2018-07-04 / Editorials

Letters to the Editor

Race To Bottom

To The Editor:

Americans who are patriotic are appalled by the daily actions of elected representatives. The nation’s elected officials have been infected with vile, base and reprehensible beliefs that civility must be disregarded replaced with the rules of “ultimate survivor.”

Donald Trump’s opening statement announcing his run for the White House began the race towards the bottom. It was intended to reach those who had come to believe America was only for those they distrusted, feared and envied. Trump knew that millions of our citizens had justified grievances that were overlooked by the establishment for nearly four decades.

Trashing ethical norms, destroying the rules that had regulated political speech for generations, Trump released the anger, disappointment and insecurities of Americans who had become disenfranchised. Trump’s road map has now become the standard role model for his political acolytes.

For individuals of conscience, for those who claim public service as a “calling,” they have discarded their oaths. What moral authority can they claim when they search their souls? They have not only violated their sworn duty to serve the USA, but their humanity!

Ed Horn
Baldwin, LI

Remembering Elise Wager

To The Editor:

Almost 40 years ago, Elise Wager was the Commercial Department director for the fledgling and cumbersomely named Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation. She hired me on a six-month contract. Elise started out as my supervisor, but in time became my friend and mentor. Earlier this month, Elise passed away. Over the past few weeks, I have reflected on her importance in my life and how her guidance shaped me professionally and personally.

My initial interview was admittedly lackluster. When she asked me about my knowledge of the borough, I responded that Rizzo’s (a long-closed checkered tablecloth sort of place on 21st Street in Astoria) served terrific lasagna. She smiled—Elise had a great smile—and we proceeded to discuss local Italian restaurants. She later told me that, though my experience was minimal at best, she liked Rizzo’s too...the baked clams and shrimp scampi.

The field of neighborhood economic development was new, especially in the five boroughs, at the time. New York City was coming through a rough patch with a big summer blackout, high crime, disinvestment, graffiti covered subways, and budget shortfalls. The good news—at least for us in the field— was that there were no real models and the blank slate gave us room to try different approaches. Elise led the charge for our little economic development militia. We helped organize professional groups—many became local development corporations and business improvement districts. We helped real estate projects that were catalysts for future growth. We provided the first business counseling programs for those from underserved communities.

Elise was open to new ideas and concepts, even when they came from those less experienced or worldly. She also knew when to compromise and when to cut bait. And she always owned up to mistakes—a rare quality in a supervisor, but one that demonstrated her honesty and humanity. Most importantly, she nurtured staff. Contradicting what is probably taught in management programs, her mantra was family and life first. She knew instinctively that a happy employee was a productive employee. For those of us whose first professional positions were at Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC), this philosophy spoiled us for later jobs. When she left economic development and went back to school to get her MSW and become a counselor, nobody who knew her was the least bit surprised. Many of us knew she had the social work skills; she just needed the credentials.

Good mentorship is rare, and the best ones happen naturally. One doesn’t realize the importance of good mentorship until there is some distance. As we counsel aspiring entrepreneurs, we encourage them to seek mentors, which can be difficult. In some communities, entrepreneur role models are limited. But when a connection is made, it is more valuable than an Ivy League MBA.

Elise taught me—and so many others in her orbit—to strive to do our best, take chances, and work for positive change. As people we love leave, I recall what a wise friend told me. “When people die, they no longer surprise you. But you know how they would react and what they would say in almost every situation, and in that way, they will always be with you.” And with that, Elise will always be with me and many others whose lives she touched. Seth Bornstein

Executive Director
Queens Economic Development Corp.

DOT Vs. The People

To The Editor:

I live at the crossroads of a political power play. It has never been my intention to become involved in politics, but politics have been dropped on my doorstep in the form of the Department of Transportation’s attempted imposition of protected bike lanes on the 43rd Avenue/Skillman corridor in Queens. It bothers me most that this power play is being perpetrated with a total disregard for bike safety and democracy.

