Tag Archives: Ridgewood

Lawmakers tackle education and affordable housing at first annual Ridgewood Legislative Forum

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelly Marie Mancuso


Lawmakers, elected officials and residents gathered to discuss ongoing local matters at the first annual Ridgewood Legislative Forum, hosted by the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association (RPOCA), on Thursday, Oct. 1, at I.S. 93 on Forest Avenue.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso joined state Senator Joseph Addabbo in an open forum question-and-answer session aimed at tackling some of the community’s biggest issues. Topics ranged from housing and neighborhood preservation to improvements in transportation and education. One of the biggest concerns dealt with maintaining affordability in Ridgewood amid the uptick in development and skyrocketing rents.

According to RPOCA president Charles Ober, buildings throughout Ridgewood have been falling prey to unscrupulous developers seeking to capitalize on the neighborhood’s recent growth and popularity by illegally converting and subdividing units. Ober explained that local tenants are being pressured into vacating their apartments, while landlords are also being harassed by developers looking to purchase their homes.

“They’re coming in here and breaking the rules. It’s not good for the neighborhood,” he said. “They’re buying up six-family houses, harassing the tenants and clearing out the buildings. They’re offering low amounts of money to get the tenants to leave. These tenants are rent-stabilized tenants. They’re part of the backbone of this neighborhood.”

In an effort to curb such harassment and prevent illegal conversions, RPOCA has teamed up with local tenants unions, as well as the Department of Buildings (DOB), to form a special task force aimed at identifying problematic locations and developers. According to Ober, the DOB will inspect suspicious locations for illegal conversions while mapping other potential buildings of concern.

In addition, the city recently passed a set of laws making such harassment illegal. Under the new laws, landlords can issue a written notice of “no sale” to developers, after which they cannot be contacted again for a period of six months. According to Reynoso, a developer can face arrest if the terms of the notice are violated.

Both Addabbo and Reynoso advocated for property tax reform as a way to maintain affordability in the neighborhood. Soaring property taxes were cited as a possible reason why so many homeowners are opting to sell and relocate. As a member of the City Council’s budget negotiating team, Reynoso agreed to draft a letter on behalf of RPOCA asking the city to make changes to the existing tax code.

“This is a very controversial thing to discuss,” he said. “When I looked at it, it’s very clear that people who have houses that are worth a lot more than what the people in Ridgewood have are paying the same taxes. That is inequity.”


RPOCA President Charles Ober (left) and Councilman Antonio Reynoso (right)

Senator Addabbo also advocated for the expansion of the SCREE program in an effort to prevent retired seniors from eviction. He also spoke in favor of legislation that would require that landlords inform their senior tenants about the program.

“SCREE is a program that works,” Addabbo stated.

Both Addabbo and Reynoso also tackled issues plaguing the city’s education system, including the embattled Grover Cleveland High School. According to Reynoso, the City Council invested the most money in education over the past decade. However, according to Addabbo, New York State has fallen behind in the funding of the city’s schools. Reynoso estimates that his district alone is owed $11 billion in funds from the state. As a member of the Senate’s education committee, Addabbo explained that he in engaged in the “Campaign for Fiscal Equity” in Albany in an attempt to secure these funds.

“This problem is bigger than Grover Cleveland High School,” Reynoso added.

Reynoso estimates a whopping 70 percent of the city’s students are under proficient, with only 30 percent of fifth-graders performing at a proficient level. The councilman attributes this to a lack of resources, as well as a disparity in education among the city’s immigrant population.

“The system doesn’t care about distinctions,” Reynoso added. “Immigrant students are at a disadvantage.”


Star of Queens: Robert Monahan, executive director, Greater Ridgewood Youth Council

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Background: Robert Monahan grew up in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. He graduated from the LaSalle Academy and Manhattan College, then returned to LaSalle as a science teacher, educating young men in earth science, physical science and biology. After marrying his wife in 1974, they relocated to Glendale and raised a family of three. They now have six grandsons, with two more on the way.
Monahan took a job at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) while teaching at LaSalle; both positions wound up being full-time jobs for him. “I would teach at LaSalle, then come out to the youth council and work from 3 to 10 p.m.,” he said. “I did that for a year, then the executive director of the GRYC left, and I was promoted to that position.”

