2009-12-31 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

2009-A New President And An Active Year
By Charles Rogers

As Canarsiens and residents of the surrounding areas began to spread the tablecloth to get ready for the New Year’s Eve get-together and welcome 2010 (providing there were no plans to attend someone else’s party), there was plenty of talk about how “the time seemed to pass soooo fast this year!”

And indicative of that, pondering began with articles and items from your Canarsie Courier, including the fact that a year ago the country was preparing to have a new President in just a few days. When the election took place in November, 2008, everyone knew Barack Obama was going to be a shoo-in, but few expected he would be such a resounding winner. And, as January, 2009 brought us Inauguration Day, local school children, from P.S. 114 to P.S. 272 to Canarsie High School, were directed to watch the television coverage and proudly join the rest of the nation in becoming a part of history as the first black President of the United States of America was sworn in to office.

Meanwhile, we in the vast country outside the Washington Beltway, and even in the most southern part of Brooklyn, dealt with more mundane things — just as important — but with less of a “to-do,” such as schools and just plain everyday life. Unfortunately, our first greeting of 2009 was the murder, during the robbery of a respected car dealer, Robert Carnival, on Utica Avenue. Of three suspects, two got away and one was shot and arrested. The suspects who escaped were captured later in the year.

Later in January, a meeting of more than 100 local residents convened at the Remsen Heights Jewish Center on Avenue K to protest the proposal for a medical waste facility in a residential area at the corner of Farragut Road and East 100th Street. Although it was first planned more than a year earlier, this meeting demonstrated the feelings of the community and featured officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation and a judge who would present an opinion at a later date. The meeting was vociferous, to say the least, and served as an example to others of what can happen when people pull together — up to a point, indicating that the wheels of justice turn slowly — oh, so slowly. In fact, we’re now greeting 2010 and the site is in operation, with no indication that it can be stopped. The owner says there is no more danger that people will be exposed to harmful waste than whatever exposure they get when visiting their doctor’s office. Homeowners and renters are still protesting, although a little quieter (maybe they’re getting too hoarse by now).

In February, word came that the new school on East 107th Street between Flatlands Avenue and Avenue J would be open at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school session. Amazingly, when September came around, there it was…(uh…here it is). Initially, the Department of Education said the school would utilize a relatively small contingent of students, housing a Science and Medicine Middle School and then it would build up in population as time goes on.

Another outstanding piece of information on the education front became available in February when it was disclosed that Holy Family School would not open in September. Being a part of the three Canarsie Cluster of schools, consisting of St. Jude, Holy Family and Our Lady of Miracles, it was cited that one of the three had to go because of financial problems. Father John Amman, pastor of Holy Family Church, said it was regrettable, but the children attending Holy Family School would be phased into the other two members of the Cluster. It was indeed a time for crying because so many Canarsiens had received their elementary education at the parochial school on Flatlands Avenue and they looked back fondly at their early lives there.

February was indeed active as far as local news goes, especially since it was announced that a new store — no, TWO new stores — would replace the old Waldbaum’s Supermarket and Genovese (Rite Aid) Pharmacy at the Parkway Plaza Shopping Center at Avenue M and Rockaway Parkway. Genovese is now a super Walgreen’s and Waldbaum’s has become a West Indian-themed supermarket called the Golden Mango. Neat, huh? It looks like they’re both doing good business and they spruce up the neighborhood. When the other stores went out of business, the whole shopping center looked like a series of abandoned houses and it didn’t give us exactly a positive appearance.

All sorts of regulatory and zoning proposals were dropped in the laps of the New York City Council last February, with Councilman Lew Fidler telling Community Board 18 that Canarsie will be rezoned in the near future. Without going into particulars, it was decided that there have been too many changes in the past 47 years and that it’s time for another look at outsized buildings and land use provisions. It’s a start, anyway, and time to revamp many streets and regulations in our area; and Fidler says he’s on board and eager to get started. 

