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Queens Chronicle

A look back: 2009 in south Queens

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Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:00 am

The past year may go down in the books as one one of the most exacting in recent history.

Like other communities across the nation, south Queens faced the unique challenge of dealing with the aftermath of one of the country’s worst economic collapses — a quandary that colored and shaped many news events that took place throughout 2009.

But in Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, the year was also one marked by celebrations and accolades; tragedies, triumphant political victories and seminal legal proceedings.

Here’s a look back at some of the stories that captured headlines over the past 12 months.

JANUARY

After former Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) is elected to replace Serphin Maltese in the state Senate, a whopping seven candidates rush to file their petitions with the Board of Elections to run for the 32nd District seat. The contenders include Democrats Frank Gulluscio, Lew Simon, Sam DiBernardo, Mike Ricatto, Glenn DiResto, Geraldine Chapey and Republican Eric Ulrich.

After a 9-year-old boy is fatally struck by one of the candidate’s campaign buses while crossing the street, the community debates whether red-light cameras installed at the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue cause more harm than good. “What the cameras don’t see, what the DOT and the police precinct don’t see, are the near-misses,” Addabbo said. “The screeching [of tires], the sudden stops.”

With its $25,000 debt, the Forest Park Senior Center is one of the first institutions in the community to announce it may have to close this year because of a lack of funding. The issue is reflective of a similar problem taking place across the city, where senior services are on shaky ground because of the frail economy.

The community is shocked to discover that Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park has been hit by vandals who desecrated masoleums, smashed coffins and exposed human remains.

After 40 years tending bar, Artie Guy, owner of Guy’s of Vinegar Hill on Linden Boulevard in South Ozone Park, sells his establishment to Sofia Pizzeria next door.

Family and friends — of which there were many — bid a sad farewell to Nick Moccia, who died on Jan. 8 at age 92. Moccia, a civic activist and longtime sports coach at St. Helen’s School, also penned a weekly school sports column for the Chronicle in the 1980s and 1990s.

FEBRUARY

A tragic five-alarm fire on 91st Avenue and 96th Street in Woodhaven destroys 11 homes and damages a 12th. More than 230 firefighters and 65 units respond to the incident and the Red Cross helps find shelter for those left homeless.

Addabbo take the oath to becomes the 15th District state Senator at an inauguration ceremomy held at P.S. 60 in Woodhaven.

Chapey, a Rockaway resident who is running for the 32nd District City Council seat, files objections against two fellow candidates — Gulluscio and DiResto — for legal technicalities. As a result, both contenders are knocked off the ballot just before the special election is to take place.

The Chronicle and Forum host a candidates debate night that lives up to its name. Ulrich emerges as a force to reckon with, not only for tackling key topics head-on, but for addressing the “800 pound gorilla in the room”: Allowed to ask one question of any opponent, Ulrich faces Chapey and asks, “Why do you feel that Frank did not have the right to run for city council?”

Ulrich wins the special election by more than 1,000 votes. At age 24, he is one of the youngest to have ever held the position.

Despite the fact that plans had been in the works for three years, the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department is told the city won’t sign off on a relocation project. The $5.9 million endeavor required just one additional signature by the Department of Transportation to make it a reality.

Elsie Janet Miller, an Ozone Park relic known for her eccentric behavior and aqua-blue house decorated with ornaments and bells, dies at age 76. Her passing inspires residents to create a Facebook page in her memory.

MARCH

Plans to create a 4,500 video lottery terminal racino at Aqueduct Race Track are temporarily shelved when the winning bidder, Delaware North Companies, announces it won’t be able to raise the $370 million needed to fund the project. The company says it intends to bid again.

Three nonprofit organizations submit proposals to transform the Bernard Fineson Development Center into affordable housing. The companies are the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, Psch Inc. and Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation.

Ulrich’s inauguration ceremony is stalled after opponent Simon demands the Board of Elections re-canvass all the districts’ voting machines. The new councilman is sworn into office by Mayor Mike Bloomberg at P.S. 207 in Howard Beach. “From this moment on, my life, my entire being, will be dedicated to serving the people who have put their trust in me,” Ulrich says. “I welcome this burden because it is a burden with great humility and a deep sense of obligation.”

Bloomberg makes another appearance in the community when he serves as grand marshal of the 20th annual Phagwah Parade on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill. More than 30,000 people attend the Hindu celebration.

New York Families for Autistic Children holds its 11th annual dance and awards celebration at Russo’s on the Bay. Gov. David Paterson joins the festivities as the organization’s Special Guardian Angel honoree.

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation begins a new tradition when it hosts the first annual celebration of the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19 at Roma View Catering in Howard Beach. HBCDF president Mario Faulisi says he hopes to strengthen ties within the Italian-American community.

APRIL

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Residents are outraged when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposes to eliminate the Q56 bus, which runs along Jamaica Avenue from Queens to Brooklyn. As part of the conditions to receive bailout money, the MTA eventually drops the plan — until December, that is, when it’s placed back on the table again.

