Tag Archives: 2012

Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories…

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department station house is on a strip of land that isn’t far from the water.

So when the storm surge from Sandy started to rise up in the hamlet on Jamaica Bay, it brought seven feet of water into the firehouse where eight volunteers — five firefighters and three EMTs — were on duty.

The residents of Hamilton Beach, which is in Zone A, had evacuated for the most part, according to Jonah Cohen, the chief. But those who stayed needed to be rescued. With their trucks damaged by the flooding and no way to walk through, the fire department had to improvise to save lives.

“We used a boat that was donated to us last year [for Hurricane Irene],” Cohen said. The boat rescued two people who remained at the firestation until the waters receded.

Though that was the sole mission that October night, according to Cohen, the fire department waited for the water to recede around 11 p.m. The next day, they assessed the damage: Three fire trucks, a chief’s car, two personal cars and one ambulance were damaged by Sandy. Lines on the windshields of the fire trucks marked how high the water rose.

Five members of the fire department live in the neighborhood and had to cope with the storm on two fronts. Once they were off-call or done assessing the damage, Cohen said they were relieved by others to focus on the destruction done to their own homes.

“Anybody who lives in the area had damage to their homes,” he said. “They dealt with it that night, and then when they found out what damage was done to their own homes, they basically needed to take care of business.”

Without any life-saving equipment, the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department did what it could as first responders. They took in and distributed cleaning supplies, clothing and food.

“The day after, and for over a month, that’s what we were doing was handing out different products for the people who were here that were trying to clean up their homes and of course to feed them,” said Cohen.

Reconstruction is well underway. To the east of the firehouse, the rail tracks of the A line are being repaired. To the west, just down Davenport Court Road, there’s the wooden frame of a house that will soon be built.

The firehouse parking lot, underwater during Sandy, is once again filled with fire trucks and ambulances. While some bear the old “West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department” emblem, others, bear such names as “Berlin” from Pennsylvania, a testament to the fact that fire departments across the country stepped in to donate equipment.

In one corner, there is a colossal truck with both “FDNY” logos and emblems bearing the shape of Louisiana. Cohen, pointing out how remarkable the truck is in size and condition, explained it had gone back and forth between the two states after Hurricane Katrina and was donated to help after Sandy.

Today, calls are back to normal at the fire department, with some days busy and others quiet.

“The emergency calls are still normal,” he said. “Some days we have a lot; some days are very light. It’s like everything else.”

More Queens Courier Persons of the Year:

Sandy first responders honored as Queens Courier Persons of the Year


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Persons of the Year

With 2012  behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is are some of their stories…

Dylan Smith

Dylan Smith saved the lives of six people during Sandy using just his surfboard, but tragically lost his own life just months later while on the water. On the night of Monday, October 29, Smith, 23, heroically paddled through the floodwaters into his neighbors’ homes in Belle Harbor, and, using a homemade rope bridge along with his surfboard, moved people to safety. Read more

Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

By now, everyone knows the story. More than 120 houses burned to the ground in Breezy Point the night Sandy struck. It was one of the most destructive residential fires in New York City history. Houses were lost, but lives were saved. Read more

Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department

It began as a glow to the west, a speck of twinkling amber light in the darkness. From the loft above the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department’s station, the crew watched as the flicker became a blaze, carrying a once charming beachfront neighborhood into the night sky in embers and smoke. “Oh my God,” they said. “Breezy’s burning.” Read more

West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department station house is on a strip of land that isn’t far from the water. So when the storm surge from Sandy started to rise up in the hamlet on Jamaica Bay, it brought seven feet of water into the firehouse where eight volunteers — five firefighters and three EMTs — were on duty. Read more

Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: Dylan Smith


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy The New York Daily News

With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories…

Dylan Smith saved the lives of six people during Sandy using just his surfboard, but tragically lost his own life just months later while on the water.

On the night of Monday, October 29, Smith, 23, heroically paddled through the floodwaters into his neighbors’ homes in Belle Harbor, and, using a homemade rope bridge along with his surfboard, moved people to safety. However, Smith was found floating near his surfboard in the waters of Puerto Rico on Sunday, December 23, according to police. A local surfer rushed him to shore, but he could not be resuscitated.

