2005-12-29 / View From the Middle

A Look Back At 2005

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers

The year 2005 started out on a rather positive note in Canarsie as the command at the 69th Precinct had just changed hands at the end of the previous year. Not that Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Robert Johnsen left us with anything but positive feelings. He left here having made many friends and having made an impact on our security, as we all noted the lessening of crime statistics. Johnsen was replaced as commander by Captain Ralph Monteforte, who came to us from the nearby 67th Precinct, and, as he started out the new year, said he would continue the practices of his predecessor while presenting a few ideas of his own. As a result, crime stats continued to descend through the year. While this column is a year-end review, we congratulate Captain Monteforte on his first anniversary this week in our community.

One of the positive notes came about early in the year when South Shore High School, which had been designated by the Department of Education as being on the list as one of the "most dangerous" for the previous year, was upgraded and taken off that derogatory list. Alas, Canarsie High School is still on the list, but with new Principal David Harris at the helm, it won't be for long (That's a prediction).

The subject of the Iraq War was brought home, unfortunately, in two instances in January when a 2001 graduate of Canarsie High School, Jeff LeBrun, a Specialist in the 15th Field Artillery Regiment stationed in Baghdad was killed in battle when the vehicle in which he had been riding was bombed. As if that wasn't sad enough, an East Flatbush soldier on leave from Iraq was shot to death in front of a nightclub on Avenue L in early January. Staff Sergeant Terrence Ballisson, 25, died of gunshot wounds after he was taken to the hospital. His alleged killer surrendered at the local precinct the day after the shooting.

The subway lines were a special point of contention to Canarsie riders last January when our city councilman, Lew Fidler, protested the Canarsie Line becoming almost automated in the near future when conductors would be supposedly "no longer necessary," according to the MTA. Fidler said Canarsiens are being used "as lab rats and guinea pigs" for the experiment. "There is no way a computer can lead people away from an emergency situation such as a track fire," he said. Since then, the experiment has rested in Limbo, thanks to a little paragraph in the TWU contract that says you gotta have fewer than ten cars before you can have fewer than two persons working on the line.

The Golden Age of Aviation was celebrated during this first month of 2005, as the National Park Service celebrated the event at Floyd Bennett Field, highlighting excursions by the likes of Howard Hughes and Admiral Byrd that emanated from the nearby "airfield."

Old Man Winter hit us hard early last year, when a foot to 15 inches of snow fell heavily just around the end of January. Not that we'd had a quiet December in 2004 anyway, weatherwise, but it boded for more of the white stuff as the cold winter continued. Those new boots were made for troddin' through plenty of snow.

It was well into February that Police Officers Jamie Blandeburgo and Juliet Lopez, both part of the 69 th Precinct's training unit, after having graduated from the Police Academy only a month before, became instant heroes when they rescued a man from drowning in Paerdegat Basin. Blandenburgo, a certified lifeguard, jumped into the water and Lopez, a certified EMT, put their respective expertise to work and got the victim to the hospital, where he was pronounced in stable condition. The two officers were commended by the NYPD.

Canarsiens of all faiths mourned the passing of Msgr. Raphael Florido on February 16 at the age of 84. He had been pastor of Holy Family Church from 1974 to 1990, having come here as an assistant to the beloved Father Vincent Genova in 1951. Bishop Thomas Daily officiated at the Solemn Funeral High Mass held at Holy Family. The advent of March greeted us with - you guessed it - more snow. While it was pretty, and we had a ball showing picture after picture of it, we all became a little tired of it, leaving those more tender terms for the Christmas season and referring to the unpleasanter and unpleasanter stuff with phrases like, "Here comes the @#$%A& white stuff again!" March also featured an annual Information Fair, which was held at the Brownsville Recreation Center and sponsored by State Senator John Sampson. Virtually hundreds of youths and adults attended the all day event, learning about government agencies and how they help the individual. A truly informational experience.

