits for veterans and their families, like the state’s Homes for Veterans Program, which offers fixed-rate, low-interest mortgages to veterans and their spouses through the New York State Mortgage Agency (SONYMA). There are also annuity payments for Gold Star parents, scholarships, burial allowances, and restrictions on foreclosure actions. New York State also offers the Veterans’ Property Tax Exemption to provide a partial exemption to wartime veterans, veterans who received expeditionary medals or the spouses of qualified veterans. This new law takes it another step further by expanding availability to all Cold War veterans.

The Cold War lasted 46 years from 1945 to 1991. Our Cold War veterans endured tense times and served during two wars, both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Their service kept our nation secure, and their sacrifice made peace a reality for all of us. This law lends support for countless veterans, many of whom are retired and in financial situations where every little bit helps.

“The Assembly has always strived to go beyond a salute to our veterans and address the increasingly complex circumstances of those who defend our families and freedom. We are committed to providing our veterans with the help and support they deserve when they are home,” said Pheffer. “I am hopeful that New York City will take advantage of this opportunity and offer this important tax exemption to our veterans.”

Veterans exemplify the principles and ideals of democracy. Their work made events like the falling of the Berlin Wall possible and helped unite nations for the cause of freedom. Our world would be a very different place without their tireless efforts.

Visit for more information about state programs for veterans.

NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., Plays Santa on Visit to United Hindu Cultural Center...

The United Hindu Cultural Center, 118-09 Sutter Ave, South Ozone Park, NY, welcomed a visit from NYS Senator Joe Addabbo, who played Santa during their holiday program on Saturday, December 19. Over 200 adults and children enjoyed the holiday music, dance and good food at this annual event. "Senator Santa" gave out gifts, posed for many pictures, then left on his sleigh before the snowstorm arrived.

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Bloomberg Curries Favor With City Council Republicans by Elizabeth Benjamin - The Daily Politics - NY Daily News

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Mayor Bloomberg administers the oath of office to the five members of the City Council's new Minority Conference. From left to right: Council Member Eric Ulrich of Queens, Council Member James Oddo of Staten Island, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Member Peter Koo of Queens, Council Member Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island and Council Member Dan Halloran of Queens. Photo Courtesy of Steven Stites - Halloran Campaign

Mayor Bloomberg today congratulated the City Council Republicans and their leader, Jimmy Oddo, for their "historic membership increase" and said he's looking forward to working with the five-man conference in the coming year.

"Let me congratulate you for an historic membership increase for 2010," the mayor said. "Is this the largest percentage increase in Republicans ever? Probably is. One fell swoop. Two to five. Can anybody do the math in terms of the percentage increase? Well, it’s 150 percent. Just to get the numbers right."

(There was some disagreement as to whether the mayor's math was correct. A few people said the answer is actually 250 percent. But, according to the DN's Bill Hammond, who is far better than I am at figures, the new number is 250 percent of the old number, but the percentage change is indeed 150).

At Oddo's request, the mayor conducted a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony in the Council chamber of the Republican lawmakers - newcomers Dan Halloran and Peter Koo and incumbents Oddo, Vincent Ignizio and Eric Ulrich.

The brief ceremony took place after Bloomberg met privately with the conference in Oddo's office.

Before conducting his swearing-in duties, Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, made a point of stressing that governing should be an a-political undertaking.

"We’re going to work together - not as Republicans, not as independents not as Democrats - but as New Yorkers," Bloomberg said. "The challenges that face city government are nonpartisan challenges. They are real life challenges."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toot toot! Beep Beep! Nydia Velazquez Parties Down by Aaron Short -

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It was two weeks before Christmas, but Rep. Nydia Velazquez had reason to celebrate.

The Health Care bill passed the House, her friend and ally Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg) was re-elected, and it was time for Velazquez’s annual Holiday Party, held at The Warsaw (261 Driggs Ave.) on December 18.

“You give me the strength to do the work that I do. You really do and I want to say thank you,” said Velazquez, addressing a crowd of 200 guests.

Velazquez was joined by Comptroller-elect John Liu, Rep. Ed Towns (D-Williamsburg), Reyna (D-Williamsburg), Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon, and scores of other North Brooklyn community leaders who dined on roasted chicken with rice and beans and danced to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, and The Electric Slide.

Slide-show photos by Me...

Forest Park Seuffert Bandshell Sign Update...

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Evidently someone at the Parks Department must read the local blogs...The previously reported incorrect sign at the Forest Park Seuffert Bandshell which combined the first name of the present City Council member, Elizabeth Crowley with the last name of disgraced former City Council member Dennis Gallagher for a sign which read "Elizabeth Gallagher" was removed today...The Parks Dept mistake was posted on this blog on Decemeber 26th and cross-posted on Queens Crap (Dec 28th) and the NYTimes City Room blog (Dec 28th) just a few short days ago...I would accredit the quick attention by the Parks Dept to this matter as an acknowledgment that the new media and blogs on the internet are making a difference...The Power of the New Media..!

Photo by Manny...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Free Electronics Recycling Event at District Office of NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., on Saturday, January 9, 2010..

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WHO: New York State Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr., is sponsoring a free, post-holiday recycling event at his district office, in collaboration with representatives from e-Green Management, LLC. Recycle your unwanted electronic equipment; two trucks will be available to collect your old, outdated items to make room for new equipment.

WHAT: E-Waste Collection Event – FREE!

Participate in an environmentally responsible free event that will prevent your electronic waste from entering into a landfill and polluting our environment. e-Green promotes “zero waste to landfill” ethics and operates “cradle to cradle” under all Federal, State and local regulations to ensure the responsible recycling of all e-waste collected. e-Green will recycle your unwanted electronic equipment, including: computers, fax machines, scanners, laptops, monitors, typewriters, copiers, cameras, cell phones, televisions, printers, telephones, servers, PDAs, batteries.

