One of the biggest stories covered by the Queens Chronicle in 1991 was the March trial of Reverend Floyd Flake, Congressman from Jamaica. Pastor of the 6,000-member Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church, he had been indicted in November 1990 for tax evasion and misappropriation of church and public funds.
Within three weeks, Flake was exonerated and all charges were dropped. The Chronicle had begun publishing an Eastern Queens edition in 1989 and articles about Flake’s activities as a congressman and his achievements as leader of the Allen A.M.E. Church were, and are still, frequent.
In February, Mayor David Dinkins angered many Queens residents by announcing plans for expansion of the United States Tennis Association facilities in Flushing Meadows Park. By August, the USTA was seeking $150 million for the plan which included three new stadiums and an increase in size from 17 to 31 acres.
Against community protests, Fire Department Engine 294 in Richmond Hill was closed as part of the mayor’s budget-cutting strategy. Less than a week later, a fire caused the death of two brothers who lived in a wood frame house just blocks away from where the engine company had been located.
By the end of the year, the city passed a bill that would improve the technology of the emergency 911 calling system. The new computerized system was designed to increase accountability for response time.
An airport noise reduction plan was approved by the Port Authority for both of Queens’ airports. In November, the Chronicle carried photos of Borough President Claire Shulman presenting plaques to three airlines that successfully reduced the noise of their aircraft.
In January and February, Queens Chronicle headlines shouted once again about proposed Fire Department cuts. Fire Battalion 53 in Bayside was threatened with layoffs of professional and support personnel.
But in the early months of 1992, the Chronicle carried a surprising and unexpected response to budget cuts in the borough. State Senator Serphin
Maltese, as well as other elected officials, announced legislation that would pave the way for the secession of Queens from the rest of the city. He said people in the outer boroughs were treated like second-class citizens when it came to city services.
Other news in 1992 was much the same as it was 10 years earlier and not much different than it is today. Ozone Park residents continued to fight the illegal
conversion of one-family homes into cramped apartment units. Community School Board 27 in South Queens was accused of corruption. In December, CSB 24 in Glendale was suspended by the chancellor because they refused to comply with the Children of the Rainbow curriculum, which discussed alternative lifestyles and homosexuality.
Queens residents continued to blast the Federal Aviation Administration for stalling on enforcing noise reduction plans for the borough’s airports. Another issue sparking protests and rallies was the city’s decades-old plan to build incinerators for the reduction of trash and production of energy. It wasn’t just a case of “not in my backyard.” Environmentalists were appalled at the borough’s noise and air pollution.
It was not a good year for Queens economically. In July, the Taystee factory in Flushing closed its doors, costing 510 people their jobs. Retailer Alexander’s also went belly up, closing both its Rego Park and Flushing stores.
On February 26th, a bomb ripped through the underground garage of the World Trade Center, filling stairwells and corridors with smoke. Many Queens residents were among those injured or trapped by the blast, including schoolchildren on class trips to the Twin Towers.
Nearly 40 second-graders from PS 191 in Floral Park were stranded for hours on the 107th-floor observation deck until they were led downstairs to safety. Dozens of third- and fourth-graders from PS 91 in Glendale were trapped in an elevator for more than four hours.
March saw the beginning of a rising tide of protest throughout the borough against what many saw as an invasion of adult entertainment into quiet residential neighborhoods. Runway 69, with its nude dancers, was run out of Forest Hills.
Queens’ gay and lesbian community made strides for acceptance when the borough held its first Gay Pride Parade through the streets of Jackson Heights in May. Earlier in the year, many local Community School Boards had been very vocal in their opposition to including the Rainbow Curriculum in classroom lessons.
Queens made national headlines in June when the Golden Venture ran aground off the Rockaway peninsula with nearly 300 illegal Chinese immigrants aboard. At least 100 of the passengers, who had reportedly paid as much as $30,000 each to be brought into the country, jumped overboard into the choppy surf.
Thirty were injured and six drowned. Others were rescued by police, firefighters and the Coast Guard. The captain and crew members were charged with smuggling the immigrants into the United States. The surviving immigrants were detained. Eventually some were granted visas while others were deported.
Through the years, the Queens Chronicle has carried stories about the plight of the borough’s small mom-and-pop stores in the face of the proliferation of “megastores.” In February 1994, small retailers and community activists in Ozone Park lost their bitter battle with a giant when The Home Depot opened its doors on Rockaway Boulevard. The big question on a lot of people’s minds was “What’s next?”
The problem in South Queens was the shaky future of Aqueduct Racetrack, owned by the New York Racing Association. The Ozone Park thoroughbred track had been on questionable financial ground for years and residents of the area were afraid of what might replace it should it be sold. The Home Depot property had previously been owned by the NYRA. It was even proposed in June to put a casino in the Aqueduct clubhouse. In July, a bill was introduced in Albany to allow winter racing at the track.
