2003-02-22 / Columnists


This week marks the second anniversary of the untimely demise of Wave publisher Leon Locke. Leon, who was publisher of this newspaper for more than 25 years, is still very much in the memory of those who work for The Wave as well as of those who read the paper each week.

It is interesting how polls can be manipulated, even The Wave’s on-line poll. Until two weeks ago, the results of the poll, which asked where the memorial for flight 587 should be placed, was running neck and neck, with about half saying it should be on the crash site itself and half saying it should be on a site nearby. At the meeting for the 9/11 Memorial, however, we met several people who represent the families of those who died in the crash and want an on-site memorial, and we told them of the poll. We were asked it they could take part as well and they were told that they could vote at The Wave’s Website. Two days later, a check of the poll results showed that about 100 additional people had voted, virtually all of them for an on-site memorial. We guess we asked for it.

The collapse of a new home under construction at Beach 30 Street and Seagirt Boulevard last week raises questions once again about the construction of new homes throughout the peninsula. It was lucky that the two dozen men who normally work at the site and might have been on the building at the time had not yet arrived for work or that there was nobody sitting in the parked cars that were destroyed. The trade unions were quick to point out that the work was being done by non-union labor and that the accident was a result of poor workmanship. The developers were just as quick to point out that the metal framework was still under construction and that an unusually high wind caused the collapse. Investigators from the police department and the city’s Department of Buildings are investigating, and it might be quite a while before it is determined which of those theories is correct. In the meantime, perhaps the Department of Buildings should keep a strict eye out on the dozens of other construction projects on the peninsula, from Bayswater to Belle Harbor.

The Tribute Park on Beach 116 Street and Beach Channel Drive, across from the Rockaway Sunset Diner, will soon host "Heaven Over Rockaway," a glass and concrete "Chuppa" by artist Patrick Clark, a Rockaway resident who is nationally known for his stained glass church window restorations. We must congratulate the Chamber of Commerce, Community Board 14 and The Rockaway Artists Alliance for its collaboration and for the process that included lots of community input. Clark told The Wave that he will begin work immediately (that was prior to the blizzard, however) and that he expects to have the work in place for a September 11, 2003 unveiling.

The visit of Kathleen Cashin, the newly-appointed superintendent of Division Five, which includes Rockaway, to Lew Simon’s shop last week was a big hit. The room, which holds about 60, packed in more than 150 people who came to listen to the new superintendent and to question her about local issues. Cashin handled the evening well, working the audience like a politician, moving around as she spoke, using first names and shaking hands. She is a very impressive woman and, unlike a politician, she did not promise anything she could not deliver. The vast majority of those present at the meeting were school staff from Rockaway schools and local residents who work in other school districts. The two largest constituencies seemed to be those from Beach Channel High School, who are seeking a new principal to replace a succession of acting principals and the parents from PS 114, who are thinking boycott is their present principal is not replaced by somebody who is willing to work with the parents.

A panel of state legislators, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, will soon recommend that parent-controlled "district education councils" replace the elected school boards, which will be eliminated in June. Although the 32 school districts will become a legal fiction at that time, the panel will recommend a council in each of the districts, which will consist of eight parents, two civic leaders and a high school student. The councils will have conscripted duties, including oversight for budget and "education plans." Under the proposed plan, the parent associations would elect the eight parents, while the two civic leaders and the Borough President would appoint the high school student. There is still some question, however, as to whether the mayor and the chancellor has the power to make their sweeping changes under the new plan. Some state legislators are saying that the Assembly and Senate have oversight power and have to vet the program before it can be implemented. The mayor has said that he did not do away with the mandated school districts and that each district still has a superintendent, two requirements of the governance law.

It has been nearly 30 years since Eastern Airlines Flight 66 experienced wind shear on its way into JFK Airport and slammed into Rockaway Turnpike at a spot that now houses a new complex of warehouses and trucking companies. Ever since that accident, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has been pushing for a Doppler radar facility that might have warned the pilot of flight 66 of the problem and kept the accident from happening. Why 30 years? Nobody wanted the facility. Not Nassau County (the optimum site for the radar facility), not Brooklyn and not Rockaway. The facility, which is on the site of the former Coast Guard helicopter and seaplane facility at Floyd Bennett Field, went on line two weeks ago. We hope that it lives up to its billing, protecting aircraft arriving at both Kennedy and LaGuardia from deadly wind shear. At the time, Lew Simon predicted that the facility would "microwave" everybody in Rockaway. As it is, its emissions did not even melt the two feet of snow on the peninsula left by the Blizzard of ’03.

The blizzard of ’03 brought Rockaway to a standstill on Monday, closing everything including The Wave. It turned out to be the massive winter storm that the weather people had been predicting all week, and many on the Peninsula chose not to believe the prognosticators, although the local supermarkets and food stores were mobbed on Sunday night. Many local food dealers reported that they were quickly sold out of bread, milk, water and other perishables. It was not a storm that we will soon forget.

Internet sales of tax-free cigarettes in New York State went up in smoke last week, as a federal appeals court upheld a state ban on direct sales of tobacco products to consumers. According to the estimates of "experts" in the field, that will mean about $100 million in extra revenues for the state and the city. Ever since the mayor’s new cigarette tax raised packs of smokes to more than seven dollars, many locals have turned to the Internet, often saving more than $4 a pack. At the same time, many of those local stores that relied on cigarette sales took a major hit because of the new tax not because many people stopped smoking, but because they went across the Nassau County boarder or to the Internet for their smokes. Now, many might come back. The ruling also applies to sales by mail and by phone. The Court of Appeals ruling overturns a lower court ruling that said that the state law was unconstitutional. The question of local control over Internet sales may one day go to the Supreme Court.

For many years, Dot Taphouse wrote a column called "Dot On Roxbury" for The Wave. She quickly became Roxbury’s town crier, writing each week of the trials and successes of her small community. When she met her untimely end last year, many in Roxbury called to say that they missed her column. Recently, Erin Baumann, another Roxbury regular, picked up her column, now called, "Erin On The Rox." We want to welcome Erin and hope that she is with us for many years to come.

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