After a lengthy dispute between the New York Racing Association and the state over who owns the land, NYRA announces that on June 10, it will auction 64 parcels it owns in Ozone Park.

Gulluscio announces plans to run again for the 32nd District City Council seat against Ulrich in November. “I’m running because I’m the people’s candidate,” Gulluscio said. “I’ve been involved in this community my entire life. I’m a well-rounded individual. I do the job every day.”

MAY

As the warmer weather kicks in, residents and civic leaders are reminded of the eyesore that is Charles Park. An argument between a Long Island-based adult softball league and Ozone Howard Little League sparks a debate about how Gateway is enforcing the rules at the park. Neighbors question the nature of permits given to leagues from other communities and criticize the lack of park maintenance and absense of rangers.

P.S. 108 in South Ozone Park hosts a day of music, poetry and dance in honor of Vincent G. Fowler, the FDNY captain with Division 13 who was killed in 1999 from injuries sustained while responding to an emergency call. The school was also renamed in honor of the local hero.

St. Helen’s wishes the best of luck to Sister Hannah Marie Cox and Sister Mary Eileen Troy, two educators who relocated to Mount Saint Joseph Convent in New Windsor, N.Y. Cox, 86, served as the pastoral associate at St. Helen’s for 24 years and Troy, 65, was both a teacher and principal at the school.

The Queens Democrats nominate Gulluscio to represent the party in the 32nd District City Council race. Meanwhile, Ulrich is already holding his first fundraiser for the election — just two months after taking office.

JUNE

Thanks to the generosity of a caring community and the perserverence of residents Phyllis Inserillo, Melissa Fochetta and John Link from the American Cancer Society, Howard Beach’s first Relay for Life raises more than $150,000 for cancer research. Thousands of cancer survivors, family and friends gather at Charles Park on June 12 and 13 to pay tribute to the courageous survivors. In addition to a fashion show, concerts and games, an all-night candlelight vigil is held in memory of all those who lost their lives to the disease.

June proves to be a month of philanthropic successes. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk-a-thon in Howard Beach helps raise more than $100,000.

Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens is chosen to turn the Bernard Fineson Development Center into low- and moderate-income housing that will accomodate 80 seniors and 20 individuals with developmental disabilities.

Residents express anger and concern over the way NYRA handles its auction of property in Ozone Park. Many say they weren’t given priority to bid on lots near their homes. Bidder no. 849, who remains anonymous, reportedly spends $2 million to buy eight of the 22 bulk lots offered.

The first two out of three sexual assaults and rapes are reported in Forest Park. On June 1, a 47-year-old woman is raped near Freedom Drive. The following day, a 60-year-old woman reports being sexually assaulted near Myrtle Avenue and Forest Park Drive.

Krystal Khan, 28, who runs a daycare center out of her home in Ozone Park, is charged with child endangerment after one of her charges, 11-month-old Daniel Farrior, drowns in a bucket of water while she sleeps on her couch.

Exactly one year after Richmond Hill High School student Jagmohan Singh Premi is reportedly struck in a bias-based attack, he files a lawsuit against the Department of Education, claiming it did not protect him from the abuse. The Sikh Coalition encourages the implementation of programs and workshops that would educate faculty about the Sikh faith.

For the fourth time since 2002, the Ozone Park community meets with representatives from DOT and the Department of Design and Construction to discuss the most famous jumble of letters and numbers in Centreville — HWQ411B — a 25-year project that would reconstruct streets, sidewalks, curbs and pedestrian ramps along 28 blocks. Residents are told construction could start in June 2011 and be completed by June 2013.

JULY

Mario Acatitla, 18, drowns in Jamaica Bay while fishing in waist-high waters. Many residents and officials call for Gateway, which owns the stretch of land known as the North Channel Parking Lot, to better police the area and enforce safety rules.

Aqueduct racino bidders move to make their plans known. Aqueduct Entertainment Group is the first to meet with the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Other bidders include Wynn Resorts, SL Green Realty, Penn National Gaming, the Peebles Corporation and Delaware North.

Six candidates file petitions with the Board of Elections to fill disgraced Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio’s 38th District seat. The candidates are Democrats Mike Miller, Nick Comaianni, Albert Baldeo, Lourdes Ventura, Farouk Samaroo and Republican Donna Caltabiano.

“This Old House” names Richmond Hill one of the nation’s top eight places to own an old home. The honor raises an old question, particularly from members of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and Community Board 9: the community is beautiful and has retained much of its historic charm — so why won’t the Landmarks Preservation Commission grant Richmond Hill landmark status?

AUGUST

The candidates in the 38th Assembly race express concern over Paterson’s decision to hold a Sept. 15 special election, arguing that four weeks is not enough time to put together an effective campaign. Miller is endorsed by both the Conservative and Democratic parties and Samaroo bows out of the race.

Ulrich declares war on graffiti by agressively cleaning up three problem areas: 101st Avenue between 75th and 111th streets, Rockaway Boulevard between 75th and 111th streets and Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard between Atlantic Avenue and the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge.

