Tag Archives: Jackson Heights

Op-ed: Our children win with universal pre-K


| oped@queenscourier.com

COUNCILWOMAN JULISSA FERRERAS

After months of rallying for the future of our children, our voices have finally been heard! Last week, our state legislators approved $300 million in funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs in their final budget. This is historic. We are now poised to ensure every child has access to high-quality, full-day pre-K.

The City’s plan is moving forward, and in less than six months, a new school year will begin, giving tens of thousands of our children access to full-day pre-K and thousands more middle-schoolers access to a safe, educational place to go after school.

Imagine the difference this will make for kids who will now start learning a year earlier. Imagine what it means for working parents!

As a former director of a Beacon program at P.S. 19 in Corona, it was my privilege to watch the effect of high-quality programming on young people who would otherwise be falling behind. Just as early education, including pre-K, is vital to a child’s success later in life, after-school for young adolescents is a bridge that helps them maintain momentum—or, in the case of struggling students, a way to regain lost time and get back on track. Studies show that children who participate in these programs behave better in school, do better in class and on tests, and have improved attendance records.

With this new, dedicated funding from Albany, the people who win here are parents and children. New York City is ready to move forward. We’ve been moving aggressively to put all the pieces in place to be ready for the fall.

Thanks to the work of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and my colleagues in our city and state government, we are making history. As a new mother, I cannot tell you how excited I am about this momentous change. These are game-changing solutions that will reach every child. They’re the kind of solutions that unite communities and improve our schools.

If you live in New York City and your child is turning 4 years old in 2014, it’s time to think about applying to pre-K. Here’s what you need to know:

• Children turning 4 years old in 2014 who live in New York City are eligible to attend pre-K programs.

• Pre-K is free. You do not have to pay to attend programs offered by the NYC Department of Education.

• Programs can be half-day (2 hours and 30 minutes) or full-day (6 hours and 20 minutes). Half-day programs may take place in the morning or afternoon.

• Programs are available at public schools and community-based organizations (CBOs). There are separate application processes for public schools and CBOs.

The pre-K application period has been extended to April 23. The online application for pre-K is currently available in English and Spanish on www.schools.nyc.gov. You can also apply in person at your nearest Queens Enrollment Office, which are listed on the website. If you have any questions or need further information, please call (718) 935-2009. Our children’s future begins today.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. She is also the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Finance.

Op-ed: It’s time for Congress to raise the minimum wage


| oped@queenscourier.com

U.S. SEN KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

It’s been more than four years since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage. Hard-working families are doing all they can to make ends meet during the worst economy of our lifetime – but through no fault of their own – feel like they are just slipping further behind.

When adjusted for inflation – the federal minimum wage of $7.25 today is much lower than its peak in 1968. Too many working poor families are below the poverty line, which not only holds these families back, but also holds back our local economy from its full potential growth.

New York City is home to three of the nation’s top 10 areas with the highest cost of living, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Queens ranked seventh in the country. For Queens residents, it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet with the rising cost of groceries, rent, transportation, and basic necessities.

Last year, New York State passed legislation increasing the wage to $9 an hour by 2015. It’s no coincidence that of the 10 states with the lowest wage gaps, seven have set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate.

Now, it is time for Congress to follow New York’s lead and take action. It is simply unacceptable that a single parent working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to support a family, earns just $290 a week. That’s $15,000 a year – without any time off. That salary is $3,000 below the poverty line for a family of three in New York.

We need an economy that rewards hard work. Raising the federal minimum wage would give working men, women and families the power to raise themselves into the middle class – and benefit the entire economy through stronger consumer confidence and more customers for local small businesses.

In fact, increasing wages to $10.10 an hour would boost incomes for millions of American workers, and generate billions in new economic growth, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And let’s be clear, this is not just about teenagers working part-time summer jobs.

• Close to 90 percent of the lowest wage earners who would see their paychecks increase by raising the minimum wage are over the age of 20;

• 62 percent of minimum wage earners nationwide are women, who also happen to be a growing percentage of family breadwinners;

• Nearly one-third of all single parents in America would see an increase in pay by raising the minimum wage;

• Raising the minimum wage would help more than 15 million women in America.

