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Queens Chronicle

Eventful year produces challengers, challenges

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Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 12:00 am

The central swaths of the borough saw it all this year — even a tornado.

This election cycle also produced some hotly contested congressional and state races, with incumbents ultimately prevailing on Nov. 2, though Democrats ceded control of both the House and state Senate.

Toss in the omnipresent elements of public corruption, budget struggles, guilty pleas and a groundswell of civic action and you have the makings of a challenging — and, at times, rewarding — 2010 for the communities of Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Briarwood.

January

The man accused of running down a teen and his friend with a stolen car in Middle Village last year pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges. Kenneth Guyear, 28, of Middle Village, pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular manslaughter.

Robert Ogle, 16, of Middle Village, and his friend, Alex Paul, 20, of Brooklyn, were struck by the stolen silver Kia on Elliott Avenue and 80th Street while walking home from a party the previous February. Ogle was pronounced dead at the scene and Paul died shortly after at Elmhurst Hospital.

February

A Forest Hills priest was put on administrative leave after federal investigators revealed that he was being questioned in a child pornography probe. Monsignor Michael Dempsey, 77, a resident pastor at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, was barred from performing his duties as a priest after officials at the Diocese of Brooklyn learned of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation.

Dozens of protesters gathered in Kew Gardens to oppose proposals to eliminate the Q74 bus line — an opening salvo in a contentious battle over the fate of up to 35 routes citywide.

Local lawmakers and area civic groups led chants of “save our bus” as the commuters made their case for preserving the bus line during another tough budget year. The Q74, which runs from Kew Gardens to Flushing, is among five Queens routes slated for termination as the MTA once again seeks to close a multi-million-dollar deficit.

Two former leaders at the Christian Assembly Church in Forest Hills pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Robert Riddle and Timothy Smith were among five implicated in a scheme that bilked nearly $12 million from elderly parishioners last year.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a criminal complaint last April, alleging that leaders of the church had raised millions from their congregation to sustain a hedge fund, promising investors returns as high as 75 percent. But the church officials soon began skimming the fund for their own use.

After nearly two years of delays to build the Rego Center II mall, Century 21 and Kohl’s were the first tenants to open this month. Other major tenants, including Costco and TJ Maxx, opened in the coming weeks.

March

A Newtown High School student is facing assault charges after allegedly stabbing one of his peers during classes. Bryan Godoy, 16, was charged with second degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon after he allegedly knifed a 17-year-old student twice outside a classroom at the Elmhurst school.

An alleged accomplice was also detained as their victim was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was treated for puncture wounds to the lungs, stomach and back.

April

A 12-year-old girl and her mother sue the city after she is arrested at school for doodling on her desk.

The Queens LGBT community was on edge after a transgender woman was murdered in Ridgewood.

The state Department of Transportation put the brakes on the Kew Gardens Interchange project in April thanks to the budget crisis in Albany. Officials eventually broke ground on Phase 1 in the fall.

Though the agency admitted it didn’t have the funds, Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said LaGuardia Airport “should fundamentally be torn down and rebuilt again.”

May

Scandal-scarred former City Councilman Dennis Gallagher of Middle Village speaks exclusively to the Chronicle in his first full interview since resigning the 30th District seat in 2008. The Republican remains active in borough politics behind the scenes.

Mayor Bloomberg incurred the wrath of elected officials and civic leaders after he released his executive budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, replete with tremendous cuts to education, senior services and the biannual tradition of threatening to close fire companies.

An agreement was reached between the U.S. Postal Service and landlord Tulip Management LLC to extend the lease on the Austin Street property on which the Kew Gardens Station post office is located.

Beloved Dry Harbor Playschool in Glendale is shuttered by the Parks Department after 40 years of serving area families.

A four-alarm fire tore through a strip of small businesses on 99th Street in Rego Park. Some owners are still trying to recover from the blaze.

The co-owner of a Forest Hills restaurant was shot inside the eatery at lunchtime. He survived.

June

Sweeping MTA bus and subway cuts went into effect at the the end of the month, with some lines rerouted and others eliminated completely.

Arvind Mahankali, 10, of Forest Hills made it to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Anthony Como decided to commit to a campaign to unseat incumbent state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), mere hours after the Republican pulled out of the race to focus on earning the executive director position at the Board of Elections.

The city Department of Environmental Protection announced the completion of a massive, multimillion-dollar reconstruction project that equips 54th and Maurice avenues in Maspeth with the infrastructure necessary to mitigate flooding and address sewer backups.

