Tag Archives: Tony Avella

Tony Avella joins NY State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

State Senator Tony Avella is joining the New York State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), he announced Wednesday. 

He will be the fifth member of the breakaway faction of Senate Democrats — led by Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx — who share majority control of the chamber with Republicans.

“Under Senator Klein’s leadership, the IDC has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families,” Avella said. “They have shown an ability to get big things done, without the dysfunction of years past.”

The cross-aisle conference, formed in 2011, also includes Senators Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida and David Carlucci of Westchester.

Avella, elected to the Senate in 2010 after two terms in the City Council, is also the only member from Queens.

State Senator Malcolm Smith, of southeast Queens, joined the conference in December 2012 and helped the IDC and Republicans take leadership. Klein stripped Smith of his IDC membership, however, after his arrest last year on federal corruption charges.

Conference members praised Avella for his passion and knowledge.

“Senator Avella has built a career fighting for those who are most in need, so I am thrilled to welcome him to the IDC,” Carlucci said. “He has the experience, passion and know-how to make a major impact on state policy.”

Klein said Avella’s public service experience makes him the “type of seasoned legislator who knows how to get things done.”

“He will be a major asset in our fight to make New York more affordable for working families,” Klein said.

The switch, however, is said to hurt Senate Democrats’ efforts to reclaim control in the chamber.

Senate Democratic Conference spokesperson Mike Murphy said in a statement that it was “unfortunate that progressive policies continue to be stymied because of divisions created by senators who choose to empower Republicans.”

Astoria Senator Mike Gianaris, the deputy minority leader, declined to comment.

The move also upset some of the senator’s usual supporters.

“It’s  disloyal and it’s not fair to the people of the 11th Senate District who have worked very hard for Tony over the years,” said Democratic State Committeeman Matt Silverstein. “What he did was self-centered and disgraceful.” 

Avella is up for re-election this year. He dropped out of a contentious race for Queens borough president last year, citing “unfinished business in Albany” as a major factor to his decision.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Officials tweak contentious T Building plan


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A controversial plan to turn the historic T Building into housing for mental and chronic health patients has slightly changed, but it is still on the table, The Courier has learned.

In late 2012, Queens Hospital Center (QHC) was in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to develop the dilapidated 10-story building on its Hillcrest campus into 251 units of affordable housing for people with low-income and chronic health conditions.

Residents would include veterans and people suffering from psychiatric diagnoses or a range of illnesses, from diabetes to AIDS.

The bid was met with fierce opposition from a coalition of civic leaders and elected officials, who said the “questionable population” could put children at nearby schools in danger.

Now a new version of the project is being bandied about, said sources close to the hospital and confirmed by local leaders.

Hospital officials hope to compromise and house fewer patients than originally proposed. The number is still up in the air, but a source said there would still be more than 100 patients.

“The plan keeps changing, but never actually gets formally introduced,” said Councilmember Rory Lancman, who learned of the new concept last week. “I don’t know if this idea will gel into a plan more than the last one.”

Several proposals are on the table, said Celia Dosamantes, a spokesperson for Assemblymember David Weprin, though the Comunilife plan is still front and center.

“There is room for discussion, which is good news,” she said.

Last month, Community Board 8 approved a resolution to demolish the T Building after a request from State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblymember Nily Rozic.

“This building is in serious disrepair,” Avella said, adding that it costs the hospital $2 million a year to maintain. “Money that is going into that building is taking away from patient care. That building should come down.”

But Queens preservationists are appealing to the city and state to save and landmark the former tuberculosis clinic.

“This hospital is part of a great war against disease, poverty and hardship,” Queens Preservation Council Chair Mitchell Grubler said.

The next step for the site heavily depends on money.

Funds for the multi-million dollar housing unit have not been secured yet, sources said, and it was unclear how much it would cost to dismantle.

“It’s hard to distinguish between a plan and merely an idea that isn’t going anywhere,” Lancman said. “Last time, there was all smoke and noise and nothing ever came of it.”

Queens Hospital Center spokesperson Cleon Edwards said officials are still working to find a resolution that “seeks to balance concerns” of the community with the hospital’s “obligation to provide high quality healthcare services to its patients.”

