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Queens Chronicle

Schools, immigration were top issues

The biggest stories from Astoria to Sunnyside to Jackson Heights

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

Failing schools, immigration, bizarre crimes and art filled the pages of the Western Queens edition of the Queens Chronicle this year.

Residents fought against developments they thought would be detrimental to the community, from a strip club in Long Island City to a proposed soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Park, from the addition of affordable housing in Hunters Point to the lack of affordable housing in Willets Point, which will largely affect Jackson Heights and Corona.

Western Queens also saw a back and forth fight — seemingly mostly for naught — to close poor performing high schools that never took effect.

The mayor and politicians bargained over budget cuts, while students around Western Queens rallied to save after-school programs that were on the chopping block.

Then as the year began to wrap up, Hurricane Sandy rocked the whole borough on Oct. 29, taking down trees in Western Queens neighborhoods and flooding many riverfront homes and businesses on the East River in LIC. Affected communities continued to rebuild their lives for the next two months after the storm — and continue to do so.


The year kicked off with rallies continued from 2011 for preserving the historic facade of the Elmhurst Library after the building’s demolition. The community board that covers Corona and East Elmhurst mourned the sudden death of its district manger, Richard Italiano, while LIC residents and politicians continued to fight against the opening of a strip club by the Queenboro Bridge, called Gypsy Rose — 21 Group. Residents decried plans to designate all soon-to-be condominiums in the Hunters Point section of LIC as affordable housing, because of a potential drop of property values.


Another topic carried on from last year was the fear of parents who live in the Big Six towers in Woodside for their childrens’ safety when the Department of Education discontinued bus service that would take the elementary-school-aged children across the busy intersection of 61st Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard. Issues surrounding the 7 Train continued to be a pain from weekend closures of many LIC stops to loads of pigeon poop underneath the tracks, which rains down on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights. Astoria residents were very pleased on Feb. 22 to see that the Westway Motor Inn would not become a homeless shelter.


On March 15 Milan Rysa, the Astoria bodybuilder who killed his 50-pound shar-pei named Brooklyn by throwing him out a third-story window, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment. Also in the crime vein, Sunnyside resident Robert Zaretz, 42, was found dead in Calvary Cemetery. The cause of death was unknown.


Teachers and students at Newtown and Bryant high schools begin their full onslaught against plans to shut down their schools. In the fall the plans fell through because they violated the city’s agreements with the teachers unions. Woodside elementary school PS 11 pleaded for more seats and the discontinuation of its leaky 20-year-old trailers, which served as classrooms. In November the Construction Authority announced it would build a 300-seat annex to alleviate the overcrowding issue.


In May unions were on the mind. The teachers union was looking at its contract to fight against Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to fire half the staff at 24 schools, the Woodside based-metallic lathers and reinforcing iron workers unions held a huge job drive for which many job-hopefuls slept outside the office for a week and Service Employees International Union 32BJ continued its push to unionize the workers at the new Cornerstone towers in LIC. Community boards in Jackson Heights and Corona cracked down on the number of establishments that sell liquor, by advising the State Liquor Authority against approving many applications from licensees that create quality of life issues and increased crime.


On June 3 the Queens Center for Gay Seniors and Julio Rivera’s family led the 20th Gay Pride Parade in Jackson Heights as grand marshals. The parade was created to shine a light on the murder of Rivera, a gay Jackson Heights resident. Giants star David Diehl was arrested on June 17 on driving while intoxicated charges after allegedly having a few too many drinks at an Astoria bar. Flight pattern changes from LaGuardia Airport made for noisy homes all over the borough. On June 29 Ivy-League-educated Astoria resident Jason Bohn turned himself in to the police after three days on the run, after officers found his dead girlfriend in their shared apartment in a bathtub filled with ice.


The strip club Gypsy Rose in LIC began operations despite opposition. However, when it was unable to obtain a liquor license from the State Liquor Authority, the club opened as a liquor-free all-nude joint. More bike lanes and better bike enforcement were slated to go into effect in Sunnyside and throughout Queens. On July 24 a state Supreme Court judge killed Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to shut down 24 schools — including three in Western Queens — fire half the staff and reopen the facilities under new names.


Sunnyside resident Benh Zeitlin continued to receive praise for his coming-of-age film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which critics say will be a contender at the Oscars. During the second week of August state Sen. Gianaris (D-Astoria) introduced a slew of gun control bills that complement similar legislation backed by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), which has been tied up in the Senate for years. Illegal immigrant students applied for deferred deportation status allowed by the president for the first time on Aug. 16 at the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services office in LIC. On Aug. 31 students from the High School for Arts and Business unveiled a mural urging drivers to slow down at a dangerous intersection in Corona.


On Sept. 13 Astorian business owners came out in force against a plan to turn a swath of Newtown and 30th avenues into a pedestrian plaza. Since then a citizens group came forward with a petition in favor of the idea, but nothing has moved forward. Corona and Jackson Heights residents protested against Major League Soccer’s plans to build a stadium in nearby Flushing Meadows Park. On Sept. 14 the Corona Pedestrian Plaza became permanent on 41st Avenue between National and 104th streets. During election primaries, redistricting and voter reassignment caused confusion. A leak of PCBs from a light in a LIC school sparked debates about the toxic fixtures.


Residents at the Queensboro Houses in LIC led a march orchestrated by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to bring attention to gun violence in the complex. Astoria residents cleaned up and continue to keep an eye on Sean’s Place park, where drug paraphernalia, used condoms and empty beer bottles once proliferated. On Oct. 4 National Guard soldier Noel Polanco, 22, was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway. CB 4 promoted Christian Cassignol to District Manager to replace Italiano, who died unexpectedly earlier this year. Hurricane Sandy hit New York City on Oct. 29 ripping out trees and causing blackouts and flooding in Western Queens. Lou Rispoli, a longtime Sunnyside resident and gay rights activists, died on Oct. 25 after being severely beaten.


The Crab House, a staple LIC restaurant that was devastated in the storm, began the long rebuilding project. Gas shortages and cleanups continued post-Sandy while residents and business owners wrestled with complicated FEMA forms. Sunnyside residents marched down 43rd Ave. on Nov. 17 to bring attention Rispoli’s death nearly a month before. His murderers still have not been identified. Ground broke on a new gym at an Astoria school, PS 70.


Queens’ first big brewery, SingleCut, opened in Astoria on Dec. 1. Elmhurst father Ki Suk Han was pushed to his death on a subway platform on Dec. 3. Former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Jackson Heights, who was kicked out of his seat after being convicted of a misdemeanor for dragging his bleeding girlfriend through their apartment, was sentenced to two years in jail. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) announced his bid for borough president on Dec. 11. An LIC nurse was charged with a 1984 murder in Louisiana. Sunnyside residents mourned the death of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 26 died. Victim Benjamin Wheeler, 6, was born in the Western Queens neighborhood, and Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung’s stepsister, Nicole Perkins-Isleib, lives in Sunnyside.

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