2003-11-21 / Front Page

Mayor Removes 587 Memorial Wall

Weiner Chides Mayor For Damaging Fragile Agreement
Mayor Removes 587 Memorial Wall

Weiner Chides Mayor For Damaging Fragile Agreement

The ad-hoc memorial wall that has stood at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue since an American Airlines A-300 jetliner crashed into that corner on November 12, 2001 is gone.

On Monday, workers from the city's Department of Records and Information Services came unannounced to Rockaway to box up the memorabilia that was on the wall and to cut the wall itself into six pieces and discard it.

The agency's commissioner, Brian Anderson, told Newsday reporter Ron Howell, "The mayor's office asked us to intervene to archive the items in order to preserve them." Anderson added that the items on the board were in jeopardy because of the recent "winds and heavy rains."

Family members of those who died in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 stand at the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue on Monday night, lamenting the fact that the mayor's office had removed the memorial wall that had been at that spot since the day of the crash in November of 2001.

The sudden move to take down the wall angered many of the families of those who died in the
crash as well as Congressman Anthony Weiner, who had been brokering a deal between the community and the families to remove and preserve the wall intact.

"I have been working with the families and the residents of Belle Harbor for two years," Weiner told The Wave on Monday afternoon. "There were three components of the compromise agreement: a small plaque at the site, preserving the present wall intact and a site for a permanent memorial in Rockaway. The mayor has now screwed up two of the three components by acting without contacting the community."

Weiner was referring to the plaque put in by the Parks Department prior to the second anniversary of the crash. That plaque includes the names of Mayor Bloomberg and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, a fact that angered both the relatives and local residents.

Weiner said that he had brokered a deal for American Airlines to come to the site and to place the wall under Plexiglas intact and to store it at Floyd Bennett Field until a suitable site could be found for it. One site mentioned was at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, which will soon open a garden in memory of the victims of the flight.

"Many of those in the Dominican community now believe that we have reneged on our deal," Weiner added. "That is just stupid politics."

Weiner refused to comment on a statement to The Wave by a mayoral aide at last week's memorial ceremony at the site. At that time, the aide told a Wave editor, "Weiner would never have anything to do with a permanent memorial in Rockaway."

"That was kind of a petulant comment that doesn't reflect the mayor's feelings," Weiner said. "Perhaps she had too much caffeine."

Weiner says that he reached out to the mayor months ago to show a good faith effort to get the city involved in the process.

"They never returned my call," he said.

On Monday evening, a number of family members came to the crash site to see the empty construction wall that now stands at the corner.

"This is wrong," Lori-Ann Albert, who lost both her 10-month-old son and her fiancé on the plane, "They should have given us notice and the right to remove things from the wall before they took it down. We wanted it moved in one piece."

Alpert placed a picture of her son, Jayke, on the construction wall.

"This is a big disrespect to the victims and the community," Alpert added. "There were lots of places to put it."

Clara Hernandez, who lost her in-laws on the flight, stood by the construction wall and cried. Others tried to console her without success.

A group of relatives, dismayed by the city's quick destruction of the wall, held a press conference Hostos Community College on Tuesday afternoon.

"We want to protest the way the temporary memorial was removed," their press notification said. "We are disappointed with the way the city took this action without notification and without allowing time for our action."

Weiner says that he will continue to work for a "suitable memorial" in Rockaway that will satisfy both the Rockaway community and the families of those who died in the crash.

Both the mayor and the governor, however, have made promises to the Dominican community as well.

For Rockaway, the question has moved from a community question to a political battle that may well be way above the peninsula's pay grade.

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