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Queens Chronicle

Politics, weather shake up Queens

Hurricane Sandy brings out the best, politics some of the worst

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Thu Jan 3, 2013.

Queens politics in 2012 brought new districts, a historic election in the 6th Congressional District and enough cloak-and-dagger intrigue to fill a Robert Ludlum novel.

But when Hurricane Sandy struck in October, killing 12 people in Queens and more than 40 in the city, devastating the Rockaways, Howard Beach, lower Manhattan and Staten Island, the people of central Queens, who were largely spared the storm’s wrath, rallied to the cause of those worst hit.

JANUARY

When the year began, a long-running investigation into political corruption and Queens hospitals continued to wind down as Dr. Robert Aquino pleaded guilty in federal court toone count of attempting to bribe a state senator.

Aquino, the former head of Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, was originally charged with bribing state Sen. Carl Kruger (D- Brooklyn) in return for Kruger’s influence in Albany. The hospital closed in 2008.

Aquino would be sentenced to four months in prison in April. Kruger had pleaded guilty in December 2011. The scandal also ensnared former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), who died while serving a federal prison term.

A local boy made really good when Forest Hills native Jack Lew was named chief of staff to President Obama.

Lew, 57, is a 1972 graduate of Forest Hills High School. He had been serving as director of the federal Office of Management and Budget. Lew had held the same post under President Clinton, and had been deputy secretary of state under Secretary Hillary Clinton.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authoritybegan construction of an elevator at the 71st-Continental Avenue subway station off Queens Boulevard. The station serves the E, M, F and R lines. The elevator is scheduled to be in service by October 2013.

FEBRUARY

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), joined by colleague Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway), proposed reinstating rail service along the old Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road between Ozone Park and Rego Park. The trackswere abandoned by the LIRR in 1962. Another proposal would convert the line into an elevated High-Line style park.

Wilbert Cortez, a teacher at PS 174 in Rego Park, was charged with inappropriately touching male students at the school.

MARCH

Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) announced her campaign for Congress to fill the seat left open by the retirement of Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-Queens).

Borough Hall ignited a firestorm of controversy when 10 blooming cherry trees — some more than 40 years old — were cut down behind the building near where construction had begun on a $14million atrium.

City officials first said the trees were removed to accommodate construction equipment. Following a publicity campaign by NYC Park Advocates and press reports, they claimed the trees were diseased. Two dozen more trees were removed in the coming weeks.

Congressman Bob Turner (R-Queens and Brooklyn) announced his intention to enter the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

APRIL

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) announced his intention to challenge state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in the 15th Senate District.

On April 19, Jeff Gottlieb, 70, a longtime presence in the Queens Democratic Party, withdrew his candidacy in the primary for the 6th Congressional District afterrevelations that he set fire to his apartment while working as a teacher in 1971. Gottlieb was seen by many as a stalking horse candidate intended to siphon white and Jewish primary votes from Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who along with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Dr. Robert Mittman, was challenging Meng, the Democratic party designee.

On April 26, Meng acknowledged that she was aware of business and management ties between Multi-Media, which was hired to do her campaign’s printing, and The Queens Tribune, which runs advertisements that have been criticized by women’s organizations, politicians and law enforcement as promoting prostitution.

Meng introduced a bill in Albany that would require legitimate massage providers to list their license numbers in advertisements. Queens women’s advocate Ann Jawin, founder of the Center for Women of New York, has called the measure inadequate.

MAY

On May 7, David Rosen, former CEO of the MediSys Health Network, was sentenced to three years in prison for bribery in connection with the scandal that ensnared Sen. Carl Kruger and Seminerio.

The firehouse of Engine Company 305 and Ladder Company 151 at 71st Street in Forest Hills was officially considered for landmark status by the city. The 1924 building would be approved on June 12.

The Queens Republican Party, in what many saw as a slap at Ulrich, endorsed Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes to run against Addabbo for the 15th Senate District. The endorsement was seen as the result of an ongoing rift between Ulrich and the party leadership.

On May 21, four students at PS 175 in Rego Park —Lucien Mount, 10, and Alejandro Astudillo, 10, of Forest Hills, and Charles Cheng, 11, and Nataniel Natanov, 11, of Rego Park — won $5,000 for their first-place finish in the Secret Millionaires Grow Your Own Business Challenge, sponsored by Berkshire-Hathaway mogul Warren Buffet.

JUNE

New York Mets ace Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in the team’s 50-year history on June 1, blanking the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-0.

Meng scored 51 percent of the vote in the Democratic Primary for the 6th Congressional District on June 26. Lancman got 28 percent, Crowley 16 percent and Mittman 5 percent.

