Tag Archives: Senator Tony Avella

Rally to remove ‘ineffective’ principal at Van Buren


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Local leaders and parents hope to expel the unpopular principal of a failing school.

According to PTA President Helen Young, Martin Van Buren High School is brimming with “ineffective leaders,” starting with Principal Marilyn Shevell, who several members of the community called “uninvolved.”

“The [city] still hasn’t gotten it right, and the parents want [these leaders] removed right now,” Young said at a rally held in front of the school on February 9. “I strongly feel that principal Shevell lacks the skill to be a leader and lacks the vision and ability to take our kids to their highest level. It’s time for a change in leadership.”

Martin Van Buren received a “D” in the most recent Department of Education (DOE) progress report, which is based on student progress toward graduation, performance on standardized tests and coursework and student attendance. The Bellerose school scored a “C” in the last two years as well.

“Clearly, the school is failing, and we need to change the leadership to get a new, fresh approach,” said Senator Tony Avella.

The Department of Education (DOE) recently moved eight low-achieving Queens high schools into the School Improvement Grant Program known as Turnaround — which involves the closure and immediate reopening of the school under a different name, along with the replacement of the principal and 50 percent of the teachers.

Although Martin Van Buren is not one of the eight schools slated for Turnaround, Avella said he wanted agency officials to take action before it’s too late.

“I don’t want a situation where next year they get another failing grade, and then you have to say to the community, to the parents and the students, ‘We’re closing the school.’ That’s going to happen unless something changes here. Let’s not dare wait until then. Let’s make the change,” Avella said. “We cannot allow another one of our neighborhood high schools to fail. We cannot let Martin Van Buren become the next Jamaica High School.”

Young said the now “hardly recognizable” school has become a site of plummeting morale since Shevell took over in 2002.

Likewise, sophomore Wendell F. expressed unrest inside the building, telling The Courier he recently got suspended from school after a female classmate punched him in the face.

“I didn’t hit her, but they still suspended me for five days,” he said. “The teachers and the deans, they don’t listen to any of the students. They just suspend us for anything, and we miss days of school. I’m upset about everything, the way they treat all of us. If they end up shutting down this school, I hope it gets reopened into a better school — or I hope they get a different staff.”

The DOE — who Shevell directed questions to — declined to comment.

Pols want to parcel precints into subdivisions


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Local politicians and civic leaders banded together to demand proper police protection in northeast Queens — an area they say is too large geographically and in population density for the current precincts to support all its residents.

According to Senator Tony Avella, the region’s precincts — the 105th and 109th — have been tasked with covering far more than other precincts in Queens.

“Since 2007, the population in these precincts has only increased,” Avella said. “This adds to the pressure the precincts are under to patrol and respond, and it further stretches their limited resources.”

Avella announced his legislation that would divide the 105th and 109th precincts into two separate subdivisions — one representing the northern and one representing the southern portion of the precincts.

According to Assemblymember Edward Braunstein, parts of northeast Queens, including Bay Terrace and Whitestone, are a “considerable distance” from the 109th Precinct’s current headquarters in downtown Flushing.

“In the event of an emergency, it is important that my constituents be in as close proximity as possible to the precinct,” Braunstein said. “Since the 105th Precinct is forced to cover such a large geographic area, many people in Floral Park, Glen Oaks and New Hyde Park believe they have faced a delay in service. This legislation is vital to the safety of our constituents because it would increase response times.”

According to civic leaders, the fight to secure more resources for the two precincts has been a decade-long battle.

“What we’re asking for is our fair share of city resources here in northeast Queens, and we’re just asking for what we deserve,” Braunstein said. “I know that especially in the 109th Precinct, my constituents — especially in Bay Terrace — have been complaining that there is not enough police presence there for years. There are certain places in Whitestone and Bay Terrace where you don’t see a police car ever.”

However, officials say the legislation is not a reflection of the precincts’ commanders and officers. Instead, they said the problem is that the precincts do not have enough resources to patrol the area sufficiently.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for longer than I can remember,” said Warren Schreiber, president of Bay Terrace Community Alliance.

The 105th Precinct covers neighborhoods in Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Bellerose, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Floral Park, while neighborhoods in downtown and east Flushing, including Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst and Bay Terrace fall in the confines of the 109th Precinct.

“People in these precincts deserve proper police protection,” Avella said. “They deserve two precincts. Communities change, population increases. There is perfect logic to have these two precincts split into two. The only reason not to have it is money, and that should not be the reason not to do it. It should be based upon safety and response time.”

