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Queens Chronicle

Willets center back on point: Marshall

State of Boro speech celebrates residents, progress and heroes

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Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:00 pm

Borough President Helen Marshall’s State of the Borough speech contained goals made and those yet to be achieved in areas of education, healthcare and a score of quality of life issues — and a 180-degree reversal from the previous week on the viability of a convention center at Willets Point.

Speaking before several hundred Tuesday at Colden Auditorium at Queens College, Marshall talked at length about massive housing projects, healthcare facilities, roads and other infrastructure that she said will benefit Queens for generations.

“And let me be clear about the convention center at Willets Point,” Marshall said. “It is meant to complement the Javits Convention Center. And now it can complement the convention center at Aqueduct.”

Five days earlier, when Gov. Cuomo appeared in Flushing to tout, among other things, his proposal for the country’s largest convention center at Aqueduct, Marshall told the Queens Chronicle there will be “no convention center at Willets Point for sure.”

Following Tuesday’s speech, Marshall spokesman Dan Andrews said the views she expressed in the State of the Borough are those she is standing by. He believes that Marshall’s comments last week were preliminary, and made right after Cuomo’s address, when, he said, many people felt the Aqueduct project would cancel the center at Willets Point.

“She did and still does support a convention center at Willets Point,” he said. “Willets Point was never meant to be ‘the largest convention center in the nation.’ It is planned for a mid-sized convention center, and a mid-sized one makes sense. It is accessible by ferry, plane, train, car and three major highways.”

Elsewhere in her address, Marshall paid tribute once again to the ethnic and cultural mosaic that Queens has become.

“As I always say ‘Visit Queens and see the world,’” she said.

Marshall was perhaps most critical when discussing education.

“It’s no secret that many of our schools like PS 19 in Corona and PS 96 in Ozone Park are severely overcrowded, and School District 24 continues to hold the dubious distinction of being the most crowded in the entire city,” she said.

She said officials are making progress — but not enough — with 10 schools and 6,000 seats planned to come on line in the next two years.

“Not acceptable — and so the battle continues,” she said.

On healthcare Marshall cited as good news the rescue of Peninsula Hospital; the opening of North Shore-LIJ’s Katz Women’s Hospital and plans for Mount Sinai to expand in Astoria; as well as other smaller programs and services.

Economic development touted by the borough president included growth of Long Island City’s central business district, the proposed rezoning of the Flushing waterfront, economic assistance in Jamaica and progress on the Hunter’s Point South development, which is planned as part of the largest infusion of affordable housing in the city ever.

Highlights on the environment included new studies on the cleanup of Newtown Creek, and a call on the state to continue its moratorium on hydrofracking for natural gas in areas that could affect the city’s water supply.

Marshall also honored a handful of local heroes, including Arno Heller of Rego Park, and a volunteer in her office.

Heller, who fled Germany in the 1930s, fought for the United States in World War II. This week he will receive a Bronze Star he earned more than 55 years ago in North Africa and Italy.

“A lot of guys did more than I did,” Heller said. “I was lucky. A lot of my friends didn’t come home.”

Also honored was FDNY Firefighter Ronald Daly, a member of Rescue Company 4 in Woodside who responded with his company in November to a fatal fire.

Daly kept the toll from going higher, entering the house upon hearing people were still trapped inside, pulling out a 63-year-old man and his dog after first pulling security bars off a rear window.

Called to the stage next were NYPD detectives Charles LoPresti and Richard Johnson.

Investigating a series of firebombings in Queens in December, the two partners followed a lead and conducted surveillance on a marathon tour of duty to bring in a suspect in less than 48 hours.

LoPresti had been honored last summer by Marshall for locating and saving the life of a woman who had swallowed a bottle of pills, with nothing to go on initially other than an intersection in Kew Gardens and a mother’s desperate phone call from Hawaii.

Typical of the city’s emergency personnel, Daly and LoPresti accepted their honors on behalf of their colleagues, while Johnson merely said “Thank you.”

And representing New York’s Strongest were Sanitation workers Joseph Maneggio and Seni Nkozi, who were honored for rescuing a woman and her five children from a Far Rockaway fire in December.

The men called to the mother to have her children jump into their arms before she jumped herself.

As Marshall was presenting both men with awards, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty and Mr. Met appeared on stage, bringing the two men new catcher’s mitts, which will be autographed at Citi Field this spring when the Mets return from Florida.

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