Tag Archives: Melinda Katz

More funding secured to upgrade outdated freight locomotives

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com


Extra funds are coming down the track from Albany to clean up some of the state’s dirtiest diesel locomotives.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, along with other elected officials, civic organizations and the New York League of Conservative Voters, announced that $3 million was secured in the 2015 state budget to continue a program to overhaul old, state-owned freight locomotives.

This funding comes after Hevesi previously secured $6 million in the 2013 and 2014 state budgets. That money has already been put into retrofitting two locomotives of the 11-car fleet at Glendale’s Fresh Pond Railyard, which are set to roll out this December.

According to a source close to the situation, the first two locomotives, which received funding for upgrades during the last two years, were delayed getting their enhancements due to contract disputes with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which owns the railyard but leases it to the New York and Atlantic Railway. The two train cars went in for their scheduled upgrades this past summer and will be set to go by the end of the year.

“With this additional state funding, and the first two overhauled freight locomotives expected to come on-line later this year, it is encouraging that great strides are being made to fight for, and protect, the health of countless families in the boroughs of New York and on Long Island,” Hevesi said.

Retrofitting diesel freight engines was a top transportation and environmental priority in the Fiscal Year 2013, 2014 and 2015 Assembly budgets. The request was supported and signed by over 60 members of the Assembly, and received bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.

“I am very pleased that the new state budget includes an additional $3 million that will be used to continue a program to upgrade the engines of antiquated LIRR freight locomotives,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said. “This program will improve the lives of Queens residents by reducing the unhealthy nitrogen oxide emissions and curbing the unpleasant noise pollution generated by the locomotives’ existing diesel engines.”

The train cars are currently equipped with antiquated engines which are up to the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 1970s locomotives and give off toxic emissions. These outdated trains operate throughout Brooklyn, Long Island and Queens, and specifically at the Fresh Pond Railyard.

“This funding gives us greater ammunition in the fight for our constituents’ quality of life and I am thrilled we can continue to see the progress in overhauling the antiquated freight locomotives,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said. “This benefits people near and far to the rail tracks — allowing those close to be less disturbed by train rumblings and those all around to allow more fresh, clean air into their lungs.”

The continued funding of this program will allow for a third freight locomotive to be upgraded to meet the current EPA Tier 4 emissions standards. The EPA Tier 4 standards are some of the highest in the country since the EPA changed their emission standards in 2000.

The enhancements to this third train car is expected to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions — a known byproduct of diesel engines linked to respiratory diseases — by up to 76 percent per year, or the equivalent of 120 tons of emissions over 10 years.


As Landmarks Law turns 50, Queens will celebrate ‘Landmarks Month’

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Asha Mahadevan

To mark five decades since the city enacted legislation protecting its most historic places, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced events to celebrate “Landmarks Month” across Queens this April.

“Queens landmarks will together celebrate the golden anniversary of the Landmarks Law with a series of events designed to educate residents and visitors of our neighborhoods’ beautiful and rich histories,” Katz said Friday. “As our communities and families grow, our borough also balances that growth with efforts to preserve the irreplaceable landmark treasures that contextualize our present and shape our future.”

The borough president’s office launched a special website that includes a Google Map showing the locations of Queens’ more than 70 individual landmarks and 11 historic districts and a calendar of events in honor of the Landmark Law’s golden jubilee.

The celebratory events include a tour of the landmark Lawrence Cemetery hosted by the Bayside Historical Society on Sunday, April 19, at 11 a.m.; an afternoon tea at the Voekler Orth Museum in Flushing on July 26 at 2 p.m.; and meetings of the Queens Preservation Council on April 27, May 18 and June 29 at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Katz will also host an anniversary reception for the Landmarks Law at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Tuesday, April 21, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The program includes a glimpse of the Queens Museum’s special exhibit, “Panorama of Queens, 1965-2015: Fifty Years of Landmarking,” in which special markers on the museum’s Panorama of New York City indicate the location of Queens landmarks.

Admission to the reception is free, but those attending are encouraged to reserve a place by emailing RSVP@queensbp.org.

Then-Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. signed the Landmarks Law in April 1965, which created the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), an organization tasked with considering and declaring certain buildings and places of historical significance as public landmarks.

The legislation was drafted amid public outcry over the original Pennsylvania Station’s demolition. The Beaux-Arts stone structure at the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan was torn down to make way for the Madison Square Garden sports arena, an office tower and a smaller underground train station.

