2006-12-01 / Community

Visiting Councilmember Insulted Not Once, But Twice

By Brian Magoolaghan

Visiting City Councilmember Helen D. Foster, the chairperson for the City Council's Parks Committee, was insulted not once, but twice during her visit to Rockaway this week to hear resident's comments about lifeguard and beach issues.

Foster, the chair of the council's Parks and Recreation Committee, agreed to attend a meeting in Rockaway to learn about a brewing controversy over the way the city recruits and trains lifeguards.

And while the objective of many of those at the metting was to convince Foster they were raising valid concerns, two Rockaway residents managed to divert attention away from the issues with insulting remarks.

Insult number one came before Foster even got a chance to take off her coat. As the councilwoman from the Bronx was walking into the Beach Club with Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr., Janet Fash, a local Chief Lifeguard and member of Community Board 14's ad hoc committee, asked her if she was related to former Councilmember Rev. Wendell Foster, according to Addabbo. When Foster confirmed the relation, Fash told her that her father had done nothing during his tenure to correct the lifeguard issues that, she says, persist today.

Addabbo said Foster was taken aback by the comment and responded by saying, "I don't even know you, and that's the first thing you say to me."

The comment caught Addabbo off guard and, he said, he admonished Fash. "Janet [Fash] was obviously frustrated, but I was shocked," Addabbo told The Wave. Fash acknowledged the gaffe and immediately apologized.

Insult number two came when Democratic District Leader Lew Simon got up to point fingers at Addabbo and wound up putting his foot in his mouth.

Simon accused Addabbo, who coordinated the meeting to appease a handful of people like Simon who were adamant that Foster come to Rockaway, of ignoring beach and lifeguard issues. He then made a comment about her "having the balls to come to Rockaway."

Simon would later say that he was crediting Foster, albeit crudely, for being brave and taking on an issue that, he says, Addabbo would not. But his ranting and vulgar vocabulary was clearly interpreted as another attack. Foster, who until that moment had not addressed the audience, broke her silence by alluding to the first insult by Fash.

She then questioned why she should not feel free to visit any part of the city she wants to and referenced last weekend's deadly shooting in which police opened fire on three men - killing one and injuring the other two.

Simon scrambled to clarify his statements and apologized as discomfort pervaded the room. He called The Wave the next day to reiterate that he was trying to applaud Foster for coming to Rockaway.

Foster declined to comment on the double insults, but Addabbo said Simon's behavior demonstrated a lack of professionalism.

Foster's support is central to the City Council oversight hearings that are tentatively scheduled for next year, and this was her first face-to-face meeting to hear about lifeguard and beach issues raised by Community Board 14, residents and others.

"It started off on a really wrong foot," Addabbo said later.

In Picture, Democratic District Leader Lew Simon speaks at meeting Tuesday night. His comments insulted visiting Councilmember Helen D. Foster.

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