Fiery Dragon Heats Up Boat Festival
It was a warm weekend at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. But not too warm to prevent the legendary fiery dragon, a symbol of good fortune, to grace the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival with his presence [see photo to right].
The fiery dragon came rampaging through the festival lawn, seeming to blow flames from its mouth, out into the hot air. Thankfully Meadow Lake was nearby.
Is this a fictitious tale you may ask? Only the dragon knows for sure.
The 27th Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival was held in Queens on Meadow Lake. Meadow Lake is located in the southern end of Flushing Corona Meadows Park, well past the Unisphere and roller rink. The races were held on both Saturday and Sunday during the day. There were reportedly over 2,000 participants in the races, which included serious racers and racers just out to have a fun time. And many thousands of spectators.
Update: LaGuardia Airport Development Project
First Phase Moving Along with Second & Third Phases About to Begin
I attended a Community Board One meeting at the Astoria World Manor on Wednesday, April 19th. People representing the LaGuardia Airport development project were scheduled to provide the community with an update regarding several of the multi-billion dollar renovation projects associated with LaGuardia Airport, that are either currently in the works or nearing the end of the planning process.
The presentation was split into three parts: 1) LaGuardia Airport development project construction updates, 2) traffic mitigation efforts and 3) community outreach including job opportunities related to the projects.
Click here to read our report on the LaGuardia Airport development project & expansion, related job opportunities, its possible impact on travel times to the airport and the public hearing details on May 3rd, 2017 in Flushing. We have also included a small bit of history about the airport and the fight over the property and development in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The graphic at right was created as part of the LaGuardia Airport development project.
NYC Crime Continues To Drop, Breaking Records
Mayor de Blasio & NYPD Discuss City Safety & Ongoing Improvements
This just came in on the heels of our coverage of the Public Safety discussion below. Mayor de Blasio and NY Police Commissioner O'Neill spoke in the Bronx regarding ongoing efforts and results in improving safety in the city. The following are some of the crime statistics noted in their meeting taken directly out of a press release sent by them.
- So, some of the highlights for crime statistics from this January – overall index crime is down 0.2 percent for the month of January. When you carry it over to this morning, we are now down 2.7 percent in overall index crime in New York City.
- To note – with the overall index crime, January marks the tenth consecutive month of reduced index crime. That’s the momentum we’ve been talking about. Currently, four out of five boroughs in New York City – all but Queens – are down to start the year.
- Homicides – we recorded 20 homicides in January. That’s down two from 22. That 20, as the Mayor alluded to, is the lowest January that we have ever recorded going back a minimum into the 1960s.
- Shooting incidents – down 1.7 percent in January. Last January we hit the modern mark with 59 shooting incidents. We came in with 58 this January.
- Talking about momentum again – nine of the last 13 months we’ve had a reduction in shooting incidents. Nine of the last 13.
- Three months in a row we’ve had a reduction in shooting incidents in New York City. We have now, when you look at New York City as a whole, we now have 24-hour periods where we do not record a shooting incident in New York City. That kind of thinking was impossible in the not too distant past.
- This is the new normal. We want to build on it and we feel that we will build on it but there’s still plenty of work to do.
- Stabbings and slashings for January – down 7.2 percent.
- Robberies – down 7.5 percent. Lowest January robbery number we’ve seen.
- Felony assaults in New York City – down 5.4 percent.
- Burglaries tied the lowest mark set last year.
- Transit crime – down 1.4 percent.
- And housing crime – not to be outdone – down 1.9 percent.
- Clearly, a wide breath of crime across New York City – property and violent crime, down.
But there is, I alluded to, there is still work to do – three categories we saw increases in January.
- Rape was up 8.9 percent.
- Grand larceny, specifically, credit card related skimming and forging of checks – those two drove grand larcenies. And grand larceny was up for the month of January 4.7 percent.
- And lastly, rounding out the crime totals – stolen vehicles which we have seen drop to unprecedented lows saw an increase of ten cars for January. So, that’s 480 versus 470 – a two percent increase.
