The Queens Courier is taking a look back at the year gone by, from the inauguration of a new mayor to the horrifying derailment of an F train under Queens Boulevard. The year saw more political ups and downs, tragedies and celebrations. Our high school basketball teams were champions and Queens was named the best place to visit in the nation. Looking forward to 2015, we wish our readers a very happy new year.
New York City’s 109th mayor, Bill de Blasio, was sworn in during a ceremony at his Brooklyn home just after midnight on Jan. 1 followed by a formal inauguration on the steps of City Hall later that day. Telling New Yorkers, “Our work begins today,” in his inauguration speech de Blasio pledged to expand the paid sick leave law, require big developers to build affordable housing, stem the tide of hospital closures, reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy, and provide universal, full-day pre-K and after-school programs for middle schoolers.
Snowfall in parts of the borough was reportedly as high as 11.5 inches during Hercules, the first major snowstorm of 2014. The weather event was also the first real test of the de Blasio administration, beginning on his second day in office. The rest of the 2014 winter season would not only challenge New Yorkers’ patience, but also that of the new mayor as he faced criticism over school closings and snow removal.
The search for 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo came to a devastating end four months after the autistic teen went missing from his Long Island City school when his remains were found washed up in College Point on Jan. 16. On Jan. 25, hundreds of mourners came out to say goodbye at the Rego Park resident’s funeral where he was remembered as a silent yet always smiling, courageous boy. The medical examiner later ruled the cause and manner of his death as undetermined.
Vice President Joe Biden, while speaking about infrastructure in Philadelphia on Feb. 5, said LaGuardia Airport was similar to a “third-world country.” The comments immediately went viral and drew some negative reactions, including from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said it wasn’t Biden’s “finest moment.”
A Forest Hills restaurant suffered thousands of dollars in damage when a Department of Sanitation plow truck struck a garbage can full of snow, ice and debris, which then hit the eatery, according to police. The Feb. 13 incident at Exo Café on Austin Street was caught on video and the footage quickly spread online. The accident not only damaged the eatery’s winter vestibule and shattered some of its windows, but also injured two customers.
Photo courtesy of Exo Café
A local TV station said it caught a vehicle carrying Mayor Bill de Blasio breaking multiple traffic laws as it was driving back from a press conference on potholes in Maspeth on Feb. 20. According to CBS New York, which captured the incident on video, de Blasio’s two-vehicle caravan exceeded the speed limit, went through a stop sign and changed lanes without signaling. The incident came on the heels of the mayor’s Vision Zero plan to end traffic deaths.
The Long Island City area prepared for another round of No. 7 train suspensions that were slated to start in the end of February and take place on most weekends through the fall. The service disruptions again upset residents and business owners who were fed up with the constant disruptions on the line. Though an impending storm delayed the suspensions and the MTA agreed to help promote Long Island City during the shutdowns, the agency did not agree to a shuttle bus from Vernon Boulevard through the Queens Midtown Tunnel into the city.
The Benjamin Cardozo boys basketball team defeated Thomas Jefferson High School to win the PSAL Division AA city championship on March 9. The same day, the Francis Lewis Lady Patriots girls basketball team won its first PSAL Division AA championship. On March 10, the Christ the King boys basketball team won the CHSAA Class AA intersectional championship game, clinching a back-to-back city title.
A Norman Rockwell painting worth more than a million dollars was recovered months after it disappeared from a Maspeth storage facility, police announced on March 12. The piece, entitled “Sport,” went missing from Grand Avenue’s WelPak Art Moving and Storage on Sept. 13, 2013. Painted in 1939, the work was signed by the artist. It was reportedly recovered in Ohio by a private investigator and no one was charged at the time.
On March 28, Astoria let the world know that is it the place to be for the arts with the announcement of the designation of the Kaufman Arts District, the first of its kind in the borough. It was created in partnership with Kaufman Astoria Studios, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Queens Council on the Arts. Its mission is “to advance and promote the area as a world-class vibrant cultural destination and home for creative industries.”