Addabbo Jr., Miller, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation Executive Director Maria Thomson gather beneath the dilapidated J-train platform to urge state legislators to approve the MTA budget to repaint and rehabiliate the line — including fixing its peeling paint, cracks and structural damage on staircases. “It’s falling apart,” Thomson said. “Pieces are falling off and falling onto the sidewalk.”

St. Helen’s and the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation host “A Night of Italian Music,” a free outdoor concert that helps residents bid a melancholy farewell to summer.

SEPTEMBER

Gerardo “Jerry” Antoniello, 29, is killed while defending his father, Romeo, from armed robbers who pushed their way into their Ozone Park home on Sept. 9. Romeo, who owns Romeo’s Pizzeria on Cross Bay Boulevard, and family members demand justice for Jerry and hundreds of residents pay tribute to the courageous young man.

Miller defeats Caltabiano with 2,730 votes and becomes the new 38th District assemblyman. He vows to make public safety, education and quality of life issues a priority.

After 80 years, Sukon’s Kids Furniture store on Cross Bay Boulevard announces it is going out of business. “In the last year, no one has been shopping,” says owner Lori Hausser.

South Ozone Park loses a dedicated doctor with the passing of Dr. Abe Lucks, 98. Lucks, who practiced medicine for 60 years, was known around town for waiving exam fees for patients in need and making house calls decades after they were de rigueur.

OCTOBER

Antoniello’s family hosts a candlelight vigil in front of Romeo’s Pizzeria to pay tribute to Jerry and raise awareness about the need to find his killers.

Approximately 20 nonprofits learn that Seminerio’s discretionary funds, upon which they heavily relied, have been suspended by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver because the ex-lawmaker was under suspicion for misappropriating funds. Some organizations, including Bobbi and the Strays and One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center, say they will have trouble staying afloat without funding. Miller meets with the nonprofits to discuss solutions.

M.S. 210 in Ozone Park celebrates its new $1 million playground, designed by students and faculty through the Trust for Public Land organization.

NOVEMBER

The “kid” stays in the picture. Ulrich defeats Gulluscio with 59 percent of the vote and maintains his 32nd District City Council seat for a full term.

The debate over test grades hits home when Kelly Sinisgalli, a fourth grade student at P.S. 207 in Rockwood Park, is forced to quit her after-school dance program to attend a remedial studies class designed to help her improve upon already above-average test grades. “Schools, in order not to be penalized, have to show test score improvement,” says Jane Hirschmann of Time Out From Testing. “We’ve eliminated dance, art and music in the classroom. So she [Kelly] can’t even go and do the things that make her a well-rounded student. This is a very serious problem.”

Wynn Resorts pulls out as a contender in the Aqueduct racino project after Paterson asks all bidders to provide proof they can pay the state $200 million upfront.

Barbara Sheehan, the Howard Beach resident who fatally shot her NYPD husband in February 2008 after decades of reported physical and mental abuse, is told by a Queens Supreme Court Justice she’ll have to stand trial without psychiatric testimony, which is needed to prove she suffered from battered woman’s syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s crippling, to put it mildly,” says her attorney, Michael Dowd.

A Brooklyn man is charged with at least one of three Forest Park sexual attacks. Carl Wallace’s DNA was found to match that of a 29-year-old woman who was raped on Sept. 24 at around 3 a.m., according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

Concetta DiBenedetto, 78, a mother of four and grandmother of four, is laid to rest after she is struck by a vehicle just steps away from her Howard Beach home.

DECEMBER

Woodhaven welcomes the holidays with several events including a tree and menorah lighting ceremony at Forest Parkway Plaza, the “Welcome Santa to Woodhaven” parade and photo-taking opportunities with the man in red.

In Howard Beach, St. Helen’s hosts a spectacular Christmas tree lighting ceremony, sponsored by the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation.

The Department of Education announces plans to phase out three Queens high schools, including Broad Channel High School in Rockaway Park.

With $500 million in debt, Off-Track Betting files for Chapter 9 bankruptcy and announces plans to reorganize its operations. It will continue operating its OTB betting parlors, including one in Ozone Park.

NYRA urges the state to hurry and choose an Aqueduct bidder, saying it may run out of money by next summer.

The court of appeals upholds the jury’s decision in the case of Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci, a Howard Beach resident who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a brutal attack on a black man in 2006.

The Department of Environmental Conservation proposes a cleanup plan to address contamination found at the former site of Ozone Industries, located between 103rd and 101st avenues and 99th and 100th streets in Ozone Park.

The MTA again proposes cutting the Q56 bus service, as well as the Z train line and Rockaway rebate program. Miller, Ulrich, Thomson, Crowley and Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) hold an emergency meeting, where they condemn the MTA’s drastic cuts.

“All of us feel a great sense of betrayal that the services we fought for are back on the chopping block,” Lancman said.

Jason Burrell and Rashod Cowan are arrested for the Sept. 9 murder of Antoniello. Both are charged with second-degree murder, attempted robbery, burglary, assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

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