Comunilife did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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Sen. Tony Avella, park advocates sue to stop Citi Field mega mall


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy NYCEDC

State Senator Tony Avella and a long list of Queens park advocates are suing the city to stop a mega mall from coming to Citi Field.

The 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center is part of a major $3 billion project by Sterling Equities and Related Companies to redevelop Willets Point.

The ambitious and controversial plan, approved Oct. 9 by the City Council, also includes the cleanup of 23 acres of contaminated land and the eventual construction of housing units with commercial and retail space.

The group filed the suit Feb. 10 in New York County Supreme Court, saying the project cannot proceed without state Legislature approval under a doctrine that protects state parkland.

The suit also seeks annulments of city approvals.

“It’s a serious principle here,” Avella said. “If the city is allowed to get away with this, what’s to stop them next time? If we keep giving it away, someday we’ll wake up and there will be no parks.”

 

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Op-ed: Prohibit the installation of tolls


| oped@queenscourier.com

 STATE SENATOR TONY AVELLA

Once again, congestion pricing plans, which include the imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, have been circulating throughout the city.  Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg first began to push his own congestion pricing plan in 2008, I have been vehemently against congestion pricing in any form whether it is through charging drivers a fee to enter Manhattan or through the implementation of tolls on the East River bridges.  Congestion pricing in any form is nothing more than an undue tax on working and middle class families and small businesses. That is why I recently held a press conference with Assemblymember David Weprin, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Queens Civic Congress, announcing legislation I will be introducing in the State Senate that would prohibit the installation of tolls on any bridges controlled and operated by the City of New York, which include the East River bridges.

The imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, including the Willis Avenue, Third Avenue, Queensborough, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, is not a revenue-generating option that the residents of this city should be forced to endure.  Such tolls would place an unfair burden upon Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan residents who would be forced to pay to travel between the boroughs.  Given the always increasing cost of living in the city and with constant bus and subways fare hikes, city residents are in no position to again face another huge increase in their daily living expenses.

Penalizing businesses, especially small businesses, and individuals for using their cars is not a viable option or solution for reducing traffic.  New Yorkers still need to get to work and conduct business and raising taxes should never be the first option.  It would have a devastating effect on those families near or at the poverty level.  Everyone agrees that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit.

A popular plan being circulated by an organization called Move NY, led by former Transportation Commissioner Sam Schwartz, would charge all drivers that enter Manhattan by crossing either the East River or 60th Street a toll, while drivers on bridges linking the other boroughs, would see their tolls go down.  According to Move NY, this would lead to more funds dedicated to transportation in the region, with the majority of it going to improved transit service.

In a perfect world, this plan could work.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in the real world, where the next fiscal crisis could be just around the corner.  What happens to this plan then?  What happens when the legislature raids the funds dedicated to transportation, which has happened time and again? How can this plan guarantee that the tolls for the outer borough bridges don’t go up again, when more funds are needed?  As the saying goes, there are only two guarantees in life-death and taxes.

In the end, congestion pricing and any plan to impose tolls on the East River bridges is merely another revenue generating plan, not a traffic-reducing plan.  It should be the responsibility of the leaders of the city to find ways of decreasing traffic congestion without placing a new fiscal burden upon those who can least afford it.

Avella represents the 11th Senate District

 

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Queens legislators balk at plans to toll East River bridges


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A plan to reduce five Queens bridge fares by nearly half is not worth tolling free city crossings, some borough lawmakers say.

Under a proposal by transportation coalition, Move NY, drivers in the cash lane would have to pay $7.50 one way and $15 round trip to travel across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Ed Koch Queensboro bridges. 

It would also cost the same amount to cross 60th Street in Manhattan, north and southbound.

As a trade-off, E-ZPass tolls on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial bridges would be lowered by 47 percent. Cash fares on those bridges would go down by 33 percent.

“We toll nearly every single crossing between every borough in the five boroughs of New York City already, yet we’re giving over half a million folks a free ride,” said Move NY Director Alex Matthiessen. “It’s not fair to transit riders and certainly not fair to other drivers, who are paying through the nose in tolls.”

