Borough Hall Celebrates Diwali

By Celia Bernhardt |

Borough Hall held a Diwali celebration in the evening of Nov. 8, with multiple musical and dance performances, speeches from elected officials, and the awarding of honors to individuals and organizations in the local Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities. 

The night began with the lighting of a Diya, a clay lamp lit with oil that is used during Diwali and holds deep symbolic meanings: protection, prosperity, purity and goodness, enlightenment, wisdom and the dispelling of darkness. 

One of the honorees was Pandit Dam Hardowar, the leader of multiple community nonprofits and the Archaya (religious leader and teacher) of Shri Surya Narayan, a Mandir (Hindu Temple) established both in Jamaica, Queens and in Florida. He spoke about the meaning of the Diya, and the holiday overall, to the crowd. 

The National Children Cultural Foundation performs. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

“The Diya is a symbol of selflessness. It burns [from] itself to give light to my neighbor,” Hardowar said. “The Diya sacrifices itself so that you can have light…there is darkness in this world. There is lot of selfishness in this world. And Diwali must remind us that this darkness must be eradicated once and for all.”

Assemblymember Edward Braunstein spoke as well, celebrating that Diwali would become an official school holiday in New York City starting in 2024. 

“It’s gonna be real for me when I look up there [on the calendar] and it says ‘Diwali: no school,’” Braunstein said. “And I’ll have the opportunity to sit down with my sons and my daughter and talk to them about what our neighbors celebrate.” 

Five more honorees were recognized during the event: Sabita Das, Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri, Padma Likha Mangar, the Gujarati Samaj of New York and the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir.

BP Donovan poses with children from the National Children Cultural Foundation. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

While addressing the crowd, Borough President Donovan Richards emphasized the importance of reporting hate crimes.

“Our communities, for the most part, do a lot of underreporting—partially because we’re scared of our citizenship status. But I want to reassure you that we did a lot of work when I chaired the Public Safety Committee in the City Council to ensure that the New York City Police Department would not be cooperating with ICE,” the Borough President said. “We want everybody to feel safe when they walk the streets.”

Two hate crimes against Sikh men in Queens have made headlines in the past month—one attack aboard an MTA bus in Richmond Hill that left the victim with substantial injuries, and one assault after a minor fender bender that took the victim’s life. In both cases, attackers made comments about the victim’s turbans. 

Fahmida Kazi, Community Associate with the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, enjoyed attending the event with her colleagues. 

“The night was really fun,” Kazi said. “It was my first Diwali experience, and I got to learn a lot about the holiday. I’m really excited that it’s now a school holiday so people from other cultures have the time to learn and be exposed to [it].”

Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt


Veterans Day Parade Returns to Middle Village

By Celia Bernhardt |

The Queens Veterans Day Parade took place on a chilly Sunday in Middle Village, with plenty of local groups marching down Metropolitan Avenue sporting red, white and blue.  

Participants included Christ the King’s marching band, the NYPD marching band, Kiwanis of Glendale, Glendale Post 104 American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, and more. The parade ended at Christ the King High School, where a ceremony honoring Veterans took place in the auditorium. 

The parade’s Grand Marshall was Sgt. Brendan Gibbons, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served for over four years and is active in the Queens military community. At the ceremony, Jon Kablack, a member of the NYPD 104th Precinct Community Council and a disabled veteran, was awarded the Anthony G. Pace Patriot Award.

Girl Scouts march down Metropolitan Ave.

Several elected officials spoke at the ceremony, expressing their support, gratitude, and admiration for veterans. State Senator Joseph Addabbo said to the crowd that he believes “every day is Veterans Day.” 

“Our veterans have not only served our country, but they continue to serve in our communities. They’re out there in the parades. They’re in our schools. They’re on our local community boards. They’re helping other veterans enhance their lives. And I thank them for each and every part of that—giving back, still,” Addabbo said. “But I also thank them personally for educating me as an elected official on what we still have to do as elected officials to help our veterans each and every day.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams spoke about his work in passing a law to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of veteran status during his time in City Council. “During that process I heard the stories and felt the pain of veterans who lacked services and felt there was nowhere they could go, no one they could turn to,” Williams said. 

A ceremony was held in Christ the King High School’s auditorium.

State Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar also highlighted policy work, mentioning her ongoing efforts to render housing, higher education, and mental health care more accessible to veterans. She then argued for a broader cultural shift. 

“We need to instill patriotism into our young people, and into our entire community. This auditorium should be filled,” Rajkumar said. “And I will not stop until the auditorium is packed. Everyone should be coming to honor our veterans.”

Borough President Donovan Richards also spoke, expressing his gratitude. “The reason that my colleagues can stand up here is because there is someone who went out to serve this country who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us,” he said. 

Richards also announced some international travel plans. 

“Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out to the Middle East,” Richards said. “And I was in Ukraine right before the war. That’s why I talk about ‘freedom isn’t free:’ we can look at history and look at what’s happening now, around the nation, around the world—and certainly, that should give us a deep understanding that we are blessed to be American citizens, no matter what the challenges are.”


