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Queens Chronicle

Battles and victories in ’11

East and SE Queens residents fought to protect their communities

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Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:19 pm, Thu Jan 5, 2012.

This year the residents of eastern and Southeast Queens banded together on a number of key issues and secured some victories due to their united efforts, though they lost a few battles and the jury is still out on others.

They successfully blocked the privatization of land at the St. Albans VA, took on the city in a continuing battle to force it to address persistent flooding and prevented the opening of a “hot sheet” motel. They proved that there is strength in numbers and that they are prepared to defend and protect their neighborhoods.

But it wasn’t always enough. Led by the NAACP and the teachers’ union, they also tried to prevent the closures of Jamaica High School, PS 30 and JHS 231, all of which will be phased out over the next several years.

January

As residents continued digging out from the Christmas snow storm, the year started out on a violent note with a shooting at a New Year’s Eve party that left one man dead. Police found Dwayne Haughton, 29, of Jamaica with bullet wounds to the neck and chest. He was reportedly trying to break up a fight between two women at the gathering when he was gunned down.

Weeks after the Aqueduct Flea Market was forced to close for good, dozens of its vendors soon found another place to sell their wares as the Merrick Flea Market in Springfield Gardens snapped up 60 of the displaced merchants.

Grace Episcopal Church, which was slated to have its memorial hall receive landmark status, fought to overturn the designation because church leaders said it would cost too much to maintain the building and make repairs.

At a meeting at PS 30 in Jamaica, parents and teachers slammed a plan by the city Department of Education to close the school because of poor academic performance and dwindling student progress. Many argued that the DOE never helped the school succeed. At the end of April the city Panel for Educational Policy voted 9-4 to phase out PS 30 over the next three years.

A Chronicle exclusive examined the proliferation of bogus parking placards in downtown Jamaica, which City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said robs the area of much needed parking spaces and hurts commerce.

February

Concerned about the lack of available healthcare in his district, Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) introduced legislation to allow Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, a nonprofit Tennessee-based group, to bring its team of doctors, dentists and opthalmologists to the district for one week. Such a bill is required to allow out-of-state physicians to practice in New York.

Community Board 12 Chairwoman, Adjoa Gzifa and District Manager Yvonne Reddick met with Seth Diamond, the commissioner for the city Department of Homeless Services, and unsuccessfully tried to convince him to place a moratorium on shelters in the area, since the district already had 10 such facilities at that time. On Jan. 17, Housing Bridge opened a shelter for families with children at 170-02 93 Ave. in Jamaica.

Rochdale Village Little League coach, David Hartshorn, 52, was charged with sexually abusing three teenage boys — two age 14 and one age 13. He was accused of showing his victims pornography, touching them inappropriately and filming the boys while they engaged in sex acts with each other.

City Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill that would require parking placards to have a barcode, allowing traffic enforcement agents to confirm their validity. Comrie, who had been concerned about placard abuse in downtown Jamaica, was a primary co-sponsor.

After years of fighting to keep what they say will be a “hot sheet” motel out of their neighborhood and away from an area high school, Springfield Gardens residents were mortified to see that developer Sailesh Gandhi had restarted construction at the corner of Springfield Boulevard and North Conduit Avenue. They filed for and were granted a temporary restraining order.

There were major drug busts at both the Baisley Park Houses and Rochdale Village as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Sixty-two alleged drug dealers were charged with selling illegal substances including powdered and crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, oxycodone, ecstasy and benzylpiperazine, also known as BZP.

Amid much protest by students, parents and educators, the PEP voted 11-1 to phase out Jamaica High School, which the city decided to axe because of low graduation rates and test scores.

March

City officials pushed back a vote on the proposal to phase out JHS 231 in Springfield Gardens, temporarily relieving students, parents and teachers who have argued the city should pour more resources into the school instead of shutting it down.

Seniors were angry at the governor’s proposed budget cuts that the city said would have eliminated 22 borough seniors centers, including five in eastern and Southeast Queens, and more than 100 citywide. They held rallies in protest of the plan.

Twenty people were arrested after a six-month drug investigation in Jamaica. It was prompted by numerous complaints from area residents that drugs were being sold in the vicinity of 164th Place and 107th Avenue. Law enforcement allegedly purchased contraband including marijuana and cocaine from the defendants more than 100 times.

