The year 2005 in Queens was bookmarked by transit strikes, with an assortment of historic events scattered in between.
In January, employees of the Green Bus Line walked out, forcing 70,000 Queens and Brooklyn residents to find transportation alternatives. However, that paled in comparison to the December strike, when the transit workers union walked off the job, leaving the city’s 7 million daily commuters to fend for themselves.
The man garnering the most headlines during the year was former Jamaica City Councilman Allan Jennings. The councilman was defeated in a September Democratic primary race after spending the early part of the year fending off sexual harassment and campaign finance charges.
In April, the council’s Standards and Ethics Committee found Jennings guilty of harassing two female aides and fined him $5,000. The employees alleged he touched them inappropriately, forced them to clean his home and insulted them in the workplace. The Campaign Finance Board also fined him $42,885 for campaign funding violations.
In March, P.S. 34 assistant principal Nancy Miller was fired after allegedly telling 12 Haitian students to sit on the floor and eat rice and chicken with their hands. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein eventually apologized for the incident.
In June, Howard Beach was thrown into the spotlight when a group of white people beat Glenn Moore, a 22-year-old black man, into unconsciousness. The Rev. Al Sharpton arrived a few days later to lead a protest march. Politicians and civic leaders condemned the attack as racially motivated as local leaders rushed to the area’s defense.
Other stories of note include the 11-month sting operation that culminated in the arrest of 37 drug dealers in Queensbridge; the theft and eventual return of a $1.5 million Jean-Michel Basquiat painting; Gov. George Pataki’s signing of VaSean’s Law on drunken driving fatalities; the end of a multi-million dollar gambling ring being run out of bars in Maspeth and Ridgewood; KeySpan Energy’s finalizing a deal to turn the company’s gas tank site into a park; and the murder of Monica Lozada by her boyfriend, Cesar Ascarrunz.
Two numbers come to mind when recalling the year 2006 in Queens — 10 and 50.
For thousands of western Queens residents, 10 was the number of days in a summertime blackout that tested the endurance of even the toughest New Yorkers. And 50 was the number of shots that felled Sean Bell of southeastern Queens, blowing the lid off the black community’s long-simmering resentment against the NYPD.
The trouble in Astoria began when a small electrical fire led to a series of feeder cable failures that knocked out power for more than a week. By the time it was over, dozens of mostly small mom-and-pop businesses went under. And for many in western Queens, trust in utility giant Con Edison was irrevocably shattered.
Then on Nov. 25, a much different kind of trust was broken for the friends and family of Sean Bell, shot by police after leaving his bachelor party in Jamaica in the early morning hours of his wedding day.
In the weeks and months after the shooting, sadness turned to outrage as hundreds of protesters called for criminal charges against the officers at the scene.
The year also brought the last chapter to many Queens political careers, including that of county Democratic boss Thomas Manton, who died that summer.
In September, state Sen. Ada Smith of Jamaica went down to defeat to fellow Democrat Shirley Huntley, after reports earlier in the year that the longtime legislator threw a hot cup of coffee in a staffer’s face. In October, Flushing Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin also ended his political career in disgrace, facing federal racketeering charges.
In August that year, seemingly quiet and kindly Woodhaven bricklayer Matthew Colletta claimed he had “borrowed a gun from Lucifer” in a shooting spree that left one dead and wounded two others. And Howard Beach resident Nicholas?“Fat Nick” Minucci got 15 years for an assault committed against a black man the year before.
In 2006, the state Berger Commission first called for the closure of New Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills. Parents and teachers protested the city’s decision to postpone 12 school construction projects in Queens.
And in a year of great tumult and change, one piece of good news: after years of planning, Mets officials broke ground on a new baseball stadium called Citi Field.
Queens was hit with a flood of problems in 2007, not the least of which was actual flooding. In several parts of the borough, including Howard Beach, Springfield Gardens, Jamaica and other areas, a flurry of spring storms slammed the borough, putting lives and property at risk, and forcing intervention by the Federal Office of Emergency Management.