“It’s such a sad loss,” said Jimmy Dowd. “You’ve got this great kid that does the right thing for everyone, going through his life, and he just gets taken like that.”

“He was just that all-around, neighborhood American boy,” he added. “He was a real zest-for-life kind of kid.”

Dowd, who owns a clothing company in the Rockaways, recalled that Smith really enjoyed drawing and sketching, saying he was “good with the pencil.” Smith had submitted some of his images to Dowd, and the two were talking about putting them onto T-shirts to sell.

During the summers, Smith was a lifeguard in Rockaway, and spent as much time as he could on the beach. He was a very “solid” part of the neighborhood, according to Dowd, and was always very outgoing and willing to lend a helping hand.

“He’d go out of his way for people,” said Dowd. “He was a really big-hearted, good kid.”

When summers subsided and winters settled in, Smith would fly south to spend time in Rincon, Puerto Rico. FDNY Chief Michael Light, a family friend who knew Smith his whole life, told the Daily News that Smith went to the popular surfing spot on Maria’s Beach to “unwind” and “blow off some steam.”

On the night of the storm, the young surfer acted with longtime neighbor, Michael McDonnell. The pair rescued their Beach 130th Street neighbors not only from the rising flood, but also from widespread house fires.

Following Sandy, both Smith and McDonnell were named two of People magazine’s 2012 Heroes of the Year.

- With additional reporting by Cristabelle Tumola

More Queens Courier Persons of the Year:

 

2012: A year in pictures


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Breezy Point Sandy

JANUARY

Fire bomber charged in hate crime: Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, confessed to a string of five fire bombings, four in Queens and one on Long Island. No one was injured in the attacks and Lengend was charged with a hate crime.

Queens native named Obama chief of staff: Forest Hills native Jacob Lew, an orthodox Jew, was named President Barack Obama’s chief of staff in a ceremony at the White House on January 14. Lew, 56, grew up on Yellowstone Boulevard and graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1972.

Worst landlords named: A list released by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio named the 50 worst landlords throughout the city, including 15 with dozens of properties in Queens. The dishonor roll, based on complaints and violations over the past year, was compiled to warn residents searching for apartments.

Flushing nurses protest: About 200 registered nurses at Flushing Hospital rallied outside the facility after their contracts expired in December. The nurses protested for better healthcare, pay and pension benefits.

FEBRUARY

Giants win Super Bowl: For the second time in five years, the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Eli Manning was named MVP of the Giants 21-17 victory.

Con Ed heroes: Four Con Edison employees — John Kane, John McDonnell, Michael Santeramo and Anthony Farmighetti — rushed to the aid of the victim of a violent purse snatching in Bayside before chasing after the suspect.

NY goes Lin-sane: New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin took New York and Madison Square Garden by storm after entering the team’s starting lineup in February. Lin-sanity took over the city as the unheralded, undrafted Harvard graduate played like an MVP and helped lead the Knicks to the playoffs.

FreshDirect heads to Bronx: FreshDirect, an online fresh food grocer, announced they will move their operations from Long Island City and leave the borough for larger facilities in the Bronx, taking with them 2,000 Queens jobs.

MARCH

Heejun Han on ‘American Idol’: Flushing-native Heejun Han sang his way into the hearts of millions of Americans each week on the hit singing competition. Han made it all the way to the top nine before being eliminated.

Peninsula Hospital closure announced: Bankruptcy and instability at Far Rockaway’s Peninsula Hospital forced the medical center to close its doors leaving the peninsula with just one hospital, St. John’s Episcopal.

FedEx moves to LIC: FedEx announced plans to open a new, 14,000-square-foot FedEx Ground distribution center costing $56 million on Borden Avenue in LIC. The facility will be larger and contain more automated package sorting systems than the existing station in Maspeth, allowing the company to better serve the area.

Woodhaven drug ring busted by FBI: A drug ring headquartered in Woodhaven known as the Perez Organization was busted by the FBI for allegedly distributing over 20 kilograms of heroin, possessing a street value of around $2.75 million, to drug dealers in Queens and Long Island.

