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Queens Chronicle

What a year it was in Western Queens

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Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 12:00 am

Dusting off the stacks in the Chronicle archive as we prepare to embark upon another year of covering Queens, certain events and people stick out as memorable.

Ousted state Sen. Hiram Monserrate had his picture in the paper on more than one occasion as he tried to win a special election against state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) in March, before going on to do battle with Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona), to whom he also lost in November.

Just when it seemed he had vanished for good, in October the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with conspiracy, accusing him of misusing money allocated to a nonprofit organization by the City Council.

Now, his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, whom he was convicted of abusing, apparently has a lawsuit of her own. According to The Daily News, she is suing the city for $35 million, alleging she was coerced to falsely accuse Monserrate of assaulting her.

Another storm to hit the borough lashed out at trees rather than elected officials. In September, two tornados touched down in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, wreaking havoc and causing one death.

Mayor Bloomberg found himself caught in the middle of the emergency in Corona, where he was scheduled to make an appearance. His plans changed to include meetings with neighborhood residents, many of whom had their cars damaged in the wake of the storm.

Middle Village and Rego Park were especially hard hit and in October, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island were designated disaster areas to provide for damage reimbursement.

Western Queens had already lost a few trees in May, when Amtrak initiated a clear cut along tracks in Woodside. Using stimulus funding, the company’s track maintenance program eliminated trees that might fall into tracks which ran from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Amtrak admitted they should have communicated with residents regarding the tree removal and agreed to re-plant shorter trees and erect a barrier wall in Woodside.

The agency was again faced with complaints from the community when rocks and steel hailed down upon Astoria from elevated tracks leading to the Hell Gate Bridge in October. Assemblyman and state Senator-elect Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) complained to the agency and nets were installed to catch the debris which had been dislodged due to track work.

In November, residents and elected officials gathered in Woodside to survey the company’s re-planting efforts.

In another environmental victory, residents in Long Island City and Maspeth were thrilled when after decades of pollution, Newtown Creek was granted Superfund Status in September by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Politicians and residents are hopeful that the designation will help clean the 3.8-mile body of water and its surrounding area.

This was an exciting year for Queens’ LGBT residents. In April, same sex partners were permitted to list themselves as married for the first time. In addition to celebrating at the June pride parade in Jackson Heights, Queens Pride House, an organization that serves the borough’s gay community was able to pull itself up and prevent closure.

The organization had relied on $80,000 of state funding which was cut from the governor’s budget, and like many others in Queens, it faced closure in July. After reorganizing and recruiting volunteers, the organization celebrated its survival at a ceremony in December.

Borough LGBT leaders and veterans had further cause for celebration this month, as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a military policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces was repealed.

Immigration was another big issue to rock the nation and the borough this year. In April, Woodside residents objected to day laborers using Hart Playground to eat food provided by charities. According to the city Administrative Code, it was technically illegal for them to be in the park unaccompanied by a child.

In May in Jackson Heights and again this month in Sunnyside, illegal immigrants complained that their employers were withholding their wages. Good news came with the recent passage of the Wage Theft Prevention Act which increases penalties for thieving employers.

Undocumented immigrants spoke out again when Arizona announced in May that it would adopt a policy authorizing its police force to detain persons suspected of illegal immigration until their status could be verified.

Protesters took to the streets in Jackson Heights and held a sleepover at a church in Corona, rallying against the policy.

In October, more bad news came for undocumented immigrants, as community members gathered in Corona to learn about the Secure Communities Program, which would make it easier for illegal immigrants to be deported if they were arrested. Though the Department of Homeland Securities claimed it would deport high-level offenders first, immigrants expressed fear that they might be deported for minor infractions.

Undocumented immigrants were hit again when the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act failed a Senate vote in December. The act would have granted legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors, after they completed two years of college or military service.

Though crime surged across the borough, thespike in western Queens took place over a hot bloody July in Astoria. Ruben Vargas was strangled in Astoria Park on the seventh of that month by a vagrant couple, according to the police.

On the 17th, a 20-year-old man survived being shot on 31st Street and on July 24th, John Giampetruzzi was gunned down on 28th Street.

At around the same time, Commanding Officer Paul Vorbeck retired and Stephen Cirabisi took over as head of the 114th Precinct, just in time for the annual Night Out Against Crime.

After the spike in violence, Vallone requested and obtained additional patrolling for Astoria Park.

Giampetruzzi’s killer is still being sought.

In nearby Queensbridge in May residents celebrated the opening of their first Credit Union and lamented the still-sinking seawall which continues to fall into the East River in July.

The sinkhole prevents residents from accessing the waterfront in Queensbridge Park. Funding had been allocated to study the area in 2006, but the Parks Department chose not to use it. Also in July, Queensbridge was excited to welcome home a former resident. Los Angeles Lakers player Ron Artest came to the housing project to celebrate his team’s championship win.

Other celebrities to grace the borough were Miss USA, who visited Jackson Heights in June, and Warren Buffett, who spoke at LaGuardia Community College in September.

In June on a tree lined block in Elmhurst, a resident slashed the tires of cars parked in several spots he apparently coveted. A farm sprung up on a rooftop in Long Island City that month.

An art show at PS 1 in March included censorship and public urination and continued to make waves across the art world for months as artist Ann Liv Young returned to the venue to discuss the incident.

Welcome to the discussion.