Tag Archives: Queens Borough President

BP Katz holds hearing on Bayside car dealership

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Updated Friday, Sept. 19

Members of the Bayside community urged Borough President Melinda Katz to uphold Community Board 11’s decision to remove a Star Toyota and Scion dealership from the area during a hearing Thursday morning.

“For 40 years, this business has been a bad neighbor,” a community board 11 member said. “There’s excess noise in the night and in the day. Unlicensed cars constantly speed through the neighborhood, blowing every stop sign.”

Katz didn’t make a decision during the meeting but she remained skeptical that the dealership was sincere about responding to the community’s complaints about broken sidewalks, trash and fixing the fence.

The dealership’s manager, Michael Koufakis, didn’t attend the meeting but his lawyer, Todd Dale, said that all of the issues that the community raised were addressed.

“When presented with these problems, we took care of it,” he said, referring to the broken sidewalks and fence and all of the trash in the area.

“I find that, as borough president, people clean up right before these meetings and then they go back to their bad habits afterwards,” Katz said.

According to Katz’s spokesman, the borough president will make a decision to either allow the variance to be renewed or echo Community Board 11’s decision. She plans on making her decision before the case goes to the Board of Appeals (BSA), the last stop before a final decision is made. The variance allows the business to operate in a residential zone as long as it cooperates with the community board.

Neighbors of the dealership hope that the BSA and Katz will reject the variance application.

Rennie Xosa lives behind the dealership’s parking lot. He, as well as community board members, said that the lot is used by the dealership to showcase cars to customers, an act that would be illegal under the business’ zoning rules.

“I have this beautiful backyard but I often can’t use it because there are people over there checking the car alarm system, honking the horn, testing how loud the radio goes and all of these other things that shouldn’t be going on there,” Xosa said. “I won’t let these people kick me out of my own neighborhood. I’m staying here and fighting them.”


Peter Vallone Jr. appointed to Cuomo administration

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Updated 3:40 p.m.

Former Queens Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. is joining the Cuomo administration.

Vallone, who represented the 22nd District from 2002 to 2013, has been appointed as the special assistant assigned to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“Excited to join the team of my good friend @NYGovCuomo! Honored to be given the opportunity to work with him and serve the people of NYS,” Vallone tweeted Thursday, following the announcement.

Cuomo welcomed Vallone’s appointment, and several others he made the same day, saying the new appointees come with “dedication to public service, proven records of success, and years of experience in providing help and care to New Yorkers across the state.”

“I am confident that these new additions to our administration will continue to improve New York State,” he said.

In addition to serving as public safety committee chair during his three-terms on the council, Vallone was previously an assistant district attorney.

Last September, Vallone lost the Democratic primary for Queens borough president to Melinda Katz.



Sports Star: Sierra Berkel, captain, Townsend Harris HS girls basketball team

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Name: Sierra Berkel
School: Townsend Harris
Grade: Senior
Sport: Basketball
Position: Forward

Sierra Berkel is a senior on the Townsend Harris High School basketball team. Berkel is leading the team to its third straight undefeated regular season in the PSAL (12-0), currently averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds per game as of January 22. She has been captain of the basketball team since her sophomore year and is also captain of the school’s girls flag football team. She boasts a 93 percent average, and is a member of ARISTA, the National Honor Society. Berkel also volunteered in former Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.’s office during his 2013 Queens borough president campaign. Berkel will be attending Haverford College next semester, and will be a part of the school’s basketball team.

Why are you motivated to do well academically and in extracurricular activities?
“My father passed when I was very young. My mother raised me and my twin brother all by herself. Knowing what strength is, I got that from my family. Being able to do well academically and excel in sports is all part of what my family has given me.”

What is your favorite class?
“I think my most interesting class was urban studies class. I took it at Queens College. I think that was pretty interesting, because it was about poverty in the city, causes and how to stop it. That really opened up my eyes.”

Why do you like sports?
“I think it’s really important. Definitely doing basketball I found I was more involved in the school. Also, serving as captain it definitely teaches you leadership and I think that definitely help lift my confidence.”

How did working in Peter Vallone Jr.’s office help you?
“I didn’t know much about the Queens Borough president and politics, but it’s really interesting and important. I learned too that you can make a change in your community. That was definitely a great experience, because you learn your voice is being counted.”

How difficult is it to manage all your extracurricular activities?
“My mother was a teacher, so the importance of education was stressed to me. Working hard and doing well in school is important, because I know it’s valued at my house. There are definitely some tired days, but I knew I wanted to be involved in everything.”