Springfield Gardens seventh-grader Najah Lorde more than doubled her Girl Scout cookie sales from last year to become the top seller in the city with 2,833 boxes. The 12-year-old, who has been selling cookies since she joined the Girl Scouts in second grade, said she is hoping to win next year by selling at least 3,000 boxes.
Four East Elmhurst friends lost their lives on April 4 when their Honda Accord rolled over into Steinway Creek in Astoria. Jada Monique Butts, 19, Tiani Martin, 19, Jaleel Feurtado, 20, Darius Fletcher, 21, and Crystal Graely, 19, were in the car coming from a birthday celebration. The driver, 20-year-old Andrew Gramm, managed to escape the car and called for help. After the accident, state Sen. Michael Gianaris called on the Department of Transportation to conduct a review of safety measures on the various roads that lead to the water.
Face fuzz from near and far made its way to Astoria on April 8 for the neighborhood’s inaugural Battle of the Beards at The Quays. A total of 23 competitors tricked out their facial hair, from full-grown beards to mustaches. Dan Roberts, one of the founding members of the Long Island Beard & Mustache Society, took home first place.
A funeral was held on April 14 for Officer Dennis Guerra in his hometown of Far Rockaway after he died from injuries suffered in an arson fire in Coney Island. Guerra and fellow housing officer Rosa Rodriguez were critically injured in a blaze at a Surf Avenue housing development when the elevator doors opened on the 13th floor and the officers were engulfed in smoke. Both officers suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and the effects of smoke inhalation. Loved ones, city officials, such as Mayor Bill de Blasio, and thousands of NYPD officers were among those who came out to say goodbye to the 38-year-old Bayswater resident.
Nearly 170 graduating fifth-graders at P.S. 117 in Briarwood were in danger of losing caps and gowns, yearbooks and a prom, which are usually sponsored by the school’s PTA, because the Department of Education was investigating $30,000 missing from the accounts of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. While the investigation was ongoing, the organization would not be allowed to fundraise and was barred from all financial dealings. However, on April 28 during a school meeting, Jack Friedman, the executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and Nick Tomizawa, who represented the Briarwood Latchkey Generation Facebook group made up of Briarwood residents and alums of P.S. 117, announced they would contribute about $7,000 together to help save the school and give the students their graduation.
On May 2, six of eight cars of a Manhattan-bound F train, carrying about 1,000 passengers down the express tracks under Broadway at 60th Street in Woodside, derailed when an 8-foot-long section of the 19-foot, 6-inch rail fractured beneath it. Thirty straphangers and two train crew members suffered minor injuries in the crash, which caused an estimated $2 million in damages. In a report released on Dec. 12 by the MTA, investigators determined that it was not a single defect that caused the derailment but instead several defects in the tracks that went unreported and unrepaired for at least a year after they were first discovered by an automated inspection. Disciplinary action is being pursued against three maintenance supervisors and a track inspector for their roles in the derailment — failing to identify, document and correct the defects.
The Astoria Flea & Food at Kaufman Astoria Studios arrived with a boom at the city’s first-ever backlot market on May 4, with thousands of people in attendance. The market, a partnership between the LIC Flea & Food and Kaufman Astoria Studios, operated from the studios’ outdoor lot, the first of its kind in the city, every Sunday for eight consecutive weeks. Upon arrival at the Astoria Flea entrance at 36th Street and 35th Avenue, visitors were welcomed by a brand-new, 40-foot-high steel gate, designed by David Rockwell and the Rockwell Group. Visitors found new vendors and also old faces from the neighboring LIC Flea & Food.
An estimated 60,000 people flocked to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs, on May 18 to honor the 75th and 50th anniversaries through a myriad of free activities, exhibitions and food, sponsored by the Queens borough president’s office and the Parks Department. Surrounding the iconic Unisphere, there were inflatable rides for children, international food courtesy of LIC Flea & Food, free tours, exhibitions from Queens educational institutions, memorabilia from past World’s Fairs, fireworks and music from various bands — including Beatles tribute band, the Liverpool Shuffle.