Both precincts directed comment to NYPD officials, who did not respond as of press time.

However, a police source said a substantial amount of manpower would be required to build the new precincts and subsequently keep them running.

Senate Redistricting plan is divisive


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Newly-drawn district lines may pit Senate Democrats against one another in a political dogfight.

Under the proposed plan, which was designed by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair Michael Gianaris would face off with Senator Jose Peralta for the right to represent a single, heavily Hispanic district.

“With this brazenly political proposal, Senate Republicans have done more to hurt the cause of fair and independent redistricting in one day than advocates like myself have done to advance the cause after years of advocacy,” Gianaris said. “Today, Senate Republicans return us to the days when Albany was the most dysfunctional capital in the nation by bringing Tom DeLay’s brand of politics to New York. The people of this state will not stand for it, and neither should we.”

Peralta echoed his senatorial partner and potential rival by calling the new lines “egregious.”

“This is a case of petty, election-year politics as arrogant as it is obvious,” Peralta said. “The pledges to redistricting reform by Republicans clearly are not worth the ink used to sign them. If they have at least minimal respect for voters, Republicans will spare New Yorkers further hypocrisy and keep to themselves ridiculous claims that their bold-faced power grab was done in the name of minority enfranchisement.”

Longtime Senator Toby Ann Stavisky would also be matched against Senator Tony Avella — who assumed office in 2011 — sparking speculation that the GOP’s goal is to maintain its slender majority in the Senate by eliminating a number of incumbent Democrats.

The GOP lines also create the Senate’s first Asian-majority district in Flushing. The plan would expand the Senate to 63 members by creating a new seat in a reportedly Republican-dominated area outside of Albany, as well.

“We believe our plan is fair, legal and it protects minority voting interests,” said Scott Reif, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR. “We are very proud of the fact that we create the first Asian-American majority district in Queens centered in Flushing. We also maintain or strengthen every single African-American and Hispanic district in the city. This plan is based on population shifts which occurred over the last 10 years. There are a number of incumbents who are put together in the same district, but this is not based on politics. It is based on demographics and actions that the task force took are to protect minority voting rights.”

According to Reif, nine public hearings will be held throughout the state, during which the public can offer feedback on the plan. LATFOR will hold a hearing for Queens on Tuesday, February 7 at 3 p.m. in Room 213 of Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens.

Peralta, who believes there should be an independent process and commission drawing the lines, believes the notion that the plan was designed to unite communities is preposterous.

“Republicans say it is about brining communities together, but they divided the LeFrak buildings into two districts,” said the senator. “They took the southern part of my district in Elmhurst, which is highly Asian, and they divided it into two districts. The gerrymandering is hurting people because it dilutes the power of the vote. It dilutes the ability for people to come out and choose a candidate that matches their needs.”

Various community groups have expressed outrage over the district map, due to the lines’ dissonant effects on their neighborhoods.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) has strongly objected the plan, which divides the neighborhood among three different senators.

“LATFOR’s decision to split up a one-square-mile neighborhood among three different senators is bewildering and has no basis in the character, demographics or needs of our community,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, WRBA’s communications director. “When it comes to the Senate lines, the people of Woodhaven are being treated as pawns in Albany’s gerrymandering games.”

According to published reports, Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to veto the plan, which he deems partisan.

Repeated attempts to contact the governor’s office went unreturned.

Paving work leads to problems in Flushing


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

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As rain drops sprinkled 32nd Avenue in Flushing, residents wondered if the water would soon make its way into their basements.

Locals are enraged over what they feel is a poor repaving job along their street, which, according to them, has caused excess water to build up during rainstorms, running onto their lawns and eventually trickling into their homes causing structural damage, mold growth and other foundational issues.

“[The repaving done on 32nd Avenue is the] worst repaving job I’ve seen in a long time,” said Senator Tony Avella, who held a press conference on Thursday, January 26 to bring awareness to the issue. “We want the whole thing redone.”

According to Avella, the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently milled off an inch of old asphalt before laying down between three and four inches of new pavement. The new asphalt is now flush with the curb.

“[This poor repaving job is] systematic of how city services are breaking down,” said Avella.

Avella alleged that the paving work was unsuccessful because the original asphalt was not milled down far enough before the new layer was laid, raising the street several inches.