Last year, I stood with State Senator Jose Peralta, Make the Road New York, and Queens businesses in Jackson Heights pushing for federal legislation to help millions of workers move from the working poor into the middle class with more money in their pockets being spent in our local economy.

This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to finally vote on legislation raising the wage to $10.10 an hour over the next 3 years and indexing it to inflation moving forward to allow the rate to keep up with rising costs of living.

The bill has broad support from business leaders – including the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Alliance, and employers like Costco – because they know that strong wages lead to a stronger workforce, higher productivity, and a growing business.

This commonsense measure is long overdue. Boosting wages would not only lift working poor families above the poverty line and onto stable ground, it can also drive economic activity, boost Queens businesses and strengthen local economies.

 

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Queens student treated for tuberculosis as cases rise in city


| mchan@queenscourier.com

CDC/ Melissa Brower

A Hillcrest High School student recently exposed to tuberculosis is receiving treatment and recovering from the potentially deadly bacterial infection, officials said.

The Health Department tested 170 students and six staff members who might have been at risk at the Queens school Tuesday as a precaution.

“Given that the person with TB is receiving treatment, there is no health risk to students or staff currently at the school,” a department spokeswoman said.

Tuberculosis cases are on the rise in the city for the first time in a decade, health officials said. They increased 1 percent from 651 in 2012 to 656 in 2013.

Most people infected were foreign-born, living in Flushing, western Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, according to the Health Department.

Officials said 19 out of 100,000 people have contracted the disease in Corona, Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Maspeth and 15 out of 100,000 in Flushing.

“Many are likely infected in their country of origin and developed TB after entering the U.S.,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said.

Smokers and people with diabetes or HIV have a higher chance of getting tuberculosis and should be tested for the disease, Bassett said.

Tuberculosis, which usually affects the lungs, spreads from person to person through the air.

 

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Op-ed: Why I support Mayor de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-K


| oped@queenscourier.com

COUNCILWOMAN JULISSA FERRERAS

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City. Often overlooked is that the plan would provide more than just high-quality programs for our youngest learners, it would also fund after-school programs for every interested middle schooler in New York. As chairwoman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, I support the de Blasio plan because it’s such a cost-effective way to address one of the most pressing challenges the city faces. As the former director of an after-school program, I support the plan because I know firsthand how critical after-school support can be in developing and safeguarding adolescents. It’s inspiring that both the Assembly and Senate have put forward budget proposals that meet these goals.

As you probably know, the mayor’s plan – which the Assembly also supports – would modestly raise income tax rates for New York City earners making more than $500,000 a year, from 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for a period of five years. That’s a smaller increase than previous mayors have sought from Albany for key projects, and still would generate $530 million in new revenue for each of those years. Much of that revenue would be used to create tens of thousands of pre-K slots for 4 year olds, but $190 million would be directed to after-school programs. The Senate Majority Conference proposes funding after-school for every middle school student through the budget. Both proposals offer the funding needed to make the historic expansion of after-school a reality in New York City.

The city currently offers a little more than 45,000 after-school slots, which serve 56,300 students (not every student goes every day) in 239 schools. Fully, one in four children are left alone and unsupervised after school ends, the time of day when juvenile crime and violence are at their highest, and there are 237 public schools in which middle-school-age children don’t have access to comprehensive after-school. The funding from the de Blasio plan would allow the city to increase the number of after-school spots to 95,000—an addition of about 68,800 new slots—across 512 local schools, serving 120,000 children. The goal is for every child who’s interested to be able to participate. Programs would be free, run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and mostly be run by local organizations experienced in working in the community.

As a former director of one such organization, I spent years running after-school at P.S. 19, a Beacon program, and it was my privilege to watch the effect of high-quality programming on young people who would otherwise be falling behind. Just as early education, including pre-K, is vital to a child’s success later in life, after-school for young adolescents is a bridge that helps them maintain momentum—or, in the case of struggling students, a way to regain lost time and get back on track. Studies show that children who participate in these programs behave better in school, do better in class and on tests, and have improved attendance records. After-school programs also help kids identify subjects and disciplines they enjoy and in which they can excel.