WHERE: Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr. - District Office, 159-53 102nd Street, Howard Beach, New York 11414

WHEN: Saturday, January 9, 2010, 10 AM – 3 PM

Once the equipment is accepted here, the following process takes place: all hazardous components (batteries on circuit boards and portable equipment, mercury switches, toxic capacitors, fluorescent lamps, leaded glass from monitors, etc.) will be extracted prior to destruction. These are then disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, exceeding Federal and State regulations. Non-hazardous materials (paper, plastic, metal, glass, etc.) are recycled. All material assigned to destruction is totally disassembled, shredded, incinerated or a combination of these.

For more information about this event or e-waste recycling, please contact Senator Addabbo’s district office at 718-738-1111.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Woodhaven Chiropractor Faces Fraud Charges - Queens Chronicle

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A chiropractor with a practice in Woodhaven has been charged with insurance fraud and other charges after allegedly convincing a “patient” to fabricate injuries and then billing an insurance company more than $26,000 for medical treatments over three months, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The defendant then allegedly gave a $1,000 kickback to the “patient,” who was actually an undercover investigator.

Anthony Latona, 50, of Long Island, who practices at 93-11 91st St. in Woodhaven, was charged with third-degree grand larceny, third-degree insurance fraud and first-degree falsifying business records. The defendant was released without bail and will return to court in February. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

According to the charges, an undercover investigator met Latona at his office on Sept. 16, 2008, at which time the defendant allegedly instructed the agent to fabricate back and knee injuries for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining insurance payments.

The undercover visited Latona’s office more than 40 times between September and December 2008 for the purported treatments, according to charges. During that time it is alleged that the defendant billed Empire Insurance for approximately $26,647 and was paid $9,557 by the insurance company. On Dec. 18, Latona reportedly gave the undercover investigator a kickback of $1,000 in cash.

MTA Fails Woodhaven with Drastic Cuts by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Here we go again.

For the second time in a year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has announced drastic cuts that officials and residents say will cripple residents in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.

In an effort to fill in a $334 million budget hole, the authority will sever both the W and Z trains, the latter of which runs from Jamaica to Manhattan, making four stops along Jamaica Avenue, and 24 bus routes, including the Q56 bus — which passes through Jamaica, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven on its way to East New York, Brooklyn. The bus is known for transporting residents to Jamaica Hospital, the Woodhaven and downtown Jamaica business districts and several area schools.

Other debilitating MTA cuts include slashing MetroCard funding for students, limiting paratransit services that will only transport the elderly and handicapped to and from bus and subway stops and — in another classic case of déjà vu — eliminating the Rockaway rebate program.

“We fought this fight last year,” said Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. Executive Director Maria Thomson at an emergency press conference held Tuesday in the new Woodhaven offices of Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and attended by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Thomson pointed out that the MTA’s plan to cut the Q56 hurts seniors who are unable to take the subway because of the steep, and often unkempt, staircase. “They [MTA] don’t know us and they don’t see it, but we’re going to make them see it — we’re going to fight.”

Ulrich called the decision a “direct slap in the face,” not only to children and seniors, but to the small businesses along Jamaica Avenue that rely on patrons who use public transportation. “When Jamaica Avenue fails, the entire community fails,” Ulrich said. “The MTA is saying to them: We don’t care about small businesses, children or senior citizens.”

Another MTA cutback, the reduction of Access-a-Ride service, which provides approximately 27,000 rides per day, will result in fewer seniors getting out and about to socialize and take advantage of vital programs, says Roseann Rosado, executive director of Queens Multi Service in Glendale, which provides services such as food stamps and Medicaid assistance. “We do not need our seniors and our disabled citizens home, isolated and alone,” Rosado said.

Although few seemed floored that the MTA had decided, yet again, to toy with Rockaway residents’ rebate program, which allows free passage on the Cross Bay Bridge, Lancman reminded conference attendees that, while negotiating its terms for a bailout last April, the rebate was one of the programs the MTA had promised to keep alive.

“MTA has lost credibility with state legislators and obviously with the public,” Lancman said. “All of us feel a great sense of betrayal that the services we fought for are back on the chopping block.”

Adding insult to injury, Ulrich said, families affected by the Department of Education’s phasing out of Broad Channel High School in the Rockaways face a double whammy — those students who may not get a seat at the new facility may have to pay tolls to get to school or full MetroCard fare.

“Public school education is supposed to be free,” he said.

Miller agreed: “An additional $89 a month for families to pay for a MetroCard — at that point they’re going to have to make a decision between sending them to school and putting food on the table.” He added, “We’re not going to take it; we’re going to fight.”

Ozone Park Man Convicted in Drunken LIE Hell Ride by Howard Koplowitz -

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An Ozone Park man was convicted last week of reckless endangerment, vehicular assault, driving while intoxicated and other charges stemming from what Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called a “terrifying ride on the Long Island Expressway” in 2006.

Anthony Rampino, 35, of 103-17 90th St. in Ozone Park, was driving his 2002 Chrysler convertible with the roof down at speeds up to 100 mph while under the influence on the Long Island Expressway near Flushing Meadows Corona Park July 25, 2006, the DA said.

A man was sitting in the front passenger seat and three women in the back passenger seat with another three women sitting on the their laps when Rampino ignored the women’s pleas to slow down and stop weaving in and out of traffic, instead just raising the volume on the car’s radio, Brown said.

Rampino eventually crashed into two mediansand then fled the scene of the accident on foot, the DA said.

One of the passengers was ejected from the convertible and thrown across three lanes of traffic, the DA said. She suffered severe abrasions on her arms, shoulders and face and had to have reconstructive surgery on her knees, Brown said.

Another woman suffered a broken pelvis, while the other four women were all treated at local hospitals for various back injuries and lacerations, the DA said.

“The defendant’s reckless actions left several of his passengers with severe injuries,” the DA said in a statement. “It is a miracle that he did not cause the death of any of his passengers or other motorists on the road that night. This dangerous behavior cannot be tolerated and must be dealt with severely.”

An off-duty police officer saw Rampino leave the scene of the accident and chased him, eventually finding the defendant walking in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Brown said.

