Arson, murder and building development all took their turns on the pages of the Queens Chronicle in 2008, but nothing dominated headlines in mid and central Queens like political scandal.
Former city councilman Dennis Gallagher spurred a number of those stories, though his troubles really began in 2007, when he was accused of sexually assaulting a 52-year-old woman in his Middle Village office.
In a cramped arraignment courtroom at Kew Gardens Criminal Court in March, the Republican councilman pled guilty to forcible touching and third-degree sexual abuse — class A and B misdemeanors, respectively.
“My conduct was wrong,” Gallagher admitted, “and I apologize to the complainant.”
In return for the guilty plea, Gallagher announced his resignation as councilman for District 30, which comprises Glendale and Middle Village and parts of Maspeth, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven. His last day in office was April 18.
Gallagher also agreed to enter and complete an alcohol treatment program, although he did not have to register as a sex offender or serve a period of probation.
The crimes to which Gallagher admitted were significantly less severe than the felony charges originally levied against him. According to the allegation, Gallagher met the victim in Danny Boy’s bar in Middle Village, just around the corner from Gallagher’s home, in July 2007. The victim alleged that instead of driving her home, as he had promised, he drove her to his nearby office on Metropolitan Avenue, where he raped her.
Until the plea, Gallagher maintained that while the two had sexual intercourse, it was consensual.
The resignation sparked a complicated and somewhat confusing process that, so far, has already seen two elections, with two different people winning. A third will be necessary in 2009 before the elected candidate can serve a full four-year term.
In April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a special election to be held in June and six people originally showed interest in running. The field was eventaully whittled down to four — Republicans Anthony Como and Tom Ognibene, and Democrats Elizabeth Crowley and Charles Ober.
Como eventually won the race, though it was no easy feat. Initial results had Como with a 70-vote lead over Crowley. By the time the election was certified, the lead had narrowed to 38, but it was enough to take the title of councilman.
The title would be short-lived. The special election was just to serve the time until another citywide election, so on Nov. 4, Como and Crowley matched up again. This time, Crowely would come out the victor, perhaps with some help from President-elect Barack Obama, who pulled a record number of voters to the polls to vote Democrat.
Crowley, who is to be sworn into the council Jan. 1, will need to run for re-election in November 2009.
Also in November, Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) defeated 20-year incumbent state Sen. Serphin Maltese for the 15th Senatorial District seat after a much publicized campaign.
Gallagher wasn’t the only politician locally to plead guilty to crimes this year. Brian McLaughlin, the former Flushing-based assemblyman and union heavyweight, admitted under oath in March that he illegally took over $2 million in funds from a variety of resources: political campaign funds, union funds, state funds and funds from employers around the electrical industry, whose workers he represented through his union responsibilities.
The plea agreement reduced McLaughlin’s sentence to eight to 10 years in federal prison from 50. He is expected to be sentenced in January.
The former assemblyman’s name resurfaced in September when federal agents arrested Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) for corruption. McLaughlin reportedly was the unnamed witness used by the FBI to tape conversations with Seminerio.
But the headlines didn’t only have to include the name of a fallen politico to garner attention. In Forest Hills, the murder of Dr. Daniel Malakov has developed into its own soap opera of sorts.
While Malakov was gunned down execution style on the outskirts of Annadale playground in October of 2007, his wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova, was charged in January with murder and conspiracy.
Borukhova’s uncle, Mikkail Mallayev, has been charged with committing the crime, using a makeshift silencer out of a bleach bottle and shooting the victim twice in the chest.
The tale twisted again in March when Borukhova’s older sister, Natella Natanova, also of Forest Hills, was charge with intimidating and tampering with a witness in the case. According to the criminal charges, Natanova approached the murder victim’s brother, Gavriel Malakov, and said to him, “You should know if you talk, you will be the next to go.”
Also in Forest Hills, the New Parkway Hospital finally lost its state operating license to continue running as an acute care facility.
A state committee identified the privately owned hospital as unnecessary in 2006 and scheduled it for closure. Dr. Robert Aquino, the facility’s owner, battled the decision and even took the state to court in September, but eventually lost. Community Board 6, representing Forest Hills, has since sent letters to state and city officials urging them to support reopening the hospital as an acute care facility.
Tragedy struck in Middle Village in May, when Agnes Bermudez allegedly started a fire in a three-story building that killed four people. According to police, Bermudez started the fire by pouring carpet cleaner fluid on her ex-boyfriend, William Salazar, 32, who lived in the second-story apartment. Salazar later died of his injuries.
The fire moved quickly, engulfing the third-floor apartment overhead and killing three members of the same family: Heriberto Garcia-Vera, 68, his wife, Flor Sandoval, 48, and their son, Felipe Garcia, 20.
In Maspeth, residents lost a year-long battle to prevent a cell phone tower from being constructed on top of a two-story home on 72nd Place.
Despite opposition at almost every level of government, from the Queens borough president and Community Board 5 to Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the city Board of Standards and Appeals approved the request, T-Mobil subsidiary Omnipoint was permitted to construct a 13-foot tower.
The decision outraged both city officials and neighbors. A group, led by Councilman Tony Avella, is expected to protest outside the offices of the BSA later this week.
But in another case, protesters were granted at least some concession from the city. After months of dispute from the elderly community, the city decided in December to delay an overhaul of its senior centers.
The Department for the Aging was in the middle of awarding new contracts for centers through a request for proposals process. The goal of the RFP was to make senior centers more attractive to younger, modern seniors. The centers, it claims, are widely underutilized and outdated.
However, the overhaul would have shut upward of 80 facilities, a figure that some elected officials, included City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Comptroller Bill Thompson, vehemently protested. They were joined by over 19,000 seniors, who sent letters to Mayor Michael Bloomberg stating their opposition.
In the end, the city relented, though it may have had more to do with the commissioner of the DFTA, Edwin Mendez-Santiago, submitting his resignation. Mendez-Santiago said he resigned for personal reasons, although it was recently revealed that his secretary filed a federal lawsuit against him alleging sexual harrasment.
Things may also be looking up for Newtown Creek, the 3.5 miles of polluted stew between Queens and Brooklyn. The environmental Protection Agency agreed in August to test the creek and determine whether it should be designated a Superfund site.
The Superfund program is the federal government’s primary tool to clean up the nation’s hazardous waste sites. If the EPA’s testing turns up significant levels of chemicals, the site could be eligible for millions of federal dollars in remediation.
The creek is home to one of the biggest oil spills in the world, with estimates between 17 and 30 million gallons, which resulted from a Standard Oil tank explosion in 1950. Standard, now ExxonMobil, operated along the creek for years.
Finally, while new buildings have sprung up in the area, including a two-story shopping center at the corner of Metropolitan and 71st avenues in Forest Hills, residents have also had to say goodbye to others they held close to their heart.
Bowlers rolled their last strikes at Woodhaven lanes, in Glendale, on May 18. Rumors first spread about the possible closure of the lanes in 2007, when Brunswick Bowling, the operator, tried to renegotiate its lease. In the end, Brunswick opted out, and efforts to bring another bowling company to the facility fell through.
“I really thought at the last minute that something would happen,” said Donna Fazio, a longtime bowler at the alley, as tears filled her eyes on the final day. “I really thought we’d hit a home run.”