Commissioner O’Neill: Okay, thanks, Dermot. We’ll take your questions.
Question: Do you think it’s possible, really to keep driving crime down further at this point? And how could you achieve that?
O'Neill's response was yes, with some added context.
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Sterling Equities & Related Companies Lose A Court Battle
Plans To Build Shopping Mall On Flushing Meadows Corona Parkland Reversed On Appeal
In August of 2014, New York State Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez decided in favor of Related Companies / Sterling Equities by throwing out a lawsuit filed by the City Club of New York and NYS Senator Tony Avella. The plaintiffs alleged that the Related Companies, real estate developers of Hunters Point South and the Hudson Yards, and the Sterling Equities which was co-founded by the NY Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, had not gone through the NYS legislature for the approval of the transfer of the parkland as required by law.
The lawsuit, filed in February 2014, alleged that the transfer of 47 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park land that currently represents the western part of the Mets parking lot, was done without following the procedure for a proper public review [see photo above right]. The City had proposed transferring the 47 acres to Related Companies / Sterling Equities who had planned to build a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall next to Citifield.
The NY City Council and the Mayor approved the project in October 2013, but the proposal never went to Albany for a vote. According to the Queens Tribune report one of the plaintiffs said that the Judge Manuel Mendez's ruling goes against the Public Trust Doctrine, ignores longstanding case law history, and bestows too much power that was formerly the purview of the Board of Estimate in one person: the NYC Mayor.
On Thursday, July 2nd, 2015, the four-judge Appellate Court overturned Judge Mendez's decision and ruled that the Willets West Mall Project was illegal because the land is a part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in spite of its current paved over status as a parking lot [see 2009 photo above]. And because it is a part of the public parkland of the people, it may not be turned over to real estate developers without approval of the NY State Legislature. The judges rejected the ruling in favor of the mall made by Judge Manuel Mendez, wherein the real estate developers argued that the 54 year old, 1961 law authorizing the construction of Shea Stadium, also included a mall.
The photo above shows the Citifield parking lot in 2009, as it was being paved over following the demolition of Shea Stadium and the erection of Citifield.
According to the Associated Press report, a spokesman for the developers said that they would appeal the decision.
Grodenchik Wins District 23 Primary
Defeats Friedrich, Lynch, Parhar, Najmi & Dosamantes in Democratic Primary
September 10, 2015 / Queens Politics / Queens Neigbhorhoods / News & Analysis. Queens Buzz. The special election for the Queens District 23 City Council seat was won by the Democratic party backed candidate, Barry Grodenchik.
Grodenchik (26%) edged out Bob Friedrich in a crowded field, with less than 30% of the vote. Friedrich was a close second (22%), followed by Lynch (20%), Parhar (17%), Najmi (10%) and Dosamantes (4%).
The ethnic vote - represented by the tallies of the last three candidates - represented over 30% of the vote. If the ethnic vote had been unified, an ethnic candidate would have been able to win the primary. That said, the non-ethnic vote as represented by the tallies of the first three candidates, was also split among three candidates, and represents two thirds of those who showed up to cast votes. About 6,300 votes were cast in total. This report is based on the vote tallies reported by the Queens Tribune and the New York Observer.
Grodenchik will go on to face Republican Joe Concannon on November 3rd in what many pundits believe is only a formality, given that the Queens Democratic electorate in the last Mayoral election  represented nearly 90% of the Queens vote in the primary, and about 70% of the Queens vote in the general election.
Naturally political affiliation can vary by district, and there are a few pockets of Queens held by Republicans, but based on the general voting history of Queens District 23, it does not appear to be one of them. Click here to read an earlier report on the Queens District 23 NYC City Council candidates which includes a video of one of the forums.
Queens Politics & The Democratic Party Machine
A Closer Look At The NYC City Council Race In Queens District 23
On Thursday, August 27, 2015 I headed down to listen to the candidates vying for the 23rd District election seat recently vacated by Mark Weprin. There are six candidates in the Democratic primary vying for NYC City Council District 23, a seat that has been held by the Weprin family for 14 years. David Weprin first won the office in 2001. He was followed by his brother Mark who won the office in 2009, who recently left the position for a job working for Andrew Cuomo as Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs.