The electronic tolling plan, which would require no booths, would raise $1.5 billion in net revenue toward improving the state’s mass transit infrastructure, create 35,000 new jobs and restore bus service cut in 2010, Matthiessen said.

Motorists paying cash would be billed by mail, easing gridlock by dispersing traffic throughout the city, according to Matthiessen and Kendra Hems, president of the New York State Motor Truck Association.

But some Queens legislators balked at the idea.

“I am skeptical about tolling the free bridges because once the free bridges are tolled and the infrastructure is in place, we all know from experience that it would be very hard to reverse that,” said Assemblymember David Weprin.

The plan also failed to get support from Councilmember Eric Ulrich and State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who have been fighting to eliminate the $3.75 cash toll residents have to pay on the Cross Bay Bridge to enter the Rockaways.

“Imposing tolls on motorists on bridges that are currently free is not the right way to go,” Ulrich said. “The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s not ‘take this or that.’”

While the Cross Bay Bridge toll has been a “major thorn” in the community’s side, Addabbo said the swap is not enough.

“At this point, cutting it in half would ease the pain by half,” he said. “It would still be half the pain.”

It also costs residents on the peninsula the same amount to get into Brooklyn on the Gil Hodges.

State Senator Tony Avella said the rates, while discounted in the first year, would only increase annually. He plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit tolls on East River bridges.

“The two things for sure in this world are death and taxes,” he said.

Move NY is led by Sam Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner. The ambitious tolling plan is in its drafting stage, officials said, and still requires public input.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have tolls at all,” Hems said. “But, unfortunately, we do and we have this inequity right now.”

THE COURIER/File photo by Walter Karling

 

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Council vote OKs Bayside school on Keil Bros. site


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A controversial proposal to build a school in Bayside sailed through the City Council last week, despite the community’s overwhelming opposition.

The city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) needed the Council’s final ruling in order to go through with plans to build a new elementary school at the site of the Keil Bros. Garden Center and Nursery.

Owners of the popular garden center sold their 210-11 48th Avenue property to the city for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.

The City Council approved the application last Thursday, with only Queens legislators Mark Weprin and Peter Vallone Jr. voting no.

“I had opposed the school because I didn’t think it was the best site for a school to begin with,” Weprin said. “I wasn’t even convinced about the need for the school.”

Nearby homeowners said the 456-seat institution would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

The contentious plan even led to two rowdy residents threatening SCA officials in May, when the proposal was first presented to the public at a heated Community Board 11 meeting.

The board had just shot down the application in an advisory vote when a male resident threatened to break an SCA representative’s legs and a woman allegedly followed another official in a car, The Courier reported.

“The community is very much against it,” Weprin said. “The Department of Education decided we needed a school there. I haven’t met anybody in the community who is dying to have a school there.”

But many local educators who support the plan said the new school would relieve heavy congestion in the district’s 21 elementary schools. At least three schools have had to put classrooms in space originally meant for libraries or music rooms, according to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of CB 11.

The SCA said its site selection process began in 2008. The authority honed in on the Bayside location this April. The DOE did not comment on when construction would begin.

Meanwhile, a battle still brews between the district’s state senator and its new councilmember.

State Senator Tony Avella claims Councilmember-elect Paul Vallone snubbed the community by supporting the proposal behind closed doors.

Vallone, who does not cast a Council vote until January, has “never voiced support for the school site,” his spokesperson said.

“Tony must not have gotten the memo — he’s not the councilman anymore,” said spokesperson Austin Finan. “Moving forward, Paul Vallone will not be responding to the lies perpetuated by Senator Avella who has clearly demonstrated he is more focused on personal vendettas than he is the future of northeast Queens.”

 

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Star of Queens: Janet McEneaney, president of Queens Quiet Skies, Community Board 11 member


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Janet McEneaney

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Janet McEneaney works as an attorney, arbitrator and mediator and is a professor on the adjunct faculty at New York University, where she teaches law and business subjects, in addition to her work with the community. After experiencing some neighborhood problems shortly after McEneaney arrived in Bayside, she began a civic association.

In 2008, State Senator Tony Avella appointed McEneaney to serve as a member of Community Board 11. In 2012, after noticing an increase in noise from airplanes, McEneaney organized Queens Quiet Skies.

