Ann Jawin, chairwoman of the Queens Women’s Center, has vowed that the women of Northeast Queens will not be abandoned, despite orders that the center vacate its Fort Totten home on Thursday, February 28th.
The building the women currently use is being targeted for use as part of a training center for the New York Fire Department. The city has ordered the building vacated by midnight.
Jawin expects to receive a court order after Thursday’s midnight deadline, which the QWC would answer. She then expects a showdown in court to decide the fate of the group’s Fort Totten home.
“I have felt very strongly that they have never wanted to negotiate,” Jawin said. “I feel that once we get into the courts the judge will be another person and maybe a judge will want a compromise to be worked out.”
The QWC had originally been ordered last November to vacate the Fort Totten site by December 13th because it failed to meet the Parks Department’s guidelines.
The QWC has had a temporary lease there since 1998. The federal government is in the process of turning over the fort to the city.
After hiring an attorney, the QWC was granted a one-month extension to January 15th.
The city then gave the center its latest extension to February 28th. According to Jawin, the city’s corporation counsel told her that if they were not out by the midnight deadline this week, a marshal would go to the premises and move their furniture, computers and other equipment and place it all on Bell Boulevard.
Attempts to contact Bayside Fire Chief Brian Jenkins proved unsuccessful.
Speaking at an open house on Saturday, Jawin asked for the supporters of the center to make their voices heard by New York City government officials. She also criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg for what she views as a lack of response on his part to the current standoff between the center and the FDNY.
Jawin insisted that the women would continue to fight the order, and said the top priority at this point was to collect signatures for a petition to save the center. The petition was started at Saturday’s function.
Besides the petition, Jawin is reaching out to as many organizations as she knows, including the Bayside Historical Society and especially the Army. Jawin, whose husband is a veteran, thinks the center can be very helpful to veterans who may need assistance.
At the forefront of Jawin’s argument is the fact that there are so many buildings—many of them empty—on the Fort Totten site in Bayside, that a compromise could be reached by the QWC and the FDNY.
“There are a hundred buildings here,” Jawin said. “There are certainly a lot of buildings here we could be moved into. But if you look at the work we have done with this building; we have scraped walls, painted, washed floors. It’s like our baby, it really is.”
The QWC is the city’s only full-service women’s organization. It does not pay rent, but has spent an estimated $18,000 to refurbish the building since it moved in four years ago.
Jawin went on to further insist that the buildings that currently house the QWC would not be useful to the firefighters.
“If the Fire Department needs it so badly for training, what in the world is going on with all these empty buildings?” Jawin asked. “This building isn’t equipped to handle a large training class.”
Having to be pitted against the FDNY after the events of September 11th is not an enviable task for anyone to take on, but Jawin said that even though they are challenging the Fire Department, it doesn’t mean that the women do not recognize the work the firefighters have done for the city, especially during the World Trade Center crisis.
She also lashed out against their critics.“The editors of some newspapers have said that we were unpatriotic for going against the Fire Department. But even the community board supported me. They were horrified. It (the criticism) just doesn’t make sense.”
Jawin pointed out that the Queens Women’s Center offered support groups for the wives of fallen firefighters, and that the center had worked on an agreement with former Fire Deputy Commissioner of Administration Edward Dolan to provide a day care center for the Fire Department workers at the Fort Totten base.
Jawin criticized Mayor Bloomberg and New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta for not helping the two sides reach a comprise that would leave everyone happy.
“It’s a hard job I’ve taken on. It’s a very, very big challenge,” Jawin said. “I felt this matter could be settled in five minutes. Especially in an economic downturn you would think that an organization that is self-supporting, that operates completely through the work of volunteers, that is helping women to be self sufficient, you would think this is something that is to be encouraged and celebrated and helped.
“I am very disappointed that Mayor Bloomberg and Scoppetta have not inserted themselves into the situation and helped to work on a compromise.”
Jawin has sent numerous letters to the two officials, but appreciates that both are very busy with other city issues. “It may be that their assistants haven’t even shown them the letters.”
Kaye Tinkelman, a past president of the Queens Women Center, believes the city has not given the women proper respect.
“I feel that when women decide to take a stand no one should ever underestimate them,” Tinkelman said. “It’s like the old slogan from the 60s, ‘I am woman, hear me roar’. I can say the New York City government will never underestimate the power of women again.”
Tinkelman hoped a continued dialogue will eventually lead to a reconciliation and a compromise. She believes the strength of women has always been communication.
Other women at Saturday’s open house expressed gratitude for the efforts Jawin has provided for the women and their plight.
“We all pray and wish (the order) is not what the Fire Department wants,” said Zarmine Boghosian. “But no matter what happens, you have been an inspiration and role model to me. We are here because of you.”
Jawin deflected the praise and said the work is being done by all the women who are helping to keep the center operating. She also made it clear that the women who use the Queens Women’s Center will always have a place to go to, regardless of what the outcome of this current standoff is.
“I don’t know where, but there will be a women’s center,” Jawin said. “We will not desert the women of this area because we get these calls every day from women needing help. We will do something because with all of these brains, we can’t do nothing.”