You could be sure it was March, of course, just by looking over at the comer of Ralph and Clarendon and seeing the bright, high-stepping O'Malley Irish Dance Academy students doing their St. Patrick's Day thing over at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. Of course, that was just one of many events staged throughout the year at the Wyckoff House, a true historic treasure right in our own midst. During the same month, the blight at Canarsie Park became a big deal when local activists complained about the mess in the western section, especially, where garbage is strewn (still!) and the compost site, although finally cancelled out completely, had remnants lying all over the place. Activists complained to Councilman Fidler, who said he's doing everything he can - even allotting lotsa bucks to the project - and plans are underway to make the park a real nice place. "Unfortunately," said Fidler, "it just takes TIME!" Of course, we're still waiting, which shows, despite all the good intentions, how bureaucracy can slow things down.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the local area early in April to be the main official doing the swearing-in honors for Paula Whitney, starting her 15 th year as president of the popular Mill Basin Civic Association. Assisting Hizzoner at the ceremony were Rev. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Mary Queen of Heaven Church and Borough President Marty Markowitz; all testament to Whitney's popularity. Later in the year, she graciously stepped down from her role in the civic group. The new prez will be Paul Curiale, head of New Millennium Development Corp.

The sad, sad note during the first days of April was the passing of Pope John Paul II. Special Masses were said throughout the community commemorating the life of the beloved Catholic leader.

Police here told the community to be aware of the theft of seats out of certain vans. Precinct Commander Monteforte said thieves had been hitting the Paerdegats and other sections and robbing "third row" seats from Toyota Sequoias and Cadillac Escalade vans, noting there had been thefts from eleven cars in the area since January. A crackdown and educating car owners to be more responsible in properly alarming their vehicles seemed to have helped to some extent.

In the same month, there was the BIG story about the guy who had to be rescued from that little island directly south of Canarsie Pier. The 22-year old man said he was visiting friends here and he decided to kill some time by rowing his rubber raft across Jamaica Bay to little Jamaica Pol. Once there, he became stranded because the currents were too strong. Waving frantically, he alerted all kinds of emergency agencies, and police harbor boats, EMS outfits, the Fire Department and the NYPD helicopter. He was eventually plucked from his lonely island and deposited on the center grounds of the Veterans Circle at the foot of Rockaway Parkway. Traffic was stopped in all directions while the rescue was being made, with drivers on the Belt Parkway doing amazing double-takes as the aircraft landed seemingly right next to them. The poor confused boater was declared okay, but before he was sent on his way, he received a summons for trespassing on the island, which is federal property.

It was later in April that the parents of two children who attended P.S. 115 sued the city's Department of Education, claiming their First Amendment rights were violated when they were denied permission to collect signatures on a petition objecting to the school's dismissal policy. They said their children were forced to stand outside in the cold, wet weather after school while they were waiting for parents or guardians to pick them up and they faulted Principal Mitchell Pinsky for enforcing the policy. Region 6 Superintendent Gloria Buckery said the kids are "not in the yard a long time and they're taken into the school if their parents are tardy." Buckery said many schools follow the policy.

With all the problems after 9/11 and dangers of terrorists in our midst, it was not out of line for people in Mill Basin to be alarmed when they found their deceased neighbor on Mayfair Drive South had been allegedly making bombs in his basement, according to cops. Turns out the discovery of the bombs was made by the deceased man's wife, who, she said, had not been allowed in the man's room "for months." She said she knew he was working on something, but she didn't know what.

It didn't take long for P.S. 115 to get back in the headlines. This time on the positive side, though, when local officials, including Principal Mitch Pinsky, were commended by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for a "startling" improvement in reading scores during the year. The same school also held its annual March of Dimes WonderWalk and garnered record donations for the good cause. We couldn't get P.S. 115 out of the records, for some reason, when it came to light that their annual Bike-a-thon, where Principal Pinsky donned the funny hat and pedaled around and around the school grounds in a congratulatory gesture to thank his students for reading and reading and reading. The point was for him to do a lap around the school for each 10,000 pages his students read during the month of May. The brave warrior pedaled 41 laps, beating his last year's total of 37 laps.