“Queens Quiet Skies has worked with Congressmembers Steve Israel and Grace Meng, Senator Tony Avella, Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, many other elected officials and representatives of aviation community groups and municipalities in Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau County and northern New Jersey,” explained McEneaney. “Together we have pushed to established a Community Aviation Roundtable, to increase the number of noise monitors on the runways at our local airports, to convince the FAA to implement a current environmental study rather than relying on a study from 2007, as they plan to do, and to have the Port Authority conduct noise compatibility studies in our communities around the airports.”

BACKGROUND: McEneaney was born in Brooklyn, lived in Rego Park for 25 years, then moved to Bayside where she has lived since. McEneaney received her J.D. degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a Masters of Law degree from the University of Leicester School of Law in England.

FAVORITE MEMORY: “My best recent moment was when we received a letter from the entire Congressional delegation headed by Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand that endorsed the establishment of a Community Aviation Roundtable; that felt like a victory for everybody.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: McEneaney says her biggest challenge has been “to not get bogged down in interpersonal relationships and to always keep your eyes on the prize.”

INSPIRATION: “I’ve been thinking a lot about [advocate] Bella Abzug, she really was somebody who was committed to the welfare of ordinary New York people. There have been a lot of people who have worked very hard for the benefit of their communities, and they have been my inspiration.”

MELISSA FERRARI

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup

TODAY’S FORECAST  

Thursday: Clear in the morning, then partly cloudy. High of 79. Winds from the WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Thursday night: Partly cloudy in the evening, then clear. Low of 66. Winds from the WSW at 5 to 10 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Rooftop Films: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Rooftop Films presents a sneak preview of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. This feature film won the Cinematography Award at Sundance. The event, taking place at the Queens County Farm Museum at 8 p.m., will include live music, food and drink. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Tony Avella drops out of Queens borough president race

The once-crowded Democratic race for Queens borough president is now down to two. Read more: The Queens Courier

High carbon monoxide levels force evacuation of eight buildings in Astoria

Fifty people were evacuated from eight buildings in Astoria Wednesday evening after high levels of carbon monoxide were detected, said the FDNY. Read more: The Queens Courier

City raises the price of public school lunch for first time in 10 years

The city will raise the price of a public school lunch from $1.50 to $1.75 beginning Sept. 30, education officials revealed Wednesday — but more students will eat for free. Read more: New York Daily News 

Civic Virtue’s noisy legacy continues on Queens Blvd.

The controversial statue, “Triumph of Civic Virtue,” is long gone from its perch on Queens Blvd. — but its noisy legacy remains. Read more: New York Daily News

I’m sorry that I hurt the United States': Bradley Manning apologizes in court

Private Bradley Manning, convicted of handing state secrets to WikiLeaks, on Wednesday told the sentencing part of his court martial that he was sorry for his actions and for hurting the United States. Read more: NBC News

Tony Avella drops out of Queens borough president race


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

The once-crowded Democratic race for Queens borough president is now down to two.

State Senator Tony Avella dropped his bid for the seat Wednesday, citing “unfinished business in Albany” as one of his reasons, his campaign said.

“It has become clear that there is still a lot of work left to be done,” Avella said. “At this time, I believe I can best serve the people of Queens by remaining a State Senator.”

Avella, who had low fundraising totals, was facing off with former legislator Melinda Katz and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. in the Democratic primary. Everly Brown is also on the ballot but has kept a low profile since announcing.

“From protecting against the threat of hydrofracking to preserving women’s rights, there is a lot of unfinished business in Albany,” Avella said, “and I hope to take more of a leadership role in helping address these important issues, which reverberate beyond Queens and affect people across the entire state.”

The race to replace term-limited Borough President Helen Marshall once had many contenders. Councilmember Leroy Comrie withdrew his bid last month.

Avella’s name will still be on the ballot during the September 10 primary election.

“This was certainly not an easy decision and I am eternally grateful for the overwhelming amount of support I received from people throughout Queens,” he said. “Queens is my home borough and I will never stop fighting and advocating for all residents of Queens.”

Vallone, who often clashed with Avella in debates, said the two “disagreed on some things but agreed on many others.”

