2009-08-14 / Columnists


The Wave has received a number of communications complaining about the New York Post's treatment of a still-unnamed Rockaway lifeguard who was featured on the tabloid's front page in early August for wearing earphones and listening to music on a stormy Sunday morning when there was nobody else on the beach. Most complained that it was a cheap shot on the part of the paper. Those who know the man say that he has made dozens of good rescues over his nine years as a lifeguard, and that he was not endangering anybody because there was nobody around. The mayor said that he should be fired for breaking the rules, and the Parks Department suspended him pending formal charges. At the same time, however, a number of supervisors were caught drinking beer at their desks at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and the Parks Department excused that because it was after 6 p.m. and the beaches were closed. Where is the fairness? This could have a real impact on the lifeguard's future, should he ever want to work for the city. Being derailed over a pair of earphones borders on the bizarre.

A few years ago, the city made a deal with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that was supposed to assist communities impacted by JFK Airport. The money was in return for the PA getting a long-term lease on the three local airports. We believe that no community was more impacted by the airport than Rockaway, where a jetliner crashed in November of 2001. Yet, the great majority of the money is going to communities such as Jamaica and others within five miles of the airport. Why? There are two reasons. First of all, City Councilman James Sanders Jr. is involved with distributing the money, so it goes to the place where his core votes come from. Rockaway will get only a small share to patch up a triangle of land in Far Rockaway while others get billion-dollar transit hubs. Secondly, our community board voted against the plan to designate the money, effectively telling the city and the PA that Rockaway was really not very interested in the money at all. So, it went elsewhere. Sometimes, Rockaway activists are their own worst enemies. As Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

The Daily News recently did a phone survey of all of the police precincts in the city. The paper wanted to see whether or not the police picked up the phone and how many rings it took officers to answer. The News said that only about 40 percent of the precincts did an "acceptable" job, which means picking up in fewer than 10 rings on at least five of the seven calls that were made to each of the 76 stationhouses in the city. Who was the best? The 101 Precinct in Rockaway Park answered the phone each time a call was made, and did it five times after only one ring and the other two times after two rings.

The rip currents have been raging, and beachgoers have been drowning on Rockaway beaches this month. Although three people died in waterrelated incidents, the statistics put out by the Parks Department will not show any of them as beach-related deaths. Why? One of the deaths came during beach hours, but was on an unprotected beach. The other two took place on federal beaches on the far west end of the peninsula. They don't count. In fact, city statistics do not count swimming fatalities unless the person dies on a protected beach during regular beach hours. Nice way to spin the problem. We have been calling for years for the beach hours to be extended, but so far to no avail. Anything that happens prior to 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., or on a closed beach just doesn't count when the Parks Department is involved.

Jacques Leandre, a candidate for the City Council seat in the district representing the eastern end of the peninsula, recently failed in his attempt to knock the majority of candidates off the ballot before the race to September's primary even gets underway. While he managed to get former police officer Marquez Claxton off the ballot (he was 33 qualified signatures short on his petitions), he failed to dislodge Michal Duncan, Fred Lewis or Lou Gray. That makes a crowded list of five for the primary, and the person who wins the primary will most likely go all the way. James Sanders Jr. now holds the seat and can run again only because he backed the mayor in his power grab to extend term limits, allowing both Sanders and the mayor to run again.

A few weeks ago, we wondered aloud how the Parks Department comes up with the beachgoer attendance numbers it posts each week. Thanks to the New York Times, we now know how it is done, and the method the agency follows boggles the mind. It seems that Joseph Mauro, a Parks supervisor, estimates the population on three Rockaway beaches - Beach 59 Street and one beach east and another west of that beach. So, he looks at three beaches, one of them near Ocean Village, which is hardly ever used, and two other, unidentified beaches. Mauro then makes an estimate of how many people are on all the other beaches in Rockaway based on those three and calls in a population number to headquarters that is based solely on his estimating skills. It probably would be better for the agency to just say they have no idea how many people are on the beach and let it go at that. Acknowledging how unscientific the counting method is, Liam Kavanagh, the agency's operations commissioner, said that it was trying to come up with more scientific methods. He hopes to have one next year. Meanwhile, the beachgoer statistics should be looked at sort of like the number of angels on the head of a pin.

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