Shanelle Davis graduated as the first African-American valedictorian of Benjamin Cardozo High School this June and in the fall started her first college semester at Harvard University. The Jamaica resident is the first in her family to earn a higher degree and along with studying hard, she also took part in various clubs and activities.
Hundreds of protestors gathered on June 17 to protest the city’s initiative to house homeless families in the former Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. Since then community members, leaders and elected officials have spoken against the plan to convert the site into a permanent shelter under a $42 million contract with the city. The shelter is now home to over 700 homeless residents, many of whom are children.
After a more than two-year battle against lymphocytic leukemia, 8-year-old Colin Flood, from Middle Village, died on June 22. After a successful bone marrow drive in 2012 and a brief victory over the cancer that same year, Colin experienced a resurgence of the disease in 2013. In March, the U.S. Coast Guard visited Colin in Juniper Valley Park and let him have fun in their helicopter.
City to fund NYS Pavilion restoration
A total of $5.806 million was included in the city’s capital budget to begin the restoration of the New York State Pavilion, which is a relic of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The funds will be used to upgrade its electrical system, rebuild the staircases inside the Pavilion’s three towers and repair the concrete platforms supporting the observation decks at the top of each of the towers.
MTA officials and LIRR unions came to a tentative agreement July 17, avoiding a workers’ strike that would have stranded 300,000 commuters daily. LIRR workers will see a 17 percent wage increase over six and a half years with the new agreement. The MTA wanted a 17 percent wage increase over seven years, while the union desired it over six years. The deal settled the impasse between both sides and will allow the MTA to pay for the salary bump while not increasing fares for riders.
Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio removed eight trustees of the Queens Library on July 23. The firings came after a protracted battle over the tenure of library director Tom Galante, who drew fire after a smoking deck was built outside his office in the Central Library in Jamaica as well as revelations that he augmented his $400,000 salary with more than $200,000 in part-time pay from the Elmont, Long Island, school district.
Former Queens Councilman Dan Halloran was found guilty on July 29 for his role in a bribery scheme to get Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith on the GOP ticket in last year’s mayoral race. It took just over one hour for the jury to reach its verdict following the eight-week trial, and Halloran was convicted of all five counts against him. Halloran faces up to 55 years in prison and will be sentenced early next year.
The United States Tennis Association announced the completion of the first phase of a five-year, $500 million transformation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug. 11, just weeks ahead of the 2014 US Open. The renovations include new elevated seating around Courts 4, 5 and 6 that create a three-court stadium viewing experience that can hold more than 1,300 fans and features a new televised court.
A Rego Park school for children with special needs closed on Aug. 13 and many of the disabled students of the year-round school have nowhere to go. The Life-Skills School, which served 43 students with mental and secondary emotional challenges ages 9 through 21, was the only school of its kind in Queens.
Demolition began at the building formerly known as the graffiti mecca 5Pointz on Aug. 22 after a long battle between the owner of the property and artists, who wanted to preserve the structure. Owner Jerry Wolkoff plans to build two apartment towers with close to 1,000 rental apartments, 32,000 square feet of outdoor public space and 50,000 square feet of retail space at the site.
The 82nd Street Partnership announced Aug. 27 that Executive Director Seth Taylor would resign from his position to serve as the head of the NoHo NY BID. Taylor had been working to tackle quality-of-life issues in the community and was hoping to expand the business improvement district, a plan that was met with backlash from some residents.
Comrie defeats state Sen. Malcolm Smith in primaries, Avella defeats Liu
Leroy Comrie won the democratic state senate primary election over embattled former state Sen. Malcolm Smith in a landslide victory on Sept. 10. Incumbent state Sen. Tony Avella also defeated challenger John Liu, who was the former city comptroller.
