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Queens Chronicle

Politics, schools and scandal mark 2013

City elections bring sweeping change; while some old hands get in trouble

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

It could be said that 2013 was a good year to be a political junkie in New York City with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio being elected mayor, and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner enjoying short-lived political comeback tours.

It also proved to be a bad year to be a school advocate, a Republican seeking elective office or former state Sen. Shirley Huntley.

January

A term-limited Mayor Bloomberg made his last year in office perhaps the most controversial, announcing plans to close or co-locate dozens of schools in the city.

Those in Queens included the Law, Government and Community Service and the Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship high schools in Cambria Heights; and PS 140 in St. Albans.

Efforts by parents, community leaders and elected officials to save the schools were unsuccessful.

State Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) was sworn in. The former councilman had defeated incumbent Huntley in a 2012 primary.

Huntley would go on to have far bigger problems in the coming weeks.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced plans to restore service on the Q27, Q36 and Q42 bus lines, part of an effort to reincorporate routes and service eliminated in the budget crunch of 2010.

Congress made things easier for homeowners victimized by Hurricane Sandy with approval of a $9.7 billion relief package.

One hundred Queens residents took part in history on Jan. 21, heading to Washington, DC for the second inauguration of President Obama. The trip was arranged by the Greater Jamaica Branch of the NAACP and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau).

Adrienne Adams officially took over as chairwoman of Community Board 12, having won a vote against incumbent Jacqueline Boyce. Boyce remains on the board.

Juanita Watkins, the first African-American woman to represent Southeast Queens in the City Council, died at age 78 following a lengthy illness.

Huntley, her political career in tatters, pleaded guilty on Jan. 30 to federal charges in connection with the theft of more than $80,000 for a nonprofit organization she established with her niece and a former aide.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) in January incurred the wrath of several constituents by announcing that he had joined the Senate’s Independent Democratic Caucus. The switch gave Republicans effective control of the Senate after Democrats had won a numerical majority in November 2012.

February

Ed Koch, the beloved, outspoken three-term mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, died on Feb. 1 at age 88.

Koch was credited with saving the city from fiscal ruin, and uniting people in good times and bad, with his ubiquitous “How’m I doing?”

But as his tenure went on, he came under increasing criticism for rising crime, inflaming racial tensions and a corruption scandal that ensnared many of his close allies while not touching him directly.

He lost in a 1989 Democratic primary to David Dinkins, who went on to become the city’s first African-American mayor.

Huntley on Feb. 6 pleaded guilty to state criminal charges involving the theft of $30,000 that had been earmarked for another sham nonprofit organization. She eventually would be sentenced to a year and a day in prison on the federal charges. Her niece, a former aide and a consultant all eventually would enter guilty pleas to state charges.

The cost of a ride on an MTA bus or subway train went from $2.25 to $2.50 on Feb. 13.

That same day, Gregory Calas, 21, and Nnonso Ekwegbalu, 19, were sentenced to 50 years in prison on manslaughter charges for the shooting death of 13-year-old high school freshman Kevin Miller in 2009.

Miller, considered by police to have been an innocent bystander in a possible gang dispute, was shot when the two fired into a crowd at the corner of Linden Boulevard and 208th Street.

Donovan Richards, a longtime aide to former Councilman James Sanders Jr., won a special election to fill Sanders’ seat, left vacant when he went to the state Senate.

Richards emerged from an eight-candidate field, edging out Pesach Osuna, an aide to Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), by fewer than 100 votes.

More than 100 residents came to York College on Feb. 28 as Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) outlined a plan of action to force the city Department of Environmental Protection to resume pumping water from wells in the old Jamaica Water Service in an effort to reduce flooding.

The DEP has said it would not budget the money until 2018, when it will need the water to accommodate maintenance on a water tunnel from an upstate reservoir.

A bill written by Scarborough passed in the Assembly but fell short in the Senate.

March

Urban Fermin, 33, and Darius Lowery, 25, were convicted for a one-hour crime spree in February 2010 that started with a stolen car in St. Albans and included a home invasion, an armed street robbery and an exchange of gunfire with police before coming to an end with a car crash off Sutphin Boulevard in South Jamaica.

Officers from the 105th Precinct armed with search warrants arrested six people and seized 10 guns from a home on 210th Street in Queens Village on March 5.