APRIL

Driver arrested after leaving toddler on empty school bus: A private bus driver was arrested on April 12 after she left her vehicle unattended in Corona with a toddler still aboard. Police broke a window on the bus and removed two-year-old Samantha Bustamante, who they believe was left alone for roughly 15 minutes. Bustamante — who was in good physical condition, according to EMS — was taken back to the 110th Precinct, where she was reunited with her mother. The bus driver, 62-year-old Ana Garcia, was charged with failure to exercise control of a minor.

Hero firefighter saves woman: Firefighter James Goelz became a hero when he made his first on-the-job rescue, saving an elderly, unconscious woman from her Lindenwood apartment, which became a blazing inferno on April 6.

Kung fu fighter thwarts sex assault: Good Samaritan Mike Novak thwarted a sexual assault in Sunnyside on April 8, when he ran to the aid of his female neighbor, who was being groped by a man in the bushes down the block from his house. The 54-year-old kung fu fighter chased the perp away, then pulled the victim out of the bush and stayed by her side until authorities arrived.

MAY

Historic carousel spins once more: The Forest Park Carousel held its grand reopening on May 26 after nearly four years of being shuttered. Hundreds of visitors, both children and adults, were able to take another spin on the historic, century-old merry-go-round.

Bayside cop arrested after heroin bust: Bayside cop Devon Daniels was arrested on May 15 for his role in allegedly aiding drug dealers. The 30 year old, who was assigned to the 111th Precinct, allegedly communicated with the leader of a Jamaica-based heroin distribution organization on numerous occasions to ask for money and to borrow vehicles, authorities said.

Gruesome murder in Bayside home: A Bayside woman was found dead in her basement with lacerations to her neck after the man she lived with allegedly killed her, set fire to their shared home and tried to hang himself in the couple’s bedroom closet. The gruesome scene occurred on May 23, claiming the life of Eun Hee Sin, 57, and sending a 56-year-old unidentified Asian man to the hospital, where he was said to be in stable condition.

JUNE

Queens kid places third in national spelling bee: Bayside Hills whiz kid Arvind Mahankali won third place at the televised Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second consecutive year. The 12 year old’s spellbinding run ended when he misspelled “schwannoma,” a German name-based word that means a type of cancer. Mahankali, a seventh grader from J.H.S. 74, took home $7,500.

First no-hitter for Mets: Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, when the New York team won 8-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. Santana walked five and struck out eight.

Willets Point development details announced: Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced specifics of the Willets Point project, which includes retail space, a hotel and quicker access to the Van Wyck Expressway. More than 12,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs would come from the proposed Willets Point renovation, he said, which is expected to bring $4.2 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years. A new component, Willets West, was also designated from a portion of the Citi Field parking lot to become one-million square feet of space for retail, entertainment and dining.

JULY

Con Ed lockout: As temperatures across the city spiked, Con Edison locked out more than 8,000 workers over heated  contract talks — leaving 5,000 managers responsible for maintaining electric, gas and steam service  for the company’s 3.2 million customers. The power giant blamed the stalemate on leaders of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2 — the union representing roughly 8,000 Con Edison employees — who refused to accept its offer to extend their members’ contract for two  weeks. After a major push to end negotiations from Governor Andrew Cuomo, locked-out Con Ed  workers returned to their posts following a tentative agreement between the utility provider and representatives from the UWUA Local 1-2, ending the month-long stalemate.

Former pol arrested: Former Queens Assemblymember Jimmy Meng, the father of newly appointed Congressmember Grace Meng, was arrested on a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly attempting to scam $80,000 in cash from a state court defendant. Meng allegedly promised the defendant — who sought the former elected official’s help after being charged with state tax crimes — that his sentence would be reduced to one year if he paid prosecutors $20,000 each in bribes, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Federal prosecutors said Meng offered to act as the middle man, instructing the individual to conceal and deliver the $80,000 payout in a fruit basket. The government investigation, however, uncovered no evidence the past politician even contacted prosecutors, and officials said Meng planned to keep the bribe money for himself.