The LPC named its first Queens landmark on Oct. 14, 1965, granting status to the Kingsland Homestead in Flushing. Most recently, the LPC approved in December 2014 the creation of the Ridgewood Central Historic District, preserving more than 900 attached rowhouses in the heart of the neighborhood.


More traffic agents, safety devices near Flushing Commons site

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of TDC Development International

Hoping to ease the pain for drivers and pedestrians, the city is bringing more traffic agents and safety devices to downtown Flushing.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced the measures during Wednesday’s meeting of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s Flushing Commons Task Force. The advisory body was formed last year to focus on congestion issues related to the billion-dollar Flushing Commons project, a complex of housing, shops and businesses rising on a former municipal parking lot.

As of Wednesday, teams of two NYPD traffic enforcement agents were assigned to the intersections of 37th Avenue and Main Street as well as Roosevelt Avenue and Union Street. A single traffic agent was stationed at the corner of 37th Avenue and 138th Street.

Trottenberg said the DOT will also create a left-turn-only lane from 37th Avenue onto Main Street and install a temporary all-way stop sign at the corner of 37th Avenue and 138th Street.

Each of the measures, she noted, aims to improve traffic flow and increase safety for both drivers and pedestrians traveling through downtown Flushing near the Commons site.

“The task force appreciates the commitment by the DOT, the NYPD and the developers to consider all possible measures to enhance traffic flow and pedestrian safety in Flushing’s downtown core,” Katz said. “These actions are sound steps that demonstrate the DOT’s commitment, and continual engagement by all stakeholders is necessary to keep the economic engine of downtown Flushing running amidst the building pains of development.”

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblyman Ron Kim, City Councilman Peter Koo and Community Board 7 Chairperson Chuck Apelian all expressed support for the new safety measures.

Congestion in Flushing has been problematic for years; the downtown area has the highest per capita number in Queens of vehicular accidents resulting in pedestrian injury or death.

Flushing’s traffic woes increased in the area around the Commons site after work started last year. Several entrances and exits on Union Street were shut down, and a bus terminus was relocated onto 128th Street between 37th and 39th avenues, shifting many buses through the neighborhood.

Katz formed the task force last year to engage city agencies and F&T Group, Flushing Commons’ developer, with local business groups and civic leaders to find ways to alleviate Flushing’s traffic problems. Since December, the DOT — at the task force’s urging — amended a pedestrian walkway permit at the Commons site, shifting it into a parking lane. This, the borough president’s office noted, helped improve traffic flow through the neighborhood.

Along with the measures announced Wednesday, Trottenberg said the DOT is contemplating the following additional measures to further improve traffic conditions in Flushing:

  • Reversing the direction of traffic on one-way 38th Avenue;
  • Creating a right-turn lane from 37th Avenue onto Main Street;
  • Temporarily removing parking spaces on 37th Avenue and 138th Street immediately adjacent to the Flushing Commons construction site; and
  • Installing new stop signs, traffic signals and/or enhanced street markings at several other intersections, including 37th Avenue and 138th Street, Union Street and 38th Avenue, Main Street and 37th Avenue, 39th Avenue and Union Street, and Roosevelt Avenue and Union Street.


Open call for new Queens poet laureate

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Borough President Melinda Katz has launched an open call for applications for the next Queens poet laureate, a prestigious three-year position charged with promoting a love of poetry and literacy throughout the borough.

“Because Queens is such a diverse borough, the Queens poet laureate must be a compelling wordsmith who is capable of synthesizing the borough’s many cultures and languages into poetry,” Katz said.

The Queens Borough President’s office and Queens College have been partners in the Queens poet laureate project since the search for the first Queens poet laureate began in 1996. This year, the Queens Borough Public Library joined the partnership for the first time and will provide meeting space for the next Queens poet laureate to present poetry and conduct outreach to the Queens community.

“As a primary source for culture and literature in our borough, Queens Library is delighted to partner with Borough President Melinda Katz’s office to find the next poet laureate. We look forward to hosting the new poet laureate at the library,” Queens Library Interim President/CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey said.

Queens College President Felix V. Matos Rodriguez added, “We are delighted that Borough President Katz is continuing this position and committed to promoting poetry – literature that can touch people of all backgrounds in a profound and universal way.”

The process of selecting the Queens poet laureate is overseen by the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee.