Occupation: Monahan first served as GRYC executive director from 1982 to 1990, then moved on to the Police Athletic League for 10 years. Since returning to the GRYC in 2000, Monahan helped grow the organization into a borough-wide juggernaut. Today, the GRYC—powered by an $8 million annual budget—offers after-school activities, tutoring, internships and other programs at 30 different locations to 2,700 youths across Queens.
“We’re as far out as Rosedale and Bayside and as close as our Ridgewood headquarters, where we have UPK [universal pre-kindergarten],” he said. The organization has been “blessed” to receive support from local elected officials through the years to help grow the GRYC into what it is today.
Community Involvement: Outside of the GRYC, Monahan is primarily involved with the Kiwanis Club of Glendale, a chapter of Kiwanis International, which raises funds for local and global causes aimed at improving the lives of children everywhere. In the past, he served as chair of the Glendale Kiwanis Scholarship Committee, which hands out thousands of dollars in scholarships annually to middle and high school students toward higher education. Monahan is also a member of the Knights of Columbus and previously supported the Ronald McDonald House. He is also involved with Cursillo, a spiritual religious retreat program for young adults.
Biggest Challenge: Though grateful for the support that has helped grow the GRYC by leaps and bounds over the last decade, Monahan said the biggest challenge he faces is acquiring even greater funds to serve more youths throughout Queens. “We could probably serve 5,000 kids a day if we had additional funding,” he said. “We have waiting lists everywhere. Our biggest challenge is to be able to service all the kids that need service and their families.”
Help is on the way for the GRYC as the organization—through funds allocated from local officials—aims to open a state-of-the-art youth center next year at the former Garity Post on Fairview Avenue in Ridgewood.

Biggest Inspiration: “Obviously, my family is my biggest inspiration,” Monahan said. “I try to bring that whole atmosphere to the youth council, so my staff and the accomplishments they achieve every day is over the edge for me. It’s a blast coming to work for me.”


Ridgewood woman missing for almost two weeks: police

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo courtesy NYPD

The NYPD is seeking the public’s assistance in locating a missing Ridgewood woman.

The woman, identified as Nathalie Ionescu, was last heard from on Wednesday, Sept. 16, according to police.

Ionescu, 32, is described as a white woman, standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing approximately 110 pounds.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477), visit the Crime Stoppers website or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

All calls will remain strictly confidential.


Ridgewood street renamed for beloved local activist and educator

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelly Marie Mancuso


Elected officials, civic leaders, neighbors, friends and family gathered at the corner of Suydam Street and Cypress Avenue on Saturday to honor the legacy of longtime neighborhood activist, teacher and Ridgewood resident Ann Maggio.

Maggio, who died in 2013 at the age of 90, moved to Suydam Street as a teenager with her parents back in 1939, and went on to teach at the former St. Aloysius School from 1967 to 1983. However, Maggio is perhaps best known for her tireless efforts and commitment to improving the neighborhood in which she lived.

In 1984, she partnered with former Borough President Claire Shulman and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan to renovate the Grover Cleveland Park Athletic Field and help rid the area of chronic drug use and illicit activities. She co-founded the former Suydam Street Block Association in 1985, and went on to establish the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood civic group nearly a decade later. Maggio also served on Community Board 5 for many years.

During Saturday’s ceremony, City Council member Antonio Reynoso shared his memories of Maggio as both a community leader and personal hero.

“She was as pure-hearted and as great a person that you could ever find here in the city of New York, but especially in this community. It really breaks my heart that she’s no longer with us,” he said. “She was part of a system of politics here that wasn’t always the greatest. She said, ‘Antonio, don’t let that be who you become. Be better and do well.’”

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan remembered Maggio as a longtime friend, educator and role model. Long before their collaboration on improving the Grover Cleveland Athletic Field, Nolan had Maggio as her fifth-grade teacher at St. Aloysius School.

“She made a great impression on me, and particularly so many women and girls, because she held herself to a very high standard,” Nolan explained. “She was showing us that you could be a mom, a teacher and a wonderful, compassionate person. She never stopped using her education to help other people. She was really a pioneer in many ways. I feel a great personal debt to her.”