Soda ban: Tensions fizzed over when locals expressed their distaste for the city’s proposed ban on large, sugary beverages at a public hearing on July 24.  “Will the government be telling me when to go to bed next?” asked Councilmember Dan Halloran. “Or how big my steak should be? How many potato chips I can eat? After all, it’s all in the name of my health. And clearly the government knows what’s best for me.” The soda ban will halt the sale of sugary bottled and fountain drinks, such as teas, sodas and sports drinks, of more than 16 ounces in every store and restaurant with letter grades, movie theaters, sports venues, delis and food trucks and carts. Diet sodas, calorie-free drinks, and drinks with at least 50 percent milk are exempted from the regulation.

Summer crime wave:  As temperatures soared, so did crime rates. And Queens did not remain bulletproof. Between July 4 and July 7, four deaths occurred throughout the borough, one man critically wounded and an MTA cop suffered a sight-threatening injury. On early Saturday, July 7, three men were fatally shot, and a fourth wounded, in Jamaica. Police said there were two shooters — one of whom fired 63 rounds from an AK-47. This was one of several shootings or stabbings to take place over what was considered the Fourth of July weekend. Councilmember Peter Vallone, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said this spike in citywide crime was due to a decrease in the amount of on-duty cops and a spike in criminals — mainly due to budget cuts. These factors — along with soaring temperatures — were causing a higherthan-normal spike in crimes, Vallone said.

AUGUST

Sikh temple shooting: The August 5 shooting at an Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara that killed six and wounded four struck close to home for the tens of thousands of Sikhs in Queens. Of the at least 300,000 Sikhs in the United States, between 30,000 to 40,000 live in New York City, with the bulk residing in Queens. Elected officials and religious leaders gathered at the Sikh Cultural Society — where thousands of Sikhs congregate weekly — the day after the shooting rampage inside the Wisconsin Sikh Temple to offer condolences to the community and show support. Shooter Wade Michael Page, an army veteran and alleged white supremacist, was killed at the scene. Post-9/11, the country experienced a large spike in hate crimes against Sikhs, said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. While incidents have slowed in recent years, Singh said discrimination in schools and the work place still persists.

Fire at home under construction: More than 100 firefighters from 33 units responded to the three-alarm blaze on Tuesday, August 14, at a Douglaston home, which was under renovations. The 39-12 Douglaston Parkway dwelling received 44 complaints since March 2008 from callers saying the ongoing construction work being done at the site exceeded the scope of the approved permit, according to the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB). No one was in the house at the time, and no one was severely injured, an official said. While all complaints made against the home were listed as closed, homeowner David Wei Huang was pinned for two violations from the DOB and 17 from the Environmental Control Board (ECB). Of those violations, nine were still outstanding, according to the DOB, and were related to the ongoing construction. Huang was issued a $2,500 fi ne when construction at the site was found not to be in compliance with approved plans and another $1,200 for failing to safeguard the public and his property. There were other violations for working with an expired permit, the DOB said.

Huntley surrenders: State Senator Shirley Huntley pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records and tampering with evidence in the first degree, which are felonies, and conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor, after officials said she covered up the funneling of nearly $30,000 in state funds to a non-profit she helped establish. Huntley turned herself in to the State Attorney General’s regional office on Monday, August 27, and was arraigned later that day. Voters gave Huntley the boot in September, when she decisively lost the Democratic primary to challenger James Sanders Jr., who was elected to the 10th District seat in November.

 SEPTEMBER

Rare tornado strikes Breezy Point: A tornado struck Breezy Point during a late summer down pour on Saturday, September 8. The twister damaged parts of the Breezy Point Surf Club, but many were thankful the club had been mostly closed up by that point. “We’re lucky the storm hit this weekend and not last weekend,” Councilmember Eric Ulrich said, who surveyed the damage in the area shortly after the storm. “Because last weekend the Surf Club was filled with people.”

“Look!” campaign promotes safety: A Department of Transportation (DOT) campaign to promote safety when texters crossed the street was launched in September. The program includes a sign that reads “LOOK!” in crosswalks throughout the city, to remind pedestrians to proceed with caution. “New Yorkers are driven to distraction with their smart phones, and the simple act of looking can prevent thousands of crashes and injuries every year,” said DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “LOOK! is a message to all New Yorkers that safety is in the eye of the beholder and everyone needs to keep an eye out for each other on our streets.”