Applications are available at www.queensbp.org/poet and must be submitted by April 24. Applicants must have a published portfolio and are expected to submit representative samples of their poetry, including poems related to Queens. This writing sample should not exceed 10 pages per applicant.

A panel of expert judges will review the applications and recommend three finalists to the borough president, who will make the final decision on who will be appointed.

The past Queens poet laureates are as follows: Stephen Stepanchev (who served from 1997 – 2001), Hal Sirowitz (2001 – 2004), Ishle Yi Park (2004 – 2007), Julio Marzan (2007 – 2010) and Paolo Javier (2010 – 2014).


BP Katz accepting applications to serve on education councils

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is now accepting applications from qualified community- and education-minded people to serve as a borough president appointee to the Queens’ Community Education Councils (CECs).

As an education policy advisory body, the CECs are responsible for reviewing and evaluating a district’s educational programs, approving zoning lines, holding public hearings and more.

“CECs are meant to ensure parental input in our school system,” Katz said. “It is critical to have parents be an integral part of the decision-making process to shape and set education policies.”

“Queens parents are certainly some of the most active, vocal and effective in the city, and the difference is clear,” she added. “The nexus between families, educators and surrounding community is the key to the success of our schools, and we urge folks to apply.”

Each of the seven Queens CECs consist of 12 volunteer members and provide hands-on leadership and support for their district’s public schools. Katz will select two members to appoint to each of the seven councils. Those selected will serve a two-year term — from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2017.

The borough president’s appointee must live in, own or operate a business in the community school district served by the CEC that they are appointed to. They also must have extensive business, trade or education experience and knowledge.

Anyone who is interested in applying to be a 2015-2017 borough president appointee must submit an application to Katz’s office by April 30, 2015. Applications can be found on the borough president’s website at www.queenspb.org/policy/education and are accepted via email at info@queensbp.org, in person, or through standard mail.




Community leaders urge BP to focus on creating new schools throughout Queens

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Angy Altamirano

It turns out that it’s not just western Queens that has a problem with overcrowded schools.

Community leaders from across the borough urged Borough President Melinda Katz to push for school expansions during a budget meeting on Monday. Katz is in the process of developing the Queens budget for 2016, and she invited the public to comment on what mattered to them and their priorities for 2016.

“We’re experiencing a huge influx of children and we just don’t have the space,” said Karyn Petersen, Community Board 10 district manager. “We could use more schools or expand the schools we have. Both would be preferable.”

Petersen’s wishes were echoed by many others. Across the borough, people are reporting an increase in population and a swelling number of school children. In Woodside and Sunnyside, parents petitioned the city to create a new middle school. In the Jackson Heights area, Giovanna Reid bemoaned the fact that a new high school hadn’t been created in decades.

One hundred and fifty people, many representing hospitals, libraries, colleges and other institutions, signed up to speak at the hearing.

“We need a new high school,” Reid said.  “It’s about time for one.”

Along with a demand for more school seats, community leaders sought out funding to expand libraries, which, like the schools, are overcrowded. Along with a problem of limited space, many libraries are located on streets that are dangerous for pedestrians to cross.

“Kids have to cross the boulevard of death just to get to the library,” said Frank Gulluscio, the district manager for Community Board 6. “I mean I’m not trying to be dramatic but it’s a very dangerous place for kids to be even though many have to be there.”


Borough President Katz names Melva Miller as her new deputy BP

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Lillie Miller, mother; Borough President Melinda Katz; Melva Miller, newly appointed Deputy Borough President.

Melva Miller, a top economic development official in the Queens borough president’s office for the past eight years, was promoted on Tuesday to deputy borough president.

Borough President Melinda Katz announced the appointment during a speech before a breakfast meeting of the Queens Chamber of Commerce at St. John’s University.

Miller will fill the vacancy left after Leroy Comrie departed to take his seat in the New York State Senate last month.

“Economic development is a key priority of my agenda for Queens, and Melva’s multidimensional expertise to this end is second to none,” Katz said. “Her understanding of Queens’ neighborhoods is extensive and comprehensive, from both the holistic, macro-policy level to a block-by-block community basis. Melva’s ideas, professionalism and experience in government have been tremendous assets to my administration. For the communities, her focus is relentless, her passion is unwavering. Melva has also been a trusted member of my senior leadership team since day one. Her ascension as my deputy is a natural one, and I thank her for accepting this responsibility.”