Ann Maggio's grandson Andrew, son Anthony, daughter-in-law Tracy and daughter Joann holding up the new street sign as a tribute to their mother

Ann Maggio’s grandson Andrew, son Anthony, daughter-in-law Tracy and daughter Joann holding up the new street sign as a tribute to their mother

“She may have been a petite lady, but she was a giant on the issues that mattered to her,” added Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “At a time when the country is so divided, people like Ann reminded us that we need to do better. We are a better place, right here in Ridgewood, because of people like Ann Maggio.”

Rev. George Poltorak of St. Aloysius Church offered a blessing shortly before Maggio’s family addressed the crowd, thanking them for the moving tribute. Young children pulled the string to unveil Ann Maggio Way as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played. A random group of butterflies flew over the crowd as a sign, some believed, of Maggio’s presence.

“Our mom, Ann, always gave and did her best and encouraged those around her to do the same,” daughter Joann Maggio said. “She was someone who shaped many lives. She was a compassionate person and woman of integrity. She always put others ahead of herself. All have been made better by knowing her. I’m proud to call her our mom.”


Ridgewood high school improving but still faces state takeover

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

Although Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood has seen improving graduation rates and student performance over the last few years, it remains vulnerable to a possible state takeover, educators said during a public hearing at the school Saturday.

Parents, students and teachers filled the Grover Cleveland auditorium on Saturday morning to talk about the performance of the struggling school and the possibility of the school’s receivership, while providing recommendations on how to improve the high school.

Earlier this year Grover Cleveland High School, along with 61 other New York City schools, was identified as struggling or persistently struggling by the New York State Education Department (DOE). If the school does not improve student performance and graduation rates, Grover Cleveland may fall into receivership, meaning that the school will be taken over by an outside entity and divided into several smaller schools.

At the public hearing, Grover Cleveland High School’s principal, Denise Vittor, acknowledged the school’s troubles, but pointed to recent improvements in graduation rates and attendance as signs of hope.

The four-year graduation rate for Grover Cleveland High School for June graduation was at 53 percent in the 2012-13 school year, and 51 percent in the 2013-14 school year. By the August graduation for those students who did not graduate in June, those numbers increased to 60.2 percent in 2012-13 and 58 percent in 2013-14.

“As you see, in June we did not reach 60 percent [graduation rate], which is the benchmark for all New York State schools,” Vittor said. “But by August, we were at 60.2 graduation rate. In 2013-14 we missed a lot. But I am proud to say, this year we had 60.7 graduation rate in June and 62.5 by August.”

Grover Cleveland’s goals for graduation rates for the 2015-16 school year are 63 percent for the June graduation and 65 percent in August, above the required 60 percent.

“As you saw when Principal Vittor presented the data, Grover Cleveland is on the fast-track for coming off of the struggling list,” said Elaine Lindsey, DOE high school superintendent. “So we are believing that by the end of this school year, that Grover Cleveland should not be considered a struggling school based on the data that we saw presented today.”

To keep these numbers rising, Vittor explained her school’s use of “six elements of the framework for great schools”: rigorous instruction, a supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective school leadership, strong family and community ties, and trust.

One area of concern for parents was the amount of funding the school receives for electronic resources. Vittor explained that the school receives approximately $20,000.

“We are a smartboard school, which means we have smartboards in every classroom, that’s the goal,” Vittor said. “Each smartboard is $6,500, so $20,000 doesn’t go very far … we will ask our elected officials to assist us again.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo made it clear that he intends to continually support Grover Cleveland and help it get off the struggling list.

“I am ready and willing to work with the entire Grover Cleveland High School community to help protect this school from receivership, improve its graduation rates and increase parental participation,” Addabbo said in a statement. “Engaging more parents in the education of their children is key to improving outcomes for students, as well as creating stronger families and communities. I look forward to working towards protecting Grover Cleveland for generations of students to come.”

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a graduate of Grover Cleveland, vowed to lend her support for her former school.

“As the elected representative of the 37th Assembly district and a 1976 graduate of Grover Cleveland High school, I want to voice my support for the school,” Nolan said in a statement. “Cleveland has struggled, but under the leadership of Principal Vittor it is getting back on track and has a lot to offer. With the right support and resources, I believe the school can be the best version of itself … I will continue to support and advocate for Cleveland, a Ridgewood institution that is so incredibly important to us.”

