2003-01-11 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I bid on a crystal ball on E-bay, never thinking that $1.65 would be the winning bid, but it was. When it arrived at The Wave, I tried to clean it up a bit with paper towel, and a vision that looked something like a television show popped into view.

This is what the crystal ball says will happen in Rockaway this year.

January: Congressman Anthony Weiner announces that the new flight paths promised by the FAA will begin on February 1, a repeat the promise he made last January. The Education Department says that it is laying off fifty teachers, a move made necessary because the owner of the property that houses the district office doubled the rent to $120 thousand a month from $60 thousand a month. Borough President Helen Marshall keeps a New Year’s resolution by doing away with her office. "I had nothing to do, so why sit there on Queens Boulevard?" she asked. Police from the 100 Precinct arrest 125 "polar bears" for swimming when no lifeguards are on duty on New Year’s Day. Unusually high tides wipe out the entire east end of Broad Channel. The Rockaway Chamber of Commerce shows off its finalists for the memorial to be built at Tribute Park and 7,000 people respond by saying that they don’t like any of them. The Littoral Society takes its annual walk on the beach at Fort Tilden. They attempt to signal people at Sandy Hook, but get a spaceship instead. They are all beamed up and never seen again. A group of Hispanic relatives of those who died on Flight 587 demand a memorial be built on both sides of Beach 131 Street, between Newport and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. The NTSB announces that the pilot who was flying 587, Sten Molin, had once played "Space Invaders" for seven hours straight, an indication that it was his fault that the plane crashed. Mayor Bloomberg announces that smoking will not be allowed on city beaches this coming season.

February: Despite Congressman Weiner’s promises, the planes continue to fly over Belle Harbor. Weiner says that it is only a mechanical glitch that caused the delay, and that the new flight paths would begin in March. The first snowstorm of the winter hits Rockaway, stopping local bus and subway service. Cab drivers charge a resident $75 to go from Beach 116 Street to Beach 122 Street. The St. Patrick’s Day Committee names Mayor Bloomberg as its Grand Marshal because of all he had done for Rockaway business. Dan Tubridy closes his restaurant and reopens Pier 92 as a cigar bar. Bloomberg announces that he agrees "in principle" with the demand for an entire city block for a Flight 587 memorial. He is cheered by the community in Washington Heights and booed when his name is announced as parade Grand Marshal. Chamber of Commerce executive director Liz Sulik says, "there must be a compromise in there somewhere." Local councilmen Joe Addabbo and Jim Sanders say that they are close to getting a commuter ferry for Rockaway. The developers of Arverne-By-The-Sea say that they are having problems with the city and its permit system and will soon begin building the 2,300-unit development. RDRC executive director Curtis Archer announces that The Wave is wrong and that the Addabbo Health Center project is still on target. The Task Force on School Governance announces its new plan. School Leadership Teams, to be elected by the parents in each school, will soon take over the job of the discarded local school boards. Chuckles are heard all over the peninsula. An Airbus A300-600 crashes on takeoff from Kuwait. Pilots who fly the plane again say it should be grounded. The NTSB announces that there is nothing wrong with the plane. Mayor Bloomberg fires 750 principals. Having nobody to replace them, 750 teachers are promoted to principal, making the class size in district schools 42 in a class.

March: Congressman Anthony Weiner and the FAA host a meeting at PS 114 to explain why the planes are still flying over Belle Harbor both day and night. "It is a technical problem," the FAA says. We will have it worked out by summer. Weiner says that he is proud to see the FAA cooperating with the community. Jim Sanders, the head of the council’s Economic Development Committee, tours Rockaway and proclaims that it is in "perfect economic health." City Councilman Joe Addabbo, the head of the Parks Committee, stood on the beach to announce that he and the Parks Department have worked out a deal to stop the wave of tickets that hit the beach last summer. He is arrested for being on the beach when the "Park is closed." The Rockaway’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is disrupted when Mayor Mike Bloomberg is caught smoking a cigar behind the Irish Circle. He is arrested for smoking in public and stoned by the crowd. Toxic materials leaking from the old LILCO Manufactured Gas Plant site on Beach 108 Street sickens 300 shoppers at Waldbaum’s, but it takes weeks before anybody is aware of what happened.