Katz made the announcement in front of an audience made up of community board members and dozens of Queens residents. Many in the audience were graduates of St. John’s, a point that the school’s new president Conrado Gempesaw stressed.

Gempesaw spoke before Katz and talked about the intertwined fates between the school and  the borough.

“What’s good for Queens is good for St. John’s,” Gempesaw said, referencing Katz’s State of the Borough speech when she stressed the importance of families. “And what’s good for St. John’s is good for Queens.”

Gempesaw than invited Katz to speak. She praised the service of community board members, whom she called “the first line of defense when issues come up. It’s because of them that government runs so well.”

Katz’s announcement of Miller’s appointment elicited applause from the audience.

Miller has served as the director of economic development for the Queens Borough President’s Office since 2007. Previously, she was the founding executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District and of KECDE!, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the arts to community youth through dance. Miller was also previously the project director for the Downtown Jamaica Cultural District and a community organizer for the Laurelton Local Development Corporation. A lifelong resident of southeast Queens, Miller has dedicated her life to community advocacy through creative organizing and citizen participation.

“It’s an honor to be tapped by Borough President Katz to help execute her vision for the World’s Borough,” Miller said. “Government makes the biggest impact when it is continually engaged with our communities. I am grateful that Borough President Katz chose to promote from within and is allowing me the opportunity to continue building the economic viability of the borough and expand to other service areas of the borough. Across all issues – from education to housing to quality of life to tourism and culture – economic development and community development are one and [the] same.”

Speaking at the the D’Angelo center on the school’s campus, Katz made several other announcements about her economic development strategy for the borough. She mentioned that $6 million has been collected to restore the New York State Pavilion, a site from the 1964 World’s Fair that Katz called a “treasure” that could become a tourist attraction. She expressed a desire to create jobs on the western Flushing waterfront, an area that Mayor de Blasio singled out for affordable housing during last week’s State of the City speech.

Katz also talked about the “Jamaica initiative” to stimulate the business district’s economic activity.

“We want to invest heavily in Jamaica’s infrastructure and local businesses,” she said, without elaborating on any specific projects.

As former head of the borough’s economic development team and now as deputy borough president, Miller will play a key role in helping Katz to push forward Queens projects.

“This is an exciting time for Queens, and in this chapter of growth, development and opportunities for our borough, it’s an absolute privilege to work with a dynamic leader of such passion and vision,” Miller said.

Miller received her master’s degree in social work from CUNY Hunter College School of Social Work and her Bachelor of Science from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  She is an active doctoral candidate in social welfare at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center.  Miller currently resides in Laurelton, Queens.





BP Melinda Katz delivers her first State of the Borough address

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Borough President Melinda Katz delivered her first State of the Borough speech on Thursday, celebrating the borough’s diversity, its recent prominence as a tourism destination and the nurturing environment that she said has made Queens “the borough of families.”

“If it’s good for our families, it’s good for Queens,” said Katz, repeating what she said is her administration’s motto at Borough Hall and what was the focus of her 50-minute speech at Colden Auditorium at Queens College.

After a five-minute video that included Queens residents talking about the borough and Katz recounting how she grew up here, the daughter of civic-minded parents proud of the borough they called home, Katz took to the stage and welcomed the audience in eight languages.

“My parents believed that Queens held all the elements of any great city, and that no one should need to cross a bridge or tunnel to experience arts, culture, fine dining or great neighborhoods,” Katz said. “I inherited their vision while growing up here, from my childhood in Forest Hills to my education at our public schools to studying law at St. John’s.”

Packed into the 2,124-seat auditorium, filled nearly to capacity, were a host of elected officials, civic leaders and residents from across the borough.

Elected officials Katz mentioned individually included State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, as well as the borough’s entire City Council delegation and state lawmakers.

She made a special point to welcome newly-minted state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who she hired as a deputy during her first year as borough president before he was elected state senator.

And Katz twice asked for a moment of silence, once for the two officers killed in Brooklyn last month and another for former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a son of Queens, who died on New Year’s Day.