During the public comment period, some parents suggested that the school send home a syllabus so parents can become more involved with their children’s work. Others suggested increasing the number of guidance counselors at the school to better prepare college-bound students, and several students suggested creating more sports teams and afterschool clubs so students will become more interested in their school.

To provide input on improving Grover Cleveland High School, send an email to receivership@schools.nyc.gov.


Ridgewood real estate conference brings together community and commerce

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photos by Anthony Giudice

Real estate moguls, business owners and residents filled the Ridgewood Ale House on Friday morning to hear a panel of experts discuss the future of Myrtle Avenue during the Ridgewood Real Estate Networking Breakfast Conference.

Sponsored by the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), the conference focused on how to better bridge the needs of the community and the types of retailers that come into the BID to help Myrtle Avenue grow and make the area even better for Ridgewood residents in the future.

“A lot of times what happens is, a store comes in just to come in and it’s really not what the neighborhood needs or wants because we already have an oversaturation,” said Ted Renz, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue BID. “But the property owner is interested because he wants to fill the space, the broker wants to make his commission, which is fine, but we want to build a better dialogue that we can all be happy together and everybody wins.”

One example of retail brokers working with the community is the case with the former Ridgewood Theater, a landmark fixture in the neighborhood that has been vacant for the last several years. Now, the theater will be converted to 55 units of housing with a mixed-use facility on the ground floor.

Renz hopes to see a collaboration with the owner and the BID to bring in a viable use for that floor through community engagement.

The need to remember what has worked in the past and to evolve for the needs of the future was highlighted throughout the conference by the panel of experts.

“We need a combination of being stuck where it’s good, but also evolve into something better,” said Linda Monte, panel expert and president of the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society. “How are we evolving? Are we letting it happen or are we actually having a sense of we can make it happen? So I think that that’s the challenge that we all need in terms of the Ridgewood community.”

When it comes to building larger retail developments, it is important for the developers to realize the identity of the community in which they are working.

“Particularly in retail, when we look to a market, especially the types of large-scale retail projects that we build, can that type of project make sense in the community? A lot of it has to do with what is the community’s identity and does the community actually want that,” said Scott Auster, panel expert and managing director for Grid Properties. There are certain communities that embrace that type of development and economic activity, and there are others that don’t necessarily want it.”

By bringing the community and retailers together, Myrtle Avenue can continue to be a viable hub for the residents of Ridgewood.


Kiwanis holds membership roundup for potential Ridgewood club

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

The Queens Kiwanis family is looking to grow into Ridgewood.

Kiwanis Queens West Lieutenant Governor J.P. DiTroia held a special membership roundup and outreach meeting Thursday night to spread the word about a Kiwanis club potentially coming to Ridgewood at the TD Bank branch located on Fresh Pond Road.

“The Kiwanis is a great vehicle for individuals to get involved with the community,” DiTroia said. “Events like this have helped build the Middle Village and Forest Hills clubs. They are great networking opportunities as well.”

Currently, the fledgling Ridgewood Kiwanis Club has five members and is looking to expand. They are seeking members of the community who want to make a difference.

“We need members, but more importantly we need members that participate and are involved in the community,” said Dorothy Lancaster, member of the board of directors of the Middle Village Kiwanis Club.

The first charter member of the Ridgewood Kiwanis Club, Yogeshwar Wadhawan, joined because he was interested in helping his community and felt the Kiwanis would give him a chance to give back.

“I joined because I want to give something back to society. I have time now, I’m retired, and I wanted to give back,” Wadhawan said. “I want to help kids and veterans. The reason for joining is more important to me than being the first member in Ridgewood. It is also a good way for me to keep busy, but now it’s a different reason to stay busy. Now that I’m not working for money, I want the inner peace and satisfaction of helping people.”

For more information about becoming a Kiwanis member, watch this video.


Ridgewood fantasy author to release debut novel this October

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photos courtesy Matthew Kressel

Ridgewood-based author Matthew Kressel has already been nominated for several awards for his short stories, and this October he will delve into a new realm when he releases his debut novel titled “King of Shards.”