DOT says repeatedly that it is trying to promote bike safety in our area. However, while it has long been a tenet of bike safety that bike riders are safer in low-traffic areas, DOT is determined to route bike riders into the highest traffic density in the Sunnyside/Woodside area. Any group interested in bike safety would suggest the use of equally accessible routes that have little or no traffic. DOT has stated they will not even consider these safer alternatives. It is clear that DOT has little or no interest in bike safety.

DOT also seems to have little or no interest in the concept of democracy. A recent town hall meeting was attended by a crowd that seemed 90 percent against the proposal. Bike riders are, by DOT’s statistics, a tiny minority. Ninety-four percent of New Yorkers ride a bicycle once a month or less. In light of this overwhelming opposition you would think that the DOT proposal would have been shelved and yet the discussion continues as DOT is determined to press this proposal in spite of the opposition of the people who live in this neighborhood.

One has to ask what DOT’s interest is in this tiny Queens community. In spite of DOT’s pronouncement that 1,400+ bikers come through daily, local monitoring suggests the actual number to be closer to 100-120 per day. The proposal inconveniences thousands of people for the benefit of a tiny user group.

In facing this I am reminded of Robert Moses, who decimated many Bronx neighborhoods to build the Cross Bronx Expressway. This was done against the opposition of Bronx residents and radically changed the Bronx. History records Moses’ interest as a lust for power.

If Moses had had his way, today there would be an expressway through both the East and West Village. This was stopped by an uprising among the Village residents. It is time for residents of the Sunnyside/Woodside area to stand up to DOT and stop this new “Expressway Through the Village.”

Chris Wattenburger

Who Rules CB9?

To The Editor:

It was a sad day indeed in Kew Gardens, when Community Board 9 Queens voted down safety measures proposed by the DOT. The members of CB 9 unanimously voted to support the single-family homeowners association (Kew Gardens Civic Association) in spite of hundreds of residents on 116th, 118th and the surrounding streets begging for any safety measures to make their lives safer.

For over three years a large group of Kew Gardens citizens has worked hard to get safety measures put in place to make the lives of their children, senior citizens and friends safer. Speeding traffic on 116th Street has created such a dangerous condition that residents fear even walking on the sidewalk.

Last year a vehicle left the road to drive through a hedge and land in the front yard of the 83-15 116th Street building. A concerned community member testified to this before CB9, “I ask that you help us for my children” but her plea for help for children fell on deaf ears.

Community Board 9 Queens had previously voted down a request for speed humps on 116th Street to appease a homeowner not wanting to hear brakes squealing in front of his home. After protest, CB 9 sent letters to homeowners on two blocks asking their opinions on implementing safety measures.

The CB 9 Traffic Safety Committee, under the direction of Kenichi Wilson, wrongly counted all persons that did not respond as being in opposition. Clearly, anything to serve the needs and obey the requests of the single-family homeowner’s association (KGCA).

The second set of traffic safety measures proposed by the DOT to make the community safer was to convert the street into one-way, which had the added benefit of restoring numerous parking spots to the parking-challenged community. Nicole Garcia, NYC DOT, Queens Borough Commissioner wrote of the one-way conversion proposal, “Based on our observations of 116th Street, we are recommending a northbound conversion of 116th Street from Babbage to Metropolitan Avenue. The proposed changes will help enhance safety and overall traffic circulation for the area.”

The recommendation of the Queens Commissioner was not sufficient to overcome the lobby by the KGCA to Community Board 9. In fact, at the open meeting of CB 9, Rabbi Daniel Pollack, a CB 9 member, stated they must oppose these recommendations in light of the opposition from their “sister organization,” the Kew Gardens Homeowners Association.

This reference to their “sister organization” places a civic association that represents single family home owners at the same level as a taxpayer-funded Community Board, whose function is to represent the entire community. Apparently only community board members are aware that the Kew Gardens Civic Association, with their restrictive and exclusive membership policy, is a “sister organization” of a taxpayer-funded Community Board. How can a private organization that denies co-op/condo owners and renters a right to vote, be able to represent our community in an organization that is funded by our tax dollars? To, in fact, be designated a “sister organization” by the community board?