The expansion of after-school programming under the de Blasio plan would be a win for everyone. Far more children would have access to programs that would help cultivate their interests and improve their performance in school, all while ensuring they’re under supervision and avoiding the kinds of trouble that can derail a promising young life. The Legislature must work with the governor to ensure that the funding needed for expanded after-school and universal pre-K is part of the State’s final budget.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. She is also the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Finance.

Queens reacts to newly enacted paid sick leave law


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Jackson Heights coffee bar owner Afzal Hossain doesn’t like the city’s new paid sick leave law, but he believes we should all follow the law, no matter the burden.

His business, Espresso 77, is now required to provide paid sick leave to employees under the city’s newly enacted law, which affects businesses with five or more employees, expanding previous legislation that applied to businesses with 15 or more workers.

“I know it’s going to be hard for us, but I understand if it’s the law, we have to follow it,” Hossain said.

Although he’s willing to comply, he isn’t happy about it. Business owners like him could be financially hurt under it, Hossain said.

Most of Hossain’s employees are part-time and he believes the law should apply to individuals working at least 40 hours a week.

Under the legislation, workers earn sick time for every 30 hours worked, according to legal advocacy group A Better Balance. Part-time workers will earn paid sick time based on hours worked.

Councilman Paul Vallone, a partner at his family’s Astoria law firm and member of the City Council’s Committee on Small Business, voted against the bill when the Council passed it on Feb. 26.

“The continued cries of our small businesses for more support and reduction in the already exhausting fines and regulations that burden them must be heard,” he said in a testimony before the Council.

Some Queens businesses see paid sick leave as a benefit and have already been offering it to employees.

“[Paid sick leave] is something that we felt was the right thing to do,” said Julio Isidor, office manager of Clinica Dental Latina, located in Corona.

The business, which also has a Howard Beach office, Cosmetic Dental Image, has been offering its employees two annual paid sick days for over a year.

As a dental office it’s important that its employees don’t come to work ill and spread their sickness to the patients, Isidor said.

 

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Op-ed: Why we need Mayor de Blasio’s pre-k plan


| oped@queenscourier.com

COUNCILMEMBER DANIEL DROMM

As chair of the NYC Council Education Committee, it is a priority of mine to see Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten plan enacted. The only viable way to ensure that our children get this extra year of education is to create a tax on the city’s most wealthy residents to help fund it.

Before teaching fourth grade for 25 years, I directed a preschool in Harlem. I saw firsthand how an extra year of socializing and learning helped set up these young learners of all social and ethnic backgrounds for a more productive educational career. Study after study has shown that quality pre-k works.

Pre-kindergarten isn’t just for the children.  It also lends a helping hand to their parents, especially single parents. At the first Education Committee hearing that I chaired on February 12, I heard from parents about how pre-kindergarten combined with after school care allows them to work a full day. Without pre-k, working mothers and fathers have to scramble to find someone to care for their children and often times have to scrape the bottom of their bank accounts to pay for childcare.

I believe it is not too much to ask of those who are making $500,000 or more a year to fund the program with a small tax increase that equals the price of a cup of latte from Starbucks every day. I totally disagree with those who say these wealthy residents may leave the city. New York City is the greatest city in the world and everybody wants to be here. Wealthy residents won’t leave just for the price of a cup of coffee. A tax on the wealthy is the right path.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to fund a statewide program without a designated tax has its pitfalls. Former Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson walked 150 miles to Albany to shine light on the unequitable amount of education funding NYC receives and won a court judgment for city schools. A decade later, more than $4 billion of that money has never made it to our public schools. That’s why we need a dedicated tax – a lockbox – to fund this program.

Pre-kindergarten is a win-win plan for everyone. It gives all children a better start with a chance at a better future. It gives parents the support they deserve to further contribute to the city’s vibrant economy.  And, most importantly, it provides New Yorkers with a bright future.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm is chair of the NYC Council Education Committee. He was elected to the New York City Council in 2009 and represents District 25 (Jackson Heights & Elmhurst).