A star was born in Middle Village. Olivia Panepinto was featured in the film “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” alongside Paul Sorvino, which debuted on Sept. 24 in the East Village. The film tells the story of an ex-mafia captain as he comes to grips with how his former life has changed after spending the last 20 years in federal prison.
The corner of 73rd Street and 41st Avenue in Woodside was co-named after Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero as “Manny ‘The Wrong Man’ Balestrero Way,” on Sept. 27. Emmanuel was the influence of the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Wrong Man,” and once lived in the neighborhood.
The city’s first bike share program will soon become a reality in Queens. Long Island City and Astoria are part of a list of neighborhoods in the city that will receive Citi Bike docking stations in upcoming years, officials announced on Oct. 28. Long Island City was supposed to be part of the Citi Bike’s initial phase, which debuted last May, but was pushed back after equipment damages from Superstorm Sandy caused a delay.
One Astoria resident is getting a snapshot of what some have called an ongoing problem in the neighborhood. A resident of the neighborhood, who wished to remain anonymous, started an Instagram account after noticing how many pictures of trash she had on her phone from around Astoria. The account, “astoriatrash,” features photos taken by the Astoria resident and also submissions from other residents in what the account starter said was, “a community effort.”
Every Halloween there are traffic jams with people from around Queens waiting to get a glimpse and take pictures of Patrick Kenniff’s house in Middle Village. Kenniff started decorating his house on 75th Street near 68th Road for Halloween 10 years ago with a simple pumpkin head prop with an orange dress-like body. But ever since, he obsessively continued to add new decorations every year until there are now more than 100 decorations possessing the residence like a zombie parade. Viewing the house has become an annual attraction for families in the neighborhood and around the borough.
This year, November could’ve been renamed Pearl Jam Awareness Month. Since Nov. 5, a devoted group of fans have raised almost $100,000 in crowd funds over two months. The fundraiser is a wildly hopeful dash to convince the ‘90s rock band to play in the Forest Hills Stadium. The members of the famous quintet have made no indication on what they plan to do. The group Pearl Jam Forest Hills will be holding a fundraiser in the New Year at Austin’s Ale House.
Dairy Queen opened in Corona on Nov. 11, bringing its famous soft-serve treats back to the borough for the first time in decades. Located at 37-39 Junction Blvd., the Dairy Queen is one of four locations in the city, joining DQs in the Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan, which just debuted in May. As many of our DQ expert readers pointed out, the dessert chain once existed in the borough prior to the 1980s, but the Corona eatery is currently the only location in Queens. The restaurant serves more than just dessert. Its menu features familiar sweets, including Blizzards, and lunch and dinner items, such as burgers, sandwiches and salads.
After some tussling over this year’s key phrase — affordable housing — the City Council voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 25 to approve the Astoria Cove mega development, clearing the way for the major land use project. More than 460 units of the 1,723 total apartments throughout the 2.2-million-square-foot project on the Astoria waterfront will be affordable housing. The project, which is anticipated to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a school and some retail.
Dozens of protesters gathered in Jackson Heights on Dec. 5 to protest Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police on Staten Island and to draw attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants who also fear police abuse. During that rainy evening, the people announced that the streets belonged to them before ending the protest on 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
The city chose nine officers from Jamaica’s 103rd Precinct on Dec. 9 to wear body cameras while out on patrol. The move was made by Mayor Bill de Blasio at a time when Staten Island’s grand jury hadn’t yet made its decision not to indict the police officer whole killed Eric Garner during a chokehold. The body cameras were an attempt to improve public relations between authorities and city residents.
Queens ascended to the top of the list on Dec. 10 of Lonely Planet’s Best in the U.S. 2015, promising to be a huge boon for tourism activity. According to the leading travel guidebook company, Queens is a must-see U.S. destination. With 2015 set to be Queens’ year, the borough is expected to be “discovered,” as one writer wrote in Lonely Planet.
- National retailers moving to Queens faster than Manhattan and Brooklyn
- Former Queens resident selected to create official artwork for Grammys
- Talk of Sunnyside Yards mega development chugging along