NYC Council Race Venues: District 23 Queens
The candidate forum was held at Hillside Banquet at 206-12 Hillside Avenue [at 206th Street]. The event was organized by 12 non-profit / community organizations that serve various ethnic populations in the NYC City Council 23rd District – many of which are South Asian. Winning a majority of the constituents of these organizations could result in a win for the ethnic population, and a possible upset for the Queens Democratic Party Machine, which has held this seat for four decades and likely longer.
Neighborhood Composition: NYC City Council Queens District 23
NYC City Council District 23 is comprised of all or parts of the following neighborhoods: Bayside, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Little Neck, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village. Contrary to at least one candidate's assertion, New Hyde Park in Nassau County on Long Island, is not a part of the 23rd District nor even a part of Queens.
Sponsors Of NYC Council Candidates Forum
The sponsoring organizations include: Chhaya CDC, Asian Pacific Association Voice, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Citizens Union, Indo-Caribbean Alliance, Korean American League for Civic Action, Minkwon Center for Community Action, New York Immigration Coalition and the South Asian Council for Social Services.
New York City Council Candidates In Queens District 23
The candidates included: Celia Dosamantes, Bob Friedrich, Barry Grodenchik, Rebecca Lynch and Ali Najmi. One of the Democratic candidates, Satnam Parhar, was not present nor was the Republican candidate Joe Concannon.
Queens District 23 City Council Issues & Answers
The following is a summary of the questions posed and the answers given by the candidates. The moderators of the forum were Richard S. David, Co-Founder of the Caribbean Alliance and Linda Lee, Executive Director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York.
1. Do the candidates approve of a Creedmor Church development [not sure I have this right]? All candidates answered yes.
2. Are the candidates for participatory budgeting? All candidates answered yes, except Friedrich who said it’s a gimmick.
3. Are the candidates for establishing uniform standards for Community Boards? All answered yes, if they could agree on what those standards would be [they allowed themselves plenty of wiggle room here].
4. Are the candidates for the ranking by voters of candidates on the ballot to avoid costly runoff elections? All answered yes, except Dosamantes who answered no.
5. Are they for giving non-citizen residents an opportunity to vote on local issues / local candidates only? I think Dosamantes, Friedrich and Grodenchik said no, while Lynch and Najmi said yes.
Click here to learn more about the Queens Democratic Party Machine and the NYC City Council race in District 23 in Queens.
In Search Of A Civilization Lost By Mass Media
LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center Uses Theater & Art To Stimulate Cross Cultural Community Conversation
February 9, 2015 / Long Island City / Queens Theater / Queens Buzz. It was nearing sunset on Saturday evening as I made my way through a beautifully quiet Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The clean white snow glistened gently in the fading light, and the leafless trees along the road provided what felt like an ancient natural cathedral.
I checked in at the admissions desk and made my way to the second floor of the Queens Museum. The Queens Museum was once the home to the United Nations and hence provided the perfect context for this community conversational performance. The floor to ceiling windows looked out onto the landmarked Unisphere which emanated a universal vibe. In the long wide hallway a crowd was engaged in clustered conversations following the conclusion of four performances shown that afternoon. I had seen the performances at an event earlier in the season.
I began talking to Tasneem, a member of the audience who is shown in the photo at right standing alongside a photo taken by a friend of hers who is shown in the photo. Tasneem came from Jordan twelve years ago, only two years after 911. She said that it's important for the general populace of Muslims to stop being afraid of showing they're Muslim, because otherwise New Yorkers and the rest of America will be left with the picture of Islam as depicted by a few extremists which is amplified and continually repeated by the American mass media.
I couldn't deny it. It seems American television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines are obsessed with providing the Islamic terrorists all the publicity they want.
But here, tonight, in the Queens Museum; I would not see any of the faces shown by our mass media. I would see only the faces of everyday Islamic New Yorkers who generally receive no publicity at all. Muslims who hail from dozens of cultures around the world. And there wasn't a single terrorist among them. Hence - and likely not coincidentally - there also wasn't a single mass medium reporter covering this event.
