BY PAULINA TAM
Distinguished entrepreneurs and philanthropists from around the borough were crowned as “kings” this Thursday night for their continual financial, medical or cultural contributions during The Queens Courier’s seventh annual “Kings of Queens Awards & Networking Event” at Terrace on the Park.
Courier Publisher Victoria Schneps hosted the event alongside two emcees from Fox 5 News, anchor Antwan Lewis and reporter Teresa Priolo.
“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to meet great people,” Schneps said. “And that is what this evening is all about—networking and meeting great people.”
The “Kings” were first led to the VIP room where they conversed with one another and partook in the traditional group photo where all honorees donned their crowns and red robes. They later participated in a networking event, where they met with vendors from businesses like Charles Schwab, Flushing Bank and Broadway Stages.
Councilman Paul Vallone and his family, which included former Speaker Peter F. Vallone Sr., former Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., Perry Vallone and Joseph Vallone, received the “Men of Honor” awards. The current councilman said his family members were very honored to have received it.
“I think what is happening in Queens is this growth as a county which is quite amazing because of all these years we had separate neighborhoods,” the councilman said. “Now all of a sudden there is a focus beyond your zip code and it’s a progression. Queens is becoming that world-wide hub for people to say ‘We want to go to Queens and that’s where the future is.’”
Honoree, president and CEO Kevin Alexander of Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), a nonprofit organization focused on furthering Rockaway’s economic position, said that although he felt honored to receive the recognition, a feeling of not having done enough remained.
“[The RDRC] is focused on human capital development so that means we’re working with a lot of low-income people and trying to get them self-sufficient in terms of developing their work force skills or financial management,” Alexander said. “So long as there are families that we haven’t been able to get to that next level, there are always more things to be done.”
Another honoree, president and CEO Andrew Baumann of New York Families for Autistic Children, an organization focused on providing assistance to families who have children with autism, said being a “King” was humbling.
“We love to network, meet people and talk to people about what we do for children with disabilities,” Baumann said. “If I can meet one family who needs help tonight I will be good.”
Baumann also stressed the importance of big and small businesses to come together and work with one another, a necessity that could be accomplished through the event’s networking opportunities. Fellow “King” and SVP relationship manager at financial service provider Citibank, Peter Bonet, agreed.
“The backbone of the borough has always been small and mid-size businesses,” Bonet said. “They bring a lot of enthusiasm, jobs and excitement into a borough which is what people want to see.”
Dale Carnegie Training (DCT), a small career training development company, was one of the many vendors in the expo. Participating in the expo gave small companies like DCT opportunities to get their names out there, according to Client Service Specialist Kristen Pellegrin of DCT.
“The larger organizations can really benefit from smaller organizations because they are subject matter experts,” Pellegrin said. “We’re able to learn all the different facets of the company whereas in a larger organization it might not be possible.”
Besides feeling honored at the event, some “Kings” cited the explosion of growth of Queens businesses as something that is foreseeable in the near future.
“The wonderful thing about Queens is that Queens has a natural infrastructure for transportation,” director of PDE Preconstruction Services Christopher Woods said. “We got two airports, the Long Island Rail Road and all the different roadways so any improvements that are made to the infrastructure we will improve the economic and cultural strength of the borough.”
Vice president and market manager of Peoples United Bank Michael Albarella agreed, citing the borough as “the most diverse place in the world” and “the new hot bed” for business expansion, perhaps even rivaling Manhattan’s economic growth in the future.
Ninety-five percent of all the employees from expo vendor Crystal Windows, a commercial and retail windows and doors company, are from Queens, outside sales executive Joe Zhao of Crystal said.
“We hire almost 300 people and we’re a small business but we are also a big family,” Zhao said. “Queens is our home and hiring local people is a big contribution to the borough.”
A special Lifetime Achievement Award was given to “King,” Max Kupferberg, a philanthropist and retired chairman of the board of KEPCO Inc., a business dedicated to manufacturing electronic power materials for military and commercial needs.
One woman, executive director of Forest Hills Hospital Rita Mercieca, RN, accepted the crown on behalf of recipient, president and CEO of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Center, Michael Dowling.
But what made this year’s Kings of Queens event particularly special was that eight exceptional men were inducted into the first ever Hall of Fame. They included Joseph M. Mattone, Sr., chairman and CEO, Mattone Group; John R. Buran, president and CEO, Flushing Bank; Michael Dowling, president and CEO, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System; Joseph R. Ficalora, president and CEO, NYCB Family of Banks; Michael Meyer, president, F&T Group; Peter M. Meyer, market president New York City, TD Bank; Al Pennisi, attorney, president, Queens Chamber of Commerce; and Hal G. Rosenbluth, president, Kaufman Astoria Studios.
The complete list of Queens of Kings honorees include Michael Albarella, VP, market manager, People’s United Bank; Kevin Alexander, president and CEO Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation; Phil Andrews president, L.I. African American Chamber of Commerce; is Jugal Agarwal, CFO, Atlantic Dialysis Management Services; Andrew Baumann; President and CEO, NY Families For Autistic Children; Peter Bonet, SVP relationship manager, Citibank; John J. Ciafone, attorney at law, The Law office of John J. Ciafone; Tom Clarke, president/CFO, Clarke Restaurant Group; Raymond J. DeNatale, IRI executive director, Independence Residences, Inc.; Dr. Arthur Flug, executive director The Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College; Dr. Conn Foley, senior vice president, Parker Jewish Institute; Peter Frantzis, manager, TD Bank; Robert Gaskin, principal, RCGA Architects – Interior Designers; Dan Hendrick, vice president, New York League of Conservation Voters; Dr. Viren Jhaveri, director, Prestige Dental Care; Father Walter Jenkins, president, Holy Cross High School; Sushil Kumar, president, Trinity Tax & Financial Solutions, Inc.; Leon Y. Lee, president/chairman of the board, Long Island Business Institute, Rob MacKay, director of public relations, Queens Economic Development Corp.; Alfred Magliano CLF senior partner, New York Life Insurance Company; Steven L. Mendelsohn, M.D., CEO, Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology; Albert Perna, founder, Perna Foundation For Kids; Juan (Rick) Rosa, executive VP and managing director Douglas Elliman; Dennis Weinstein, director of advertising, Touro College; and Christopher Woods, director of DBE Preconstruction Services, McKissack & McKissack.