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Queens Chronicle

Politics and the police rule the roost

A busy city election season and a missing teen cap off an active year

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:22 am, Thu Jan 9, 2014.

In a city the size of New York, politics and crime are often the biggest newsmakers, as was the case in 2013.

There was no shortage of political headlines this past year, an election year at that. Queens elected a new borough president while Forest Hills and Rego Park opted to bring back Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) for another term. Area politicians made their collective voices heard throughout the year, filling the Chronicle’s pages for months.

Crime dropped throughout Central Queens this year, but brazen assaults in Forest Park paired with the tragic disappearance of Rego Park teenager Avonte Oquendo garnered their fair share of headlines throughout 2013 as well.

January

Talks began over what to do with the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Rail Line, which became one of the borough’s biggest stories in 2013.

Gov. Cuomo allocated $467,000 to The Trust for Public Land in order to conduct a feasibility study on turning it into an elevated park called the QueensWay. Some residents along the line support the QueensWay, some support the reactivation of the rail line, others neither idea.

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Design and Construction announced a two-year, $14 million project to replace 13 miles of water mains in Queens, with Forest Hills locations such as Queens Boulevard seeing a sizable chunk of the work.

February

The federal trial of Forest Hills resident and former NYPD officer Gilberto Valle, also known as the “Cannibal Cop,” began. He was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and intentionally accessing computer files at the National Crime Information Center.

Valle made national headlines after he revealed, in internet postings, his desires to abduct, murder, cook and eat a number of women. He was found guilty in March.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) sought $17 million in state funds in order to modernize the engines of the noisy locomotives that pass through Queens neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night. The trains operate mere feet from homes in some neighborhoods and, in addition to being incredibly loud, they allegedly carry a noxious, comingled mix of construction and demolition debris and commercial waste.

A van plowed into a UPS store on Queens Boulevard, but not before striking and injuring a 64-year-old man walking in front of the store. The driver was arrested.

March

One month after seeking $17 million, Hevesi was able to secure $3 million in the state budget to replace the engines of pollutant-spewing locomotives that obnoxiously blast through Queens neighborhoods. The funds were to go towards purchasing new, cleaner motors for the high-emissions locomotives owned and leased by the LIRR.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) announced her candidacy for mayor in front of the Forest Hills branch of the HSBC bank on March 10.

Legendary Archbishop Molloy basketball and baseball coach Jack Curran died at the age of 82. He was named Catholic High School Athletic Association coach of the year an astonishing 25 times for baseball and 22 times for basketball.

The Queens World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence opened its new location in Rego Park. The center treats first responders with medical conditions stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

A 23-year-old woman was Tasered and sexually assaulted while jogging in Forest Park, before fighting off her attacker.

April

Police arrested and charged a Lindenwood man with the Forest Park sexual assault a week earlier, but the arrest was voided after it was revealed that he was not the suspect police were seeking. He was, however, kept in custody in connection with a sexual assault in Woodhaven the previous weekend.

A 35-year-old Forest Hills teacher was arrested for having a nine-month sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Daniel Reilly, who was teaching sixth-grade English at IS 237 in Flushing at the time, was charged with four counts of second-degree rape, two counts of second-degree criminal sexual act, one count of endangering the welfare of a child and six counts of third-degree sexual abuse.

Elected officials joined hundreds of students at a rally outside Borough Hall to protest proposed budget cuts to two afterschool programs in Queens, including the Queens Community House Beacon at JHS 190 in Forest Hills.

May

Officers of the 112th Precinct arrested a man for a string of taxi robberies in which the weapon displayed by the suspect was a blood-filled syringe. The man held up three taxi drivers, threatening to inject them with AIDS-infected blood unless they gave him money. He was arrested on May 11.

Reilly, the Forest Hills teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse. He was given six months in jail in August.

The lengthy Kew Gardens Interchange Project received a bode of confidence from AAA and elected officials such as the optimistic Koslowitz as the project moved into its second year of construction.

Kew Gardens resident Jon Torodash announced he would run against Koslowitz for the 29th District’s City Council seat.