Community Board 5 Gives Thumbs Down to Pot Shops

By Celia Bernhardt |

Community Board 5 held its full-board meeting on Nov. 8 with a particularly large audience. 

Including 40 board members, the meeting drew over 100 attendees to Christ the King High School’s cafeteria. Many were no doubt there for one reason above all else: the board’s official recommendation on whether cannabis dispensaries should be able to open at three locations in the districts. 

The board’s Liquor License and Cannabis Committee met publicly on Nov. 1 to hear from the applicants for cannabis licenses hoping to open up shop, and unanimously voted to oppose the opening of cannabis stores in all three locations in their committee report. The board’s task at the full meeting was to vote “for” or “against” the Cannabis Committee’s report, solidifying CB5’s recommendation to the state (which has the ultimate say on whether the hopeful vendors will receive a license). 

Seven community members came to mic during the public forum section of the meeting to vehemently express their opposition to the potential applicants, and urged the board to vote to oppose them as well. 

District Manager Gary Giordano made his own comments on the locations as he explained the topic to the crowd ahead of voting time. 

“These locations are ridiculous. The 64-01 Grand Avenue is one long block from St. Stan’s. I think technically it’s a little bit over 500 feet,” Giordano said to the crowd. “The site at 63-09 Flushing Avenue, from what we can see, is less than 500 feet. 

Brian Whalen, the applicant for both of these locations, fought through a long back-and-forth with community members at the Committee’s Nov. 1 meeting. 

“The two proposals for the same location at 70-24 Myrtle Avenue next to McDonald’s—there’s the Redeemer Lutheran School, it’s now a public charter high school with ninth graders in it. I believe that is way less than 500 feet from the site,” Giordano continued. Masood Weish, an applicant for this location, also presented at the Nov. 1 meeting. 

Giordano added that there had been three potential applicants for a site at 56-40 Myrtle Avenue who had all withdrawn and who had never consulted with the property owner about whether they could rent the space in the first place. “This system is a real problem,” Giordano said. “[Board member] Ted Renz called me and said the property owner is opposed to having a cannabis shop at that location,” he added, to applause from the crowd. 

“These people upset the community,” Giordano said. “You all are out here spending your time with regard to this, many of you came to the public meeting we had here, the committee members have to work with regard to these ridiculous selections and we have to put our recommendations together.”

“As the district manager of this community board for more than three decades, I ask you to vote against these ridiculous locations,” he said, to more applause. 

Patrick Trinchesey brought the committee’s report to the board for a vote. 70-24 Myrtle Avenue was up first: the committee unanimously recommended an opposition due to the location’s proximity to Forte Prep, which Trinchesy said “was definitely under 500 feet” away. 

The board voted in favor of the committee’s statements. 

64-01 Grand Avenue and 63-09 Flushing Avenue were up next, voted on as a joint item. Trinchesy cited the locations’ proximity to St. Stan’s as the reason for opposition to the two locations. The board voted again, with only one member voting against the committee’s recommendation and all others in favor; applause and cheers filled the room once again. 


Ravenswood: What’s Next?

By Celia Bernhardt |

When Governor Hochul announced last month that Long Island City’s Ravenswood power plant had been selected to receive investment towards developing an offshore wind farm, Claudia Coger’s phone began ringing off the hook. 

“I got so many calls from people, you know, ‘we got it, we got it!’” laughed Coger. “I was ecstatic about it.” 

Coger, an 88-year-old resident of Astoria houses, former Tenants Association president and lifelong activist, admits she might have heard “a little whisper” of the news before it was made official to the public. She has been heavily involved with the process of advocating for a cleaner Ravenswood, working with Rise Light & Power, the company which owns the power plant, to create a shared vision of how a wind-powered Ravenswood could engage and benefit her community. 

Flanked by multiple NYCHA campuses—Astoria, Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses—the Ravenswood power plant has been in operation since the early 1960s, marking the skyline with its three towering smoke stacks and emitting pollution that gave the neighborhood the nickname of “asthma alley.” Rates of asthma are higher among the public housing residents near Ravenswood than in the rest of Queens. 

Ravenswood holds over 20 percent of the city’s generating capacity. Its transformation will involve building a wind farm in the Atlantic, 54 miles from the shore, connected to the plant through underwater cables, to replace one out of three of the plant’s fossil fuel generators. 

Rise Light & Power has been poised for some time to invest in this massive transition to renewable energy, as well as in local community organizations providing education and workforce development services. 

The Ravenswood smoke stacks. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

What’s in store for Ravenswood’s neighbors?

“It’s a slew of these investments,” said Costa Constantinides, CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club and former City Council member. “There are a number of nonprofits that are getting investment and job placement and job capacity building.”

Rise Light & Power committed an investment of $1.5 million dollars towards the construction of a new teen center at the club, which Constantinides said will serve 16,000 youth and provide a safe space, recreation, and academic and career training resources.

