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Queens Chronicle

Politics, education and an epic storm

Campaigns, schools, development topped this year’s news — until Sandy

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Thu Jan 3, 2013.

Politics dominated much of the news in South Queens in 2012. With local and national elections looming, the communities were the epicenter of a hard-fought state legislative race with statewide implications.

But much like T.S. Eliot’s explanation of the apocalypse in “The Hollow Men,” the campaign ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, shoved from the top of people’s minds by the most devastating natural disaster to strike South Queens in a lifetime.

Hurricane Sandy roared ashore on Oct. 29 and for the rest of year, the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Howard Beach struggled to regain a sense of normalcy after the hurricane’s storm surge flooded nearly every home in the area, causing millions of dollars in damage.

JANUARY

The year opened with news that Gov. Cuomo was eyeing Aqueduct Racetrack, home of the brand new Resorts World Casino New York City, as the site for the nation’s largest convention center. The news was met with a wide range of reactions from outrage to trepidation, especially from members of Community Board 10, who had just breathed a sigh of relief with the opening of the long-awaited casino. The Aqueduct convention center was one of two planned for Queens, with another eyed for Willets Point.

Meanwhile, the financially struggling Howard Beach Senior Center decided to seek some private funding to keep itself off the endangered list every year when the city’s budget is debated.

The Parks Department sought new bids to run the shuttered Forest Park Carousel after failing to find a bidder in previous attempts.

Residents of Ozone Park and South Ozone Park pleaded with the city to send more manpower to the 106th Precinct after a jump in robberies and concerns related to the opening of Resorts World.

FEBRUARY

The state Legislature redrew its district lines, punting on plans for independent redistricting, and the new lines left many incensed, dividing nearly every neighborhood in South Queens. The 15th Senate District, represented by Joe Addabbo. Jr. (D-Howard Beach), was redrawn to include the Rockaways and GOP-leaning neighborhoods like Kew Gardens Hills, while the 12th District, represented by Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), was redrawn to include sections of South Queens along the Brooklyn border. Further, state Sen. Shirley Huntley’s (D-Jamaica) district was expanded to include most of Richmond Hill and parts of Ozone Park and Woodhaven.

State Assembly lines were also redrawn, but most borders stayed the same, except in Richmond Hill, which was cut up into a number of districts, including one that stretches to Bellerose.

The city Department of Education moved forward with its plan to replace half the staff at John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools, and five others in the borough, close and reopen them under new names in September.

Meanwhile city budget negotiations moved forward as Mayor Bloomberg released his suggested spending cuts, including closing 20 fire companies in the city.

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department celebrated 84 years in service.

Heavenly Florist in Ozone Park asked police to crack down on illegal flower vendors in the community because the scofflaws were taking away business.

MARCH

After state legislators were unable to agree on a map for new state Congressional districts, a federal judge released her own, which eliminated Rep. Bob Turner’s (R-Middle Village) district and sliced South Queens into three other districts, two of which were based in Brooklyn. Upon losing his district, Turner decided to make a run for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

District 27’s Community Education Council unanimously opposed a plan by the DOE to allow students to attend any middle school in the district rather than the one they are zoned for. Parents and administrators were concerned that the plan would not make sense for the district — the largest in the city — because students would have to travel long distances to get to school. Parents were also concerned students from other parts of the district would deny zoned children seats in specific middle schools.

Rockaway’s Peninsula Hospital was shut down for good by the state after problems arose in its clinical lab. Peninsula became the fourth borough hospital to close in the last four years.

Woodhaven residents successfully fought off a plan to change two streets from two-ways into one-ways, which they argued would cause traffic issues on other area roads.

Residents of Howard Beach voiced concern about safety because they say drug users were leaving dirty needles and other garbage in the parking lot of Waldbaum’s on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Zena Basin of Howard Beach mourned her only son, Joshua, after he was pushed in front of an L train in Brooklyn by a homeless man and killed on March 23.

APRIL

After Cuomo signed new legislative lines into law, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) surprised many by announcing he would run against Democratic Senate incumbent Addabbo, in a new district that stretches from Breezy Point to Kew Gardens Hills.

Teachers, staff, parents and students fought the DOE’s plan to close seven borough high schools including John Adams and Richmond Hill as the Panel for Educational Policy vote on the closures approached.

Francis LaCorte was convicted of the 2009 murder of Jerry Antoniello, son of former Romeo’s Pizzeria owner Bartolomeo Antoniello, during a botched robbery attempt at the family’s home on North Conduit Avenue in Ozone Park.

Residents in South Queens worried new Congressional maps that placed the communities of Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven in districts based in Brooklyn would lead to them losing clout in federal representation.

MAY

The PEP voted to close John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools and reopen them under new names and with most of its staff replaced in September. The United Federation of Teachers immediately sued the city, calling the move a breach of contract.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) proposed restarting the old Rockaway Beach rail line which has been abandoned between Rego Park and Ozone Park since 1962. Goldfeder said a new line would provide quicker service from South Queens and the Rockaways to Midtown Manhattan and help serve Resorts World Casino and the proposed convention center.

After a bird strike on a Delta jet at JFK Airport one month before, Sen. Gillibrand sought to remove much of the Canada geese.

After four years, the Parks Department announced it had found a vendor for the Forest Park Carousel, and the 109-year-old attraction reopened to the public on Memorial Day weekend.

JUNE

Five months after its announcement, Gov. Cuomo said the proposed convention center project at Aqueduct Racetrack was dead.