Ulrich wins primary: Councilmember Eric Ulrich defeated Forest Hills lawyer Juan Reyes in a Senate District 15 Republican Primary on September 13. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Reyes campaign sent out a string of mailers attacking Ulrich’s reputation in the City Council and made anti-gay statements. Ulrich would go on to unsuccessfully challenge incumbent State Senator Joseph Addabbo in the general election. The race became one of the most contested in Queens.

Serial arsonist is nabbed: A suspect wanted for setting 13 fi res in Flushing and Murray Hill during a three-week period was arraigned on September 15. Thien K. Dinh, 43, was charged with two counts of second-degree arson, four counts of third-degree arson, 13 counts of fi rst-degree reckless endangerment and thirddegree burglary. Dinh admitted to the crimes, which included a fire at 143-01 45th Avenue near Bowne Street on August 20 that gutted adjacent businesses and totaled the four-story multiple family dwelling.

OCTOBER

Four Richmond Hill High grads die in crash: Four teenagers from South Ozone Park and Richmond Hill were killed in the morning hours of October 8, when the car they were riding in careened off the Southern State Parkway and threw them from the vehicle. The driver, Joseph Beer, 17, survived the crash and only had a learner’s permit, authorities said. The teen was later indicted by the Nassau County District Attorney on a slew of charges that included allegations he was high at the time of the crash.

Cop, driver killed in deadly rampage: An ex-con fatally shot Nassau County police officer Arthur Lopez near the Cross Island Parkway before fleeing on Tuesday, October 23. Darrell Fuller, 33, then took off and carjacked Raymond Facey, who was shot and killed. The incident resulted in a manhunt throughout southeast Queens searching for the perp, who was later found with a bullet wound in his shoulder. He was then taken to Jamaica Hospital before being transferred to Nassau County to be charged.

Cannibal cop: NYPD officer Gilberto Valle was nabbed for plotting to kidnap and eat more at least 100 women. The six-year veteran, who lived in Forest Hills, was charged with accessing the federal National Crime Information Center database to gain information without authorization, and agreeing to kidnap a woman to sell her to an individual for no less than $5,000, according to court documents.

Sandy strikes seaside south: Superstorm Sandy shut down much of Queens beginning on Monday, October 29 and carrying into the next day. Damage was felt, at different levels, throughout the borough. Trees came down on to houses in the northeast, in one case killing a man; parts of Long Island City’s water front arose and flooded several buildings. Rockaway and Howard Beach were some of the hardest hit areas however. The channel in Howard Beach poured on to Cross Bay Boulevard and knocked out some businesses for weeks. In Rockaway, the ocean poured over and met with Jamaica Bay.

NOVEMBER

Breezy Point residents search for hope: During Superstorm Sandy, the majority of Breezy Point homes received extensive water damage, and 111 homes burned to the ground after an electrical fire sparked. Residents, left at a loss, tried to receive as much relief as possible from organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and many more. Kieren Burke was one of many who lost his home in the fire, and he spent some time searching for anything left behind — namely his wife’s wedding ring. Burke spent the storm in his parents’ house nearby, and ran outside once he saw the blazes engulf the streets, but he was only able to save a few things before his home was gone.

Obama visits New York after Sandy: Alongside New York’s most prominent officials, President Obama surveyed damage in the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. The President arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday, November 15, and was greeted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan. He then surveyed the damage to the Rockaway peninsula by air, and went through Staten Island on foot.

The Kings of Queens: Over 400 guests gathered at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to mingle at one of the largest networking events in the borough and honor this year’s “Kings of Queens.” The fifth annual Queens Courier event, held on Thursday, November 15 featured special honoree, Steven Lacy, Fox 5 news anchor, and honored dozens of top businessmen throughout Queens.

DECEMBER

Boardwalk future: Sandy ripped mercilessly through the Rockaways, destroying an iconic haven enjoyed by all: the boardwalk. The community came together and urged that their boardwalk be rebuilt better than ever before, so no storm can ever do this again. Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded with a new plan, hopefully to be in place by next summer. Wooden planks will be a thing of the past, and a concrete boardwalk will be put into place. Locals, although pleased, still asked for sea walls to further protect their home.

