2008-01-04 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Recapping The Year 2008 - With Some Help From My Crystal Ball
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Now that 2008 had ended and we move this week to 2009, I thought that I would recap the year for our Wave readers.

Of course, I had to whip out my trusty crystal ball and, not being digital, I had some fuzzy pictures, but I'm going to give it a try in any case.

The year 2008 was an exciting and contentious one for Rockaway, what with the partial collapse of development plans for Arverne By The Sea and the loss of our Mayor to national politics.

Those of you who are more than 5- years-old will remember 1968. Snow fell the first day of the year and revelers at Time's Square were forced indoors by the storm. That should have told us what the year was going to be like.

One person called 1968 "a whirlwind."

That is one way to describe it. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the south. People all over the nation took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam.

Martin Luther King was assassinated. So was Bobby Kennedy, who probably would have been president.

The list is long.

Forty years after 1968, what I believe was arguably the most difficult year in American history (in the most difficult decade), we again faced another difficult year, perhaps not one to rival '68, but just a damning in its own way.

January: In the wake of an F report card for the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, a charter school scheduled to move to Arverne By The Sea, the development company stopped discussions for State Senator Malcolm Smith and the other officials of the school. That move, the developers said, would push back the date for the construction of the new school as part of the development. This was just a harbinger of things to come for the massive development company.

On the sports scene, Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens went in front of the "60 Minutes" television cameras to tell Mike Wallace that Breezy Point resident Brian McNamee had lied when he said that he injected steroids into Clemens' backside. That began a long public relations drive to discredit the local man and the Mitchell Commission.

The city announced that five thousand new residents had moved to Rockaway in 2008, pushing the population of the peninsula above the 120,000 mark for the first time in its history.

The Department of Education, however, continued to say that there were plenty of empty school seats on the peninsula and that no new schools were needed.

Rockaway's two hospitals continued to haggle over the site for a new, single, state-of-the-art facility. St. John's Episcopal Hospital continued to push for a site in West Lawrence, citing the need to pull in Nassau County residents. Peninsula Hospital Center continued to fight for its parking lot as the site for the new hospital. Meanwhile, Breezy Point residents joined Neponsit residents in fighting for the abandoned Neponsit Home site.

A simultaneous drug and gun sweep in all of the public housing projects on the peninsula brought several hundred arrests and the confiscation of 275 guns and two tons of drugs. The NAACP immediately announced that it was calling for a rally against the police department for not showing enough respect for gun and drug dealers.

Mayor Bloomberg announced that the plans for commuter ferry service from Rockaway to Manhattan were moving along, but that the study he had commissioned was taking longer than he thought. He promised that a subsidized ferry service would begin soon after July of 2018.

The Parks Department announced that the Coney Island redevelopment plan was moving along, but that it needed bigger beaches for the increased crowds expected to come to the amusement area. Therefore, Adrian Benepe, the Parks Commissioner said, all of the sand from Rockaway beaches would be trucked to Coney Island by the end of the year. "Rockaway is now a residential area, and doesn't need a beach," he said. "We have to maximize our sand by putting it where it is really needed." Benepe added that the city would save lots of money because it would no longer need lifeguards or a boardwalk at Rockaway now that there would be no sand.

"This is a better plan for everybody, including Rockaway residents," he said. "Most of them never wanted a beach in the first place."

February: Super Tuesday on February 5 turned out to be a dud for both the Republican and Democratic Parties, leaving three Democrats Clinton, Obama and Edwards) and three Republicans (Huckabee, McCain and Giuliani) in a virtual tie for the nomination. Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced on February 6 that he would be launching a third party campaign in early March. Republican leaders reached out to him to run under the banner of that party, but he refused.

With term limits coming for city elected officials and with elections due in November, lots of locals were scrambling to line up as candidates. City Councilman Joe Addabbo officially announced that he would run for the mainland State Senate seat held by Serph Maltese.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer announced her candidacy for the Queens Borough President position. City Councilman James Sanders said that he was moving out of the political business, accepting a position in the Political Science Department at York College instead. Locals lined up for the two City Council positions. Democrats Lew Simon and Geraldine Chapey said they would vie for whatever was open. Donovan Richards, Sanders' executive assistant, announced for the city council office. So did Ebony Meeks, the daughter of Congressman Gregory Meeks.

March: A foot of snow ended the annual run of the St. Patrick's Day Parade on the first Saturday of the month. Many locals urged the parade organizers to move the parade to later in the month, hoping for better weather.

The new Rockaway Diner opened to rave reviews, but the facility proved to be too small for the large number of people who tried to get in. At the same time, the new HBSC bank opened on the site of the former Rockaway Sunset Diner. Nobody showed up.

April: The city continued to push for a rezoning of the area around Beach 116 Street. City plans call for eightstory buildings from the beachfront to Newport Avenue on Beach 115 Street, Beach 116 Street and Beach 117 Street. The ground floor of the buildings would be slated for stores and restaurants, while the rest of the building would be residential coops. Locals fought the plan, pointing to the Ocean Grande building as a perfect example of why the plan would not work.

May: The developers of Arverne By The Sea announced that, failing the arrival of money for an enhanced Y on Beach 73 Street, that they would move ahead with the building of the smaller facility they had planned in 2007. Because of the subprime crisis and the slowing of sales of new homes, ABTS officials announced, the facility would now be a community center rather than a Y, with no pool and no gymnasium. "We should have started this in 2007," one official said. "Now, it's too late."

June: After three months of attacks by Clemens in the media, Brian McNamee fought back, showing proof that he injected the star pitcher with steroids in 2001 and 2002. Clemens retorted by trying to discredit McNamee and his testimony. Nobody believed Clemens except for the lords of baseball, who declared that there was no reason to punish any of the players that had been named in the Mitchell Report, but that the commissioner would "be watching those players closely from now on."

The city announced that since Rockaway no longer had a beachfront, new homes would be built along the ocean, rivaling those of East Hampton in location and price. "We're going to make another east end out of Rockaway," Benepe said. "It's just too long for people who live in Manhattan to get to East Hampton. They deserve a closer location for their summer homes."

July to December next week. Stay tuned.

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