In response to the complaints from CB 12 that Jamaica is oversaturated with homeless shelters, Comrie and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) said they planned to introduce legislation that would ban shelters from community districts that have 20 percent or more of the borough’s facilities and require more public review.

Area lawmakers teamed up with their constituents for a series of rallies to demonstrate their outrage over state and city budget cuts proposed for child day care services, contending that extending the so-called millionaire’s tax would be a better way to raise revenue.

Politicians and community leaders took issue with the 2010 Census results, claiming that the data is inaccurate and dramatically undercounted the populations of eastern and Southeast Queens. City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) wanted scientific projections used while Comrie thought a recount was in order.

April

Sylvenie Thessier, 70, of Middle Village was sentenced to three years in prison after she pleaded guilty in March to standing idly by while her daughter, Marie Lauradin, 31, of Queens Village poured gasoline on her 6-year-old granddaughter, Frantzcia Saintil, and set her on fire as part of a Haitian ritual called “Loa.”

Gzifa of CB 12 was furious with Comrie for his decision not to reappoint her to the board. She had served three terms as chairwoman, re-elected with no argument twice. She said she believes the move was due to disagreements with the lawmaker, something he denies.

CB 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick was seriously hurt as the car service van she was riding in was struck by another vehicle at 155th Street and 110th Avenue in Jamaica. She sustained fractured ribs on both the left and right sides of her body and a lacerated liver.

Christopher Chisholm, 23, of Jamaica was convicted and sentenced to 65 years to life for the 2006 Hollis shooting of Nathaniel Davis and other charges, a victory for the victim’s family and his mother, Charissa. They were happy that justice was served, especially since they said Chisholm showed no remorse, taunting Davis’ loved ones during the trial.

Bellerose residents continued to duke it out with Sheraz Khan, the owner of the Super Halal Meat Market, claiming that he was a bad neighbor, who was not addressing the parking, traffic, garbage and noise issues stemming from his store, located at 253-06 Hillside Ave.

CB 12 voted to name a street after former City Councilman Tom White Jr. who died from cancer on Aug. 27, 2010 at the age of 71. The areas up for consideration were Sutphin Boulevard between Foch Boulevard and 116th Avenue, where the headquarters of JCAP, the drug rehabilitation organization White founded, is located or 137th Avenue between Guy R. Brewer and Farmers boulevards, where White used to live, or farther down on that same avenue between Rockaway and Farmers boulevards.

May

Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam records, and often referred to as the father of hip-hop, greeted more than 200 fans at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in St. Albans, where he talked about his new book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All,” and signed copies of the work.

Police Officer John Scarangella, who was killed in the line of duty 31 years ago, was honored with a street renaming. The corner of Baisley Boulevard and 167th Street, located in front of the 113th Precinct, where he served, is now known as Officer John Scarangella Way.

The United States Attorney General launched an investigation into whether state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) steered thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer money to a charity with ties to her family and friends. Four people close to her were later indicted by the state.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of making Addisleigh Park, which has been home to many legendary jazz musicians and sports figures, a historic district.

The council also approved a plan to rezone approximately 530 blocks in South Jamaica and a small portion of Springfield Gardens in order to avoid future residential construction that doesn’t match existing streetscapes and prevent out-of-character development on low-density blocks.

Jacqueline Boyce was elected as the new chairwoman of CB 12 to fill the seat vacated by Gzifa. She beat opponent Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of CB 12’s Education Committee, by just one vote.

June

Marie Lauradin, 31, of 219th Street in Queens Village was sentenced to 17 years in prison for setting her then-6-year-old daughter, Frantzcia Saintil, on fire while performing a voodoo ritual in their home. The child suffered life-threatening burns and is permanently scarred.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau) introduced a bill to prohibit private development at the St. Albans VA site. If passed, it would have effectively killed the plan in which a private developer would build new vet facilities in exchange for a long-term lease on part of the site, where it would put up housing and stores open to the general public.

June marked the beginning of the public crusade by Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) to get the city to address the persistent flooding problems that have plagued Southeast Queens. In a town hall- style meeting held that month, angry residents blasted representatives from the city Department of Environmental Protection for ceasing to pump area wells and causing the groundwater table to rise. They also criticized the agency for terminating the Station 6 project because the city said it was too expensive, and telling residents that the problems would cease, at least temporarily, when the city begins repairs on the Delaware Aqueduct in 2018.