“I look forward to working with him and his constituents to make a better Queens,” Vallone said.

Katz praised Avella for being “a forceful voice for more open, honest and transparent government in Albany.”

“His presence in this race brought the focus to real issues facing voters around our borough,” she said, “including education, affordable housing and better healthcare for all Queens residents.”

The winner will run against Republican candidate Tony Arcabascio in November.

 

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Candidates come out to Rockaway Beach


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Benjamin Fang

BENJAMIN FANG

Political candidates recently spoke at the Friends of Rockaway Beach forum, where they affirmed their commitment to address the needs of the Rockaway community.

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner headlined the forum for the district he once represented in Congress. Democratic mayoral candidates Comptroller John Liu, former Councilmember Sal Albanese and Republicans John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota also made their cases to the voters.

Borough President candidates Melinda Katz and State Senator Tony Avella, Councilmember Eric Ulrich and his challengers Lew Simon and William Ruiz, and Public Advocate candidates Letitia James and Cathy Guerriero also addressed the packed room.

“We’re going to ask them to tell us their plans for our beaches, our boardwalk, our play areas,” said John Cori, co-president of Friends of Rockaway Beach and the organizer of the event. “We need to hold our elected officials accountable.”

The candidates talked about greater protection for the beach, improving transportation to and from Rockaway and giving the community a greater voice in City Hall.

Weiner, recently scandalized once more for “sexting,” slammed City Hall for creating “hipster-looking concessions” on the beach rather than restoring it. He also demanded extended ferry service, which is set to end by Labor Day.

“Rockaway might be this far away place to City Hall, but it won’t be if I’m mayor,” he said.
Katz then questioned the city’s readiness and response to Sandy, a topic the audience was hoping to discuss.

“Where are the double dunes that will protect the homes?” asked Katz. “Where’s the evacuation plan?”

She also talked about investing in the Rockaways and building it “better than it was.”
Avella blasted both Katz and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., two leading candidates for Borough President, for their voting records while in the City Council.

Avella’s plan for the Rockaways includes giving the area a railroad line, getting rid of tolls and 24 hours of bus service.

Ulrich touted his record in the City Council and stressed how participatory budgeting gave way to success.

“In those four-and-a-half years, I’ve been able to secure, with your help, millions and millions of dollars in capital improvements and programming for senior centers, for schools, for libraries, to keep our firehouses open,” he said.

His challenger, Simon, gave an impassioned speech about the devastated community and the need to rebuild it.

“There’s no boardwalk. There are no benches. There’s nothing here!” said Simon. “I want to be chair of the Parks and Recreation committee. I want to make sure our boardwalk is built.”

Other candidates for mayor and public advocate also courted the Rockaway vote and spoke about focusing on the Rockaways if elected.

 

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Republican Arcabascio to run for Borough President


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

An Astoria technology professional is eyeing a Borough Hall run as a Republican, making the race for borough president a little tighter.

Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio confirmed his candidacy and expects to receive county endorsement soon.

Arcabascio, who ran his own technology company for 13 years, made his debut in the political world last year when he ran an unsuccessful race against State Senator Michael Gianaris for District 12.

Now, looking to represent the whole borough, Arcabascio said he wants to bring his experience as the only non-elected official to the table.

“I haven’t been caught up in politics for my whole career,” he esaid.

A product of Jackson Heights, Arcabascio, 52, will face one of six Democrats vying for the spot: Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Peter Vallone Jr., State Senators Jose Peralta and Tony Avella, former Councilmember and former Assemblymember Melinda Katz and former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik.

The Dems will face off in a September 10 primary.

Arcabascio, who nabbed the GOP endorsement for Senate last year, expects to pick it back up for borough president. Queens Republican chair Phil Ragusa said the candidate is going through the screening process for the endorsement, and a formal announcement should come soon.

With his background in technology, Arcabascio said he is open to bringing more of the industry’s jobs to the borough, especially in western areas such as Long Island City and Maspeth.

“We have a lot of empty factories in Queens,” he said. “One of the things I believe would be my responsibility as the number one cheerleader for Queens is to get businesses here.”