Canarsie's Memorial Day Parade, although with sparse attendance, followed the tradition of honoring those veterans who gave their lives fighting for our country. There was a small ceremony at the Veterans Circle and then again at Canarsie Cemetery, plus a small parade. Seems like attendance at this particular event year after year is just getting smaller and smaller. Pretty soon we'll only be honoring those vets in our hearts.

Plans to erect a new primary/intermediate public school here for grades K through 8 seemed closer to coming to fruition since the School Construction Authority (SCA) had not withdrawn its proposal. Under consideration is the building formerly known as Canarsie Jewish Center on East 107 th Street, long abandoned as a house of worship. The SCA said the new school would be scheduled for occupancy in September 2008.

Of course, we covered extensively the debut of the Canarsie Line trains without conductors, known as One Person Train Operation (OPTO) last June. As scary as it was - at first - most riders said it was "no big deal," especially if they didn't know about it ahead of time. They just nonchalantly boarded the train without thinking, and went on their merry way. Nobody said anything about what might happen in an emergency, however.

Police in scuba gear and in helicopters and vans and other emergency vehicles were dispatched to check for a youth who had fallen into Spring Creek while fishing. Diving cops discovered the man floating near the Fountain Avenue overpass at the base of the Fountain Avenue Landfill. They were able to get to him and take him to Brookdale.

In answer to a deficit in the budget of all parochial schools in the city, it was determined the three schools in the community, part of the "Canarsie Cluster," should merge, and the Shrine of St. Jude, Holy Family Church and Our Lady of Miracles Church would become an "umbrella" school called The Our Lady of Trust School of Canarsie. A board of governors was to be formed and the school would formally come into being officially in 2007, with the three local schools still being run individually - at first - and eventually under one heading.

Right around this time, the spiritual leader of the Word Aflame Community Church at 9530 Avenue L, Rev. Robert Mitchell, told the Canarsie Courier exclusively that the church officials were in negotiations to purchase the now-defunct Canarsie Theatre. He said the building would become a church, but much more than that, since it would also house a book store, an activity center for youths and a community day care and learning center. No. there won't be any movies...

It was just after the 4 th of July that we heard the local Precinct's Community Affairs officer, Dady Belfort, who was thought of so highly by the brass in the NYPD that she was promoted to the rank of Detective. Hey, that's an unusual promotion, and a deserved one by someone who treats us members of the press with respect, just as we have a great deal of respect for her. 'Way to go, Dady!

And during the early part of this month, we saw the newly-named Community Education Council of School District 18 (it's akin to the old school board; just has a different name) start to make some sparks by urging parents to become more involved in the work their children do. Since this was the last meeting of the 2004-2005 school year, it was hoped there would continue to be some fire in the council. We would wait and see.

With the advent of August, tradition took over our streets and we took part in the "Night Out Against Crime," with all sorts of organizations marching down our main streets after having attended a rally on Foster Avenue near the 69 th Precinct. The entire event was fairly well attended, having been organized primarily by the Community Council and the aforementioned Detective Belfort. Good job, folks!

The local area was pretty well rocked early in August when an ugly bias situation occurred in Mill Basin. Seems that a black man was severely beaten by a group of about eight white men wielding baseball bats and pipes and shouting racial epithets as they chased him. According to 63 rd Precinct police, it was about 1:30 a.m. when he and a friend emerged from a party near Avenue N and East 59 th Street. The attackers, riding in an SUV, attacked the man as his friend ran away. He was rescued by a couple driving by, who told him to get into their car. A cell phone call to 911 brought the cops and a few of the attackers were nabbed. The victim wasn't too badly hurt, but the cops rounded up all the alleged attackers and they are all awaiting trial on a hate-crime charge even as we speak.