While Katz spent much of the time celebrating recent successes, like the borough’s designation as the nation’s top tourist destination for 2015 by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet and its recognition as being “the intersection of the world” for its sweeping ethnic and racial diversity, she also laid out challenges and goals ahead. They included the following:

  • Job creation, especially for LaGuardia and JFK airports and the health sector.
  • Advocating for the return of the Rockaway Ferry, which saw a brief existence during the post-Sandy recovery but was discontinued soon after.
  • Creating more pre-K seats to expand the program’s reach and expanding the Gifted and Talented program. She also emphasized the need to invest in the CUNY schools within Queens “so that folks stay in Queens or they come back and build a family.”
  • Providing affordable housing, especially for seniors, many of whom become the caretakers for young families.

Katz, who is raising her two children in the same Queens home where she grew up, blasted Common Core, the controversial new teaching curriculum being used across schools in the city and state.

“I feel in my gut that there’s something wrong here,” she said. “It’s not a common core. It’s a common problem. We’ve got to do something about it.”

And at the core of all of these issues, Katz said, is the family. Here in the “World’s Borough,” Katz said, the American dream is alive and well. And that’s all thanks to the families.

“Both new arrivals and long-established families create the communities which make it uniquely attractive, for visitors and for investors alike,” she said. “And like generations before them, they come here to work hard and raise their children as Americans. People spend their life savings to come here from all over the world just to educate their children right where we are sitting right now.”


Comrie bids farewell to deputy BP seat, gears up for state Senate

| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Borough President Melinda Katz’s office

Leroy Comrie has been serving Queens as deputy borough president for about a year, but he’s getting ready to return to an arena he’s more familiar with.

He is starting his bid as the new state senator of the 14th District of Queens covering Jamaica, Queens Village, St. Albans and Hollis. Borough President Melinda Katz and her staff said goodbye to Comrie last week and praised him for the work he did there.

Katz mentioned his tireless work ethic on behalf of the people of Queens and thanked Comrie for his wise counsel during her first year as borough president. She also mentioned that she believes he will do an outstanding job for his new, smaller group of constituents.

Comrie served as a public figure in southeast Queens from 2002-2013 as councilman for the 27th District, which covers St. Albans, Jamaica, Hollis and Cambria Heights. In 2013, he ran for the borough president’s seat in Queens but later dropped out. When Katz won her seat she hired him as the second-in-command as the deputy borough president, a position he held until his nomination for state Senate in April.

Comrie defeated incumbent state Sen. Malcolm Smith, whose political career took a turn for the worse after he was hit with federal charges for trying to bribe his way into the 2013 mayoral election as a Republican candidate. Comrie defeated Smith in the September primary for the Senate seat and ran unopposed in the November general election.

Comrie, a Democrat, will take his seat in the Republican-controlled state Senate as of Jan. 1. The 63-seat branch of the Legislature will now house 32 Republicans and 31 Democrats, making it more challenging for Democrats like Comrie to press their agenda in Albany.

Comrie’s commute to work — he’ll now have to travel to Albany when the Legislature is in session — is only one of several trade-offs he’ll make by going from the borough president’s office to the Senate. He’ll take a hit in the pocketbook too, trading his $135,000 deputy borough president salary for the base salary of $79,500 as a state senator.



Axed Queens Library director will sue for wrongful termination

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Update 4:30 p.m.

It’s the end of Tom Galante‘s chapter as director of the Queens Library.

The institution’s board of trustees fired Galante during a meeting Wednesday night—prompting his lawyer to say Thursday that he will be suing for breach of contract.

“This evening, the board of trustees heard a report by counsel. Based on that and a prior report by counsel, a decision was made to terminate immediately Mr. Galante’s employment,” a statement from the library said. “As the library moves forward, the board of trustees will continue working to ensure greater transparency and the proper administration of the library and its funds in furtherance of its mission. Queens Library will continue to provide outstanding value to the people of Queens.”

In September the board voted to suspend Galante, appointing Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, to carry out his duties. He continued to collect his $392,000 annual salary while on administrative leave.

According to the resolution voted on by the board, Galante was fired with cause. Library officials would not specify what constituted cause in his case.

Galante is looking to sue for breach of contract, although nothing has been filed yet, according to Hillary Zilz Prudlo, whose firm Sclam Stone & Dolan is representing Galante.

If Galante can prove in court that the board did not have cause to fire him, he could be due five years’ salary under the terms of his contract—nearly $2 million.

In September, the board voted  to open its books for the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, to perform an audit on all financial data from the library, which receives 85 percent of its funding from taxpayer money but is not officially a city agency or department.

In a statement released on Wednesday Stringer said Galante’s termination was “long overdue.”