 

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Local movie maker brings piece of Jackson Heights to Queens World Film Festival


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Images Courtesy Walk Up Productions

One Jackson Heights filmmaker is keeping a promise and taking it to the big screen.

Producer and Jackson Heights resident Michael Lieber met screenwriter Joseph P. Vasquez in California during the mid-1990s and started to work on a screenplay called “The House That Jack Built,” written by Vasquez.

But before the project was complete, Vasquez, 32, died. Lieber vowed that he would finish the film.

Two years ago, Lieber kept his promise and decided to begin making the film with director Henry Barrial and additional producers Sam Kitt and Hitesh R. Patel.

“It just shows that the most important thing was starting with a good script,” Lieber said. “Unfortunately, the writer died many years ago and he was not able to see the fruition of this film. This is why it took so many years to make, because I wasn’t just going to get it filmed like that.”

Vasquez’s film, which is almost 90 minutes long, follows the life of a young Hispanic man named Jack Maldonado who tries to build a relationship with his family by buying an apartment building and moving them all there. The story then becomes a combination of escalating conflicts with family members and also “turf battles” as Jack deals with competing marijuana dealers.

“When I look back, I’m kind of amazed we were able to achieve this,” he said, referring to the film’s budget, which was less than $150,000.

One third of the movie was filmed in Jackson Heights and the rest was finished in the Bronx.

“The House That Jack Built” has been picked as one of the 127 films showing at the Queens World Film Festival, which began Tuesday. It has also been nominated for Best Narrative Feature in the festival.

“This festival is very different; this is a film lovers’ festival,” Lieber said. “It’s a warm festival. It’s very New York and yet it has an international scope.”

“The House That Jack Built” will be showing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 7, at P.S. 69, located at 77-02 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights.

“If you want the feel of New York City, Queens is the borough these days,” he said.

To purchase tickets, visit here. For more info on the film, visit here .

 

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Man wanted in Roosevelt Avenue ATM robbery


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

A suspect got away with $200 after he robbed a man at a Jackson Heights Citibank, cops said.

On Jan. 21, at about 1:20 a.m., the suspect entered the bank at 80-19 Roosevelt Ave., approached the 40 year-old male victim and forcefully removed his cash as he was making an ATM withdrawal, the NYPD said.

The victim resisted, but the suspect managed to free himself and flee with the money, according to police.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

 

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Queens World Film Festival celebrates opening night


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Action! The 4th Annual Queens World Film Festival has begun.

The festival, which brings international and local filmmakers to the borough to screen their works, celebrated its opening night on Tuesday at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

Opening night featured three films from the United States and one from Kosovo, ranging from animation to short narratives.

FOR MORE OPENING NIGHT PHOTOS CLICK HERE

Borough President Melinda Katz, one of the night’s speakers, said that the festival was not only a great project for all the filmmakers and volunteers involved, but also for helping brand the borough of Queens.

“We are the most diverse place on the entire planet. We are extremely excited by this,” Katz said. “We are telling the international audience that we are here, we are strong. Diversity is the greatest asset that we can give the entire world here in the borough of Queens and this film festival proves it every day that we are having it.”

Organizers Katha and Don Cato, who were introduced by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, welcomed the audience and shared what they’ve done in the 365 days since last year’s festival. They then went on to describe what the next five days would bring for the borough.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for us and one we are very happy to share it with everyone,” Katha said.

Don encouraged the audience members to go see all the films over the next few days.

“What I want you to experience is the unique opportunity that all of these films have and let them just wash over you,” he said. “Let them inform you, experience them, open yourselves up to them and enjoy them for what they are.”

Before the first block of films was shown, the festival honored Carl Goodman, executive director of the Museum of the Moving Image, as one of the 2014 Spirit of Queens Honorees for his leadership.

“Something wonderful is happening here,” Goodman said. “New York City is becoming decentralized. Manhattan is a borough, Queens is a borough. They’re all boroughs and there’s no inner or outer. I like to think about it as Manhattan being the shining surface of the city and Queens being the substance.”

