2013-01-02 / Front Page

Vallone, Staffers Get Down To Clean Finest Memorial

By Liz Goff

Sean McDonald and his family moved from their native Ireland to a home on 36th Street in Astoria when he was a small child.

“My boys always wanted to be police officers,” Sean’s father, John McDonald, said in a 1995 interview. “They had the calling.”

Police Officer Sean McDonald was a rookie cop assigned to the Community Policing Program (CPOP) at the 44th Precinct in the Bronx in March 1994. While walking a beat in the Bronx neighborhood on March 15, 1994, McDonald interrupted a robbery in progress at a local business and was shot dead by a brazen thief who was later tried an convicted for the murder.

News of McDonald’s death resonated throughout the Astoria neighborhood where he grew up, attended Most Precious Blood School and developed the strength and character that helped him achieve his “dream job” as a New York City cop.

McDonald left behind his wife, Janet, and two children, a 3-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter, his police officer brother and his father, John, who remained at the family home in Astoria until he passed away several years ago.

In 1995, neighbors, friends and community activists dedicated a city playground to Sean MdDonald, located just off Broadway on 37th Street in Astoria – just a block from the home where he grew up.

Dubbed “Sean’s Place,” the playground was designed as a haven for area residents, with a “kiddie park,” a basketball court and apace for other sports. The green space also provides benches and tables for games and a small garden dedicated to McDonald’s memory.

In recent years, however, neighbors noticed a change in the condition of Sean’s Place. The entrance gate was left unlocked and the playground had been turned into a late night hangout for groups of teens and young adults who spent their time drinking and engaging in illegal activities, neighbors said. The activity left Sean’s Place littered with criminal activity and trash discarded overnight, the neighbors said.

Fed up with the conditions, members of “Friends Of Sean’s Place, a local advocacy group, reached out to City Councilmember Peter Vallone for help to restore the park to its original peace, quiet and dignity.

Vallone who recently announced that he is running for the office of Queens Borough President, and his City Council staffers took matters into their own hands last month, hauling ice coolers, metal scraps, discarded trash and dozens of Gatorade bottles from a crawl space behind a wall that separates the park from a municipal parking lot on Steinway Street.

“It became a place to get rid of junk,” Vallone said. “But it’s not, anymore.”

Vallone Chief of Staff Michael Pantelidies told the Gazette that he joined the Astoria lawmaker and other staffers who removed bundles of trash and debris from the crawl space. Pantelidies said the group had help from city Department of Saitation workers who hauled off the debris at a rapid pace.

Pantelidies said Vallone also called on officials at the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to arrange replacement of a gated fence located behind the wall.

DOT workers last month replaced the fence and will supply a key to the advocacy group, giving them access to the crawl space for cleanup and security, Vallone said.

Vallone said he reached out to Department of Parks District 1 manager Norman Chu, who met with community leaders to hear grievances and find solutions to conditions at the playground.

As a result of those efforts, parks workers assisted with some cleanup efforts last fall and have planted new greenery at Sean’s Place, Vallone said.

Vallone, who earlier this year brought the city to task on the lack of Parks Enforcement officers, has asked officials at the 114th Precinct to keep watch over the playground until the Parks Department can commit personnel to enforcement at Sean’s Place.

“We are trying to work with the resources at hand to clean up and maintain a safe environment at Sean’s Place as a fitting memorial to one of New York City’s fallen Finest,” Vallone said.



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