According to the DOT, before the most recent repaving job on 32nd Avenue, the road and the curb were flush with each other. While this work was done to restore the street to its original state, it also addressed the typical wear-and-tear that can lead to uneven, bumpy surfaces.

Paul Graziano, a resident, is upset by the situation he calls an “insulting and obscene” use of locals’ tax dollars.

Graziano, whose parents also live in the area and have experienced flooding in their home since the repaving was completed, alleged that the entire job was done in under three hours.

According to Avella, 32nd Avenue is not the only street in the area that has had recent repaving work.

“If they’re doing a bad job here, they’re doing a bad job somewhere else,” said Avella.

Whitestone property a blight


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Annoyed at the eyesore, local officials are finally addressing an abandoned Whitestone property – located at 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard – in the hopes of rousing the city’s Department of Finances (DOF) into taking action.

Senator Tony Avella and the North East Flushing Civic Association want to convert the dumping ground into a contributing entity of the community.

According to Avella’s representatives, the unidentified owner has failed to pay property taxes since October of 2009, therefore including the property under a list of tax liens – meaning three years has lapsed since the last tax payment was received, so the DOF can now put the property up for sale. Avella’s representatives alleged that the DOF received a check on the final day of payment for $9,772.11 from the property owner on August 3, 2011, removing this property from the 2011 list of tax liens. It was later discovered, according to Avella, that the check bounced.

“Shady things are going on there,” said Avella’s spokesperson Edward Fleming of the area, now consumed by graffiti and garbage. “We all want something put there because it’s an eyesore.”

Avella, who claims he is unsure of the property’s owner, wants to put pressure on the city, particularly the DOF, in hopes they will make changes to what he calls “a classic case of things falling through the cracks.” On Saturday January 14, Avella and Peter Brancazio, President of the North East Flushing Civic Association, gathered at the abandoned lot to bring awareness.

“We’re fortunate that in Queens people keep up their properties,” said Avella. “They shouldn’t have to live next to those eyesores for a decade.”

Avella claims he is committed to doing anything necessary to clean up this abandoned lot, which he says has been a problem for over 10 years. He also said that he hopes to spark legislation stemming from this incident, mandating that property owner’s checks need to be guaranteed.

Strong support for united districts in eastern Queens


| dbeltran@queenscourier.com

Civic leaders, city officials, and residents came to the Eastern Queens United rally recently in support of new district lines to keep eastern queens communities united and maintain a strong voice in politics.

Every 10 years after the census is complete, district lines must be re-drawn. Many residents and civic leaders said that because of the increased diversity, district lines should keep the community united in order to have a strong voice.

“Our collective power is diluted if we’re chopped up, our arguments are less relevant,” said Ali Namji, lawyer and resident of Glen Oaks village.

Several elected officials attended the rally on Thursday, January 12, including Assemblymember David Weprin, Councilmember Mark Weprin and Senator Tony Avella. They all said they were in support of keeping the community united.

“I will vote no,” said Avella. “It’s more important that the community stay together more than my own political aspirations. You have my support no matter what happens.”

Dianna Dalton, who lives on the Queens/Nassau border, said she has trouble proving she lives in New York City when calling for services and said she’s worried about possibly being redistricted into Nassau County.

“I was upset when I heard that. Nassau County isn’t going to care who we are or what we need. We want to stay with the neighborhoods that we border so we have some say in what we need,” Dalton said.

Those living well within eastern queens though are concerned about minority groups having a voice. Jamilla Uddin of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor organization, which works in collaboration with Eastern Queens United, said their main goal is to have a bigger voice for the Southeast Asian community. Uddin said that by having the community united, they will become a majority that can have an effect.

Although no district lines have been drawn up yet by legislators, Namji said that when they are, the people of eastern queens must show up.

“We have to continue to be united, we have to continue to come together. They’re compelled by law to have a hearing in every county with those draft maps. All of us have to be at that hearing. We have to be there in force.”

Pol, residents demand DOT repair broken curbs


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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Queens residents have had their hopes for safe sidewalks curbed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Senator Tony Avella recently united with perturbed residents from northern and eastern Queens – who have suffered with broken curbs in front of their homes for years – to demand the DOT “accelerate” their sidewalk repair program.

“DOT is failing in their responsibility to fix and install these curbs,” said Avella, who believes sidewalk repair is a borough-wide problem. “Unfortunately, it’s the homeowner who suffers in the form of sidewalks and streets that quickly wear away and flooding from the street into their homes. DOT needs to stop ignoring its infrastructure and start doing simple things like curb repair rather than taking on pet projects like adding bike lanes.”