Rampino was arrested and taken to the 112th Precinct, where an Intoxilyzer exam was administered which indicated his blood-alcohol level to be .10, above the legal limit of .08.

He was convicted Dec. 10 of reckless endangerment, vehicular assault, driving while intoxicated, speeding, leaving the scene of an accident, driving without insurance and driving without a license after a two-week jury trial before Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth C. Holder, Brown said.

Rampino faces up to seven years in prison when he is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 23. He has been remanded without bail until the sentencing.

Shinnecocks Mull Boro Gaming Bid by Howard Koplowitz- TimesLedger Newspapers

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island is one step closer to federal recognition, which could pave the way for the tribe to open up a casino either at Aqueduct Race Track or Belmont Park.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Recognition has issued a preliminary ruling that the Shinnecock should be added to the list of federally recognized tribes in the country.

“As a result of this finding, our more than 30-year quest for federal recognition is finally within our grasp,” Shinnecock Board of Trustees Chairman Randy King said in a statement. “We look forward to reclaiming our rightful place on this list, which will enable us to qualify for federal programs long denied to our people. To be denied the ability to partner with the federal government on housing, health care, educational and economic justice initiatives is no longer tolerable.”

The tribe has been recognized by New York state since colonial times, but the Shinnecock have been fighting for federal recognition since 1978.

“This preliminary ruling makes clear that our placement on the federal list is only a matter of time. We look forward to improving the quality of life for our people, who have waited far too long for this day,” said Shinnecock Trustee Richard Bess.

In 2007, the tribe proposed a casino at Aqueduct Race Track, but it did not have the blessing of the area’s elected officials. State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) said the proposal was too ambitious because it included space for poker and blackjack tables.

The proposal was later rescinded.

Shinnecock spokeswoman Beverly Jensen said the tribe is waiting on federal recognition before fully developing plans for a casino.

“The plan is this: We don’t have a plan,” she said. “We are definitely going to look into a casino. Right now we need that federal recognition recognized.”

Jensen said the Shinnecock reservation in Southampton is not suitable to build a casino so the tribe is looking to build one elsewhere.

“We don’t have enough room. We have a very small reservation,” she said.

Jensen said the tribe has all options open as to where to build a casino once it is federally recognized.

“At the moment, we are looking at any place and we are looking at all places,” including Belmont and Aqueduct, she said. “We are not site-specific at this time.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Elizabeth Gallagher..?? Forest Park Bandshell Construction...

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Does The Parks Department know something we don't..?? Who the hell is Elizabeth Gallagher...

Photo by: Manny

Friday, December 25, 2009

2 Charged with Murder in Ozone Park Shooting -

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Two men were charged in the killing of a Queens pizzeria owner's son who was fatally shot when he came to his parents' aid during a push-in robbery at their Ozone Park home.

Police say 37-year-old Jason Burrell and 30-year-old Rashod Cowan were taken into custody in the September 9 murder of 29-year-old Gerardo Antoniello.

Both were charged with second-degree murder, as well as attempted robbery, burglary, assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

Burrell was one of three people picked up by detectives for an earlier home invasion involving one of Antoniello's relatives. DNA placed him at the murder scene.

That home invasion, which occurred five days before Antoniello's killing, also netted the arrest of a third man, 23-year old-Shawn Stallworth.

All three are charged in that case with first-degree burglary, first- and second-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Antoniello, the brother of an NYPD officer, was killed trying to protect his family from the would-be push-in robbers, who tried to mug his father as he carried home money from the family's pizzeria, Romeo's on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Detectives told Antoniello's family of the arrests last night, and said more people could have been involved.

Friends praised the arrests on the "Justice for Jerry" Facebook page, set up to remember the beloved building manager.

"That is excellent news, God's gift so to speak! I am sure your brother is smiling down from Heaven upon your family, stay strong and God bless," wrote one person.

"May God continue to bless and comfort you all through this time of the year," another wrote. "You all are not alone, there is a whole community praying for you all. Remember God is not asleep and the ones who did this to your son/brother will have their day in court."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

CB 10 OKs One-way Plan for Spritz Road by Howard Koplowitz -

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Michael Cosentino, an architect representing a Cross Bay Boulevard property owner, speaks before Community Board 10. Photo by Howard Koplowitz

Following a recommendation from the city Department of Transportation, Community Board 10 unanimously voted to change an Ozone Park road from a two-way street to a one-way operation last week.

The conversion will affect Spritz Road between Lafayette and 88th streets in South Ozone Park, the board said.

In order to improve the visibility of traveling westbound on Spritz Road, the DOT recommends daylighting the northeast and southeast corners of Spritz Road so motorists can better see passing cars, the board said.

Two parking spaces would be eliminated through the conversion on the northeast and southeast corners of Spritz Road and Whitelaw Street, the board said.

With no discussion, the board unanimously voted in favor of the street change. One member recused herself from the vote because she works for the DOT.

In other business, the board unanimously voted to allow a Cross Bay Boulevard property owner to stop appearing before the city Board of Standards and Appeals over a variance.

Michael Cosentino, an architect representing the property owner at the CB 10 meeting, said the property is divided into two zones on one block: a commercial zone and a residential zone that is currently used as a parking lot.

He said the owner has to go before the BSA every 10 years to get a variance.

“They’re longstanding enough [in the community] that we know there’s not a problem” with the property, said CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton.

The board unanimously sided with the property owner except one member who abstained because of a conflict of interest.

CB 10 was also updated on developments about Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park.

The governor has yet to select a firm he wishes to develop and operate the video lottery terminals at the Ozone Park track.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Exiting as City Comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr. Has Options by Sam Roberts -

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William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, weighed the options for his political future in an interview this week in his office. Ruth Fremson - NY Times

Having made last month’s mayor’s race much closer than most anyone had expected, Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. has been floated as a possible candidate next year for state comptroller, lieutenant governor or congressman.