Independent filmmaker Hal Hartley was also recognized as a Spirit of Queens Honoree. Before accepting his award, the crowd got a taste of his eight minute short narrative from 1994 called “Opera No. 1.”

The night ended with a party at Studio Square just a couple blocks away from the museum.

Throughout the six-day festival, which goes until March 10, a total of 127 films including short and feature narratives, LGBT pieces, documentaries and animation will be divided into subject blocks and will be shown at venues such as The Secret Theatre and The Nesva Hotel in Long Island City, and P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights. During the festival there will be 16 films screened from Queens filmmakers.

The festival will also screen the world premiere of the director’s cut of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing” on Thursday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 69.

Films will also be given awards on the final night of the festival.

For a full schedule of the festival visit here. Tickets for the festival are $10 for regular admission and $6 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets visit here.

 

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Pol, residents call on Jackson Heights Starbucks to clean up its garbage


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated: Tuesday, March 4, 11:07 a.m. 

A group of Jackson Heights residents are telling one Starbucks shop that enough is enough.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm gathered with residents in front of the Starbucks located on 78-25 37th Ave. Friday to call attention to the growing issue of garbage being dumped on the residential block of 79th Street instead of in front of the coffee shop.

“It’s really kind of sad that we have to be out here because we are trying to work so hard with Starbucks to get them to be responsible but yet they remain irresponsible and they don’t want to help the neighborhood,” said Dromm. “They’ve become bad neighbors and they refuse to cooperate.”

The councilmember, who lives on 78th Street, said he has attempted to reach out to the manager of the location and the Starbucks district office but has not heard back from them.

For the past year and a half, Dromm’s office has received numerous complaints from 79th Street residents about the garbage, which at times become mountainous piles and are left out on the curb for more than a day.


Photo Courtesy Office of Councilmember Daniel Dromm

“This is a real quality of life issue especially for those of us whose apartments face 79th Street where we are subject to loud garbage pickups in the middle of the night, food and coffee grinds that are strewn along the sidewalk and street and never cleaned up,” said resident Susan Latham. “It’s disgusting.”

The residents have also tried calling 3-1-1, but say no fines have been issued because Starbucks leaves the garbage close to 50 feet away from its location, making it hard to find.

“Starbucks has been littering heavily on 79th Street for several years. This is against the law,” said resident Elisa Carlucci, who lives on 79th Street. “City agencies, such as the Business Integrity Commission and 3-1-1, although acting in good faith, have been unable to have any impact because they’re searching the wrong area – in front of the business’ storefront.”

Dromm has also sent a letter to the Starbucks district office, saying the store is breaking a city administrative code that requires businesses to place their garbage on the curb at certain designated times.

“We’re going to ask people, don’t patronize Starbucks until they work with the neighborhood,” Dromm said. “Enough is enough, we’ve had it.”

Starbucks will be looking into this case and make sure all standards are being met, according to company spokesperson Laurel Harper.

“Being a good neighbor is really important to Starbucks, and we have stringent cleanliness standards in place for our stores and for the proper disposal of garbage,” Harper said. “We’re looking into this and making sure our standards are being followed, and look forward to working with our neighbors to address their concerns.”

 

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Curtain set to rise on 4th Annual Queens World Film Festival


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of the Queens World Film Festival

The 4th Annual Queens World Film Festival is ready to hit the stage strong and put Queens on the map.

The Queens World Film Festival, which brings together local and international filmmakers, will take place from March 4 through March 10 and feature 127 films, with 16 works from Queens. The films include short and feature narratives, documentaries, LGBT pieces and animation.

“We’re going to remind the world that Queens is the birthplace of the [film] industry in America,” said festival director Katha Cato, who arranged the event along with her husband, Don.

In the year since the last festival, Katha was diagnosed with three types of cancer and has had to undergo various surgeries and chemotherapy.

However, she continued to work on the festival, which brought in over 300 submissions this year.

