2005-12-23 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


Not only is this season to be jolly, it is also the season to award my annual “Diamond or Coal” awards to those who helped and hindered Rockaway this year.

A big bag of coal to Patrick Clark the local artist who got lots of accolades for being chosen to design and build the major facet in our Tribute Park jewel, the glass cupola encrusted with the names of the locals who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. The best spin on this entire sordid episode is that completing the work is beyond Clark’s artist ability. The worst spin is that he continues to literally hold up the community for more money by continuing to promise that he will complete the work. Some of that coal should then be shuttled over to Chamber of Commerce President John Lepore and Community Board 12 District Manager Jon Gaska, who let Clark get away with his machinations. What they should have done is sued Clark for the $75,000 they have already paid him and then found somebody else to do the job. Jon’s recent comment that they have not set a deadline for Clark to finish the work because “what’s the use,” shows a defeatist attitude and a willingness to keep pumping money into Clark’s coffers without any benefit to the community.

From the same vein, a bag of diamonds to Dan Mundy, who was hired late by the Rockaway Partnership to facilitate the development of Tribute Park and who did a fantastic job despite Clark’s shenanigans. The park is well thought out and beautiful and the fact that it is open is due mostly to Mundy’s tenacity and hard work.

Some diamonds as well to Flip Mullen and the other locals who hosted the “Wounded Warrior” project in Rockaway last summer. The event brought lots of good publicity to the peninsula and, more importantly, showed that residents continue to do the right thing for those who protect our community.

Coal to the Department of Education’s Region Five and its leader, Superintendent Kathleen Cashin, for continuing to further its draconian control over each and every classroom teacher in the region. What the word “education” has come to mean in our schools is bulletin boards and test-taking skills. Things got so bad this year that the UFT President, Randi Weingarten, met with Cashin over the micromanagement issue. While Cashin talked a good game, it still seems that nothing has changed. At Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, two days after a Weingarten memo said that Cashin has promised to cut down on bulletin board enforcement, a region official reportedly demanded that all of the bulletin boards in the school be backed by the same red paper and have the same color border. Standardized test scores might be marginally up, but real content education has gone way down under the mayor, the chancellor and our regional superintendent.

Bags of diamonds to our first responders – the men and women of the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, volunteer fire departments and the like. They are still the people who run towards danger while everybody else is running away from it. They deserve our support and our good wishes for continuing safe tours.

Coal to the First Response Ambulance Company, whose ambulances continue to roar lights and sirens throughout the community without need or reason. The First Response ambulances have caused some accidents and many close misses over the past year and our state legislature should pass a law with stiff penalties for private ambulance companies who use lights and sirens when there is no emergency.

Diamonds to Steve Good, the proprietor of the Beach Club and the Rockaway Sunset Diner, who continually offers his facilities to local civic groups and others for community meetings and workshops. With the demise of the Washington Hotel, Steve’s facility has become the only non-religious catering facility on the peninsula. When the 101 Precinct Community Council looked for a venue for its first holiday party, it had to look to the Lawrence-Woodmere Firehouse because there was no non-religious facility in Far Rockaway for the party. It is a shame that a peninsula with more than 110,000 people and myriad civic groups can’t draw another catering facility to augment Good’s.

Several bags of coal to the State Assembly in general and to Audrey Pheffer and Michelle Titus in particular for allowing Shelly Silver and the Democratic leadership to tie up a vital bill addressing penalties for illegal handguns. In its zeal to do away with even legal handguns, the Assembly has ignored the problem of large amounts of illegal handguns being brought in from other states with lax gun laws that are being sold, largely without penalty thanks to the Assembly, on the streets of Rockaway.

Diamonds to the parents and the business committee of St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel, who worked tirelessly to keep the small school open after the Brooklyn Diocese announced that it would close the school. It was a great example of a community coming together to get the job done.

Diamonds as well to the Graybeards, an organization of aging basketball players who came together after September 11, 2001 to become one of the premier community activist organizations in Rockaway, giving countless hours and lots of bucks to local causes.

Coal to Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe and his staff for browbeating Rockaway over beach access rules. It has been three summers since it set its draconian beach and boardwalk rules and there has been no movement towards making them more rational. In the same regard, while City Councilman Joe Addabbo deserves some diamonds for getting Rockaway its dedicated surfing beach, he also gets some of the coal for refusing to realize that seven west end residents do not a community make.

Diamonds to all of the volunteers who work with kids, from those who coach little league and summer basketball to those who head our scout troops. You are our quiet heroes.

Coal to lots of city agencies. To EZ-Pass for imposing a monthly charge, a move that amounts to an increased fare with no public hearings. To the MTA for keeping two sets of books, increasing fares, running the worst railroad west of the Ukraine, for treating its workers like serfs and for forcing a stupid and unproductive strike on its workers. To the Mayor, for deciding that all Rockaway should be is affordable housing. To the DOT for taking years to place much-needed traffic lights on the peninsula. To the ACS for allowing young children to die for lack of workers who know what they are doing and who believe that the parent is always right. And, finally, to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs for doing everything wrong on the development of a local memorial to those who died on AA 587.

Coal to the greedy developers who are gobbling up one and two-family homes and turning the property into monster homes, completely out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

Coal as well to City Councilman James Sanders, who seems to have disappeared once again now that he has won reelection.

And, coal as well to St. Rose of Lima, who fired a good parochial school teacher simply because she was pregnant and unmarried. What does the school do to male teachers who “fool around” out of wedlock? Nothing. Sounds unfair when you think of it that way.

One more bag of coal to the Department of Education for first announcing its lifeguard training program and then pleading poverty while refusing to fund the $25,000 cost while paying for such extravagances for regional supervisors as Blackberry devices that allow administrative staff to keep in touch instantly with the regional office by email or phone. What a waste. We have to wonder what is so important that such an expensive communication device is needed for the likes of Local Instructional Supervisors. The DOE and the region have asked local residents to fund the program, which would help alleviate our lifeguard shortage.

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