Mr. Thompson, in an interview this week, made clear that he would not be interested in lieutenant governor if Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo challenged Gov. David A. Paterson and tried to enlist Mr. Thompson as a running mate — a potential ticket there has been speculation about. Nor is he all that excited about the comptroller’s race.

But he has not ruled out challenging Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, whom he described as “smart and aggressive,” in the Democratic primary next year. Mr. Thompson said he would decide on his future early in 2010.

Powerful Democrats from President Obama on down have sought to clear the field of challengers to Ms. Gillibrand to avoid a messy primary that might jeopardize her chances of retaining the seat she was appointed to by Mr. Paterson after Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become secretary of state.

While Mr. Thompson said that other Democrats had urged him to think about running, it was unclear from his answers whether he was seriously considering a challenge or just tweaking the White House for its belated and tepid endorsement in his mayoral campaign.

Asked if he would bow out if Mr. Obama asked him to, Mr. Thompson replied, “I think, in the end, it’s a decision you have to make yourself.”

Mr. Thompson is not a person given to second-guessing, but as he spoke in his office overlooking City Hall he reflected on his two terms as comptroller and on the mayoral race in which he finished fewer than five percentage points behind Mr. Bloomberg, who had outspent him by tens of millions.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We love you Bill Thompson,’ ” he said. “It was, ‘We’re looking for a change.’ No matter, reporters, insiders, politicians said, ‘You can’t beat that kind of money.’ The sense of inevitability that Mike Bloomberg sold — no matter what you said, it couldn’t be heard.”

“Another couple of million would have helped,” Mr. Thompson added, “but I don’t know if there was something you could do differently. I thought I was going to win by three points.”

Was Mr. Thompson’s demeanor a factor, since he failed to generate a heavy turnout among fellow blacks like Mr. Obama did last year?

“Name three candidates that generated that kind of enthusiasm in 25 years,” he replied.

Asked whether he thought Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who had been considering seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination, could have won, Mr. Thompson was unequivocal. “No,” he said.

Some of Mr. Thompson’s supporters criticized his campaign for not seizing on a blunt and, to some, racially incendiary comment by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani warning that the city could become a more dangerous place again if Mr. Bloomberg were not re-elected.

“Some people said, why didn’t Bill play more of a race card? But it was a double-edged sword,” ” Mr. Thompson said, arguing that any effort on his part to inject race into the campaign could have backfired.

With Mr. Bloomberg expected to appoint a commission to revise the City Charter as part of his third-term agenda, Mr. Thompson said he favored the restoration of a two-term limit for citywide elected officials, but an extension for members of the City Council from two terms to three to reduce turnover among its 51 members and enable it to focus better on long-term issues.

He also urged changes in the charter to give neighborhood community boards and the borough presidents more influence in government decisions, and to give the office of the comptroller and the public advocate budgets that would not be dependent on the approval of the mayor or the City Council.

Mr. Thompson said Mr. Bloomberg deserved credit for making budget cuts in the face of projected deficits. “On a lot of levels, he recognized the problem,” Mr. Thompson said.

He also said he believed that he gave the comptroller’s office a “much broader vision” than the one he inherited eight years ago, by “being concerned not only with the bottom line, but with the human face” of city government.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Supreme Court Ruling Could Vindicate Seminerio by Michael Lanza - Queens Chronicle

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This book was closed, some thought.

A series of convictions — culminating in the recent prosecutions of former state Sen. Joe Bruno and former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio — had finally cast light on Albany’s legislative underworld. Its most egregious players had faced justice. And new found federal scrutiny would surely deter those who would follow their unseemly path.

But a trio of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court could soon turn back the clock — setting the stage for pols like Bruno and Seminerio to escape the long prison terms that otherwise await them.

The court began hearing arguments against the government’s “honest services fraud” law last Tuesday. Enacted in 1988, the law criminalizes ethical lapses among public and private officials. Should the justices strike it down, thousands of white-collar offenders convicted under the statute, including Bruno and Seminerio, could be set free.

At question is whether the law adequately defines corruption by establishing a clear line between minor moral lapses and criminal activity. In the first of two hearings last week, the justices seemed to agree it did not.

“Perhaps there are 150 million workers in the United States,” Justice Stephen Breyer told government lawyers seeking to uphold the conviction of Conrad Black, a newspaper executive convicted of defrauding his company under the honest services statute. “I think possibly 140 [million] of them would flunk your test.”

The justices grilled U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben during the hour-long hearing — asking him to explain how a number of hypothetical employees, including one who shirked his duty by going to a baseball game, depriving his boss of honest services, could avoid prosecution under the law.

But Dreeben could not answer, arguing only that bringing such frivolous charges against an individual would be unwise because a jury wouldn’t take them seriously.

“Now you see the problem? It may be you would never prosecute it. It may be a jury would never convict,” Breyer said. “But that isn’t the basis for having a statute that picks up 80 or 100 million people.”

With momentum seemingly building against the honest services law, lawyers are scrambling to prepare for repercussions should the statute be rejected.

“If the Supreme Court says this law is unconstitutional, anyone who is at any stage of their direct appeal, those folks are definitely going to win,” said Gino J. Singer, a Manhattan-based lawyer specializing in federal criminal law.

Singer said those who had waived their rights to appeal through a plea deal could technically still be held depending on the wording of the court’s decision — whether it was retroactive. Seminerio, who pleaded guilty to one count of honest services mail fraud earlier this year, may fall into that category if his sentence is delivered before a Supreme Court decision.

“The most interesting question here is if you’ve pleaded guilty with a waiver of appellate rights, but the statute you’ve pleaded under is found unconstitutional — is the waiver of your appellate rights unconstitutional? You might be the only person in jail, conceivably, on a statute that has been stricken down,” Singer said.

It was also unclear whether law enforcement officials could re-prosecute the honest services offenders should their sentences be vacated. According to Singer, charging someone for the same crime under a different statute could constitute double jeopardy, potentially barring repeat trials.

