2008-04-11 / Columnists

Beachcomber

The city's Department of Transportation has announced that the two Cross Bay Bridge ramps that have been closed since October of last year will reopen on May 23. That is good news for locals who use the bridge on a daily basis to get to the mainland or to Manhattan. Of course, DOT promises are often ephemeral, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that this promise is for real.

We want to give credit to the two police officers who pulled a man from a rooftop on Caffrey Avenue in Far Rockaway on March 11. The police officer on the left in the Wave photo published in the March 21 issue is Edward Thieralult. The officer on the right is Joseph Kotch. To both of them, we say "well done!"

Scattered throughout last week's Wave were stories of shootings and the confiscation of weapons on the peninsula. We are not alone. Murders are up 24.7 percent in the city, to 111 this year as opposed to 89 during the same period in 2007. Shootings are also up, to 255 from 217, a 17.5 percent jump, and the number of victims from those shootings rose to 286 from 260, a ten percent rise. Rockaway's rise, particularly in the 101 Precinct area, has been more precipitous. Law enforcement officials say the rise of drug and gang-related activity in the public housing complexes has been behind most of Rockaway's rise in the crime statistics.

A citizen's watchdog group has identified 11,610 unregulated "member items" on which Congress will spend $17 billion this year. Among the projects that you fund with your tax dollars are: $1.7 million for Sunflower research in North Dakota; $2 million to build two sections of Interstate 66 in Kentucky - 120 miles apart - even though plans to build the coast-to-coast highway were shelved in 1994; $1 million to study grasshoppers in Utah; nearly $1 million for a strategic plan to manage noxious weeds in Idaho; $188 thousand for a lobster institute in Maine; and $98 thousand to fund a walking tour of a Virginia town that has 474 people and is smaller than a square mile. Your tax dollars at work.

As if we needed proof that politicians sometimes steal taxpayers blind, we have the story of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who will soon run for mayor, and who built up a slush fund made up of money that she earmarked for organizations that did not exist. Nearly $4.7 million dollars went to 30 phantom groups with such names as "American Association of Concerned Veterans," "Coalition For a Strong Special Education," and "Community Development for Stronger Neighborhoods." Quinn admitted to the slush fund, saying it was first developed by her predecessors. She added that she told her aides to knock it and end the fund fraud, but they did not obey her orders.

State Senator Shirley Huntley, who represents Broad Channel as well as much of southern Brooklyn, is following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Ada Smith, who was infamous so many times, she was finally thrown out of office by the voters - something that seldom happens in our state legislature. Seems that Huntley wanted to make a point about subprime mortgages and predatory lending practices that lead to people losing their homes, so she stopped paying her mortgage. Before foreclosure, however, she ordered her attorneys to pay the money and get her off the hook, which they did. After the story broke, however, investigators found that she had refinanced her home mortgage 10 times over 30 years, some of them with the very firms that caused the local subprime crisis. Records show that her original mortgage on her Brooklyn home was $28,500 in 1976. Today, after all of the refinancing, her mortgage is reportedly $290,000. And she's watching our money.

Queens is the only borough that has no representation on the Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide group that gives advice to the mayor and chancellor, which they then ignore. In any case, the Queens rep quit months ago and Borough President Helen Marshall has not been able to find anybody she sees fit to appoint. If you are a Queens parent and want to have your voice heard - or not - by the mayor and chancellor, give Borough President Helen Marshall a call. She'll be waiting.

Two weeks ago we ran a story about the Scholars' Academy and how the principal was urging parents to send in positive surveys about the school to the Department of Education by providing incentives such as homework passes, pizza parties and extra recess periods. At the time, we tried to find out from the DOE whether or not such incentives were approved by the chancellor, but they never called us back. This week, the Daily News did an "exclusive" story about principals who were urging their staffs to send in positive surveys. Turns out that the DOE did speak with the News to say, "Schools may not attempt to influence responses, and principals should avoid even the appearance that they were attempting to sway survey answers." Somebody should speak with the local principals, because we have heard that many of them did the same thing as the principal of the Scholars' Academy.

The Daily News got it all wrong. It recently pointed out that Community Board 13 (not CB 14) covered the Rockaways and that its monthly meetings are held at the Bellerose Assembly of God Church on Hillside Avenue in Bellerose. Not even close.

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