Any words for your coach?
I just wanted to emphasize how much of an impact my coach, Ms. Lauren Caiaccia, has had on me during my whole high school experience. She is a great coach, mentor and friend. She has definitely pushed me and helped me improve my game, as well as try things that I’m not as comfortable with to get better. So individually and holistically as a team, she is a great factor in the success.



Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sworn in by Mayor de Blasio

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was officially sworn into office Thursday in a star-studded political gathering.

“It’s an exciting time for me,” said Katz, in front of hundreds of supporters and a lengthy list of dignitaries. “I’m humbled and I’m honored to be the Queens Borough President.”

The 48-year-old Forest Hills mom of two was installed Jan. 9 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the help of Congressmember Joe Crowley.

“I have to tell you that Melinda brings so much to this job,” de Blasio said. “She has a real passion for the people she serves. She loves this borough. I can tell you that because I’ve seen her stand up for Queens many times.”

The mayor said the “exemplary” and diverse borough “epitomizes the American Dream.”

“Melinda Katz gets to be the person who brings all those beautiful strengths together and makes this borough work for the people,” de Blasio said.

The newly elected borough president, dedicating the night to her parents, took her oath of office with her hand upon her father’s copy of the Old Testament.

Crowley, citing Biblical figures, said he hoped for Katz “the wisdom of Moses, the leadership of Joshua and the valor and the strength of Esther.”

“She possesses many of those qualities and more,” Crowley said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to see her grow.”

The standing-room-only ceremony at Queens College’s Lefrak Concert Hall also featured U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and dozens of Queens legislators.

Katz’s partner, Curtis Sliwa, and the couple’s two sons, Carter and Hunter, watched from the audience.

Katz, a former member of the City Council and state Assembly, was elected Nov. 5 to be the 19th borough president of Queens. She succeeds Helen Marshall, who held the seat since 2001.

Her plans for the borough include making the Rockaway ferry permanent and pushing for more primary and urgent care facilities.

“Let’s move it forward,” Katz said. “Let’s make it a place for families to have everything they need right here in the borough of Queens.”

“My only wish is I never let you down,” Katz said.



Boys & Girls Club dedicates center to Helen Marshall

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Katelyn Di Salvo


Helen Marshall’s 12 years as borough president were topped off on Friday when the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Queens dedicated a new learning center in her honor.

A ceremony was held to show off the Helen M. Marshall Learning Center, and attendees took a hard hat tour of the progress in the newly constructed clubhouse.

Boys & Girls Club Chairman-Emeritus Joseph Ferrara presented Marshall with a plaque that will hang in the new learning center. This is in recognition for all of Marshall’s support in the expansion of the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens, including donating $4.75 million to the capital campaign.

At the ceremony, Marshall reminisced over her times in the Bronx House as a child, and believes that investing in The Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens is necessary for the children of the community.

“My experience in the Bronx House taught me to get along with others, and taught me wonderful things about life and happiness,” she said.

Carol Simon, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens, is excited about the new expansion, saying that they will be able to reach out to many more kids in the community.

The new learning center will include educational programs like homework help, tutoring, and the new iReady literacy and math programs.

“Basically, we’re enhancing the educational experience for young people,” Simon said. “We can’t just be a local gym and swim organization anymore, we need to work with the local schools and make sure our kids are doing better.”



Longtime Queens borough president aide to retire

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Dominick Totino Photography

The right-hand woman to the last two Queens borough presidents is retiring after 30 years in Borough Hall.

Alexandra Rosa, chief of staff to Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall, will leave at year’s end. She plans to transition into the nonprofit sector.

“I feel that it’s time to move to the next stage of my life, and I’m happy to do that,” she said. “I’m grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to serve the borough of Queens.”

Rosa, 59, helped Marshall develop strategies for investing more than $650 million in capital budget items over a decade. She also played a key role in strengthening the public library system and expanding the borough’s cultural centers.

“So much of the borough has changed,” Rosa said. “We’ve gone through tremendous struggles. On the other hand, we’ve seen tremendous triumph.”

The top aide said Queens, like the rest of the city, was rocked by Sept.11, Superstorm Sandy, a recession and foreclosures.

But the borough came out swinging, with more senior housing, the renaissance of downtown Jamaica and new economic potential unleashed “through the power of zoning,” Rosa said, pointing to newly approved developments in Willets Point and western Queens.