“We’re very excited; we’re in very good shape,” said Katha. “It’s the love of my life, next to Donald. It’s a very fulfilling and challenging job. It’s sustained me as I imagined standing at the podium many times when things weren’t quite pleasant.”

The six-day festival begins at 8 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, with a block of four films. The evening will also honor the museum’s Executive Director, Carl Goodman, and maverick filmmaker Hal Hartley as “Spirit of Queens” honorees.

Opening night, which is already sold out, features films from one filmmaker from Kosovo, a directorial debut from a Southern Illinois University student and two New York filmmakers.

“The borough is going to look beautiful on opening night,” said Katha.


Katha and Don Cato

The celebration of independent films will continue as the works are divided into different blocks based on subject and shown at venues such as The Secret Theatre and The Nesva Hotel in Long Island City, and P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights.

The “big excitement” for this year’s festival is the world premiere of the 159-minute director’s cut of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing.” The film will be shown at P.S. 69 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 6.

Awards will be given to films on the final night of the festival.

“To be able to reach out to so many people is a really pretty amazing opportunity- we are certainly not doing it for the money,” said Don, who, together with a screening committee, choose the festival’s award winners. “We just keep it going because we started this thing and we’re trying to build something.”

Tickets for the festival are $10 for regular admission and $6 for students and seniors and can be purchased online here.

 

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John Messer ‘seriously considering’ another State Senate run


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

John Messer is mulling over another State Senate run, he told The Courier.

“I am dedicated to this community, which is why I have been driven towards public service and am seriously considering a run for New York State Senate,” he said.

It would be the Oakland Gardens attorney’s third try at defeating incumbent State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who has held the seat for nearly 15 years.

Most recently, Messer lost a contentious two-way Democratic primary to Stavisky in 2012. 

The heated race was waged principally on negative campaign attacks. Stavisky won 58 percent of the vote.

But Messer said he has not lost momentum since then.

“I believe now, more than ever, that this is a community I want to represent,” said the 43-year-old small business owner. “If anything, it’s a stronger feeling.”

“There are things you to look at before you decide to run — finances, family,” Messer said. “We’ll make a decision soon.”

Mike Murphy, a Senate Democratic spokesperson, said Stavisky has been a “vocal ally” for middle class families and recalled Messer’s previous losses.

“She enjoys wide support from all corners of her diverse district and has now defeated Mr. Messer twice despite the fact that he has spent over $1 million,” Murphy said. “The voters of the district see Mr. Messer for what he is — a Republican surrogate.”

The district encompasses parts of Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Rego Park, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Jackson Heights.

 

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Star of Queens: Cristina Furlong of Make Queens Safer


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo via Facebook

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Following “too many” pedestrian deaths, Furlong and her group, Make Queens Safer, are trying to target reckless driving, one roadway at a time.

“Pedestrians sometimes don’t have the tools they need, they were never educated on the danger,” she said.

Her group is focusing on an education program, reaching out to everyone from the borough’s youth to local elected officials. The program includes a safe driver pledge for drivers to acknowledge patience and eliminate distraction while on the roads.

BACKGROUND

Furlong is a 10-year resident of Queens, currently living in Jackson Heights. She is an avid cycler and works as a tour guide for Bike the Big Apple, which provides bike tours through the five borough.

“As a cyclist, I’ve always been interested in safety. But when Laura [Newman, Make Queens Safer co-founder] posted a boy was killed by a drunk driver and put a call to action, I was 100 percent on board,” Furlong said. “We had to do something.”

FAVORITE MEMORY

“The best thing that’s come out of this is being able to support families who have suffered a lot,” Furlong said. “Mothers whose children were killed [by drivers], they have no place to go.”

After a vigil the group hosted for pedestrian victims, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference in Queens to announce his vision of zero pedestrian fatalities, appropriately titled Vision Zero.

“That was a memorable thing,” Furlong said. “Of all places, he chose Queens, recognizing that we have the highest pedestrian injury rate in the city.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

For Furlong, the biggest challenge her group faces is getting people to change their consciousness about reckless driving, she said. They frequently stop drivers on the street to relay safe driving tips, and aren’t always warmly welcomed.