April: Congressman Anthony Weiner presents an award in the name of the people of Rockaway to both the FAA and the NTSB for "adequately addressing Rockaway’s needs in the past year." A procedure is set up to elect school leadership teams. In order to insure minority participation (and keep the feds off the back of the state legislature) the procedure is so confusing that not even the committee that set it up understands it. At a meeting at the Beach Club, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe assures Rockaway residents that they will have the full use of the beach this summer. "As long as you don’t surf, don’t walk on the beach after dark, don’t fish and don’t leave your blankets unattended, you will be fine," he says. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges the East Rockaway Inlet. Right after the dredging is completed, the Atlantic Beach Bridge gets sucked into the tide moving into the Atlantic Ocean and is never seen again. "Perhaps we have a problem here," Parks Committee chair Joe Addabbo says. Rockaway activists push for seven-foot high signs warning swimmers of the tides in the area. A year after the project was announced, work begins on the old Rockaway courthouse. Workers begin to clean the outside of the building and it collapses. It seems that only the dirt was holding it up. A motorist driving on Beach Channel Drive and Beach 134 Street is blinded by a mass of daffodils and crashes into the seawall.

May: Kevin Boyle’s book, "Braving The Waves," becomes number one on the New York Times top ten list after Dorothy Dunne mentions it on her television show. The Marine Parkway Bridge, reopened only last year, is closed indefinitely when it is found that the wrong bolts were used and they are all rusting away in the salt air environment of Rockaway.

June: School District 27 is disbanded. The schools in Rockaway are split between three other school districts, one in Rosedale, one in Howard Beach and the third in Brooklyn. School Superintendent Matt Bromme is put in charge of SURR schools in the South Bronx. An election is held to choose members of the school leadership teams. Nobody shows up because nobody understands how or where to vote. The local school board, at its last meeting, holds a party at the Beach Club to thank all those who worked with the board over the years. The party is dedicated to past school board member James Conway Sullivan. Congressman Anthony Weiner assures the Belle Harbor community that the FAA has its best interests at heart. That night, an Airbus A300-600 crashes on takeoff into Jamaica Bay. Police and fire units rescue all of the plane’s passengers, but the plane’s two engines and a tail wind up on the Triangle Park. Adrian Benepe assures Rockaway that there will be plenty of lifeguards for Rockaway beaches come July even though none have been hired or trained because of the budget crisis. The NTSB says that there is nothing wrong with the Airbus A300-600, that the pilot landed in the bay, thinking it was Santo Domingo.

July: The fireworks program on July 4 is cut short when an errant shell shoots down an A300-600 taking off from JFK. The NTSB says that the shell hit the plane’s tail and knocked it right off the plane. "There is nothing wrong with the A300’s tail," an NTSB spokesperson says. Thirty children under the age of seven are arrested by police for digging sand castles on the beach. "There can be no construction projects we have not approved," Commissioner Benepe says, lauding the police for their fine work. Forty others are arrested for leaving their blankets unattended while they went in for a swim. Surfers from all over the area, led by the Duke, come to Rockaway to demand the right to surf. They are pulled under by a rip current and taken out to sea. Commissioner Benepe says that the lack of lifeguards has not impacted Rockaway residents in a negative way, since nobody is allowed to use the beach anyway. He lauds Joe Addabbo and the City Council for coming up with the plan.

August: National Night Out Against Crime is marred by the arrest of more than 1,000 people who have come to Rockaway to protest the beach rules. Each is also given a $100 ticket for trespassing. As they are led away from the beach in handcuffs, local police officials keep count. "This is going to look great at Comstat," one says. "Never mind that," a deputy mayor says. "Now I can get that raise that the mayor promised me."

September: Schools open, but nobody has been notified of the new zoning plan for Rockaway and few parents know where their children will attend. Calls to the Education Department get a recorded message that "we will get back to you. You are not our priority." There is no district office to call, nor a local school board. The private and parochial schools get mobbed by parents who want a school for their children. Chancellor Levy announced that another election would be held for school leadership teams in November. "Please show up," he begs. Parents and children wander from school to school, asking if the child is registered in that building. Nobody seems to have an answer to that question. The unveiling of the planned 9-11 Tribute Park is postponed because the piece of property still houses parts of the Airbus that fell into the bay. "We can’t move it because it is a crime scene," the police say. The NTSB, however, announces that it was the pilot’s fault.

October: Several schools in Rockaway are closed for "persistent educational failure." Their principals are reassigned to the new districts, where they quickly disappear into mainland schools. Children in those schools get letters telling them that they have a right to a seat in a school that is not failing, but none of those schools have any room.

November: The new school leadership team elections are held. Only teachers show up and the teachers quickly take charge of the schools. The schools begin to show progress.

December: A snowstorm hits Queens grounding all aircraft from JFK Airport for three days. Congressman Anthony Weiner issues a statement lauding the FAA for finally keeping its promise to Rockaway. "No planes have flown over Belle Harbor for three days," he says.


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