Thirty-two children from 15 countries took the oath of United States citizenship at a Flag Day naturalization ceremony inside Queens Center.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino picks Middle Village resident and former City Councilman Tom Ognibene as his running mate.

July

A retired city police officer was killed after the car he was driving suddenly crossed a center median near Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village and crashed into a tree.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission announced that the former Q74 and Q79 bus routes would be included in the agency’s group van pilot program.

The developer of the historic St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth applied to erect warehouses on the land activists and elected officials have pushed to become a park. His request eventually was denied.

A Long Island man was charged with embezzling nearly $1 million from five borough apartment buildings he managed, three of which are located in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Elmhurst.

Gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio sat down for an exclusive interview at the Chronicle offices in Rego Park.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) announced that seven Jewish institutions across Queens would receive nearly $525,000 in Department of Homeland Security grants this year.

The city Department of Education announced that PS 87 in Middle Village would receive a new gym and room for an extra 120 desks.

Former state Sen. Serf Maltese tossed his hat into the ring to become executive director of the city Board of Elections. His campaign would fall short.

August

Several communities were rocked after Freddie Endres, 12, was killed at the busy junction of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue in Middle Village when an 18-wheel gas tanker truck struck him as he rode his bicycle. The driver was issued three summonses, two for equipment violations and one for operating off a truck route.

Dorothy (Hayden) Cudahy, a longtime Middle Village resident and the first woman to serve as grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, died at the age of 88.

Architects presented to Community Board 5’s Zoning and Land Use Committee preliminary plans for a senior housing co-op on the property of the United Presbyterian Church of Ridgewood on 60th Place near Metropolitan Avenue.

Less than two weeks after she was collared upstate for allegedly caging and neglecting nearly 50 dogs, Rego Park’s Marie Castaldo, the founder and executive director of the Queens International Film Festival, was arrested on charges that she bilked vendors out of thousands of dollars worth of goods and services during the 2007 and 2008 events. She eventually pleaded guilty to fraud and animal cruelty and was deported.

A fire at a switching tower in Jamaica shut down 10 of 11 Long Island Rail Road branches east of Penn Station, causing massive delays and service interruptions for days.

The court-appointed receiver of the Shops at Atlas Park, which is in foreclosure, indicated to the Chronicle that a number of potential suitors have expressed interest in the Glendale property. No action was taken by the end of the year.

Nearly three years after construction began, the MTA, elected officials and civic leaders officially opened the Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal at the Myrtle Avenue-Wyckoff Avenue L- and M-train transfer point.

State Department of Transportation officials and elected leaders broke ground on the first of three phases, or contracts, of the Kew Gardens Interchange project.

Mayor Bloomberg brought the Big Apple bureaucracy to Forest Hills as he and the commissioners of nearly every city agency listened to citizens’ concerns — education, preservation and transportation, among others — in a town hall-style forum presented by the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association.

Cops nabbed the so-called Catwoman crook, an Astoria woman who terrorized stores in Manhattan and Forest Hills in April and June while wearing a cat mask or burqa, after she allegedly tried to knock off another shop.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) introduced a bill that would require the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to promptly and humanely relocate raccoons, in coordination with the city Parks Department, when requested by a resident.

September

Residents of the borough known for its lush landscape were left to regroup and rebuild over the past week after a tornado tore through thousands of trees, damaging cars and buildings and claiming the life of a young motorist in Forest Hills.

Addabbo sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly requesting a formal investigation into the department’s actions in Middle Village following the tornadoes and macroburst, and why it did not declare a major emergency, deploying more personnel to the hardest hit neighborhoods.

Hundreds of people showed up to a “move the [Ground Zero] mosque” rally organized by Republican congressional candidate Bob Turner at the band shell in Forest Park.

TLC Commissioner David Yassky announced the beginning of the group van pilot program.

Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D- Maspeth) announced that Gov. Paterson signed her Line of Duty Widow’s Cost-of-Living Adjustment bill into law which will provide families of police and fire officers who have been killed in the line of duty with increased financial assistance for fiscal year 2011.

Off-duty FDNY EMS Lt. Luis Corrales of Forest Hills helps drag a man to safety after he fell onto subway tracks.

The MTA Board absorbed an onslaught of emotionally-charged testimony from mass transit commuters, civic leaders and elected officials during a fare-hike hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing. MetroCard rates and tolls for bridges and tunnels were hiked this year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site, which clears the way for funding needed to restore the waterway and improve the environment around it.