 

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Race to replace embattled Councilmember Dan Halloran underway


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photos

The first Republican candidate has thrown his hat in the ring to replace federally-indicted Councilmember Dan Halloran.

Dennis Saffran, 57, said he is running in the 19th Council District to restore “the tradition of integrity and honesty in government.”

The attorney from Douglaston ran for the seat in 2001 and narrowly lost to then-Councilmember Tony Avella.

“I’m the strongest Republican candidate,” Saffran said. “I have a record of citywide and community involvement.

I’ve been active in issues that turned New York City around.”

Saffran is the vice president of the Douglaston Civic Association and works for the Nassau County Attorney’s office.

Halloran faces conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud charges over allegations he helped State Senator Malcolm Smith try to buy his way to the Republican mayoral nomination. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged a number of other state and city officials in the case as well.

“He and I have never seen eye to eye on a lot of issues,” Saffran said of Halloran. “Given his arrest and indictment, he’s presumably not running, as far as I know. Nobody’s going to support him if he does. There’s essentially an open council seat.”

There are also reports a former election foe of Halloran will seek his council spot. All City Council seats along with the mayor’s office will be on the ballot in November. Halloran’s office could be up for special election before then, although Halloran has made no indication he will resign.

The Korea Daily reports Democrat Kevin Kim, who lost a 2009 bid for the district seat to Halloran, has been mulling a run.

Insiders say Republican Rudy S. Giuliani, second cousin to ex-mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and current chief of staff to Councilmember Eric Ulrich, might also be a candidate. Neither he nor Kim have made any official announcements about Halloran’s seat.

Democratic candidates who announced bids for Halloran’s seat prior to his arrest include ex-Assemblymember John Duane, attorney Paul Vallone, former governor’s aide Austin Shafran and urban planner Paul Graziano.

 

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Candidates focus on development at Borough President forum


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

DSC_0012

Questions regarding development at Willets Point, directed mainly at three of the six candidates, became a significant part of a recent forum for borough president.

Councilmembers Peter Vallone Jr. and Leroy Comrie, State Senators Jose Peralta and Tony Avella, former Councilmember and Assemblymember Melinda Katz and former Deputy BP Barry Grodenchik took the stage at the Friday, April 12 meeting, co-hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce and St. John’s University.

Specific questions were directed at each candidate, with Comrie, Vallone and Peralta each addressing how, if elected, he would reshape the area known as the Iron Triangle.

Peralta harkened on making Queens a destination location – a policy of incumbent Helen Marshall. With the planned “Tech Campus” coming to Roosevelt Island, Peralta suggested pushing for a tech sector near Willets Point. But affordable housing and better infrastructure are the first step, he said.

Comrie, who chairs the Council’s Land Use Committee, said he’s open to re-exploring a convention center at Willets Point. He also mentioned a potential center at Aqueduct, where Governor Andrew Cuomo had originally proposed one.

“We really need a convention center for the borough,” Comrie said, adding better transportation options would need to be explored for south Queens if convention center talks resurged.

Vallone said Queens residents, in a recent poll, would like to see full-gaming in the borough at Resorts World Casino New York City.

The councilmember, however, is also open to a convention center or further retail shops at the site. But, he said, it would have to be the community’s call on what goes there.

There is about 4.5 million-square-feet of Willets Point the city plans on developing over the next few decades, once the projects on either side of Citi Field are completed.

The borough president’s role in Queens, better transportation and small business growth were also hot topics at the business-focused forum.

Traditionally, a Beep has been branded a “cheerleader” for Queens, but most felt it was more than that.

Grodenchik said he viewed the role as a leader and if elected, he wanted more to be “the quarterback of Queens.”

Katz, who chaired the Land Use Committee before Comrie, touted her record of working across the city and what it takes to be borough president.

“You should be able to create an economic vision for the borough of Queens,” she said. “I think it’s important to span that throughout the borough.”

State Senator Tony Avella said the borough president needed to also serve as a public advocate for the diverse neighborhoods, and the “mom and pop” small businesses who often get hit with city fines.

 

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Bayside rallies to save after-school program


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A community rallied in Bayside to save a beloved Beacon program from another year of budget cuts.