Kressel has written more than 20 short stories in his career, including “The Sounds of Old Earth” and “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” which were both Nebula Award nominees for Best Short Story in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

“I’ve written a bunch of short stories, but this is my first novel,” Kressel said. “It’s very different. Novels give you obviously more space to explore ideas, you can take time with certain aspects of the story and plot that you can’t do in a short story. In a short story, every word has to count. And it’s not that it doesn’t count in a novel, it’s just that you have more breathing space, more room to play.”

Being an avid reader since his youth, Kressel got into writing after a friend suggested that he take a writing class at The New School in Manhattan. It was during this class that Kressel learned how to create short stories and many different aspects of writing.

“It was my intro to writing short stories, how to get critiqued … that was the first time where someone said, ‘Hey, we like where you’re going here but it’s not quite working,’ and as a writer I think it’s important to be able to take criticism of your work,” Kressel said.

“King of Shards,” which will hit bookstores on Oct. 13, was inspired by the Jewish myth of the Lamed Vav, Kressel said. In Lamed Vav, which literally translates to “30” and “Six,” there are 36 hidden saints in the world, and if anyone of them stops being righteous the world will cease to exist.

“I started being really curious about that myth and what it represents,” Kressel said. “The idea is essentially, you never know who you’re going to meet so you should always treat them as if they are upholding the world, as if they are the righteous person. And you yourself could be one and not know it. So it’s like a motivation for yourself to be kinder and more righteous.”

In his novel, demons discover who these righteous 36 people are and want to kill them to destroy the universe. The main character, who is one of the 36, must work with one of the most evil forces in the world to save the cosmos.

Kressel moved to Ridgewood three years ago and already feels part of the tight-knit community.

“I love this neighborhood, I like the community of it, I like the family aspect of the neighborhood,” Kressel said. “It feels like a real community. Some of the New York City neighborhoods you don’t get that same sense of community, [but] you definitely feel it here. You feel like families are here; they’ve been for generations. There are plenty of hard-working people. I like that.”


West Nile spraying scheduled for parts of Queens on Monday

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photos courtesy of the Health Department

In continuing efforts to reduce mosquito activity and the risk of West Nile virus, the Health Department will spray pesticides in several parts of Queens next week.

Pesticide trucks will be out spraying on Monday, Sept. 21, between 8:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following morning. In case of inclement weather, spraying will be delayed until Monday, Sept. 28, during the same time frame.

The following areas in Queens are scheduled to be sprayed:

  • Parts of Astoria, Ditmars, Steinway and Woodside, bordered by 20th Avenue and 35th Street to the north; 28th Avenue, 43rd Street and Newtown Road to the west; Broadway and Northern Boulevard to the south; and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, 30th Avenue, 78th Street, Astoria Boulevard, and 75th Street to the east.
  • Parts of Blissville, Elmhurst, Sunnyside, Maspeth, Middle Village, West Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Woodside, bordered by Queens Boulevard and Thomson Avenue to the north, 29th Street and Dutch Kills to the west; The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metropolitan Avenue to the south; and the LIRR to the east.
  • Parts of Forest Park, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven, bordered by Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike, and Myrtle Avenue to the north; Forest Park Drive, Park Lane South, and 88th Street in the west; 101st Avenue to the south; 104th Street, Jamaica Avenue, 115th Street, and Park Lane South to the east.

For the sprayings, the Health Department will use a very low concentration of Anvil 10+10, a synthetic pesticide. When properly used, the spray poses no significant risks to human health.

To minimize direct exposure to the spray, the Health Department suggests taking several precautions:

First, whenever possible, stay indoors during spraying. People with asthma or other respiratory conditions are encouraged to stay inside during spraying since direct exposure could worsen these conditions.

Air conditioners may remain on, but to reduce indoor exposure set the vent to closed. Remove children’s toys, outdoor equipment, and clothes from outdoor areas during spraying. If outdoor equipment and toys are exposed to pesticides, wash them with soap and water before using again. If exposed to pesticides, wash exposed skin and clothing with soap and water.


Ridgewood couple charged for downloading, watching child porn videos: DA

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

The couple that watches child porn together goes to jail together.

Detectives charged a husband and wife from Ridgewood on Thursday with downloading videos of children involved in sexual activity which they allegedly watched together on their television, prosecutors said.

George Slavescu, 49, and Ioana Pricope-Slavescu, 35, were booked on multiple counts of promoting and possessing a sexual performance by a child. They face between four and seven years behind bars if convicted.