July

Though the House had in June successfully passed the Meeks-King Veterans Care Act, an amendment to the military appropriations that would have blocked the partial privatization of the St. Albans VA site, the Senate left the amendment out of its version of the bill. That raised concerns among many veterans that the agency might try to revive the proposal at a later time.

CB 13 unanimously rejected a proposal by Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch to redevelop its Cambria Heights property in order to accommodate the thousands of people who visit each year on the anniversary of the death of the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, their religious leader buried at Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights. Residents cited concerns about traffic, litter and a lack of respect for the neighborhood by the the pilgrims.

August

People once again flooded Jamaica Avenue for the 16th year to shop, eat, and listen to music at JAMS, the two-day Jamaica Arts and Music Summer festival. There was also face painting and a rock climbing wall for the kids.

Elected officials and community leaders mourned the death of Democratic District Leader Dora Young, 93, of Addisleigh Park, who died after battling a long illness. Young worked for 25 years as a city clerk at Queens Borough Hall’s marriage bureau and was a member of numerous community organizations.

In order to cut costs the United States Postal Service announced that the agency was considering shutting down nearly 3,700 branches including five in Queens — Holliswood, Rosedale, Astoria, Rockaway Beach and Arverne.

September

Detective Charles LoPresti of the 103rd Precinct was honored by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall after he saved the life of flight attendant Averie Kenery of Kew Gardens, who tried to take her own life by overdosing on pills on July 17. After receiving a frantic phone call from the woman’s mother in Hawaii, who had been on the phone with her daughter before she passed out, and left the line open, LoPresti offered to help even though it did not fall within the confines of his precinct. Armed with only a vague description and approximate location of where the woman lived, he was able to find Kenery and get her medical attention.

Rikers Island Imam Charles Bilal was arrested in a prostitution sting for allegedly paying an undercover cop, posing as a hooker, $25 for sex.

Hurricane Irene, reduced to a tropical storm, blew through the borough, knocking out electricity and uprooting trees. Rosedale and St. Albans were particularly hard hit. There was minimal flooding, but many experienced power outages and a loss of phone service from the severe storm, which dumped up to 7 inches of rain on the city.

Wills claimed victory in the 28th District Democratic Primary, easily defeating three other contenders with 67 percent of the vote and effectively winning the election in the deeply blue community.

October

The NAACP launched a civil rights and environmental justice investigation into the persistent Southeast Queens flooding problem to determine, among other things, whether the city’s neglect, of the environmental needs of the affected residents is in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

CB 13 voted against a plan by the Indian Cultural and Community Center to build two nine-story apartment towers on the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center campus. Members argued that the project was out of character with the neighborhood and was not what the organization originally told residents it had intended to build.

Det. Gescard Isnora and Police Officer Michael Carey — two cops involved in the 2006 shooting that killed Sean Bell and wounded two of his friends outside a Jamaica strip club — faced a departmental hearing to decide whether they had broken NYPD guidelines. In December, a judge ruled that Isnora was guilty and should lose his job and pension, while Carey was acquitted. The police commissioner will make the final call on Isnora’s status.

November

A 15-year-old from Springfield Gardens was charged with two brutal attempted rapes in Southeast Queens. The incidents were part of a string of sex attacks that had plagued the community in the preceding weeks, prompting several elected officials to host free self-defense classes.

Following several anti-Semitic incidents in Queens and Brooklyn, a rabbi, two imams and a priest participated in an interfaith forum at a mosque in Hollis to explore the common characteristics of their faiths and the differences that lead to religious discrimination.

December

Four individuals with close ties to state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) were indicted on Dec. 7 following a joint investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for allegedly pocketing member item money meant for a charity the lawmaker founded before taking office.

After pressure from Sanders, parents and residents, the city agreed to replace the playground at PS 251 in Springfield Gardens, which was destroyed in April when a private developer installed a sewer line.

Some 30 residents, civic leaders and elected officials rallied outside the non-operational Station 6 in Jamaica on 108th Avenue and 165th place to call on the city to start pumping the wells and reduce area flooding.

Teachers and students at PS 140 in Jamaica, have complained of illness — including, headaches, dizziness and nausea — after the school made renovations in 2009, using a sealant called Cop-R-Tite Flashing Mastic, which when heated can release hydrogen sulfide gas.

On a happier note, several elected officials and community organizations held toy drives to give Christmas gifts to children in need and hosted several holiday tree lightings.

Welcome to the discussion.