Bayside murders: A Bayside man was named in an indictment charging him with two separate counts of second-degree murder. Gregory Cucchiara, 36, was charged for beating his mother over the head before submerging her in water, and another 15 months later when he smothered his father to death. He was being held at Rikers Island, and faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted.

Sunnyside vigil: A mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut hit home for Sunnyside residents. Little Benjamin Wheeler, 6, originally from Sunnyside, was shot and killed during the unspeakable tragedy. Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook, selfl essly gave her life to the shooter while trying to save as many students as she could. Her life was also remembered at the vigil by her stepsister, who resides in Sunnyside. The massacre was the second deadliest shooting in our nation’s history, killing 26 people, 20 of who were children.

Halloran is Republican Party pick for Ackerman’s seat


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Councilmember Dan Halloran has officially joined the race to vie for the newly-redrawn 6th Congressional District seat.

The Republican runner announced his intent to run on March 26 at Flushing’s Bowne Park.

“I am running for Congress because the president and the Democrats’ policies have failed, and New Yorkers need a new voice,” Halloran said. “Democrats in Washington, led by President Obama, have spent us into financial ruin. They have failed to grow our economy and have led us deep into a harrowing recession.”

Halloran — who was elected to the City Council in 2009 — said he would make reinforcing support for Israel and creating jobs and energy alternatives to reduce gas prices his top priorities.

“These three issues are at the heart of the problems that this country needs to solve,” he said. “I know we have a chance now to make a change. It’s time to send citizen politicians to Washington, not career ones. It’s time to talk about our values in our community. We need to start moving in the right direction on those issues.”

Halloran was nominated to run by the Queens Republican Party two days before his formal campaign kick-off. He was also nominated as the candidate of the Conservative Party.

He is expected to run unopposed in the June 26 primary, said officials at the Queens Republican Party. Without a current primary challenger, he will likely be pitted against one of the three Democratic primary runners, Assemblymember Rory Lancman, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley and Assemblymember Grace Meng — who received the Queens Democratic Party bid.

All four candidates entered the race after the announcement that 15-term Congressmember Gary Ackerman would not seek re-election.

“The Sixth Congressional District deserves to have a fighter like Dan Halloran representing them in Washington,” said former Congressmember Rick Lazio, who endorsed the councilmember and publicly vowed to campaign door to door to ensure the win. “This is a gentleman that knows how to forge solutions. He has principles. He’s hard working. He’s got guts, and he’s doing this for the right reasons.”

Halloran already began receiving flak from Democratic opponents, not even 24 hours after the campaign launch.

Lancman lashed out saying the policies of former Republican leaders “brought our country to the brink of ruin.”

“We’re not going back to the failed Bush/Cheney policies which helped crash our economy, strain our military, threaten social security and put a woman’s health at the mercy of others,” he said.

However, Halloran said the race would “not be distracted by non-issues at any time.”

“We will stick to the message,” Halloran said. “We will stick to the things the people want addressed in Washington, and we will not lose focus.”

 

Cuomo gets fiscal: Governor reveals budget plan


| smosco@queenscourier.com

GovBudgetSpeech

Looking to build on the momentum built over his first year in office, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his 2012-13 Executive Budget and Reform Plan — a plan which looks to significantly cut the deficit without raising taxes.

“Because of the tough choices and the historic reforms we achieved last year, we are able to propose a pro-growth budget, tackle broad fiscal reform, drive accountability in our schools to put students first, and leverage tens of billions of dollars of new investment to create jobs without significant cost to the taxpayer,” he said after revealing his budget on Tuesday, January 17.

Cuomo’s $132.5 billion budget plan — which the Legislature will debate before an April 1 deadline — seeks to cut spending by $225 million while closing the $2 billion deficit. According to the governor, the proposal does so without the dramatic cuts enacted last year and with no new taxes.

 

 Highlights of the plan include:

•   Eliminating automatic spending inflators and implementing reforms throughout the budget to ensure that spending increases for service providers reflect performance and actual cost

•   Allocating $1.3 billion in state investment designed to spur a total of $25 billion from other sources to launch and accelerate major infrastructure projects and create thousands of jobs

•   Creating a plan for the state to take over 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid growth that will be phased in over three years, saving local governments $1.2 billion over the next five years

•   Creating a pension reform plan that will save state taxpayers and local governments outside the city $83 billion, and will save $30 billion over the next 30 years

•   Increasing school aid by $805 million, including $250 million linked to improved academic performance and management efficiency, and implementation of an enhanced teacher evaluation process.