Through an investigation that the NYPD Vice Major Case Team conducted, police linked an IP (Internet protocol) address belonging to George Slavescu to a peer-to-peer network in which images and videos of child pornography were known to be shared, according to authorities. Detectives determined that, on Aug. 8, Slavescu downloaded a video depicting a girl between 8 and 11 years of age performing an oral sexual act on a male.

In monitoring the network the following day, prosecutors noted, they found a list of files that Slavescu shared and downloaded showing young girls, some believed to be less than 12 years old, involved in sexual acts with adults. Police downloaded from Slavescu’s online account two additional child porn videos between Aug. 7 and Aug. 20, one of which involved a boy between 3 and 4 years old.

Police executed a court-authorized search of the Slavescus’ 67th Street home on Thursday and seized a computer tower found to contain hundreds of videos and photos of children involved in sexual acts.

During questioning, according to the criminal complaint, George Slavescu allegedly admitted to downloading more than a thousand files of child pornography and admitted to pleasuring himself while viewing them. Ioana Pricope-Slavescu also allegedly told detectives that she joined her husband in watching child porn on their television, which was hooked up to the computer.

“The Internet has replaced the proverbial back alley as the place where purveyors of child pornography gather to share their vile and disturbing videos and photographs of young children being sexually abused,” Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement. “Perhaps what is most shocking, as alleged in this case, is that the husband and wife defendants could consider viewing such disturbing imagery as family entertainment.”


Public hearing to be held in Ridgewood for struggling Grover Cleveland HS

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

COURIER/File photo

The future of the struggling Grover Cleveland High School will be the focus of a special public hearing next Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Ridgewood institution.

The school, located at 21-27 Himrod St., has been listed as one of 62 New York City schools that have been identified by the state Department of Education (DOE) as either struggling or persistently struggling. These schools are in danger of being placed under receivership by the state without quick improvement in academic performance in the next year.

The purpose of the public hearings is for the DOE to solicit input through public engagement regarding recommendations for improving the school.

The public is encouraged to sign up to speak at the hearing to voice their concerns and ideas for the school. Written comments will also be collected on the day of the hearing and can be submitted via the online feedback form as well.

The hearing will take place on Sept. 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For those who cannot attend the hearing, they may submit comments by mail to the NYC Department of Education, State/Federal Education Policy and School Improvement Programs, 52 Chambers St., Room 320, New York, NY 10007, or through email to Receivership@schools.nyc.gov.


Ridgewood high school senior set to meet Pope Francis

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

One high school senior from Ridgewood will get the chance of a lifetime next week after being selected to meet with Pope Francis during his visit to New York.

Danielle Armato, 17, who has lived in Ridgewood for most of her life, was chosen as one of 12 Catholic high school seniors from across the city to be on hand when the Holy Father makes an appearance at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem on Sept. 25.

“I got a letter from my school one week before school started and I wasn’t sure what it was about,” Armato said. “When I opened it and saw that I had been chosen to meet the pope I actually screamed. I jumped up and down. I was very excited.”

Armato is a senior at Cathedral High School in Manhattan where she is involved in various religious activities. She has been an altar server since the fourth grade and is currently the president of the campus ministry at Cathedral. She is also a parishioner, altar server and member of the Young Adult Leaders group at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Ridgewood.

Armato said that members from the Diocese visited schools looking for eligible seniors to be at the elementary school when Pope Francis drops in.

“My principal selected me because of my good grades and my participation in the church,” Armato said. “I am the president of the campus ministry. As president of the campus ministry I’m always helping to collect food and clothing, especially with the holidays coming up. I help set up our in-school retreats and I am responsible for planning our out-of-school senior retreat. I love being a part of the campus ministry because I’ve met many amazing people.”

Armato said that she and the 11 other high school students will be responsible for walking Pope Francis out of Our Lady Queen of Angels School when he is finished speaking with the elementary school students.

“I would say, ‘Thank you for everything that you have done,’” Armato said she would tell the pope. “I want to ask the pope to bless my grandmother for her 75th birthday. When I told [my grandmother] that, she cried of happiness.”

“The fact that he’s coming here shows that there is hope for New York, especially with all the bad things happening in the news, it shows that there is still hope,” she added. “I am personally shocked and humbled that I was chosen.”