On a smaller platform, the newly opened Children’s Library Discovery Center, a 14,000-square-foot hands-on science and technology-focused exhibit in Jamaica, was one of the most memorable for the outgoing aide.

“It’s something I was able to participate in from its earliest stage of an idea to opening and seeing children engage in exploring the exhibits that were there,” Rosa said. “That was a real beginning-to-end experience.”

Marshall is term-limited and will give up the seat she held since 2001 to Melinda Katz.

Earlier this month, Katz tapped Councilmember Leroy Comrie to be her deputy borough president and Jay Bond, a former longtime aide, as chief of staff.

Rosa said the new administration under Katz will take the borough to the next level and continue the path of progress.

“I’m going to miss working for some really great people. We’ve done some tremendous things together,” Rosa said. “Life is about change, and this is a new phase that I’m embracing.”



Helen Marshall: Looking back on three terms as borough president

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Dominick Totino Photography

Borough President Helen Marshall has always seen herself as a public servant.

Her chief of staff, Alexandra Rosa, said her boss has worked for every person she represents.

“She never forgets where she came from and the fact that it’s about people,” Rosa said. “Always about people.”

Marshall, the first African-American Queens Borough President, will exit office in December because of term limits. She leaves behind a legacy based on the ideas of cultural understanding and tolerance.

When she came into office in January 2002, the city was still recovering from the September 11 attacks. People and religions were being misunderstood in the wake of the terror. Marshall established the Queens General Assembly — a tribute to the United Nations, which she does not fail to mention began in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The General Assembly has promoted understanding, down to the significance behind a culture’s holidays.

Something like this is particularly important in the nation’s most diverse county, she said.

“There’s a feeling among all of the members [that] this is their country, too,” Marshall said. “And I mean that it’s a really nice feeling they have about everything. If they have a problem, they give us their problem, we tackle it.”

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, who was deputy Borough President from 2002 to 2009, said Marshall’s timing on establishing the General Assembly, and the details it worked on, came when people needed it most.

“That was a magnificent thing to bring all the different ethnicities together to learn about the holidays and the food,” she said.

Marshall, like many in the borough, was not born in Queens. But she has still made it her home. She and her family moved here from the Bronx in 1957, first settling in Corona, and then East Elmhurst.

She became involved in the civil rights movement, Rosa said, and would speak to Malcolm X when the activist lived in Elmhurst shortly before his death in 1965.

The desire for better understanding has been a strong part of Marshall’s tenure, and remains an active one to this day. Marshall has hosted LGBT Pride Day every year since coming to office. It was one of the civil policies she saw the borough needed. Her most recent one coincidentally took place on June 26 — hours after the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act.

While she has been instrumental in bridging gaps in the borough, Marshall has also worked on areas Queens needs to promote productivity. In total, her office has given $676 million in capital investment to projects throughout the borough — with a focus on healthcare, libraries, parks and cultural institutions.


Five Queens hospitals have closed during Marshall’s tenure, something Koslowitz said was difficult for the borough president to see happen.

Before four of those hospitals closed, however, Marshall’s office released a report in 2006 that said Queens was already in a healthcare crisis. The report showed what areas were in the most need and laid out a plan to combat cutbacks.

Paola Miceli, her director of Health and Human Services, said Marshall’s office has worked with the existing Queens hospitals to ensure residents have the same access to care without overcrowding.

“Looking at 2006 and knowing we were already in a crisis and then having hospitals close after that certainly only exacerbated what we already thought,” Miceli said. “The good news is since that time, we’ve been able to come around. […] We’re not where we need to be, certainly by any means, but we’re in the process of getting there.”

The remaining Queens hospitals have also been active in expanding and dealing with the overflow of fewer hospitals.

“The existing institutions have stepped up to the plate,” Miceli said. “They have done incredible work to make themselves right sized.”

Over the last 12 years, Marshall’s office has allocated more than $20 million to Queens health centers. Part of the funds have gone toward expanding emergency rooms in order to accommodate the overflow from hospital closures.

She also worked with elected officials at the federal level, Miceli said, to fight Medicaid cuts. But Marshall also saw a borough-wide need for primary care offices where some had been lacking. Her office has helped establish or expand “urgi-centers” in neighborhoods throughout Queens where a primary care doctor might be in shortage, Miceli said.

These offices have the feel and speed of an emergency room, but are less costly for the government to reimburse.