Information released during August told us that crime statistics were the lowest in a year. Captain Paul Saryian, executive officer of the 69 th Precinct noted the occasion was "something to be proud of," of course, echoing the words of Captain Monteforte, who said, "Let's keep 'em that way!" Meanwhile, the Education Council held another meeting on August 16 th, after telling everyone the July meeting was the last for the school year. Guess this must have been the first of the new school year. No matter, they still called for more involvement by parents and they still were unhappy with the turnout at the meeting (??).

September greeted us with a sad note when we heard that former Congressman James Scheuer, who represented this local area from 1974 to 1982 in Washington had passed away at the age of 85. It was during his terms of office that Gateway National Recreation Area was establish, and that includes Floyd Bennett Field and, yes, Canarsie Pier, among others.

During the same period, a court decided that the L train should not operate with less than two transit workers on board: The driver and the conductor. Period. The MTA brass are still trying to find a way around the decree, while Councilman Fidler smiles and says, "This is a victory for the safety of my constituents." It was also this month that State Assemblyman Frank Seddio, a native Canarsien who had not only served our community practically all his life as a community activist, would be leaving the Legislature at the end of December to become a surrogate judge. Although there is some controversy surrounding the appointment, his aide, Alan Maisel, had been proposed to take over for Seddio in the Assembly until the November elections. As with everything political nowadays, nothing is confirmed, of course, until it's confirmed (What did he say?).

There was a lot of community action as October, 2005 came around. Not only did the BayView Houses complex celebrate its 50 th anniversary with a general street party, a visit by City Councilman Charles Barron and lots of fun and goodies, but the 69 th Precinct held its annual Medal and Family Appreciation Day. Captains Monteforte and Saryian both showed their pride as NYPD Assistant Chief Joseph Fox and other brass looked on. It was a grand day, making us all proud!

It was also during this month that Holy Family Church celebrated it 125 th anniversary. Father John Amman, pastor, helped host a week-long celebration, culminating with a fancy dinner where scores of parishioners were honored for their tireless work for God and the community.

As November rolled around, we saw the "sure thing" come in handily as Mayor Michael Bloomberg literally zoomed into office for his second term. It was a hands-down thing, of course, and it was also good to see so many Canarsiens come out to the voting booth. Nice turnout. As we all figured, Councilmen Fidler and Barron retained their seats, as did Borough President Marty Markowitz and District Attorney Charles Hynes. Late November brought a Thanksgiving with a lot of "Thanks" going around and a lot of praying for the well being of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Rockaway Parkway Merchants Association raised up the lights for the upcoming holiday season between Flatlands Avenue and Farragut Road, giving it a decidedly festive look. Meanwhile, the Avenue L Merchants Association didn't put up its holiday lights, instead deciding to give the money for the operation to a Katrina victims fund. The 69 th Precinct renamed East 98 th Street, which runs next to the station house, "Police Officer Raymond Cannon Jr. Way". The late Officer Cannon was killed in the line of duty nearly ten years ago while stopping a robbery on East 107 th Street. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and top brass of the NYPD were here and praised the officer for his bravery and dedication.

December came upon us with the story that a supposedly deranged man pulled out an old .45 caliber handgun as he stood in front of the 69 th Precinct and told three cops there, "I want to kill all the cops I can!" With that, his gun misfired and he ran. He confronted another officer around the corner and the gun misfired again. The man continued to run and was finally tackled by police at Farragut and Rockaway Parkway. Captain Monteforte praised the cops for not just pulling out their guns and shooting the guy on the spot. We don't hear about these kinds of incidents where police officers use such good judgment, do we?

Oh, we mustn't forget another happening during December: The meeting of the Community Education Council (school board, or whatever) - where they couldn't even come up with a quorum (that's six votes) to bring in a sixth member...so they could have a quorum for their next meeting! Is this called irony, or what?

From all of us at the Canarsie Courier to all of you wonderful people: Have a healthy, prosperous, productive and, most of all, a happy new year!

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