“But we need to establish a responsibility behind the wheel,” she said.

INSPIRATION

“I think inspiration comes from the people,” Furlong said, referring to parents, family members and friends who have lost loved ones due to reckless driving.

“They’re always available and working so hard with us. I want them to know, hopefully, we’ll change things,” she said.

 

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Jackson Heights filmmaker celebrates 50th anniversary of Beatles visit with short film


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Celeste Balducci

Just in time for the 50th celebration of The Beatles’ visit to New York, one Jackson Heights filmmaker takes a local look at the Fab Four’s American debut.

Lovely Lily,” a short film created by filmmaker Celeste Balducci, debuted on Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Elmhurst Hospital Center Auditorium during a Beatles Bash party.

The movie takes place in 1964 and surrounds a “has-been” lounge singer at the Cavalier Restaurant in Jackson Heights just hours before The Beatles took the stage on the Ed Sullivan Show, and changed music history.

The story involves social and historical attributes of that day, and includes various props and costumes from that time period. It also includes the concept of love lost and found between five other characters,  Balducci said.

“We forget that The Beatles went toe to toe with The Supremes that year for number one hits, the civil rights movement was building momentum and the United States had just begun its tour in Vietnam, but most importantly, the country was still mourning a great tragedy – the assassination of JFK,” she said. “When we recall The Beatles and all the great music from that time, we remember the good times. That is what I hope the audience will take away from seeing ‘Lovely Lily.’ It is my love song to a bygone era.”

The film, which took 12 years to create, first premiered in 2009 as a full feature film, but after years of editing is now 36 minutes long. It features Jackson Heights actors, musicians and residents.

Balducci hopes to make “Lovely Lily” available for purchase and also enter it in upcoming film festivals.

To contact the filmmaker and be placed on the film’s mailing list to catch future screenings, email lovelylily1964@gmail.com.

 

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Pols call for Northern Boulevard to be included in mayor’s Vision Zero initiative


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Local politicians and residents are saying the time to act is now, before another innocent life is taken on Northern Blvd

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer gathered with other elected officials and traffic safety advocates Thursday to call for Northern Blvd. to be added as one of the 50 locations in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative

“We are all committed to Vision Zero, and it is our obligation to speak up and stand up every single time pedestrians are killed or injured as a result of reckless driving,” said Van Bramer, who has developed a list of locations with traffic fatalities. “We’re calling for the administration to include Northern Boulevard, and really all over Northern Boulevard, stretching into Jackson Heights and Corona, deserve this recognition.”

The group gathered at the intersection of Northern Blvd. and 48th St. in Woodside, where four pedestrians were stuck Saturday while they were waiting for the bus. One of the victims was a 7-year-old girl who suffered a skull fracture but survived. 

“Here we go again,” said Senator Michael Gianaris, who introduced a bill in the Senate, which would charge drivers who continue to drive without a valid license and are in an accident that causes serious injury or death with vehicular assault.

“Until we begin taking pedestrian safety seriously, we are going to keep standing at more and more press conferences talking about the same issue and we hope we don’t have to do it too many more times,”  he said.

Last month, de Blasio and his administration launched an interagency working group, together with the NYPD, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Taxi & Limousine Commission, to implement a Vision Zero initiative aiming to reduce traffic fatalities to zero within the next 10 years.

The announcement took place just less than a block from where third-grader Noshat Nahian, who was on his way to school, was fatally struck in December by a tractor trailer on Northern Blvd. and 61st St.

The working group will come together to implement the mayor’s plan by developing a report, due to the mayor by Feb. 15 and released publicly, that will serve as a blueprint for the mayor’s “Vision Zero” plan for safer streets through the city.

“Clearly Northern Blvd. deserves this recognition and we are asking the administration to include this series of intersections on Northern Boulevard so no child is ever killed trying to cross the street going to school,” said Van Bramer. “This is a street. For some, they may think it’s a highway, but the truth is there are people living, working and going to school all along Northern Blvd. and it has to be just as safe as any other street in the city of New York and until it is so, we will not rest.”

 

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