Seminerio, whose post-plea hearings were held in October, has not yet been sentenced. No decisions have been scheduled by the judge. It could not be confirmed whether sentencing was delayed pending a Supreme Court decision. He faces up to 14 years in prison.

Bruno was convicted on two counts of honest services mail fraud last Monday after a lengthy trial. The former senator faces up to 20 years in prison.

Residents Want to Keep Free Pass for Cross Bay Bridge by Brendan Brosh - NY Daily News

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The Cross Bay Bridge rebate program, which saves Rockaway and Broad Channel residents millions of dollars every year, is in jeopardy of being axed as the MTA tries to fill a nearly $400 million hole in its budget.

The program allows E-ZPass holders in those communities to essentially cross the bridge for free.

"We'll block the bridge and get arrested again," vowed Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who has been active in the fight to remove the toll for more than two decades. "We plan on busing people to the hearings."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved a 2010 budget yesterday that would also reduce train and bus services and potentially eliminate free student MetroCards. Before the cuts can be implemented public hearings must be held and another vote taken.

The bridge produced $12.2 million in toll revenues, MTA spokeswoman Judie Glave told the Daily News earlier this year. The MTA spent $3.6 million on the program in 2008, she added.

Locals with E-ZPass are charged a $1.13 toll every time they cross the bridge. That money is then remitted to them in the form of a rebate.

The community fought against the toll until the rebate program was introduced in 1998, when Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington helped negotiate a deal , Simon said.

Broad Channel residents, who live in zip code 11693, have to take the bridge to pick up a package at the local post office.

Members of Community Board 14 must also cross the bridge to attend local meetings.

"This is the only place in the country where you have to pay to see your neighbor," said Broad Channel activist Eddie O'Hare.

Locals are hoping to get new MTA Chairman Jay Walder - a Rockaway native who attended Beach Channel High School - to save the rebates.

"The battle should be to eliminate the toll altogether," said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska. "This won't help businesses and it'll increase the traffic problems."

The rebate program was on the chopping block earlier this year, but was saved during last-minute negotiations between the MTA and state officials.

The normally subdued Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer even strong-armed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then-Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith to procure the money and save the program.

"I thought I was going to fall off my chair when I heard about this again," Pheffer said yesterday.

Queens City Council Members Petition Klein to Save Schools by Maura Walz - GothamSchools

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City Councilman David Weprin (right) signs a petition urging the DOE not to close 20 city schools. Councilman Eric Ulrich (left) plans to deliver the petition to Chancellor Joel Klein's office this afternoon.

Members of the Queens City Council delegation called on Chancellor Joel Klein to abandon plans to close 20 city schools today.

Standing on the steps of Tweed Courthouse and joined by colleagues representing other boroughs, Queens Council members accused the Department of Education of threatening to close schools without first trying to improve them or seeking community input.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who represents Rockaway Beach, said the DOE did not notify his office before announcing its proposal to close Beach Channel High School.

Ulrich is circulating a petition signed by nearly all of the Queens Council members calling on the DOE to abandon its plans to close the borough’s schools.

Ulrich said he intended to deliver the petition to Chancellor Joel Klein’s office this afternoon. (He jokingly said he might nail it to the doors of Tweed.)

Many of the 11 Council members and members-elect who attended the news meeting called for discussions with parents, community leaders, and the teachers union about how to improve struggling schools before resorting to closure.

“The Chancellor is turning his back on these students and these schools,” Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said. “That is unacceptable.”

Three of the 20 schools the DOE has marked for closure this year are in Queens and two of the three — Jamaica and Beach Channel — are large high schools. Critics of the DOE’s plans to shutter the schools worry that the closures would displace students from eastern Queens, crowding them into already crowded schools such as Francis Lewis High School.

Scientist: Throgs Neck Rehab Dumped Toxins into Little Bay by Joe Kemp - NY Daily News

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A bridge rehabilitation project that already has a list of snafus - including the death of a worker and a fire that resulted in weeks of snarled traffic - is being charged with yet another potential hazard: the dumping of high levels of lead and mercury in the water.

The blasting of lead-based paint on the Throgs Neck Bridge, the 2,300-foot span that connects Queens and the Bronx, may have contaminated the waters of Little Bay, according to an environmental scientist.

"I'm not by any means trying to attack the MTA [Bridges and Tunnels]," said Dr. James Cervino, an environmental scientist who serves on the Task Force on Health Effects of Toll Plaza Air Quality in New York City, a state panel.

"I want to urge them to start collecting samples and work with the community," Cervino said.

The MTA, however, argues that the bridge project has met all environmental safety requirements, and the new claims are simply unfounded.

"The process was performed in full containment, with additional restrictions imposed on work performed near sensitive locations," said MTA Bridges and Tunnels vice president Catherine Sweeney in a response letter sent last week.

According to the agency's monitoring of 103 dust-producing work days on the bridge, no dangerous levels of potentially harmful metals were emitted.

But those tests should have included more samples, Cervino said.

"They only tested air," he said, adding that his findings came from the water and the land along the shoreline of the bay.

Although his tests were preliminary, Cervino and community leaders plan to hire an independent laboratory to conduct a more thorough examination of the samples. The results of which should be known by mid-January, he said.

"We're grateful to [Cervino]," said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose). "He's been more often right than wrong."

Considering the safety of the residents, Padavan hopes the new tests only prove the agency's claim that the area is toxin-free.

"I'd like them to be right," he said.

Concerned locals also hope the results don't reveal any threats to their health.

"I coach soccer under that bridge," said Anthony Melone, 44, the father of two young children. "Those kids roll around all over that field. This is ridiculous."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Area Leaders Demand VLT Firm Pick by Howard Koplowitz -

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Elected officials and members of Community Board 10 are growing frustrated over Gov. David Paterson’s inability to name the winner of the bid to construct VLTs at Aqueduct Race Track. Photo by Christina Santucci

Frustration is mounting by the day over Gov. David Paterson’s indecision on picking a firm to construct and operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track.