Tasneem told me how she, like many other American Muslims, fears showing she's Muslim because of the stereotypes created by the terrorists and perpetuated and blown up by the American mass media. The notion of a silent majority came to mind.
It occurred to me that the gore of the Islamic extremists must be good for tabloids and TV ratings. And I pondered what it must feel like to be stereotyped by this relentless, distorted depiction of one's culture and people. Andy Warhol's characterization of the mass production of images came to mind.
I thought about what it would be like if I lived somewhere else in the world where the nation's media mass produced stereotypes of Americans, depicting us as murderers, rapists and thieves. That could easily be done if a nation's media decided to portray Americans by solely covering the 5.6 million violent crimes and the 17.1 million property crimes that took place in this country in 2011 alone [source: Wikipedia / Bureau of Justice Statistics]. That just wouldn't be right ... would it?
And yet, it seems that this is exactly what's been happening to Muslims in America, because of the unbalanced coverage of Islam by the big American mass media companies. The TV and newspaper tabloids make a living by sensationalizing - spinning things out of context - but aren't the real journalists supposed to provide perspective by putting things back in context?
This seems generally not to have been done.
And so the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center applied for and received a grant to begin such an effort. An effort to provide exposure to the lives and contributions of the other billion Muslims who go peacefully and productively about their lives each day, just like most of the rest of us. An effort to create a community conversant with a deeper and broader understanding of a millenial and centuries old culture that is embedded in the lives of over a billion people on the planet. People who live in dozens of nations around the globe, and none of whom are terrorists - and hence generally not represented in the American mass media.
I met American born Charles Bernett of Rego Park who had traveled to Cairo in 1979. Thirty-five years ago he was about to embark on his second trip through Africa ... [see photo at right].
More to come later. Type LPAC in the search box in the header above to learn more about the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center exploratory, year-long, theater and arts, cultural endeavor.
Shakespearean 'Titan' In The Park
First Play By 'Theatre Company In Residence' At Queens Theatre In The Park
October 6, 2014 / Flushing Neighborhood / Queens Theater & Theatres / Queens Buzz. I made my way into Flusing Meadows Corona Park to preview Titan Theatre Company's production of the Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. The play is an adapted version of the old bard's work.
In the adaptation Titan Theatre Company added a dash of 'gay-eity' to it and also edited down the play in both verbiage and performance time. The intent of the adaptation is to make performances of the 400 year old play more modern and appealing to present-day audiences.
I sat down in the little theatre of Queens Theatre In The Park shortly after the show had begun. Puck, the fairy, was administering the love potion - per his master Oberon's orders. But alas - Puck makes a mistake - and a string of comedic errors is set into motion.
In the photo at right is Bottom, one of the actors in the play-within-the-play, who's been transformed into an ass by a fairy Puck. Seated in the background is the devlish Puck who administered the magical serum.
We'll have more about Titan Theatre Company's performance at Queens Theatre In The Park, including a photo slide show, at a later date.
U.S. Open Begins
All Queens Tennis Tournament In Flushing
August 25, 2014 / Sports in Queens / Queens Buzz. The U.S. Open began Monday, August 24th with its usual bit of fanfare and stylistic splash. The tennis tournament features mens and womens singles and doubles, mixed doubles and juniors.
The U.S. Open is held at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The tournament will last two weeks, ending on September 8th. The number 7 subway line is one of the primary conduits for transporting people from Manhattan to the tournaments and back again. So you can expect to see an influx of new faces amidst your public transit travels.
The U.S. Open has been held at the USTA in Flushing Meadows Corona Park since 1978. The tournament is the last of the Grand Slam tournaments - the Austrailian & French Opens & Wimbledon comprise the rest. And the U.S. Open is one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the world. The tournament began as the U.S. National Tennis Championship - the forerunner of the U.S. Open - and it was first played in 1861 by men only.