The impact of the flooding was felt for months, as many businesses were forced to close, and vital service structures — including schools and assisted living facilities — were forced to adjust to the disaster.
In June, the threat of terror struck too close to home for many Queens residents, when it was revealed that federal agents had arrested four men for allegedly plotting to blow up the Buckeye fuel pipeline, which runs from New Jersey to LaGuardia and Kennedy International airports.
A former baggage handler at JFK airport was the alleged ring-leader of the plot, which was apparently still in the early planning stages when arrests were made.
Middle Village was rocked by the revelation that City Councilman Dennis Gallagher had been charged with rape. The incident involved the councilman taking a woman whom he met at a bar back to his offices on Metropolitan Avenue and sexually assaulting her in his office.
When the allegations became public, and Gallagher was charged, he was stripped of his leadership positions within the council.
As a result of the controversy, Gallagher was eventually forced to resign his office and was replaced in a special election.
During the rest of the year, Queens was hit with some surprising events.
The New York Mets, who had started the 2007 MLB season with so much promise, collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
A pair of young homeless men were arrested for a crime spree in Flushing Meadows Park, as were a group of five suspects in Howard Beach arrested on vandalism hate crime charges.
Queens residents took a double-whammy in the form of rising electricity costs and gas prices. Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci, the defendant in another hate crime spoke to the Queens Chronicle from his jail cell after his conviction. Residents still await the outcome of the trial regarding slain orthodontist Daniel Malakov of Forest Hills, gunned down in front of his daughter in a suspected hit.
The year 2008 turned out to be a bad one for several local and state politicians. From the governor down to a Queens councilman, scandal and disgrace have followed them.
The debacles began in March with the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer after he was caught by a federal wiretap arranging a rendezvous with a prostitute. The same week of Spitzer’s departure, former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin of Flushing pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges and faced a 50-year sentence. He admitted stealing over $2 million from political campaign, union and other funds. The former politician and union leader was to be sentenced in September, but that has been delayed.
Also in March, City Councilman Dennis Gallagher of Middle Village pleaded guilty to forcible touching and third-degree sexual abuse. In return for the guilty plea, Gallagher announced his resignation. According to the victim’s allegations, the two met at a local bar the previous summer. She said he drove her to his office, where he allegedly raped her. Gallagher maintains that the sex was consensual.
In September, Queens residents were shocked to learn that a veteran Assembly member, Anthony Seminerio, 73, of Richmond Hill, faced charges with federal corruption for allegedly taking bribes. The 30-year office holder was arrested after an undercover FBI sting. A week later, McLaughlin’s name surfaced as a cooperating witness in the FBI case. He reportedly recorded numerous conversations with Seminerio in 2007, which implicated him in a firm he set up to essentially take payoffs in return for legislative favors.
Because McLaughlin pleaded guilty to racketeering, his sentence was reduced to eight to 10 years. But many believe that his sentencing date was delayed to work out an even shorter sentence as a result of the Seminerio case.
In April, a state Supreme Court judge found three NYPD detectives not guilty in the murder of Sean Bell outside a Jamaica club the previous year. The community was outraged at the decision … Fear swept Eastern Queens this past summer after police announced they were looking for two serial rapists they believe are responsible for more than a dozen attacks in the area … In development news, the mayor’s $3 billion mixed-use Willets Point project inched closer to reality. The City Council was set to vote this week on the proposal that would transform the area from car junkyard and streets full of potholes to one with housing, offices, retail space, a hotel and a small convention center.
In October, Mets fans bid adieu to their old stadium and to a potentially winning season. The Mets lost their last game to Milwaukee, precluding post-season play. Fans said they expect to be priced out of the new stadium, Citi Field, when it opens next spring…The Queens delegation to City Hall was split on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful proposal in October to extend his and other elected officials’ terms of office… At the end of October, Queens residents learned that the state had selected Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo to operate a new racino at Aqueduct Racetrack. It will allow the firm to bring in 4,500 video slot machines, a hotel, conference center and stores.