JULY

Construction worker Frank Avino, 63, of Long Island, was killed while working on the Grand Central Parkway on July 9 when he was hit by an alleged drunk driver. Munshi Abdullah, 26, of Jamaica was charged.

Manhattan resident Gene Singer donated Torah breastplates he made to replace religious artifacts stolen in a burglary at the CongregationAhavath Shalom Synagogue in Forest Hills.

AUGUST

Forest Hills resident Melinda Katz, 46, a former assemblywoman and city councilwoman, announced her intention to run for Queens borough president in 2013.

On Aug. 10, Howard Beach resident Daniel Casillo, 31, was arrested for criminal trespass at John F. Kennedy International Airport after his personal watercraft broke down on Jamaica Bay.

Casillo swam to the nearest landmass, the airport, and scaled an 8-foot fence before walking up to two miles to a secure area seeking assistance. The incident caused criticism and an internal review of JFK’s $100-million-plus perimeter security system, which failed to detect Casillo before heflagged down airport personnel to ask for help.

NYPD Capt. Thomas Conforti assumed command of the 112th Precinct.

Federal authorities were thought to be investigating a Rego Park firm that allegedly advertised clothing and other items made from dog fur in Russian-language publications following a complaint from the Humane Society of the United States.

The Briarwood Task Force held a rally on Aug. 25 to protest conditions created by a multi-year state Department of Transportation construction project to upgrade the Kew Gardens Interchange, specifically how work on the Van Wyck Expressway is affecting the Queens Boulevard corridor.

In September, however, representatives of the Briarwood Community Association said the state has been very accommodating in making changes at their request.

SEPTEMBER

Incumbents carried the day in primaries for state offices on Sept. 13.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven)defeated challenger Etienne David Adorno by a 71-29 margin.

Sen.Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) defeated John Messer, 58-42.

And Ulrich Reyes, 70-30, in the race to face Addabbo.

More than 200 people turned out at the Jewish Center of Forest Hills for a forum hosted by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) to discuss chronic flooding problems with city officials. They were told that there are no plans to upgrade or increase the capacity of storm sewers that were installed more than 60 years ago.

OCTOBER

Hurricane Sandy hit on the evening of Oct. 29, killing more than 40 people in New York City and reducing sections of the Rockaway Peninsula to devastated wastelands. Floods and fires destroyed hundreds of homes and caused billions in damages.

The rest of Queens — from first responders volunteering their time to school children collecting money, blankets, toiletries and Christmas toys — began a massive and ongoing relief effort.

On Oct. 24, NYPD officer and Forest Hills resident Gilberto Valle was arrested on charges connected to alleged online plots to kidnap, kill and eat unidentified women. The “Cannibal Cop” also is alleged to have offered to kidnap a woman for another individual for money.

Geraldine Ferraro, the late congresswoman and, in 1984, the first woman named as a vice presidential candidate on a major national political ticket, had a street corner named in her honor on Oct. 28 at the intersection of Ascan Avenue and Austin Street in her former Forest Hills neighborhood.

NOVEMBER

Democrats rolled to victory at all levels on Election Day, led by Meng, who handily defeated Republican Councilman Dan Halloran in the 6th Congressional District with 68 percent of the vote.

In one of the most closely watched races in the country, Addabbo got 57 percent of the vote in his 15th SD race against Ulrich.

More than 200 people, including most elected officials, attended a pro-Israel rally on the steps of Borough Hall to protest a series of rocket attacks from Palestinian positions in the Middle East.

DECEMBER

Ki Suk Han, 58, of Elmhurst was killed on Dec. 2 when he was shoved in front of an incoming train at a Manhattan subway stop. Naeem Davis, 30, was indicted by a grand jury and will be formally charged on Jan. 15.

“The Triumph of Civic Virtue,” a controversial statue that has been standing outside Queens Borough Hall since 1941, was removed to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn on Dec. 15 despite last-minute efforts to keep it in place.

The MTA approved fare hikes that include an increase in the basic cost of a subway or bus ride from $2.25 to $2.50. The increases will take place in March 2013.

Community opposition appeared to be growing against construction of a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

One hurdle is the requirement that MLS offsets every square inch of parkland that it uses to build the stadium.

Land along the old Rockaway branch of the Long Island Railroad in Rego Park has been rumored to be under consideration for that purpose.

And in the NYPD’s 112th Precinct, major crimes for the year were down in all categories through Dec. 16 with the exception of felony assault, or assault with a weapon. Overall major crimes were down from 881 in 2011 to 848, or a 3.75 percent decrease.

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