The year 2001 will forever be defined by the day the Twin Towers were destroyed. Marked by tears, the year ended with the incomprehensible loss of thousands of innocent lives. Two months after September 11th, the crash of Flight 587 on the Rockaway peninsula brought the horror of more death and destruction to the borough.
And although those tragic events overshadow memories of 2001, members of Queens communities were hit by the sorrow of other deaths as well. On Father’s Day in June, three firefighters, all fathers, lost their lives battling a raging inferno in an Astoria hardware store. The fire had been sparked when two teens were playing with paint cans behind the store.
In August, Eddie Garzon, a homosexual Colombian immigrant, was brutally murdered in Jackson Heights. His death left a festering wound within the borough’s gay community. Queens’ first gay community center had been opened in the area just months before.
Queens Boulevard, nicknamed the Boulevard of Death, claimed three more lives by the end of 2001 and elected officials called for increased safety measures for the deadly thoroughfare.
In spite of the lingering sense that 2001 was a year of loss, it was also a year of heroes and patriotism. While there were some instances of brutal bigotry
perpetrated against Queens’ immigrant population in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, most of the borough’s residents reached out to one another both to give and receive emotional and physical support.
The end of 2001 should be remembered as a time of flying flags and hopeful prayers. Yes, there were tears and fears. But there were also candlelight vigils and memorial services that served to bring the people of Queens together in a bond born of past pain and future hope.
Each event in the borough in 2002 was overshadowed by lingering memories of the previous year’s attack on the World Trade Center and the tragic crash of Flight 587 two months later.
Airport security was an ongoing topic as local and federal officials pushed for more screening of both airline employees and passengers. By the end of the year, new screeners and procedures were in place.
The year began with Helen Marshall assuming the reins of the borough’s leadership, Michael Bloomberg at the city’s helm, and dozens of freshman city councilmembers replacing those ousted by term limits.
Mayor Bloomberg would begin his battle with the Board of Education in a bid to wrest control away from its members. No sooner did he dub it the Department of Education than he made moves to get rid of community school boards.
Employees of the private bus companies that serve Queens’ commuters measured the mayor’s mettle when they staged a seven week strike in the summer. The companies won a $4-million advance from the city.
One of the most sensational news stories covered by the Queens Chronicle this year was the trial of John Taylor, eventually convicted in the 2000 slaughter of five Wendy’s restaurant employees in Flushing.
Controversy, in 2002, was in ample supply as news stories revealed that the growing scandal of past sexual abuse by priests touched many Catholic parishes in Queens.
However, it was just one controversial Queens figure who stole headlines and front page photos in each Chronicle edition in June. Reputed mob boss John Gotti, of Ozone Park and Howard Beach, succumbed to cancer while in a federal prison.
One of the defining events of 2003 to date is the war in Iraq. People from Queens protested, were deployed overseas, and some came back in coffins. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the funeral of a Maspeth Marine in March. Corporal Robert Marcus Rodriguez, 21, became the city’s second casualty when his tank plunged off a bridge and landed upside down in the Euphrates River.
Also in March, on a lighter note, Woodhaven native Adrien Brody won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “The Pianist,” the story of a gifted Jewish musician who survived the Holocaust. After receiving his Oscar, Brody sent a surprise message to Rego Park’s Tommy Zarobinski, a childhood friend who was serving in the Army National Guard in Kuwait at the time of the Academy Award broadcast.
Most will probably remember 2003 as the year of the nation’s worst-ever blackout. In the blink of an eye, on the afternoon of Thursday, August 14th, electricity supplies stopped abruptly, leaving parts of Queens without power for up to 36 hours. Thousands were trapped in subways and high-rise elevators and widespread traffic jams were caused by inoperable intersection signals.
The blackout hit the borough just as the evening commuter rush was getting under way. However, Queens’ residents proved they knew how to handle an emergency as ordinary people volunteered to direct traffic and road rage was virtually nonexistent for a change.
However, the same couldn’t be said for other types of rage on other days of 2003. A vigil and protest against hate crimes still being perpetrated against members of Queens’ immigrant communities was held in Jackson Heights in August after a Woodside family was attacked with racial slurs and spit upon.
The year 2004 made for some colorful headlines in the Queens Chronicle. From crimes, surprises and strange events picked up by the national media, to political firsts and historical losses, the borough experienced many unforgettable events.
One that most would likely want to forget is the disastrous scandal that surrounded the St. John’s University basketball team in February that year. During an away game in Philadelphia, several members broke curfew, went to a bar and picked up a woman. When they refused to pay her for sex, she threatened to go to police and accuse them of rape.
One of the players had taped her threats and police eventually threw out the charges. But the Catholic university imposed its own sanctions: six players were suspended and two were expelled. Additionally, the university did not play in the post season that year.
A second bad memory sprouted that month when Guyanese police officer Dec. Rudy Toolasrashad of the 102nd Precinct was accused of taking bribes from area businesses. He allegedly accepted money to help Sikhs whose passports were destroyed during a 2002 fire in their gurdwara in Richmond Hill.
The accusation garnered an angry reaction from the neighborhood’s largely immigrant population. Some believed the charges were concocted to undermine the detective’s reputation.
A more pleasant memory was made several months later in July, when Flushing businessman Jimmy Meng won the race for the 22nd Assembly District seat and became the state’s first Asian American legislator.
Sad and surprising memories also captured the borough in 2004. In February, Long Island City’s legendary Scalamandre sold its local mill — a loss historians called tragic. Also, the unveiling of a memorial honoring Queens firefighters who died on Sept. 11 brought back tearful memories.
In August, the federal Environmental Protection Administration said Queens had the most toxic air in the city and a South Ozone Park family was chosen for a house renovation by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
Earlier that month, a tiger scheduled to perform at the Cole Brothers Circus in Forest Park escaped from his cage and onto the Jackie Robinson Parkway, causing several car pileups.