According to the traditional Chinese Zodiac, 2021 was the Year of the Ox. And the Asian American and Pacific Islander community of north Queens exhibited what it meant to be strong, reliable, fair and conscientious in the face of continuous adversity.
Rallies protesting the violence targeting AAPIs littered the first half of the year as reported hate crimes continued to rise. But even in the face of prejudice, north Queens found comfort in celebrating moments of happiness.
Here’s a look back at the first six months of 2021:
Queens Supreme Court Justice Kevin Kerrigan ruled Jan. 5 against a lawsuit seeking to halt the Main Street busway, finally allowing the project to move forward seven months after it was originally scheduled to be installed. After months of delays, protests and lawsuits, the Main Street busway was launched Jan. 19. The 0.6-mile stretch of Downtown Flushing prohibits cars and provides priority travel to trucks and buses.
A Flushing fire devoured several storefronts after a 37th Avenue salon left a hair iron on Jan. 8, FDNY officials said. The damage caused by the inferno, which raged for nearly nine hours, prompted the Department of Buildings to issue several vacate orders.
St. Agnes Academic High School, an all-girls school in College Point, announced Jan. 13 that it would permanently shut its doors at the end of the 2020-21 school year, citing years-long financial struggles exacerbated by the pandemic.
The city Department of Environmental Protection revealed that it would transfer 1.85 acres of restored wetland property to the Parks Department, which would expand Powell’s Park Cove in College Point’s waterfront access.
The Kew Gardens Hills Library had been shut down since October, two months longer than originally slated, to be used as a Covid-19 testing site, but some cardholders grew concerned that it was negatively impacting members who cannot travel to other locations or access online resources. The library lovers continued to advocate for its reopening through May, when their advocacy culminated in a rally. The Queens Public Library heeded their calls, and revealed that it wouldn’t extend its contract with the Test and Trace Corp. past June 30 and would reinstate full library service by mid-June.
Father Costa Innouno and friend George Isaakidis climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to bring awareness to childhood epilepsy and to commemorate the life of Innouno’s daughter, Joanna, who succumbed to the illness in 2018 when she was just 9 years old.
An investigation and subsequent report by state Attorney General Letitia James found that the death toll in New York State nursing homes was twice as large as what was being reported. Assemblymember Ron Kim (D-Flushing) was not surprised and called for healthcare immunity to be repealed. He led a rally in front of City Hall Feb. 24 to demand answers from the Cuomo administration on the hidden true death toll in nursing homes. In the days leading up to the demonstration, the assemblymember claimed the governor berated him over the phone and made threats for his outspokenness.
James Gennaro (D-Hillcrest) won the City Council District 24 special election after retaining 60 percent of the election night results. He beat out seven other candidates in the first ranked-choice voting election, and held such a commanding lead that the model did not have to be utilized. He was virtually sworn in from his living room a week later.
After a two-week delay, Citi Field opened as a mega vaccination site. The stadium started by doling out 250 doses on its “opening day” Feb. 11, and another 600 for the week, but Mayor de Blasio said it would transform into a 24/7 site by the following week.
Plans for a Starbucks in Whitestone were filed with the DOB Feb. 1, but small businesses in the area grew nervous that the chain would “saturate” the market. The area already has three Dunkin’ Donuts and a handful of mom-and-pop coffee shops.
A video of a Patrick Mateo shoving a 52-year-old Asian woman to the ground in Flushing so hard that she needed nearly a dozen stitches went viral after it was shared by actress Olivia Munn and, coupled with other recent anti-Asian and anti-Semitic attacks, prompted Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to host a rally rejecting racially charged violence. Mateo was indicted by a Queens grand jury May 10 with aggravated assault and a hate crime. He could spend a year in jail if convicted. Mateo’s next court date is Jan. 25.
Special Flushing Waterfront District adversaries continued their fight against the development despite it being approved by the City Council. Instead, the activists added the government panel to its ongoing lawsuit that claims the approval was illegitimate for failure to require an Environmental Impact Statement.
Several College Point leaders — Jennifer Shannon, Kat Cervino, Sheryl Kleven and Margaret Loughlin — announced that they were transforming the community Facebook page into the A Better College Point Civic Association. It is the second in the neighborhood, along with longstanding College Point Taxpayers’ Civic Association.
The Flushing BID announced it would be conducting a survey to determine whether the Main Street busway is affecting businesses in the area, a concern it had raised last July when the proposal was announced.
An Asian mother and her baby were enjoying a morning stroll through Kissena Corridor Park when a man spit in their direction and called out “Chinese virus.”
A Flushing couple, Jung Ja and Eric Ornstein, were charged by the DA with several charges of sex trafficking — they tricked two women into moving from Korea for economic opportunity, but then forced them into prostitution to pay off their debts. One victim was held hostage for three years, while the other for almost two decades. Jung will appear in court Jan. 5.
Dorothy MacDonald, who lived her entire life in northeast Queens, saw the first Queens World’s Fair and worked cleaning horse manure from the streets, passed away at age 103.
The Flushing BID launched the “Respect, Unity, Courage” campaign March 18 to denounce the anti-Asian prejudice and violence that has plagued the nation.
City Councilmember Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) announced the Bowne Park Pond reconstruction would finally begin the week of March 29. The project, which will revitalize the water filtration system and upgrade the conditions for wildlife, was introduced in 2016, and is expected to be completed in August 2022.