“I’m very upset at the governor. I’m very angry at the governor,” state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) told Community Board 10 last week at a meeting. “Gov. Paterson, more or less, stopped the wheel. The governor hasn’t said, ‘Let’s talk. Let’s make a decision.’”

Five firms — Delaware North, the Peebles Corp., Aqueduct Entertainment Group, Penn National Gaming and SL Green — are in the running for the contract to operate as many as 5,000 VLTs, devices similar to slot machines.

Pheffer said she does not want Buffalo-based Delaware North to win the contract “because they failed us before,” referring to the $370 million upfront payment it promised the state when it was awarded the contract in October 2008. Delaware North was unable to come up with those funds and withdrew its proposal.

The assemblywoman also said she was “not fond of Penn National” because its proposal was “not too exciting” and “too boxy.”

She said she favored either SL Green or Aqueduct Entertainment Group because both bidders have been “responsive to the community.”

Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton agreed with Pheffer’s characterization of Paterson’s administration when it comes to Aqueduct.

“The governor’s people, it’s total silence on their end,” she said. “It’s ridiculous at their end of the game. It’s time for the governor to make a decision. The indecision is ridiculous.”

CB 10 Aqueduct Committee Chairwoman Donna Gilmartin said she feels like the community is “being held hostage.”

“Anything [Paterson is] doing to manipulate the situation is not good for this community,” she said.

“It seems the governor doesn’t want to make an enemy” by making the decision, Pheffer said. “We are going to pressure him” by writing e-mails and making phone calls to Paterson’s office, she said.

Pheffer noted that the New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct, has already budgeted money coming in from the VLTs and will be bankrupt in the summer if Paterson does not make a decision on the VLTs.

The assemblywoman also expressed her disappointment over Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn’s withdrawing his bid on the VLTs after Paterson mandated a minimum $200 million upfront payment.

“You can’t keep changing” the parameters for the VLT contract, Pheffer said. “How embarassing ... a man, a multimillionaire says he doesn’t want to invest in New York City.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who also attended the CB 10 meeting, shared Pheffer’s frustration over the process.

“I can only hope that the deal on Aqueduct is made tomorrow,” he said, noting that the $200 million upfront payment has been included in the governor’s deficit reduction plan.

“Now we run the risk of that $200 million not being there for this fiscal year,” the senator said.

He noted that if the decision on the VLTs had been made in August or September, it would have provided the community with jobs.

“Our area depends a lot on what happens at Aqueduct,” he said. “There’s been little information coming from the governor’s office.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ozone Park Cleanup Raises Concerns by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Businesses housed within the eight affected bays on 99th and 100th Streets between 101st and 103rd Avenues will have to leave, DEC says.

Some small businesses in Ozone Park will have to be temporarily displaced and residents are still wondering how they will be affected when the state performs a critical cleanup at a contaminated site, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Only a handful of people attended last Wednesday’s meeting at J.H.S. 210 in Ozone Park to hear the DEC’s proposal to address contamination at the former site of Ozone Industries, located between 103rd and 101st avenues and 99th and 100th streets. The low attendance wasn’t due to a lack of concern, but rather the city and state’s inadequacy in alerting residents to the problem, many said.

“Nobody showed up because nobody knew,” said one angry business owner.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) questioned the DEC about how traffic congestion caused by the project would affect residents — the agency responded that a plan would be put in place — and offered to help get the word out about the project. “You didn’t do a good job contacting the residents,” Miller said. “Maybe you’ll do a better job now.”

Until 1998, Ozone Industries, an aircraft parts manufacturer that operated at 101-32 101st St., rented several bays beneath the Long Island Rail Road that were used to store spent trichloroethene, hydraulic fluids and scrap metal chips. The DEC believes that solvents, oils and/or fluids may have been released in one or more of the bays.

Trichloroethene, or TCE, is a known carcinogen that, if ingested or inhaled over long periods of time, can cause liver damage and increase the risk of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The state’s proposal calls for the removal of floors in eight bays, which would all be performed at the same time. Soil would be excavated and a soil vapor extraction system would be constructed to collect vapors from the deeper soils.

The implementation cost is $2.2 million, the construction cost is $1.5 million and an annual cost of $210,000 per year for two years following construction would be used to monitor the system. The entire cost would be paid for by Enzone Inc., an off-site paper company responsible for the area, said John Durnin, DEC’s project manager.

The DEC’s goal is to finalize plans by January, approve designs by the summer and begin the cleanup six to 12 months later.

State representatives said certain action plans would be put in place to ensure chemical vapors didn’t escape while the work was being performed, but this promise did little to satisfy residents’ concerns.

“Even if I close my windows, I get a breeze,” said Felicina Lisena, who lives across the street from the site. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do one bay at a time so there’s less chemical exposure?”

The businesses within the bays, which consist mainly of storage units and utilities, will have to relocate while the work is being performed, DEC said. Durnin said it is the responsibility of Enzone and its environmental consultant company, AECOM, to work with the city and help reposition those companies.

In the meantime, neither Stephanie Renz at the mortgage company Northpoint Group, located across the street from the site, nor a spokeswoman at Tavella Plumbing, also across the street, have received an update about the DEC’s plans. A manager at Olympic Fence company, which has a main office on Atlantic Avenue but maintains a warehouse space in the affected area, said to his knowledge, the bay they use is not one of the eight that has been contaminated. Nevertheless, the city or state hasn’t provided him with an update on what to expect.

A representative from the DEC said an effort was made to alert business owners and letters had been sent to property owners, but that doesn’t always ensure tenants will be informed.

DEC is accepting written comments about the proposed remedy until Dec. 24. Submit comments to John Durnin, P.E. at NYSDEC, Division of Environmental Remediation at 625 Broadway, Albany, N.Y. 12233-7016.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hero Cop Tackled Attacker at Ozone Park Nightspot by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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Sgt. John Egan, second from right, was presented with the 106th Precinct’s Cop of the Month award by his commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis, right, and 106th Community Council President Frank Dardani, second from left

In recognition of his excellent police work, Sgt. John Egan was honored with the 106th Precinct’s Cop of the Month award for December 2009.