So who's favored in the Men's & Women's Singles? Men's Singles. Djokovic was upset the past couple weeks and Nadal is injured, so it appears the Men's Singles championship is wide open. A few of those mentioned as the next champion include Federer, Wawrinka and Murray as a long shot. Women's Singles. Serena Williams is the most formidable contestant, but she's had some issues this year. Agnieszka Radwanska, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova will be the others to watch with an interesting and winding road ahead for most of them.
You can find updates and live play at usopen.org.
Fireworks Commemorate 50th Anniversary
May 19, 2014 / Flushing / Queens History / Queens Buzz. I attended the fireworks display in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Sunday night. There were thousands there to view them standing in front of the New York State Pavilion [see photo at right].
The fireworks were part of a day long program of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair. The program included a rare opportunity to walk through the NYS Pavilion and a bandshell had been set up to accommodate the musicians, which included a group playing Beatles tunes and the pre-fireworks celebration ended with the Queens Symphony Orchestra playing the Stars & Stripes.
We'll post a slide show of the fireworks and the crowds, most of which appeared to be from surrounding neighborhoods. Several Manhattanites did make the journey as I met a couple on the subway.
Caught In The Act - The 13 Most Wanted
Queens Museum Opens Incredible Art Exhibit Grounded In History
I visited the Queens Museum [they dropped 'of Art' from the name] this past weekend to view their new exhibit - The 13 Most Wanted Men.
The exhibit is a tie into the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World's Fair and the preservation of the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Andy Warhol was one of several celebrity artists of the day, invited to create an artwork to post on the wall of the Theaterama [now Queens Theatre In The Park] which was one of the structures of the New York State Pavilion. It was a real honor as the work would be seen by tens and likely hundreds of thousands who would pass by it during the 1964 World's Fair.
Warhol decided to post the mug shots of the 13 Most Wanted Men in America. One can never know exactly what he was thinking, but it was an artwork designed to get people's attention, shock them and get them to think, perhaps a bit differently, about some of the things going on at the time.
The powers-that-be decided having 13 large mug shots of thirteen criminals in the midst of a fun family fair wasn't a good idea. So they whitewashed it off the building [sound familiar? - see our story about the Whitewash art exhibit in LIC]. This is the quick and dirty report of what happened, which the Queens Museum in a collaboration with the Warhol Museum of Pittsburgh, did an incredible job of presenting in an exhibit which is both art and history.
In the photo above is Curator, Larissa Harris, and Director of External Affairs, David Strauss. David is also one of the troika managing the Queens Museum while they search for a replacement for former Executive Director, Tom Finkelpearl. Tom was recently appointed New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner.
We'll post our full report at a later date.
Queens Community Boards
CB Application Deadline Is January 31st
January 13, 2014 / Queens Politics / Queens Buzz. The new Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, was sworn in on Thursday, January 9th. During her campaign and since she was elected, Ms. Katz indicated her top priority is going to be economic / real estate development in the borough, including borough infrastructure.
In reviewing Melinda Katz's background, it appears she has spent her entire life preparing to be Queens Borough President, with an eye toward economic / real estate development.
Melinda has worked with Community Boards as a liaison for a previous administration, chaired the Land Use Committe as a member of City Council, and took a position as a development lobbyist for a large international law firm in Manhattan. Melinda stated during her campaign and since taking office that she's very interested in bringing new economic and real estate developments to the borough.
New development will create new construction and service jobs, and increase demand for private goods and services; as well as public services such as private and public transit, parking space, open space / parks and schools. Hence, there are a wide variety of considerations that must be taken into account as new developments move through the governmental process.
Community Boards are the primary mechanism in the governmental process for the provision of community input. For decades they have played, and will continue to play, a key role in community development.
The deadline to apply for a position on a Queens Community Board is January 31st. Click this link to obtain an application from the Office of the Queens Borough President. Community Board members are selected by the Queens Borough President and the City Councilmember of the District. The new Community Board terms begin April 1, 2014.