To the delight of Richmond Hill residents, Fire Department Engine 294 reopened in March. No sooner had they gotten their beloved engine back than the feisty residents of the community started rallying again, this time to keep a topless bar from opening.
Many communities in Queens got caught up in the momentum of keeping adult entertainment from encroaching on their neighborhoods. In Rego Park, they protested the opening of Wiggles. Residents of Maspeth and Elmhurst tried to chase a porn shop out of town. The people of Bayside were successful in their efforts to halt operation of a massage parlor. Hundreds participated in an anti-porn march down Queens Boulevard in August.
It was in September that ground was broken for completion of the subway tunnel under the East River between Queens Plaza and 63rd Street in Manhattan.
Fire Department issues and city budget cuts dominated the news in the Queens Chronicle in 1995. Fire Commissioner Howard Safir proposed eliminating street-corner fire alarm boxes, to the outrage of many communities. But a pilot project removing the boxes from some neighborhoods was approved. This was the year the city’s Emergency Medical Service merged with the FDNY, in spite of opposition from EMS personnel.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for cuts in hospital reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients, looking ahead to possible privatization of the city’s healthcare facilities. Queens Borough President Claire Shulman joined civic groups in protesting the MTA’s proposed fare hike from $1.25 to $1.50. Unlike other parts of the city, much of the borough was still in a two-fare zone, another source of ire for Shulman.
Queens’ airports had problems in 1995 as well. Both LaGuardia and Kennedy were shut down for hours after a bomb threat, allegedly from an Islamic terrorist group, targeted a Long Island control tower in August. In November, the Queens Chronicle reported on the serious under-staffing of the borough’s airport control towers and the out-of-date equipment still in use.
In May, Queens mourned the passing of musician Dr. George Seuffert Jr., 82, who had followed in his father’s footsteps as band director, conductor and organizer, since 1928, of free summer concerts in the city’s parks. The historic bandshell in Forest Park is named for his father who died in 1964.
October was a month of triumph and tragedy as Queens celebrated the visit of Pope John Paul II, but was saddened by the death of Firefighter Peter McLaughlin who was killed in a Long Island City blaze that was later determined to be arson.
Pope John Paul II Celebrates Mass At Aqueduct; 75,000 Attend
by Keach Hagey
For his second visit to Queens, Pope John Paul II made a dramatic entrance by helicopter onto the football-field-sized platform at Aqueduct Racetrack. He was greeted by chants of “John Paul II, we love you” from the crowd of more than 75,000.
Those present on that morning of Friday, October 6, 1995, still talk about the brilliant sun that flooded the South Ozone Park racetrack as the helicopter touched down at 8:45 a.m. After wishing the crowd good morning, the pope celebrated mass, preaching family values and asking those gathered to look beyond the technology in their lives to find room for God.
“Society must strongly reaffirm the right of the child to grow up in a family in which, as far as possible, both parents are present. Fathers of families must accept their full share of responsibility for the lives of their children,” he said.
During the mass, six different languages—English, Castilian, Creole, Polish, Korean and Italian—were spoken. “I know there are many Spanish-speaking people, families and communities present at this mass. In the heart of the pope, you have a special place. To each one I express my sincere love and affection in the Lord,” said the pontiff in Castilian, receiving a huge round of applause.
Queens residents of all national origins came out to share in the experience. Others, such as students from the Franciscan University in Ohio, drove from as far as 11 hours away. “The pope has no nationality,” said Linda Morona, a member of Saint Sebastian’s Church in Woodside. “He is universal.”
Queens Chronicle reporters and photographers were out in full force covering the historic event. Coverage actually began weeks before, as architects and construction workers labored around the clock to transform the racetrack into a temporary cathedral worthy of the Vicar of Christ.
Carpenters installed 320,000 square feet of donated carpeting and built a boardwalk for the more than 400 priests to traverse from the altar to the grandstand when distributing Eucharist to thousands of faithful.
The altar, which rose from the track infield against a yellow and green backdrop, flanked by 70-foot towers, took five weeks to design and three weeks to build. Some 20 tractor trailers trucked more than a million pounds of steel into Aqueduct for the job.
From building the platform to shooting the pictures, performing regular jobs in the presence of the pontiff had a profound effect on everyone involved. “I’ve met the governor and the former governor and taken their pictures. I’ve met the President and taken his, too. But to be able to get so close to the pope, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, will be one moment I’ll never forget,” wrote Queens Chronicle photographer Dan Derella of his experience.
Derella woke up at 4 a.m. but it wasn’t until after 10 a.m. that he made his way through multiple security checks to get close enough to the platform for the shot he needed. “If you told me three years ago that I would be taking the pontiff’s picture, I would have laughed. But now, as the reality and the magnitude of the event sets in, only one phrase comes to mind, ‘Wow, this job is tough, but it is beautiful.”