 

Besides increasing school aid, the governor also pushed for reform of the teacher evaluation system. Under the governor’s plan, the State Education Department and school employee unions will have 30 days to agree on a new effective teacher evaluation system or the governor will propose his own in the 30 day budget amendments. Schools will be given one year to implement the system or risk forfeiting an increase in education aid in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school budgets.

Elected officials from around the borough didn’t waste any time commenting on Cuomo’s proposal. City Comptroller John Liu said that the plan reflects the tough economic times in the city.

“While we still need to review the details of the governor’s proposal to offer new hires the option of receiving a defined contribution, or 401k-type, retirement plan, research has shown that the defined benefit plans actually save government employers money,” he said, referring to the governor’s pension reform plan.

Board addresses 2012 budget


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

While Towers residents can expect shortfalls in the budget this year, the end of 2011 saw an excess of revenue over expenditures.

“Budgeting is really not a true science. I would consider it more of an art,” said Mort Gitter, Board member and finance committee chair. “You can budget in a couple of ways. Over the years, we’ve adopted a slightly different approach with three components. Our primary aim is to maintain and preserve the financial integrity at North Shore Towers.”

At last month’s open finance meeting, Gitter addressed highlights of the 2011 budget and expectations for 2012, adding that for the third year in a row, there will be no maintenance or Country Club increases.

“We are committed to keeping North Shore Towers as a luxury complex,” Gitter said at the December 15 meeting. “But in order to maintain a luxury complex, you’ve got to spend money. We have to figure in our budgeting process how much money we can spend — taking into consideration the financial soundness of the community to keep this place running as a top notch facility, which does of course preserve shareholder value.

“Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. But believe me, we give it our best shot,” said Gitter.

The co-op anticipates having an excess of revenues over expenditures of about $340,000, which Gitter said is “incidentally less than one percent of the amount of our budget.”

“That’s very, very close to being 100 percent accurate,” he said.

Revenues from operations in the year 2011 totaled $43,240,000, Gitter explained, while operating expenditures in 2011 approximated $42.9 million.

Gitter attributes this excess to fuel, water, real estate taxes and insurance costs in 2011 being slightly less than projected expenditures.

“That’s the reason. There’s no mystery to it,” he said.

However, due to major projects in the works for 2012 — along with rises in costs from major components of 2012 expenses — the co-op will see a shortfall of about $835,000.

Gitter said projected operation revenues for 2012 will be $43.4 million, and projected operation expenditures will come to $44,235,000.

He also said the 2012 projected expenses will exceed those in 2011 by approximately $1.3 million due to increases in wages and benefits, water rates, real estate taxes and building repairs.

Specifically, he said wages and benefits will go up by $350,000, as water and sewer rates, along with service contracts — work done by outside firms including the elevators and landscaping — continue to escalate.

He said repairs are going to be up in excess of $200,000 and real estate taxes for the community are projected to rise by approximately $700,000.

“Unfortunately, we still have to pay more taxes each year then we paid in the prior year. So even with all of the activity that goes on, our real estate taxes are rising, but hopefully at a decelerated rate of increase than what we have encountered in the past,” Gitter said.

However, Gitter said there are several ways to accommodate for this, without having residents suffer maintenance fee increases.

The majority of the money will come from the operating reserves — a fund that was created by shareholders a number of years ago and was designed primarily to guard against unforeseen cash shortages arising from spikes in fuel or operating costs.

This fund has built up to a point where it exceeds $4 million, Gitter said.

“For a number of months, we have wrestled with how to remedy this shortfall,” he said. “Normally, we do not advocate taking funds from our operating reserves to remedy shortfalls. There’s a lot of danger in that because once you start dipping into the till and taking money from your reserves, that accelerates year after year and it doubles up. So the fact is that you might cure [the shortfall] in one year, and you have a double problem in the following years. As a result of which, we have continuously resisted the temptation of taking any money from our reserves to remedy any shortfall that we may have.”