“It’s better for the patient, certainly it’s a much more patient-friendly environment, especially for the children,” Miceli said. “We’ve had the opportunity to have the borough view that no one else has really had the opportunity to have. We can look from community to community to see what the gaps are, where the gaps are.”


Marshall has spent the last 30 years as an elected official, first in the Assembly, then City Council and finally Borough President.

She was the inaugural chair of the Council’s Higher Education Committee and stood up to proposed CUNY cuts by then-Mayor Rudolf Giuliani.

Long before that, however, she was an early childhood educator and an active PTA member. She carried her work as a teacher into her years of public service and into Borough Hall. Marshall was also the first executive director of the Langston Hughes Library.

“One of the things I have been working at for a long time is the schools,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that we had a seat for every child. We have so many children and we can’t let any of them go without an education. And so that’s a very big investment.”

A large part of that policy has been fighting for funding for libraries — and building new ones. An example Rosa drew upon is the new Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Public Library, an $18 million project completely funded by Marshall’s office.

While libraries offer a slew of educational programs for all ages, Rosa said Marshall believes them to be a center for growth in communities.

The library, which will replace the one currently on Mott Avenue, will be a boost as the area attempts to establish itself as a commercial strip, Rosa said.

“This is a real shot in the arm,” she said. “Especially along Mott Avenue, where we’re trying to do some economic development. We do this not only for the sake of the library, but also to supply some economic support to the community.”

Marshall’s fight for libraries has been recognized by the Centers for an Urban Future, which cited her work in its publication Branches for Opportunity.

“Queens has succeeded in large part because the libraries have been a priority of local elected officials, especially the borough president,” said the Centers for an Urban Future. “Over the last decade, Borough President Helen Marshall has steered more money toward library projects in her borough than the other four borough presidents combined.”

Rosa said Marshall fought for parks and cultural institutions with the same idea of community in mind.

Marshall credits her predecessor, former Borough President Claire Shulman, for laying the ground work of the cultural scene. Running with Shulman’s work, Marshall doubled the size of the Queens Museum of Art and the Museum of the Moving Image. She also restored funding to the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.


When Marshall came into office 11-and-a-half years ago, the landscape was quite different.

McMansions were popping up in quiet suburban areas. Hunters Point and Long Island City were still scattered with closed factories and had little economic life left. Shea Stadium was a mainstay and the AirTrain was headed down an unknown path.

But after years of rezoning and luring large projects to Queens, the borough is booming.

More than 40 neighborhoods have been rezoned since Marshall came into office, according to Irving Poy, director of Planning and Development under Marshall. This has preserved the character of suburban neighborhoods, while allowing other areas to thrive.

Downtowns such as those in Long Island City, Jamaica and Flushing have also grown since Marshall came into office. Poy said Marshall looked at these areas, already accessible by mass transit, and looked for opportunities for them to grow.

“I think the fruits and the planning of that rezoning are being seen today,” Poy said. “Each one of these neighborhoods at its own speed are developing new communities, new uses.”

While Marshall has wanted the borough to thrive, Poy said she makes sure every voice is heard in the rezoning process. Her staff attends every rezoning meeting, he said, and will relay any the concerns of any resident who might be impacted by a project to the proper agency.

“The borough president has included those things in her recommendations [so] that City Planning can go out there and reexamine it and consider what they are proposing,” he said. “And they’ve made adjustments, asking to reconsider. So those are the little things that go unnoticed, but if you live on that block, it makes a difference.”

A borough president is required by the City Charter to give a recommending vote in the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) for projects affecting the borough.

Marshall has been supportive of development, her staff said, but also fair. She recently recommended that the U.S. Tennis Association go through with expansions to the National Tennis Center only it agrees to return parkland taken up in the project. Returning the 0.68 acres in the expansion was originally not included in the plan.

“Originally, they weren’t going to replace that parkland,” Poy said. “But hearing it from the community and just understanding it from her point of view, that was something that came into consideration — that there should be replacement of the park.”


Marshall’s staff has said she stays relatively humble in her role and views her work strictly as a public servant.

Rosa pointed out that when Marshall cites the success of a project, or a significant amount of funding, she speaks as a collective group.

“She considers herself first and foremost a public servant, and that’s the way she approaches allocating capital dollars,” she said. “When she talks funding a project, she never says ‘I funded this.’ It’s, ‘We funded this.’”

Dan Andrews, her chief of staff, said many people view the borough president’s role as nothing more than a ribbon cutter, not realizing how much the county leader puts into each and every project.