LaGuardia Community College is another recipient of these funds. Attentive Energy One committed $10 million to the college for the purpose of building the proposed “Queens Offshore Wind Training Hub.” The hub is meant to offer both short-term certificate programs and academic degrees relevant to offshore wind development, as well as a business incubation program. 

Attentive Energy One plans to build an Operations and Maintenance Hub directly on-site at Ravenswood—a locus of decent jobs engaging with the many moving parts of capturing wind power and transitioning the plant.  

“Maintaining the infrastructure that’s here, managing the offshore wind facility, keeping a warehouse fully stocked with the spare parts and consumables needed by the offshore wind farm, and then crewing that vessel,” are all different roles that will be anchored to the O&M Hub, Rise Light & Power CEO Clint Plummer said. Building and maintaining the turbines themselves may involve week-long excursions out to sea, he explained.

“We’re basically we bring in a large number of folks, those folks will go on the vessel for a week at a time, go out to the wind farm, come back in, old crew goes off, new crew comes on.”

Attentive Energy One plans to retain and retrain union workers currently at the plant, as well as hiring new workers to expand the team. The potential of a hyperlocal talent pipeline and workforce for this new era of Ravenswood, with well-paying union jobs available to the communities hit the hardest by the plant’s negative health impacts thus far, is exciting for advocates. 

Paul Lipson, a consultant with Barretto Bay, explained that very few residents of Ravenswood, Astoria, or Queensbridge NYCHA Houses are employed by Ravenswood as of now.

“We have this huge potential labor force directly across the street,” Lipson said. “Part of getting this right is this transition has to be about creating opportunity hyperlocally.”

“The goal here is for us to be able to develop a workforce training program so that when other offshore wind projects that use Ravenswood need the workforce, that we have that workforce ready, and that that workforce to the greatest extent possible is coming from the local community,” Plummer said. 

Coger said that she’s spoken with Rise Light leaders about job training programs specifically for residents from the surrounding NYCHA campuses. 

“We haven’t come back to the table just yet,” Coger said. “But we’ll be getting to that, most certainly. If I’m at the table, it most certainly won’t leave the table.”

A timeline

Plummer said that the company is “deep in the process” of finalizing their contracts with NYSERDA at the moment. After they conclude that process, he said, they can begin to flesh out the specifics of a workforce training program. 

Attentive Energy One’s timeline is more or less aligned with the state’s CLCPA deadline for 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Plummer explained that the project is staring down a “complex regulatory regime,” and laid out the different steps that should unfold over the decade. 

The company has submitted almost all of its major permit applications; the last of them should be submitted by the middle of next year. From that point, it will likely take two years until all permits necessary to build the project are approved. During these years, Plummer said, “there’s going to be a great deal of engineering surveys, community engagement, stakeholder meetings, getting feedback and adapting our construction plans to what we hear from all the project stakeholders.”

This phase should close out by the late end of 2026, at which point Attentive Energy will proceed with the actual construction of the wind farm—they expect this to be a three and a half year process, ending in late 2029 or 2030.

How long until a fully renewable Ravenswood?

Ravenswood currently uses two 400 megawatt generators and one 1000 megawatt generator (each with its own striped smokestack.) Attentive Energy One’s wind farm will hold 1400 MW of generating capacity, and will replace one of the existing 400 MW generators. 

Sid Nathan, Vice President of External Affairs at Rise Light & Power, explained that this wind-powered 1400 MW is what’s necessary to reliably replace 400 MW of capacity in the system due to the intermittency of wind itself. 

“You want to be able to overcompensate with the amount of renewables you’re injecting into the grid,” Nathan said. 

To convert Ravenswood to fully renewable energy, completely removing the disproportionate burden of air pollution on its neighbors, Rise Light & Power would need to secure two more awards like the one they’ve now received from NYSERDA—and see through two more renewable energy development projects at the scale of Attentive Energy One. The state’s goal is to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, setting a de facto deadline. 

Plummer is cautiously hopeful about Ravenswood’s prospects of meeting it. 

“I think to the extent the administration continues with its march on procuring these large scale resources, like offshore wind…I think that can be achievable,” Plummer said. “That’s not entirely in our hands, though, right? Because the only way Attentive Energy is going forward is because we received this award from the state. We put together a team, made a proposal to the state, they ran a competitive process, and we were selected in it. The state has all the institutions, it’s got the infrastructure necessary to undertake additional future procurements like this. And we believe that they will, but until the state actually acts on those—you know, we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Coger is excited about what’s to come for future generations in her community, especially considering that youth have already been involved in rallies and other events promoting a renewable Ravenwood. 

“This is something that will move on with history,” she said. “It won’t stop just with the seniors.”

She expressed deep gratitude for Rise Light & Power’s engagement in the community.

“I’m 88 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of different things in my life where we had to stand outside of the fence while decisions were being made for our lives,” Coger said. “But this has us included. And I think that is so important.”


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