But this year is the exception, Gitter said, adding that this reserve fund is different from the capital improvement and emergency reserve funds.

“In the event that we encounter any cash problems in the year, we could take some of this money and not have to come back through the shareholders to pay our bills. We didn’t think it was fair that if we have this fund that at some point we would not take advantage of it,” Gitter said.

The co-op is also up for refinancing its mortgage — a one in 10 year event, said Gitter.

“Nothing is sure in this world, but we have a pretty good handle of what the market will be, and that we will save a significant sum of money in the refinancing over our current rate,” he said. “As the result of which, in 2013, our expenses should be less than they are now, since we are advertising a portion of our mortgage to the tune of approx $1.2 billion a year. We will save that money in 2012.”

Gitter said this also quenches the original fear of doubling up on debt from dipping into funds.

“When you add it all up, in the event that we take a shortfall in 2012 and you take [money] from the reserve fund, you will not be doubling up because when you add 2012 and 2013, the savings and expenses in 2013 will pretty well balance out,” he said. “We have resisted for many years, but we have a once in a long time opportunity to do it without any material adverse effect upon the finances of this cooperation. This obviously bestows a very significant financial benefit to each of you and all of the shareholders.”

In 2012, the co-op also expects to spend approximately $2,120,000 on capital improvement projects — a budget that Gitter says is “somewhat below” the monies spent in 2011.

“There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because things are not getting done or that we are not going to do them,” he said. “It’s just so much work that can be done around here without totally disrupting the lives of all of us. Everybody in this room has been subjected to the ramps, with the hammering and drilling. Next year, we’re going to have scaffolding.”

He said there is a “whole host of other capital expenditures that will be made,” but the capacity to do them is limited.

“All of the capital improvements will be done at the proper time, with minimal inconvenience to our shareholders,” he said.

These projects include but are not limited to upgrading a boiler, which is projected to cost about $680,000; fixing sidewalks and drains in the parking area in front of the buildings, said to cost $425,000; and improving movie theatre seating, which will total $75,000.

“We all are extremely proud that our reserves are at a point that they give us confidence in knowing that we can meet our immediate needs comfortably,” Gitter said.

In 2011, the capital improvement fund saw $7.1 million, and Gitter said the fund will increase to $7.5 million in the year 2012.

The emergency reserve fund is “stable,” Gitter said, and will increase from $3 million to $3.1 million in the new year.

The only fund that will see a decrease is the operating reserve fund, which Gitter explained will be used to fund the 2012 deficiencies. Currently, it has $4.6 million. By the end of 2012, it will have $3.8 million.

In total, there were $17.6 million worth of funds in 2011, and 2012 is expected to see $17.3 million.

“There’s no magic to it,” Gitter said. “We’ve operated efficiently and in addition, we have been able to save very, very substantial sums of money than our expenditures.”

Councilmember Eric Ulrich tapped for Romney campaign


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Councilmember Eric Ulrich

Councilmember Eric Ulrich has been named chair of Republican and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in New York City.

“I’m honored because I believe Governor Romney stands the best chance at defeating Barack Obama, and I know that he’ll make an excellent president during a very challenging time in our nation,” Ulrich told The Courier.

Born and raised in Ozone Park, Ulrich, 26, was first elected to the council when he was 24 and now represents Ozone Park and Howard Beach — serving as Minority Whip of the Republican delegation.

When Romney’s representatives reached out to him about three weeks ago to get on board the campaign, Ulrich said he happy to take on the leadership role.

“I’m not getting any financial compensation for this,” Ulrich said. “I’m doing this for the country because I believe he is prepared to take us in a better direction. The country needs Governor Romney’s leadership.”

Ulrich will be working with Guy Molinari, Romney’s New York state chairman and former Staten Island borough president.

“Since being elected in 2009, Eric Ulrich has emerged as one of the rising stars in the Republican Party,” said Molinari. “I am honored that he has agreed to work with me to ensure that Governor Romney assembles a formidable organization here in New York City for our party’s primary and we return New York to the Republican column next November.”

Currently, Ulrich is assisting the campaign by selecting delegates and alternate delegates from various districts throughout the city for next year’s Republican National Convention. He said he is also helping with fundraising and lining up additional support from civic and political leaders across the city.