According to the senator, DOT informs residents who report a broken curb that their request has been entered into the curb database for repairs.

Due to a “multiyear backlog,” however, the DOT states they may be unable to perform the reported curb repairs during the calendar year – a delay Avella calls “horrendous and unacceptable.”

A DOT spokesperson said the postponement has been caused by a high volume of repair requests, which greatly outnumber the department’s existing resources.

“Through our active program, DOT allocates $20 million annually to make repairs to sidewalks and curbs,” said the spokesperson. “While requests to address curb conditions outpace available resources, DOT’s contractor works to make curb repairs as efficiently as it can by rotating through community boards citywide.”

With reports of a 23-year backlog, the wait for curb repairs has gone from months to multiple years or decades for some residents.

“We pay some of the highest property taxes in the country to live in this city, and it’s a shame that I have had this broken curb for what seems like forever,” said Catherine Andreucci, a Flushing homeowner who has been on the curb repair list for over seven years. “What makes it worse is the city broke it years ago when they were repairing the street. Ever since then, DOT periodically inspects the curb, but it seems they have no intentions of fixing it anytime soon. We have to park our cars carefully to keep from damaging our tires on the broken pieces.”

Along with the daily safety hazard of living with a defective sidewalk, Avella says residents who report the damage risk receiving violations from the DOT.

“DOT has created the perfect catch 22, where homeowners are required to repair their sidewalks before a curb replacement can be completed,” said the senator. “However, with the extended and uncertain timetable for curb repairs, a homeowner may have to repair their sidewalk several times before the curb is ever marked for repair. The city is forcing homeowners to repair their sidewalks on an immediate timetable while leaving them with no idea of when DOT will repair the curb.”

Dangerous Glen Oaks Intersection to be made safer


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

After touring M.S. 172 in May, Senator Tony Avella learned of dangerous traffic conditions in front of the school on 257th Street. The senator then urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to get involved. The DOT conducted a traffic analysis of the area over the summer and recently announced plans to install “All-Way Stop” controls at the intersection of 257th Street and 81st Avenue. The DOT also said they will advise the commanding officer of the 105th Precinct to monitor for vehicles that double park at the intersection of 257th Street and 82nd Avenues.

“I am extremely pleased that DOT has taken the right steps to ensure the safety of the students at M.S. 175,” stated Avella. “257th Street becomes a safety nightmare during drop off and dismissal times. With so many cars double parked it’s hard for students and motorists to get a clear view of the roadway. The new sign will reduce the ability of additional traffic to enter the scene with a full head of steam.”

Parents and officials say DOE has turned back on Jamaica High School


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

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Even though the Department of Education’s (DOE) decision to close Jamaica High School was finalized in February, current students are still hoping for a quality education.

Currently in the process of being phased out, Jamaica High School no longer accepts new students and is expected to close its doors for good in 2014.

But while class may still be in session, parents and local officials feel the DOE has turned its back on a struggling school.

Senator Tony Avella joined Jamaica High School students and faculty on Monday, December 5 to address what he feels is a lack of support in a school’s time of need.

“The DOE has consistently failed to honor its commitment to Jamaica High School and the students are suffering,” Avella said. “The DOE’s lack of commitment to Jamaica is the reason the school is closing to begin with.”

According to DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas, each school is allotted a certain amount of funds per pupil. He said Jamaica High School also recently received a $50,000 grant for technology and a $221,000 grant from the city because of their Title One status as a failing school.

“We want to give students access to high-quality education, and [the school is not] giving them that,” Thomas said.

But Avella said the school has yet to see a dime.

“They have yet to provide the necessary resources for students and current programs,” said Avella, who alleged that physics, chemistry and French programs have all been cut. He also said that classrooms are overcrowded, paper is scarce and teachers fight over a piece of chalk.
“Not giving them resources is beyond disgraceful, it’s shameful,” said Avella.

Before deciding to close a school, the DOE examines everything from enrollment to school surveys, attendance and progress reports. According to Thomas, Jamaica High School received an “F” on its latest progress report and is in the bottom eight percent of graduation rates across the city. Thomas said that when poorly performing schools are shut down, new schools are set up in their place with new teachers and a new program.

“When we close a school, we aim to open a new, better school in its place,” said Thomas.

Jamaica High School shares a campus with four other schools, including the newly-formed Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences — which recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its first successful semester.