PHOTOS: Fourth ‘Bushwig’ drag festival celebrated in Ridgewood

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelly Marie Mancuso


The sleepy, bucolic lawn of Ridgewood’s Vander Ende-Onderdonk House was awash in an array of sequins, sparkles and sky-high wigs as the fourth annual Bushwig drag festival sashayed into town over the weekend.

The festival was founded in 2012 by NYC-based drag queens Babes Trust and Horrorchata in celebration of Bushwick’s growing drag and music scene. Bushwig was originally held at Secret Project Robot on Melrose Street in Bushwick before moving to this year’s venue at the Onderdonk House.

Bushwig was inspired by pioneer drag festival Wigstock, an annual outdoor Labor Day drag festival co-founded in 1984 by Lady Bunny in Manhattan’s Tompkins Square Park. In its 20-year run, Wigstock grew in size and popularity, and was the subject of the 1987 and 1995 documentaries “Wigstock: The Movie.” The festival ended its run in 2005 as part of the Lower East Side’s Howl Festival, but returned for one night only with a Wigstock: The Cruise aboard the Sea Tea in August 2015 after a 10-year hiatus.

Wigstock co-founder and drag icon Lady Bunny was the headliner at this year’s Bushwig festival. In a symbolic gesture during her live performance, Lady Bunny passed an illuminated torch to Bushwig co-founder Horrorchata, praising Bushwig’s success.


Lady Bunny passing the torch to Bushwig co-founder Horrorchata. Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

The rainy weather did not put a damper on the weekend’s festivities. An impressive roster of 150 drag and musical performers took to the Bushwig stage to perform in front of a packed house. Both performers and festival attendees donned an array of fashions, from Lady Bunny’s retro frock to Lady Quesa’Dilla‘s pink polka dot wiggle dress and towering crimson wig.

2015 Brooklyn Nightlife Drag Queen of the Year and Bushwig host Untitled Queen reigned supreme in a modern white ensemble complete with a mythical horned headdress and sultry black eyeliner. Dancer and performer January Bones was ethereal in white lace and pearls during her riveting performance, while Jojo Lime Green Jello looked fierce in a slinky lavender catsuit during her rendition of an Azealia Banks song.

The picnic area and trees were decorated with bouquets of large tissue paper flowers and handmade patchwork banners as a nod to the outdoor folk festivals of past generations. Festivalgoers sipped glasses of sangria and Pabst Blue Ribbon while browsing through racks of Alotta McGriddles‘ carefully curated unique vintage apparel, otherwise sold at the monthly Alotta Stuff Live Auction at the Metropolitan Bar in Brooklyn.


Bushwig revelers and performers in the picnic area of the Onderdonk House. Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso.

The 2015 festival kicked off with the glamorous Bushwig Ball at LoveGun, and was also celebrated with a series of after parties at Brooklyn venues Happyfun Hideaway and Metropolitan Bar. Bananas bearing arrows and directions to Bushwig were taped up around the neighborhood as cheeky guides to the Onderdonk House.

Director Nicolas Heller and his film crew from the critically acclaimed “Queens of Kings,” a six-episode documentary web series that follows Brooklyn-based drag queens, were also on hand to film the festivities. Watch the first season of “Queens of Kings” here.


Past and present 104th Precinct commanders work to tackle drug crime

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelly Marie Mancuso


A former 104th Precinct commander is helping his old command tackle narcotics crime in the area, the precinct’s current boss told residents during Tuesday’s 104th Precinct Community Council meeting at St. Matthias School in Ridgewood.

Capt. Mark Wachter said that Inspector Michael Cody, who led the 104th Precinct between June 2011 and February 2013, now commands the Queens Narcotics Division, and worked in close partnership with the 104th Precinct to crack down on drug activity in the area.

“Over the summer, we made a lot of narcotics arrests,” he observed. “This is a good move. Inspector Cody used to be a commanding officer here. He knows the spots and is loyal to the community. We’ve partnered up on a lot of narcotics investigations.”

One such investigation led to the recent break-up of a drug ring operating out of a Ridgewood bodega. According to Wachter, the deli was used as a base of operations in which drugs like cocaine were packaged, sold and distributed throughout the neighborhood. In another case, a vehicle stop over the summer yielded more than 400 vials of “Hydro” or synthetic marijuana.