Briarwood residents expressed their frustrations over a half-constructed apartment building that had sat untouched for years. Stop-work orders for the building were issued in 2010 and 2011 and the structure has been dormant since the orders.

June

The abandoned former Parkway Hospital was to be put up for auction at the end of the month. Since 2008, the building has sat vacant but it was taken off the auction block a few days before any deal could take place.

The Grammy-winning folk rock band Mumford & Sons announced an August concert, the first in decades, at the aging Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the former site of the US Open. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan had all played concerts there in the past, but the venue decayed after years of neglect and dormancy.

After a crime spike was announced by the 112th Precinct commander Capt. Thomas Conforti in May, he announced that efforts by police have turned the tide on the rising crime rate and cut crime by 2 percent when compared to June 2012.

July

Rockaway Beach Rail Line advocates rallied in Forest Hills in support of reactivating the abandoned route that last transported passengers in 1962. The residents said more public transportation is desperately needed and bringing back trains to the aging tracks will help alleviate traffic issues and create more options for residents without easy access to any subway lines.

Hevesi and Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) held a press conference at Forest Hills High School to announce the drafting of legislation aimed at providing computer science and technology programs for all city public schools as well as SUNY and CUNY schools.

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) announced that 17 new security cameras would be installed throughout Briarwood.

August

The final weeks of the summer brought many city politicians to Central Queens. Mayoral hopefuls Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner met with small business owners at Forest Hills restaurants to discuss the future growth of such businesses, as well as issues that many immigrant entrepreneurs face throughout the borough.

The future of Ohr Natan, a Jewish community outreach center in Rego Park, was the subject of a heated back-and-forth debate between the center’s operators and a development group that purchased the building. The outreach center claimed that it was being kicked out so the developer, Trylon LLC, can build apartments atop the building as well as fix its facade, while the developer said there was no such plan to evict anyone.

Two women were raped in the area at the end of the month. A 52-year-old woman was attacked in Rego Park on Aug. 23, while a 69-year-old woman was assaulted in Forest Park, on Aug. 26.

Mumford & Sons played to a sold-out Forest Hills Tennis Stadium with success, tempered by a ticketing snafu that left some unable to get into the venue.

September

In response to the second Forest Park sexual assault up to that point, police presence was increased in the park. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) opined that police on horseback would be a good initiative while the Department of Transportation fixed some broken lights throughout the park.

Owners of the Rego Center II mall announced plans to build 24 stories of apartments atop the shopping center.

Community Board 6 heard a presentation from the DOT regarding a proposed turning lane at the intersection of Metropolitan and 71st-Continental avenues. CB 6 voted against the plan in October.

October

Rego Park teenager Avonte Oquendo went missing on Oct. 4 after he sprinted out of his Long Island City school. A massive, sprawling search of the city in the following days and weeks turned up nothing, and the family of the autistic nonverbal 14-year-old filed a lawsuit against the city.

Construction of a new Queens Boulevard mixed-use building in Forest Hills upset residents and community activists, who say the building won’t fit in with the surrounding area.

 
November

Koslowitz won another term as the 29th District’s representative, handily defeating challenger Torodash. Melinda Katz was elected borough president as well, replacing Helen Marshall, who could not run because of term limitations.

Community Board 9 was the subject of internal strife, as board member Wallace Bock resigned and two others walked out after the board voted against expelling fellow member Sam Esposito over emails some claimed were anti-Semitic.

A fire ripped through a Kew Gardens apartment building, but because of the actions of resident Pablo Herran, no one was killed. Herran helped carry a disabled man to safety after the fire began in his apartment.

A workshop aimed at informing residents about the elevated park proposed for the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line was held in Forest Hills.

December

Oquendo’s family set up official headquarters in Astoria to consolidate the efforts to find the missing boy. He disappeared on Oct. 4.

The City Council passed legislation banning the use of e-cigarettes in certain indoor and outdoor venues, enraging Forest Hills e-cig store owner and National Vapers Clup President Spike Babaian, among others.

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