Flushing Food Festival Hits The Spot
June 3, 2013 / Flushing Neighborhood / Queens Restaurants / Queens Buzz. I attended the Flushing Food Festival on Saturday afternoon. I arrived a bit late and to my chagrin, most of the food had already gone. It's no surprise as there was a record turnout of approximately 400 people who were served by 15 participating Flushing restaurants.
But, as luck would have it, a couple of restaurateurs were still serving, so I had an opportunity to sample some of the wares, and was invited by one of them to visit her restaurant where I did a bit of a review. The food shown above was served by Noori Japanese restaurant in Flushing. We'll post more later.
Indian Lifestyle in Queens & Hinduism
Celebration of Swaminarayan Jayanti & Lord Rama
April 28, 2013 / Flushing / Indian Culture in Queens / Queens Buzz. I attended the BAPS Center or Shri Swaminarayan Mandir this past weekend, to partake in one of the most important Hindu celebrations of the year – that of Swaminarayan’s birthday as well as Lord Rama’s.
Hinduism is to Indian culture, what Judaism, Christianity and Islam are to the west. What I mean by this is that Hinduism is the aggregate moniker for a wide variety of religions, which evolved in Indian culture over the past five millennia ... and even longer.
The BAPS Center [Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha] is located at 43-31 Bowne Street in Flushing. It was founded in 1974 in the basement of a house which once stood near the current Mandir. Mandir is the name of the building in which the Swaminarayan religion is practiced, similar to a church in the Christian faith, a synagogue in the Jewish faith or a mosque in the Muslim faith. The BAPS Mandir in Flushing was erected in 1977 and has been evolving ever since.
The mandir contains a murti, which has some similarities to an altar. We'll have more about Hinduism in Queens and the celebration of the Swaminarayan’s jayanti at a later date.
CB Votes Split On USTA Expansion Plan
March 14, 2013 / Flushing Corona / Issues Facing Queens / Queens Buzz. The USTA has asked the city of New York to give it .68 of an acre of Flushing Meadows Corona Park so that it can proceed with an expansion plan. The expansion plan is estimated to increase the sports complex capacity for the U.S. Open by about a third, while increasing the USTA footprint in the park by .68 of an acre. The USTA informed the audience attending the Community Board 3 meeting that this will result in more jobs in Queens. They also talked about the positive estimated annual $784 million economic impact that the USTA has had on NYC - according to a study done by a private consulting firm named AKRF, Inc.
The detractors informed the audience that this is the first step in a much larger effort toward a massive privatization of Flushing Meadows Corona Park by several large, well-funded corporate interests. The opponents talked about three other proposals which were not a part of the USTA plan. These other proposals to develop private interests on public parkland include the development of a shopping mall by a private investment group in tandem with the owners of CitiField; 2) a condominium / hotel complex done by another group of private investors; and 3) a 13 acre soccer stadium by Major League Soccer, which is also a privately held corporation.
Community Board Tally & Boro Prez Candidates Positions
In the end Community Board 3 voted against the expansion plan, citing among other things, promises not kept when the USTA asked to expand its footpint in 1993. All six Community Boards have now voted on the USTA Expansion proposal, with three voting for it and three voting against it. We'll post a far more complete report on this Community Board Meeting at a later date.
While I was attending the Community Board 3 Meeting in Corona, all six Queens Borough Presidential candidates were attending a forum about the issues facing Queens at the Greater Astoria Historical Society in Astoria. The issue of turning over public parkland to private interests came up during the forum. To date only City Councilmember Tony Avella has come out against giving up public parkland to private interests. NY Senator Jose Peralta is the only other candidate to take a stance on the issue, but only on one of the proposed developments, namely the erection of the MLS Soccer Stadium on 13 acres of FMC Parkland [which he conditionally supports if MLS fulfills all of their promises]. All four other candidates have taken a wait-and-see stance on the issue.
Click here to read our past reports related to the proposed development plans for Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The first report provides an early history of Flushing Meadows Corona Park I and the second report provided an intermediate history of Flushing Meadows Corona Park II which included a number of relevant historic lessons related to sports complex developments in FMCP as well as NYC.
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