At the same time, some big changes were in store for Starrett City to our east, which was up for sale. The largest federally-subsidized housing complex in the nation was taken off the market early this year because there was just plain too little money available to finance it, according to owners Starrett City Associates. In 2006, residents were running scared because outside bidders almost took over and most tenants said they wouldn’t be able to come up with whatever raises they might need. However, negotiations ended with the owners canceling the sale — and tenants breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Local commuters had their feelings a little bit mixed, in the meantime, when they were told that the “L” subway line is now the city’s first fullycomputerized line. Feelings were mixed, however, because some felt uncomfortable knowing there wouldn’t be that “human” touch in case anything went wrong. The unions, of course, said the trains need real manpower to get people to work and back daily, etc., etc. and their arguments had some weight, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said this is the wave of the future and they have to start someplace. Meanwhile, our L line is not being run automatically until things get ironed out from every standpoint, including the unions.

Unlike the end of 2009, with our first snowstorm coming at the beginning of winter, we didn’t really have a big snow until the beginning of March (at the end of the winter that started in 2008). But, the mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein closed the schools and 1.1 million kids took great advantage of the first snow day in five years.

As the economy continued to burst early this year, town fathers went to work to make people more aware of how they can help themselves out of the economic mess and fear of foreclosure. Congressman Ed Towns got together with Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes and organized town meetings to warn residents about predatory lenders. Hynes also told them about scams on fake outfits that will take your money — and your house — so fast you won’t even know you’ve signed it away. And speaking of the economy, in mid-March Brookdale Hospital began to lay off hundreds because of the budget deficit due to uninsured patients and unreasonable practices by health insurers. Congressman Towns released a statement saying he would do all he can to help his constituents and said he understood the hospital’s problems in light of unforeseen economic circumstances.

As spring marched in, members of the South Canarsie Civic Association organized another rally in front of the medical waste facility at Farragut Road and East 100th Street, which was already in operation. They were joined by some elected officials who dragged their feet on getting rid of the place for a year — but nothing got done. Mary Anne Sallustro, president of the civic association, along with City Councilman Charles Barron, Assemblyman Nick Perry, Senator John Sampson and Congressman Ed Towns have tried to close the place, but now the City Department of Buildings says the property is zoned for commercial use, so the owner, Gershon Klein, is taking as much advantage as any opportunist can.

Teachers and students from P.S. 114 breathed a sigh of relief as the person they called “the Principal From Hell” got her walking papers and left the school after making it a “living hell” for two years, they said. Principal Maria Pena-Herrera was expelled for being what even union officials said was “dysfunctional” and allegedly blatantly breaking rules. According to the Department of Education, Ms. Pena-Harrera was dismissed “due to some issues at the school.” She now reports daily to a reassignment center in Staten Island. Apparently the students, parents and teachers were elated at the outcome, calling the now-ex-principal “imperious, incompetent and vindictive” and are now relatively happy with the administration at P.S. 114.

A reward was posted for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the person who drove the car that struck and killed little Elijah Thomas, 8, who was hit while crossing East 95th Street near Seaview Avenue one night in January. He was walking with his mother and other family members when his hand slipped from hers and the car hit him. The driver of the light-colored Cadillac stopped for a few seconds and then drove off.

In mid-May the trial of Darryl Littlejohn, the murderer of Imette St. Guillen three years ago, began. Littlejohn, a bouncer in a Manhattan bar, dumped her body on a muddy bank of Spring Creek, just a few miles east of Canarsie. He was arrested a few weeks later, but protested and his trial was delayed until this month. He was convicted and eventually sentenced to life without parole. It doesn’t have anything to do with the seriousness of the Littlejohn case, but a couple of bad guys found out that they couldn’t intimidate a certain bank teller at the Chase Bank at East 96th Street and Foster Avenue. They both entered the bank with notes saying they were armed and said the teller should hand over cash from the cash drawers. While one teller handed over more than $8,000 the other teller refused to give the robber any money. “Gimme the money!” barked the robber. “No,” said the teller, “you can’t have it.” At which time the bad guy hightailed it out the door with his friend after him. They got away — so far.