In late March, the Eastern Queens Alliance, already fighting noise from and the potential expansion of Kennedy Airport, raised the alarm over the marking of nearly 400 trees in Idlewild Park for possible removal. The Port Authority, which operates the airport, says the trees are so tall as to present a hazard to aviation, and said it is working with the city to plant many times that number to replace them should they ultimately be removed.

April

Smith and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) were among six elected and Republican Party officials arrested on federal corruption charges on April 2.

The charges all stem from Smith’s alleged attempt to bribe city Republican officials in order to get the GOP line in the November mayoral election. Both men and three others have pleaded not guilty. Former Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino would plead guilty to lesser charges in November and is expected to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

May

Federal authorities shocked the Southeast Queens political establishment on May 1 when they confirmed that Huntley helped them record conversations with eight people, including six sitting state senators and a city councilman, while negotiating a plea deal on federal corruption charges.

No charges directly related to the recorded conversations are known to have been filed, although Smith and state Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) were both indicted in separate federal cases.

In a crime that made national headlines, 14-year-old D’aja Robinson was shot and killed coming home from a sweet 16 party on May 18 when a gunman on a Sutphin Boulevard sidewalk fired nine shots into the Q6 bus on which she was riding.

Police believe another teenager on the bus had been the intended target in a gang-related incident.

Kevin McClinton, 21, of Rosedale, would be arrested in South Carolina on June 4 and was charged with second-degree murder.

Deputy Inspector Michael Coyle, a 24-year NYPD veteran, was named commanding officer of the 105th Precinct in May.

June

Police Officer Sherlon Smikle shot and killed his wife, 46-year-old school safety officer Lana Morris, outside their Camden Avenue home in St. Albans on June 5 after chasing her from the house with a shotgun. He then re-entered the house and killed himself. The NYPD had relieved Smikle of his badge and service weapon because of domestic violence complaints.

At the conclusion of its final meeting before summer break, the Community Council of the NYPD’s 113th Precinct honored Vivian McMillian, who stepped aside after 23 years as chairwoman.

The City Council on June 27 approved a long-sought-after rezoning of Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park and Glen Oaks, aimed at preserving residential neighborhoods.

July

The City Council approved bills establishing an inspector general for the NYPD and the curtailing of police stops allegedly made over race and other superficial issues. The Council subsequently overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s vetoes.

Van Holmes, president of Young Leaders of Laurelton, was charged with larceny in what authorities said was connected with funds allocated by Shirley Huntley.

August

Federal Judge Shira Sheindlin issued sweeping directives she said were aimed at reforming the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. A federal appeals panel in November subsequently would stay Scheindlin’s orders and remove her from the case, citing the appearance of a lack of impartiality on her part.

September

Transit union president Daneek Miller won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed term-limited Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Three men connected with a failed effort to locate a liquor store on North Conduit Avenue near Springfield Gardens High School were arrested on Sept. 13 for allegedly trying to bribe Councilman Richards (D-Laurelton) to secure his support for the project.

Richards immediately reported their alleged offer to city investigators.

October

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, came to Queens Village on Oct. 11 to volunteer construction work on a 112th Road home being rehabilitated by Habitat for Humanity.

The Carters’ charitable foundation will rehab five of the more than 30 houses that Habitat plans to refurbish in the borough in the next few years.

Tanya Cruz, first vice chairwoman of Community Board 13, walked out of the board’s Oct. 28 meeting in an ongoing dispute with Chairman Bryan Block.

Block had called Cruz’s behavior at the June meeting, which she also walked out of, as “foul, disgusting and obnoxious.” Cruz has been critical of Block’s dealings with the board’s Transportation Committee, of which she is the chairwoman, and CB 13’s executive board.

November

Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica)and Richards, as well as Miller, scored landslide victories in their Council elections.

Their expected victories were part of a citywide near-sweep by the Democratic Party, which saw Public Advocate Bill de Blasio thrash Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, the former MTA chairman.

Democrat Melinda Katz coasted to victory in the borough president racer over Republican Tony Arcabascio.

Gov. Cuomo, in vetoing a bill that would require the Port Authority to conduct a “Part 150” noise and environmental study around its airports, instead directed the PA to conduct equivalent tests under his executive authority. Cuomo cited time issues as the reason.

WYCR Radio, the station at York College, cut the ribbon on a new, modern studio. The effort was headed up by Ray Warren, a member of the Class of 1976 at York, who now is an executive at NBC Sports.

December

Comrie was chosen by Borough President-Elect Katz to be her deputy borough president come January. He ran an unsuccessful bid for BP himself, and left the Council due to term limits.

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