In a roll call vote, every member of the community board present held up their hand to vote against DOT-proposed safety measures in Kew Gardens and side with the single-family homeowners association. In fact board member Jan Fenster, who had signed the petition in support of the safety improvements when faced with the opposition by the single-family homeowner’s association spoke out against the DOT safety proposal and voted against implementation.

Within 24 hours of the Community Board voting down the proposal, Murray Berger, for the KGCA sent an email to all members stating that “Many members may be gratified to learn that Community Board 9, after listening to many vigorous opinions expressed during the Public Hearing, voted overwhelmingly to disapprove of the proposed changes.” The Community Board 9’s “sister organization” members are gratified to learn that safety proposals by the DOT have been voted down.

It is truly a sad time in our community when the Community Board Members appointed by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Council Members Eric Ulrich and Karen Koslowitz vote against safety for the children in the community. Numerous letters to the Council members have gone completely unanswered. Letters to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz were answered by her staff and their response is she is taking no action.

Indeed, it seems like the single-family homeowners association (KGCA) owns more than single-family homes in Kew Gardens.

M.K. Moore
Kew Gardens

Benefits Of Mass Transit

To The Editor:

The success of public transportation can be traced back to one of the late President Lyndon Johnson’s greatest accomplishments which continues benefiting many Americans today. On July 9, 1964 he signed the “Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964” into law. Subsequently this has resulted in the investment over time of several hundred billion dollars into public transportation.

Millions of Americans, including many residing in Queens county today, on a daily basis utilize various public transportation alternatives. They include local and express bus, ferry, jitney, light rail, subway and commuter rail services. All of these systems use less fuel and move far more people than conventional single occupancy vehicles. Most are funded with your tax dollars thanks to President Johnson.

Depending upon where you live, consider the public transportation alternative. Try riding a local or express bus, commuter van, ferry, light rail, commuter rail or subway.

Up until the 60s, I remember bus drivers made change and drove the bus at the same time. Nobody would dare bring soda or food on the bus or leave any litter behind.

Chartered by the State Legislature in 1965 as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, it was created to purchase and operate the bankrupt Long Island Rail Road. The MCTA changed its name to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968 when it took over operations of the New York City Transit Authority. Previously, in 1953 the old NYC Board of Transportation passed on control of the municipal subway system, including all its assets to the newly created NYCTA. In 1968, the MTA also acquired through lease the New York State commuter trackage of Penn Central’s Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines, contracting their subsidized operation to Penn Central. In 1976, they became part of Conrail. In 1983 the Metro-North Railroad was formed to take over all of Conrail’s New York State commuter operations. The MTA took over all service in 1983, as the Metro North Railroad.

Fast forward to today. Fortunately we have the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its various operating agencies, including NYC Transit subway and bus, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, Staten Island Rapid Transit Authority and MTA Bus.

There is also New Jersey Transit, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH), NYC DOT Staten Island Ferry and NYC Economic Development Corporation private ferry operators.

Using MTA MetroCards provides free transfers between the subway and bus. This has eliminated the old two-fare zones, making public transportation an even better bargain. Purchasing a monthly Long Island Rail Road or MTA subway/bus pass reduces the cost per ride and provides virtually unlimited trips.

The ability to travel from home to workplace, school, shopping, entertainment, medical, library etc. is a factor when moving to a new neighborhood. Economically successful communities are not 100 percent dependent on automobiles as the sole means of mobility. Seniors, students, low and middle income people need these transportation alternatives. Investment in public transportation today contributes to economic growth, employment and a stronger economy. Dollar for dollar, it is one of the best investments we can make

What better way to honor late President Johnson and all that has been achieved these past 54 years than by continuing funding the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account?

Larry Penner
Great Neck

Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.

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