On Friday, Oct. 30 at 2 a.m. Egan was at the precinct’s front desk when he heard a report on the police radio of an unruly crowd of more than 100 individuals in front of the Chemistry Lounge, located at 98-07 Liberty Ave., in Ozone Park.

Arriving at the scene, Egan witnessed an individual frantically swinging a knife at the crowd, which included police officers. Several cops with guns drawn ordered the suspect, who had already stabbed two people, to drop the knife.

The knife-wielder refused and continued to swing the weapon back and forth to clear a path for his escape. Egan, who by then had gotten behind the individual, tackled him, wrestled the knife from his hand and placed him under arrest.

“Sgt. Egan’s actions exemplify extreme bravery,” said Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis, adding, “He put his own safety at risk to protect his fellow officers [and the public].” Courtesis noted that considering the extreme situation, Egan probably also saved the alleged perpetrator’s life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Woodhaven-Metro School Seating Disputed by Dan Bush - Leader-Observer

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A debate over seating priorities is delaying community action on the new high school being built at the intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.

The Department of Education (DOE) plans to open the 1000-seat high school in phases.

In September of 2010, the school is slated to open for a freshman class of 250 students, leaving the school 75 percent under capacity for its first year of operation.

In subsequent years, the DOE would phase in the remaining students and grades, possibly one grade per year.

The school is primarily zoned for School Districts 24 and 28. Seating priority for the incoming freshman class has been evenly divided between the two districts.

Critics of the plan say District 24, and all of Queens generally, is getting short shrifted by the zoning and plan to phase-in students.

Community Board 5 voted December 9 to wait an extra month before issuing a resolution on the project, shooting down a proposal to green light the school as is.

Vincent Arcuri, CB5’s chairman, said the DOE’s zoning proposal makes little sense. He argued that census data shows that, when combined, the sections of districts 24 and 28 included in the zoning don’t have enough freshman to fill the incoming class.

“The zoning they currently have does not contain 250 freshman,” Arcuri said.

If it isn’t changed, he said the remaining open spaces would go to students from elsewhere in Queens and around the city. Arcuri has suggested expanding the District 24 area included in the school zoning farther west to capture more high school-aged students.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens representative on the Panel for Education Policy, voiced strong opposition to the DOE’s plan to fill the school slowly by phasing in students over time. He said the DOE told him they believe opening the school at full capacity will set it up for failure.

“Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of waiting in Queens,” said Fedkowskyj. “We have high schools bursting at the seams.”

He outlined an alternative plan to open the school for 9th and 10th graders at once. That way, Fedkowskyj said, the school would open at 50 percent capacity right away, alleviating overcrowding at other high schools such as Grover Cleveland and Newtown high schools.

A DOE spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

While impasse over zoning continues, the DOE is finishing construction at the Woodhaven Boulevard-Metropolitan Avenue campus.

Besides the as-of-yet unnamed high school, the site will also house a second, 900-seat school, I.S./H.S. 167. Seating for that school is being split between districts 28 and 75, which will get 700 and 200 seats respectively.

It remains unclear exactly how the opening of another high school being built in nearby Maspeth might impact the two new schools.

Fedkowskyj said the Queens needs as many high school seats as it can get. “I don’t think that we have enough high school seats to serve the borough of Queens as it is,” he said.

Monday, December 14, 2009

$7M Expansion for APEC in Douglaston by Liz Rhodes - Queens Chronicle

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Alley Pond Environmental Center, headquartered in a former patio furniture store on Northern Boulevard in Douglaston, will be expanded. Six modular units will be added.

Alley Pond Environmental Center is about to get a $7 million makeover.

The popular nature center at 228-06 Northern Blvd. in Douglaston has been bursting at the seams for years, but there is little room to expand because of the adjacent park and marshes. “You can’t double the footprint without encroaching into the park,” said Irene Scheid, APEC executive director. “We can’t go to two floors because we would need an expensive elevator and because of the marshland,” which couldn’t take the extra weight.

Instead the city, which operates the nature center, has decided to install six modular units that will be connected to the existing building via a walkway. The APEC facility — which originated as an outdoor furniture store — will be gutted, redesigned and have a new floor and walls installed.

“We will make it as green as possible,” Scheid said. “We hope the work will start next August.”

More than $5.5 million has been allocated by area elected officials including state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck), Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and the entire Queens City Council delegation. The rest has come from a three-year fundraising effort.

The reason why the project is costing so much money is due to the marshlands. The city has to put out a contract for soil tests and borings for the modular units, according to Scheid, and that it’s currently “in a holding pattern.”

The city wants to ensure that the modulars don’t sink and are firmly grounded before their installation. Scheid said the units will add 5,000 square feet of additional space.

She believes they may be utilized primarily by staff, but exactly how the new space will be used has yet to be determined. But while construction is going on, Scheid promised all programs will continue in the modular units until the remodeled building is complete.

The director expects the work to take a year. “We will be cramped for awhile and space will be limited for larger events such as our square dances,” Scheid said.

The last renovation was done 10 years ago when a new kitchen, two bathrooms, a pre-kindergarten room and a computer system were added.

APEC encompasses 150 acres of woodland, meadows and fresh and saltwater marshes. It was founded by a group of teachers in 1972, who were concerned about the lack of environmental education in the public school curriculum.

Today, the center features miles of natural trails through the park, extensive classes for children and environmental programs for the entire family. Upcoming events in 2010 include a tea and treasures sale on Feb. 28, square dance on March 20, walk for APEC on April 18 and a blood drive on April 20.

The center serves 41,000 children a year and 14,000 adults.

“We have 10,000 school students on a waiting list,” Scheid said. “There is a need for such programs.”

APEC is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SL Green, AEG are Pheffer's Favorites by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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While Gov. David Paterson remains tight-lipped — and slow on the draw — when it comes to both vocalizing his preference and selecting a winning bidder for Aqueduct Race Track, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) did not hold back at last week’s Community Board 10 meeting in South Ozone Park.