“This feels like déjà vu. Year in and year out, we have more and more budget cuts,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “We cannot balance budgets on the backs of our students.”

The after-school enrichment program at M.S. 158 Marie Curie is slated for closure at the end of the school year. It was saved from the chopping block by the City Council last year after the Department of Youth and Community Development tried to shut down seven Beacons across the city.

“These types of cuts go on year after year. It’s a continual battle with the city to restore the funding,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “We have a fight on our hands, but the community stands behind this Beacon center.”

Beacon has been a “support system” for 20 years and the only program within Community Board 11, said Martenia Miller, site director of the school’s Beacon program.

More than 100 students take part in the enrichment program daily. Nearly 70 of them are on the school’s honor roll, Miller said.

Community Board 11 chair Jerry Iannece said the city mistakes the program as a luxury.

“This is a necessity,” he said. “Although we live in an affluent area with nice homes, lots of the kids who go to the Beacon program are kids who need it. We all have to rally our forces, circle our wagons and do everything we can to keep this program here.”

Beacon operates after school, on weekends, school holidays and throughout the summer. It focuses on leadership and skill growth, serving youth and adults.

There are 80 Beacon programs citywide.

Miller said the program at M.S. 158 boasts a talented chamber orchestra, a dance team, literacy classes and gym.

“Beacon helps kids get a place to stay, helps unemployment, helps kids socialize and become more active,” said Anna Poubouridis, 13. “In my opinion, those are some very important things.”

 

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Queens pol wants to allow pet pigs in NYC


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alexa Altman

Despite citations, several swine owners are refusing to fork over the pork.

State Senator Tony Avella wants to overturn city guidelines prohibiting residents from owning domesticated pigs as pets after constituents squealed for support.

“I try to get the city to crack down on illegal construction, illegal contractors where workers have died, where neighboring property owners have been disenfranchised and they have to sue, and I can’t get the city to do as much enforcement on those serious construction sites as they are doing with one family with a very small pet,” said Avella.

“The city should be consistent with the level of enforcement it conducts across the board.”

Lou and Danielle Forgione picked up their porky pal after Danielle’s brother Peter was killed in a motorcycle accident in March 2012. Searching for a pet to lift the spirits of their six saddened children proved tricky when their six-year-old son Nicky displayed a severe allergy to pet dander. A pediatrician suggested they consider a pig. Ten months ago, the Forgione’s adopted Petey, named after Danielle’s late brother.

“[Petey] brings joy right back to us,” said Lou. “The kids were suffering in school. My wife was suffering from depression and anxiety. It brought the cheer right back to the family. He’s doing his job and he’s fantastic. You can’t ask for anything more.”

Since adopting Petey, the Forgiones have received several citations from the Health Department, including one that asked they “dispose” of their beloved pet. The co-op board of their Whitestone complex recently threatened to evict the family. Rather than relinquish Petey, the Forgione’s set their sights on more “pig friendly” pastures, selling their home and moving to Suffolk County.

“We really love him,” said Joseph, the Forgione’s 13-year-old son. “He’s a part of our family. He’s like a brother to me.”

Avella believes the rule against owning a pig is a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) regulation, rather than a law that will need to be amended.

Navy veteran Nadine Darsanlal takes her 50-pound pet pig Wilbur to visit patients at hospitals and nursing homes and students at elementary schools. Darsanlal, who while in the service contracted bacterial meningitis that paralyzed her stomach and left her requiring the use a feeding tube and a pain pump, said she was “shocked” to discover the city outlawed ownership of the animal that brought happiness to her life and the lives of others.

“[Pigs] are gentler, they’re kinder, they’re more intelligent and they’re cleaner. They are just lovely animals to have,” said Darsanlal. “Not only does he help me out but I kind of want to give back and help others out.”

The College Point resident trained her precious piggy to complete small tasks, including retrieving items Darsanlal accidentally drops to keep her from having to painfully bend over. While Wilbur provides physical assistance, it’s the emotional support he gives that makes him more than just a pet.

“He’s a companion. He gets me up and going in the morning and helps me not think about my illness,” said Darsanlal. “It’s a lot that I’m dealing with, but I can deal with it because I’ve got my little baby.”

 

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