“Transparency and proper controls are the cornerstones of good nonprofit governance. My office is currently conducting comprehensive audits of all three New York City library systems. Separately, in my capacity as an ex-officio trustee at the Queens Library, we have already begun working with the board to strengthen internal controls to ensure greater transparency,” he said. 

Galante has been under fire since a series of media reports revealing the renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck and expenses he rang up on a library credit card during his time as library director.

Earlier this week, Joseph Ficalora, CEO of NY Community Bank and past president of the Queens Library Foundation Board, told The Courier that the expenses Galante made during his time as library director were not “inappropriate” and had all been approved by the board.

Ficalora was one of the six Queens Library trustees dismissed by Borough President Melinda Katz in July. Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two, and two others resigned. Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated. Last month, a federal judge granted the request of the former trustees to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Katz’s decision to remove them from the board.

“Tonight’s action further restores public faith and trust in the management of the Queens Library,” Katz said in a statement following Galante’s termination. “The reformed board of trustees continues to move the library in the right direction consistent with its educational purpose.”


Former Queens Library trustee defends Tom Galante’s reported expenses

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

One of the six Queens Library trustees dismissed by the borough president has stepped out to defend the expenses by suspended library chief Tom Galante, who could potentially face being fired at a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.

Joseph Ficalora, CEO of NY Community Bank and past president of the Queens Library Foundation Board, told The Queens Courier that the expenses Galante made during his time as library director were not “inappropriate” and had all been approved by the board.

According to the NY Daily News, Galante had been using funds “like a personal piggy bank” before being suspended in September, based on a preliminary review of library finances by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Some of the credit card charges that Galante rang up included dinners with groups of library trustees, concert tickets and various hotel charges while the library chief was on out-of-town library business.

However, according to Ficalora, the expenses that are being reported had all been approved by the board and were consistent to those of others who held Galante’s position. He also added that six of the board members who had approved the expenses are still on the board.

“This was nothing that they didn’t know and the board members that are still sitting knew this and there was nothing about the expenses that were inappropriate,” Ficalora said.

He also said that other reports that brought up international trips Galante took were a “miscarriage of justice” because he had been traveling around the world as the ambassador of the library and also to accept awards on the library’s behalf.

“These activities were board-approved and consistent with the library having earned awards,” Ficalora said. “Tom was invited to speak at world-class events because of the world recognition and awards the Queens Library was receiving. None of those expenses were inappropriate and they were all approved by the board.”

In regards to the “fine dining,” Ficalora added that these meals have been typical for library directors for decades and they took place to discuss library business such as new programs or any problems.

Galante was suspended in September and his duties have since been carried out by Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

In July, Borough President Melinda Katz fired six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. Two others resigned. Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated. However, two weeks ago a federal judge granted the request of the former trustees to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Katz’s decision to remove them from the board.

According to one of the lawyers representing the former trustees, the lawsuit was dismissed because the former trustees did not have the financial ability and emotional willpower to pursue the lawsuit.

A special meeting of the board of trustees will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Robert T. Groh Board Room at the Central Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. According to sources, the election of officers might be taking place during the meeting.

In addition, the Audit Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. and the Finance & Investments Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m.


Northern Queens parents gain no traction during meeting with BP Katz over school program

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Whitestone and Flushing parents were sent back to the drawing board after meeting with Borough President Melinda Katz to discuss their desire to create a gifted and talented program for middle schools in the northern and central Queens area.

Lisa Fusco and a growing number of parents are building a case for the creation of gifted and talented programs for middle schools in their district. During a meeting with Katz and education officials on Wednesday, the parents were told that the district’s superintendent was the only one with the power to extend the program from its limited elementary school reach to middle school.

“They’re giving us the run around,” Fusco said. “We’ve spoken to [Superintendent Danielle Di Mango] before and that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. We’ve tried everything else.”

Mango declined a request for comment.

Fusco’s fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the gifted and talented program in P.S. 79 and — unlike in many other school districts — the program does not continue into middle school within District 25, which covers most of central and northern Queens. Neighboring districts 26 and 30 provide the program to students in middle school. More than 150 parents have signed a petition to bring the program into their middle schools in places like Flushing and Whitestone.

The gifted and talented programs are meant to provide extra services for students who show academic promise and get bored easily in a traditional classroom setting. Parents must sign up their children for tests to get into the program by November, and children are tested in January and February.