Remember that medical waste transfer facility that was such a pain back in the beginning of this column? The issue came baaaack as Gershon Klein, the owner of the property, was still working on getting his permit straightened out. In the meantime, since his lawyers are doing such a wonderful job for him, he’s allowed to keep the place open. In the middle of summer, civic organizations and elected officials met and have been “harrumphing” around and showing their authority by saying “We protest!” and other hollow words that echo right into the Austrian Alps — and nowhere else.

And speaking of bank robberies (see PREVIOUS, previous paragraph)…Here’s another good one that sounds like a joke: Guy walks into the bank at East 96th and Foster (same as last time) and hands the teller a note, which was, according to the teller, “illegible.” She told the robber, “I can’t read this. It’s too much of a scrawl” So he said, “awright, gimme some cash — twenties and fifties!” She said, “I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to give me a withdrawal slip for that.” She later told cops that when she asked for the slip, the man “appeared anxious, at first,” and then ran out the front door to his car and got away. Later that same day, he tried to rob another local bank. He got the cash, but as he was running out the door, the dye pack in the bunch of cash she gave him activated. Yes, he got away, but his dry cleaning bill must have been a whopper!

For you who drive over the Mill Basin Drawbridge. You know the experience is like having two cases of the shakes at the same time. Your teeth chatter for one thing. But there is light at the end of the tunnel because work has begun on replacing it — plus fixing other bridges on the Belt, including Spring Creek, Fresh Creek, etc. It’ll take a little time, but the “Men Working” signs are already posted for overnights.

Starrett City residents finally were set free of worry when Governor David Paterson signed legislation extending affordable housing for the next 30 years. That settles the whole thing now, and calms the fears of those who thought the “revenoo’ers” were on their backs and ready to throw them out any minute. It’s the law! Meanwhile, the tenants of Bay View Houses were upset that the beautiful new community center that was supposed to be open by this time was delayed. Assemblyman Alan Maisel sent letters and other requests to legislative authorities complaining about it, but they’re blaming the economy and the slow bureaucracy. It started in 2004 and was supposed to be opened in 2006. Now they’re saying it “might” open in 2010.

The Friends United Block Association held a meeting in September to introduce the Democratic candidates for city office. Those vying for various positions, included councilmanic spots for the 45th and 46th C.D.s covering parts of Canarsie, Mill Basin, Marine Park and Bergen Beach. Mark Green, running for Consumer Affairs commissioner, was also there. The following week, people’s interest wandered to the northwest as hundreds of thousands watched and participated in the giant West Indian Day Parade, now a wonderful tradition for the borough on Labor Day.

While the FBI came out with its yearly report on crime, Captain Milt Marmara, commanding officer of the 69th Precinct, proudly noted how crime here is also on the wane. “In the Canarsie area, we’ve had a decrease of 18 percent in shootings and about the same percentage in burglaries,” he said. And Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly noted that the FBI called New York, “The safest big city in America.” How ’bout that? This month, the FBI came out with another report repeating those figures.

Community Board 18’s September meeting heard Councilman Fidler say that new renovations are scheduled to take place at Canarsie Park. Although the area is certainly well on its way to becoming an entity of which we’ll be proud, it still has a way to go, with the transformation to include a cricket field, new benches and several landscape provisions.

Plans to provide the local area with a Skate Park (a park where youngsters can take their skateboards for fun) were floated at the meeting of the United Canarsie South Civic Association and are being proposed officially, according to officials. News of this came even as authorities from Holy Family School hosted a giant “Last Dance” reunion of former students. As of June, the last class was held, and the gettogether was a farewell party for the occasion. The greetings of old friends came easy, and the tears for the old school came hard; but the friendships and memories will last forever.

Mayor Bloomberg was elected for a third term this year, as thousands protested his “bought” election (all the bills went to his personal bank; who says you can’t buy it?). Glad or not, we’ve got him for another term — or maybe a fourth?). Some were happy at the outcome, voicing the opinion that he really hasn’t done THAT bad a job for the city. Besides, who else could do it?

It wasn’t the most exciting year on record for Canarsiens, but we worked together as a community — and the Canarsie Courier recorded it. We continue to be the journal of importance to the local community because we know how important the local community is to us all. So, from all of us to all of you — HAVE A WONDERFUL AND HAPPY 2010!

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