Patrick Scannell, the principal at St. Mary Gate of Heaven School, retired after more than half a century at the helm of the Ozone Park institution.

John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools celebrated what they believed were to be their final graduations on June 26, while the UFT and the DOE fought over the procedure to close and reorganize the schools. The case went from a judge to an arbitrator, who ruled in the city’s favor at the end of the month, forcing the issue back into the courts.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) defeated Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) in the Democratic primary to represent the newly redrawn 8th Congressional District, which, though based in Brooklyn, includes Howard Beach and Ozone Park. In the new 7th Congressional District, which includes Woodhaven, 20-year incumbent Nydia Velazquez defeated three other challengers in the Democratic primary to hold her seat, while Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) also fended off a primary challenge in the 5th Congressional District, which was redrawn to include the Rockaways.

JULY

A federal judge ruled for the teachers union in the suit against the DOE’s turnaround program that would have closed John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools and fired much of the staff, leaving the schools in a state of limbo through most of the summer.

Residents in South Ozone Park were outraged when the MTA moved the Q41 bus from 111th Avenue to 109th Avenue, taking more than half the parking spots on one block away for new bus stops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture removed more than half of the Canada geese population in and around Jamaica Bay after concerns over bird strikes at JFK Airport.

The City Council gave its final approval to a massive rezoning of Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill after nearly half a decade in the works.

Sixteen people were injured when a fire swept through a row of houses on 115th Street in South Richmond Hill on one of the hottest days of the year.

Parents at a South Ozone Park school expressed concern and outrage when it was discovered that over two dozen registered sex offenders were or had been living in the Skyway men’s homeless shelter on South Conduit Avenue, which had changed from a family shelter to a men’s shelter 16 months earlier.

AUGUST

Richmond Hill’s Sikh-American community called for calm after a man gunned down several people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Mayor Bloomberg condemned the attack and continued his call for more gun control during a visit to the Sikh Cultural Center on 118th Street.

Graffiti vandals struck work vans along Sutter Avenue in Ozone Park and one business captured the entire crime on its security cameras.

Police warned of a string of burglaries aimed at the homes of Hindus in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, allegedly targeted because of gold religious material inside the houses.

Locked in a tight race with Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) was arrested on charges that she funneled taxpayer money to a fraudulent nonprofit called the Parent Workshop.

SEPTEMBER

Negative mailings dominated the Republican primary for state Senate between Councilman Eric Ulrich and Queens GOP-backed attorney Juan Reyes. The race got exceptionally nasty when the Reyes campaign sent out mailers accusing Ulrich of flipping on support of LGBT rights and hiring a gay staffer. The race ended in a decisive Ulrich victory on Sept. 13.

After being indicted on corruption charges, Huntley lost her race against Sanders by a wide margin, becoming the only state legislator in Queens to be defeated in 2012.

Residents of 84th Avenue in Richmond Hill fought a proposal by the Department of Transportation to change the street into a one-way. Community Board 9 later rejected the plan.

A lighting fixture leaking PCBs in a Long Island City school shined a light on the city’s plan to remove the chemical from public schools by 2021, leading to calls for that timeline to be expedited.

OCTOBER

Cuomo announced the reorganization of the New York Racing Association’s horse safety and health procedure after a string of horse deaths at Aqueduct Racetrack and other racing venues in the state.

Four graduates of Richmond Hill high school were killed in a car accident Columbus Day weekend on the Southern State Parkway in Nassau County. The driver of the vehicle, who survived, was unlicensed and later arrested for allegedly driving while under the influence of marijuana.

The race between Ulrich and Addabbo for state Senate culminated in a debate cohosted by the Queens Chronicle on Oct. 25 at Ave Maria Catholic Academy in Howard Beach.

But the campaign fell off the front pages the next week when on Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy struck New York. A storm surge as high as 10 feet flooded the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Howard Beach, drowning basements and some first floors. Power was knocked out to more than 100,000 people in Queens, and everyone in Howard Beach. Twelve people died in Queens as a result of the storm, including one eldery woman who drowned in her Howard Beach home. The storm also toppled more than 7,000 trees in the borough, among them, the 100-foot evergreen on Forest Parkway in Woodhaven used for the neighborhood’s Christmas celebrations.

NOVEMBER

Though the race was muted by the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy, Addabbo won re-election, defeating Ulrich 57 percent to 43 percent. With power out in many parts of the district and many residents in the Rockaways and Howard Beach displaced, voting was complicated as some cast ballots away from their homes. Turnout was relatively low.

Power remained out in Howard Beach for up to two weeks and even longer in the Rockaways. Frustration and confusion with utility companies, insurance agencies and FEMA led to angry, despondent residents lashing out at local officials at a town hall meeting at PS 146 on Nov. 20.

Meanwhile, the NYC Districting Commission released would-be final lines for new City Council districts, which angered a number of civic leaders, especially in Woodhaven, where the border between two districts sliced the neighborhood in half.

DECEMBER

The power was back on in most of the Sandy-affected zone by early December, but the aftereffects remained, with many houses still cleaning out and businesses along Cross Bay Boulevard still struggling to get back on their feet.

The devastated West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department, which lost all its vehicles in Hurricane Sandy, received donated firetrucks from Mississippi and Pennsylvania, and Duane Reade donated $25,000 to the organization.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) announced she would be supporting the proposed landmarking of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Woodhaven, which closed its doors in May 2011. Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Woodhaven Historical and Cultural Society, threw his support behind the idea and the landmarking of the adjacent Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery, which dates back to the 18th century.

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