“We have made some real strides engaging community leaders,” Fusco said. “And we will continue to push for the program in our communities.”



Jamaica of the future imagined by residents

| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Imagine Jamaica with more affordable housing, better transportation and more, higher-paying localized jobs.

That was the vision put forward for the neighborhood when more than 100 residents and community advocates attended the city-run Jamaica Planning Initiative meeting this past weekend.

“We’ve been talking to ourselves for too long in this community,” said Borough President Melinda Katz. “We care about the future and are so excited for this plan going forward.”

With so much change having hit the neighborhood already, the city came up with the idea of meeting with local residents to find out what they want in the future. The Jamaica Planning Initiative was a community workshop that broke up residents in attendance into four small groups: 1) transportation, public space and urban design, 2) housing and commercial development, 3) Jamaica identity, branding and marketing and 4) Jamaica jobs. Residents chose the issue that they felt was most pertinent.

They focused on the study area east of the Van Wyck Expressway to Farmers Boulevard and north of Linden Boulevard to Union Turnpike.

Topics discussed were plans for more affordable housing units, finding safer ways for pedestrians to cross streets, creating a localized job market for residents in the community, upgrading small business opportunities and bringing better transportation to the neighborhood.

One issue that was brought up by residents was the concern for more affordable housing.

“We need affordable places for people to live that don’t make much money,” one resident said in a focus group. “That is where the money should be invested.”

At this point, the city agencies working on the project, which include the DOT, Regional Plan Association, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the NYC Small Business Service among local elects, were looking for community feedback so they can move along to the next phase, which is the Jamaica Action Plan. It is the final step before actual implementation.

“The Jamaica Action Plan will incorporate your crucial feedback on topics of focus and opportunity,” said Cali Williams, vice president of the NYC EDC. “Based on today’s charrette sessions, the city will release a set of realistic projects and programs to improve and enliven the experience of Jamaica.”

The workshop turned out to be a major success for all parties.

Regarding the next step, which is the implantation process, the projects will be identified as short-, medium- and long-term proposals. Some of the short-term projects will begin “right away,” according to the EDC, and they and local elects are looking for the continued support of the neighborhood.

“Queens is the diamond of all boroughs,” Congressman Gregory Meeks said. “But we can’t have the greatness we are unless everybody participates in the building of our community.”


Borough President Katz assesses Queens’ Ebola readiness

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Borough President Melinda Katz's office

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz met with Health Department officials on Monday to consider Queens’ ability to deal with an Ebola outbreak.

Katz also emphasized the need to work closely with the department given the large population of the borough, which hosts two busy airports.

“There is a very deep interest in [Queens] about this,” Katz said.

Dr. Jessica Kattan, a city health official, fielded questions from Katz and community board members.

But Kattan didn’t have the answer to many of the questions and advised people to call 311 if someone has Ebola.

“Does Purell work on this thing?” Katz said.

Kattan said she didn’t know the answer but promised to get back to Katz with an answer.

A community board member asked if planes coming from West Africa to Queens were being sanitized and the air ventilation system flushed out.

Kattan didn’t know, but she said, “the chances of New Yorkers getting Ebola is very slim.”

Katz also made a suggestion about the airports.

She said they should be reporting to Kattan’s department so that communication and information between the airports and the city is greater.

“We’re relying on you guys for vital information,” Katz said. “It’s important.”


‘The World’s Borough’ tagline added to Welcome to Queens signs

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Melinda Katz’s office

It’s official. Queens is where the world comes to live.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Dalila Hall, the Queens Borough Commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), revealed the new Welcome to Queens street signs, which include the tagline describing Queens as “The World’s Borough.”

The phrase is meant to reflect the cultural diversity in the borough, which is home to residents representing more than 120 countries and speaking more than 135 languages, according to a statement released by Katz. “You haven’t really seen New York City unless you have experienced the diversity that is in Queens,” said Katz, adding that the new signs with the slogans will help “to get that word out.”

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg praised the signs and said they “proudly highlight the level of diversity making Queens unique among the five boroughs and also nationwide.”

The new signs were installed in 10 key locations that act as a gateway to the borough by Oct. 7.

These include the Cross Island Parkway, Grand Central Parkway, Queensboro Bridge and Long Island Expressway.

Each 72-by-42-inch sign has retro-reflective letters that make them easily visible to drivers. Katz’s office funded the fabrication and installation of the signs. All the signs were made in Maspeth.