2007-12-28 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Diamonds And Coal: 2007 Awards
Commentary By Howard Schwach

It's the last issue of 2007 and traditionally the time for this year's "Diamond Or Coal Awards." There are lots of repeaters, so pay strict attention.

A large bag of diamonds to our first responders, the fire fighters, police officers and EMT's who protect us day in and day out. Their job is getting harder by the year, and they do it exceedingly well.

An extra diamond or two to the two Rockaway police precincts and their commanders for cutting down on the murder and mayhem that traditionally pervades Rockaway during the holiday season.

A bag of coal to the NAACP and our local elected politicians in the east end who continue to keep their heads in the sand when it comes to the gun violence and drug use. Instead of hosting a rally to end the use of guns and drugs in the black community, they instead hosted a rally to demand better treatment of the community's youth by the police. Once again, they got the wrong side of the coin.

A few diamonds to the developers of the Arverne By The Sea complex - The Beechwood-Benjamin consortium- for keeping their promise to Rockaway by building the homes that we need and the business and other amenities that will revitalize the peninsula.

On the other hand, a bag of coal to those who want to over-develop the peninsula with high-rise towers and McMansions on every small building lot.

An additional bag of coal to the City Planning Department, an agency that wants to maximize housing in Rockaway by rezoning to allow eightand nine-story apartment and condo buildings on our main streets near the beach. A beach community does not need eight-story buildings, as the Ocean Grande proved once and for all.

A large bag of diamonds to the Graybeards and other local organizations that continue to serve the community well. Because of the Graybeards and its work with the Wounded Warrior Foundation, Rockaway has become known as a community that is kind to its heroes, rather than the isolated and somewhat racist community that it was portrayed as after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in November of 2001.

Acouple of bags of coal to the Department of Education and the mayor for really turning education in the wrong direction during 2007. From the busing fiasco at the beginning of the school year to the flawed school report cards, the DOE truly became the "gang that couldn't shoot straight."

Some coal to the officials at Gateway National Recreation Area who have been giving such local organizations as the Rockaway Music and Arts Council a hard time over the past year. The demands of Gateway may well lead to the end of the highly popular Fall Festival and perhaps, the summer picnic concerts, as well.

Diamonds to the arts groups that keep Rockaway in tune with the rest of the civilized world - The Rockaway Music and Arts Council, the Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Theatre Company. Without them, the peninsula would become an artistic backwater.

Diamonds as well, of course, to the men and women who are on the frontiers of freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots in the world, keeping us all free. We sleep better at night knowing they are on the battlements. Diamonds as well to all the veterans organizations that keep our former fighting men and women organized and focused.

A couple of bags of coal to the Parks Department. That agency deserves coal for many reasons: its decision to keep lifeguards from speaking with the press; its lifeguard testing program that is done in secret and with an agenda that is not fathomable to the rest of us; its decision to keep Rockaway residents isolated from its beachfront and boardwalk after dark; its refusal to let the public have a say on the use of its own infrastructure.

Coal as well to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), for refusing to agree with the recent finding of its Canadian counterpart that the Airbus A300 aircraft have a problem with their rudder systems. Rather than continuing to blame the first officer of the Airbus A300 for the crash of American Airlines 587, the agency should take a closer look at the aircraft involved.

Diamonds to the MTABus Company for expanding service on its express bus runs from Rockaway to Manhattan. The company has made many local residents happy that they no longer have to use the slow and dirty subway system.

Coal to the U.S. Post Offices on the peninsula. Service in the offices and delivery services to homes and apartment buildings seems to be deteriorating each day.

Diamonds to Joe Hartigan and the others who continue to fight for a commuter ferry system for Rockaway. Although we often call the issue a "ferry tale," Hartigan and the others are fighting the good fight.

Several bags of coal to New York magazine for its comment that Rockaway is "a blighted community." We invite the editors to come and meet with us. We'll take them on a tour.

Coal as well to the city's Department of Environmental Protection, an agency that talks a good game about protecting Jamaica Bay, while it pours tons of contaminated wastewater into the bay each year.

And, last, but certainly not least, several more bags of coal for the Department of Education for its plan to close down Far Rockaway High School after 110 years and to rename the several new schools that will inhabit the building as the Far Rockaway Educational Campus. Those of us who graduated from the school are saddened by the prospect, particularly because it makes no sense.

Several other bags of coal to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency that is putting all of us on the Rockaway peninsula in constant jeopardy by increasing the number of planes that arrive and depart at John F. Kennedy each day and increasing the number of runways used in normal traffic handling to three (and sometimes four) from two while, at the same time, reducing the number of air traffic controllers that work in the airport's tower. The head of the Air Traffic Controllers Union at the tower called this week to say that traffic is up three percent and the number of controllers to handle those flights is down 30 percent. At the same time, many of those controllers face mandatory retirement.

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