After she and other officials met with the five bidders to hear their proposals for video lottery terminals at the track, Pheffer emerged feeling positive about both Manhattan property owner SL Green Realty and Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which is made up of several partners that include the Navegante Group, GreenStar Services Corporation and Turner Construction. Advertisement

“We find them to be the ones who have been responsive to the community,” Pheffer said.

Likewise, the assemblywoman pulled no punches when it came to explaining why two of the bidders were not at the top of her list.

Delaware North, which won last year’s bid but had to pull out because it lacked the necessary financial resources, is not an ideal choice “because they disappointed us the last time,” Pheffer said. Nor is Penn National Gaming, she said, which has managed to distinguish itself by cutting back on the glitz and glamour that defined bidders like Wynn Resorts — which dropped out of the running last month.

“Their plan is a little too boxy, unimaginative and not too exciting,” Pheffer said of Penn National.

Despite rumors that Paterson was set to choose a bidder to revamp the dilapidated racetrack months ago, residents and community leaders have been waiting — and waiting — for the state to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, each contender has had ample opportunity to share its vision with the borough.

SL Green Realty, with partners Hard Rock International and Caribbean CAGE, plans to generate more than $525 million in annual revenue for the state by building a Hard Rock-brand casino, bar, shops and a 425-seat fresh harvest restaurant and marketplace-style food court. Aqueduct Entertainment Group has unveiled similarly grand designs that include a 300-room hotel, 1,200-seat stadium buffet, 2,500-seat entertainment center and Aqueduct Racing Museum.

Elsewhere, Aqueduct Gaming, a coalition of New York companies comprised of Delaware North, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway and McKissack & McKissack, plans to build a hotel and restaurant, but have also emphasized family-friendly amenities such as Kids Quest, a supervised hourly daycare center, and Cyber Quest, a children’s game arcade.

The Peebles Corporation, with partner MGM Mirage, has imagined a space defined by its luxury hotel and multiple fine-dining restaurants, while Penn National Gaming has concentrated mainly on VLTs, proposing to create a temporary facility with 1,000 to 2,500 slots in operation within eight months of signing an agreement with Albany. A permament VLT facility with 4,500 machines would be opened a year later.

Regardless of which bidder resonates with residents, Pheffer reminded C.B. 10 members that Paterson is costing New York State a million dollars a day in lost revenue as he stalls on making a decision, and said she is angry and upset with the governor for “stopping the wheels” on Aqueduct.

“Hopefully now that the governor has agreed on the budget, he will sit down and listen to us,” Pheffer said. “He’s got to get off the dime.”

C.B. 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton agreed, saying “It’s time for the governor to make a decision.”

But Paterson, who spoke at a town hall meeting in St. Albans Tuesday evening, reminded residents that his vote wasn’t the only one that counted. Both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) are expected to agree on a winning bidder.

“I’m willing to take whatever choice the other two can arrive at because we need the money and we need to start to generate work and opportunities right here in southeast Queens,” Paterson said.

The governor added that he, Sampson and Silver are expected to meet again and discuss the matter on Friday.

— AnnMarie Costella contributed to this story.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bill to Help Out Ill Workers is Good for Everyone's Health by Eric Ulrich NY Daily News Op/Ed

As local and national public health officials work overtime to stop the spread of swine flu, they have made sure to highlight common sense measures the public can take to do its part. Almost always, near the top of the list is simply avoiding people you might infect when you are sick: staying home from work and keeping sick children out of school.

But for nearly half of all working New Yorkers, that common sense suggestion may not be an option. A report from the Community Service Society and A Better Balance estimates that 48% of New Yorkers - more than 1.65 million people - have no paid sick days where they work. Low-income New Yorkers suffer the most; fully two-thirds
(66%) cannot take a paid day off when they get sick. Nor can an astounding 72% of Latino low wage workers

For these working families, the next cold or flu means a tough choice between their health (and the health of their co-workers) and the paycheck they need to make ends meet.

Worse, the report suggests that access to paid sick days is on the decline. As recently as 2004, 69% of "near-poor" workers - those just above the poverty line ($22,050 for a family of four) - had paid sick leave where they worked. Today, just 33% of near-poor workers report having paid sick days. It appears that the recession is not only making jobs harder to find; the jobs that do exist are increasingly less likely to provide adequate benefits.

That thousands of working families live in fear that getting sick could be financially ruinous is troubling enough. But the consequences of lacking paid sick days may extend far beyond individual workers and their families

New York City has sensibly made it a policy to close public schools only as a last resort in the event of a swine flu outbreak. But key to the success of the city's swine flu plan is the ability of parents to follow the city's own advice by keeping flu-stricken children at home where they cannot infect their classmates and teachers.

For many working parents, that plan may sound doomed to fail. According to the report, 54% of public school parents (and 65% of low-income public school parents) lack paid sick days where they work. Unsurprisingly, 30% of low-income parents report having sent a sick child to school.

There is also evidence that the lack of paid sick days may even be contributing to our broken health care system, where preventable illnesses go untreated and the under-served choke our emergency rooms and hospitals.

Twenty-two percent of low-income workers who have health insurance report visiting an emergency room simply because they could not take time off work for a doctor's appointment.

The statistics are depressing, but the city can and should take action. The Paid Sick Time bill currently under consideration by the City Council would allow all working New Yorkers to earn paid sick leave on the job. With 39 Council co-sponsors, the bipartisan bill is a common sense way to help working families and protect the public health. (Actually, as a major priority of the progressive Working Families Party, it's a tri-partisan bill.)

New York would not be the first city to implement a universal paid sick days law. San Francisco and Washington have made paid sick leave a basic workplace standard, and more than 15 states are considering similar measures

It is an idea that unites New Yorkers from all walks of life - from single parents to labor leaders and business groups, liberals and conservatives, advocates for women and advocates for family values. It is time to put paid sick days at the top of the agenda

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Howard Beach) is a sponsor of the Paid Sick Time Act.