The city Department of Transportation announced that by the end of the year, trucks will only by permitted to use Grand and Flushing avenues in Maspeth for local deliveries and trips that originate within the adjacent streets.

School officials, parents, teachers, community leaders and legislators cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Metropolitan Avenue Campus in Forest Hills, marking the grand opening of Queens Metropolitan High School and the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School for 6th and 7th graders.

October

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has informed area residents that it will be overseeing a detailed environmental study at the former Westlake Chemical Corp., an inactive hazardous waste site in Maspeth. Ruby Realty Co. owns the contaminated patch of land at 58-30 57 St., near Grand Avenue. The study will be performed under the state’s Superfund program and is set to take eight months to complete.

In what could prove to be a major victory for borough preservation, West Side Tennis Club membership voted not to approve plans to sell its historic Forest Hills Gardens stadium to an area developer.

Forest Hills-based Cord Meyer Development Corp. needed a two-thirds majority vote to purchase, reportedly for $9 million, the stadium that was home to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships for more than five decades and countless music concerts so it could build condominiums, while protecting the structure’s signature arches and facade.

A longstanding pillar of the Maspeth community fell last Saturday when Bob Kane — businessman, baseball coach and beloved Kiwanis Club leader — died at the age of 90.

Kane epitomized the unsung hero who gave of himself daily for the betterment of the community, especially its children. His service to Maspeth dates back at least to 1946, when he began coaching baseball teams in the area.

November

A confluence of tips, detective work and the bizarre actions of a retired public-school teacher led federal agents to Madison Street in Ridgewood and the source of a series of threatening packages sent in September and October to individuals linked to an area school.

A complaint and affidavit for search and arrest warrants provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office detail how FBI agents closed in on Anna Catalanotto, 61, a former instructor at PS 91 in Glendale who stands accused of sending nearly two-dozen envelopes containing white powder that was later determined to be non-hazardous to some former colleagues and family members of other colleagues at the Central Avenue school, and “neighbors or other acquaintances.”

The affidavit reveals a possible motive for the mailings. It documents an anonymous tip to nypdcrimestoppers.com in which the tipster indicated that Catalanotto was sending letters containing white powder through the U.S. Postal Service. She left the school a couple of years ago with a poor rating. Catalanotto allegedly blamed it on the principal and other teachers who were “picking” on her, and the tipster said “that much of the powder-laced correspondences had been delivered to people affiliated with the school.”

Old wounds were reopened and years of frustration erupted at a civic meeting in Maspeth as residents blasted a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey regional freight movement presentation, fearing a new program would only increase truck traffic in the area.

Stressing that “nothing has been planned or decided,” Laura Shabe, manager of the the Port Authority’s Cross Harbor Freight Program, summarized part of a Draft Scoping Document. Speaking to the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, she outlined the project’s purpose and need, goals and objectives, the study areas and alternatives that will be scrutinized in a tiered Environmental Impact Statement.

Thieves and vandals are breaking into automobiles in Briarwood, and 107th Precinct cops are seeking the public’s assistance in putting a dent in the trend.

“[It is] the biggest crime I see in this section,” said Capt. Michael Coyle, commanding officer of the 107th, at the Briarwood Civic Association meeting. “This community, for whatever reason, is a target.”

December

There’s a chance the city could acquire the empty St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth within the next year, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

In a letter addressed to Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden, Benepe indicated that the landowners, Maspeth Development LLC, have “finally signaled their willingness to negotiate for the sale of all or a portion of their property.”

An Elmhurst man was convicted of viciously beating, raping, slashing and stabbing his ex-girlfriend two years ago. Luis German Yunga, 43, faces up to 25 years in prison after a jury, which deliberated for eight hours after a three-week trial, found him guilty of first-degree rape, first-degree burglary, first- and second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful imprisonment and endangering the welfare of a child.

Concerned residents who have been calling for a traffic-calming measure at a Maspeth crossing might soon get their wish.

City Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said that the intersection of 60th Street and 60th Road will be studied again for a traffic signal, and the agency will also consider expanding the speed zone around the school. The study could be commissioned in February 2011.

A flashing yellow light or full traffic signal at the crossing were brought up as possible solutions at a recent meeting at PS 153 that was attended by school officials, area pols, the DOT and community activists.

Welcome to the discussion.