According to Wachter, Inspector Cody is also involved with the investigation of the gunpoint robbery of a pharmacy at 60-61 Myrtle Ave. on Sept. 10 in which the suspect demanded the powerful narcotic oxycodone. Wachter called drug abuse “a big problem” in the community, with a high demand for such prescription narcotics on the black market.

Even so, Wachter reported that overall crime is dropping around the 104th Precinct, with sharp decreases in grand larceny, burglaries and auto thefts during the summer months. Year-to-date, the precinct had 100 fewer crimes reported.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” he explained. “One hundred crimes down is a hundred less victims.”

Wachter credits the joint effort between community members and police with the decrease in major crime in the area.

“We’re doing very good, and a lot of that has to do with the community helping us, the police, out,” Wachter said. “You live here, you work here, you know when something is suspicious and we appreciate that information. This is a partnership and it’s working well. With cooperation from the community, we can solve a lot of crimes.”

Wachter and the 104th Precinct Community Council honored Officer Colinton Coronado and Officer Hector Valdez with Cop of the Month awards for their dedication and valiant crime-stopping efforts throughout the summer. Both officers are part of the precinct’s Conditions Unit, which operates overnight and deals with a host of issues including narcotics, community complaints and quality-of-life concerns.

In the past two months, both Coronado and Valdez were responsible for five narcotics arrests, two robbery arrests, D.W.I. busts and one burglary arrest involving a break-in at home on Stephen Street in Ridgewood.

The officers and Wachter were also part of a team that was responsible for what the captain deemed a “major seizure” of fireworks in the community. According to Wachter, the 104th Precinct led the city in fireworks arrests and confiscations this year, with many officers volunteering to work on the busy July Forth holiday as an added precaution.


Captain Wachter praised the officers, calling them “jacks of all trades” due to their success in a number of areas. He also thanked them for bringing their families and children to the ceremony.

“This is really great for the communities to see,” he said. He and Precinct Council President Len Santoro presented the officers with plaques donated by the Ridgewood Times.

In another gesture of gratitude, members of the Highland Park Civic Association presented Captain Wachter with a special citation for his service and dedication to the neighborhood.



Community Board 5 talks parks for capital budget priorities

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

The city should set aside big bucks for park improvements in Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village, according to residents and members of Community Board 5 (CB 5).

Several parks within CB 5 are either in need of repairs or are due to receive repairs. The community board wants to make sure that such projects are included in the city’s fiscal year 2017 capital budget.

Rosemary’s Playground in Ridgewood, Frank Principe Park in Maspeth and Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village were main areas of concern with the community board mentioned during a special public hearing on the budget on Sept. 9 in Middle Village.

Rosemary’s Playground has been a focus of CB 5 for several months now, and it is garnering even more attention. Parents have been fighting to improve the conditions at the park and although some work has been done, more work is needed.

“There were small fixes done on the playground” in the last couple of months, said Steffi Sauer, member of the Friends of Rosemary’s Playground group. “Safety hazards were fixed so that’s great news. We want to thank the Parks Department for that, but again a lot more has to be done.”

The deteriorating condition of the park’s equipment has been addressed as well, but additional work is still needed.

“They scraped down the play equipment. They haven’t repainted that play equipment yet,” said CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. “But now what’s going on is we are hearing people want a dog run in Ridgewood, and Rosemary’s Playground is one of the places that people are talking about. But when you’re talking about Ridgewood, you’re talking about a lot of users competing for small spaces.”

One park that is slated for repairs is Frank Principe Park. Last year Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley allocated over $5 million in city funding to repair the park’s baseball fields and running track.

“We need to, I think, push the Parks Department as far as design goes, but there is a substantial amount of money to our knowledge for the reconstruction of Frank Principe Park,” Giordano said. “With soccer booming in a lot of ways…that is a place that can really serve very well for soccer in Maspeth.”

Crowley has also funded the reconstruction of Juniper Valley Park’s running track and turf soccer field.

“I believe there’s 2 million dollars available for renovations in that part of Juniper,” Giordano said regarding the soccer field/running track area of the park.

As in previous years, CB 5 is also prioritizing improvements to the Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border.