Oscar Mejia was the second alleged MS-13 associate to be indicted in the 2018 murder of Corona teenager Andy Peralta. He, Juan Amaya-Ramirez and another individual assumed Peralta were members of a rival gang, lured him into Kissena Park, killed the teen and took pictures with his body, according to officials. The case is still pending, but the prosecution affirmed that it would not seek the death penalty against the defendants.
Flushing business owners have reported increasingly aggressive pandhandling from homeless persons since the beginning of the pandemic. Reporting the harassment to the police seems futile, they said, because the aggressors have little fear of repercussions.
Devin Deegan of Whitestone died March 27 after a Justin Deieso, a firefighter, punched him to the pavement hard enough for him to sustain brain trauma. His death was ruled a homicide in June. Deieso will appear in court Jan. 7.
Nearly 80 days after it was implemented, the Main Street busway was equipped with cameras to prevent drivers from ignoring the bus and truck priority lanes. District 20 City Council candidate Ellen Young, who lives on the Flushing busway route, proposed limiting its hours of operation to just six a day to alleviate the stress it has placed on neighborhood residents.
The Bowne House reopened to in-person tours after one year of being closed to the public. The historical home welcomed back just one visitor on its first day, April 6
Deputy Inspector Denis Mullaney, the commanding officer of the 107th Precinct, committed suicide in his department vehicle near Kissena Park on the evening of April 5. A Holy Cross alum, Mullaney had been in charge of the command since September.
Fred Gerber, who pioneered the Queens Botanical Garden’s educational program and stuck around 50 years to see it through, died March 17 at age 75.
Frank Cavaluzzi, the man who chased after peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators with a glove outfitted with serrated blades last June, was indicted by Queens district Attorney Melinda Katz. He could face 25 years in prison.
A march condemning anti-Asian hate drew thousands to Flushing May 2, including Mayor de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. At the time, the neighborhood had the second-highest rate of hate crimes targeting the AAPI community in the city, following South Midtown. Another march in Flushing took place a week later, and two days after Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (D-Manhattan) introduced legislation that would require hate crime perpetrators to undergo sensitivity training.
The Queens Borough Board approved the phase one lease for the Willets Point development project, which would put over 1,000 affordable housing units, a 650-seat school and publicly accessible space on a 23-acre site. After heeding CB 7 environmental chairperson Dr. James Cervino’s concerns, City Councilmember Bob Holden abstained from the vote to approve, citing claims that the remediation process was not sufficient for a site that would host children. City officials and elected leaders broke ground on June 16. City Councilmember Francisco Moya (D-Moya) called the event “historic” and a step toward tackling the city’s affordable housing crisis.
The Hillcrest Library was one of the first 14 branches to reopen for in-person services May 10. Patrons were both excited to return to the library and see their community again, and also to use the essential services it provides, like computers, internet access and public restrooms.
Two exits in the Kew Gardens Interchange were completely relocated, marking some significant improvement in traffic congestion. The massive highway project will be completed in June 2022.
The Friends of Francis Lewis Park celebrated a full year of continuous weekend cleanups, which they were inspired to do after the pandemic brought hordes of visitors (and their litter) to the green space, but cut Parks staff. The group spends at least one weekend morning a week beautifying the park, but can sometimes get together as many as three times a week
Community Board 8 re-elected all of its Executive Board officials — Chairperson Martha Taylor, Vice Chairperson Michael Hannibal, Second Vice Chairperson Seymous Schwartz, Third Vice Chairperson Mary Vaggio, Executive Secretary Carolyn Brown, Treasurer Harbachan Singh — for another two years without any objection.
A small ceremony was held outside St. Luke’s Church in Whitestone to unveil Msgr. John C. Tosi Way to honor the late pastor.
The 107th Precinct named its new commanding officer: Capt. Kevin Chan, a 16-year NYPD veteran and previously the executive officer of the 105th Precinct. Chan had presided over the command in the interim between CO Mullaney’s tragic suicide and his own promotion.
Anti-Semitic sentiment proved to remain strong, epsecially in the weeks of the Israli-Palestinian conflict, when four men threw stones from within their car at Jewish congregants outside a Kew Gardens Hills synagouge May 20.
The Parks Department announced a new grove in Flushing Meadows Corona Park would be erected by the fall and dedicated to retired animal statues that had served in green spaces throughout the city for decades.
The late Corp. John McHugh, a decorated war hero who stormed Normandy on D-Day, was honored on the battle’s 77th anniversary with a street co-naming at the corner of Cryder Lane and 156th Street in Whitestone.
Darwin Durazno, a 16-year-old from Corona, was struck by a driver on College Point Boulevard, who fled from the scene of the crime and abandoned his vehicle several blocks away. Durazno died several days later from his injuries. There have still been no arrests and the NYPD says the investigation is ongoing.
Community Board 7 voted to pursue an investigation into member John Choe on June 14, alleging five counts of misconduct. Choe questioned the timing of the investigation, which was approved 10 days before the District 20 City Council primary he was running in.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announced he had created a task force in College Point to address quality-of-life concerns relating to the 5-year sewer project, which has left materials lying on streets untouched for months at a time.
Queens College broke ground on its $9.3 million soccer field and track June 16.
Renderings for one of the Special Flushing Waterfront District sites were released. They depicted two buildings that will feature a 5-star, 19-story hotel tower, two luxury 19-story residential apartment buildings and a high-end retail podium. It is anticipated to open in 2024.
Insook Rol was killed and her 19-month-old granddaughter injured June 24 after they were struck by unlicensed pickup truck driver Angelo Graci on the Cross Island Parkway service road near 150th St. Graci’s next court date is Feb. 9.