“Many reports don’t break down that funding, and there’s no indication that the lion’s share of a project came from the borough president,” he said.

In six months, there will be a new borough president — one of five candidates who are still in the race. Familiar with all the candidates, Marshall said there is little advice she can give to any of the would-be beeps.

“Knowing the people who are running,” she said, “I think some of them might already have some ideas of what they want to do, because you don’t just become the borough president. That means you’ve had some background and understanding in what makes this borough tick. You’ve just got to remain faithful to Queens.”



Op-Ed: The power of the position

| oped@queenscourier.com


Why the borough president, I am asked.

The 1989 Charter has the council voting on both land use and budgets, so what do you do to warrant the existence of the office?

I will tell you.

I can best describe it by telling you what we did before and after the 1989 Charter revision.

My staff and I were determined to make a difference in Queens.

Before 1989 we had to negotiate for money; after 1989 the borough president got five percent of the enhancements in the expense budget and five percent of the capital budget. Queens got 33 percent of the five percent capital money, which enabled us not only to build, but to influence the construction of the following institutions:

  • Queens Museum of Art
  • New York Hall of Science
  • Queens Hospital Center
  • Flushing Town Hall
  • Family Court
  • Civil Court
  • Queens Theatre
  • Queens Zoo
  • Roy Wilkins Park and Recreation Center
  •  Creedmoor Educational Company
  •  Flushing Library
  • P.S.1
  • Townsend Harris High School
  • SE552, $100 million sewer project to relieve flooding in SE Queens
  • American Museum of the Moving Image
  • Flushing Meadows swimming pool and ice skating rink
  • BP and the mayor’s office get Fort Totten from the feds

These are just a few things we accomplished which makes the borough president’s office one of the best bargains in New York City.

We helped to enliven the cultural life of Queens, thereby creating a harmony in a very diverse population. We were involved in so much, none of which was mentioned or prohibited in the Charter.

For example we spent five years saving non-eviction conversion co-ops, thousands of units that helped cooperators, renters and neighborhoods survive.

There are many people currently running for this office because they want to continue the effort.

This is a big city and one cannot know everything, so local government, the planning boards, the council and the BP’s office are our good government.

Together we help deliver services through the Borough Cabinet where it is needed and deal with land use issues and budgets through the Borough Board.

If borough presidents didn’t exist it is my opinion that Manhattan would walk away with all the resources that currently cover major projects in Queens.

I will continue to advocate for the office of borough president and the relative autonomy of our great borough.

Don’t fool yourself — if you are elected by a county of two million people, that’s power and everyone listens!

Claire Shulman was the first female borough president, serving from 1986 until 2002.



Former Borough President Claire Shulman to appear on NY1’s ‘Wise Guys’

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

A television segment made famous by late mayor Ed Koch, NY1’s “Wise Guys” is going to get a new featured politician, former Borough President Claire Shulman.

Airing Tuesdays at 7 and 10 p.m. “Wise Guys” appears on the cable channel’s hour-long political news and opinion program “Road To City Hall,” hosted by Errol Louis.

Schulman, who served as borough president from 1986 until 2002 and was the first woman elected to the position, will discuss the week’s political issues along with former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato and former State Assemblymember Roberto Ramirez.

Ed Koch, who personally knew Shulman and was mayor when she became borough president, regularly appeared as one of NY1’s “Wise Guys.” The show even honored him on his 88th birthday in December just a couple of months before his death.




Katz campaign raises over $280,000 in quest for Borough Presidency

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Melinda Katz is taking a lead in campaign finances for the borough presidency as her campaign announced the former politician has raised more than $280,000 in the last four months.

“I am so appreciative to our hundreds of donors and their support for my candidacy,” Katz said in a statement. “Our fundraising success is a reflection of how well our message is being received among Queens residents.   The campaign, based on improving the lives of all Queens residents by increasing economic opportunities, and striking the proper balance with the needs of a community is resonating.”

The campaign has roughly $250,000 on hand; $40,000 of which can be matched by the city’s match fund, adding an extra $240,000 to her war chest, according to a campaign statement.

Katz, who hasn’t been in office since 2009, nabbed an endorsement from former Mayor Ed Koch last month in the hotly-contested race for Borough Hall.

She faces off against Councilmembers Peter Vallone and Leroy Comrie; State Senators Jose Peralta and Tony Avella; and former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik – who stepped down from his position last month to run.

Vallone is reported to still lead on the fundraising front, having capped out how much he could raise some time ago.